HL Deb 05 July 1895 vol 35 cc218-22

On the Order for going into Committee on this Bill,


said: Before the Motion is put to the House I should like to point out to the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Herschell) and the House generally the position in which we find ourselves in connection with this Bill. Your Lordships will recollect that on the occasion of the Second Reading I ventured to suggest to the House that this was a Bill which embodied a principle with which we all agreed, and that it was therefore one which I hoped your Lordships would be disposed to read a second time. I think it will be absolutely necessary before long to deal with the question of the Municipal Franchise in Ireland, and I was naturally very unwilling that we should be thought to show any indisposition to deal with this most important question. I was therefore glad that the Bill should be read a second time. But now that it is proposed that the House should resolve itself into Committee to consider the details of the measure, I should wish to be allowed to remind your Lordships of the proceedings in the other House with respect to it. The Bill was referred to a Grand Committee, and although it was obvious that in many respects the Bill required amendment, the majority of the Committee absolutely declined to accept one amending word, the result being that the Bill was reported without amendment to the House, and that there was no Report stage and no further discussion of its details. The consequence is that the Bill has come up to your Lordships' House in what I must be excused for describing as an undigested and ill-considered form. I have myself attempted, in concert with the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, whose knowledge of these subjects is exceeded by no one, to draft some Amendments which would put this Bill into a shape which might possibly induce your Lordships to pass it, and I have reason to believe that many noble Lords behind me have made similar attempts, for notice has been given of a very large number of Amendments. But it is understood that the other House of Parliament will be prorogued to-morrow, and I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord how he conceives it possible that a Bill like this, involving large questions of principle, and bristling with technical points, a Bill which, in ordinary circumstances, would occupy the attention of your Lordships, for more than one and possibly for several sittings—how he conceives it possible that this Bill can be dealt with adequately in Committee, and passed through its remaining stages this afternoon. Of course, I will not offer any direct opposition to the consideration of the Bill in Committee; but I put it earnestly to the noble and learned Lord that he would be well advised if he did not urge your Lordships to proceed with this measure. I have heard it said that the Government are dealing with this Bill in a hasty manner, but there certainly has been no intention to do anything of the kind. I shall be glad to hear from the noble and learned Lord that he recognises the force of the reasons which I have advanced, and that he will not ask us to go through the form of considering the Amendments to the measure when there is no possible chance of passing it in a satisfactory form, and when, in fact, it is almost certain that it cannot pass in any shape.


I am afraid that I cannot respond to the appeal of the noble Earl. I cannot admit that this is a Bill bristling with technical or legal points and difficulties. I must remind the House that the Bill has been before it a considerable time. It might have been read a second time before the political crisis, but the order was postponed for some days at the request of noble Lords opposite. I believe the noble Marquess desired that it should be postponed to a later date in order that he might be present at the discussion. The Bill, therefore, has been before us for a not inconsiderable time. The noble Earl says that he sympathises with the general purpose of this Bill. Well, one knows what will happen if the Bill is not passed this Session. Municipalities in Ireland have been waiting 20 years for this Amendment of the law, and if the Bill does not pass now as many more years may elapse before the change is effected. [Cries of "No" and "Why?"] Noble Lords who doubt that have perhaps not watched public affairs as closely as I have. How often has one seen measures near fruition, which, however, have not attained fruition until many years afterwards? If noble Lords opposite are in a majority in the next Parliament, unless they take up this measure a private Member who should bring it forward would obviously have very little chance of success. Much has been said as to the non-acceptance of Amendments in the Grand Committee, but if Amendments had been accepted this measure would never have seen the light of your Lordships' House. Its chance of coming here would have been destroyed. Considering that this is a measure upon which all are substantially agreed as far as its principle is concerned, and considering the large concessions which I am prepared to make in order to save the measure, I cannot think that there ought to be any difficulty in passing it into law, even now. The Amendments on the Paper are largely verbal Amendments which will effect no change in the framework of the Bill, and the more substantial Amendmends would no doubt be accepted by the promoters of the measure. Then why should not the Bill pass into law during the present Parliament? It might pass through your Lordships' House this afternoon, and to-morrow the Amendments inserted might be assented to in the other House. If the Bill were regarded with real goodwill, there is no doubt it could become law.


The question before us is a practical one. The Prorogation is to be to-morrow, and the other House has now risen. If your Lordships had spent several hours, as I have, in wading through the Amendments to this Bill, you would recognise that many of them require careful examination, and are likely to cause much controversy. The House of Commons cannot receive them before to-morrow, and no House of Commons would like to embark upon the consideration of controversial Amendments without having some documents before it explaining why those Amendments had been made. If you discuss this Bill now and send it to the House of Commons to-morrow, the chances are that it will be no nearer passing. An effort has been made to throw the responsibility for the miscarriage of this Bill upon this side of the House. I entirely repudiate such responsibility. If the Standing Committee of the other House had gone through the Bill with the intention of making such Amendments as were needed, it would not have come to your Lordships' House in this crude and unfinished form. What has come to my knowledge in the few days during which I have held my present office? Two Departments of the Government have impressed upon me in the most earnest way that the Bill cannot pass without Amendments. One of these Departments is the Treasury, and the other the Post Office. It is manifest to anyone acquainted with official life that similar representations must have been made before they were made to me. How was it that these necessary amendments were kept back from the Grand Committee and the other House? One of these Amendments deals with a question involving a point of privilege. There is absolutely no machinery provided by this Bill for making certain necessary payments. The measure comes to us in such an incomplete form that if it passed unaltered it would contain no machinery providing for necessary payments, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer next year would have to introduce a special estimate. The Amendment that has been suggested to me on this subject is one which the persons who would be called upon to pay ought to have an opportunity of examining, and the authorities of the other House would be entitled to scrutinise it closely and jealously before accepting it. It is easy for my noble and learned Friend to say that he will accept many of these Amendments. I have no doubt he will. He has put down, many himself, which shows that he thinks the Bill requires amending.


I put the Amendments down because I pledged myself to make the law in Ireland the same as the English law.


I have myself handed in 50 or 60 Amendments which are necessary to make the Bill workable, and other noble Lords have also given notice of Amendments. Having regard to the time at our disposal I think the noble and learned Lord would be wiser to rest content with the fact that the assent of this House has been given to the principle that some alteration is necessary in the Municipal Franchise in Ireland, and to leave it to a future time to make an effort to pass a measure on the subject.


I have no opinion about the principle or merits of this Bill except the opinion that the municipal law in Ireland should be put on the same footing with the law in Scotland. But, although I have no knowledge of this Bill, I must say that after the statement of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and the admissions of the noble and learned Lord opposite, I think we are in a most awkward position, and that we shall be abdicating our functions if we were to profess to make Amendments in a Bill which we know cannot be expected to pass this Session. Were we to make Amendments we should be wasting our time; and therefore if any noble Lord opposes the Motion for going into Committee I will vote with him.


put the question that the House resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.

The House divided:—Contents, 15; Not Contents, 77.

Resolved in the negative.