HC Deb 17 August 1916 vol 85 cc2194-8

Sub-section (2) of Section one of the Parliament and Local Elections Act, 1916, is hereby repealed.—[Sir F. Banbury.]

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

I do not intend to press this Clause if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who, I believe, is now leading the House, will give me an assurance that the Plural Voting Bill will not be introduced by the Government during the period for which this Bill prolongs the life of this Parliament.


This is our old friend the Plural Voting Bill, about which the Committee will remember I had the misfortune at the time to make a long speech this year. I am glad to say that nothing of the kind is necessary now. It must be obvious to every Member of the House that it is utterly inconceivable that, during the period of seven months we are contemplating to prolong the life of this Parliament, the Government should leave the work of the War in order to introduce a party measure of this kind. I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that my right hon. Friend opposite, with that careful regard to possibilities which always distinguishes him, intended to move this Clause, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister authorised me at once to say that there was no question whatever of this Government introducing this measure during the period of the extension of the life of this Parliament.


In those circumstances, I ask leave to withdraw the proposed new Clause.

Proposed Clause and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


With regard to the new Clause standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Duration of new Parliament)—


I was going to ask leave to move my right hon. Friend's Clause.


I will explain that point. There are two other Clauses of the same kind which propose to put in this Bill conditions as to the term of this Parliament, and of the next Parliament. One of them proposes that if a Parliament is elected and if there is a General Election during the present War, that Parliament shall continue only for a period of twelve months after the declaration of peace. There is another new Clause which has been handed in which proposes that if a Parliament is elected before women's-suffrage has been provided for, that Parliament shall also only exist for a limited time. It seems to me that all these proposals are opposed to the scope of the Bill, and are not in order, and if a proposal of that sort is to be considered it must appear in a separate measure.


I understood that the Government were going to make some kind of declaration on this point, and I am anxious that that declaration should be got from the Government if possible.


That can be done on the Third Beading. I may say that I communicated my decision in regard to these new Clauses to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University some four or five hours ago.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.

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


Perhaps I may now be allowed to refer to this disorderly Clause, upon which I wish to elicit some declaration from the Government. I think this new Clause would have been a great advantage, and it explains itself as well as any amount of argument what is its scope and purpose. It contains within its own language the defence and justification of the proposal, and I should like to know-before the Bill is read a third time whether the idea of such a limitation has any sympathy from the Government?


I gather that the object of my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson) was to avoid the possibility of a Parliament elected under the present registration conditions continuing for an unlimited time. If we find any immediate reason or prospect of that, the Government would be prepared to deal with it by a separate proposal which they themselves would bring forward. I hope that will meet the view of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I may say that it is not our intention to take advantage of any measure of this kind to secure the election of a Parliament for the ordinary period upon a register which we have ourselves admitted to be unsuitable.


I wish to point out, in regard to this measure, how entirely different is the position of Ireland. This Bill may suit two of the three Kingdoms, but there is no need for it so far as Ireland is concerned. In Ireland the number of voters is not large as compared with England and Scotland, and, therefore, so far as Ireland is concerned, there is no necessity and no reason whatever why the preparation of the register should not have gone on in the old way. I know I am liable to be taunted as to the reason of that state of things, but I cannot help that. I can only give my opinion that, so far as the present representation of Ireland is concerned, it is entirely out of date, and I express the opinion that the sooner a Dissolution occurs in Ireland the better for that country and the better for this country, because I believe that the entirely Irish representation is absolutely effete, and most of the hon. Members now sitting and posing here as speaking for Ireland will be simply swept from their constituencies. I do view with great alarm the fact that this Bill secures the prolongation of those Irish representatives here and their £400 a year for another eight months, and I think it is greatly to be deplored that this money should be paid under false pretences.


I do not know whether the House will take the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Cork to which we have just listened as requiring any reply from these benches. I would like to assure the hon. and learned Member for Cork that when he is in a position to tell us that he is not drawing his £400 a year his influence will have very much more weight with the members of the Irish party to which I belong. The hon. and learned Member for Cork does not hesitate to give very freely his opinion to the House as to what will happen if there is a General Election. He told us a few hours ago, on the Dublin Reconstruction Bill, that if there were an election in Dublin for the Dublin Corporation three-quarters of the members of that body would not be reelected again. Now he tells us, on this Parliament Bill, that if there were a General Election in Ireland the whole of the party to which I belong would be practically swept away.

We have heard allegations of this sort before from the hon. and learned Member and his leader, the senior Member for the City of Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien), not in recent months, but many times during the past few years. They got their opportunity at the two elections in 1910, and the only result was that the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. Healy) was unseated for North Louth, and he had to go> and look for a seat in the South of Ireland in the county of Cork. There is one other matter to which I would like to-draw the attention of the Government. We were asked from the Front Opposition Bench whether on the new Clause that stood in the name of the senior Member for Trinity College the Government would make an announcement of their policy in, that connection. I also gave notice of a new Clause which came under the same ruling as that of the senior Member for Trinity College, and if anything is to be done in that respect I hope the Government will consider whether the proposal which I put forward could not be accepted. I do not think, as the Clause put down by the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University was not in order, that I should be in order in referring to it, but if that matter is reconsidered, I hope the Government will review the whole position, and see whether any Parliament which is to be elected during the continuance of this War shall not be used, or allowed to be used, when the War is over for party politics when it has been elected on war issues.