§ The House went into Committee on this Bill.
§ On Clause 1,
§ Mr. F. G. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
, hoped that the Government would not persist with the measure. The third clause was a highly contentious one and should not be pressed. He moved to report Progress.
§ Mr. T. W. RUSSELL
hoped that the hon. Member would not press his objection to the Bill. Whatever harm had been done was done. The Bill was practically an indemnity measure. No one who professed to know the facts in Ireland believed that exceptional outdoor relief was required on any large scale now. The people were coming over to this country in large numbers for employment at this season, but as outdoor relief had been given in the months when it was required without Parliamentary sanction, he thought it was a little ungracious towards the poor people to endeavour to stop the Parliamentary sanction to the relief that had been afforded. There was really nothing in all the talk about the Parliamentary Franchise. The relief had been given in constituences where it did not matter who voted and who did not, and it was therefore nonsense to say that, the clause complained of was an election clause.
§ MR. BANBURY
explained that he had not the slightest objection to out-relief being granted to these people, but what he objected to was Clause 3, which allowed people who received out-relief to vote.
MR. J. MORLEY
(on the point of order): The hon. Member is speaking of the third clause, which has not been reached.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. ARTHUR O'CONNOR)
I cannot say the remarks of the hon. Member are irrelevant to the question of reporting progress.
§ MR. BANBURY
was willing to withdraw his Motion now if he were allowed to renew it on the third clause.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ On Clause 3,
MR. J. MORLEY
pointed out that this was a clause which had been inserted in a Bill of similar character on the Motion of the right hon. Member for Thanet, then Chief Secretary. It had appeared in a Relief Bill he himself introduced in 1886; and the hon. Member for South Tyrone had shown that it could not have, in a single constituency where the Bill was operative, the very slightest electoral effect. [A MEMBER: "Why?"] Because the majority in these constituencies was 2,000 or 3,000, and as the Bill would at the outside strike off 20 or 30 Votes, was it worth while to resist the Bill in this way?
MR. J. POWELL-WILLIAMS (Birmingham)
submitted that the question was whether the clause created any distinction between England and Ireland as to the result of receiving out-door relief. Out-door relief given in England to the class of persons referred to would undoubtedly exclude them from the franchise, and he failed to see why a disability inflicted upon an English voter should not also be inflicted upon an Irish voter for the like reason. If the clause were dropped out there would be no further opposition to the Bill.
MR. J. MORLEY
The class of persons to whom the Bill will apply—persons holding over a quarter of an acre of land—does not exist in England.
contended that the question whether the persons held land had nothing to do with it. The question was, not the possession of land, but relief from the rates.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, his hon. Friend really misrepresented the situation. The law in England and Ireland regarding the disqualification of persons receiving either in or out relief was absolutely the same. But here were certain districts of Ireland that were visited by a great calamity to the potato crop. The Chief Secretary stepped in on his own responsibility and authorised Boards of Guardians to give out-relief to a certain extent. The real question was, whether people who were not paupers in the ordinary sense, but were visited by a great calamity for which they were in no way responsible, were to be exposed to civil disabilities.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Then, if it was the English case, let them begin to make an end of it at once. People should not be punished in this way for what they could not help.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
supported the retention of the clause. It would be an extremely unfortunate and ungracious thing on the part of this Committee to visit upon these people the penalty of disfranchisement.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
pointed out that the origin of this clause was a clause introduced in 1879, in a Bill brought forward by the then Chief Secretary for Ireland and the right hon. Member for Thanet, and under exactly similar circumstances. Its object was to prevent hardship and injustice being inflicted on the people, who, because of a calamity, had to be afforded relief, and it was introduced by a Conservative Government. It should, therefore, be clearly understood what the character of the issue was, and the Government were perfectly prepared to take a Division upon it.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, the right hon. Gentleman 1735 had referred to a section of an Act of 1879, passed at a time when he (Mr. Lowther) represented the Irish Government. He must remind the Committee that the circumstances under which the Act was passed were exceptional. [Mr. J. MORLEY: "So are these."] It was a period of great distress in Ireland, and the Government of the day were desirous of preventing any injustice or hardship occurring to those who were compelled to accept relief. If this were a temporary measure, and were to be confined to occasions of distress which were of an exceptional character—[Mr. J. MORLEY: "It is."]—then he thought the precedent laid down in the Act, to which reference had been made, might fairly be borne in mind by the Committee. If the Bill, however, had a wider range, he thought it would come within the category of business which the right hon. Gentleman had told them would not be taken that night, namely, contentious business. If the Bill were to make provision for a bona-fide occasion of temporary and keen distress, he thought the Committee would do wisely in following the precedent alluded to; but if, on the other hand, there was any idea of a general alteration of the law—[Mr. J. MORLEY: "There is not.'']—he should be the first to protest strongly against it. If the Bill proposed to alter the general law, they ought to reject the clause—[Mr. J. MORLEY: "It does not."]; but if, on the other hand, it was distinctly understood to be a temporary and exceptional measure, he thought the Committee would do wisely in following the precedent mentioned.
§ MR. BANBURY
observed that the Chief Secretary had stated that this clause would only influence 20 or 30 votes. That, however, was not at all the point upon which he had raised this question. He brought it forward as a matter of principle, and, as he understood this was not a question of principle, but an exceptional case which might not require any measure to be put in operation again, he begged to withdraw his Amendment to report Progress.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
did not think that any of them intended to oppose any relief 1736 being given to Ireland. That was the point at issue, but this clause had been supported by the hon. Member for South Tyrone on the ground that this was the relief of exceptional distress. A few months ago there were 10 or 11 weeks of frost in this country, which inflicted on the population distress of the direst kind, most exceptional in its character, and as severe as that which existed in Ireland. What they wanted the people of this country to understand was, that relief was given to the Irish, but refused to the English. Very many respectable working men in England, during that period, were in such extremity that they had to appeal to the Poor Law for relief, and in every such case they were disfranchised. It must seem apparent to everyone that there was a difference in the treatment which the working class population received in England, and the treatment sought to be meted out to the Irish population, who were in no worse condition than were the English labourers. during the period to which he had referred. Therefore, while they did not object to relief in Ireland, they desired this to be an object lesson to show how the Government were compelled to do this thing and everything else demanded from them by those sitting opposite (the Irish Members) and who were really in power, whilst those who represented English constituencies had ought in vain to obtain for the suffering people in this country any consideration whatever.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Bill reported without Amendment.
§ Bill read 3°.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved: "That the House do now adjourn."
§ House adjourned at Half after Ten of the Clock till Monday next.