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Adjourned Debate

Volume 203: debated on Tuesday 12 July 1870

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Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [21st June], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

said, that on behalf of the Government he was not able to support the measure, and he should, therefore, move that the House go into Committee upon it on that day three months. It would be remembered that on the second reading of the Bill he gave a conditional assent on the part of the Government to that stage of it. But he took the greatest pains to make it understood that he was about to bring in a general Bill on the subject, proposing to deal with processions of all kinds in Ireland. Since then, owing to the pressure of business, considerable delay had occurred in proceeding with that Bill, and as time went on the critical anniversary in July approached, and it had been supposed that his Bill had some special reference to the anniversary in the present July, but that was not the case. He frankly admitted that the expectations he had formed that such a measure would meet with a large amount of assent on both sides of the House had turned out not to be well-founded. The Bill introduced certainly did not find favour with those who desired to repeal the present Act, and he could not say that it found much favour in any part of the House; but, although that became evident soon after the introduction of the Bill, he yet felt bound to give the House ample opportunity of expressing its opinion upon it. He had assented conditionally to the second reading of the Bill now before the House; he had engaged to produce an alternative measure, and he had been most anxious to place it fully and fairly before the House, which he had done a few evenings ago. The result was, that many who had looked with considerable favour on a general law regulating processions so long as it was at a distance, saw it in a different light when it came near at hand; so that the proposal he made met no favour at their hands, and not only was it rejected by the Mover and Seconder of the present Bill, but it was treated very much in the same way by many other hon. Members opposite. That being the case, he felt he had done his duty. It was not a measure which it would be desirable to press forward without a very considerable amount of support from Irish Members, especially at that period of the Session. The Government, therefore, had decided to withdraw their measure. Having said this, he felt perfectly free to deal on its merits with the Bill now before the House, which sought to repeal the only statute dealing with party processions in Ireland. The Government could not consent to the repeal of that Act. They were not prepared, in the present state of Ireland, to leave the subject entirely unregulated and untouched by statute law; they were not prepared in the present condition of Ireland to do that which would appear to be a proclamation on their part that these party processions were harmless and inoffensive, and without danger to the peace and prosperity of Ireland. They were not inclined to deprive the Executive of those powers which the present Act gave, and which had always been and would continue to be used with the utmost toleration and forbearance by the Government of Ireland. At the same time, while exercising the powers given by the present law in that spirit, and prepared to use them if, unfortunately, it should be necessary on any occasion in Ireland, he must say that the Government could not bring themselves to look on a Party Processions Act as a permanent part of the legislation of the country. He earnestly trusted that would not be the case. There were, no doubt, indications in the North of Ireland that pointed both ways. He was not prepared to endorse all those roseate descriptions of the present harmony in the North of Ireland which they sometimes heard from the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. W. Johnston). He knew too well there was much in Ireland at this moment very different from those descriptions, and, although according to the intelligence he had received, this celebrated anniversary had so far passed off tranquilly in Ulster, yet, for all that, the strange—he was going to say the scandalous — spectacle still continued, that Government at this time of day should find it necessary summer after summer to send down a large force of military and police to a flourishing, happy, and prosperous part of the country for the purpose of keeping the peace between the two religious parties there. In some parts of Ulster good influences might be used to prevent any danger on these occasions; but, as he knew, in other parts certainly a different feeling prevailed. There was reason, however, to hope that the spirit of party and religious opposition was dying away, and they need not look forward to this special statute forming a permanent part of the legislation of the country. He would venture to express his hope that all those possessing influence in Ulster would so use it year by year as to make party processions equally unknown and unnecessary. He moved that the House do go into Committee on this Bill that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—( Mr. Chichester Fortescue,)—instead thereof.

said, this question had been so well discussed, both on the second reading and on a more recent occasion, that it was needless to spend many words upon it now. Yet, after the expression of opinion given by the House against exceptional legislation, he thought the Government would have acceded to their just request and have allowed them to go into Committee on the Bill. He would feel himself bound to oppose the Motion.

contrasted the statement made by the Chief Secretary for Ireland last year and his utterances that night. Then he said he had no particular liking for the Act which he would not now repeal, and which he described last year as introducing into the hands of a large class a sense of inequality and unfairness. It was understood at that time that a full and impartial inquiry would take place, and a Royal Commission was promised. But nothing had been done, and they were told that Government was determined not to repeal an Act which was a disgrace to the statute book, and which kept the North of Ireland in a state of slavery.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 46; Noes 121: Majority 75.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for three months.