§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Proceedings on Government Business be not interrupted this night under the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I desire to ask whoever is in charge of the House what is the business that the Government intend to take to-night after eleven o'clock? As I understand by the Standing Order, as this is an allotted day for Supply, you cannot enter upon any of this business until after eleven o'clock to-night. I think it is very unfortunate that we have this kind of Motion made every day, and I will tell the House why. It has become a growing habit of the Government to leave important business to a time near the Adjournment in the hope of slipping it through, with the result that many Bills are going through without proper discussion. There is one Bill upon the Paper which the Prime Minister said yesterday would be taken, and that is the Dublin Reconstruction (Emergency Provisions) Bill. I do not say that I am opposed to that Bill, but the Bill requires a very considerable amount of discussion. It raises very novel principles, and gives very new powers. In addition to that, the Bill involves, or will involve, a whole statement from the Government and a whole consideration of what is going to be done out of public funds for the restoration of Dublin after the rebellion. We have never had a statement in the House yet upon that subject, and, save what we can gather from people who are in the know, we know little or nothing of what are the intentions of the Government as regards either compensation for property or compensation for persons. In addition to that, I had put into my hands just before I came in a petition which has been presented to this House signed by a number of the most influential men in Dublin from the business point of view—there is nothing political about it—who are concerned, protesting against Clauses in this Bill. I think all of them will come under the Bill. It may be a good Bill or a bad one. It 1082 may be a good thing to confer upon the Corporation of Dublin or any other corporation the right to say to a man: "You cannot rebuild your house as it was before, you must spend a great deal more or you-must spend less upon it by building in this way, or that way, or the other." These are matters which must be discussed at the proper time, and it is not fair to ask us to come down at eleven o'clock at night and commence this discussion. I do not know whether that is one of the Bills which are going to be taken to-night. But there are other Bills. There is another Bill arising out of the rebellion which was introduced the other day by the Attorney-General for Ireland. There is a Clause in it to which I take considerable exception, and which requires considerable discussion. The truth is that these are inconvenient Bills, and the method of the Government is to leave them over till we are near the Adjournment and then cram them all in as late as possible at night when there will be no one here and slip them through, and I think it is high time we put an end to that kind of proceeding. All the important business, in fact, is left to the end of the Session. The Expiration of Parliament, the Registration Bill—all this kind of matters are left to the end of the Session in the hope that everyone will have gone away. I hope Members will come back and stay here, and I hope they will see that this is not the method which is going to operate in this House. Since the War commenced we have all got so slack that the Government think they can do anything they like, and I hope a promise will be given that none of these Bills objected to will be taken to-night. There is no reason in the world why we should not sit on Friday and do our business in the daytime. We could commence at ten or half-past ten. But I enter a protest, at all events for myself and others who act with me, against this day after clay repealing the Orders of this House with a view to taking important business after eleven o'clock. If these Bills are to be gone on with, I shall ask the House to divide against this Motion.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I think it is particularly unfortunate that the Government should have made this Motion on an allotted day. The spirit of the Standing Order is undoubtedly violated. The Standing Order is:On a day so allotted no business other than the business of Supply shall be taken before eleven o'clock.1083 That is to say, if Scottish Members, whose discussion of Supply we are always longing to listen to, should, for any reason connected with economy of time, decide to break off their discussion, say, at seven o'clock or eight, the whole House would collapse. It was to enable Supply to be got through that the rule was drafted in that form. Now what is to happen? If these Scottish Members should, for any reason, not show their usual exuberance and eloquence, Members of the Government will be whipping them to talk in order that eleven o'clock may be reached, and that we may not get the usual surcease from our labours which we generally expect upon a Scottish day. The spirit of the rule is absolutely violated. In what respect and for what Bill is it violated? I would submit to you, Sir, that you would not allow a Bill of this kind to be brought in by any private Member. It is a Bill to enable without notice—because there has been no "Gazette" notice and there has been no newspaper notice—the Dublin Corporation to acquire land compulsorily and to start as bankers in the city of Dublin. That is a tremendous Bill to bring in without notice. It is a Bill to enable them to make by-laws dealing even with the material to be employed in connection with these renewed works, and that in respect of shopkeepers whose businesses have already been destroyed by this rebellion, and you are to delay, at the supposed instance of the corporation, still further the getting on with these buildings. I have carefully examined the records of the corporation, and I can find no authority whatever in that body for the Bill which the Government is now bringing in. The corporation asked for a Grant. They have bean given a loan. The corporation very properly said, "We do not want to administer this Grant ourselves." They say, "We will be content with two members upon it, and let the Government appoint three." The Government has entirely upset the Corporation Bill and has given it something which nobody asked for. As you have deprived us of our own Parliament, and as we see no prospect of that Parliament being again set on its legs, the least we might have is that the Orders of the London Parliament shall be fairly administered in our regard.
There is not a city in the United Kingdom which would be treated, as regards a private Bill, as the city of Dublin has 1084 been treated. Here you have a number of shopkeepers almost every one of whom has appealed to the Government to be allowed to get on with their buildings. Which of them is allowed to get on with the building? The only man for whom the corporation has made an exemption is a member of the corporation itself. He is allowed to get on with his buildings, but all the rest of the shopkeepers are to be subjected to this extraordinary Bill, which we hope to debate later on in the afternoon. Their shops may be taken, their buildings may be taken, there is not a plan lodged, there is not an advertisement showing what land is to be taken, and that is to be discussed after eleven o'clock at night on an allotted day hitherto sacred to Supply, and you wonder why the Irish are discontented with the way in which they are governed. One of the things that I deprecate more than anything in connection with this business is the attempt to sacrifice these shopkeepers in the interests of another Bill in which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) is interested. I was quite prepared to give a candid consideration to the Time Bill if the Daylight Saving Act had not been introduced and passed, but I notice the disappearance from the Order Paper of a notice of opposition in order to induce the Government to give this Bill a hearing late at night at the instance of a small section of Irish Members. I do not say there are not some Irish Members who are greatly attached to the Corporation of Dublin, and that their views are not entitled to weight, but let them get that weight and consideration at three o'clock in the afternoon instead of three o'clock in the morning. If you want to oblige the Irish Members, I am sure we shall all be very happy if the Government will place next Friday at our disposal, but put us out of our pain one way or the other, and put the shopkeepers of Dublin out of their pain. The summer is passing, and they want to get on with their buildings. The workmen are tied up. Give us Friday next for this Bill and let us thrash it out. I am quite willing for the Government to make concessions upon it. I do not want to appear to oppose the Corporation of Dublin, many of whose members are my friends, in taking up a hostile attitude. If they can show any merits for the Bill, and if there is any demand for it in Dublin, let us have Friday for its discussion by all means. But a Bill of this im- 1085 portance to our capital should not be debated after eleven o'clock at night, when we are all tired.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not desire to enter into the merits of the Bill which we are asked to discuss after eleven o'clock at night. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Healy), I have no doubt, has enlarged upon it with his usual eloquence and accuracy. I wish to direct the attention of the House to the extraordinary procedure which we are now called upon to adopt. The House is to-day giving itself over to the contemplation of Scottish business, and when the Prime Minister announced that time would be given for the Scottish Estimates, after consultation with the hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Younger), he said it would all be over before half-past eight.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think the hon. Gentleman is somewhat astray in his recollection. At any rate, the Prime Minister seemed to be absolutely certain, after it had been confirmed by the authority of the hon. Gentleman, whom he regards now as the authentic voice of Scotland. But for the first time we heard yesterday that, in spite of the fact that the Scottish Estimates were only to take part of the Sitting, this Dublin Reconstruction Bill was to be taken. The Prime Minister at that time was apparently unaware that no business could be taken till after eleven o'clock, and he then assured me he would be very glad if the Scottish Estimates were over as soon as possible—a decision which he subsequently modified. But now we are in this extraordinary position, that the Government is beseeching Scottish Members to keep the Debate going.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not desire to be personal. I know, of course, that the Chief Whip naturally desires all the grievances of Scotland to be ventilated, but we have this extraordinary situation, that the Government is relying upon the well-known devotion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) and myself to them to keep business going until eleven o'clock. This is a situation from which the Government by some means should be rescued, and the expedient which has been suggested by the 1086 hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Healy) is that this important business, which, after all, does not concern Dublin alone, but is a matter in which the British taxpayer is concerned, should not be taken after eleven o'clock, when the people outside will not have an opportunity of reading what has been done. We should have this taken on a Friday, when Members can come and bring a fresh mind to bear upon the subject, and also at a time when the report can appear in the Press of the following day so that everyone in this country, as well as the people of Dublin, may be made fully aware of the arrangements which are being made for the rebuilding of Dublin.
§ Mr. CLANCY
For the second time the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Healy) has discussed a Bill which is not yet before the House, and it is very difficult to answer him without going into the Bill itself, and I do not imagine you, Sir, will allow me to do that. I resent altogether the idea that the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to propagate on every occasion on which he speaks on this subject that those who are supporting the Bill in this House have any idea whatever of having it discussed in anything but the fullest manner. We are perfectly convinced that the more closely, publicly, and critically it is examined the better it will appear, and the better Bill it will be for the citizens of Dublin, and therefore, instead, as might be imagined from the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, of opposing the idea that this Bill ought to be taken on Friday, I am heartily in favour of that being done, and the only reason why I agree that it should be taken to-night instead is that I have knowledge of the fact that the new Chief Secretary for Ireland desired himself to proceed with it to-night in consequence of having to go to-morrow morning to Ireland to be sworn into his Office, and, of course, if he does that, he cannot be here on Friday, and rather than have it postponed, I would prefer it to be taken to-night. But if the Chief Secretary says that he is willing to take it on Friday, and postpone his visit to Dublin until after the Bill is disposed of on Second Reading, no one would be more delighted with that than myself and my colleagues. We have nothing whatever to fear. We should be able, I am perfectly certain, to show that there is nothing in this Bill which any honest man ought not to support. Therefore, if the right hon. 1087 Gentleman feels free to alter his arrangement and to stay here for Friday, I should be very glad to adopt that arrangement, and I hope that he will adopt it.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Duke)
I would have expected that my hon. and learned Friend would give me to-day the kindness and courtesy which I have always received from him. I must put myself on the indulgence of the House in regard to this matter. The Prime Minister, when I was appointed Chief Secretary, stated it was understood that the most of my time, at any rate, would be spent in Ireland. There are obvious reasons why it is desirable that the new Chief Secretary should be in Dublin as soon as he can, and I had intended to be in Dublin as soon as the train and the boat would take me there, after I had taken my seat again in this House. Arrangements were made by which this Bill was put down to-night, and I hoped that it would be taken in reasonable time. My own view is that I ought to go to Dublin to-morrow morning. To postpone my going for two days in succession would delay the duties of Chief Secretary which ought to be perforated. So I do not think that I ought voluntarily to be absent from Dublin on Friday, and that therefore I should go to-morrow. If those who are more directly interested in this Bill can fix a day next week, I will take care that I am here to move the Second Reading of the Bill, as I am desired to do, because it is a Bill which, upon my understanding, is presented to the House in pursuance of the arrangement made in Dublin when the Prime Minister was there. That is my view of the situation, and, of course, an obligation incurred in those circumstances must be; performed. I am very desirous of meeting the convenience of the opponents of the Bill. I think that it is in the highest degree important, in the interests of Dublin, that there should be an amicable arrangement on this Bill, and I think that the powers that the corporation shall get ought to be the powers which would be regarded by most reasonable people as the wise powers for 1088 the important purposes involved. I do hope, if it is found possible, that the Bill should be taken to-night. So far as I am concerned, I am quite ready to stay here as long as is necessary, provided that I can catch the boat, so that we may deal fully with this Bill. If it is not taken to-night, I hope that it will be taken, having regard to the circumstances in which the Bill is introduced and the obligation which has been incurred, some day next week, when, at any rate, the principle involved can be disposed of.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The proposal of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a very good one, namely, that we should take the Bill some day next week. There is not any very violent hurry about the Bill this evening. Every Member of this House knows that if we begin at eleven o'clock on a Bill of this sort, as to which there are no fewer than six notices of rejection on the Paper, we should be here until three or four o'clock in the morning. The attendance at the House is very small at any time. During the last few weeks the Division lists show about seventy on one side and thirty on the other, and after twelve o'clock there are still fewer; so I hope that the Government will accede to the proposal to take the Bill next week. In case that is done, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would wish not to proceed with this Motion? My right hon. and learned Friend asked what business was to be taken, and we have not yet had an answer to that.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Lloyd George)
It was only intended to take to-night the three Bills, bearing on Irish questions. They have been arranged for the convenience of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. But it is obvious that it is better, in the interests of this Bill, which is highly controversial, that you should not have an additional element of controversy introduced. The Government are prepared to accept the suggestion put forward that the Bills should be discussed next week. In those circumstances there is no advantage in taking this time for Government business, and therefore I do not propose to press the Motion.
§ Mr. HEALY
If the Chief Secretary, when he is in Dublin, could manage to 1089 confer with those who are interested in this Bill, the points at is3tie might be altogether settled, and the House might be spared a discussion. I therefore suggest that the Bill should be taken as late next week as possible. I certainly will not offer any factious opposition to any Bill which he states is agreed to in Dublin.
§ Mr. DUKE
In answer to my hon. and learned Friend, one of the objects of my anxiety to get to Dublin is to deal first hand with matters of this kind, and I had it in view to get into, personal communication with those concerned on one side or another with this Bill which contains at present some controversial matters.
§ Mr. CLANCY
Because the same difficulty will arise then, if it is postponed until the evening, and similar complaints will be made that it is being pushed through, and the whole case will not be presented to the House.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I have some hope that as a result of the visit of the Chief Secretary, perhaps this Bill might cease to be controversial. If it still remains controversial, we shall have to do our best to arrange to get it brought on fairly early, and not to have it postponed until eleven o'clock.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think that I have already given an undertaking that it shall not be taken to-night.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Seeing that so much time has now been given to other parties, I suppose that the Government will not desire to take all the Scottish Votes to-day. We have now lost three-quarters of an hour in discussing other Votes. Will my right hon. Friend see that education is kept over until afterwards, and that we shall get time on another day?
§ Mr. CLANCY
Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that the Irish Bill will not be taken before eleven o'clock?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I expressed the hope that it would not be taken as late as eleven o'clock. I could not give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that it would be the first Order, but I hope that it will be taken fairly early in the evening, certainly not as late as eleven.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that it will not be taken on an evening on which the Eleven o'Clock Rule is suspended?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am still of opinion if the discussion ceases to be controversial that, in that case, it could be taken even then, if there are only just a few points to be cleared up.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is obviously for the convenience of Members that these Bills should be taken on the same evening. I do not move the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.