HC Deb 11 April 1912 vol 36 cc1412-4

So much for the legislative powers of the new Parliament. I now come to deal with its constitution. As I have said, we propose that it shall consist of two Houses—one to be called the Senate and the other the House of Commons. The Senate is to consist of forty Members, and the question, of course, arises in what manner and by what process those forty Members are to be selected. It will always be recognised, I think, that they should not be simply elected by the constituencies who return Members to the Lower House. In the Bill of 1893, where the number was, I think, forty-eight, they were to be elected, but elected upon a restricted franchise—a franchise confined to owners and occupiers of property over a certain rateable value. We do not think on consideration that that is a satisfactory plan, and I believe that such is the opinion of Ireland.

We have come to the conclusion—and it is a conclusion the reasonableness of which will, I think, become more clear when I state what are the character, the numbers and the composition of the Lower House that the best mode of dealing with this matter will be that the Senate should be a nominated body. We think so in view of the special circumstances of Ireland. It is most desirable to get in your Senate, if you can, representatives of the minority, persons who will safeguard the interests of the minority, persons who will not or who might not have a fair chance of being elected in a popular election, and it is still more desirable perhaps in Ireland than anywhere else that you should be able to draw for the purposes of your Senate upon resources which are not available in the case of elections. We believe that on the whole the exigencies of the case and the peculiar conditions of Ireland will be best satified by a nominated body—a body nominated, in the first instance here by the Imperial Executive, the Members to hold office for eight years, and to retire by rotation, and as they retire their places to be filled up by the Irish Executive. In the Bill of 1893 the Lower House consisted of 103 Members, the same number of Members as are returned to this House by Ireland. Experience shows—and the analogy of other legislative bodies in our Dominions seems to point to that conclusion—that the Lower House should be of somewhat larger dimensions, and we propose that the numbers of the Lower House should be 164 elected by the existing Irish constituencies. The unit of population is to be 27,000. There will be no constituency with a population of less than 27,000 which will be entitled to return a Member. The effect will be this: Ulster will have 59 Members; Leinster, 41; Munster, 37; and Connaught, 25, and if you add the Universities, which we retain for this purpose—


You cannot expect me to go there.


The right hon. Gentleman will have a chance—that makes a total of 164. If you divide that in another way it comes to this—Counties 128, Boroughs 34, Universities 2. The exact distribution is shown in a Schedule to the Bill. When there is disagreement between the two Houses, if such a contingency should arise, we have followed the precedent of the South African Constitution, and provided that the two Houses should sit together and vote together—that is to say, if the Lower House persists after the disagreement in its view on the particular measure in question. The House will now see that with an elected Chamber of 164 and a nominated Chamber of 40, sitting in joint session, there is every probability, at any rate, unless there be a very even division of parties, that full opportunity will be given for public opinion in Ireland to have effect.

So much for the composition of the Legislature. I now come to the position of the Executive. The head of the Executive will be, as now, the Lord Lieutenant, in whose appointment religious disability will no longer count. The office will be open to any of His Majesty's subjects without distinction of creed, and we propose, following the example of the Bill of 1893, that he shall hold his office or a fixed term of years,. The Lord Lieutenant will be advised in regard to Irish matters by an Irish Executive, and I wish to make it perfectly clear that, as far as the Executive in Ireland is concerned, the area of its authority will be co-extensive with the legislative power of the Parliament—neither greater nor less. In other words, whatever matters are for the time being within the legislative competence of the Irish Parliament will, for administrative purposes, be within the ambit of the Irish Executive, and whatever matters are for the time being outside the legislative province of the Irish Parliament will remain under the control and subject to the administration of the Imperial Executive. That is all I need say upon that.