HC Deb 09 August 1905 vol 151 cc869-75

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

said he opposed this Bill on principle. A measure of this kind certainly ought to be brought in earlier in the session in order that they might be afforded a proper opportunity of discussing it. He admitted that there were some good measures in it, but there were others which were indifferent and bad, more especially some of those relating to Ireland. It was a muddling method of procedure to lump measures together in this way. Had this Bill been introduced earlier the satisfactory measures might have been retained and those which were obsolete or bad could have been eliminated. It contained one measure which was passed to meet a temporary emergency and which was carried under false pretences. A pledge was given at the time that it should not continue for more than five years, but it had continued now practically for twenty years. The Bill renewed thirty-six Acts, and this was a mischievous and slovenly system. The Attorney-General for England had acknowledged that a Bill of this kind required weeding out, and in a session when no important Acts had been passed no attempt had been made to do this, notwithstanding repeated protests made from the Irish Benches against the renewal of some of these Acts which applied to Ireland. He objected to the Bill because of the vicious nature of its framework and material and because it included the miscalled Peace Preservation Act, which was an insult to Ireland, and which was continued year after year notwithstanding the protests of Irish Members, and notwithstanding the fact that the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary had promised that it should be only temporary in its nature.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Kildare, N.)

said this Bill was a vicious method of procedure which ought to be condemned by the House. It contained three measures upon which he wished to comment. One was the Labourers (Ireland) Act, and it was dated 1860. He had been looking up recent legislation in regard to the labourers of Ireland and not one reference could he find to the Act of 1860. Why should they continue this Act which was absolutely obsolete? Why not wipe it off the Statute-book? He remembered that on the Second Reading of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill his hon. and learned friend the Member for Louth indulged in some rather severe criticism of the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1881. The hon. and learned Member was a sort of chartered libertine; he had been, more or less, the spoilt child of the House for many years. He himself was not in the same category, he had not been the spoilt child of the House, nor had he been a chartered libertine of any sort. He had always been kept within the strict bounds of relevant discussion. If the terms of the Peace Preservation Act could be adequately discussed at the present moment— I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul. In days gone by he had been driven into a dangerous trade by reason of the existence of this Act. He had been driven into the contraband trade in war material. He had been in that trade for many years and had escaped, and he was now there to tell the tale. The Peace Preservation Act was a very vicious one. It was an insult to the people of Ireland that they were not allowed to bear arms openly and freely, and above-board.

He was glad to see that the result of the debate a few days ago was to draw from a distinguished officer—he would not say reluctantly—a subscription of £5 to the funds of the United Irish League, and an expression of opinion which was more valuable still. That officer was employed in Ireland in troubled times in the suppression of the liberties of the people and in putting into force this very Act. The distinguished officer of His Majesty's forces to whom he alluded was Major-General Turner. He listened to the recent debate and it drew him once more to the side of the Irish people, because it was not the first time he had expressed sympathy with them. In subscribing to the funds of the national organisation he declared that the existence of such a law as the Irish representatives were now protesting against would create a revolution in England. Surely if that law was so bad it ought to be expunged from the schedule of the Bill. Surely no stronger condemnation of it could be uttered. Most people who read the letter would not know who Major-General Turner was. Let him tell the House that that officer came over to Ireland originally under the régime of—


The hon. Member is getting rather far away from the subject-matter of the Bill.


said he readily bowed to the ruling. It justified his remark that he was not a chartered libertine like his hon. and learned friend the Member for Louth. He hoped he had said enough to show that it was a vicious thing to keep the laws he had mentioned in operation by means of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.

Another Act proposed to be continued was the Sale of Liquors on Sunday (Ireland) Act, 1878. That was a very harmless looking Act, but he had known battles royal waged on the floor of that House over it. He sat on a Select Committee upstairs for eighteen weeks inquiring into the working of this Act. The Committee was presided over by Mr. Justice Madden, the distinguished predecessor of the present Attorney-General for Ireland. A large number of witnesses from Ireland were examined, but the Committee could not agree on a Report. There was a Majority Report and a Minority Report, and, being a man of independent mind, be had a Report all to himself. This Act related only to certain parts of Ireland, and his contention was that if its operation had been beneficial it ought to be extended to those parts which were now exempted, and that if, on the other hand, its operation had been detrimental in those parts where it was in force it ought to be expunged from the Statute-book.

These were some of the reasons why he thought there ought to be an overhauling of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. There were vexatious Acts embraced in this Bill, and this was an easy way for the Government to continue legislation of a most obnoxious character. It was a sort of slovenly way of salving the conscience of the Government for the time being. He hoped to live to see the day when a great and virtuous Parliament would meet within those historic walls—a Parliament guided by a Government that would be obedient to its decrees and led by a Prime Minister who would not seek by his charms to bewitch it out of its privileges—he was sorry that the Prime Minister was asleep as he should have wished him to hear his unprepared compliment to him—a Parliament that would take this Expiring Laws Continuance Bill in its strong right hand, and say to it, "Begone and trouble us no more; too long have you vexed us with your undesirable presence. Go down to a well-merited obscurity and cease for evermore to haunt the last hours of an agonised and wearied Legislature."

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick),

who was received with ironical MINISTERIAL cheers, said it seemed to him that some hon. Gentlemen opposite took rattier a jocular view of this special kind of legislation. He had made inquiry in regard to this matter and he found that there was no other constitutional Government in the world which took this course of renewing laws which had been only passed for a temporary purpose. [MINISTERIAL ironical laughter.] He would ask hon, and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Benches to treat this subject with a certain amount of seriousness. [Renewed MINISTERIAL ironical laughter.] He insisted that to pass such a Bill as this, at the very end of the session, was monstrous. It meant that the British Parliament was unequal to doing its proper business. Why did he speak so earnestly on this subject? [Renewed MINISTERIAL ironical laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to be more hungry for their dinner than for legitimate legislation. The Arms Act was passed in 1881 for only five years. Why did not the House of Commons keep its promise that that Act would expire at the end of five years, and why was it renewed from year to year? It was the right of every free man in every free nation to bear arms. That was not denied in any constitutional country in the world except Ireland. So it was also with the Coercion Act. He was not going to discuss the details of these Acts, because he might be ruled out of order, but what he wanted to insist upon was that in Ireland they were denied what every free people and nation in the world enjoyed.

What he wanted to know was why such a. Bill was presented to the House of Commons at the fag-end of every session when there was no opportunity of discussing the details of the Bills that were to be renewed from year to year? It was quite time, if the Prime Minister wished to renew the period of greatness on the Treasury Bench, that he should promise that they would not in future have this slovenly and old-fashioned system of legislation, a sort of new edition of old works, without any comment, and without any effort being made to find out whether legislation passed in a hurry was suitable to the present time. Some of the Bills applying to Ireland were passed in a panic and with absolutely no discussion, because the minds of the British public had been poisoned by false reports in the newspapers; and they were perpetuating a system which originated when men's minds were not in a fit state to consider these serious subjects. He appealed to the Prime Minister whether it was a proper way of carrying out legislative business to renew legislation in this way at the end of the session, whether it was calculated to bring credit to the House of Commons for performing its duties with due respect to constitutional principle, and whether anything could bring more disrespect upon the character of the House. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite would take seriously into account the points he had brought forward. They were only asking for simple justice.

MR. DELANY (Queen's County, Ossory)

said he wished to join in the protest made by his hon, friends. There were thirty-five measures in the Bill, some good, some bad, and some indifferent. The first was nearly seventy years old and the last was twenty-five years old. It was a very slipshod method to put thirty-five measures into one Bill at the fag-end of the session and expect the House to run through them in one or two sittings. Their principal reason for protesting was that there was included a Coercion Act for Ireland. A promise had been made by Sir Stafford Northcote and Mr. Disraeli, and was now twenty years old, that those Bills would be taken separately. He wondered what would be put in the preamble if the Act was introduced now. It was a Coercion Act for Ireland passed through in a slipshod method without any Minister saying what reason there was for it; of course, everybody knew there was no reason for it. A district councillor who had got a certificate from ten magistrates in the county—


Order, order! The hon. Member is getting rather far from the question.


said he would not think of detaining the House further at this late hour of the session when hon. Members were thinking more of grouse shooting than legislation. He simply wished to join in the protest made by his hon. friends.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.