HC Deb 01 May 1901 vol 93 cc380-4


Order for Second Reading read.

*MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)

I do not altogether despair of getting the Second Reading of this Bill, for this reason, that though the Bill deals with a subject very important to Ireland the circumstance of its being merely an extension to Ireland of an Act of Parliament passed two years ago for Scotland furnishes an unanswerable argument why, at all events, it should get a Second Reading. The object of the Bill is to expedite and cheapen the procedure for private. Bill legislation in Ireland, and is framed on the model of the Scotch Act of 1899, which was passed after careful consideration by this House, and in order if possible to disarm opposition, I have not indulged in any originality, but have copied almost verbatim the Scotch Act and merely changed what is necessary for its application to Ireland. I can say it is verbatim the Scotch Act, mutatis mutandis. Last year a resolution was passed unanimously acknowledging the necessity for the extension of such an Act to Ireland, and I therefore feel that I can almost reckon, without opposition, upon the support of what I might call three of the units of which this House consists: the Scotch Members, who have succeeded in obtaining an Act for Scotland; the Welsh Members, because the hon. Member for Merthyr has brought in a Bill to extend the Scotch Act to Wales; and as to the English Members, I trust I may rely on the passive support of the Government for the present application; and of course, if the Second Reading passes, any improvements which the Government might make in the Bill will be at once adopted. I cannot say what attitude my lion, friends below the Gangway from Ireland will take with regard to this Bill, but I respectfully appeal to them at all events to give it a Second Reading, which will give them ample, time to consider whether from their point of view there is any possible objection to ii. It is wholly devoid of political complexion. If it could be said for a moment to in anyway retard the great desire of the Irish party for Home Rule I should be the last person in the world to introduce it, but so far from doing that I believe it will lend a helping baud to ultimately obtain the legislation so much desired—Home Rule. The Chambers of Commerce of Cork, Belfast, Dublin, and other places have unanimously passed resolutions pointing out the absolute necessity of having some such measure to advance and develop the industries of Ireland. The Scotch Bill was based on a most elaborate Report of a Select Committee, and this question has been agitated for thirty or forty years, and the Lord Advocate in introducing the Scotch Act said that if that Bill was passed it would follow as a natural corollary that a similar measure would be extended to Ireland and Wales. The extent, if I might point out to hon. Members—


No, do not. We want to get the Bill passed.


But I think it is necessary in so important a matter to show the grounds on which I rely. The state of things at present is almost intolerable. The object of this Bill is to enable the inquiries on private Bill legislation, which are now held in London, to be held in Ireland; while at the same time it is important to retain the control of such legislation in this House. It does not surrender the constitutional right of this House to be the ultimate arbiter of any Bill that ultimately becomes law. It reconciles the two things—local inquiry and Parliamentary control. Last year, I might mention, a Bill brought in by the Great Southern and Western Railway, the inquiry into which took twenty-seven days, cost the corporation £25,000 and the Midland Railway £9,000. And now, having regard to the hour, I will leave the matter in the hands of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Mr. Hemphill.)


On behalf of the Government, I am not opposed to the principle of the Bill: indeed, shall be glad to see the principle of the Bill affirmed. The measure, however, will require very careful consideration in the Committee stage. I do not at all accept the view that a Bill which suited the needs of Scotland necessarily suits those of Ireland. And I doubt whether it would be wise for the Chief Secretary for Ireland to take upon himself all the responsibilities conferred under the Scotch Bill. I would much: prefer, if it were possible, that some panel should be formed which would be acceptable to all parties.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

The object which the right hon. Gentleman has in moving this Bill is one which is shared in by Irish Members on all sides of the House. The evil of the present system is simply monstrous. All it requires is for it to be stated to meet with universal condemnation. Under the present system it is impossible even for small unopposed Bills affecting small towns in Ireland to be passed into law without great expense. I will give one instance which I think will prove that more than many large illustrations which I might give. I had once to introduce and attempt to pilot through this House a little unopposed Bill dealing with a hospital in Waterford—my own constituency. It was a hospital founded by King John for the purpose of dealing with lepers. It had fallen into disuse, and the intention was to turn it into the city and county infirmary. In order to do that it was necessary to come here and get an Act passed, and the cost of doing that was £300—in fees. There were no funds for the purpose, and I had to go to two philanthropic gentlemen in my constituency to put their hands into their pockets. But the right hon. Gentleman has asked merely to extend to Ireland the Scotch Act exactly as it stands. The new Scotch system only came into operation this year, and we have had no opportunity of knowing whether even in Scotland the measure which has been passed has been found to be a useful one. It seems to me that a measure which may be satisfying to Scotland could not necessarily be applied with safety to Ireland. Under the circumstances, it is impossible for us to consent to the Second Reading of the Bill. We are thoroughly in agreement with the principle, and we hope the Government will find time to deal with this matter, but we do not think we should be asked after a quarter of an hour's debate to pass a measure which we know nothing about. So far as I understand the measure passed for Scotland, it would not, as it stands be at all suitable for Ireland. There are many portions which would be very injurious, one, for instance, which gives an unlimited right of appeal to this House. We know perfectly-well that in every case where large interests are concerned one side or the other would be sure to appeal, and expense would be increased rather than diminished. I am quite sure that if the Irish Attorney-General and Chief Secretary would set themselves tin-task of endeavouring to frame a Bill—and they ought to frame it in consultation with the Irish Members on both sides of the House—they would be able to frame a measure which would meet with unanimous acceptation. Under these circumstances I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned till Wednesday next.