§ Order for Second Reading read.1314
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ (5.8.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I deeply regret that the illness of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Derry (Mr. J. McCarthy) prevents him submitting to the House the Motion for the rejection of this Bill, of which he first gave notice. The duty has fallen upon me, and I hope that I shall be able to convince any Member of this House, who is disposed to take an impartial view of the principle declared by the Government themselves to be essential to Local Government, as defined in their Bills for England and Scotland, that this Bill should be rejected. I observe with some surprise that the Leader of the House has contented himself with moving the Second Reading of this phenomenal Bill by gesture. I should have thought that this being the stage when the principle of the Bill is at issue the right hon. Gentleman would have chosen the earliest moment for expounding in detail, and defending with energy, the principles and provisions of the Bill. Sir, we have been warned, and the country has been warned, I may say in lurid rhetoric, that if we do not accept this settlement of the case of Ireland and should prefer another Bill which we shortly expect to have before the House, we may look out for horrid war. Considering that the alternative to the acceptance of this Bill, which is presented to our minds, is that the Prime Minister and his allies, wherever they may be found, will take up arms against the future Government of the Queen, I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman at the earliest moment of making this Motion would have thought no energy too great to expend on the task of showing that this Bill, as a settlement of the case of Ireland, should be preferred to any other. However that may be, there is one charge we often make against the Government in this House to which they are not open on this occasion. We have frequently had to charge this Government with rushing Bills in the House of Commons; no one can charge them with attempting to rush this 1315 Bill. The right hon. Gentleman is in no unseemly hurry to make progress with the present measure. I cannot call to mind an instance, and I doubt if the most experienced veteran in British politics, the right hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), whose Parliamentary memory runs back for half a century or more, can instance a case where a Government, having introduced the principal measure of the Session in the middle of February, did not ask the House to give it a Second Reading till nearly the end of May. Moreover, Sir, Members of all Parties are allowed to understand that if the Second Reading of this Bill should pass no further progress will be asked. If that be so, we are at the present moment engaged in a questionable use of the time of the House of Commons. I venture to speculate that if the First Lord of the Treasury had his choice this measure would never have come before us. The right hon. Gentleman is the victim of necessity; he bears in mind, and the country bears in mind, that when the Tory Party six years ago went before the electors of Great Britain it was on two particular pledges that they obtained the mandate which called them into power. One was that they would not enact coercion for Ireland; that promise has been broken. The other pledge was that they would give Local Government; that promise has not been kept. The right hon. Gentleman and his Party will presently have to face the electors of the country; and though they may hope to get rid of the effect of one broken promise, they feel that to come before the country with two violated pledges would break the back of any Party. It is under the stress of this imperative pressure, and in order to make a parade and go through the form of appearing to keep the second of these pledges, that this Motion has been made. I have no doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman were not under such imperative pressure the House of Commons would never have been troubled with this Bill. I say so for two reasons: The heads of the Tory Party have taught their followers by repeated lessons that coercion is the right thing, the only thing for the Hottentots of 1316 Ireland. The more stalwart Members of the Tory Party, whose minds do not move so rapidly as those of their leaders, fail to see why Ireland should now have anything else. The pupils persist in remembering the lesson which the teachers would have forgotten. There is another reason which besets the Government with peculiar difficulty in regard to this or any scheme of Local Government in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman has made coercion the permanent law of Ireland. Elective government, whether local or general, pre-supposes a foundation of civil liberty, and you can no more found a satisfactory or permanent scheme of elective Local Government upon the statutory régime which you have created in Ireland, than you can build a fortress on a swamp. It may be said that there is a lull in the coercive government of Ireland at present. Why is there a lull? Because the Government are living in fear of the electors, because they wish coercion to be forgotten when making an appeal to the country, because they know they enacted coercion in violation of a public pledge, and they are anxious that that pledge and the breach of it should be forgotten. Is there any other reason for a lull except that the Government are in fear of the electors, and desire their coercion régime to be forgotten? Why was the Coercion Act passed? It was passed because landlords wished to obtain fancy prices for their land, because the people established popular organisations to resist the demand, and because evicted farms could not be let. The state of Ireland at the present moment—in spite of official boasts—is in all fundamental aspects exactly the same as when the Coercion Act was passed. The landlords, by individual action or combination, are pressing for exorbitant prices for the land; the people maintain their popular organisations to resist the demand, and evicted farms are not taken. The state of Ireland is the same, from the point of view of the interest of the Tory Party, as in 1887; and I have no doubt, if the Tory Party by any contrivance should win its way back to power, that after the General Election we should return to the régime of 1887, we should 1317 resume the interrupted "twenty years of resolute government," we should have proclamations all over Ireland, both ordinary and special; we should have bayonetting, batôning, and, perhaps, shooting in the streets, the dispersion of meetings by force, and the torturing of men to death in prison, as men were tortured in prison a few years ago under the régime of the right hon. Gentleman. We should have Tullamore and Mitchelstown in Ireland over again, with all that those names portend. I ask any hon. Member whether it is conceivable that such a coercive system—in which the fundamental rights of the citizen which are guarded as sacred in every part of Great Britain, the right of a free Press, of public meeting, of association and combination, are held at the mercy of a single official of the Crown—is it conceivable that such a system should work side by side with any system of local self-government in Ireland? I think it is not conceivable. In England and Scotland the County Councils are the masters of the police; in Ireland the police need not hesitate to snub the County Council. If a County Councillor in Ireland addressing his constituents ventured to use language which offended the ears of the Resident Magistrate the police need not hesitate to shoot. Or if a man said that the Standing Joint Committee had brought the business of the county to a dead-lock, or protested against his removal from office by two Justices, on a matter of opinion rather than of law or principle, he might be indicted for conspiracy to intimidate the Standing Joint Committee, or for inciting to a breach of the law. "Local Government and no coercion" was your cry in 1886, and that was at least an intelligible cry; but "Local Government and coercion" is mere nonsense, because Local Government is inconsistent with the idea of coercion, and incompatible with it in practice. But, Sir, for the purpose of this Debate, I am willing to forget for the moment that there is such a question as Home Rule; to ignore the fact that a free Constitution does not exist in Ireland; to imagine that coercion has not been applied to the Irish people, and to found my case on the proposition—which I shall be able to prove—that 1318 from the point of view of the Government themselves, and testing the Bill by the principles they have laid down as essential to Local Government, and which they have adopted in England and Scotland, this Bill must be rejected by the House. Our position on the Irish question is well understood; we demand a Legislature for Ireland, and we say that only an Irish Legislature with its knowledge and sympathy can ever fit even the local administration of Irish counties to the interests and necessities of the Irish people. But I will put that aside for the limited purposes of this Debate. Let me now, by two or three instances taken from the Bill, indicate to the House the audacious partisan bias of the measure. The Government propose, while nominally withdrawing all fiscal functions from the Grand Juries, to leave the absolute power of levying upon the county rate compensation for malicious injuries to every Grand Jury in Ireland. These Grand Juries are saturated with social and political prejudices, and we know, by accumulated experience which stands beyond denial, that an Irish Grand Jury thinks any evidence good enough, and no claim for damages too high when the applicant in the case of malicious injury is able to satisfy it that he has made himself obnoxious to the people. I say that to continue to leave that important and delicate function in the hands of a body of a non-judicial and violently partisan character when a general re-settlement of the question is being made, is against common sense. The second instance I give of the partisan spirit of the Bill relates to the treatment that the Government proposes for the Cities of Belfast and Dublin. A remarkable sentence was quoted yesterday which had been used by Mr. Lowe many years ago. He said—He could not accompany any proposal for the extension of popular liberty with shabby expedients for taking it away.This Bill professes to provide for the extension of popular liberty; but it is from beginning to end, an intricate and ingenious network of shabby expedients for rendering it nugatory. How do you deal with the City of Belfast? The general principle of 1319 the Bill is that every person qualified to be a Parliamentary elector, and paying the local rate, shall possess the franchise for the purposes of this Bill. You propose that such should be the franchise in every county and every borough with two exceptions. Let me tell you what these exceptions are. You except the Borough of Belfast. Why do you except the Borough of Belfast? In the Borough of Belfast there are thousands of persons who would be enfranchised by the general principle of the Bill, because, although you have passed a special Act for Belfast which renders the municipal franchise in that city wider than in any other city in Ireland, there are in Belfast 70,000 Roman Catholics—one-fourth of the population—who are not permitted to have one representative on the Municipal Council, but are ousted from the civic life of the city by a system of jerrymandering the wards, and the Government, remembering that, have the audacity to come forward and enact that the franchise of Belfast should continue as at present. Why? Because the Corporation of Belfast at this moment is exclusively Tory; and if you placed Belfast on a level with every other city in Ireland, the Nationalist minority, excluded and outlawed in the civic sense, might find some voice upon it. But you also exclude the City of Dublin. Now, the City of Dublin at this moment has a very exclusive franchise. In Dublin there are 40,000 Parliamentary electors, but only 6,000 or 7,000 burgesses. Will the House believe that in a Bill which affects to give to every Irishman the franchise for municipal affairs on the Parliamentary basis, the Government proposes that in Dublin out of 40,000 Parliamentary electors the municipal electors shall be limited to 6,000. What is the explanation of it? Can any hon. Member suggest a rational explanation? I can find no other reason than this, that the franchise in Belfast, which is not quite so wide as the franchise of the Bill, shall remain in the future as it is at present, in order that the Corporation of Belfast may continue to be a Tory preserve, and that the exclusive franchise in Dublin, admitting only one out of every five of those who 1320 would be affected by the Bill, should remain as it is in order that the Tory minority in the Corporation of Dublin may not be disturbed. I ask the House to judge in these two instances whether the spirit of the Bill is a spirit of impartiality or a spirit of common decency in dealing with the affairs of the localities in Ireland. I notice another peculiar circumstance. There is to be a cumulative vote in the counties, and there is to be none in the boroughs. Why does this difference exist? I imagine simply for this cause, that in twenty-eight out of the thirty-two Irish counties, there is a Tory minority, for the interests of which the Government are concerned; and there is only one borough in which the cumulative vote could have a material effect, and that is the City of Belfast. It might have the consequence of allowing the 70,000 outlawed Roman Catholics of that city some voice in the City Council. I commend to the House, and to all impartial Members in it, the question whether a Bill can be regarded as otherwise than a shamelessly partisan Bill which leaves the compensation for malicious injuries in the hands of the Grand Juries, which leaves Belfast and Dublin in their present condition whereas every other borough in Ireland is to have a franchise under the Bill, and which proposes to establish a cumulative vote in the counties where it may affect the Tory minority, and does not apply it to the boroughs, in one of the principal ones of which the City of Belfast, the Nationalist minority is concerned. Now, when I ask what are the principles which should mould this Bill I do not go so far as the famous speech of the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord B. Churchill). He said the local government to be given to Ireland should be equal and similar to the local government to be given to England and Scotland. I do not dwell upon the numerous, I may say the innumerable, pledges in that sense and to that effect which have been given by Members of the Party opposite. I go back no further than the Royal Speech at the opening of the present Session. That speech was dictated by the Ministers of the Crown, and for the policy pronounced in that Speech they are respon- 1321 sible to this House. I fix them with that responsibility, and I say that, limiting myself to the view of that responsibility alone, this Bill cannot be accepted. For what does the Government say in the Royal Speech delivered at the opening of the Session? They told the House that proposals would be laid before us for applying to Ireland the general principles affecting local government which have already been adopted in Great Britain. This Bill is the proposal referred to in the Royal Speech; and the question is whether or not this Bill proposes to apply to Ireland the general principles already adopted in Great Britain. What was the first general principle adopted for Great Britain? It was that the franchise of the Bill was withdrawn from no person upon whom the Bill conferred it. The English and Scottish Acts declare that every person qualified to be a Parliamentary elector who pays a local rate shall have a vote on the question of local government; and from no person to whom the franchise has been given has the franchise been withdrawn. But in the case of Ireland, by one of these shabby expedients, you propose to withdraw it from tens of thousands of persons throughout the country who contribute to the rates. How do you do that? You propose that Rule 26 of the Ballot Act shall not apply to elections under this Act. What practical consequence is shrouded in the legal terms of that phrase? That the public officer in Ireland, the presiding officer at the county election, will refuse to take from any voter a declaration of inability to read, and will refuse to mark the voting paper of any elector who comes before him. It comes to this: that in England and Scotland a man who pays his county rate and who is not able to road will be enabled to vote—as I think he ought to be so enabled, because if a man contributes to the county rate the question is not whether the man can read or not; the question is whether, having contributed to the county rate, he has a right in justice and in common sense to enjoy a voice in the matter of the spending of his money; but whilst in England and in Scotland every man who con- 1322 tributes to the rate and is qualified to vote at a Parliamentary election enjoys the vote whether he can read or not, you propose for Ireland that the presiding officer will refuse to mark the paper. More than that, you have established for Ireland such a cumbrous and perplexing franchise, that whereas in England an elector votes for one candidate, and one candidate only, an elector in Ireland will be obliged not only to read, but be able to write and to exercise some arithmetical knowledge, because he will have to divide the vote between the rival candidates and mark his paper accordingly. The practical effect of the proposal of the Government will be this: whereas in England and Scotland every elector will be absolutely free to vote and will be enabled to vote by the action of the presiding officer, you impose upon Ireland an educational test, a novel and special educational test, which extends not only to reading, but also to writing and arithmetic. I protest against the gross injustice of accepting the illiterate where every possible facility has been given for public education, and excluding by a novel educational test tens of thousands of men, contributors to the rates, in a country where public education has been hampered in the first place by the ill-judged character of your primary system there, and in the second place by the poverty of the people. I contend, then, with confidence that the general principles which have been already applied to England and Scotland with respect to the franchise have been violated in this regard with respect to Ireland. What was the second general principle? The constituencies in England and Scotland were defined by Public Bodies, upon rules inserted in the Statutes. The constituencies in Scotland were defined by the Boundary Commissioners, whose names were inserted in the Bill, and were therefore subject to the scrutiny and approval of the House. The constituencies in England were defined in the boroughs by the Corporation, and in the counties by the Quarter Sessions. All these authorities were strictly bound, by rules inserted in the Statute under which they act, to have regard, when fixing a division, to area, to valuation, to the distribution of 1323 the people, to the pursuits of the people, to the existence of urban and rural communities, and to equality of population. What course do you pursue in Ireland? Do you appoint Commissioners by the Bill; do you entrust the defining of the constituencies to any Public Body? No, Sir, the Lord Lieutenant, an official of the Tory Party, is to have absolute power in the matter. What will the Lord Lieutenant do? There is not a syllable of direction given to the Lord Lieutenant by the Bill. He is not asked to have regard to area, nor to valuation, nor to the pursuits of the people, nor to the existence of urban and rural communities, nor to equality of population. He is asked to have regard to nothing but his own mere will and pleasure; and what will the Lord Lieutenant do? Of course the Lord Lieutenant will take his telescope, and spy every county and borough for the minority of his friends, and there fix his view—upon any spot where there is a Tory minority. He has the power to say what number of Councillors there shall be for each division; he has the power even to say whether a county shall be divided at all, and he may leave a county undivided if that shall be his pleasure. The next proceeding of the Lord Lieutenant will be to ascertain the number of the minority, and then to fix the divisions with sole regard to the interests of that minority and to no other public interest, and to fix the number of Councillors of that division so that by the highly artificial mode of cumulative vote the minority, whatever it may be in that county shall be assured of representation. I do not object to any fair or rational scheme of representation of the minority in Ireland or any other country. I should be glad to see them represented everywhere; I should be sorry to see them unrepresented anywhere; but I do object, and object with all my force, to placing not in the hands of a Public Body, but in the hands of a Tory official bound by no instruction, as the Public Bodies are in England and in Scotland, but free to act upon his own caprice or upon his sense of the interests of his Party—I do object to placing in his hands a power which will enable, 1324 which will tempt him, which, I may say, will compel him to define all the divisions, and to parcel out the whole of the country, not having regard to the matters I have mentioned, but for the purpose of procuring representation for a simple minority. I submit that by not naming Commissioners or Public Bodies in the Bill to fix the boundaries and divisions, by not giving any instruction as to how the boundaries are to be fixed, and by leaving the question of the divisions of the counties and the representation of each division to the unchecked discretion of the Lord Lieutenant, without any expression upon any of these points which are required in the case of England and Scotland, the second general principle applied to these countries has been set aside. The next general principle applied to England and Scotland is that every elector shall vote for one candidate and no more. Why has that principle been departed from in the case of Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) eulogised it in his speech on the introduction of the Bill as a stupid thing which had been done before. I submit that this is a stupid thing which has not been done before. The cumulative franchise has been applied to one limited matter in this country. It has been applied with dubious and, I think, unsatisfactory results to the Department of primary education; but I have never heard of any attempt to apply this highly cumbrous and perplexing vote to the local administration of any country whatever. I say it is a cumbrous and perplexing vote, not easily apprehended by the mass of the people, and I protest that you should not make such an experiment in Ireland when you have not made it in England or Scotland, and that you should not make it in pursuit of an illusory idea. I say you are proposing to apply this cumulative franchise in pursuit of an illusory idea, for in three parts of Ireland—and I speak I may say from personal knowledge—the minority of the friends of the Government is so slight that the most ingenious and artificial mode of voting which you may devise will have no material effect; and in the other fourth part of Ireland the relative strength of 1325 the two parties is such that you will achieve no other effect by the most complicated system of cumulative voting than you could have achieved with simplicity and ease by any fair division of the counties. The next general principle refers to the management of the police. In England and in Scotland the principle has been applied that an essential part of elective local government is the management of the police. In England and in Scotland by your Acts the County Councils are masters of the police; in Ireland unquestionably the police will be the masters of the County Councils. What was said in the Debate on the introduction of the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means? That the scheme of this Bill is a scheme of transfer of power from one Local Authority to another; and he said the police in England had been subject to the Local Authority, and the police in Ireland are not. Well, the police in England have been subject to the Justices, the Justices are appointed and removable by the Crown, and I should say that the police in that way were subject to the Imperial authority. But, however that may be, there is a proposal in the English Act to transfer to the County Councils under certain conditions all the powers of any Department of State, and even of Her Majesty in Council. I say, therefore, there is nothing that I have seen in the general principle of your legislation to prevent the transfer of the control of the management of the police to the Local Authorities in Ireland. You may say the localities contribute to pay the police in England. They do; but if you exact excessive revenue from Ireland, and if you choose to apply a million and a half of that revenue every year to paying the police, I say that every penny of the money that pays the Irish police is Irish, and that the particular form or mode—whether you levy that money by way of Imperial taxation or by way of local rates—cannot enter into the question. By right the localities in Ireland ought to have, if not a decisive voice, at least a share in the management of that money; and I submit that not even for a moment can a scheme of Local Government for Ireland be considered by Irish Members 1326 as an acceptable basis for dealing with that question which ignores the essential and fundamental matter of the management of the police. The next general principle applied to England and Scotland has been this, that the local control shall be genuine, shall be real, shall be effective. I have carefully read the English Act and the Scottish Act, and I conclude that the local control exercised by the County Councils in England and Scotland is of a genuine, real, and effective character.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
The Standing Joint Committee.
§ MR. SEXTON
I will come to the Standing Joint Committee in a minute. But I declare after the most careful study of this Bill that the County Council in Ireland will be nothing more than the serf, the drudge, the scullion of the Standing Joint Committee. I cannot imagine that any Nationalist elector in Ireland would care to vote for a man to act as he would have to act under the conditions contemplated in this Bill; and I cannot imagine any man of spirit and sense accepting election under the conditions contemplated by the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman interjected an interruption as to the Standing Joint Committee, the suggestion evidently being that the powers of the County Council are limited as much in England and Scotland by the Standing Joint Committee as they were likely to be in Ireland.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My remark was simply in reference to some words used by the hon. Gentleman, which appeared to me to convey that the police in England and Scotland were controlled by the County Councils. I pointed out that they were not controlled by the County Councils but by the Standing Joint Committee.
§ MR. SEXTON
I am perfectly aware of the arrangement in the English and Scottish Acts as regards the control of the police; but I am saying for the moment that the control of the County Councils in England and Scotland is genuine, real, and effective. Unquestionably in regard to the police I assert this, that the County Council in England and Scotland, apart from the 1327 Justices and the Standing Joint Committee, has a special kind of authority of its own. It may be said that the Standing Joint Committee in England exists entirely for the purposes of the police. True, it has some other functions relating to county officers, but they are of a minor character. They have no financial importance; and the conclusion is this, that the English County Council, except in the one matter of the police, in regard to which its powers are somewhat limited, has, so far as local authority is concerned, uncontrolled administration in every matter of finance—in fact, in the whole sphere of administration confided to it by the statute. What is the case in Scotland? The Standing Joint Committee consists of seven County Councillors, seven Commissioners of Supply, and the Sheriff of the county. The Sheriff in Scotland is a permanent judicial officer. He is not more closely connected with the Commissioners of Supply than with the County Council; his partiality as between the representatives of these bodies is something that cannot be assumed. At any rate, this proposal of a Joint Committee for Scotland was forced upon the acceptance of the Scottish Members by the English vote; and am I to be told that the imposition of the authority of the Standing Joint Committee upon the Scottish County Councils against the wish of the Scottish Members is any reason whatever that the Irish Members should accept such a provision for Ireland? Moreover, in Scotland the landlord pays the bulk of the rates; but the landlord may be said to pay none of the rates in Ireland. The exceptions are insignificant and rare. I should like to ask the Attorney General if he would make a calculation and tell us, out of every pound paid for county cess in any county in Ireland, how much is paid by the man who would elect seven County Councillors, and who would be represented by the seven Grand Jurors and the Sheriff, who would out-vote and over-ride the representatives of the people? In Scotland the owner pays the bulk of the rate, and has a right which he cannot pretend to in Ireland. Yet even in Scotland the Standing Joint Committee has a power of control which is trivial when 1328 compared with that which is proposed for Ireland. In Scotland the Joint Committee deals with police, which is excluded from the Irish scheme; it deals also with capital expenditure and with borrowing power; but beyond that it has no power of interference with or control over the action of the County Council. I think I have made plain to the House, both in regard to England and to Scotland, what degree of authority in regard to the County Council is given to the Standing Joint Committee. Now let me endeavour to give the House an idea of the base and contemptible function assigned to the County Council in Ireland, having regard to the powers to be conferred on the Joint Committee. First, how is the Standing Joint Committee to be constituted in Ireland? It is to consist of seven County Councillors, seven Grand Jurors, and the Sheriff of the county. The Sheriff of the county is a person allied by social class with the members of the Grand Jury. He nominates the Grand Jury; and you, who sometimes compliment us by calling us a shrewd and quick-witted race, expect us actually to tolerate a proposal by which, in regard to rating almost wholly paid by the occupier, and only to an infinitesimal extent ever paid by any landlord, we shall submit to have our seven representatives upon the Standing Joint Committee at any time, upon any question, out-voted by the Sheriff of the county and seven men of his own nomination. The proposal is ridiculous and absurd. Now let me recite to the House the matters on which the County Council would be helpless to act unless the Sheriff and his seven wise men of the Grand Jury were willing to give them leave. The County Council could not make any capital expenditure; and we learn from the Scotch Act—which is more precise than the Irish Bill—that this capital expenditure includes—The erection or enlargement of any building; the making or widening of any road; the construction or improvement of any bridge; any work of drainage, any water supply, or the acquisition of any land or any right to land, or interest in land, or servitude in regard to land for any purpose of capital work.Now, looking to the fact that you propose to found in a country which 1329 has hitherto been so grossly neglected a Local Authority representative of the electors, the people who pay the money, I do submit it is fantastically absurd that in regard to the erection or improvement of any building, the making or widening of any road, the construction or improvement of any bridge, and so forth, the people of the county and their representatives should be subjected to the will of eight landlords, in regard to whom I must again emphasise the fact that the landlords do not pay the money. The landlords, broadly speaking, in Ireland only pay the county cess as occupiers, and for the farthing in the pound of the county cess which they pay as occupiers they have the cumulative franchise the same as everybody else, and are at liberty to employ it. So much for capital expenditure, but without the consent of the eight landlords the County Council cannot undertake any capital liability. I do not understand what is the practical distinction between capital expenditure and capital liability, but I suppose there is an important distinction.
§ MR. SEXTON
The Chief Secretary suggests that capital liability would probably mean guarantee. No doubt it would if guarantee were not also mentioned. Without the consent of the eight landlords the County Council cannot give any guarantee. Have we heard of anything more frequently in recent years than that Ireland is in need of much development in regard to communication? The First Lord of the Treasury takes pride that he has initiated a system of improved communication in the West of Ireland. That system might need to be further developed. There are other parts of Ireland in need of lines of railway and of tramway; but unless the County Council can secure the assent of the Sheriff and his seven co-landlords they would not be at liberty to give a guarantee for the construction of any line of railway or tramway in their county, though the burden would eventually fall upon them and the people they represent. Nay more, they could not give a guarantee for the cost of the enlargement of any industrial school, and 1330 they could not give an undertaking to repair a road not previously repairable as a public road. Now, surely, one would have thought that the representatives of the vast body of the cess-payers of the county, if they chose for any reason to repair a road not previously repairable as a public road, might be allowed that not very startling discretion. Under the head of capital expenditure I have classed the powers of the County Council under the Sanitary Acts. The County Council may by resolution procure the transfer from the Rural Sanitary Authority of their powers under the Sanitary Acts. What are the principal Sanitary Acts? The chief one is the Public Health Act, and the rule which I have read debarring the County Council from making capital expenditure would prevent them without the consent of the Sheriff and his friends from building a drain or providing a water supply for a village. Another of these Acts is the Housing of the Working Classes Act. The County Council could not build in any county in Ireland a house for any artisan unless with the consent of the Standing Joint Committee. The Labourers (Ireland) Acts are other Sanitary Acts. Without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee the representatives of the people in any county could not provide a single labourer in that county with a cottage. So much for capital expenditure. I come now to borrowing powers. The Standing Joint Committee would control the borrowing powers just as much as the capital expenditure. Without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee the County Council could not borrow any money even to consolidate the county debt; even though it were a measure of economy to reduce the rates, the consent of the Standing Joint Committee would be necessary. Without such consent the County Council cannot purchase any land or build any building, even though it were authorised by law so to purchase or to build. It could not borrow for any permanent work or other thing—that is general enough—which the County Council is authorised to exact or do. Although it was authorised, it must not do it except with the consent of the Standing Joint Committee. It 1331 cannot borrow for any purpose in relation to any business transferred to the County Council for which business under this Act a loan is authorised to be raised. You transfer a business to the County Council by this Bill; you say it may raise a loan, and then, by one of the devices described by Mr. Lowe as "shabby expedients," you provide that it must not execute that purpose or raise that loan until it has the consent of the eight Gentlemen of the Standing Joint Committee. I have not yet exhausted the catalogue. The County Council may not incur, without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee—which will be as great a standing nuisance as ever came into existence—any expense which is to be defrayed out of the county rate. The meaning of that is that the Sheriff and his nominated colleagues will have to consent to any expenditure for the most necessary and urgent sanitary purpose if the rate is to be thrown on the county for that purpose. The County Council, without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee, may not oppose a Bill in Parliament, even though opposition to that Bill should be necessary in its judgment for the promotion or protection of the interests of the inhabitants of the county. The men elected by the county by a vote as wide as a Parliamentary vote are not to be the men to judge whether or not a measure, proceeding in Parliament should be opposed in the interests and for the protection of the inhabitants of the county. So that even though the measure which the interests of the inhabitants of the county may require should be opposed, is promoted by the friends and confederates on the Grand Jury of the Standing Joint Committee, the County Council will be under the obligation of going to those eight gentlemen and asking their consent to oppose this Bill. There is something more extraordinary still, and it is really something to which I invite the attention of every Member of the House. The County Council, without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee, cannot prosecute or defend any legal proceedings, even if, in its opinion, the prosecution or defence of those legal proceedings should be necessary for the promotion or the protection of the in- 1332 terests of the inhabitants of the county. You propose to transfer to the County Council the powers of the Sanitary Acts. The efficiency of the Sanitary Acts depends upon prosecution. You propose to transfer to the County Council the powers of a variety of local authorities, the efficiency of which depends upon the power of prosecution. The County Council may be harassed by vexatious actions against itself, but the theory of this Bill is that no matter how gross may be the violation of the public right, or the danger to the public, by the action of any individual, it cannot prosecute him without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee. Why, before the consent of the Standing Joint Committee may be obtained to the stoppage of a nuisance the whole county may be swept by an epidemic! And in regard to the defence of legal proceedings, is it to be seriously contended that, no matter who brings a vexatious and harassing action against the County Council, that body must call the Sheriff and his seven colleagues together and ask for their consent? At least, it might be supposed that the County Council would be the master of its own officers. That would trench upon the sacred functions of the Sheriff and his seven colleagues, and so you cannot allow the County Council to have control of its officers. The Government proposes that nothing of the kind shall be the case—that it shall not have control of its own officers. I have, as I have already said, read the English and Scotch Acts, under which the English and Scotch Councils, barring the right of an officer to compensation in case of abolition of his office or reduction of his income, have practically absolute power over the officers in their employment. The Irish County Councils will be the servants of those in their employment; and the Standing Joint Committee will be the masters both of the County Council and of the officers nominally in their employ. I say it is a most iniquitous proposal, in a case where there is so much need of impartiality in the action of the officers between the landlord and the tenant class as in Ireland, that the emoluments and functions and the appointments of the county officers should not be under the control of a 1333 representative body like the County Council, but under the control of eight gentlemen representing the landlords' interests. By the Bill all existing officers are continued in office, even the baronial constables appointed by the Grand Jury before the passing of this Act. They are to be saddled upon the county; and not only that, but without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee the County Council cannot remove, cannot suspend, and cannot reduce the salary of any existing officer; and without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee the County Council cannot dictate to any officer as to the performance of any duty except those directed by a scheme approved by the Standing Joint Committee. Is it to be supposed that a County Council so thwarted and so hampered upon every hand will be able to exact obedience or even common respect from the persons nominally in its employ, or that it will be able to conduct its business in an efficient and orderly manner? In regard to future officers, the appointment of the County Surveyor, his salary, his duties, and the question of his removal are all at the discretion of the Standing Joint Committee. Without their consent the salary of the County Surveyor cannot be reduced, nor can he be removed; and to sum it all up, except in regard to existing officers, from the date of the passing of the Bill, without the consent of the Standing Joint Committee the County Council cannot make any alteration in duty, or in pay, or in the conditions of employment of any other officer. You propose to place these unfortunate gentlemen of the County Councils of Ireland in a position of impotence in regard to the Standing Joint Committee, and in a position of helplessness and contempt with regard to their nominal servants. I have enumerated the powers of the Standing Joint Committee; but let me add this: that "if any question arises"—I quote the words of the Bill—Or is about to arise as to whether the consent of the Standing Joint Committee is or is not required in any case,—one would have thought the enumeration exhaustive enough, but there is this additional provision— 1334That question may, on the application of any Standing Joint Committee, be submitted for decision to the High Court, and the Court, after hearing such parties and taken such evidence (if any) as it thinks expedient, shall decide the question.And observe this: that as the Standing Joint Committee has no funds of its own, and as the County Council is bound to pay the expenses of the Standing Joint Committee, whether the Court decides for or against the County Council, the county would have to bear the cost. I have carefully examined every word and syllable of the Bill. I have endeavoured to discover what in the world the County Council can do—I mean of its own authority. I have not thought it needful to refer to the provisions relating to the Treasury, or the Local Government Board, or the Board of Works, or the Lord Lieutenant, or the various other officials of high and low degree with whom the County Council is encompassed in the pursuit of its dangerous functions. I have thought it sufficient to refer to the Standing Joint Committee; and the conclusion to which I come, after careful study of the Bill, is this. It would not be just to say that a County Council in Ireland would have no power for which it is solely responsible. A County Council in Ireland would have the power to break stones. It would have the power to break stones in limited quantities, provided that this involved no capital expenditure nor any capital liability. That is not the whole of it, because having broken these stones the Council can spread them upon the roads. Not all roads, but some. It would be very dangerous for the County Council to spread them upon all the roads, because if it ventured to spread them upon any road not previously repaired as a public road, the Standing Joint Committee or the Court might be instantly down upon it. There is only one other power which it can safely exercise. I do not think it can safely use the powers of justices in regard to sudden damage to roads, because the Standing Joint Committee might decide that the cost of the repair of sudden damage to roads was capital expenditure, and the County Council is forbidden to incur that without the 1335 consent of that Committee. Nor will it be safe for the Council to exercise the powers under the Rivers Pollution Act, because it might have to construct a drain, which would involve that capital expenditure which is one of the subjects reserved for the Standing Joint Committee. But in addition to the power of breaking stones the Council undoubtedly has the power of dealing with destructive insects, under the Destructive Insects Act, 1877, provided that these destructive insects are not so formidable or do not exist in such numbers as to require capital expenditure for their suppression. But I am disposed to say that while I am fully conscious that these two powers are unquestionably given to the sole care of the County Council by this Bill, we in Ireland consider that even in the sphere of local administration we have a right to aspirations more extensive than the breaking of stones and the destruction of insects; and my disposition is to present these insects with my respectful compliments to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, and let him dispose of them according to his own ideas. What reason can be assigned for this elaborate and unparalleled network of interference with the work of the representatives of the people? Why should not the ordinary law be sufficient in Ireland, as in England or in Scotland? Why should Irishmen be supposed to be naturally more corrupt, dishonest, or criminal than the men of any other race? Do hon. Members possess the least idea of the powers and functions of the ordinary law in regard to public bodies in Ireland? May I, just for a moment, ask the House to take specifically into its mind the legal powers which are not considered sufficient? In the first place, the County Council must levy an equal poundage rate upon all property liable to county cess, so that it is not able to discriminate to the prejudice of any ratepayer. In the second place, any cesspayer or any person entitled to the receipt of rent, out of which county cess may be deducted, may appeal to the Sessions against the making of any rate, and may cause that rate to be quashed. In the third place, any person affected 1336 may traverse before the High Court any order for payment made by the County Council, and may cause it to be cancelled. In the fourth place, any person affected may present a memorial to a superior authority either against the order for the execution of any works, or against the policy of executing any works; and that authority may direct the County Council either to proceed or not to proceed with the works. Then comes the public auditor at the end of every year with the power to disallow any illegal or improper expenditure, and by surcharge to make the members of the Council personally responsible for the expenditure, and compel them to refund the money. Next, there are the powers of the ordinary law, which are certainly sufficient for corruption, for malversation, or for disobedience to the law. Then, finally, the Court of Queen's Bench in Ireland, as in England, has by mandamus absolute power to deal with any abuse of power—either the excess or the misuse of function on the part of a Local Body—and by imprisonment or by fine to compel obedience to its orders. Then upon this accumulation of legality, which no one can pretend to be insufficient for the purpose, the powers of the Standing Joint Committee have been superimposed; and it is upon the existing powers and the proposed powers of that Committee that the further proposal has been made—a proposal unparalleled in the history of the civilised world—that the rights and the existence of about two hundred Public Bodies in Ireland, thirty-two County Councils, and about 160 Baronial Councils—should be placed at the absolute mercy of two Judges upon matters not merely of corruption, but of "oppression," a word not yet defined by any law, a word which raises a matter of prejudice and of opinion and not a matter of crime. You place in the hands of these two Judges the power to disqualify any Council, to turn the whole Council out-of-doors, to terminate its official life, to ruin any man or men on that Body by the imposition of legal costs, and to disfranchise, by their mere dictum, the the whole body of electors in a county. I scorn to argue with such a proposal. I say that it is an insult 1337 to the Irish people; and that even if your scheme were as perfect as it is absurd in every other particular, this one provision alone would entitle and compel us to throw your Bill back to you. This Bill, so far as it is not openly repressive, is a great, an elaborate, delusion. It professes to give an increase of liberty; what it does provide is a further development of coercion. It professes to extend elective local government; what it does provide is an ingenious and intricate network of elaborate provisions to render that power inoperative. Under the pretence of extending local government, it would give to the judiciary, who occupy in Ireland a position not wholly free from suspicion of partiality, an arbitrary power over the rights of the electors, over the franchise of the electors, and over the powers of their representatives; and it would give to them that power not merely in matters of crime or of offences, but in matters of prejudice and of opinion not cognisable by a Court of Law in this or in any other country. Sir, this Bill, instead of improving the situation in Ireland, will provide for the perpetuation of the ascendency of class over class, and party over party, in the most offensive and prejudicial form, by setting up in every county in Ireland a nominated majority of irresponsible persons to overrule and set at nought the will of the electorate. The Irish people reject the Bill with contempt; they have received it without surprise, because they expected nothing better from its authors—from the men who, for the last five years, in the interest of the greed and tyranny of a class, have scourged and insulted them throughout. I ask the House to reject the Bill, not only upon the grounds I have laid before them, but also because it is an affront both to Parliament and the country. I say it is an affront to the country, because it violates in all essential principles the pledge given six years ago by the Tory Party to the electors; and to Parliament, because it violates in every essential principle the undertaking given to Parliament itself at the opening of this Session in the Speech from the Throne.
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *(6.33.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin University
I have followed with interest and attention the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; but I had considerable difficulty in recognising from his descriptions and criticisms the Bill with which I fancied I was familiar, and which is the measure now before the House. Will it be believed that the observations and denunciations of the hon. Member were addressed to a Bill which in all essential particulars, as I shall demonstrate, is as liberal as the legislation passed into law for England and Scotland? Take one of the essential parts of the Bill—that of the franchise. I listened with attention to the only general criticism of the hon. Member with regard to this part of the Bill. It was that in this Bill the Government have adopted what he called a principle of disfranchisement. This is the principle which the House agreed to the other night by a majority of more than two to one as one which ought to be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom. It is not a measure of disfranchisement, but only the removal of an exceptional privilege from the least deserving class of electors. That was the only general criticism of the hon. Member, but there were some minor criticisms in regard to Belfast and Dublin—criticisms which might fairly be made in Committee on the Bill. Are you prepared to reject a Bill for the Local Government of Ireland because Dublin and Belfast differ from other Irish Municipalities as regards the municipal franchise? Surely that is not a question for discussion on the Second Reading of this Bill. I observed that the hon. Member made these criticisms in order to prove the "audacious party bias" of the Bill; but let me say that a Bill with a party bias would produce a different political result in Dublin and Belfast.
§ MR. SEXTON
No, it will have the same result. In Belfast it will shut out the Nationalists, and in Dublin it will protect the Tories.
§ *MR. MADDEN
The hon. Member relies upon the cases of Dublin and Belfast to show that the Bill has an "audacious party bias." I contend that there is no case for such a suggestion. So much for the question of the franchise. The question of cumulative voting is closely connected with the franchise. The hon. Member for West Belfast said he was in favour of the representation of minorities, but he criticised the particular manner in which the Bill deals with that question. I will undertake to say on behalf of the Government that if the hon. Member can suggest a better way of obtaining a fair representation of minorities than by means of the cumulative vote, the Government will be only too glad to embody it in the Bill; and I say that with the full assent of my right hon. Friend beside me. There are obvious objections to almost all schemes which have been proposed dealing with this problem. All I will further say with regard to it is that I and the hon. Member are at one in wishing to secure the representation of minorities, and that this and other arguments directed against the Second Reading of the Bill might both have been adduced in Committee. I will now refer to another point—that with reference to the police. Anyone listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast would have imagined that in England and Wales the control of the police had been transferred to the County Councils.
§ MR. SEXTON
I said that in England and Scotland the County Councils have control which they have not in Ireland.
§ *MR. MADDEN
To suggest that the control of the police in Ireland should be given to the County Councils is to suggest not the assimilation of the Irish to the English and the Scotch system, but the introduction of a totally new principle. The hon. Member used some strong language in regard to what he called the control over the County Councils. He said the Councils would become the "serfs, drudges, and the scullions" of the Standing Joint Committee. But what about the Standing Joint Committee in Scotland? I do not know whether the most patriotic of Irishmen would get up and assert that his countrymen are more 1340 economical or less likely to spend their sixpences or larger sums of money extravagantly than their Scotch friends. I, for my part, am not prepared to take up that position. What has Parliament thought fit to do in regard to the County Councils in Scotland? It has said—"In matters of capital expenditure you shall be under the control of the Standing Joint Committee." The hon. Member, referring to the constitution of this Committee, said that while there would be in Ireland, as in England, seven representatives of the County Council and seven representatives of landowners, the ex officio member would not hold the same position as the Sheriff of a Scotch county. That is true, but I would point out that my right hon. Friend, in introducing this Bill, said—and I am authorised to repeat it—that it is the desire of the Government to appoint an ex officio member who will fulfil and occupy in the Irish Council the position of the Sheriff in Scotland, or to provide some other means whereby a member should be added to the County Council who would be recognised by all parties as an impartial official.
§ *MR. MADDEN
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the correction, and I would say that if hon. Members opposite can suggest some method by which a person who can be trusted by both sides can be added to the Joint Committee the Government will be only too glad to accept it. The hon. Member further argued that there is a reason for having a Joint Committee with a control over the expenditure in Scotland, because the landlord there, at all events, pays a portion of the rates. It was also said that in Ireland the landlord paid none of them—a statement which was cheered by hon. Members opposite. It is true that, speaking generally, county cess is paid by the occupier. But I have heard, over and over again, the argument urged by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that rates fall ultimately on the owner, and that in consequence that relief is, in respect of local rates, given to the owner of the land, not to the occupier. At all events 1341 in Ireland this is a reality, for the incidence of rates is taken into account by Sub-Commissioners in fixing judicial rents, which, as the House knows, are subject to revision every fifteen years. The hon. Member asked me a question which I am very happy to answer. What is it, he inquired, that the County Councils are to do? Well, Sir, the language of the Bill and its practical operation are about as wide as any that have been introduced into an Act of Parliament. I would here remind the House in a very few words of a point of difference between the English and the Irish county system, which may not be present in the minds of all English Members, although it may be in the minds of Irish Members. We have had in operation in Ireland for a long time a baronial system under which the necessary expenditure for works, which ultimately come under the cognisance of the Grand Jury, are in the first instance passed by the Baronial Sessions peculiar to Ireland. Those duties we transfer to the Baronial Councils, which are, in effect, the District Councils, which have been promised for England. To the County Council we transfer all the fiscal and administrative duties vested in the Grand Juries, and we do more—we enable the County Councils to take over, if they think fit, the very important duty now vested in the Rural Sanitary Authority under the various Acts. They will have power over all that is now under the control of the Grand Juries, and, in addition, they will take over from the Board of Guardians some of the important duties now discharged by those bodies. So far, therefore, as I can see, the County Councils in Ireland will be placed, as regards the transfer of duties and power, in a more favourable position than the County Councils in England and Scotland. Now I do not think that any fair-minded Member of this House can complain with regard to that. The hon. Member for West Belfast has, however, complained that there has been no transfer to the County Council of the powers of the Grand Jury in Ireland with regard to malicious injuries.
§ MR. SEXTON
I did not complain that it had not been transferred to the County Council, but that the Grand Jury system had been left untouched.
§ *MR. MADDEN
When a very experienced statesman was asked how a certain matter should be dealt with he suggested, "Why not leave it alone?" That is what is done under this Bill. But I quite appreciate the force of the suggestion that these powers might with advantage be transferred to some judicial tribunal, and if the hon. Gentleman can suggest a more excellent way of dealing with this part of the question we should be glad to consider it. Now I come to an important part of the Bill — a part about which the hon. Member has declined to argue. The hon. Gentleman has criticised those parts of the Bill which might fairly have been discussed in Committee; but he declines to argue upon the important portion which I am now approaching—that which gives protection to the minority against corruption, malversation, or oppression. I am, therefore, under this disadvantage with regard to it: that I have no argument to meet. The hon. Member said he declined to argue upon it, because he considered it as an insult to Ireland. If I had regarded the provision of the Bill in that light I should not stand up here to defend it. I regard it as no insult to any country to recognise the plain and patent facts of its history. It must be admitted that there has been carried on in Ireland a war of class against class, and that this war has raged around the property of the minority. The circumstances of Ireland as regards the position of the minority differ essentially from the circumstances of England and Scotland. I have no doubt whatever that if such a war had raged in England or Scotland as has existed in Ireland, no responsible Minister would have given Local Government to England or Scotland without safeguards similar in principle to those provided in this Bill. I do not believe that the war in Ireland has been attended by more regrettable circumstances than it would have been under similar conditions in England or Scotland. Nay, I believe that if it had had in England and Scotland, as it has had in Ireland, the support of 1343 political leaders and the sanction of ministers of religion, it would have been accompanied by circumstances even more regrettable than any which have accompanied it in Ireland; and I believe that my countrymen are ready enough, when the fight is over, to shake hands and become friends again. But we must look facts fairly in the face. I do not wish the House to take my statements. I will refer to higher authority. I do not accept upon this question the opinions of the representatives of the majority. You must consult all parties, and hear the representatives not only of the majority, but also of the minority, and the opinion of those whose duty it was in former days to hold the balance between both, and to decide what should be done in regard to the protection of minorities in Ireland. I do not think I could better impress the House than by a passage which I shall read from a speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) on the 8th April, 1886, in introducing the Bill for the Government of Ireland. He said—Next, I introduce a provision which may seem to be exceptional, but which, in the peculiar circumstances of Ireland, whose history unhappily has been one long chain of internal controversies as well as of external difficulties, is necessary in order that there may be reasonable safeguards for the minority. I am asked why there should be a safeguard for a minority. Will not the minority in Ireland, as in other countries, be able to take care of itself? Are not free institutions, with absolute publicity, the best security that can be given to any minority?… We have not yet reached that state of things.I await with considerable interest utterances from the Front Bench on this question. Have we yet reached that state of things in Ireland? And if we have, to what is the difference to be attributed? Will hon. Members contend that the success of the government of Ireland since 1886 has been such as to render safe now what was then unsafe? What other argument can they adduce?
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
The proposals of 1886 are not at all analogous to what you are proposing now.
§ *MR. MADDEN
If the right hon. Gentleman will do me the honour of 1344 listening to my speech for a few moments he will, I think, shortly see that at all events the point is deserving of the consideration of the House. At present I am merely quoting the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman that there was in 1886 a state of things in Ireland which called for exceptional protection of the minority. He said they had not in Ireland arrived at the stage at which minorities could protect themselves. I have also read with great pleasure the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan) upon the First Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill. He presented to the House and to the country a counterproposal of his own, which he also described in a speech made in the country on 1st July, 1886. He said he was for the fullest measure of local self-government for Ireland that could safely be conceded. That was his idea of local government. On 8th April, 1886, he said:—To these bodies should be committed full power of local administration and local taxation, but they should have no executive power over the incidence of local taxation, or overvaluation or assessment, in order that injustice should not be done indirectly between class and class.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton, then, was in favour of the very fullest measure of local self-government for Ireland that could be safely conceded. What did he see as the danger in such a measure? Indirect injustice between class and class; and can there, I ask, be a stronger statement of the necessity for special protective provisions? If those safeguards were necessary in 1886, will the right hon. Gentleman say that they are now unnecessary? If so, to what is the difference attributable? If I may venture to interpret the interruptions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, I may anticipate the response that his utterances in 1886 were relative to a different matter. Yes; the right hon. Gentleman accepts my suggestion that they had reference to the right hon. Gentleman's Bill for the government of Ireland. But will it be argued that the same dangers and the same difficulties do not surround the system 1345 of Local Government embodied in this measure. On that point I should like to quote from an instructive speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, who in 1886 was evidently of opinion that danger of oppression of the minority and danger of class indirectly oppressing class were greater in the case of such a measure as that now before the House. In his speech on the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill in 1886 the right hon. Gentleman clearly indicated his opinion that Local Boards and other Local Bodies are more likely to act unfairly towards minorities than Central Legislatures. He quoted with approval a statement of the danger that Local Authorities would constantly turn efficient officers away who were not of their own mode of thought. Is not that a danger to be guarded against by an impartial Standing Committee? He also quoted with approval the statement of Lord Salisbury that a Local Authority was more exposed to the temptation of acting unjustly to the minority than a large Central Authority would be, and he observed that this statement embodied an extremely wise and sensible, sound and statesmanlike view. I know the right hon. Gentleman will probably say that he used those words as an argument for giving wider self-government in Ireland.
§ MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I say Lord Salisbury himself used them in that sense, for the purpose of showing the superiority of a large scheme.
§ *MR. MADDEN
Quite so; but the connection in which the argument was used cannot alter a matter of fact. The right hon. Gentleman adopts the principle that Local Bodies are more likely to act unfairly to minorities, and are more likely to turn away their officers because they do not agree with them in politics, than a central Legislative Assembly would be. That is a question of fact derived from observation of what goes on in the world, and cannot, therefore, be altered by the circumstance that in the year 1892 we happen to be discussing a measure of Local Government. The state of facts and the inferences to be drawn from the facts are the same whether we 1346 are discussing a measure of Imperial magnitude, or, as at the present moment, a measure for the local administration of affairs. This cannot possibly affect the conclusion drawn from experience that these Local Bodies, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, are specially liable to commit the injustices against which we are endeavouring to afford some protection. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle does not accept the proposition which I am now going to state, he will be obliged to say so when he takes part in this debate. He cannot escape from it. He cannot dissent from my contention that there is special danger of these Local Bodies misusing their powers for the purpose of injuring individuals from whom they differ without unsaying what he said in 1886. If that danger exists, then it is the bounden duty of the Government to do their best in the direction of protection. If we go as far as that, what remains? There remains the question which the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) declined to argue; and although I have no argument to meet, I deem it my duty to submit some consideration to the House. The law has been suggested as a remedy, but the law only remedies breaches of the law. The law will do no more. Such dangers as those apprehended by the hon. Member for Bridgeton are not breaches of the law; they are abuses of the law, and no legal tribunal will prevent abuses of the law, if the law is in favour of the man who abuses it. Therefore, if the dangers recognised by right hon. Gentlemen opposite exist we must have something more than the ordinary law; and in that case what better tribunal can we have than that embodied in the Bill, one not concerned in county affairs at all, impartial, not subject to the dictates of the Government of the day; a tribunal which will decide not as the Local Government Board do in dissolving Boards of Guardians, or after the manner of the Education Department in dissolving School Boards, ex informatâ conscientiâ, but will hear evidence, weigh it, act judicially, and will not inflict the severe penalty of dissolution, except in cases which are proved. To what can you appeal with 1347 more confidence than to the impartiality and patriotism of Irish Judges? I see that the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) smiles, and I am sure that smile is prompted by recollection of the passage which I am about to read. It is an admirable passage. The Government with which the right hon. Gentleman was connected were considering the question of how to deal with certain crimes peculiar to the country, and they came to the conclusion that they could safely entrust to the Irish Judges decisions not only on questions of law, but also of fact, in the most delicate of trials, arising out of the peculiar condition of affairs in the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby introduced a Bill in the House. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said that the Irish Judges of late have been subject to some degree of suspicion in regard to impartiality.
§ *MR. MADDEN
And in relation to another Bill attacks have been made against the Irish Bench and the Irish Bar—attacks founded partly on ignorance, partly on wilful misrepresention, and partly on the credulity of some who ought to have known better. What is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman? I am sure he will not say that he has changed it since 1882. I believe that the highest tribute that can be paid to the Irish Judges was paid by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian in 1882, when, as I have said, he proposed to entrust to them questions of fact, as well as of law, in criminal cases of the most important class intimately connected with, and arising out of, the exceptional circumstances of the country. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby say on the 11th May, 1882?The Government have come to the conclusion that this responsibility could be nowhere cast except upon the highest and most responsible persons—the guardians of the law in Ireland. The Judges of the land as a body are the only persons who have knowledge, who possess the authority which is adequate to bear such a responsibility. … We have a right to appeal with confidence to the patriotism of the Judges of Ireland.
§ *MR. MADDEN
Does the right hon. Gentleman imagine that the Judges of Ireland and England spend their whole time in deciding criminal cases? The fact is that the Judges, especially the Judges in the Chancery Division, spend a large portion of their time in giving relief in cases of oppression as between one man and another. Why can they not do the same in the case of public bodies? It is a recognised part of the jurisdiction of the Judges, and the observations which the right hon. Gentleman applied to the exercise of such a jurisdiction in criminal cases equally apply to their discharge of their duties in matters which, like this, are not of a criminal character. Let me remind the House that some years ago it was called upon to confer functions, not very different from those which we proposed to confer, on the Judges of the High Court of Justice. It had to deal with the trial of Election Petitions and the presentation of Reports leading directly to proceedings which appear, to my mind, to be infinitely more important than even the important matter of the dissolution of a County Council. I refer to the Reports upon which this House is asked to disfranchise a borough. The finding on the evidence and the presentation of the Report, which are the foundation for the action of the House, were some years ago entrusted by this House to that tribunal to which we propose in this Bill to entrust this question of the dissolution of a County Council. It is essential in the eyes of the Government to give efficient and adequate protection to minorities in Ireland. That is one of the vital principles of the Bill, and I am unable to see to what tribunal that can be more safely entrusted than to the one entrusted by Parliament with analogous functions, and so eloquently described by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. There was one portion of the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sexton) to which I must refer. It is this: He stated that the country is asked to prefer this Bill as a settlement of Ireland's case, as an alternative to what is rather loosely described as a 1349 Home Rule Bill; and that if this Bill is not preferred as a settlement, then we must look out for horrid war. Whoever so described this Bill? Certainly not the First Lord of the Treasury when he introduced it. Is the alternative to Home Rule, the transfer of roads, bridges, and sanitary matters from a competent body which is doing its duty well to an untried body? The two questions cannot be mentioned in the same breath; they are as different as light and darkness. Which is light and which is darkness is a question which I will not discuss here further than to say that a very considerable cloud of darkness hangs over the alternative scheme, and that the light lies on the Bill before the House. What that light discloses is for the House to say; but a darkness that may be felt encircles what has been called the alternative of this Bill. It has elsewhere been said that this Bill is an alternative scheme to Home Rule, but that appears to me to be an entire misconception of the case, for what is presented by the Government as the alternative for Home Rule is the entire policy of the Unionist Party, of which this Bill is but a part. What is Home Rule? I do not ask that question with any expectation of getting an answer, but at all events it involves a Parliament sitting in Ireland and legislating for Ireland, and an Executive responsible to that Parliament. I do not know whether that will be considered an adequate definition by the Party opposite, but at all events there underlie any scheme of Home Rule a Legislative Assembly sitting in Dublin and an Executive responsible to that Assembly. How can such a scheme be suggested as an alternative to a measure which transfers local affairs from a competent to an untried body? Let each scheme be considered on its merits, but do not suggest one as the alternative of the other. The alternative of any scheme of Home Rule is the whole policy of the Unionist Party—the government of Ireland, England, and Scotland, under the Imperial Parliament, under equal laws adapted to the special circumstances of each country. And that is the policy which has produced such satisfactory results 1350 in Ireland in the past six years during which it has been tried, that I am almost tempted to doubt whether I can adopt the statement of the right hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) that we have not arrived at that particular point in Irish affairs indicated by him. At any rate, we have approached nearer to it than we were six years ago. This Bill is only a part of the Unionist policy to which I have alluded. The effect of that policy so far is that such is the freedom from lawless coercion of the people of Ireland, so that a man is now even free to pay his rent. Why Sir, if I were a farmer in far-off districts of Ireland, I should even prefer a scheme which opened up my county by means of railway communication which the Government has established—and which hon. Members opposite see fit to deride—to the transfer of county administration to an elective body. But though this is not the alternative to Home Rule, it is an important measure, and I will venture to say that there has been no case made out by the hon. Member for West Belfast why this Bill should not be read a second time, unless we are to agree with him and say we will abandon the protection of minorities. If he desires to take issue on that point we shall join it with him. I may remind the House that if circumstances do not arise for putting into force the special clause of this Bill—the existence of which I believe will prevent a great deal of misuse of local powers—then, for all, practical purposes, it will be as though it did not exist. Sir, I commend this Bill to the House as a liberal and generous measure, and upon this I challenge not contradiction, because that will in all probability be forthcoming—but I challenge argument. This Bill will enable the Irish ratepayers to manage their local affairs upon the same lines as ratepayers in England and Scotland at the present time in this country, with those necessary provisions for the special circumstances which have been advocated over and over again by every responsible Minister of every Party which has ever attempted to grapple with this part of the Irish Question. I commend this Bill to the House as a 1351 generous measure, but you must be just before you are generous. I commend it to the House also, because it is just to that minority in Ireland who I believe will—neither on this occasion nor on more important occasions—ever appeal to the people of England for justice and protection in vain.
§ *(7.35.) MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
I do not think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has in any way adequately answered the very eloquent and incisive remarks of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). Judging by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I should almost conclude that the accusations of the Opposition that this Bill is merely brought forward in fulfilment of pledges, and not with any idea of passing it, is just. I would not have ventured to address the House on this subject, if I had not been one of the four Members who alone remain of the Committee of seventeen who sat on Irish Local Government and Taxation of Towns for three years—1876–77–78—and studied this question with very great care under the Chairmanship of the now President of the Board of Trade (Sir M. Hicks Beach), and I must regret that this Bill has not been drawn more on the lines of the Report of that Committee, because it appears from the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast that if it had been so drawn they would have been much more prepared to accept it. That Committee consisted of the President of the Board of Trade as Chairman, seven leading Irish landowners then in the House, seven Irish Home Rulers, one English Conservative Member, and myself, an English Liberal, who was added to the Committee as being considerably interested in Local Government. We went most carefully into the inquiry, and I think all were somewhat surprised to find that in most parts of Ireland far more complete materials for good Local Government existed, and a more general disposition to welcome such improvement, than we were, at the outset of the inquiry, altogether prepared for. Nor had waste or corruption been more extensive than in the English Corporations previous to municipal reform. One thing was very 1352 remarkable and encouraging. The witnesses were summoned both by Conservatives and Home Rulers; from whichever side they came, I believe I may say that all of them united in one thing—the wish to see a better class of men taking an interest in Local Government. They all wanted to get the best men into it, and I think the whole Committee were sanguine that if the right hon. Gentleman who was then Secretary (Sir M. H. Beach) had been allowed to remain Secretary for Ireland, he would have been able to produce, and would have produced, a Local Government Bill of which Conservatives and Liberals might have heartily approved. Another point on which I think we were quite unanimous was that bright hopes might be formed for the future of Ireland, if we could only break down the wall of separation and distrust which exists between different classes there, by bringing into this common work, administrative rather than political or theological, the representatives of all classes, sects, and parties. A great step would thus be taken towards promoting the happiness and prospects of Ireland. We ended in recommending that this should be done by the system originally proposed by the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Mr. Goschen), for the United Kingdom, and which was the other day advocated by the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) as better than the form of minority representation contained in the Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Longford in preferring greatly the division of rates and representation founded upon taxation to the form in the Bill. But one thing I think very important in the form of Local Government and absolutely essential in Ireland; that is, to secure some safe representation of the minority—I do not care how moderate it is in numbers. It is not voting power that is necessary or desirable for them—it is the maintenance in all these bodies of a certain number of men who can with safety and independence bring and keep before the local Governing Bodies the arguments in favour of justice, and administrative experience which may be counter to some excited temporary wave of public opinion, often on some side issue, 1353 which at times sweeps from local Governing Bodies many of their best members, for advocating measures affecting a single question, in which they may after all prove to be right, and which in any event does not seriously affect their usefulness—I might say their necessity—on such Governing Bodies. I have seen this repeatedly happen in England itself; and in Ireland, where religious and political differences run so high, there would be constant danger of those in whose practical management of local affairs the community would have the most confidence being swept away by some issue of this sort. Now, I was rather surprised to hear the value of the provision for representation of minorities disparaged by Members on both sides of the House, on grounds which I think they will see are not tenable. They said that the minority was so small in many parts of Ireland that they would have no appreciable weight or chance of any representation, whatever provisions were made. But, in so saying, hon. Members forget that the minority in Local Government will not be the same as the minorities in either religion or politics. A substantial Catholic or Protestant landowner or tenant will have just as great an objection to have his property or industry burdened and wasted as if he held the opposite opinions on religious or political matters; and the minority in Local Bodies will, I should expect, very soon be, on administrative questions of management or debt, very different from the minority as decided by religion or politics. This will be especially the case in those very places where one Party is absolutely supreme, and need, therefore, not trouble itself about its political or religious ascendancy, but to whatever political or religious Party men in such a case belong, they will have a very great objection to being either overtaxed or having their local affairs mismanaged. I therefore hope the right hon. Gentleman will adhere with absolute firmness to his determination to have some form of the representation of the minority which will ensure their voice being heard on the local Governing Bodies. There is another point on which I think 1354 we require the most carefully considered provisions—I mean the powers to incur debt. In all Local Governments this should be strictly limited, and the limit never exceeded except by carefully-considered legislation, in order to ensure great prudence. Democracies are very energetic, but they are by no means economical, especially in local expenditure, and the most advanced and experienced ones have found it necessary to make it very difficult to exceed these limits. America has, I think in ten States, put a limitation into their Constitutions so that the amount can only be exceeded by a vote of two-thirds of the constituents and by a majority in two successive Legislatures. Now, Ireland has not the vast resources which have enabled America to surmount difficulties that in Ireland would be ruinous. Twice has the Federal Government been obliged to come to the aid of Local Governments in the different States. At one time there was a considerable repudiation of debt, and these very strict limitations have been passed in consequence of these difficulties. These limitations have stood the test of experience, and of even so severe a test as the fire of Chicago, which destroyed nearly the whole city. The limit in such cases cannot be exceeded on a mere Provisional Order or anything analogous. It is, I repeat, in the Constitution, and cannot be departed from. On the other hand, the way it is enforced is not by calling the local Governing Bodies to account or by suspending their functions, as proposed in the Bill; but by making all action contrary to these limitations illegal, so that he who lends money in contravention of the law has no recourse against the community, and his only hope is of getting the money from the parties who illegally borrowed it; and this is a risk neither lenders nor borrowers are willing to incur. I think it would be most beneficial for Ireland itself and for the United Kingdom, if all parties could now unite in passing a really good Local Government Bill, both for the benefit which such a measure would itself confer on Ireland, and also as preparing the way for that larger measure of self-government which the Liberal Party intend, 1355 and, few doubt, will soon have the opportunity of proposing as a Government measure. Unless I am very much mistaken, no one would receive greater assistance and benefit from the passage of a good Local Government Bill than—if Home Rule be decided on—would the Irish Leaders themselves. I have no doubt that they will be most anxious to use carefully and wisely the powers they seek to obtain; but as anyone acquainted with Ireland is aware, in the long and protracted struggle which has been going on, the bulk of the Irish people have come to believe that everything that money can buy or legislation enact would at once be theirs if they only had a Legislature of their own. And as no means at the disposal of the Irish Government could enable them to do all that would be expected from them, it is most important that certain questions, such as local government and land, should be settled for a time, so that the people might have some period during which to accustom themselves to the use of their new powers, and realise the limitations which attach to what any Government can do. If some such protection is not given for a time to the new Government of Ireland, if they cannot point to certain limitations of powers and time as making patience necessary, in the very stipulations of their new Constitution, they will be driven to measures and expenditure which would soon bring about disaster and bankruptcy. If they do not satisfy all those impossible expectations, they will, without such protection, be swept away to make room for others who will promise to do so. The Local Government Bill might well be passed in this view for a definite period of, say, seven years, at the end of which it would come up for reconsideration with increased experience on all sides, In the meantime the Irish Government will have more work to do than they can do carefully and well.
§ *(7.38.) MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
I regret the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), because I should have imagined that he would have cordially welcomed a proposal of this kind. But I can conceive one reason why the hon. Member and those who act with him are unwilling to support the Second Reading 1356 of this Bill. I think they are a little afraid that if County Councils are established in Ireland there might be such scenes exhibited at those meetings as would deter the people of England from granting them the larger measure which they say they are soon going to obtain. If one member of the County Council were to call another an ass, and this were to be followed by the other saying that he ought to be allowed to stew in his own fat, as we have seen recently Members of this House attacking each other in Dublin, perhaps that would do a great deal to disgust the people of the United Kingdom with the demand for a Parliament in Dublin. The able and exhaustive speech of the Attorney General for Ireland has left little to be said in support of the Bill, but speaking for a large section of people in Ulster who cordially welcome this attempt of the Government to deal with this question, I give the Second Reading of the Bill my most earnest and hearty support. We have heard some remarks about the protection of minorities, and it cannot be doubted by anyone who has studied the history of Ireland that it is absolutely necessary in such a measure as this that some regard should be paid to the protection of minorities. I am just as ready to concede protection to the minority of Roman Catholics in Belfast as to the minority of Protestants in other parts of the country. We are sometimes spoken of as being bigoted and intolerant to those who differ from us, but we are anxious that the greatest possible privileges should be extended to all loyal subjects in Ireland. The only thing we protest against is the attempt to dissever Ireland from the Crown, and to cut the golden link which connects Ireland to England. This we do resolutely, and shall oppose to the end of the chapter. In supporting the Second Reading we desire to remove some of the grievances which exist in Ireland as compared with England and Scotland, and I cannot conceive why hon. Members opposite who are always calling out for equal laws should oppose this Bill and go in for such wholesale denunciation of the measures that have been introduced by Her Majesty's Government. The present Government have never been 1357 famous for broken pledges and for making promises which they never intended to fulfil. This Bill is in fulfilment of one of the pledges that have been from time to time given to the country, and an attempt is now being made to frustrate the measure by those who pose as the champions of Irish liberty. We have seen measure after measure introduced by the present Government for the amelioration of Ireland; we have seen Bills for the improvement of drainage, and Bills for the extension of railways opposed resolutely by hon. Gentlemen opposite; and it is part of the policy which they consistently pursue to make it appear that Parliament is either unwilling or unable to redress the grievances and right the wrongs of Ireland. But I trust that the House will prove by passing this Bill that it is both willing and able to perform this duty. The hon. Member (Mr. Sexton) does not represent the opinion of the great and progressive city of Belfast. The General Election, for which hon. Members opposite profess themselves so anxious, will certainly be welcome to the people of Ulster, and several more members of the loyal party will be sent to support the present Government, and the place of the hon. Member for West Belfast will know him no more. I cordially support this Bill as a measure of justice for Ireland by a Government which has shown itself anxious to promote the moral and material welfare of that country; and I do so not only in the interest of Ireland but also of Great Britain, feeling that the removal of a grievance will strengthen the bond that holds the two countries together.
§ *(8.37.) MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)
Before proceeding to make a few remarks upon the Bill now before the House, I should like to be allowed to say that I have listened with much attention to the speech of the hon. Member for South Belfast, for whom I have a great respect. Though we differ on some matters, and notably in the estimation in which he holds the character of our fellow-countrymen who are Catholics, we agree entirely Upon one subject, and that is—a desire for the maintenance of the Union between these countries. The hon. Gentleman speaks of golden links. I 1358 desire likewise that these countries should be united by golden links; I do not desire that they should be united by fetters. I would like to remind the hon. Gentleman of an expression once uttered by the late Mr. John Bright—that the misfortune hitherto in relation to these two countries was this: that the Union was a union between Ulster and Great Britain, but that he would desire that there should be a union between the whole of Ireland and Great Britain. That is the wish I have, and I believe that in desiring that I do not desire anything inimical to the interests of Ulster or those whom the hon. Member for South Belfast represents. This is not merely a Local Government Bill, such as has been already passed for England and Scotland. It is the culmination of a great policy. We have been passing through very bitter and sad times, and we were always promised that the outcome of it would be one great measure which would settle for ever the difficulties in which the two countries find themselves. But this Bill, I believe, will not effect that object, and I intend to vote against it. I do not see how this Bill would relieve the pressure which exists at present upon the time of the House in the endeavour to meet its ever-increasing responsibilities. On the contrary, I rather think it would open up new points of difficulty; and I do not see in any respect how a minute or an hour in the time of this House would be saved by it. It would be a great point in such a Bill as this if the interests of the Protestants in Ireland were properly safeguarded in such a manner as to give no offence to anyone; but I do not think that that has been done by this Bill. What is the position of the Protestants in Ireland? Their position is this: that more than half the Protestants of Ireland—I think about 670,000—are confined to four counties in Ireland; the remaining 600,000 Protestants are scattered all over the rest of Ireland, and are in a hopeless minority in twenty-eight counties. If there was any common assembly in any part of Ireland where representatives from all parts of the country could come together and discuss common interests, I believe it would be impossible for anything to go wrong in the most 1359 remote part of Ireland. In that respect I think the Bill is entirely wanting. I think it is also wanting in not abolishing in any respect the scandals of Castle government, which have been fully admitted for the last forty or fifty years. I think the practical retention of the Grand Jury system, the existence of which has been one of the principal grievances of the country, is a serious blot on the Bill, and a disappointment to all of us who hoped that such a Bill would be an effective measure. I think that it is one of the deepest defects of the Bill that it contains no provision for bringing Irishmen together for the common discussion of their grievances. The hon. Member for South Belfast and others have referred to the present condition of things amongst Irishmen as a proof that they were not fit for that wider administration which we hoped to have obtained by this Bill. That is an entire misreading, I think, of the present state of affairs. On all occasions in Ireland in which we are brought together, and where we are allowed to settle our own differences amicably together, we get on as well as they do in any other country. Our public companies are, in proportion to their means, quite as well and purely managed as your public companies. I suppose every week there are at least one hundred Boards of Guardians sitting all over Ireland; in these Boards of Guardians I think there is very fair amity. And you must remember this unfortunate fact: that in Ireland the large end of the telescope is turned towards all our differences and troubles; while here in this country it is the interest of everyone to minimise and hide them away. The great differences that have occurred in Ireland, and that are now going on there, all arose out of the condition of Ireland as compared with this country. Then there is nothing in this Bill to rouse our enthusiasm, or to attract men of high intelligence or patriotic aims in the country. I regard that as a very great defect of this Bill. The cardinal necessity for any measure of Local Government for Ireland should be that real and true responsibility should be thrown upon the people; and I protest that there is not in this Bill 1360 real and true responsibility. The effect of the present state of things is that whatever wrongs there are in our social state we try to throw on other people and another Government. I am not one of those who believe that all our ills result from misgovernment; a great many of them result from ourselves. But until we are taught to feel and know that in the last resort in Ireland, as in every other country, good government must spring from ourselves, we cannot change in our manner. Nothing sobers a man like responsibility. We see cases occurring constantly where young men without responsibility exhibit little power to effect much; but put responsibilities on their shoulders, and they soon develop qualities that you can hardly imagine them to possess. So I believe with Ireland. When real responsibility is thrown upon us, when the door is shut on our being able to throw our misfortunes on others, then we shall develop new qualities, and bring about a state of things entirely different to that which exists. In Ireland we know permanent officials exercise an influence far beyond what they have ever exercised in England; and that Local Government in Ireland should be effective in face of such a dead weight of official and bureaucratic power, it would appear to me essential that it should be even of a wider character than the Local Government created in England and Scotland. It is impossible that we can accept this Bill as in any degree a settlement of the Local Government Question in Ireland. We all must acknowledge the brilliant abilities of the Leader of this House; but it appears to me that his principal power of mind consists in persuading himself and others that things are not what they are—that coercion is not coercion, that injustice is not injustice, and that inequality is equality. How it is possible to suppose that the democracy of England and Scotland, upon whom our hopes are centred, will accept the statement that this Bill runs on the same lines as the English and Scotch Bills passes my comprehension. The Attorney General for Ireland spoke of the darkness that hangs over our side of the House, and the complete success that has attended the measures 1361 passed by the Government. I do not believe, so long as we have any trust in the principles of real justice, that any darkness will hang over the opinions that are now happily held on this side of the House regarding the future government of Ireland. I believe whatever discouragements cross our path they will be overcome. But as for the present system, it is strange how people can persuade themselves that the effect upon us has not been directly contrary to what they suppose. I cannot see in what respect the system which you desire to maintain has been effectual. As I see this policy developing itself as it is finally developed in this Bill, bitter hatred rises in my breast against the present system, and a stronger determination to oppose it. It is because I believe that the policy embodied in this Bill will, instead of knitting us together, raise the worst feelings and passions, and it is because I desire that this House should be able to consider the happiness and peace of the millions depending upon it, and that the destinies of this Empire should be really high and holy, that I shall vote against the Second Reading of this measure, looking forward with the most perfect confidence to the great measure which will shortly be introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian.
§ (9.0.) MR. COGHILL (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
We must all recognise the moderation of the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, but when he speaks of orderly proceedings of companies in Dublin, we can hardly accept that statement with the proceedings of the Freeman's Journal. Company fresh in our minds. I share the regret expressed by the hon. Member for West Belfast at the absence of the hon. Member for Derry City, for he would, at all events, have had the advantage of speaking in the name of a united Party. I believe that that Party is extremely small, consisting only of two persons, and even they are sometimes divided. The hon. Member for West Belfast has not profited by the advice given by the hon. Member for Derry, when the Bill was read a first time. He then said that the best thing to be done with the Bill was to burn it; but the hon. Member for West 1362 Belfast has devoted a speech of an hour and a half's duration to an elaborate analysis and criticism of the measure. It therefore seems that the Bill is worth more than being put at the back of the fire. I am surprised that any Irish Member should have moved the rejection of this Bill. We all remember that during the last six years Irish Members have been going over England, Scotland, and Wales, telling the electors that all they wanted was the opportunity of managing their own local affairs; and it was because English people felt the Irish had not the same power as themselves of managing their own local business that the Irish had so much sympathy manifested towards them at by-elections. But after the action of the hon. Member for West Belfast to-night, I think the electors of this country are in a position to estimate correctly the value of the grievance complained of, and the sincerity of the speeches with which they have been flooded. I quite accept the statement that the issue at the last Election was whether we were to have the scheme of Home Rule proposed by the right hon. Member for Midlothian or the alternative of Local Government, and I must confess that I have the complaint to make against Her Majesty's Government that this Bill has been unduly delayed. In the years which have passed since the last General Election, the first Session was taken up with the Crimes Act and the Land Purchase Act; the next Session saw the English Local Government Act; the next the Scotch Local Government I Act; 1890 was wasted with the unfortunate proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and in 1891 we had the Irish Land Purchase Act. The Irish Local Government Bill has been reserved for this year, although it has been frequently mentioned in the Queen's Speech. I think that in this matter the Government have made a very great mistake. They have introduced three important measures dealing with Land Purchase in Ireland in order to remove discontent; but have they thereby satisfied the Irish people in the slightest degree? For my part, I do not believe that they have. The elections in Ireland show no signs of 1363 the discontent having been removed. I am quite aware that the First Lord of the Treasury may reply, "Supposing we had brought in a Bill establishing Local Government earlier, would that have satisfied the Irish, or removed any discontent or ill-feeling in Ireland?" I quite agree that in all probability it would not have satisfied the Irish people or made them more contented, but it would have had this important effect: that it would have cut away the ground from under the people in England and Scotland who sympathise with the Irish Members at the present time. I quite agree with the hon. Member who spoke last that this Bill does not go far enough. But that is a remark which can be applied with the same force, I think, to the English Bill and to the Scotch Bill. None of these Bills go far enough in the direction of devolution of business from this House. It is quite true that the County Council is, comparatively speaking, a recent experiment; but if we want to find a real means for the relief of the congestion of the business of this House, it is to the County Council we must turn. Most Members will agree with me that a great part of the business which is now transacted here might, with far greater benefit to the country, be transacted by the different County Councils. Private Bills can be settled far more expeditiously, far more cheaply, and far more efficiently, by the County Councils than they can before the Committees upstairs at the present time. There are two other matters which I looked to the Government to deal with in connection with this Bill—I mean the system known as Dublin Castle and the system of Viceroyalties. It is greatly to be regretted that the Government have not seen their way definitely to make some statement that the system of government by Viceroy should come to an end. I believe the only other Possession where a Viceroy holds office is that of India, and why should Her Majesty's Government try to identify Ireland with India? Why should they seek to make Ireland a separate entity, as distinct from Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom? I saw a letter in the paper not very long ago in which the writer pointed out that we have 1364 tried all the Viceroys from A (Aberdeen) to Z (Zetland); and I do think, now that we have come to the last letter of the alphabet, it is time that the government by the system of Viceroyalty should come to an end. How can we expect Irish Members to show any amount of loyalty if they are always called upon to pay their allegiance to only a sham Royalty, and to such a farce as the Viceroyalty system of Dublin? With this Bill I think we may say that the Unionist programme of Irish legislation is now complete. The responsibility of rejecting this Bill must rest with Members below the Gangway. A General Election is not very far off, and the electors will have an opportunity of showing whether they want any more Irish legislation, or whether they have had enough during the past six years. The Unionist programme is complete; we shall give no more Irish legislation, and in the future we shall be able to turn our attention, if the Unionist Government is returned, to the reform of the grievances of England, Scotland, and Wales. If, on the other hand, a Gladstonian Government is returned to power, then we shall have to go through the whole weary round of Irish legislation once more, and there will be opened up before us an endless vista of the same sort of legislation as we have been dealing with during the past six years. I should like to point out that this Irish policy of the Gladstonians is not particularly popular in the country at the present time. It is not popular, at all events, in the rural districts of England. I saw the other day that a late Under Secretary went down into the country to make a speech—it is true it was to the agricultural labourers that the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst) was speaking — and it will be hardly credible that that hon. Member in the whole of his speech never once alluded to the subject of Home Rule. He knows that it is not a popular question in the agricultural constituencies—that, in fact, it is there extremely distasteful. If, therefore, I might venture to give any advice to the Irish Members, I would strongly recommend them to accept this Bill, and for this reason: that they are a little uncertain as 1365 to what will happen at the next General Election. Even if the Gladstonian Party came into power, do they think that they will get all that they are bargaining for? Whilst if the Unionist Party are returned with a majority, they will have lost their chance. They should ascertain clearly what it is they are going to get if the Gladstonians come into power. Speaking at Whitechapel in January, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) said—I am satisfied that the Nationalist Party in Ireland, as a whole, and the Liberal Party in Great Britain, are willing to entrust this task to the hands of Mr. Gladstone …. upon the general lines of the policy he has already announced, with such modifications as the circumstances of the case may require.Shortly afterwards the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. William O'Brien) said—I take it that we are all united in demanding that the Irish Parliament, while it acts within its own province, shall be as free from Imperial meddling as the Parliaments of Australia or Canada—that is to say, practically as free as air.Is that the kind of Parliament the Gladstonians are going to give? A Gladstonian speaker at Rossendale referred the other day to the Home Rule Bill as one which would give the Irish people the right to deal with gas, water, railways, electricity, and one or two other subjects. Is that the kind of Home Rule the Irish people will accept? Speaking at Dungarvan in October last, the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) also said—We stand here under the old banner of independent Irish nationality.I think we can all understand that speech. Then, again, on St. Patrick's Day, in 1891, the hon. Member for Derry City said at a banquet in London—We stand for 'Ireland a nation': that is our purpose in public and political life. We open our meeting to-night with that toast, and we propose to open every such meeting with that toast till Ireland is really and in actual sense a nation.Are those the views that are accepted by the hon. Member for West Leeds? If so, we have his authority that Ireland is to be a separate nation. Then, again, Archbishop Croke, the spiritual adviser of the Nationalist Party, speaking at Clerihan in May, 1891, said— 1366For two hundred years priests and people have been fighting in the constitutional struggle for freedom and have brought us within strictly measurable distance of what we ultimately aim at—namely, the legislative independence of our country.But that is what the right hon. Member for Derby said could not be granted. Archbishop Croke also said in another speech—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member should confine himself to the subjects of the Bill. The House is not now discussing the question of Home Rule.
§ MR. COGHILL
I thought I should be in order in speaking upon the alternative to be offered in place of this Bill, but I will not pursue the question further. I will only say, in conclusion, that if Ireland merely wants Local Government, I am in favour of granting her request as fully and generously as possible, but the creation of a Local Parliament for Ireland is impossible. I think the Government will do well to make this Bill a wide and genuine measure, and, so far as the Second Reading is concerned, I am surprised there is any objection to it. If the Bill is now read a second time it could, if necessary, be enlarged and amplified in Committee, so as to give to Ireland every power associated with Local Government that could safely be given to either England, Scotland, or Wales.
§ (9.26.) MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)
I think that anyone who has read this Bill will have come to the conclusion that it will give to Ireland very little power—not even the same privileges that have been conferred by the English Local Government Bill. The taxing power given to the Irish County Councils will be very limited, being confined to taxation under the Valuation Acts. Under those Acts, the burden of taxation falls upon the occupiers and not upon the landowners. The landowners will, therefore, still remain free from the payments which ought to come out of property. Evicting landlords do not contribute one penny to the support of the wretched people whom they evict, whilst the tenants, when in the workhouse, are supported out of the rates paid by the occupiers, and not by the owners. I contend that power should be given to the Local 1367 Assemblies to remedy such injustice as that. Another defect of the Bill is that it will not give the County Councils control over the police. In England the elected authorities have such control. Why should not, then, such a control be given to Ireland? Then, further, we are not allowed under this Bill the power of judicial appointment, although in England you have the power to elect aldermen who, I believe, dispense justice as magistrates. Why do you not give to us equal power? Are we untrustworthy in that respect? For my part, I do not think the Irish sense of justice is less than that of Englishmen. And it ought to be remembered that this refusal to give us powers in our own country is rather an expensive matter to the British taxpayer, for whom, however, I do not care much, whom I like the better, indeed, the more he pays. I am not the guardian of his purse. Ireland and India are the only two sections of the Empire left without central government, and they absorb half your naval and military force. That, then, is the result of your proceeding. Some people scorn the demand that we should have power, and the answer we get is that British influence would be imperilled. But what of Canada, of the Cape, of New South Wales? These are far away, but Ireland is on our coast. The Isle of Man is a little closer, and it even has self-government. If we were equally entrusted with self-government, Ireland would cease to be an expensive portion of the Empire; but it must be self-government in the truest sense of the term. The broader the base, the firmer will be the superstructure. We are sometimes told that if Ireland had a Government of its own we should invite the Germans or perhaps send for the Russians; but the fact is that wherever you have given self-government those portions of the Empire have ceased to be a strain upon your military force. Take the case of Australia.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not discussing the Local Government Bill. He is going into the relations between this country and its colonies.
§ MR. BLANE
Perhaps I have gone a little beyond the Bill. To return, however. What we demand is control of the police, and the judiciary and of 1368 taxation. All these points are absent. Why is something still left to be accomplished? But the Tory Party is always late. I remember they once denounced land legislation, but later they advanced as they were forced by their opponents. Our agitation, which is so often used as an argument against us, has reacted on English life. You would never have had judicial tribunals for the adjustment of rents but for Irish contentions which you scorned, and had later to embody in your legislation. We ask you not to refuse us the rights and privileges which belong to any free people. Of course, you can tax us as you like, because you can do just as you choose with a people disarmed by house-to-house search. Action in that matter was the work of the Government of which the right hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) was the head. But the Party to which I belong do not care for either of the Parties; we are not their serfs in any sense of the term. Those of us who made a successful fight against coming under the control of the Radical Party have made a similar fight against the Tory Party; and from both Parties in this House have we got imprisonment, packed juries, and changed venues. Sometimes it is urged against extensive self-government that the Catholic majority would oppress their Protestant brothers; but I venture to say that no person, either in or out of the House, not even the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), would go further in the defence of the rights and liberties of the minorities than I would. And in this connection I may remind the House that the section to which I belong, although mainly Catholic, resisted the deposition of the late Mr. Parnell from the Leadership.
§ MR. BLANE
Of course, Sir, I have travelled a little further than I should have done, but I simply intended to emphasise the fact that there is no foundation for the charges made against us. We stood in defence of the Protestant, we carried his coffin to the grave; and I venture to say therefore that it does not lie in the mouth of any hon. 1369 Member to charge us with intent on the liberties and rights of the Protestants.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
I did not intend to have alluded to the section of the Irish National Party to which the hon. Member belongs.
§ MR. BLANE
The Party I represent claim the right to think for themselves in matters political, and we only accept the dictation of any man just so far as it coincides with our own views. Sound reasoning is not the prescriptive property of any man. To return to the subject of Local Government and the allegation of oppression, I believe that if we had the proper control of our own affairs, the minority in Ireland educated, technically skilled, and men of ability—would take the foremost position in the Government. Not until we receive that measure of government will the strife between England and Ireland be ended.
§ MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has reproduced the demands which have been made upon our country — demands that the Irish people shall have the management of their own affairs. Everybody believes that it is right a locality should have the management of its own affairs, always understanding that to mean its own local affairs. There can be no doubt whatever that in many of the bye-elections it has been a most formidable argument that the Irish people should have the management of their own affairs. Take for instance the election at Rossendale. If I am rightly informed that election was determined mainly upon the illustration of electric lighting. It was submitted that the Irish people should have the power of determining questions of that kind. Now, I concede the principle that every locality should have the right to manage its own affairs, but that must be understood rightly to mean its own local affairs. In discussing whether this Bill is what it professes to be it is important to consider what are local questions. This Bill is said to be defective, if I correctly gather the meaning of hon. Members opposite who oppose it, not because it is not a good Local Government Bill, but because it is not more than that—because it does not give to Ireland, or particular parts of 1370 Ireland, powers which are altogether beyond those of any ordinary Local Governing Body whatever. Take for instance the question of the police. Is that a local matter? Suppose we were to concede to an Executive Government in Ireland the entire management of the Constabulary—a body of fourteen thousand men. In that case Ireland would be practically independent of England, and the liberties of Englishmen and all sections of Irishmen would be subject to the control of that Executive Body and the police. Take also the question of the Land Laws. That is not a matter of local government at all. And why? Because land in the south may belong to an Irishman in the north, and vice versâ, and land in either the north or the south may belong to an Englishman or a Scotchman. Is a Local Government Bill to vest in any Local Governing Body in Ireland power to make laws which may affect the rights of either Englishmen or Scotchmen? Sir, that is not local government at all; it is Imperial government. What would a Lancashire man say if the London County Council attempted to alter laws by which property is transferred or devolves? He would say that was not a power that properly belongs to a local Governing Body. A London man, too, would object to a Lancashire County Council deciding upon any question of property in which his rights would be in the slightest degree affected; and he would say—and say properly—that an alteration of the Land Laws which might affect any of Her Majesty's subjects, whether in England, Ireland, or Scotland, was not a matter to be dealt with by a body established for Local Government purposes. In the English Local Government Bill you find none of these things. The English police are not put into the hands of the County Council, but into the hands of a Joint Committee composed of Magistrates representing the Crown on the one hand, and the County Council on the other, and this subject to considerable restrictions. And then as to the Land Laws—which is the great point in dispute in regard to this Bill—no power to meddle with those laws is transferred to the English County Councils. I have gone through the Bill 1371 now before the House, and, as far as I can see, it is distinctly on the lines of the English Local Government Act. For my own part, Sir, I was not in sympathy with that Act. It will be within the recollection of the House that I opposed it, and that I only desisted from doing so when I found I was in an absolute minority, and that continued opposition would have amounted merely to obstruction. In my humble view the magistrates had discharged their duties efficiently, and there was no ground for the transfer of powers from them to elective bodies. I was also of opinion that there was no ground for the abolition of the property vote, because I consider that representation and taxation should go together. To a large extent that Act put into the hands of the people who do not pay rates the power of spending them. Well, Sir, that has been done in reference to England, and I find all that is now proposed for Ireland. The powers which have hitherto been vested in the Grand Juries, equivalent to the magistrates in England, are to be transferred to the County Councils, the constitution of which under this Bill is exactly analogous to that of the County Councils in England. The powers hitherto vested in the nominees of the Crown are now to be vested in an assembly elected by the ratepayers on the principle of "One Man One Vote," so that every man who pays rates—whether a large or a small amount—will have the opportunity of recording his vote. I fail to see in what respect that is not a liberal measure. I own it is not a Bill by which Imperial power is to be transferred to any local assembly in Ireland, and that it will not enable Local Bodies to alter the Land Laws, or make it possible for one section of the community to dispossess another section. Neither will it enable the Land League to transfer its jurisdiction from the secret conclave to the County Council, and so dispossess the landlord in favour of the tenant. But it will place Ireland, with one or two exceptions, in exactly the same position as the English people with regard to Local Government. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) says he will not have this Bill, and throws 1372 it back with scorn. I want to know what is the foundation for his scorn? Is it because Ireland is not placed in a better position than England? ("No!") Then why?
§ MR. AMBROSE
But the hon. Member has not pointed out a single instance of powers given to local Governing Bodies in England that are not equally given under this Bill to County Councils in Ireland, except in one or two cases with which I will deal presently. The hon. Members' objections seem to be centred in Clause 5, which gives power to any twenty cess-payers of a county to apply for the removal of a County or Baronial Council on the ground of corruption, malversation, or oppression, or persistent disobedience to the law. He says this is an insult to the Irish people. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, if there is no ground for protecting the minority of the Irish people by such laws as these? Does the hon. Member deny that the Boards of Guardians for Limerick and Cork used their powers contrary to the law and for political purposes?
§ MR. AMBROSE
I say it is a matter of history that, instead of administering the Poor Law as they should have done, they passed political resolutions, and misused the powers vested in them for the oppression of particular individuals. Does the hon. Member deny there was a Land League and a Plan of Campaign, and that the Commission found there was a conspiracy to impoverish landowners and drive them from Ireland? I ask this House, and the country through this House, whether it would be right to constitute a Local Authority in Ireland without providing proper safeguards for the protection of the minority? Would it be right to incorporate the Land League and leave the founders of the Plan of Campaign to work their wicked will on the loyal subjects of the Crown? It would be little less than treason on the part of Her Majesty's Government to confer powers such as are conferred in this Bill without proper checks to prevent those powers being misused and being turned against the 1373 poor and loyal subjects of the Crown—to prevent these powers being used by the weak against the strong. But I would call attention to the fact that under the fifth clause, before anything can be done, there must be a fiat of a Judge of Assize. Without that fiat proceedings cannot even be initiated. Does the hon. Member mean to say that there is any Judge on the Irish Bench wicked enough and corrupt enough to sanction a Petition of this kind unless ground is shown for it? Since I have sat in this House I have occasionally heard points made against what are called on the other side the "Removables"; but I have heard no word against any Judge of the Superior Courts, and I believe in their absolute impartiality. Do hon. Members mean to say that the liberties of the Irish people are endangered by this clause, when a Petition cannot even be presented without the sanction of a Judge? After that the Petition has to be tried, and it may be dismissed with costs—a penalty which is surely sufficient to secure that a Petition will not be presented without good grounds. Or is it that hon. Members mean that there is to be no check on corruption, malversation, oppression, and persistent disobedience of the law? If that is what they mean let them say so, and let the people of England understand it. Let them go to the country upon it, and if this Bill is to be rejected let us know the real grounds for its rejection. I am not going to give my adherence to this Bill on this clause. It may or it may not be necessary. I am not sure that it is; but how does it affect the Bill? It is separate from every other part of the Bill, and any objection there may be to it should be brought forward at the Committee stage, and not pressed now on the Second Reading. For my own part, I never believed this Bill to be necessary. I did not believe the Local Government Bill for England to be necessary; but that has been passed, and here is this Bill for us to deal with. If it accomplishes no other purpose, it will stop the cry hereafter that the Irish people ought to have the power of managing their own affairs. But they have no right to manage my 1374 affairs, or the affairs of any other English subject. The position is utterly unwarranted, and I have been absolutely disappointed by the want of argument on the other side. I expected to find something to grapple with in the way of opposition; but I have heard nothing, and I think it is idle to occupy the time of the House for a week, or even for two nights, with this Debate.
§ (10.13.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
Since coming back from dinner I have been privileged to hear two valuable speeches. The speech of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Blane) reminded me of St. Athanasius. It was Athanasius contra mundum. The hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Ambrose) is so legal and learned in his speeches that I confess I have considerable difficulty in following him; but I gather that he took a certain pride in having opposed the Local Government Bill because it went too far. I am not, therefore, surprised that he approves, in a sort of modified way, of this Bill, for of this Bill he cannot complain that it goes too far. His approval of it is limited, however, because he said that he did not himself deem the Bill to be necessary, and it would only become a perfect Bill after it had gone into Committee, and after he had had the opportunity of proposing a considerable number of Amendments to it. Whether it will go into Committee or not I do not know. I have heard it complained that Home Rule is involved in absolute darkness whereas this measure is in brilliant light. I think that the curiosity exhibited by hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the details of the Home Rule Bill is positively indiscreet. We have stated the principle upon which that Bill will be based, and I think it would be most unconstitutional on the part of the Leaders of the Constitutional Party of which I am a humble Member, were they to go into details at the present moment. We know that the General Election is not very far off, and we know that the question to be submitted to the electors will be whether they are in favour of the 1375 principle of Home Rule, or whether they are opposed to that principle. If they are in favour of the principle, it will then be for my Leaders to submit to the House and to the country a full measure of Home Rule, and then will be the time for hon. Gentlemen if they object to those details, while accepting the verdict of the country and assenting to the Second Reading, to criticise the way in which we propose to deal with the matter. Therefore, I am somewhat surprised that the Attorney General for Ireland should have dragged the question of Home Rule into the present discussion. We are now dealing with a Bill which most assuredly is not Home Rule for Ireland. It is not even a Local Government Bill for Ireland, except that the Government, after their manner of putting a Liberal label to palm off their shoddy wares, have put as the title the words "Local Government Bill for Ireland." I think it would be useful to look at the conduct of the Government in the matter of Irish Home Rule. Before the Election the cry on the part of the Government was that there was to be no coercion; there was to be no Home Rule; but there was to be a third course, which was Local Self-Government for Ireland. The present Duke of Devonshire and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) passed their time stumping the country in support of the Tory Government, and they absolutely said, in relation to this measure of Local Self-Government, that it was to be as generous as that given to England and Scotland. When Parliament met the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill) was the Leader of the House, and he made a statement to the House. He said they intended to deal with the question of Local Self-Government, and there was to be similarity and simultaneity in regard to Ireland and England and Scotland. Domestic troubles in the Party opposite led to the retirement of the noble Lord, and so soon as he had withdrawn the Government threw over everything he had said, and had the effrontery to state that what he had said was a mere pious opinion of his own, and did not 1376 pledge the Government. I remember the debate, and the noble Lord, in defending himself, pointed out that the words he had used had been written down at the time and submitted to Lord Salisbury and the Cabinet, and absolutely bound Lord Salisbury and the Cabinet. That was, I believe, admitted by the then Leader of the House, the late Mr. Smith. Unquestionably there was a distinct pledge given at the Election that a large measure of Local Self-Government would be given to Ireland and there was further a pledge on the part of the Leader of the Conservative Party in this House that the Conservative Party intended to treat the three countries with similarity and simultaneity. Well, Sir, six years have passed since then, and we have been anxiously waiting for this Local Government Bill for Ireland. The English Bill has been passed, so the Government did not keep their promise of simultaneity. Each year the Bill has been promised, but the promise has not been kept. The Government have had plenty of time, but they have been constantly misusing it, and obstructing themselves by bringing in Bills and withdrawing them. We have been denounced for that obstruction, but it is the old story of the wolf and the lamb. We have hindered bad Bills, and, I trust, shall always continue to do so. There was a certain Wheel and Van Bill, and a Bill to compensate publicans, which we obstructed, and so saved the country a very great deal of money. We—but perhaps I ought to speak for myself—I obstructed the Irish Land Bill of the Government. Why did I do that? Because at the Election the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists distinctly stated that one reason why the right hon. Member for Midlothian ought not to be entrusted with the destinies of this country was that if he were he would possibly bring in an Irish Land Bill, pledging the credit of the English taxpayer; therefore, I considered myself perfectly justified in my obstruction. When the Government bring in a Bill which we can benevolently regard as a good one we help its progress, and endeavour to expand it, and give it a more Liberal character. 1377 The Government has at last made up its mind, and brought in the Local Government Bill for Ireland. But this is the very last Session of this Parliament, and even that is half gone, for the Government have, first on this excuse and then on that, put off the Second Reading of the Bill till a week or so before Whitsuntide. An hon. Gentleman opposite endeavoured to show that this Bill was exactly on the same lines as the English Bill. I shall look to the First Lord of the Treasury, when he addresses the House, to convince him that there is the widest difference between them. There is, however, some excuse for the Government, as the circumstances under which they are obliged to bring in the Bill are very peculiar. The Conservative Party held a great gathering of its followers at Birmingham, and there a resolution in favour of Local Government for Ireland was moved. But somebody moved the previous question and it was carried, so that at that moment the Conservative Party, as represented by that gathering, were entirely opposed to the idea of such a Bill. Then there came the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury which damned the Bill with faint praise, and if I had not been against the Bill before I should have been convinced that it was utterly worthless by the oration made against it by the right hon. Gentleman who brought it in. Why did the Government bring in the Bill? Not to redeem their pledges to the country, which they have perpetually violated; but, I gather, it is because they have given some sort of pledge to the Liberal Unionists, and they are in such terror of the Liberal Unionists turning against them—though I can assure them they will not—that they are ready to do anything or submit to anything when the Liberal Unionists order it. We have a right to know as soon as possible from the First Lord of the Treasury if he intends to go on with the Bill. Is it his deliberate intention that the Session should continue till the Bill is passed? If it is not, it is really a monstrous waste of time that we should be called upon to discuss the Second Reading. The days of the Government are num- 1378 bered; why are they squandering their last days? This is a death-bed repentance, but they are not sincere even in this. They are in a cleft stick. They have to keep their pledge to the Liberal Unionists, and they have before them the Resolution of the Tory Party at Birmingham; so they have hit upon a device, and hope to get their Party to eat their own words at Birmingham, and to vote for the Second Reading with the clear and distinct understanding that it will be a mere recognition of discipline, and that the measure will really never be turned into an Act. It is playing with the House to ask it to aid in a farce of this nature. I am not going into the merits, or rather the demerits, of the Bill; that is useless. I shall certainly be surprised at the effrontery of anybody who will get up, after the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), and say that the Bill is not as bad a Bill as ever was conceived, and that it is not one of the most gross and impudent of shams when called a Local Government Bill. It is enough for me that the Irish Members do not approve of the Bill. If the Members for Ulster were in a majority in the House I should vote for every proposal they made. As it is I vote with my hon. Friends here, because they represent the majority in Ireland; and what I want to do in this House is, not to pretend that I know better about Ireland than the Irishmen, but to try and find out what the opinion of the majority of Irishmen is and then act upon that opinion. Anyhow, I think it is almost indecent to ask us to go into this Bill now. The election is close at hand, and the country will then be asked if it is in favour of Home Rule or is opposed to it. If it is in favour of Home Rule, evidently we are wasting our time, for it is to an Irish Parliament we shall have to leave the settlement of the Local Government of Ireland. If the country is opposed to Home Rule, so that it is likely to be postponed for some years, no one would force a Bill like this on Ireland, for it would be expanded even by the Tories. The Conservatives were right in their objections to the Bill at Birmingham. You say that the Irish Nationalists are conspir- 1379 ing against the Empire. Do you suppose if the Unionist Party wins at the General Election the efforts to obtain Home Rule for Ireland will cease? No, they will increase, and from the Tory standpoint it is absurd to give them Local Councils which will really be most valuable centres for agitation in favour of Home Rule. The Tories have been called the stupid party, and, in bringing in this Bill, they have amply justified the name. You must either give Ireland Home Rule or rule yourself; trust Ireland or coerce her. I say this because the Prime Minister has just urged a large section of the Irish people to break out into rebellion. I suppose the Prime Minister despairs of victory at the polls, and hesitates to embark the other House in an opposition to the people of England, the result of which would be that they would be swept away from their place; and, therefore, he appeals to the Orangemen to come out and fight for them. I know perfectly well the Prime Minister has denied this, but I think that denial is like that of the person who recommended that a certain man's ears should not be nailed to a post, and then said that he had not advised that anybody's ears should be nailed to the post. We had the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill), who said at the last election that "Ulster will fight, and Ulster is right," and that, so far as I can see, in more elaborate and perhaps a little more cautious language, is precisely what the Prime Minister said the other day to the Primrose League ladies. I am always glad to find myself in unison with the Conservative Party, and, assuming their views are those expressed at Birmingham, I am certainly in unison with the Conservative Party, although I arrive at the conclusion on different grounds. The difference between us is that my vote will go with my opinion; their vote will go one way and their opinion the other. The burthen of my remarks is that I want to know from the First Lord of the Treasury whether these proceedings on the Bill are a mere farce, or whether it is intended to press it forward and pass it into law during the present Parliament? 1380 That is what we want to know; and I think I do not exaggerate when I say that that is what the country, Conservative and Liberal alike, is also anxious to know.
§ (10.36.) MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
The hon. Member for Northampton has concluded his interesting and amusing speech with a question which I am wholly incapable of answering. Therefore, I pass over his last remarks. Earlier in his speech he appeared before us in a twofold capacity, either of which he is admittedly well entitled to fill. He appeared as a recognised authority upon Constitutional practice, and he posed as the sympathetic friend of the Tory Party. The advice which he offered us in the latter capacity is that of one who has wept over our woes at Birmingham. Upon that I do not propose to follow him. But his advice as a recognised authority on Constitutional practice is very relevant to the subject. The usual practice which is adopted when any measure is put before the country is to accept or reject the principle, and then criticise the details. I ask anybody here who has listened to the Debate on the First Reading of this Bill, or to the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast this afternoon, whether that process has been followed? We have had ample criticism of the details of this Bill. The principle has been rejected, I admit; but no reason for rejecting it has been put forward before this House. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton was very anxious to divine our reason for wishing to have the Second Reading of this Bill passed; but it would be far more difficult to discover the reasons that have actuated hon. Gentlemen opposite in wishing to have this Bill read a second time this day six months. Take the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast. We had the usual exordium upon the Coercion Act. That was followed by a long prelude, consisting 1381 entirely of minute criticism of the various clauses in this Bill. There were some points—many of them good debating points—such as we are accustomed to expect from the hon. Gentleman. In the part about the illiterate vote or the cumulative vote, he seemed to me to mislead the House, though, perhaps, unintentionally. He suggested that the town of Belfast had been excluded from the franchise under this Bill, so that 70,000 Catholics could not obtain power in the Corporation of that town. But it must have occurred to him, on reflection, that that argument would equally apply to Dublin; that Dublin was also excluded from the cumulative vote provision of this Bill, and undoubtedly this provision would have the effect of placing a large number of Unionists upon the Corporation of Dublin. But I pass by these minor points in the major portion of the hon. Gentleman's speech, which would have been more suited to the Committee stage of the Bill. In the only part of it, so far as I could see, in which he gave any primâ facie reason to the House for declining to read the Bill a second time, he advanced two such reasons; one only to dismiss it; but he said that, in his opinion, a Home Rule Parliament sitting in Dublin, and such a Parliament alone, could properly frame a system of Local Government for Ireland. But he did not dwell upon that argument, and I think he was well-advised in passing swiftly away from it. If I might be allowed, I should be disposed to remind the House of the attitude taken up by his colleagues when the Local Government Bill for England was introduced into this House. Why, then we heard the amazing statement from the hon. Member for Longford that any man acquainted with Ireland could easily make the English Local Government Bill applicable to that country in the course of two or three hours. We had an equally interesting speech at that time from the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), who demanded that the Bill should then and there be made applicable to Ireland, in order to remove county administration from the hands of the Grand Jury. Now, what a light that casts 1382 upon the attitude taken by the Nationalist Members in this House! In 1888 they thought that a Bill giving over the administration of county affairs to popularly-elected bodies was one which should be accepted without any consideration for the judicial function of the Grand Jury in Ireland, and that its production to this House should not be delayed for a single moment. The reason adduced by the hon. Gentleman against the reading of this Bill a second time—if it can be called a reason—was the resentment which he felt in his breast against one single clause out of the 72 clauses in this Bill. He came to the clause which grants a petition by appeal. He declined to argue upon that clause, although we were entitled to infer, from the course of the Debate upon the First Reading, from the line of argument, and the gestures of anger which greeted the speech of my right hon. Friend, that if anywhere a reason for refusing to read the Bill a second time was to be found, it was to be found in the clause granting to those who consider themselves aggrieved in Ireland the right to appeal by a petition. Then we have his arguments for proving that this Bill is worthless. In the attempt to prove that it is of little worth the hon. Gentleman employed the rhetorical device of stating that this Bill is the Tory alternative to the policy of Home Rule. I do not think that any Member of the Government or any person of any weight or authority in the Conservative Party has ever upon any platform given the slightest colour of support to any such contention. It is not our alternative scheme to the policy of Home Rule; it is part of the alternative scheme and policy of governing Ireland from Westminster upon the lines which direct the Government of the Imperial Parliament of Westminster in England and Scotland, of extending to Ireland whatever laws are passed for the benefit of England and Scotland, and never allowing to lapse our responsibility for the safety of every class of the community, whether in England, in Ireland, or in Scotland. It is of no avail for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that some of the safeguards proposed are odious and un- 1383 necessary. That is no argument against the proposition we lay down and maintain that the Imperial Parliament at Westminster is responsible and accountable for any wrong that might accrue from our delegating our responsible power to other and subsidiary bodies. That is a fundamental article in the Unionist creed; and it would be as sensible to argue with a family lawyer that in all probability the son about to marry would not neglect to make provision for his children, and to argue that, therefore, such a provision ought not to be incorporated in the marriage settlements. Any one who has listened either to the speeches this afternoon or to the Debate on the Motion for leave to introduce the Bill, would have supposed from the minute criticisms and from the tone of resentment against all precautions and safeguards that Ireland had for years—nay, for generations—enjoyed a system of local government upon the same broad basis of popular representation which exists in England and Scotland at present, and that the wicked Tory Government was bent on introducing precautions which were never heard of hitherto. It is all very well to seek to minimise the importance of this Bill by saying it is not an alternative for Home Rule; but as a matter of fact, the scope and magnitude of this Bill have never been appreciated or touched upon by the hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite. This is the first Bill introduced by any Government in this country granting to Ireland Local Government upon the Parliamentary Franchise. During the Debate on the First Reading I was astonished to hear an interruption from the Benches opposite that this Bill was less liberal in its character than the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Thanet Division in 1879, when he held the office of Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and that sentiment is cheered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, although the Bill introduced in the year 1879 provided only that County Councils and Baronial Councils should be set up in Ireland. And upon what franchise? One-half of all the 1384 Baronial Councillors were to be elected, and one-half of them were to be nominated. And how were the elected members to be elected—upon the Parliamentary Franchise? It did not at that time exist even on this side of the Channel. It was proposed that they were to be elected by the Poor Law Guardians—that is to say, by persons who were themselves elected upon a franchise which has been constantly denounced in this House, and which, in the eyes of hon. Gentlemen opposite, is vitiated by the principle of plural voting. Yesterday there was a Debate in this House on a Bill for introducing the principle of "One Man One Vote." That principle, as well as every other principle of representation which has been extended to England during the last ten years, is embodied in the Bill now before the House. Not one of these principles was embodied in the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Thanet. But I shall take the Bill introduced into this House only four years ago by hon. Gentlemen themselves sitting below the Gangway, and I would point out that the measure which has now been submitted to the consideration of the House is more liberal in its character than the Bill which bore upon its back the names of Mr. Carew, Mr. Sexton, Mr. Harrington, Mr. Arthur O'Connor, and Mr. Maurice Healy. Any one who looks at that Bill and at the tenth clause of it will find that whereas the County Councillors were to be elected upon the Parliamentary Franchise, in every County Council in Ireland there were to be five other members of another class and another category altogether. What was the property qualification that these members should possess? Every one of them was to be one of those Irish Justices of the Peace whose misdeeds hon. Gentlemen opposite never tire of denouncing. They were to be elected by Irish Justices of the Peace, and by Irish Justices of the Peace alone. Now for those who believe in manhood suffrage, and in every sort of electoral reform, and who hold that plurality of voting and the property qualification are accursed things, it seems to me a difficult attitude to defend that in the year 1385 1888, when the English Local Government Bill was before the House with no such provisions, they should have entertained those proposals, and that in the year 1892 they should reject a Bill upon its Second Reading which grants a franchise as liberal as that which now obtains in Great Britain. Why was that provision introduced into the Bill of 1888? It is a question very difficult to answer. I think it admits of only one answer. I think it is plain that the provision implies in the minds of the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway an implicit recognition, at all events that Irish society is not in the same state as English society at the present moment. Why did they introduce that provision unless they thought it wise and prudent in Ireland to give some voice to minorities; unless they thought that in Ireland some check on extravagance should be devised; unless they thought that in Ireland, during times of popular excitement, public bodies might be expected to indulge in acts which afterwards they might be the first persons to regret? If these dangers exist in Ireland—if these apprehensions lurk secretly even in the minds of Irish Nationalist Members—Surely we must all know that they exist in an intensified degree in the minds of those gentlemen who speak for the loyal minority in Ireland. Those apprehensions have to be met; those dangers have to be guarded against; and I ask the House candidly to consider which of the two possible kinds of safeguards are really the best and the most liberal in their nature. You may have a safeguard of the kind introduced into the Nationalist Bill of 1888; you may pack your Council; you may have a system of nomination of Aldermen, or of special members elected upon a special franchise, and that will give you a certain degree of safety. But that provision will at all times mar and vitiate the popular character of your Bill, whereas the kind of safeguards introduced into the Bill of the Government need never act at all. During ordinary times they are in abeyance. They are placed there to meet special contingencies which will rarely—some of them perhaps never—arise; and 1386 unless these contingencies arise, the Bill introduced by the Government is as liberal and popular in its character as the Bill which now is law in England and in Scotland. In saying that the provisions for safety introduced into our Bill would only come into operation to meet special contingencies and rare emergencies, I may of course contemplate the two clauses around which the most acrimonious discussion has centred. I will not do hon. Gentlemen opposite the injustice to suppose for one moment that they would vote against the Second Reading of this Bill because we withdraw special privileges from illiterate voters or because the system of minority representation has been introduced by the Government into their measure. These are clearly minor matters, which I am sure the hon. Member for West Belfast would be willing to relegate to the Committee stage, and we are left face to face with the Joint Committee and with the clause which hon. Gentlemen like to call the put-them-in-the-dock clause, but which—as hon. Members will agree that there is nothing in a name—they will allow me to call the clause giving the right to petition by appeals. Take the Joint Committee. The Attorney General for Ireland has destroyed a great deal of the criticism brought to bear against this clause by the hon. Member for West Belfast. That hon. Member made a very bold attack upon this clause—ironical, sarcastic, and amusing; but the whole of his attack depended for any force which was in it to the assumption that the Sheriff who will preside over this Joint Committee would be a landlord. He spoke of the Sheriff as the eighth landlord, and then he ingeniously, by putting several parts of the Bill together, brought forward a long catalogue of duties over which this body would have a certain amount of control. But when the Attorney General for Ireland says that the Government have an open mind as to the personality of the Chairman of this Board—and it should have been remembered that this was said by the First Lord of the Treasury in his opening speech—the whole of that criticism falls to pieces and remains of no avail whatever, 1387 It is not possible, upon the ground that the Chairman of that Committee shall be a neutral authority, to pretend that the clause instituting a Joint Committee in Ireland differs materially from the clause instituting a Joint Committee in Scotland. Arguments have been adduced on one side and on the other. It is said that in Scotland the rates are paid by the owner, and that in Ireland they are not. That is against the clause. But for the clause it is said that since the year 1870 the rates are divided in Ireland.
§ An hon. MEMBER: No, optional.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
Well, optional. It may also be said that in Ireland every fifteen years rents are revised, and that therefore the burden of the rates is thrown in Ireland every fifteen years on the owner. It may be said further, that since according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) all grants in aid of rates go into the pockets of landlords, all increase of rates must come out of them. I would also like to put another point, which I hope may commend itself to the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast. That hon. Gentleman is generally very careful in his logic, but this evening he wound up his attack upon the clause by saying that at any rate the Scotch Members had refused it in their Bill, and that it had been imposed upon Scotland by a Tory Government. Yes, but that strengthens our argument for reading this Bill a second time. If Scotland objected to that Bill, if it was imposed upon Scotland by a Tory Government, and Scotland none the less accepted her Local Government Bill, then if anything follows from Irishmen objecting to this clause, and from their being overruled by a Tory Government, and also if they base their objection to the Second Reading of this Bill upon so slight a ground, it is that this Bill should be read a second time. I have given the arguments for this Joint Committee, not in the hope of convincing hon. Gentlemen opposite, but in order to show that a 1388 great deal may be urged on both sides, and that therefore this clause constitutes a legitimate ground for discussion in Committee. It does not constitute any ground which would justify them in refusing to read this Bill a second time. There is another clause which has given rise to a great deal of adverse criticism. Here I have no argument to meet, but only the repudiation of the hon. Member for West Belfast. I refer to the clause which he rejected with scorn, and which, in his opinion, as I have proved by a process of exhaustion, constitutes the sole ground for the action which he now proposes to take. It is incredible that Parliament should forgo on such a ground this opportunity of fixing its imprimatur upon the unanimous belief that Ireland is now not only entitled, but ready to receive, Local Government upon the same popular basis as obtains in Great Britain. Surely we should all welcome such an opportunity of testifying such a fact. It will inflict no practical disadvantage upon either Party. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will be at liberty to argue from it that Home Rule is all the more likely to succeed in the future; hon. Gentlemen on this side will be able to argue from it that Unionism has proved a success in the past. Let me now for one moment consider the scorn, the ridicule, and the repudiation which have been directed against this clause, to grant to these persons who in Ireland think themselves oppressed the right to an appeal, which will be tried, on a primâ facie case being made out, by two Judges on the rota of appeal. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are sometimes very frank about the condition of Ireland. One of the most distinguished among them wrote an article a few days ago in the Fortnightly Review, in which he foresaw that some proceedings of elected bodies in the past might be adduced in defence of the clause, and he discounted them by saying that they were mere incidents in a social and political war, incidents in a revolution which was then on foot. It is the business of the Imperial Parliament at Westminster, if social war arises in any part of the Queen's dominions, to see that the fighting shall 1389 not be all on one side, and that those who suffer from such incidents shall have an adequate means of redress. Whether many persons are likely so to suffer can be judged by an incident which has occurred recently in Ireland. A very distinguished Member of the Irish Nationalist Party, though not a Member of this House, has during the last few weeks had occasion to seek redress at the hands of the law for what he deemed, and probably rightly, a gross libel upon his reputation for commercial honesty. In this no Party or political question was involved. He went before a jury to ask them to vindicate him and to clear him of a charge of commercial dishonesty. He was unwilling to accept a jury in the Town or County of Dublin, or in the Town of Belfast. ("No, no!") Then the other side was unwilling to accept a jury in the County of Louth.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
He was obliged to accept it. I have the facts very clearly in my memory. An appeal was lodged against the decision of the Court that the venue should be changed from the Town to the County of Dublin. That appeal was lost, and he was obliged to accept the county. These facts show the distrust in the minds of both sections of the Nationalist Party of juries of their fellow countrymen on a question involving private honour and the commercial honesty of a gentleman, and no question of politics. What should we say if in England it was possible when someone say, in the position of Mr. Schnadhorst or Mr. Middleton, were assailed in his private character and said he feared he would not receive justice from a jury, not because they belonged to the opposite Political Party, but because he had reason to believe that a majority on that jury 1390 differed from him as to the priority of Home rule in the Newcastle programme? This case shows very strongly the distrust in the minds of both sections of the Irish Party of juries of their fellow-countrymen, even on questions altogether divorced from politics.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
Very well, special juries. What then, I ask, must be the legitimate apprehension of an Irishman who is not a Nationalist at all, but who belongs to the far smaller minority, who in the past have received only too little consideration from either half of the majority who outnumber them by thousands? Such a man must view with apprehension any Bill for granting Local Government to Ireland; and having regard to the legitimate fears of such men, no Government would be wise to introduce a measure deficient of any safeguards for their protection. I am not prepared to deny that there is, to some extent, a humorous side to the matter. It came out in the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast. But, outside an opera by Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan, I have never heard of an indignant repudiation of a safeguard by a gentleman whom it was never intended to protect by it. Such a protest should come from those who consider themselves aggrieved rather than from the aggressors. The mingled mirth and indignation, partly hysterical and partly histrionic, with which the clause has been received has induced many persons, myself among the number, who were at first disposed to question the necessity for the clause, to believe now that possibly there may be another side to the question altogether. I am still of the opinion that the clause is likely to be only rarely used, if at all; but it does not follow, therefore, that it will be useless. It will act as a deterrent, and it may be of some use to the hon. Member for West Belfast. The hon. Member and his colleagues are constantly arrogating to themselves the right to speak in the name of all 1391 Ireland. Well, in this clause they will have something to which they can point in order to allay the fears of the million and a half of their countrymen who still tremble at the thought of being brought under their rule. If there is justification for the Bill, hon. Members opposite ought to be the first to welcome it; and if there is no justification they ought to despise it. But can they afford to despise a Bill which will grant Local Government to Ireland upon the same Parliamentary franchise as exists in England? What other argument has been urged against the Bill? It has been said that it leaves the Grand Jury system untouched, as well as the Grand Jury's power to grant compensation in case of malicious injury. Hon. Members opposite are fond of quoting cases of alleged injustice arising from this power possessed by the Grand Jury; but I will claim every such instance as an additional ground for passing this Bill. Every such miscarriage of justice can only be quoted in support of one of two Motions—in support of a Motion for withdrawing that duty from the Grand Jury, or in support of a Motion for withdrawing County Government from the hands of the Grand Jury in order that it may be carried out by a body more fully enjoying the confidence of the people. The first Motion is not hefore the House, but the second is, and therefore every case of injustice quoted can only be an additional ground for reading the Bill a second time. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent English constituencies are fond of insisting that the voice of Ireland ought to be listened to, and they point to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, saying:—"Whether your Bill is good or bad, it is not a Bill which the voice of Ireland is prepared to accept." Now, I should be the last to assert that the voice of Ireland ought not to be listened to with respect in the House of Commons; but when that voice is utterly condemnatory of Unionist measures, it is wise to listen to it with a little sceptical reserve. Not unfrequently during the last few years have Irish Members been heard denouncing a Bill at one time, acclaiming it a year afterwards, and still later 1392 assisting to perfect and amend its provisions. That was the story of the Irish Famine Fund. In 1890 the Irish Party, with the regular Opposition, voted for the rejection of the Bill. Eight months later both Parties voted in favour of reading it a second time. On this occasion the first of those scenes is being reproduced, and the second will also be reproduced in due time. Whatever changes and chances the General Election may have in store, the Irish Members will soon be heard explaining away their ingenious objections to the Bill, and marching into the Lobby with the occupants of the Front Bench. That may suit the purposes of Irish Members, but it is a painful spectacle, nevertheless. It is all very well to admire flexibility and adaptability in public life; but it is not an elevating spectacle to see, as on the occasion of the introduction of the present Bill, ex-Cabinet Ministers straining in the leash, or sitting in blind complacency, till they learn from the gestures and inarticulate cries of their Leaders below the Gangway what course they must take. I had hoped that they would have thrown off the yoke for once, and have anticipated one of the evolutions which hon. Members from Ireland think necessary in the face of Unionist legislation. If it were only in commiseration of the less supple Members of the opposite Party, hon. Members from Ireland might forgo this farce of alternate repudiation and acclamation. I shall count confidently on the support of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who, with a few sturdy Radicals, refused to vote for the Second Reading of the Land Purchase Bill. If they are consistent in their hatred of State purchase, they ought also to be consistent in their belief in the wonderworking power of representative institutions. But should none of those who are opposed to the Government vote for the Bill it will not matter very much, except as regards their reputations for political foresight and candour. The Bill is certain to be read a second time, for the Unionist Party have a majority in the House.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
At all events, all Unionists, whether inside or outside the House, will acclaim this opportunity of at once vindicating the success of their policy in Ireland and of discharging a debt of honour.
§ *MR. HERBERT GLADSTONE (Leeds, W.)
My hon. Friend has spoken with his usual eloquence and ability, and I am surprised that his eloquence and ability on behalf of this Bill, great as it was, did not seem to receive that enthusiastic applause on his own side which might have been expected. I do not doubt that the speech, as an intellectual effort, was fully appreciated; but I think my hon. Friend will agree with me that when he was arguing the details of the Bill, hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House were ominously silent. The hon. Gentleman was rather in doubt as to the motives which induced hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House to oppose the Bill, but I am bound to say that he gave no particular reason why the Bill should be supported. In attempting to make a parallel between this Bill and the Irish Land Purchase Bill of last year, he told us that we were always quoting the Irish voice and offering to abide by it. There is no parallel, however, in the case brought forward by my hon. Friend. In the case of the Land Purchase Bill, a large sum of money was affected, and about which English Members had every bit as much right to speak and vote as Irish Members. And we all voted according to our convictions in regard to that Bill. But we assert that this Bill deals with purely Irish questions, and it is essential that the views of Ireland should be considered in the case of such a measure. I will tell the hon. Member why I intend to oppose this Bill. I intend to oppose the Bill not only because I consider it a bad Bill, but also because I consider it an insufficient Bill; and I further think it 1394 does not fulfil the solemn promise made by gentlemen opposite in regard to Ireland. It was laid down by a distinguished predecessor of the First Lord of the Treasury, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord R. Churchill), not alone on the occasion when he used the words "similarity and simultaneity," but also on the 14th September, 1887, that the problem of Local Government in Irelandcalled for the most careful consideration of the Government with a view to its development as far as might be in accordance with Irish ideas and Irish desires.I want to know where in this Bill can you find "Irish ideas and Irish desires"? The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wyndham) has said that by a process of exhaustion he has brought down the opposition of my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) to resentment against a single clause of the Bill. I do not agree with him, and I will show the reason why. It is true that the hon. Member for West Belfast attacked this Bill very considerably in detail, and it is absolutely essential that we should attack this Bill in that manner, because throughout its many clauses you find almost every clause pervaded, and limited by the system of checks introduced by the First Lord of the Treasury. These checks in themselves constitute a most important element in the Bill, and compel us to look to individual clauses. And I would remind the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham), when he says these are only details, to carry his mind back to 1886, when the Government of Ireland Bill was before the House—a Bill attacked in every detail, and a Bill which was opposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) and many gentlemen on this side of the House not because of the principle of the Bill, but on account of the details in the clauses. I pass on to the speech of the Attorney General for Ireland. We have had a formal attack upon this Bill by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast, and we have had its official defence from the Attorney General. And I maintain that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bel- 1395 fast has proved the proposition he put forward—proved, as he said, that the Government were applying different principles to Ireland to the principles they applied to the question of Local Government in England and in Scotland. I say that in his powerful speech he fully proved that proposition. But let me run through a few of the points which the hon. Gentleman brought forward, and let me notice, too, the speech with regard to these points, of the Attorney General for Ireland. I say that the Attorney General's speech confirms in a great measure the attack made upon the Bill by the hon. Member for West Belfast. First of all, there was the attack on account of the disfranchisement entailed by the exclusion of the twenty-sixth section of the Ballot Act. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that that was so, and attempted to justify it, and apparently did justify it, by the result of the Division taken last week. It was a curious way of anticipating a verdict of the House; but where is the equality? There is the check, there is the difference which you do not find in the English Act; and there is difference No. 1, inequality No. 1. Then we come to the cumulative vote. The right hon. Gentleman did not argue in respect of that. There was very little difference between the Member for Dublin University and the Member for West Belfast, because they both seemed to desire the same end. Thirdly, there is the question of the size of the constituencies. On the one side; you have a determination as far as practicable by Statute; on the other, the size is left to the option of the Lord Lieutenant. Fourthly, there is the question of the Belfast franchise. These two points the right hon. Gentleman dismissed as details. He said "these are details," and the Chief Secretary (Mr. Jackson) cheers that! But when shall we get an opportunity of going into these details? When shall we come to the Committee stage? I should very much like information on that point from my right hon. Friend, because we do not believe we shall get an opportunity of going into these questions. And as we want to make out our case against this Bill before the country, believing we 1396 shall get no further opportunity, we intend to make good use of our time now, and to examine the Bill in detail. Fifthly, we come to the question of compensation for malicious injuries. The only defence the Attorney General offered to this was, "We just leave the matter where it stands." He admitted that it would be unfortunate to transfer that power to the County Council, but he did not defend the action of the Government in leaving the matter where it was. Sixthly, there is the question of the Standing Joint Committee. The Attorney General did not deny the allegations of the hon. Member for West Belfast in regard to the powers of interference of that Committee. Then, seventhly, as to the question of the Sheriff—which is all-important in this connection—what did the right hon. Gentleman say? He said the Sheriff would be a very bad officer to preside over the Standing Joint Committee, but that the Government did not know a better official to put there, and that he would be very glad of a suggestion on the subject from any part of the House. This is one of the numerous checks in the Bill, and the Attorney General said Irishmen had very short memories, that they easily made friends, and that the checks would be soon forgotten. But I say that these checks in themselves constitute an inequality. The Attorney General may argue as he likes; but, as he himself said, argument is not fact, and the fact remains that these checks do constitute a gross inequality between the measure you are giving to Ireland and those you have given to England and Scotland. Eighthly, the County Councils are to be restricted from entering into legal proceedings. Is not that a difference? And I will ask the Chief Secretary whether that does not constitute an inequality as compared with England and Scotland?
§ MR. JACKSON
The County Councils cannot enter into legal proceedings without the consent of the Joint Committee.
§ *MR. HERBERT GLADSTONE
Is the consent of the Joint Committee necessary in the case of the Local 1397 Government Acts for England and Scotland? Is not that an inequality? Ninthly, I come to the question which the right hon. Member euphoniously calls petition by appeal, and one of the most extraordinary points in connection with that proposal is this—that, supposing County Councils are suppressed by the Judges power is given to the Lord Lieutenant tore-nominate fresh County Councillors. The Attorney General quoted in his speech the case of Election Petitions in England. I will ask the Attorney General whether in the case of Judges who try an Election Petition in England and find corruption, and that it is necessary to disfranchise a borough, power is given to the Judges to nominate fresh Members. The power is left to the constituencies themselves, and hence I say that there is no force in the argument of the Attorney General. Tenthly, there is the question of the police, and what is the argument of the Attorney General? He maintains that Ireland in respect to the police is treated in identically the same way as England and Scotland under the Local Government Act. But there is the greatest difference in the world. One has to distinguish between the police in London, the police in the boroughs, and the police in the county districts. With regard to the police in London, we hold that it is a very unsatisfactory arrangement, and hope it will very soon be altered; but the Home Secretary, who is practically the head of the police in London, is sitting here in his place in London and can answer to us at once with regard to them. There is no analogy between the management of the police in London and the management of the police in Ireland. Then there is the question of the borough police, and these we know are under the control of the Local Authorities. Do you propose to give the control of the police in Ireland to the boroughs? No; and there is a gross inequality at once. Let us come to the counties. In Scotland the county police are under the control of Commissioners of Supply, and in England under that of the Quarter Sessions. Both these 1398 authorities are local, knowing the wants of the localities, being in touch with the people, and, to a great extent, under their influence. Under recent legislation the County Councils have been associated with those Public Bodies in the management of the police. Is there any analogy between that case and the case of Ireland? We see that while in a large part of England the management of the police is entirely in the hands of the Local Authorities, and while in the counties it is only partly in the hands of non-elected authorities, in Ireland you absolutely place the control of the police of the country under the strict control of Dublin Castle. This question of the police is something more than a detail. There is a gross inequality proved to exist, and the arguments of the Attorney General for Ireland in this respect are perfectly futile. Thus having regard to these ten points the Attorney General for Ireland in his speech practically confirmed the attack of the Member for West Belfast, and where he did argue, as on the question of the police, his arguments were not founded upon facts. We have two charges against the Government, first of all with regard to the delay in bringing in this Bill; and, secondly, with regard to its inadequacy and badness. With regard to delay, the First Lord of the Treasury admitted not long ago that Gentlemen on that side of the House were pledged to a scheme of local self-government for Ireland, that this Bill was brought in in fulfilment of their pledges. It was because hon. Members were so pledged that the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill) made his famous speech in 1886, and it was because of that fact that the question of Irish Local Government was mentioned in the Queen's Speech of 1887. But let us follow this out a little, for it seems to me that the Attorney General for Ireland, who did not, I think, enter this House till two or three years after the last General Election, did not quite grasp the situation with regard to the history of this question. Well, the noble Lord the Member for Paddington retired from the Government. We all 1399 know that the noble Lord was a keen supporter of a scheme for the self-government for Ireland. But when he retired from the Government the question of Irish Local Government retired from the Queen's Speech for the next two years. During these years precedence was given to every kind of measure of which no mention had been made at the General Election. Precedence was given to the Wheel and Van Tax, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal for the Compensation of Publicans, for absurd Bills like the Sugar Bill, and the Bill seeking to constitute an Under Secretary for Ireland, which occupied a great deal of time, and were then abandoned as hopeless by the Government itself. In 1890 the question of Irish Local Government again appears in the Queen's Speech; but again precedence is given to such matters as the Light Railway Bill for Ireland—a good Bill, I admit—but I ask any hon. Member on the other side to tell me what mention was made of it before the General Election of 1886. Then there was the Western Australia Bill. The Government were ready to give a Constitution to Western Australia, but were very quick to deny it to Ireland. There was also the question of the Suck Drainage. All these measures, never heard of before, took precedence of that measure to which every Gentleman on the other side was bound by his pledges at the Election of 1886. Again, in 1891 mention is made of this question, and precedence that year was given to Land Purchase—a subject which was mentioned in 1886, only to be denounced by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite; and though they were pledged to oppose such a Bill, they brought it forward, and gave the go-by to the measure to which they were pledged. Then we come to 1892, the last Session, and at last we have the Bill specifically mentioned, and specifically brought forward. Why in the last Session of this Parliament? If instead of the Septennial Act you had an Act keeping Parliaments alive for fourteen years, we should have had this Bill brought forward in the thirteenth Session, because the sixth or the thirteenth give the best op- 1400 portunity for shelving the Bill altogether; and the Bill has been deliberately kept by Her Majesty's Government for the last Session, because they knew that in this Session they would have the best chance of not passing it. In the second place, we say that this Bill is inadequate, and that its provisions are bad. It is bad in itself; it is bad relatively to the promises made in 1886 with regard to it, and judged by these it is a fraud on the constituencies. The Tories deliberately led the country to believe, when they were seeking to be returned to Parliament in 1886, that they had in contemplation for Ireland a large measure which was to be the alternative to the scheme of Home Rule; but now the Attorney General for Ireland holds up his hands in horror at this idea, and he suggests that Home Rule and this Bill are as light to darkness. Then it is also said by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) that this is not an alternative scheme, but only part of an alternative scheme which I understand would be applicable to both England and Scotland. What is this alternative scheme? A small measure of Local Government, and a very large measure of coercion! I should like to see you apply that alternative to either England or Scotland. The Attorney General for Ireland took care to say that this is a very small and unimportant measure. I would ask him whether it has dwindled in its proportions since 1887? If it was unimportant, why was it mentioned in the very first Queen's Speech of this Parliament?
§ MR. HERBERT GLADSTONE
I am glad the right hon. and learned Gentleman attaches so much importance to Home Rule. But we were told by the Chief Secretary only a short time ago that this measure was a cardinal part of the Conservative policy. If so, 1401 I do not see that it can be even a relatively unimportant measure. The Attorney General for Ireland, I am persuaded, would not say anything that he did not believe to be strictly true, but has he a clear idea of the speeches that were made in 1886 to the constituencies? What was the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham? Either in 1885 he gave to the country a gross misstatement with regard to what was the system of government in Ireland, or else for six years he has acquiesced in the maintenance in Ireland of a system of government which is tyrannical and unconstitutional. The right hon. Gentleman, even after the Home Rule crisis of 1886, was in favour of a Statutory Parliament in Dublin. He led his friends to believe that a large measure would be brought in. Then there was the noble Lord who was at that time Member for Rossendale. Lord Hartington spoke of—A great and bold re-construction of the Government of Ireland from which he would not shrink.This Bill is a specimen of great and bold re-construction of the Government of Ireland. He wasReady to give equally, and, if a case could be made out for it, in a greater, further, and more generous degree to Ireland, what was given to England and to Scotland.Then there was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will, no doubt, remember his speeches in Edinburgh. He set up the alternative the existence of which the Attorney General for Ireland now denies, and he said—To the assertion that there is no other choice than to accept the Government plan or to fall back upon simple oppression, the opponents of the Bill give a point-blank denial. I am an advocate of a large measure of decentralisation.Is this a large measure of decentralisation? Then there was one other speech to which I will refer—that of the Prime Minister—and his speech is to this effect, as reported in June, 1886—For a good system of Local Government for England, Scotland, and Ireland he was always an advocate, and he believed that the extension of Local Government to Ireland would be a great advantage.1402 He went on to admit that the withholding of a good scheme of local self-government constituted a special grievance to Ireland. Well, in all these speeches the Irish question is dwelt upon as a matter of the first importance. There is no mention in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or of the Prime Minister of such questions as Land Purchase, or Allotments, or Small Holdings, or the numerous measures which have been offered us by the present Government. The Irish question was to have priority. An alternative settlement was to be offered which would not involve coercion but which would involve the granting to Irishmen such powers of local self-government as they might reasonably expect. I say then without hesitation, that if the right hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1886 had said to the electors, "We are opposed to Home Rule; our policy is to bring in a measure of perpetual coercion, and we shall postpone any measure for local self-government to the indefinite future"—then I say the constituencies even then, six years ago, would have preferred the policy of the Liberal Party to their policy thus honestly put forward. But the right hon. Gentlemen misled the electors in 1886. They promised one thing to catch one set of votes, and now they break that promise to catch another set. Since 1886 you have constantly asserted that you were going to deal with Ireland on terms of precise equality with England and Scotland, but we have proved there are grave inequalities on many points. Then in speeches made at bye-elections, while hon. Gentlemen have been saying one thing to electors the Government were determined to do another thing in this House. Now we are told the Bill will be of advantage to Ireland, because it will train the Irish people in habits of local self-government. Well, if this is so, why was not the Bill brought forward six years ago, so that Irishmen might have been trained in self-government under the wisdom and experience of the First Lord of the Treasury? The Government have never been in earnest in this matter. This is proved by constant leading 1403 articles in the journals supporting the Government. The Times and Standard refused to believe that any Bill would be brought forward that would not be mischievous; they hoped for the best, but they urged the Government to drop the measure and to bring forward measures for England. What habits of local self-government will this Bill form for Irishmen? You do not put any responsibility upon them in the Bill; the Bill carries with it no sense of responsibility. Who has asked for the Bill—what section of Irishmen has asked for it? We believe that no section in Ireland requires it. Hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House are opposed to it. Hon. Gentlemen from the North of Ireland sitting on the other side of the House speak in a half-hearted way about the Bill. Who discussed the Bill in preparation? Who settled it? It was drawn, drafted, and prepared in Dublin Castle according to the lights of Dublin Castle, that birthplace of so many ill-fated measures for the government of Ireland. There is no mandate for this Bill. We heard a great deal in 1886 about there being no mandate for the legislation then proposed, and that was one of the arguments used against the Bill at that time. If that argument had weight in 1886, why has it not now? There is no mandate for the provisions in this Bill; they are wholly different to what we were led to expect or what was promised. Under what conditions will this Bill work? See what the Prime Minister says of the condition of Ireland, and have this in mind in relation to this settlement under the Bill. He says—The British colony which went to the North of Ireland 200 years ago is still unchanged, and what the Ulster people dread is being put under the despotism of their hereditary enemies.That is the spirit the Prime Minister believes exists in Ireland, and he goes on to say—There exists the bitterest feeling of hostility between the two communities.This is the language of the Prime Minister, and imagine a Joint Committee at work if such is really the position in Ireland! Seven elected 1404 representatives from the County Counci and seven non-elected representatives of the dominant minority, the twol hostile communities. I pity the Sheriff who has to preside, if the descriptions of the Prime Minister and the First Lord are correct as to the state of Ireland. These gentlemen will not meet as colleagues, as representatives of people seeking the common good. The one section will represent the people, coming from the people with all the force and authority of representatives, and the other section will simply be the check to impede, retard, and pull back the representatives of the people. Seven representatives on either side of what the Prime Minister calls hostile communities, animated by feelings of the bitterest hostility. And this is the solution of the great Irish problem according to the proposal before us. This Bill will produce a system which will not be a bond of union, but a certain cause of difference. Your scheme is preposterous from beginning to end. It will produce no good in Ireland, and what good effect will it have here in Westminster? Irish business for many years has occupied at least two-fifths of the available debating time of the House with matters relating to the land question, to law and order, and so on. Does the Bill remove any of the grievances which have led to endless discussions in this House? It does not remove a single one of these questions, and it sets up other points of friction in the action of Local Bodies, and provides for Irish Members and their friends an almost endless series of points for discussion and an almost unlimited occupation of Parliamentary time. One of the great arguments for Local Government is the relief of the Imperial Parliament. This Bill will add to the burden on the House. It is idle, it is useless, to pass a measure like this against the opposition of the Irish Members. I say the whole of this Debate is unreal from beginning to end. The Government do not want this Bill, their supporters do not want it, and, we believe, the Government do not mean to pass it. If they had such an intention, why did they sum- 1405 mon Parliament a week later than usual; why did they give us an abnormally long Easter vacation?
§ MR. HERBERT GLADSTONE
But still, a long Easter vacation—longer than the Government would have given had they been in earnest about this Bill. Why, too, did they give precedence to measures never heard of before this Session? What mandate was there for the Small Holdings Bill? The Home Secretary laughs—perhaps he can enlighten us? We know that he and his friends denounced such a measure when they sought the votes of their constituents. We remember, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does, the speeches of the President of the Board of Agriculture, and we remember the feeling displayed on that side of the House in regard to the question. Why then has precedence been given to a measure the Government denounced a few years ago? I shall vote against this Bill, because it is a bad Bill; because it is opposed to Irish ideas; because it is a sham, a pretended fulfilment of promises; because it is the outcome of a whole course of unprecedented political deception.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Macartney.)
§ (11.57.) SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
I object to the adjournment. The hon. Member who has just sat down says there is no reality about the Debate, and I perfectly agree with him. It is a scandalous waste of time, and the sooner it is over the better.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow, at Two of the clock.