§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I am under an engagement to make a brief statement to the House with regard to the position of Public Business, and the prospects of proceeding rapidly towards the termina- 916 tion of the Session. As the House is aware, we have already either passed, or are on the brink of passing, the following important Bills:—Small Holdings Bill, Education and Taxation (Scotland) Bill, Burgh Police (Scotland) Bill, India Councils Bill, Bank of England Remuneration Bill, and the Clergy Discipline Bill. These, I think, were all Bills mentioned in the Queen's Speech. There is another Bill mentioned in the Queen's Speech which, no doubt, may require some further consideration—I allude to the Irish Education Bill, which has been read a second time, but which still remains to be dealt with in Committee. Some conversation occurred across the floor of this House last Friday between the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) and myself, but nothing that has occurred leaves me in doubt that that Bill also may be counted ultimately among the measures which we shall see passed during the present Session. It will be extremely disastrous, I think, if that were not so, because practically upon that Bill depends the passing of the Supplementary Estimate for the purpose of education in Ireland. Then, Sir, there remain two important Bills mentioned in the Queen's Speech which I should not wish the House to consider at this stage of our proceedings. These are the Irish Local Government Bill and the Private Bill Procedure Bill. The Irish Local Government Bill, as will be recollected, was passed on the Second Reading by a very large majority. I know—perhaps not in this House, but elsewhere—many persons formed from that majority a very confident expectation that the Bill would be finished. But I think it will be evident to everyone acquainted with our proceedings that a Bill of that kind, if it be strenuously opposed, is not one that can by any possibility be passed into law except after very prolonged discussion. The English Local Government Bill, although it was not opposed on the Second Reading, and although, on the whole, its provisions met with favour on both sides of the House, occupied an amount of time corresponding to six weeks before it passed the stages after the Second Reading of the Bill; and we are informed, I have no doubt rightly, that 917 the Irish Local Government Bill will not receive such favourable treatment as the English Bill, and that six weeks would, I presume, be extended into eight or twelve weeks, and in these circumstances I feel it would be absolutely impossible to ask the House further to consider the question. With regard to the Private Bill Procedure Bill, that has not yet passed the Second Reading. It is a Bill which, although valuable and important, it is impossible to ask the House to accept without very full discussion, dealing as it does with some important prerogatives of this House, and it also must be abandoned. Now, Sir, I pass from those which I may describe as first-class measures to other measures which are important, but still cannot be placed in the same rank. We did a good deal of business on Friday, and cleared the Orders of a large number of non-contentious measures; but there still remain to be dealt with the following practically unopposed Bills. The Naval Knights of Windsor, Poor Law Schools (Ireland), Land Commission (Ireland), Civil Bill Courts (Ireland), and the Casual Wards Bill, which my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board is going to introduce, and which I believe will meet with very general approval in every quarter of the House. In addition to these, which are Government Bills, there are four Bills hitherto in charge of private Members which I propose to "star," following the suggestion thrown out the other night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). At his instance the Government entered into a pledge to oppose after twelve o'clock the passage of any private Member's Bill; but as a set-off against that, and as a means of to a certain extent enabling the House to deal with private Members' proposals which were generally accepted, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that we should "star" certain Bills of importance. The Bills to which I propose to accord that special privilege are the Merchant Shipping Acts Amendment Bill, the Witnesses Protection Bill, the Coroners' Deputies Bill, and the Public Health Acts Amendment Bill. In addition to these Bills there are a certain number not yet before 918 the House, but either of a formal character or the discussion of which is already proceeding in another place. There are the Fishery Board (Scotland) Bill, a Bill which I believe in principle is accepted by all parts of the House; the Canal Rates Bill, which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade proposes to introduce, so as to obviate certain difficulties that must arise by the premature termination of the Session, and the Bank Charter Bill. It is usual, when the Session is cut short by a Dissolution, to pass a measure to prevent the promoters of Private Bills from suffering pecuniary loss, or any greater loss of time than is absolutely necessary by the fact of the conclusion of the Session. We shall bring in as usual a Bill to enable the promoters of Private Bills to resume the proceedings which have to be prematurely cut short without repayment of the fees, and at the stage at which they were left during the present Session. In the same category of Bills of a more or less uncontroversial character which are not yet before the House I may mention the Local Loans Bill and the Statute Law Revision Bill. There is also a Bill for enabling my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland to expend in Ireland for the extermination of pleuro-pneumonia a sum of money allocated by Statute in England, but which is not required for English purposes. As the House may recollect, £160,000 a year was voted to the President of the Board of Agriculture for dealing with this disease. Through his efforts the disease has been practically stamped out in England. He has some funds available which are urgently required in Ireland, and I am sure the House will accept that proposal. There are two Colonial Bills of which I only heard to-day, but which are more or less of a pressing character. The first deals with the great calamity by which Mauritius has been visited. It is proposed, in accordance with precedents on similar melancholy occasions, to enable the Colony to borrow £600,000, with the privilege of a British guarantee. That would be, of course, an immense saving to the Colony, and would, I am informed, involve no danger to the Imperial Exchequer; and 919 I think probably the House would feel some consideration is due to the inhabitants of this Colony, who have suffered so cruelly from this visitation. The other Colonial Bill deals with crofter emigration to British Columbia, £150,000 was guaranteed by the Treasury under the British Columbian Guarantee for the purpose of facilitating crofter emigration. That proposal was made some six months ago to the Colony. They have, however, for reasons with which I am not acquainted, reserved their final decision on the subject till a comparatively recent period; and I understand that within the next few days a gentleman will come over empowered by the Colony to deal with the Exchequer of this country. The British Columbian Parliament passed an Act, and I think it would be unfortunate if the whole of their trouble and the whole of our trouble should either be wasted or, at all events, that the fruition of our labours should be delayed for a twelve-month. That finishes the Bills which have yet to be brought before the attention of the House, and I think the House will agree that they are of an important and at the same time of a non-controversial character. The Telegraphs Bill, the Superannuation Bill, and the Criminal Evidence Bill are now before either a Select or a Grand Committee, and I have hopes—confident hopes—that all those Bills may pass into law. In addition to these I have to note the Military Lands Consolidation Bill, the East India Officers Bill, and the Public Elementary Schools Bill—and my right hon. Friend (Mr. Jackson) reminds me that I ought to have mentioned the Galway Infirmary Bill. The Military Lands Bill, the East India Officers Bill, and the Public Elementary Schools Bill are measures which I should be unwilling to drop, but I cannot hope to pass them into law if any very great length of time is required for their discussion, or if they meet with any serious hostility. The Access to Mountains Bill, the House will remember, was brought in by the Government in consequence of a Resolution passed by this House on that subject. I am given to understand that the measure we have prepared meets with very little favour from hon. 920 and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They think that the limitations and the safeguards we have introduced are of too stringent a character. I am bound to say that such further investigation as I have been able to give to the subject leads me to a somewhat opposite conclusion, and I am inclined to think that we have not sufficiently safeguarded certainly the rights which will be seriously menaced if the Bill passes into law in its present shape. I have therefore to recognise that a Bill which is thought by one Party to go too far and by another Party not to go far enough, is not a Bill which, at the present stage of our proceedings, is likely to pass into law. I think I have now gone through all the measures which we hope to pass; and I come, therefore, to the period which would be required to pass them, and upon that, of course, I can offer no confident prophecy. Much will depend upon the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) and his friends. No doubt some of the Bills are such as may very properly require some consideration by the whole of the House. I have also to recognise that we have to pass the whole of the Irish Estimates, that we have to pass the Report of a certain amount of Supply which we got on Friday, and the Report of the Supply which we have yet to get. We have also to consider that it is not merely the business which this House has to do, but the business which the House of Lords has to do must be taken into account before we can speak with confidence as to the special day of Dissolution. The Dissolution can only take place, of course, when the business has been completed by both Houses and the requisite Councils have been held which are necessary to give legal formality to this step. I am not very familiar with the process myself; but I understand that two Councils have to be held—one for the Prorogation, and the other for the Dissolution—and it is not always easy to find a day which will be convenient for holding those Councils to carry through these necessary proceedings. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stuart) asks me whether I can so fix the day that it shall be possible to have the election on a 921 Saturday. I am no great adept at Election Law; but I think the hon. Gentleman will see that, as I am unable at present to fix a day at all, I cannot give a categorical answer to the question. I see this further difficulty in giving an answer. He requires me, on behalf of the Government, to say that, in our opinion, the election should not take place except on a Saturday. He requires me to say that, in the opinion of the Government, the returning officers should so use their discretion that the election must take place on a Saturday. No indication of that duty on the part of the returning officers has been given in the Act of Parliament, and I think it would be highly inexpedient if the Government were to declare that, in their opinion, the discretion of the returning officers should be used in such a way. I think, therefore, while the House will see that I am not in a position to say definitely within what twenty-four hours the Dissolution will take place, we may say, with some confidence, that it is very unlikely to take place before the end of the week beginning with Sunday, the 19th, and most unlikely to occur after the middle of the week beginning with the 26th. That leaves a very narrow margin of doubt. I hope the House will be satisfied with the statement I have made.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I have consulted with my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Londonderry (Mr. Justin McCarthy) as to the Irish Education Bill; and looking to the declaration which has been made to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland in regard to the Christian Brothers' Voluntary Schools, looking also to his contemptuous treatment of the Irish Public Bodies, which, during the past three months, have been in communication with him in reference to the Bill, and looking also to the failure of the least indication of his respecting the views of the Irish Members and of the Irish people, I have to give notice that the Irish Education Bill, in all its further stages, will receive the most strenuous opposition.