§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I should like to ask whether the Chief Secretary for Ireland will be in his place during the discussion of this Bill?
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE, Bradford, Central)
I am sorry to say that my right hon. Friend is not able to be in his place to-day, as he has an important engagement to fulfil at Newcastle; but I am in a position to state the views of the Government with regard to the Bill before the House.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
May I ask whether the Chief Secretary did not say yesterday that the attitude of the Government towards the Bill would depend on the arguments they heard to-day with reference to it?
§ DR. J. F. FOX (King's County, Tullamore) rose to move the Second Reading of the Bill. He said he found it difficult 539 to anticipate any opposition to the Bill from any quarter of the House. In view of the fact that this question had been so thoroughly and exhaustively threshed out during the past few years, both inside and outside the House, he did not propose to make any elaborate statement as to the effect of the Bill; nor, indeed, was it necessary, inasmuch as the Bill simply provided for the application to Ireland of laws already in force in England and Scotland and Wales. The present system of county government in Ireland could not be defended by any reasonable man. He thought Irishmen might reasonably ask Members in every quarter of the House to support the principle of this Bill, because there was no Party in the House which had not at one time or the other expressed the desire to give to Ireland the same system of county government as that enjoyed by the rest of the United Kingdom. He would like, moreover, to have it distinctly understood that neither he nor any of his colleagues would for a moment admit that this Bill was anything but a mere instalment of self-government to Ireland, and that it would not in the least obviate the necessity for that national self-government which was popularly known as Home Rule. He begged to move the Second Heading of the Bill.
§ *MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said, he wished to say a few words in consequence of the notice of Amendment given by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Arnold-Forster). He must admit that this was not a perfect measure as was the Act of Union or the Coercion Act. Bills of that kind from the point of view of the hon. Member, were perfection; but this Bill laboured under the disadvantage of not being absolutely perfect. But if Members were in favour of the principle of a Bill and keenly anxious to carry it they were generally prepared to pass over minor blemishes and to accept it on its general merits. There were some Members whose attitude was often like that of an hon. Member above the Gangway on the Municipal Franchise Bill; they said, "We are in favour of an abstract Resolution;" but the moment you attempted to expand the Resolution into a Bill that moment they forgot their profound affection for the principle of the 540 measure and declared themselves absolutely hostile to it on account of its drafting or its details. The Tory Party occupied a remarkable position with reference to this question. They recommended Local Government as the panacea for Ireland, but never tried to propose an acceptable measure. It was 60 years since the Grand Jury Act was passed; but with the exception of the Bill brought in in 1878 by the present right hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. James Lowther), and the remarkable performance of the present Leader of the Opposition in 1892, they had made any serious attempt to remedy the admitted evils of Local Government in Ireland. While the Tory Party were extremely chary in that House of making proposals on the subject, they were extremely critical of the proposals of others. There was not a platform in Great Britain on which Tory declarations had not been made of the anxiety of the Tory Party to create Local Government in Ireland. The latest accession to the Tory Party in the House, the right hon. Member for Croydon, whom they had the pleasure of welcoming on his return to the House a day or two ago, in his election address said:—I am in favour of the extension to Ireland of the same principles of Local Government as have been applied to England and Scotland.When you came to work out the details, what was the position of the Members of the Conservative Party? It was that of quarrelling and quibbling with every attempt that was made to apply them. From the Leaders of the Liberal Party he did not expect any measure of County Government for Ireland, because they could not introduce such a measure without exposing themselves to the charge that they were abandoning Home Rule and substituting Local Government. Accordingly, Irish Members had not asked the Liberal Government to include in its Programme any measure of County Government for Ireland. What they had a right to expect was that the Government would adopt some other attitude towards Bills dealing with minor Irish grievances, such as the Bill of the hon. Member for West Wicklow, dealing with the constitution of the Irish Lights Board, which was as bad as it could be, 541 and that they would not say: "We will make no proposals for reform, and we will not allow you to do so." Whilst exonerating the Liberal Government on this question of Local Government, he was quite aware that if the Tory Party came into Office they would endeavour to legislate upon it in a sense hostile to the Irish Members. Their Bill of 1892 was much the same kind of measure the Kurds in Armenia would offer to the Christians of Moush. If this Bill were criticised on the ground that it did not provide for all details the answer was that no Bill would be offered by the Tory Government except such a Bill as that of 1892, and no Bill was asked for from a Liberal Government as long as they were faithful to the principle of Home Rule. It was only from the Tory Party they could look for a measure of detail, and when these details were produced, they must be such details as were found in the Bill of 1892, tainted with every form of Tory gangrene and hostility to the people of Ireland, with niggling and half-hearted concessions taking away with one hand what was pretended to be given with the other. The drafting of this Bill was admittedly open to criticism; it was not a method which would be adopted by a Member who had any hope that the House of Commons, as it was at present constituted, or as it was hereafter likely to be constituted, would give its time to the favourable consideration of Irish grievances. His opinion was this, that so far as Ireland was concerned, the procedure of the House of Commons was just as formidable an obstacle to getting anything required by Ireland as was the antagonism of the House of Lords. That House was hostile by its majority, and this House, by reason of its rules and the impossibility of getting any Irish business through it. To get a Bill of any magnitude through, a private Member must adopt some method of compacting it, such as legislating by reference, which, of course, would not be tolerable if attempted on the same scale by a Government which controlled and disposed of the whole time of the House. Some American constitutions, indeed, made it illegal to legislate by reference; but he would advise hon. Members on the Conservative side, who objected to an Irish Local Government 542 Bill because it was drafted by reference, to look at their own Bill of 1892, backed by Mr. Balfour, Mr. Jackson, and the then Attorney General for Ireland. Clause 69 provided that, if from any cause there was no returning officer able to act in any county at the first election, or no register of electors, or if no proper election took place, or if an insufficient number of county councillors were elected, or if difficulties arose on several points, the Local Government Board might, by order, appoint a returning officer or other officer, or do any matter or thing, and modify the provisions of the Act so far as might appear to the Board to be necessary. And, further, the Local Government Board might, on the application of a baronial or provincial council, make such orders as appeared to them to be necessary for bringing the Act into full operation, and such orders might modify any enactment in this or any other Act, whether general or local, so far as it might appear to the Board to be necessary for the purpose. That was pretty sweeping, and yet it was called Conservative legislation. What was the objection to this Bill? If they took the Conservative County Councils Act of 1888 and the Liberal Parish Councils Act of 1894, a number of their provisions wore necessarily not applicable to Ireland at all, because some of them had to do with South Wales, the Isle of Wight, and the Metropolis. Of course, it would be ridiculous to provide that those provisions should apply to Ireland in their entirety; but as regarded the creation of the council, its franchises and powers, they should apply absolutely; and as to details the Lord Lieutenant should, in respect of procedure, apply such of them as were applicable to that country. He quite admitted that from the point of view of obstruction, it would be much to the advantage of their enemies to bring in a Bill of 300 clauses and let its opponents entangle themselves in it. Then if they could not object to Clause 3 they could object to Clause 333. Some distinguished Queen's Counsel from Ireland would then get up and say: "This clause is not in the English Bill." And they would reply: "No; it is not in the English Bill because it is not applicable to Ireland." Then he would say, "Why not?" and would argue that a clause should be imported from the 543 English Bill, but if they tried to please them by importing clauses, the Tory Party would say: "You have imported a clause from the English Bill in relation to matters to which it is entirely inapplicable." He agreed that it was undesirable, if they had any speedy and effective method of legislation, to give the Lord Lieutenant the powers which this Bill conferred. But did the Tory Party object to such procedure in the Coercion Act? They did not object to giving the Lord Lieutenant full power to suspend trial by jury, or suspend the constitution by mere sign manual. Their objection to the Lord Lieutenant's action came in when it was to create a County Council. Did they object to the system of legislation by reference in 1882, when, by a single clause in the Crimes Act of that year, the Alien Act was re-enacted and declared applicable to Ireland. No; there was no objection to the drafting of that day or to any form of drafting so long as its object was to take away the liberties of the people of Ireland, and put coercive powers into the hands of the Executive. What was the head and front of the offending in this Bill. Admittedly the Irish Lord Lieutenant could not confer upon Ireland anything not already the law in England. Yet that was objectionable. Why was it objectionable to the advocates of equal laws for the United Kingdom. As to the other clauses, the Bill simply took away its powers from the existing Grand Jury, and transferred them to the County Council. It was not the creation of any new powers, but the transfer of powers from an existing body and the clothing of the new body (when called into existence) with powers already extant in Ireland. If they were in favour of the principles of a Bill the general rule was to let it go into Committee, and amend it there. Moreover, amendments could be made elsewhere. From the point of view of the Tory Party the great function of the House of Lords was to revise the mistakes of the House of Commons; they had a Second Chamber across the way chock full of learning and intelligence which was waiting to remedy the defects, omissions, slips, or hastes, which might be committed by the House of Commons, and if there were faults of drafting in the measure could not the 544 Tory Party, which was so eager to apply Local Government to Ireland, trust the House of Lords to remedy them? Surely if there were any use in a Second Chamber, or any value in the institution over the way, that value could be demonstrated in regard to a Bill of this kind, the principles of which the Tory Party were so eager to embrace, but as to the details of which there was perhaps not that adequate time at the disposal of the House of Commons to elaborate which existed elsewhere. The Irish Grand Jury system had been in existence for sixty years. Nobody need at this time of day discuss its jobbery or incompetence. The Tory Party themselves admitted that it must be swept away. It was a system whereby over a million of the taxpayers' money was spent by a little gang of gentlemen appointed by the sheriff to expend, levy, and control the rates which were paid by the occupier and not by the landlord. The Irish Nationalist Members had some claim upon the Government in reference to this Grand Jury system, for although they did not ask for legislation from the Liberal Ministry as such, some of them had demanded executive action on the subject. The sheriffs in Ireland were appointed by the Crown. That appointment was not controlled by Statute as in England. In the first year of the accession of the Queen, in Lord Melbourne's administration, the then Attorney General for Ireland advised the Crown that the right of the appointment of sheriffs rested with them, and that these Sheriffs need not be pricked by the Judges. Accordingly in several Irish counties the sheriff nominated by the Judges were set aside by the executive under Mr. Thomas Drummond's secretaryship, and a more popular sheriff was appointed in his stead. The Grand Jury system admitted of some reform by the method of executive action, and that reform this Government had not attempted. He would not now criticise their action upon that score, but he wished to show them the possibilities of the case. A Grand Juryman must be a person having freehold of the value of £50, or leasehold of the value of £100. Now the persons likely to own this would hardly be revolutionaries or moonlighters. The sheriff had the right only to select from any 545 persons of that class, and to form them into a grand jury. The sheriff was the creature of the Executive. There was hardly a sheriff in Ireland who, before his appointment, had not begged and craved the Government to be relieved of the duties of his office. The Government could have appointed sheriffs who were not Tories, but when some of them, like Captain Hutchinson, absolutely refused to act in Queen's County, instead of acting on his refusal and appointing a man who would be in sympathy with the people, what did they do? They indicted him at common law, and when the jury disagreed they indicted him a second time, and convicted him for having refused to act, with the result that, of course, Captain Hutchinson, directly he was appointed, nominated 23 of his friends to act as grand jurors, and thus the old game went on of Tory appointment, and Tory management, and Tory administration, as merrily as before. This is a matter which the Irish people feel deeply upon. Some Members of the House had a larger acquaintance with a great many subjects than he had. The Member for West Belfast knew all about the Army and the Navy—it was hard to say whether his letters on the one or his speeches on the other were the longest; he also understood Japan, the Corea, and Egypt; and, if called upon for a sketch of the future administration of Uganda, he would turn it out in a few hours. He himself yielded to no one in his ignorance on these subjects, but he claimed to have some knowledge of the parochial affairs of his own country. He knew very little about the affairs of any foreign country, and cared less. For a great many years they had been striving, now by one method, now by another, to take out of the hands of these jobbing grand juries the light to levy a million of money, none of which they paid. They had failed, and they now claimed that a Bill of this kind which did something in that direction, although it was not absolute perfection, was entitled to receive at the hands of those who declared themselves in favour of the principle of Local Government something better than a mere criticism as to drafting and detail. So far as Ireland was concerned, it had nothing in the nature of Local Government to expect from the Liberal party but Home Rule. 546 Unless the Tories were returned to power with a narrow majority they had nothing to expect from Unionists better than the Bill of 1892. He quite agreed that, if at the coming General Election the Tory Party were elected to power with a narrow majority, they would get a most excellent Local Government Bill. There were no persons so pleasant to deal with in a weak administration as the Tory Party. He preferred them to a weak Liberal Government, and it was naturally from a weak Tory Government that they might expect to get a Bill of this kind. They did not expect to get it from the Liberal Party, and they had no right to demand it, because the Liberal Party were engaged upon the task of endeavouring to give to Ireland the right of dealing with Bills of this character in her own Parliament. Hitherto the Liberal Party had failed in that endeavour, but he believed that eventually they would succeed in attaining that end. For his own part all he could say was that rather than accept the Tory measure of 1892 he would wait until the end of the century in order to obtain a complete measure of Home Rule. In conclusion, he commended this Bill to the judgment of the House, and he trusted that every hon. Member who was sincerely anxious for the passing of some scheme for improving the Local Government in Ireland would endeavour at least to send this Bill to a Committee where its imperfections might be remedied by the knowledge and experience of the large band of Irish Q.C.'s, who could there exercise their ingenuity upon it.
§ MR. A. H. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, S.)
rose to move the Adjournment of the Debate. This Bill had been brought forward on a Wednesday afternoon, on a day when every good-hearted Irishman should have been enjoying the fine weather elsewhere. It was not right that a measure of this importance should be brought in on a Wednesday afternoon, on the Derby Day, when the Minister who was responsible for the government of Ireland was unable to be present in the House. In his view, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland ought to be present when a measure of this importance was being considered and discussed. He did not wish in the slightest degree to cast any reflection on 547 the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland for not being in his place on the Government Bench, and he was quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman was far better employed than in discussing such a great measure as this on a Wednesday afternoon. He did not know whether he was right in assuming that the right hon. Gentleman had gone away electioneering, but in that case the whole of the House had better follow his example, and go electioneering on their own account. Here was a short Bill of some five clauses only, which had been framed with the object of carrying out a great and important reform in the Local Government of Ireland, which they were all so anxious to bring about, and it was suggested that they should pass it, brought in as it was by a private Member in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The hon. and learned Member for North Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) had truly told them that the only two attempts that had been made to reform the Irish grand jury system and to give increased powers of local self-government to Ireland, had been made by Tory Governments—one being made during the Government of Lord Beaconsfield, and the other under the Conservative administration of three years ago. But although the Conservative Party were anxious that a measure of local self-government should be given to Ireland drawn upon the lines of the English Local Government Act, yet it was impossible to make an Irish Bill identical in all respects with that of the English Measure. The local circumstances of the two countries differed enormously. The hon. and learned Member for Louth had talked about the parochial system in Ireland, but there were no such things as parishes in that country, except for ecclesiastical purposes. It was asked that they should carry over to Ireland the principles of the Local Government Act, and of the English Parish Councils Act, which had passed through that House some 18 months ago, while they were all aware that there were no parishes in Ireland which could exercise the powers that such a measure would confer. They were, moreover, asked, by agreeing to this short Bill on a Wednesday afternoon, to carry over to Ireland 548 the principles of two great Acts, the first of which took nearly 30 days, and the second nearly 40 days in passing through that House, and which admittedly would require most important modifications. They were asked to abrogate their own powers, and to transfer to the Lord Lieutenant the power of picking and choosing which of the provisions of those two great Acts should be applied to Ireland.
§ MR. W. O. CLOUGH (Portsmouth)
rose to order. He wished to know whether the hon. Gentleman was in order in discussing the merits of this Bill on a Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is in order in discussing the main question. Although I understand that he intends to conclude with a Motion he has not yet made it,
§ MR. A. H. SMITH-BARRY
said, that under all the circumstances to which he had referred it was most important, if it were not absolutely necessary that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland should be present in his place whilst they were discussing a Measure of this great importance. It was highly important that the Minister of the Crown who was responsible for Irish affairs should be present to give the House the views which the Government entertained with regard to this Measure. He thought that the time of the House might be more profitably employed in considering some of the other Measures that stood upon the Paper for discussion that afternoon, and therefore he begged to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I must point, out to the hon. Member that this is not a Government Measure, and is not a Bill for which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland is personally responsible. The House has been informed by a Minister that he is here to represent the Government, and to state the views of the Chief Secretary. Inasmuch as the hon. Member who has moved the Adjournment of the Debate has done so, on the ground of the absence of the right hon. Gentleman, I think under the circumstances that the Motion for Adjournment is an abuse of the rules of the House, and therefore I must decline to put it.
§ *MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, West)
rose to move the following Amendment:—That this House, while prepared to take into consideration any well-matured scheme for the extension of Local Government to Ireland, cannot regard the County Councils (Ireland) Bill as a serious attempt to carry out that object.He could not regard any of the provisions of the Measure seriously, in fact he regarded the whole Bill as a joke. The hon. and learned Member for North Louth always assumed for himself the monopoly of conviction on these questions, but he could assure him that those who were opposed to his views in connection with these subjects were equally convinced that they were right in the opinions they held. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that he did not care anything about the circumstances of any other country, but, in his opinion, English, Scotch, and Irish Members were bound to regard the interests, not of their own countries alone, but of the United Kingdom. The Bill had been brought in at the fag-end of the Session, or perhaps he should say at the fag-end of a Parliament, on a Wednesday—Derby Day. He supposed that it had been brought in as an Irish contribution to the general scheme for "filling up the cup," but he had rather perform the office on Epsom Downs. The hon. and learned Member for North Louth had said that they were committed to the principle of this Bill, but, he pointed out, there were two principles in this Bill. The Conservative and Unionist Party had accepted the principle of the extension of local self-government in Ireland, but there was a larger principle than that involved in the Bill. It proposed to transfer from the Imperial Parliament for an indefinite length of time the whole of the legislative functions with regard to one portion of the United Kingdom. The effect of the third clause—which ran:So much of the provisions of the County Electors Act, 1888, and the Local Government Acts, 1888 to 1894, or of any rules made there-under, or of any Act amending or affecting the said Acts, shall apply in Ireland as the Lord Lieutenant shall by Order in Council declare applicable, and with such modifications as the said Order shall prescribe;—would be that no less than 117 pages of the Statute Book would be taken bodily 550 out of the cognisance of that House. The whole of those Acts had been discussed in the House, and if they accepted this principle were they to go further and abandon their power of revocation? They were going to give to the Lord Lieutenant, who was the mere representative of the dominant Party in the House, the power to pick and choose among these Statutes, and so usurp the whole function of Parliament. Surely it would be a reasonable corollary to that proposition that power should also be given to the Lord Lieutenant for the purpose of withdrawing and cancelling as well as enacting. But whether or no it was contemplated to give that power, the result would be the same. Reference had been made by the hon. and learned Member to the case of the discretionary powers given to the Lord Lieutenant under the Crimes Act, but those discretionary powers were confined to two or three specific points which were discussed in detail in the House.
§ *MR. T. M. HEALY
said that, with the exception of the first few clauses, not a single clause of the Coercion Act was discussed in that House.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said, his recollection was that the material, operative portion of the Act, including the first eight clauses, to which the greatest objection was taken, was discussed. ["No, no!"] But whether that was so or not, it was a totally different matter to give the general power now proposed to an executive officer. There was a class of hon. Members who argued that they ought to reproduce all English legislation in Ireland, without considering what the nature of that legislation was. He certainly had never acquiesced in that proposition. If it were really intended to apply legislation to Ireland because it was on the English Statute Book, were they to go on the converse principle, and apply to England the legislation which was applied to Ireland? That would be the logical consequence, because the only ground on which they could insist on the application of such a principle would be that there was absolute uniformity of condition. But they had for years past taken every possible precaution to ensure that the circumstances in England and Ireland should be different and divergent. Until 551 they had made some serious effort to reduce even the artificial inequality which they had taken pains to create, he could never consent to such a proposition. English Local Government Acts were based on a body of law and custom dating back as far as the Norman Conquest, and, as regarded ecclesiastical provisions, as far back as the Anglo-Saxon period, and to suggest that they could be applied to the circumstances of Ireland was to trifle with the House. He remembered a Debate, not very long ago, on the extension of the Municipal franchise in Ireland, and it was then argued that they should extend this particular franchise to Ireland, because the same set of conditions existed there as in England. It was said that there was representation without taxation in Ireland; but there was also the compound householder in this country, and whereas the compound householder paid the rate by implication, so he would pay the rate and tax in Ireland by the same implication. Hon. Members who supported that contention treated them to the usual effusions about the enormity of not accepting it, but not one of them was informed that, by our own legislation in Ireland, we had made such a comparison as that an absurdity. The Land Commissioners, a body which had no parallel in England, had positively stated that they had deducted the amount of the rates payable before they settled the amount of the rent.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that, of course, they did not fix the rent in town houses; but this applied to large classes in Ireland who came under precisely the same conditions. He quoted this as an example of the extraordinary errors into which hon. Members might fall. They were asked to overlook the fact that, whenever a Local Government Bill was introduced for Ireland, it must take into consideration the special circumstances. He objected to the Bill not merely on the ground of constitutional principle, but because they owed a primary duty to those who shared their views in Ireland. They were asked in fact to put into the power of the Lord Lieutenant—that was to say into the hands of the Chief Secretary—the extension of any portion 552 of our municipal institutions to Ireland; to extend the County and Parish Councils throughout Ireland, and without knowing the men to whom the power would be entrusted. Some hon. Members might feel that there were special reasons why it would be injudicious to hand over such powers, including those of compensation for malicious injury, to particular districts. They knew what, under such circumstances, they would have to expect, they might argue about the matter in the House, and bandy statements from one side to the other; but not a few of them were necessarily influenced by past experience, and they were not prepared to allow power over the safety of their friends to go further out of their hands than they could help. It was their desire and object to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom, and this Bill was certainly antagonistic to that great principle. As to what the effect of such a Bill would be, he would quote from a leading journal of the Irish Party, edited by one of the leading Members of that Party, in which it was said that the Party would unsparingly—use every position they could capture as a Home Rule fortress to drive the enemy off the ground.He knew perfectly well what those words meant, and were intended to mean, in the south of Ireland—that whenever power was given to organised bodies in Ireland it would be used unsparingly by the Separatists against those whom they regarded as their enemies or opponents. He could not regard such a position as that with a light heart, and was bound to hesitate before consenting to the granting of power which might lead to such unjust and mischievous activity. He believed the scheme proposed to be an absurd one, and that it was trifling with the House to bring it forward in this way. If it were seriously meant it should have been brought forward in a very different manner. The operative effect of a proposition of this kind was to commit the House to a principle which was so vicious that no responsible Minister of the Crown would ever give countenance to it—would ever assent to such a statutory enactment as was proposed. Were hon. Members prepared to part, for an indefinite number of years, with the legislative and administrative 553 powers of Parliament over Ireland in the most important matters of local government—to spend days in passing Acts adapted specially to one set of circumstances in England and then to make their efforts absurd by applying those results bodily to a different set of circumstances in Ireland which were never contemplated? If there were to be an extension of local government in Ireland it must be introduced in a different way to this. He was free to admit that there must be an alteration and a modification of the system of local government in that country. The Unionist Party had proposed it in the past, and they could best propose and promote it in the future. They would gladly see a reasonable extension of local government in Ireland; they had no particular interest to serve and no particular Party over which to triumph; and he thought the Irish Party would better serve the interests of their country if they sought to work with them in the matter rather than to reject all their efforts as inimical and to propose measures which could not lead to any practical result. He concluded by moving the Amendment that stood in his name.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, that though he should be unable to take part in the Division, he wished to state the grounds on which he was opposed to the Bill, which was really the creation of the hon. and learned Member for North Louth. The Bill affirmed two principles—local government for Ireland, and what the hon. and learned Member for North Louth had correctly described as legislation by reference, on a scale which had never been attempted by Parliament. For local government he could have voted in its widest form, but the second principle he was not prepared to support. Yet in voting for this Bill it was impossible to vote for the one principle without voting for the other, and he should be very curious to see what the action of the right hon. Gentleman who was acting on that occasion for the Chief Secretary would be on the matter. He certainly very much regretted the absence of the Chief Secretary on a measure which must have such a large bearing on Irish questions. It had been on the Notice Paper since the opening of the Session, and the Chief 554 Secretary must have made his engagements with the Bill staring him in the face. It was, he repeated, a very regrettable circumstance indeed that the Chief Secretary should be absent from the discussion of a Bill containing principles of such importance, because no one could possibly have so close a knowledge of the details of the Irish Government—a knowledge very necessary in debating such a question—as the right hon. Gentleman. Now there were a great many people in Ireland who did not agree with the principles of local government at all; but he did not concur with them. If this Bill had been a local measure proposing to set up County Councils, Divisional Councils, and Parish Councils, though he might have differed from many of the details of the measure, and have thought some safeguards absent, he would have given a hearty and unequivocal support to the Second Reading. He did not sympathise with those in Ireland who thought they could perpetuate the old form of Government amid the new conditions of life. Therefore, whatever Government might be in power after the next General Election he did not think they would be able to escape legislating, upon broad and generous lines, on this question of local government. He congratulated hon. Members opposite who supported this Bill upon their new-found devotion to Dublin Castle, for they had long been engaged in denouncing the castle and all its doings on every platform in the country. The hon. Member for the Shipley Division of Yorkshire was never weary of denouncing the Executive in Ireland; it was his main theme when he went on the rampage in Great Britain, and yet he and his Party were, to-day, asked to arm Dublin Castle with powers such as no Tory Government ever ventured to place in its hands. And the Executive officer whom they proposed to entrust with these powers was not an Irishman at all, but an Englishman. The principle which they were now asked to accept might be applied in other directions. By one clause the Government might apply the Irish Coercion Act to Wales or to an English county. It would be very interesting to know what that great constitutional lawyer the hon. Member for South Donegal thought of such a proposal. He did not think the hon. 555 Member for Louth was justified in charging the Irish Grand Juries with jobbery. He quite admitted that these bodies were out of date; they were not in sympathy with the spirit of the time; and, not being representative, they ought to be abolished, so far as their administrative functions were concerned. They had, however, done their work uncommonly well, and at small cost. He did not mean to say they had not appointed a friend when some people thought they should have appointed some one else, but he had never heard of any instance in which they had been guilty of jobbery or malversation. Reference had been made to the 69th Clause of the Act of 1892, but he contended that that clause, which merely gave an officer power to appoint a County Council where the county itself declined to do so, had no bearing on the principle of legislation by reference It would be said that those who opposed the Bill were opposed to Local Government for Ireland, but it would be just as true to say that those who opposed the Bill of the Government of 1892 were opposed to Local Government. The Opposition then, as now, was not to the principle of Local Government for Ireland, but to the measure by which it was proposed to carry it out. Hon. Members might say that it would be impossible to pass a Bill embodying all the details of Local Government for Ireland, but, at any rate, they could have carried it as far as they were likely to carry their present measure. He regretted that hon. Members had not given the House an opportunity of voting for a principle which could have been successfully carried, but had put into the Bill a principle which the House ought not to affirm.
§ *MR. W. P. BYLES (York, W.R., Shipley)
said, he had not risen to reply to the observations of his hon. Friend who had just sat down. He desired, in a sentence or two, to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast, because he thought the House was indebted—at any rate he, as a convinced Home Ruler, felt indebted—to him for having exposed and demolished a fallacious view, which was widely entertained in the country, of the ideal Government for Ireland. The hon. Member said, there was a school of Members of the House 556 who believed that legislation for England should apply always to Ireland—that the law of the two countries should be the same. It was quite true that there was such a school, both in the House and in the country, but the hon. Members who brought forward this Bill did not belong to that school. They, at any rate, knew well the distinctions which were so lucidly and eloquently drawn by the hon. Member in the history and conditions of the two countries; they knew the laws made for England could not always be applied to Ireland, and that laws made for Ireland were not always suitable for this country. But who was at the head of the school of politicians to which the hon. Member referred? Was it not the late Lord Randolph Churchill, one of the revered Leaders of the Tory Party? Did he not himself give the formula which embodied that idea when he spoke of similarity and simultaneity. He was very glad, if it were so, that the hon. Member for West Belfast had destroyed that formula and disposed of that faith. He had many a time heard it said by ill-informed students of the Irish Question, that the true policy for Ireland was to regard Ireland as an English county—to treat it as they treated Yorkshire. The speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast would have taught a good many who held that view that it was untenable, and he hoped the hon. Member had disposed of it for ever. But he could not agree with the hon. Member when he went on to say that the Bill before the House was the application of that principle to Ireland. The Bill did not, as he understood it, propose to transfer bodily 170 pages of these English Statutes to the Irish Statute Book. All that it proposed to do was, to empower the Irish Government to put in the Irish Statute Book such portions of these measures as the Lord Lieutenant, by Order in Council, should declare applicable. It was only, therefore, a partial extension of the principle of equality of Government that was proposed in the Bill. The principle of adopting portions of Acts was not unknown to this practice. Even in the Local Government Bill, which was passed for England and Wales last year, power was given to local bodies to adopt certain Acts. All the Bill proposed to do was, to give power to adopt, not whole Acts, 557 but certain portions of certain Acts which were applicable equally to Ireland and to England. He would vote for the Bill in spite of the denunciations of the hon. Member who had just sat down. It wag perfectly true, as the hon. Member said, that he had many a time denounced the iniquities of Dublin Castle, and he hoped to do so again, so long as these iniquities existed. He wanted to convince the electors that Home Rule was the only true policy for Ireland, and he could not possibly bring conviction to their minds better than by telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about Dublin Castle. He would vote for the Bill, and he would look anxiously to the Lobby to see who were the Members of the House who really desired to give some extension of Local Government to Ireland.
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, N.)
said, that when he was first returned to the House he promised his constituents to support Local Government for Ireland on the main lines of the English system; and he would therefore vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, because it affirmed the principle of local self-government for Ireland, on the lines of the system of local self-government in operation in this country. Reference had been made to the words "simultaneity" and "similarity" which were used by the late Lord Randolph Churchill in dealing with the question of local self-government for Ireland. In making that declaration Lord Randolph Churchill spoke not merely personally, but, which was much more important, as the mouthpiece of the late Conservative Government. "Simultaneity" was now of course out of the question; but as the Bill proposed to incorporate the English Local Government Act of 1888 the principle of "similarity" would be achieved if it were passed into law. His hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast seemed to think that the word "similarity" meant absolute equality or identity. Of course that was an exaggerated view. No one could seriously hold or express the belief that exactly what had happened to be beneficial in this country or in Scotland should be, without any change, always adopted in the case of Ireland or vice versá. Such were the differences in the condition of the three 558 countries, and in some of their fundamental laws, that, to apply statutes to all the three branches of the United Kingdom in an unqualified manner, would lead to very grave mistakes in legislation. They must have regard both to circumstances and conditions in legislating for the various countries of the United Kingdom. But he held that the principle of equality in dealing with the various countries of the United Kingdom afforded for Unionists the only standing ground; and when they found that what had been admitted to be a benefit to England, which had been promised to Ireland simultaneously with England, and which was now asked for by Ireland—a most important point—unless Unionists were prepared, in these circumstances, to be willing to apply that principle of equality to Ireland he did not know how the demand for Home Rule and other demands could possibly be met. He ventured, therefore, to express the general principle that where experience had shown that certain legislation had proved to be beneficial to one portion of the United Kingdom, and when another branch of the United Kingdom asked that the same benefit might be conferred upon it, that demand with possibly certain necessary modifications could not in justice be resisted. He would not labour the question of the present condition of county government in Ireland. He would only say that it was open to two objections, which were so forcible and so unanswerable that it was not necessary to mention any others. The first objection was that County Government in Ireland was based on personal nomination, whereas in England it was based on representation; and that nomination was the nomination of the Grand Jury by one man—the Sheriff of the county. He ventured to say that the principle of personal nomination was obsolete, and could not possibly be allowed to continue. The other objection was that there was no continuity in County Government in Ireland. They had a Grand Jury assembled one day, and dismissed the next; and one of the results of this want of continuity was that when some pressing work was needed—as in the case of the Cork Courthouse—it could not be carried 559 out without long and inconvenient delay, and even without the passage of a special Act of Parliament. Now, what would be the effect of this Bill? By incorporating, so far as applicable, the English Municipal and County Government Acts of 1882 and 1888, it applied the English system of local self-government to Ireland. He would venture to go further and say that the effect of the Bill would practically be very much the same, with a few exceptions, as would have been the effect of the Irish Local Bill introduced by the Conservative Government in 1892, without the so-called safeguards, which he considered completely illusory, and to which he objected at the time. What reasonable objection, then, could be raised to this Bill, so far as principle was concerned, by those who supported the Bill of 1892? There was another reason why this Bill should be adopted. The House had already passed the Second Reading of the Irish Municipal Franchise Bill. He regarded this Bill as the complement of that measure. If they gave to the municipalities and towns of Ireland the local self-government which prevailed in the municipalities and towns of England, why should they refuse to the Irish counties the self-government enjoyed by the English counties? If they were to pass one measure and refuse to pass the other they would intensify the feeling of grievance which now existed amongst the rural communities of Ireland in regard to this question. As to the form and frame of the Bill, he admitted that objection might reasonably be made to the mode in which the Bill sought to accomplish the excellent object it had in view. The general principle of incorporating an Act of parliament by reference was open to the strongest objection, as a mere matter of drafting. But in this Bill it was not a mere question of reference or of resort to adoptive Acts. It was much more than that. The Bill raised a constitutional question of no secondary importance, because it enabled, not a representative body, as in the case of the adoptive Acts in the English system of local self-government, but the Crown and the Privy Council—two non-representative bodies—to apply to Ireland certain portions of the English local government statutes. The selective action of those bodies in going through 560 the statutes and applying some provisions and refusing to apply others, would in itself be a process of legislation and would derogate from the powers and duties of Parliament itself, which ought not to be delegated. He thought it was open to strong argument and objection that any unrepresentative body should be vested by the House with the power of saying some portions of an Act might apply, and others might not. But he did not think this was an absolute objection to the Second Reading of the Bill. In Committee that would be rejected, and its purpose might be done in one of two ways: It might be done by incorporating either in the body of the Bill through Amendments or in Schedules those provisions, as was done in the Act of 1888, which would be applicable in the case of Ireland. Inasmuch as the Bill would, in his opinion, achieve a great purpose; inasmuch as it would be the means of giving to Ireland, though indirectly, the full benefit of that which had been tested by experience in this country; and inasmuch as it would remedy what he thought was a standing grievance, fatal to those good relations which ought to subsist between all branches of the United Kingdom, namely, a difference as to which Ireland was under a disability; and whereas England and Scotland had already reaped the advantages which were promised to Ireland at the same time, which were now in beneficial operation in both countries, and for which Ireland has been asking, he should support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. J. ROSS (Londonderry)
did not agree with the hon. Member that anything could possibly be made out of this Bill. If the hon. Member had a more intimate acquaintance with the state of affairs in Ireland than he had, he would not be hopeful of being able to do anything with the measure. The putative father of the Bill introduced it, but afterwards its real father appeared on the scene, and for the first time in his career the hon. and learned Member for Louth was in an apologetic frame of mind. There was no subject he (Mr. Ross) and his friends would more gladly see dealt with in an exhaustive way than that with which the Bill dealt, but it was simply astounding to any person acquainted with the local machinery in 561 Ireland, to propose to proceed as was now suggested. The case of the English Bill showed them the folly of attempting to apply the legislation of one country haphazard to another country. The Parish Councils Act of 1892 permitted them to take the election petition machinery from another statute, and the result was most ludicrous. If a labourer petitioned against the return of another labourer, the presence of a representative of the Public Prosecutor was necessary, and in addition to that the labourer petitioning was obliged to deposit £300. That was an example of the foolishness of legislation by reference. In 1892 the present President of the Board of Trade spoke of the absurdity of the system of legislation by reference, and now the adoption of such a system was proposed by Irish Members. He respectfully submitted that it was utterly unreasonable to ask the House to accept a large measure of this kind without the Government making themselves responsible for it. The hon. and learned Member for Louth said, that if the Government took up the Bill it would be said by the wicked Tories, and by other evilly disposed persons in the country, that this was an alternative for Home Rule. Was not the same argument likely to be urged against the hon. Members below the Gangway when they introduced this Bill? The hon. and learned Member for Louth made a piteous appeal to the House. He asked if anything could be worse than the present state of circumstances. They, he said, objected to the jobbing grand juries, and therefore they asked the House to accept the Bill notwithstanding all its defects. There was noone who, on principle, more strongly objected to the present state of local government in Ireland than he did. He was glad to see his objection commended itself to other Members from Ireland; but he was bound to say that having had a great deal of experience in these matters, having passed through eight counties on circuit, having seen the grand juries in those counties at work, he had never heard of anything approaching to a job on the part of grand juries. A member of the Nationalist Party was a member of the Londonderry grand jury, and he defied that gentleman to say he had seen anything but the utmost honesty and attention to 562 business on the part of the grand jury. The business capacity of grand juries was simply admirable, and it was not fair for any hon. Member to suggest they were a set of jobbers, unless he was able to give specific instances. But he was not here to defend the present system. It worked well for a time, but everyone must admit that now there must be another system. No one imagined, however, that the present state of affairs was so desperate that some change was absolutely necessary. They must provide for a strong Local Government Board in Ireland, for such a Board there was not at present. He had not the faith the hon. Member for Islington had that without any safeguards at all they were perfectly safe in Ireland. If the hon. Member had lived a little longer in Ireland than he really had his faith would not be of the pronounced character he had shown it to be. In all common sense and from the nature of the circumstances, they must have some safeguards when they applied this change in the local government of Ireland. If they passed the Bill in its present form they would give to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland power to apply en bloc provisions which were intended for a totally different set of circumstances. It was said that there was always the protection of publicity; but there was no public opinion in Ireland with respect in municipal affairs. For instance, there was the action of the Corporation of Dublin in the course of last year. With all the light of publicity around them, and with all the newspapers writing about them, it was discovered, in proceedings before the Court of Queen's Bench, that for years the Corporation had been entertaining themselves, out of the rates, to champagne banquets, and had been providing floral decorations for the Mansion House. That was pronounced by the Court to be absolutely illegal; but did the Corporation yield to public opinion? They met and determined to tack the £460 which had been disallowed by the Court on to the Lord Mayor's salary. Could such a thing happen in England? Lately the Corporation of Dublin proposed a Bill; and they had to take a plébiscite of the ratepayers to see whether they were in favour of it. A majority of the ratepayers voted against the Bill; but 563 the Corporation did not mind that. They went on with their Bill, and had to be stopped by proceedings in the Chancery Division. All these enormous powers were to be entrusted to the people of Ireland at once, without a single safeguard. Between the conditions of life in Ireland and England there were a hundred vital differences. Had there been a class war in England? There had been such a war in Ireland, waged with the utmost animosity. One class, having property, were being exposed every day to the severest attacks on the part of the other. In nearly every county in Ireland 5 per cent. of the population paid 50 per cent. of the county cess. That was proved by statistics beyond contradiction. Were the majority, without any restraint, to have it in their power to tax the minority off the face of the earth? There might come a time when it would be possible to give greater powers, but these extensions should be made in the process of time. At the present time, to give these extended powers was simply to give the power of plunder. Smaller Boards in Ireland, which were popularly elected, had grossly abused the powers entrusted to them. It could not be denied that the Poor Law Guardians had used their powers under the Labourers' Cottages Act not for the purpose of providing homes for the labourers, but for the purpose of planting houses on boycotted farms and on unpopular landlords. These matters were beyond all contradiction. But of something like 200 appeals before the Privy Council, up to the year 1892, 180 were dismissed on the ground that the action of the Boards had been a gross abuse of the Act. It was proved in those cases that the labourers' cottages were not required at all, but were simply used as an instrument of oppression, and those who were unpopular were made to pay for it. He was strongly in favour of the principle of the Bill, but as to the details there was no subject on which more caution ought to be exercised. A great deal of time and attention were given to the Bill of 1892; but to compare this extraordinary monstrosity with the Bill of 1892 was ridiculous and absurd. What would the Lord Lieutenant do, when he was told that he was to transport these English Acts, and apply all of them at once to Ireland? 564 Such a scheme it passed the wit of man to carry out. The whole system in the two countries was quite different. In Ireland the police were an Imperial force; in England they were a local force. He could not find a single section throughout the 170 pages of the Statutes which it would be possible to apply to Ireland. The Bill was giving to the Lord Lieutenant a power such as had never before been heard of. There were other questions which ought to be most carefully guarded. For example, he should object strongly to the illiterate vote in Ireland. In England it did not matter much; but in Ireland it was an enormous factor, and the illiterate voter had nothing more to do with his vote than he had with what occurred in the other hemisphere. But was it to be left to the Lord Lieutenant and the Privy Council to determine whether or not there was to be an illiterate vote? Were the claims for malicious outrages to be left to the popular bodies, especially in such counties as Galway and Kerry? If so, the results in a short period would be very startling. He could easily show that what was proposed in this Bill was an utter impossibility. In the words of the President of the Board of Trade, to propose to give the Lord Lieutenant power to apply these large masses of legislation, was to reach the climax of absurdity. He could not believe that the present Government would assent to anything so utterly unconstitutional and unworkmanlike. The principle of the Bill had already been assented to by the Leader of the Opposition in the Bill of 1892.
§ *MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, that in the unavoidable absence of the Chief Secretary he had been asked to state the views of the Government on the Bill before the House. The Chief Secretary was in this unfortunate position—that, unlike the other Ministers of State, he had no Under Secretary to take his place when he was absent, and, unlike previous Chief Secretaries, he had no Irish law officer to assist him in the conduct of business. In the Chief Secretary's absence it had seemed to the Government that the Minister in charge of the administration of local government in England was the best substitute for him. The Bill before the House contained a 565 principle and a method of drafting. The principle was the extension to Ireland of the same wide and munificent measure of local self-government in the counties as had already been adopted with so much advantage in England and Scotland. The method of drafting was an extension of the principle of legislation by reference to an extent far beyond what had ever taken place in the past. It enabled the Lord Lieutenant by the somewhat short cut of an Order in Council to apply to Ireland the measures which had already been adopted for England and Scotland. With regard to the principle of the measure, he did not think that anybody on the Ministerial side of the House would have the smallest doubt whatever. Liberal Ministers, and almost the House generally, had committed themselves to this principle. All would recollect the statement made by Lord Randolph Churchill in 1866—that the Government of which he was a Member was pledged to simultaneous and equal legislation with respect to local self-government for Ireland, England, and Scotland. The noble Lord stated at a later date that in making that statement he was not referring to his own views only, but that the declaration had been written down and had been submitted to Lord Salisbury and his Cabinet, and therefore it committed the whole Cabinet of the late Government. But there were many other declarations in the same direction. The Duke of Devonshire in 1886 stated that—he was in favour of great find bold reconstruction of the Local Government of Ireland, that he was ready to give equality, and, if a case could be made out for it, in a greater, fuller, and more generous degree to Ireland than what was given to England and Scotland.A declaration was made by the right hon. Member for Croydon (Mr. Ritchie) on May 21st last to the effect that he was in favour of conceding to Ireland as wide and generous a measure of local government as had already been given to England. Therefore they had the latest statement of policy by an important Member of the present Opposition in favour of the principle of the Bill now before the House. It was true that in 1892 the late Government introduced a Bill, which, in the opinion of the present Government, did not fully and 566 sufficiently carry out this principle. In their opinion it was deficient in many very important respects, though the authors of the Bill always defended it on the ground that it practically and as far as possible did extend to to Ireland the principle of the Act of 1888. The present Leader of the Oppotion, who had charge of that important Bill, stated on its Introduction that—''the Bill was for the most part drawn on the lines of the English and Scottish Acts, and for the greater part of it the House would find in one or other of these Bills not only the model for the proposals, but the very words of the present measure.The then Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Madden), who defended the Bill, said—''in all its essential particulars the Bill was as liberal as the legislation passed into law for England and Scotland.The right hon. Member for West Birmingham said that—the first principle of the Bill is, that it is desirable to extend to Ireland municipal county government based generally on the principles of the English and Scottish Acts;and the right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to minimise the departures from those Acts contained in the Bill, stating that in some respects he was prepared to oppose those departures; but generally to show that the departures from the Bill of 1888 were unimportant, and that the general principle of the Bill remained the same as in the measures for England and Scotland. It was true that the Opposition on that occasion did not take this view of the measure. They pointed out that there were several most serious defects in it. On many important points reservations and limitations were introduced differing from the English and Scottish Acts. Those reservations had reference to six or eight most important subjects. They included the principle of a joint committee of County Councils and grand jury, which was in their opinion to control the action of the County Council, and which was in their judgment a very serious blot on the measure. They also objected strongly to the power proposed to be given to two Judges in Ireland to call in question the conduct of the County Councils, to pronounce as to their measures whether 567 they were oppressive or unduly expensive; and the power also to the Lord Lieutenant, if a County Council had been condemned by the Judges, to appoint a substitute which should take its place. There were other important departures from the Act of 1888 in respect of the cumulative vote, the disfranchisement of illiterates, and other matters; but it was not his intention now to enter into any controversial discussion as to the merits of the proposals of 1892. He had only called attention to the subject for the purpose of showing that the then Government conceded in principle to a very large extent, and argued in favour of the principle which, in the opinion of the Government, formed the main principle of the measure now before the House. He had also called attention to what took place on that occasion, in order to define the position of the Liberal Party, and for the purpose of showing that wherever the proposal of 1892 departed from the Act of 1888 the Liberal Party objected to those departures; and they insisted on the necessity and on the policy of extending to Ireland, without limitation and without reservation of any kind, the great principles of the Act of 1888. Therefore, so far as the Liberal Party was concerned, they had committed themselves absolutely to the principle of local self-government. He rejoiced to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, who stated in an admirable way the great principle involved in this measure. His speech showed what many hon. Members opposite in their hearts believed to be the essential principles of government for Ireland. The Government, however, were practically committed to the great principle of this measure; and no one could doubt that any proposals that might be made at any future time by a Liberal Government could only be on one line—namely, the carrying out for Ireland of the same principle of local self-government which had already been conceded to England and Scotland. He could not speak in the same strain of praise as to the method of drafting and procedure adopted by this Bill. He admitted that it was a difficult procedure; but the proposal carried out to a further degree than had ever been attempted in any legislation he was aware of, the principle of legislation by 568 reference. It was not only legislation by reference, but the principle of devolution, which were somewhat different things. He was much surprised that that method of legislation should have commended itself to hon. Members from Ireland, because, if a precedent of this kind were established, it seemed to him that it might be carried very far in the future. He was not sure that in the long run it would be wise on the part of the Irish Members to establish such a precedent, for although they might be confident that such a principle would not be taken unfair advantage of under the rule of a Liberal Government, yet under another Government it might be somewhat dangerous and undesirable. The House might, under this system of legislation by reference, see in the future a measure carried by implication for the Disestablishment of the Scottish and English Churches, or they might see the Coercion Act carried by implication to some other portion of the United Kingdom. He confessed, therefore, that he looked with some feelings of alarm to legislation of this kind being carried further. There was, perhaps, a precedent in the Local Government Act of 1894, which carried out the principle of legislation by reference to a degree to which he thought some exception might be taken. It empowered the Local Government Board, by Order, to extend to parish councils and other local bodies so much of the Corrupt Practices Act as in their opinion could reasonably be thus applied. The precedent in the Act of 1888 was of a somewhat interesting character as bearing on the present proposal. By Section 49 of that Act, power was given to the Local Government Board to apply, by Provisional Order, such provisions of that Act as they might deem expedient to the Scilly Islands, and this had been acted upon. He thought, however, that they could hardly argue from the case of the Scilly Islands in regard to the very much more important matter of legislation for Ireland. All he would say on this part of the case was, that he did not think it desirable for legislation by reference to be carried to the extent proposed by the Bill now before the House. It would certainly be necessary to remedy the Bill in this respect, and to insist upon the incorporation at length of all the clauses of the Acts of 569 1888 and 1894 which might be thought necessary for the purpose of giving effect to the proposals of the hon. Member for Louth. The question was, whether this was a fundamental objection to the Bill, or whether it was irremediable. Upon this he was in agreement with the hon. Member for Islington, that however much they might object to legislation by reference, it was not a fundamental or irremediable objection. Therefore, he could not undertake to vote with the hon. Member for West Belfast against the measure itself. The hon. Member had called on the Government to support his Amendment on the ground that the Bill was not a serious effort on the part of its authors, and thus called in question the conduct of the hon. Member in charge of the Bill. He would, however, ask whether the hon. Member for West Belfast was himself more serious in the direction of giving local government to Ireland, when he told the House that he was strongly in favour of such a course as a matter of principle? In the course of the hon. Member's remarks it was obvious that his objections did not merely arise out of the procedure proposed in the Bill, but that he objected to the extension of local government to Ireland on the basis of the Act of 1888 in respect of the important details of that legislation. If it were necessary, he would question whether the Bill proposed by the late Government in 1892 was a serious effort in the direction of giving local self-government to Ireland, and he recollected that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced that Bill did not seem to be very much in earnest when introducing that Bill. But he did not think it necessary to bandy arguments of that kind upon the present occasion. For his part, he thought that the Irish Members who introduced the present Bill had seriously at heart local self-government for Ireland. Therefore, on the part of the Government, he asked the House not to assent to the Amendment of the hon. Member 570 for West Belfast. Considering, as he did, that the main principle of the Bill was to confer on Ireland the same local government that had been acceded to England and to Scotland, he would, on behalf of the Government, support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I do not know that I should have thought it necessary to intervene in this Debate, even for a few minutes, were it not that the right hon. Gentleman had dragged in our old controversy concerning the unsuccessful Bill which I introduced three years ago. The right hon. Gentleman began with some very unnecessary apologies for the fact that he had undertaken the charge of the proceedings this afternoon. I think that a much less distinguished Member of the Government would have been competent to deal with a Bill of this kind. But when the right hon. Gentleman told us that the reason why he was in charge of the Bill was that the Chief Secretary had no official assistant in the House of Commons, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the reason for this is that the Party to which he belongs made the greatest and most obstructive opposition to a Bill which we introduced for giving a Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant for Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman's Party chose to use—or to misuse—all the forms of the House in their opposition to what I thought and still consider would be a most useful measure. The present Bill has been on the Paper since the beginning of this Session, and, though I do not question the causes for the Chief Secretary's absence from the House to-day, it is a little remarkable that he should have chosen for his absence a Wednesday when Irish business stands first on the Paper. Perhaps it was the modesty of the right hon. Gentleman. He may have reflected that the Lord Lieutenant, in this Bill, means, in reality, the Chief Secretary, and he may have been diffident of 571 coming here to be invested with all the powers of Sovereign, Lords, and Commons in connection with the Bill. Now, the right hon. Gentleman opposite has drawn a distinction between what he calls the abstract principle of the Bill and the machinery by which this abstract principle is conveyed. It is a consolation to reflect that as regards that abstract principle, there is practically no difference of opinion between any party or any section of the House. I have myself been a humble, though unsuccessful, labourer in this field of local government for Ireland. I have myself brought forward an elaborate and carefully thought out Bill on the subject. That Bill did not meet with the approval of some hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, and I think it was the present Chief Secretary himself who told us at the time that he would exhaust all the forms of the House in resisting that principle. I am utterly unable to reconcile all the professions of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends in 1892 with their position now in 1895. It must be a comfort to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway to hear it now explicitly stated by the right hon. Gentleman representing the Government that he and his colleagues are absolutely committed to the proposal to confer local self-government on Ireland. They are committed to this among how many other proposals of first-class importance? I should like to know what powers of prophecy would enable a person so far to penetrate the future as to say when all of those proposals are to be seriously carried, or attempted to be carried, through this House. This is a measure which nobody could object to in principle, and I do not know that, steeled as we are to work, it is, on this account, an unfit subject to discuss in this House upon the Derby day, when the Prime Minister has won, as I am told he has, for the second time in succession. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman says that he intends to oppose the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I do not know whether 572 my hon. Friend will think it necessary to go to a Division, but a more powerful speech in favour of the Amendment than that delivered by the President of the Local Government Board has not been made in this Debate. Every word that fell from the right hon. Gentleman went to support the two propositions embodied in the Amendment, those propositions being that local government ought to be extended to Ireland on the English lines, but that this Bill is not the proper way—would, in fact, be a ludicrous way—to achieve that object. After the speech of the right hon. Gentleman I do not know of any reason why we should force Members to go into the Lobby. I have listened with pleasure to the decided and precise pronouncement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the absurdity of the scheme in this Bill for extending local government to Ireland. The Bill consists of six clauses, but the clauses which may be read into it from other measures by the omnipotent Chief Secretary amount in the case of one Bill alone to 160. The right hon. Gentleman appears to think that in Committee this Bill could be amended so as to meet his views. Has a Bill such as this ever before been sent to a Committee of this House? The proposal to add to it 160 clauses is ludicrous; no Parliamentary expression would do justice to the absurdity of the plan. If we do not take the trouble to divide it is because the Government have themselves given expression to our view and have placed it upon record that they will not assent to this absurd method of carrying on the legislative work with which we are intrusted. I do not think we have suffered on this occasion in consequence of the absence of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He could not, I think, have used stronger language in condemnation of the machinery of this Bill than was used by the right hon. Gentleman opposite; while to press upon the attention of the House the principles lying at the bottom of the Bill would be a waste 573 of breath and of Parliamentary energy. No useful purpose would be served by defending a case which is not seriously opposed in any quarter of the House.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
observed that a large number of people were apt to regard measures of this kind as being in some degree substitutes for Home Rule; but it was an error to suppose that the Irish people regarded them in that light. It would be a mistake to suppose that the Irish Members and people were under-rating their demands, and that they would be content to accept local government in lieu of Home Rule. Of course the Irish people would prefer to settle this question of local government in a Parliament of their own; but in the meantime they wished this Bill to pass in order that the injustice committed every day by the grand juries might be prevented. Some Members had said that the grand juries had not been convicted of jobbery. This raised the question of what was meant by "jobbery." What he asserted was that the grand juries in every county in Ireland could be convicted of gross partisanship. He did not say that they had been guilty of jobbery in the sense of misappropriation of money, but it was notorious that they administered, as far as possible, the powers entrusted to them, not in the interests of the great majority of the ratepayers, but in the interests of their own particular friends and the small class to which they belonged themselves. Was it not absurd that the affairs of a large county should be conducted by a nominated body representing the landlords only? It was only natural that the Irish people should take the earliest opportunity afforded to them to put the government of the counties upon a broad representative basis. He should not have intervened in the Debate had he not thought it necessary to protest against the observations of the hon. Member for Londonderry. The hon. Member, he thought, might have expressed the views of his 574 constituents on this question without going out of his way to make an ungrounded and unwarranted attack upon the Corporation of the City of Dublin—a Corporation that would compare favourably in every respect with the Corporation of the City of Belfast or with the Corporation of the City of Derry. It was an unfortunate thing that the representatives of northern Protestant constituencies in Ireland should go out of their way to make attacks upon bodies like the Dublin Corporation, which, after all, were the only things in the nature of representative institutions left to the Catholic inhabitants of Ireland. It was perfectly well known that it was in the Corporation of Belfast that bigotry and jobbery were found. Belfast was largely populated by Nationalists and Catholic people, and yet the Corporation had never been known to give the smallest office, carrying with it emolument or position, to any Irishman who happened to be a Catholic or to hold Nationalist views. Such a charge could not be brought against the Corporation of the City of Dublin, which was liberal in the sense that it was free from bigotry. Many of the officers of the Corporation were Protestants who shared the opinions held by the hon. Member for Londonderry and his friends. The observations of that hon. Member respecting the Corporation of Dublin appeared to him to be out of order upon a Bill dealing specifically on the question of county government. The hon. Member had accused the Dublin Corporation of misappropriating funds for the payment of luncheons and champagne. The hon. Member was wrong, and investigation would prove that the Corporation always conducted their business economically. In fact, there was no Corporation either in this country or in Ireland that was more economical. The hon. Member for West Belfast had intervened in this Debate, and opposed the Bill. Of course, the hon. Member objected to any plan for extending the liberties of any people in any country at any time. Some of 575 the oldest Conservative Members in that House were amazed at the archaic and crusted Toryism of the young Member for Belfast. The hon. Member would be more likely to earn the respect of the great body of the Members of that House if he were to tell his constituents not to be so bigoted. How did the hon. Member explain the fact that although there were tens of thousands of Catholic ratepayers in Belfast, no Catholic ever obtained a situation under the Corporation?
§ MR. W. REDMOND
Oh, yes; the hon. Gentleman wished to mislead the House with a statement of that kind. The Corporation of Belfast could not avoid employing a certain number of Catholics as street labourers and scavengers. They found them strong, capable men, well able to do hard work. They had not gone so far as to ask a scavenger before they employed him, whether he was a Catholic or not. He had referred, in what he had said, to positions of trust and importance, and from them Catholics were rigorously excluded. It was amongst those represented by the hon. Member for West Belfast that boycotting in its essence was found. Their bitterness of feeling towards the majority or the Irish people was such that they refused to extend to the people of Ireland the right of local self-government. Scotland had county government and England had county government; but they were told by Gentlemen like the hon. Member for West Belfast that in Ireland they were not fit for it.
§ MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S)
said, that county government was offered to Ireland by the present Leader of the Opposition.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
Yes; but it was offered in a shape much more like a coercion Bill than county government. It was perfectly clear that that Bill was 576 not offered in a spirit in which it could be accepted. The speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast proved that he would have objected even to that Bill. All he could say was, that treatment of that kind, degrading and humiliating as it was to the Irish people, tended only to make them disgusted with English rule, and to lead them to feel that Ireland would be a happier and freer country if she was cut off from her connection with England altogether. He appealed to the House not to encourage that kind of feeling. That was not the way to pacify the Irish people or to make Ireland a happy and prosperous part of the Empire. In his opinion, the greatest enemies, not only to the contentment of Ireland, but to the continuation of Ireland as a part of the Empire, were men like the hon. Member for West Belfast, who were so bitter towards the majority of the Irish people. The subject of County Councils was not a very exciting one. He never came across a County Council which was at all calculated to excite anything in anybody; and yet they came down on the Derby Day to talk about the prosaic subject of County Councils for Ireland. And what happened? The same eternal old Irish question cropped up, and the representatives from the north of Ireland tried to put down every vestige of liberty. He could only say that he would not have risen at all in this Debate but for the speech of the hon. Member for Derry, and while he should vote for the Bill, it appeared to him to matter very little, because until they got Home Rule in its fullest sense, every attempt at local government would be blocked by hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Member for West Belfast.
§ *MR. HORACE PLUNKETT (Dublin County, S.)
said, he would not follow the line of argument initiated by the hon. Member who had just sat down, and at this stage he would not go into any of the details of 577 the proposed measure; but because he had lost no opportunity of advocating certain measures of local government for Ireland he thought it was right that he should say a few words on the general principle. Whenever an alteration in the political structure or social economy of Ireland was proposed he always applied to the proposal one test. He always asked himself how such a change would affect the views of the people on the subject of the material development of the resources of the country, which was his sole object in taking part in politics at all. The difficulty which he found exercised the minds of the people at present, and had a depressing influence in the development and progress of the country, was the belief that either this Parliament or some other Parliament would be competent to do for Ireland everything that was needed to secure industrial and commercial prosperity. He had been able to join with Members of all Parties in the House in inculcating just the opposite theory, that far more could be done in Ireland by individual effort and industrial combination than by any political efforts. On the other hand, he thought that, in order to get the people of Ireland to take this view, it was necessary that certain political conditions should be changed, and the one point on which he thought every Member of the House was agreed, was that they must have some change in the local government of the country. He did not agree with what had been said about the Grand Juries. As a matter of fact, absurd and anomalous as their constitution was, they were singularly free from jobbery, and not at all incompetent as such bodies went. One objection to them was that there was no continuity about them. He did not remember who made that objection, but it must have been some one who was not conversant with such matters. The grand juryman in Ireland was like a poet. He was born, not made. There 578 were certain men who, wisely or unwisely, were selected every year to conduct the county business. He did not defend the system in any way. All he said was that in actual practice it had worked very fairly well, and the imputation of jobbery and extravagance could not be substantiated. On the other hand, he entirely agreed with those hon. Members who thought that the political education of the country could not proceed much further until popular control in local affairs was given in some way or other. His belief was that, whatever scheme was adopted, there would be a surprisingly small change in the personnel of those engaged in local government. He anticipated the greatest possible advantage from the interest the people of Ireland generally would take in these elections. He had no fear of the institution of County Councils, though he felt very strongly that there must be safeguards introduced. In the great majority of counties they would not be necessary, but it would be far better to put them in the Bill than to have to come to the House for Amending Acts. He was quite sure that if the right hon. Gentleman who introduced a Bill in 1892 was in a position to introduce another Bill in 1896, he would not feel himself constrained to have as many safeguards and checks in his new Bill as he thought were requisite, and which, no doubt, were so, in the Bill which did not become law. He was grateful to those Members who had helped the House to arrive at a common agreement. He could not for the life of him understand the object of those who had introduced the measure. Obviously the Bill was not meant to pass; obviously it could not get further than the present stage. He thought at first the hon. Member wished to entertain the House with the diverting spectacle of the Government using their sand-plough on an Irish bog; and he had succeeded in putting the Government into a very anomalous position. 579 On the other hand, the hon. Member might have wished to test the sincerity of the Opposition on the question of local government; and if that was his object he had been successful. If his object were to commit them from their point of view to local government as an alternative to a larger measure which they were determined to resist, he was glad the Bill had been introduced, and that they had been able to express their opinions upon it.
§ MR. R. L. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said, he wished to speak briefly in support of this remarkable Bill. He was glad to find it was to be allowed to pass its Second Reading, although he had no doubt it would have done so if a Division had been challenged. It was a Bill of a remarkable character, so simple and plain that it could be easily understood. It was also a great Bill, because its object was to extend to Ireland the blessings which we enjoyed in Great Britain from the County Government and the Parish Councils Acts. From all sides of the House came a chorus of approval of the opinion that Ireland ought to enjoy the benefit of representative local institutions. The Bill provided a short and easy way of giving those institutions to Ireland. It was no fault of this Parliament that the people of Ireland were not in the enjoyment of representative institutions; they had lost what they wished for by the action of another House. The Irish Members were now endeavouring to obtain something by this Bill, which was, no doubt, unusual in form. Having been denied what the people of the United Kingdom desired they should have by an irresponsible body of noblemen, he rejoiced to think that the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Member had been equal to introducing a Bill embodying this short and easy mode of giving the Irish people a part of what this House desired to give them. In point of simplicity it was an admirable Bill. We had got Acts in operation; and this Bill simply proposed 580 that a responsible executive should adapt them to the different circumstances which prevailed in Ireland. It was not asked that anything should be carried out which had not received the approval of Parliament. This was a happy, short, ingenious way of endeavouring to obtain for the Irish people what all Members thought they ought to have. The discussion of the Bill had enabled them to obtain an emphatic declaration that the Irish people were entitled to have representative institutions, although the laws of England could not be exactly applied to Ireland. Prominent leaders of the Unionist Party said that the Irish could not have equal laws, and that it was absolutely impossible that that should be the solution of the question. That appeared to strengthen the contention that, the circumstances being different, you must apply different legislation; but, at all events, it must conform to the wishes of the people of the country. An hon. Member spoke of local government being a substitute for Home Rule; but the extension of local self-government, instead of being a substitute for, would be a stepping-stone to, Home Rule; it would help the Irish people to give expression to their desire for a larger measure of liberty, and to obtain the restoration of that Parliament of which we cruelly deprived them.
§ *MR. W. KENNY (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)
said, that everyone must admit that this was a remarkable Bill. If it was to be considered in Committee and amended, he looked with horror upon what would go on for the remainder of the year. There were six clauses; but, if the Bill was to be made a practicable measure, it would be necessary to introduce, say, 150 clauses, and these would lead to as many more Amendments. If the Bill had needed any killing, it had received its quietus from the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman laboured the point that not the Government only, but the whole House, were in 581 favour of the extension to Ireland of representative local institutions in the shape of County Councils. The Leaders of all Parties had declared that they were in favour of the extension of local self-government to Ireland on the lines of the English Bill of 1888. He did not understand that anyone took up an attitude of hostility to that position. The Bill dealt with two vital propositions—some speaker had referred to them as principles; the first was embodied in the third clause of the Bill; it was heartily concurred in by Liberal Unionists and Conservatives. That proposition was that the powers and duties of Grand Juries and Presentment Sessions should be transferred to County Councils. The introduction of the Irish Local Government Bill of 1892 by the present Leader of the Opposition was a sufficient test of the bonâ fides of the Unionists in desiring to give Local Government to Ireland. But the second principle of the Bill was its main principle. It asked the House to abdicate its functions as a Legislature, and transfer them to the Irish Privy Council—a body which had been denounced time after time by Nationalist Members, and charged with all the crimes a body of the kind was capable of committing.
§ *MR. T. M. HEALY
said, the proposal of the Bill was that its provisions were to be put into operation by the Lord Lieutenant, and not by the Privy Council.
§ *MR. W. KENNY
asked, whether the hon. Gentleman suggested that the Lord Lieutenant, or rather the Chief Secretary, because for all practical purposes he was the Lord Lieutenant in the present case, was to apply the provisions of the English Local Government Acts, as he thought fit, without taking the opinion of his advisers, the Privy Council?
§ *MR. W. KENNY
said, an invariable practice could scarcely exist when there 582 had been no previous practice to the effect stated. Whatever might be in the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman, there was no doubt that when the Lord Lieutenant came to apply the provisions of the English Acts from 1888 to 1894, under Section 3 of the Bill, he would do so on the advice of the Privy Council. Section 3 proposed that the Lord Lieutenant, by Order in Council, might adopt as much as he thought right of the English Local Government Acts from 1888 to 1894, and they were to be applied with such modifications as the Lord Lieutenant might prescribe. What would be the effect of that provision? One hon. Gentleman had argued that it would not enable the Lord Lieutenant in Council to do anything new. With that he entirely disagreed. It would enable the Lord Lieutenant in Council not only to omit certain sections of the English Acts, but also to adopt some of the provisions of the Bill of 1892, such as the clause which had been designated as the "put him in the dock" clause. He welcomed, to a certain degree, the confidence which hon. Gentlemen opposite were now showing for the first time in the Irish Privy Council. That body had been denounced as a packed body, and as a body incapable of doing justice to the Irish people, and yet the gentlemen who had used that strong language now proposed to take from the House some of its functions as a Legislature, and transfer it to the Irish Privy Council. While he was willing to admit the principle of the application to Ireland of the English system of Local Government, he could not look upon this measure as a serious attempt to arrive at that end.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
thought that the arguments used by the hon. Member for the Woodbridge 583 Division were mutually destructive of each other. The hon Member was a supporter of the principle of "similarity," but in applying the doctrine to Ireland he proposed to use machinery which was very dissimilar to anything used in local government in England or Ireland. If the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division and the hon. Member for Islington, who had also supported the Bill, had any acquaintance with the local affairs or the Local Government of Ireland, they would know that it would be absolutely impossible for any Committee of the House by any system of Amendments to make the machinery provided by the Bill work in Ireland, for the reason the whole system of Local Government in England—parochial, district and county—was founded upon the unit of the parish, a unit which was not recognised by any system of local government in Ireland.
§ MR. EVERETT
Will the hon. Gentleman be pleased to tell us what is the smallest unit in local government in Ireland?
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, it was a townland, but he should never be able to convey to the hon. Gentleman what a townland represented, for he knew some townlands which were hardly larger than the Table of the House, and others that extended to several thousand acres. He had listened with sympathy to the plaintive protest which had been made by the hon. Member for Clare in regard to the action taken by the Nationalist Members on the Bill. It certainly was strange to find a man who had always posed as the indomitable asserter of the national rights of Ireland, coming forward now with a simple proposal of an ordinary measure of local government for that country. The hon Member for Clare protested in face of the British public that the Introduction of this Bill did not mean any idea on the part of the Nationalists of relinquishing the cry for the independence of Ireland. But the hon. Member might protest in vain. 584 The British public would feel confident that when they saw the hon. Member for Louth and his friends coming forward with a definite proposal for Local Government for Ireland, they would realise that those gentlemen were satisfied, as one of them had said, with lunch when they could not get dinner. The hon. Member for South Islington was struck by the fact—he seemed to think it a remarkable thing—that the Bill was asked for by Ireland. As a matter of fact, this policy of local government was strongly opposed by various fragments of Irish Nationalist politicians. The Bill contained two principles—one, the principle of policy, and the other the principle of machinery. With regard to the principle of policy, everyone was agreed. The President of the Local Government Board had committed and pleged the Government to carry out a measure of self-government, which, in the opinion of a Member of the Cabinet—the present Chief Secretary for Ireland—speaking on the Bill of 1892, was insufficient to meet the "constitutional demands, or social requirements" of Ireland. But if the Government choose now, before appealing to the country, to take up the cry of local government instead of the cry of Home rule, it might have the effect of making the seat of the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division more secure than it was in 1886. The principle of policy was, as he had said, agreed to by everybody, but with the principle of machinery, the President of the Local Government Board did not agree. Indeed, he could not conceive how the promoters of the Bill could have become possessed of the idea that any Government could have entertained such proposals. He was not sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Louth had embodied his proposals in this Bill, because the Measure would be of value when they came to deal with legislation for Ireland in the future. For his own part, he objected to the proposal that two gentlemen, neither of whom need be 585 Irishmen, should be empowered to determine, sitting in a room by themselves, what should be the principles upon which local government in Ireland should be established. In his opinion, the cesspayers of Ireland had far more power now than they would have under the proposals of the hon. and learned Member for North Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) who had said that he knew of no reason why the Irish Party should not take their lunch whilst they were waiting for their dinner, and that they might pass this Bill for the establishment of County Councils whilst they were waiting for Home Rule. In The Irish Catholic of the 24th October 1894, there appeared a leading article devoted to this very question whether local government should be made second to Home Rule, and the article proceeded to attack very violently Mr. Michael Davitt, who was not then in that House, for having pooh-poohed the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Louth and his programme. The Irish Catholic spoke of Mr. Michael Davitt in very strong terms.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman must confine his observations to the measure that is now under discussion.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, that this Bill was merely a legislative effort on the part of a small section of Irish politicians who were led by the hon. and learned Member for North Louth, and it had not received the approval of several of the other prominent Irish Leaders. He, therefore, protested against the assertion of the hon. and learned Member for Louth that this measure had received the unanimous support of the Irish Leaders. He entirely disagreed with the hon. and learned Member for North Louth that it was possible to amend in Committee the Machinery Clauses of this Bill. The hon. and learned Member had made some sort of an attack upon the Grand Juries of Ireland, or, at all events, the hon. Member for East Clare (Mr. 586 W. Redmond) had done so. It had, however, not been distinctly shown in that House that the Grand Juries of Ireland were either corrupt or were guilty of jobbery. Accusations had been made against them, but no proof had been given in support of those accusations, or to show that they were unfit to carry out the duties that had been entrusted to them by Parliament. It was a mistake to suppose that the grand juries in Ireland could make any innovations in the existing fiscal system of that country, which had been established by the parochial sessions, which consisted not only of landlords but of the highest cess-payers. The grand juries, although not elective, contained a large element of a representative character, and he could assure the House that the decisions of those bodies were in most instances in accordance with popular opinion. His view was that, instead of County Councils in Ireland erring on the side of extravagance, they would be most likely to err on the side of economy, and would starve the fund out of which roads and bridges were created and maintained. He did not know whether it was seriously proposed to proceed with another Motion with regard to the Bill which stood upon the paper for sending the measure to a Grand Committee, but he presumed that when the right time came they would hear from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. G. J. Shaw Lefevre) what course the Government intended to take in connection with that proposal.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
said, the Bill proposed to delegate to the unfettered discretion of the Lord Lieutenant in Ireland the whole legislative power which the House exercised with regard to England and Scotland. Hon. Member 587 seemed to have forgotten the objection they took to the Bill of 1892, which proposed to give a small power in regard to the fixing of the boundaries of electoral divisions to the Lord Lieutenant, and anything more inconsistent than their present action could hardly be conceived. The hon. Member for North Kerry, whose name was on the back of the present Bill, in a most powerful speech criticised the Bill of 1892, and denounced the provision to give to the Lord Lieutenant the very small powers proposed. Then the right hon. Gentleman, who was now the First Commissioner of Works, similarly denounced that provision, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian devoted a large part of his speech on the occasion on which the Bill of 1892 was introduced, to pointing out how unconstitutional it was to give this small power over boundaries to the Lord Lieutenant. He thought that anything more inconsistent than the present attitude of hon. Members below the Gangway could hardly be conceived. They had argued at the time that the attacks on the Bill of 1892 were artificially got up for the purpose of prejudicing that Bill in the opinion of the public. The present Bill really showed the insincerity of the attacks upon the Bill of 1892, for hon. Members below the Gangway had selected a principle which they had then, even in the limited application which that Bill proposed, denounced in unmeasured language, as the main principle of the present Bill. They were asked to give to the Lord Lieutenant legislative powers in regard to Ireland which had been given in the case of England, only after between 80 and 90 days' work in that House, and to allow the Lord Lieutenant to modify those powers in whatever way he chose. It would, therefore, if this Bill were passed, be in the power of the Lord Lieutenant to take out whatever safeguards were given in the English Local Government Act. They must remember, too, that the local 588 systems in England, Scotland, and Ireland were entirely different. The system of roads, for instance, was different in England, Scotland, and Ireland. He supposed the proposal was that in Ireland the Lord Lieutenant in the Privy Council, with the help probably of the Attorney General and the Lord Chancellor, should constitute a sort of Star Chamber to deal with these matters. He was surprised at hon. Members supposing that a wholly different system to that which now prevailed could in such a way be applied to Ireland, it would be to impose a task upon the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Executive which would be most unfair. Then the whole mode of the collection of rates was different in Ireland to what it was in England. In England the county rates were not collected directly by an officer of the County Council, but, he believed, they were collected by the minor authorities mainly, and given by them to the County Council; but in Ireland the grand jury, which had the entire control of its own officers, collected the rates. It was absurd and incongruous to suggest that instead of Parliament dealing with the different circumstances in an appropriate way, they were to hand over the adaptation of an entirely different state of things to that which now existed in Ireland to the Lord Lieutenant. It was also proposed that the Lord Lieutenant, sitting in Dublin Castle, was to have power to alter the law with reference to the lunatic asylums, paupers, and other institutions of that kind; the fishery boards also might be similarly dealt with without any public criticism. The hon. and learned Member practically confessed that he wanted to avoid discussion on the matter. The hon. and learned Member wanted the whole system of county and parish government in Ireland put under the control of the Lord Lieutenant, and settled in a back room in Dublin Castle. The proposal had been attacked by representatives of the Government and defended by nobody, 589 not even the hon. Member himself. Was this a specimen of Home Rule legislation, and were they to understand that this was the way that matters would be dealt with in an Irish Parliament? [Cries of "Yes!"] They remembered when that larger measure of local government, the Home Rule Bill, was discussed, that it was proposed, while putting certain restrictions on the legislative power not to put them on the executive power, and now it was seen that the Nationalist policy was to withdraw from Parliament the means of dealing with these important matters. He did not believe such a proposal had ever been made in that Parliament before, and he was confirmed in that opinion by the President of the Local Government Board; whilst they would always have the record of this Bill in their hands to refer to on any future occasions, and no doubt it would prove a very useful weapon in their armoury, yet it would be an additional warning to every hon. Member, who desired to legislate for Ireland, of the necessity for caution that existed. It was proposed that the Bill should be sent to the Grand Committee on Law; when hon. Members below the Gangway had got the power into their own hands, this was the way in which they would deal with the welfare of the people of Ireland. He ventured to think the discussion had been a most useful one, as it had thrown some light on what might happen in Ireland if hon. Members below the Gangway ever obtained a legislative body in that country.
§ MR. ARNOLD FORSTER
said, there were two operative clauses in the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman who had spoken on behalf of the Government had condemned both of them. He perfectly agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, and therefore he thought it his duty, in those circumstances, to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill read 2°.
§ DR. FOX moved that the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law.590
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he could scarcely remain silent when such a proposal as this was made to the House, for one of a more extraordinary character he did not think had ever been made by an hon. Member, taking into consideration the course which was generally adopted with regard to the use of Grand Committees by the House. He had already pointed out that this Bill consisted apparently, on the face of it, of six clauses, two of which only were in any sense operative, the remaining clauses bringing into play machinery which would throw upon the Grand Committee, not so much the discussion of a Bill, but the discussion of two or three other enormous Acts, fragments of which they were asked to transfer from the legislation of England to the legislation of Ireland. What did the Government think of the object and purpose of a Grand Committee? Hitherto such Committees had been called upon to discuss the details of, and Amendments to, particular Bills; but in this case the Committee, if the Bill were referred to it, would not be asked to pronounce an opinion on the Bill, or to amend it, but rather to construct an entirely new measure from beginning to end, out of fragments from three or four other measures which were not before it. Grand Committees were not machines for contriving legislation, but for amending legislation. They were not originating bodies—bodies to whom they could say—Here is a principle to carry out as best you can, with such hints as you can derive from the past legislation of this House.No such duty had ever been cast as yet upon a Grand Committee; in fact, no such duty could ever be performed by it, and it would be absolutely unreasonable to ask the Committee in this case to range at large over half the Statute Book for the purpose of collecting here a clause and there a clause to insert into this mere skeleton of a Bill. The natural guardians of the legislative machinery of the House were, of course, the Government of the day. They were primarily responsible to the House for guidance and for advice in all such matters, and he earnestly trusted the right hon. Gentleman who represented the Government would tell them whether or not it was 591 seriously the intention of the Government to convert the Grand Committee into a machine for original legislation, or whether they preferred to adhere to the old and well-tried procedure which, on the whole, had worked extremely well and to the satisfaction of all parties. He would make one further observation. It was perfectly true, as he himself had said, and as many of his hon. Friends had reiterated in the course of the Debate, that the abstract proposition that they should extend to Ireland a machinery for local self-government similiar to that which prevailed in England was one which they cordially accepted, and which they believed the whole House desired to see carried out. But that man must know little of Ireland who did not recognise that any Government who set itself to work to frame a Bill—to frame a concrete machinery dealing with the subject—must have to consider questions of the gravest character, involving the keenest controversy among different parties in Ireland and in the United Kingdom. In illustration of that he might point out that, if this Bill were referred to a Grand Committee, it would be in the power of that Committee, under the clause which required the Lord Lieutenant to introduce other provisions from other measure, to modify the whole constitution of the police. He did not say that the constitution of the Irish police ought not to be modified; he would not commit himself to any general proposition of that kind, but he did not contend that, if it were even thought necessary by the House to modify the constitution of the Irish police—regulated as it was by statute after statute, and ingrained as it was with the whole of the existing machinery of administration in Ireland—it would be very unwise to hand over such a duty to a Grand Committee without the matter having been discussed in the House. There had been no serious attempt whatever in the course of the discussion—in fact there could be none—to deal with such a question as the Irish police; and, therefore no authority had been given to a Grand Committee to enter upon it. In passing the Second Reading of the Bill, the House did not assent to any proposition of the kind. The subject of the Irish police had not 592 been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke on behalf of the Government, nor by the hon. and learned Gentleman who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading, and it had scarcely been alluded to by any of the hon. Members for Ireland. Under those circumstances were they told that it was consistent with the traditions of the House, or expedient, that they should, without discussion—without the opinion of the House being taken—hand over to a Grand Committee the power, perhaps the duty, of modifying from top to bottom the whole system of of constabulary in Ireland? It was manifest that, in assenting to the Second Reading of the Bill, they had, in the opinion of the Government themselves, done no more than assent to an abstract proposition, and he ventured to point out to the House that they had no right to refer any Bill to a Grand Committee until they had done much more than that, or to assent merely to the general framework of legislation. He earnestly hoped, therefore, that the Government would see fit to give the House some guidance in the matter, and would assent to the general principle he laid down, which ought always to guide the House in the responsible task devolving upon it when it divested itself of its prerogative of discussing a Bill in Committee, and handed it over entirely to a Grand Committee.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, his own opinion was that it was not a Bill which could properly be sent to a Grand Committee. The task of the Grand Committee on such a Bill would be so difficult, and so far beyond the ordinary functions applying to it, that he could not assent to the Motion for referring the measure to the Standing Committee on Law. It would be necessary to incorporate into the Bill certain of the clauses of the Acts of 1888 and 1894, in order to give it effective meaning, and bring it into harmony with general legislation. That was a task which could not be undertaken by a Grand Committee; and, therefore, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it would not be wise to refer it as proposed.
§ *SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
ventured to say, as a Member of the Standing Committee on Law, that the Committee was not a fit tribunal to deal with the 593 subject. That Committee was in an exhausted condition. There was at the present time great difficulty in securing a quorum. On two occasions there had been a delay of more than half an hour in obtaining the necessary attendance, and he ventured to say that the discussions of the Committee had not been assisted by the attendance which was really necessary considering the importance of the matters submitted for examination. But he wished to call particular attention to the fact that already one Irish Bill had been before the Committee, and that every Motion in regard to it had been rejected. The effect of that practically was that the House would not have had an opportunity of considering the clauses of the Bill. Now he did not believe it was the intention of the House, when it constituted those Grand Committees, that every opportunity of examining a Bill on Report should be entirely taken away. But under the circumstances that opportunity was taken away in the case of the Irish Bill to which he had referred, and he would urge the House to note that this was a very dangerous precedent; one so dangerous, indeed, that he should take an early opportunity to move that the House should have the opportunity of considering every Bill after it had been referred to Grand Committee, although no Amendment might have been made in it. Unless such a precaution was taken, it might be impossible for the House, as in this case, to examine into the details of a Bill.
It being half-past five o'clock, the debate stood adjourned; Debate to be resumed on Monday, 10th June.