§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I wish to enter a protest against the action of the Government in taking the Ulster Canal Bill and referring it to a Hybrid Committee without any notice whatever. There was no notice on the Paper that this Bill was to be re- 2125 ferred to a Hybrid Committee. It is a wholly unusual thing to do, and in view of the history of the Bill, the Government certainly should not have lent themselves to a manœuvre of this kind. This Bill twenty-seven years ago was crammed down our throats by the late Mr. W. H. Smith refusing all Amendments, and declaring that it should be read a third time without the smallest consideration for this House. He got the late Mr. Stansfeld to move that Motion. We had the Treasury foisting on to a little Ulster Committee a burden which they had borne, and we prophesied that this little Ulster Committee would be practically unable to run the canal. We were overborne by Conservative votes, the Treasury was relieved of its obligation, and by a manœuvre such as this House had never heard of before, this private Bill was rushed through the House without Amendment, all our Amendments being absolutely wiped out. What has happened? Everything that we said has turned out to be true, the whole traffic on this canal has become paralysed, and the Government bring in a public Bill for the first time to amend a private Bill. If anyone takes the Bill in his hands he will see that it is a provision entirely to amend this private Bill by a public Act. What, forsooth, is the Amendment? It is to close the canal to traffic for one year. That is the remedy which the Government proposes to apply, instead of saying to the Treasury, who foisted this Bill upon this small Ulster Committee by these coercive measures of twenty-seven years ago: "Everything the Irish Members prophesied has become true. We will take up the burden upon ourselves, and upon the Imperial taxpayer once more." Instead of doing that the Attorney-General for Ireland, being a member of a Coalition Ministry, thinks it well to help his friends in the North of Ireland to gloss over this gross and unpardonable scandal by moving to-night without any notice to us to refer the Bill to a Hybrid Committee.
The procedure of this House during this War has fallen very low, but I did not think it had fallen below zero. Apparently it has fallen below zero, and now we have a hybrid Committee set up without notice to the House to amend a private Bill and to relieve these gentlemen who stepped forward in the year 1888 to take over a Treasury burden of the obligations which they voluntarily undertook, and to close this canal to the public of Ulster, 2126 and to the traders of that large and influential community. I call on the Government to do that which Mr. Gladstone always did whenever Members complained that they had had no notice of what was being done, and to discharge the Order referring this Bill to a hybrid Committee. I say that they are bound in honour and fairness to do so. I never believed for a moment that the Government intended to take that course to-night. I have to complain that the Attorney-General has taken a course which is utterly irrational and uncalled for. The Government had no business to refer this Bill to a hybrid Committee without notice. We are entitled to such notice, and the fact that there is a great War existing in Europe does not affect the question of notice being given to Members of this House. I tried to get from the Private Bill Office the report of the examiners, but the gentleman in charge there told me that they could not give me the Report. I do not know whether the examiners have reported or not. It is not a matter for the examiners, but for this House. It is a matter of the public conduct of the business of the House, and it is a shame that by a manœuvre a Bill of this kind should be rushed through in this way without notice to us. I hope the Prime Minister will be in his place on Tuesday next, and well enough to take part in so small a matter. I hope that as this is a vital matter affecting the north of Ireland, and the faith of the British Treasury towards the Irish people, the Prime Minister will on Tuesday next consent to discharge this Order referring this Bill to a hybrid Committee, and allow us to search the conduct of the Treasury for the last quarter of a century in respect of this measure. I say that a more uncalled-for act than this taking of a sharp turn on us to-night, when the Irish Members were not present, was never committed. I am surprised at the Attorney-General. But he is new to his office, and I am sure that when he has had further experience he will not repeat such action.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. John Gordon)
I really do not understand what all this indignation is about. This Bill was presented to the House, it went before the Chairman of Committees, who at first considered, and rightly so, that there were no Standing Orders that had to be complied with, and that it should come before the House as a public Bill. Mr. Speaker, on looking into 2127 the matter, came to the conclusion that it ought to be referred to the usual Committee in cases of this kind, and he intimated that to the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I mentioned the matter again before the Bill was moved to-night.
§ Mr. GORDON
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to give my answer. I mentioned the matter to Mr. Speaker, and asked if I would be in order after the Second Reading to-night, in moving to refer the Bill to a Committee in the usual way, to a Committee composed of three Members selected by the House of Commons and two by the Committee of Selection. I was told that I would be in order, and I would remind the hon. and learned Member that yesterday the Minister of Munitions, who was in charge of Government business, when asked what the business would be for this day, named several Bills, and added that, if time permitted, this Ulster Canal Bill and another measure would be taken. That was distinct and definite notice.
§ Mr. GORDON
The ruling of the Chair was that it could be done in the way we have done it to-night. I do not want to go into the merits of the Bill. All the Government wish to do is to preserve the right of those interested in canals in the North of Ireland and they can only be preserved if this Bill is passed. If it is wrecked you may destroy the usefulness of this canal. An hon. Member of this House interested in one of the canals which this Bill gives power to the Board of Works, with the sanction of the Treasury to close approached me on the ques- 2128 tion, and I at once communicated with the Commissioner of Works in Ireland and was able to give an undertaking to my hon. Friend that the canal would not be interfered with. It is only five or six miles—
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a little bit anticipating the inquiry by the Committee to which the House has referred the Bill.
§ Mr. GORDON
I fear that I was, but when the hon. and learned Gentleman makes a suggestion of sharp practice on my part, I do think he should have some more solid grounds for it.
§ Mr. GORDON
If I had known that the hon. and learned Member was going to be in the House to-night I certainly would have told him, but I have not seen him at all. So far as I am concerned, I say I am absolutely blameless in the matter. I have done nothing more than take the ordinary course in accordance with the Rules of the House, and I am merely trying to do some good to Irish interests.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one minutes before Ten of the clock till Tuesday next (26th October) pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.