HC Deb 11 December 1906 vol 167 cc244-50


Order for the Second Reading read.

MR. W. LONG (Dublin, S.)

said he rose to call attention to the omission from the Bill of a particular Act, namely, the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, though he did not propose to debate the subject at present. He conceived that the proper time to discuss the question would be in Committee. Last year the present Under-secretary for the Colonies made a direct Motion against the Second Reading of the Bill upon the ground that, although it was possible to drop an Act of Parliament out of this Bill without notice, it was obvious that time and notice ought to be given to the House to consider this question. It was one thing to use this Bill for the purpose of continuing an Act of Parliament; it was quite another thing to use it for the purpose of repealing an Act of Parliament. Would it be thought proper to repeal the Ballot Act by dropping it out of this Bill? He held it would be wiser, rather than to repeal the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, to apply it to the whole country. He did not propose to ask the House to reject the Second Reading, contenting himself for the present with this formal protest.


thought the right hon. Gentleman had followed the proper and regular course. He had nothing to say at this stage except that the only way in which this matter could be dealt with was by omitting the Act from this Bill. It was not a case for repeal, because the Act itself lived from year to year only by being continued in this and similar Bills. He was sorry that earlier notice was not given.


said that in the circumstances he would not press to a division the Motion standing in his name for the rejection of the Bill. When this Bill was first distributed he and his friends were under the impression that the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act had been dropped out in error, and that he error would be rectified afterwards. The Government having acknowledged making one mistake might make another. The Bill aroused great interest in Ireland, and they naturally looked about for the reason why this particular measure had been dropped out of the schedule. Last year the hon. Member for North Louth, speaking on this same measure, stated that the Irish people were not permitted to carry arms, even for the protection of their crops. Was that the reason why the strong pressure had been brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman to drop the Arms Act out of the Schedule? After what had fallen from his leader, the right hon. Member for South Dublin, he would not press the Motion standing in his name for the rejection of the Bill to a division. At the same time he would say that if this measure were excluded from the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, it would lead to a bloody war in Ireland.


said he gathered from the peroration of his hon. and gallant friend that his feelings had been roused to a point which might lead to a Parliamentary Irish row, not of the sanguinary character predicted, but of a less disastrous complexion. He did not rise to discuss the merits of the particular Bill proposed to be left out of the schedule; there was really a much more important question to which he earnestly invited the attention of the Leader of the House, and his observations would not be couched in a controversial spirit. The Government, without giving any notice at all of their intention, proposed to leave out one particular Bill from a very long schedule. He could not think that that could be regarded as a justifiable Parliamentary procedure. In the schedule to the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Act many measures of enormous importance touching the public life of the country were embraced. He would mention only one, viz., the Ballot Act. Suppose the Government said that they did not approve of the ballot and dropped that Act out of the schedule, they might get rid of it without discussion of any kind. Everybody admitted that the procedure of the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill required revision. He had made the same admission before from the Treasury Bench. He was quite certain that if they wanted the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill to pass as a non-controversial measure, that result could only be obtained if, instead of dropping an Act out of the schedule sub silentio, they brought in a repealing Bill, so as to allow the House to discuss the whole of its provisions. He hoped the Prime Minister would make a note of the respectful protest he now offered that no attempt should be made, no back door or secret attempt, to modify the legislation of the country by the process of simply omitting important Acts from the schedule to the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill. There was a big principle involved, but all that he could do at the present moment was to enter his protest. He thought the Government were not very happy in the course they had taken, and he hoped that it would not be repeated.


said that this was not a new procedure. It was a procedure which had been followed year after year by the right hon. Gentleman himself.


said he thought there was no precedent for dropping a Bill of this character out of the schedule sub silentio.


Yes, there was a precedent—the Peace Preservation Act of 1875.


said that the Act referred to was in the category of those which came to an end at a specified date, unless they were renewed under the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Act, passed every session. This was a procedure which had been followed by all Governments over and over again, as could be seen by any hon. Member comparing the Acts passed from year to year. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that in two respects the whole method of continuing legislation was bad. It seemed to him to be somewhat slovenly; but the present Ministry were not to be blamed for that. They had not had charge of the country for twenty years, like the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who had suddenly discovered that the method of continuing legislation should be reviewed. He thought perhaps it would make matters more clear to the ordinary Member of Parliament, so that he might find out what was going on, if a memorandum was issued with the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill showing the changes that would be made; a little bit of paper would show what was happening and no great mischief would be done by issuing it. Therefore on these two points, that this was a mode of legislation that ought to be considered and that a memorandum should be issued, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman.


said the right hon. Gentleman had spoken on the spur of the moment, but if he had been able to refer to Hansard he would have found that his position was the constitutional position, and that of the Leader of the Opposition was not. Having briefly reviewed the operation of the Act in regard to Irish legislation, the hon. Member appealed to the Tory Party not to lend themselves to that little gang of malignants behind them, and to take a broader and larger view of the Irish cause. That cause had been going forward by leaps and bounds. If any one in Ireland wished, he could purchase a revolver for 10s., and yet he challenged the right hon. Gentleman to say that there would be a single crime in Ireland the more if this Act were not passed. He congratulated the Government on their position and thought that any other than that which they had adopted would have been absolutely repugnant to their principles. If in their first year of office they had refused to consider this question in regard to Ireland, they would have been false to their pledges and untrue to the position which they had taken up in the past. Let them not be untrue to the position they had always taken up. Irish liberty was sure to come and the Government would not help themselves in Ireland by backing up this exceptional legislation. He would remind hon. Members of a remark of Robespierre that it was not by the criminal law that they regenerated a country.

MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)

said the Prime Minister had given no notice to the House why this Act should be omitted from the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill, and very few of them gathered what the explanation of the Chief Secretary was. Although he and his colleagues ought to be experts upon this subject the right hon. Gentleman had failed to make it clear to the House what the reason for that omission was. He thought he could make the cause clear, and that was the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Waterford in opposition to the Bill. This had led to the Government surrender. It was one more of these surrenders to which they were becoming accustomed.

MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)

said that if they had a Government in office who wished to take in hand legislation of a useful character, the schedule of this Bill would afford them scope for their activity in regard to the well-being of the people. There were thirty-five Acts of Parliament in the schedule, and he was opposed to dealing with legislation in this objectionable and slip-shod manner. It would hardly be realised by Members who had not been in previous Parliaments that taking one of the mere temporary Acts included in the schedule, there had been an amending Bill passed to it of a most complicated and remarkable character. The Libraries Act of 1883 was a very complicated measure, and although it was included in this schedule by an amending Act, it had been changed. That was the way in which these temporary Acts intended as experiments, and passed for a short period, were dealt with. They were actually amended, while they were still continued as temporary measures. It seemed to him like building upon what Ministers must know to be a temporary and a shifting foundation. He found that no less than fourteen of the Acts in the schedule were in the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Act of 1875. If they really intended to deal with practical legislation here was an opportunity for the Government. Let them take these fourteen Acts and make them permanent. He ventured to make these few remarks because he intended in Committee to propose that several of the Bills contained in the schedule should be made part of the permanent legislation of the country. There was very little to be said against an Act which had received approval on thirty-one occasions. By loading the schedule with the fourteen Acts he had referred to, it made it impossible to say that a particular Bill should be read a second time this day three months, because if that was carried they would lose all these fourteen Acts that had been proved to be so beneficial. Lord Salisbury in 1873 said that this Bill was merely a means to enable Parliament and Ministers to cheat themselves and the country by smuggling through critical Acts to which there was often serious objection. That statement particularly applied to all the twenty-one Bills which he had mentioned. Of the Bills in the schedule the fourteen and perhaps two of the twenty-one ought to be made permanent, and the balance, or at least a considerable portion of the balance, ought not to be re-inserted. In the Committee it would be the endeavour of some Mem- bers to see that principle carried out. He protested against this sort of legislation most earnestly as he thought it very objectionable.

MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

was understood to say there were Acts in this schedule which in the light of modern events certainly ought to be discussed, but no opportunity was given to discuss them. Many of them would not stand the test of a full dress debate. He objected to the Bill because it allowed Acts to be continued that ought not to go through at all. If the Government would let him discuss one Bill which was in this schedule at the Committee stage he would not delay the House further, but what would happen would be that when they commenced to discuss Irish measures the closure would be moved and the debate brought to a close.


The proper course would be for the hon. Member to move to omit the objectionable Act from the schedule. He would then have the opportunity he desired. He could not have that opportunity now.