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Question Observations

Volume 228: debated on Tuesday 11 April 1876

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I wish to avail myself of this opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government a question as to the course to be pursued in reference to the Land Tenure (Ireland) Bill. It will be remembered that on Wednesday week I moved the second reading of that Bill. The discussion went on till about half-past 5, and then the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Law), who was one of the Law Officers of the late Government, moved the Adjournment of the Debate, and he did so on the ground that it was essential that the Members of the late Government should be enabled to state their views on the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government rose and said it was perfectly fair that Members of the late Government should have such an opportunity, and he therefore consented to the Adjournment. I certainly understood at the time that his consent implied that an opportunity should be given by a day being afforded for the adjourned debate to take place. I have been asked why I do not fix a day myself; but on looking at the Order Book I find that it is utterly impossible for me to find a day, at all events, before the latter end of July; and I think that, under the circumstances, I am not asking too much when I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give me some assurance that an opportunity shall be given for the adjourned discussion. I am aware that the state of Public Business will not allow of a day being given for some time; but I think he might promise us that a reasonably early day should be given. The question is one that is exciting great interest in Ireland. Petitions from corporate bodies and from Poor Law Guardians are every day coming to this House upon the subject, and even on that ground it is desirable that the matter should be speedily settled. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Elcho) has declared the measure to be a Bill of Confiscation; and if so, the sooner the House decides on the question and declares it to be so the better. I must, therefore, press the right hon. Gentleman to give me an opportunity for resuming the discussion at a convenient period before the Session closes.

I think the inference drawn from words by the hon. and learned Gentleman is rather a wide one. The circumstances of the case are these—When the Attorney General for Ireland under the late Government moved the Adjournment of the Debate on Wednesday week, it was 16 minutes to 6, and, therefore, it was virtually impossible for him to state his views and those of his late Colleagues upon a subject the importance of which I never denied and am not now denying. But at that time Her Majesty's Government had had an opportunity of stating their views, and the Adjournment of the Debate was according to the wishes of those who represented the late Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman must know very well that, in the present state of Public Business, it is quite impossible for me to tamper with the time allotted to the Government to carry those measures which are necessary. Those who represent the late Administration, however, are deeply interested in the subject. It is they who wished to state their views upon the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman; and I cannot doubt that Gentleman on the front bench opposite, who have so large an influence in this House, and who are supported always by so many Friends, can make arrangements to meet the wishes of the hon. and learned Gentleman.

On the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate there was no opportunity given to the hon. and learned Member for Limerick to state his view of the subject. The moment the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry sat down the Prime Minister got up, admitted the importance of the question, and consented forthwith to the Adjournment. The question, therefore, really stands in this way—the Motion for the Adjournment was made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman on this side of the House and consented to by the Prime Minister, who said at the time that it was a reasonable proposal. The debate was therefore adjourned through the mutual arrange-of the two front benches, and the impression left on the minds of hon. Members here supporting the Bill was, that another opportunity would be given for renewing the discussion. For that reason we abstained from taking the vote which we might then have taken. I think the Prime Minister is under a wrong impression when he says it was 16 minutes to 6. My impression is that the Adjournment of the Debate was moved at half-past 5 o'clock. ["No, no."] At all events there would have been ample time for a division: but we were thrown off our guard by the two right hon. Gentlemen who arranged the Adjournment of the Debate.

This question ought, I think, to be put on a much broader basis than that of agreement and disagreement as to a particular day. Whatever views hon. Members may entertain on this Bill, there can be no doubt it has created great excitement among the people of Ireland. Many hon. Members of this House are strongly in favour of the Bill, and, judging by the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Elcho), others have a strong antipathy to it. Putting aside all question as to what agreement there may have been, and regarding the Bill as a matter of the greatest possible interest in a very large proportion of Her Majesty's dominions, I put it to the Government whether such a great Imperial question ought not to be decided by the House, and not left floating about for 12 months creating agitation in Ireland. In the interests of peace in that country, and for the sake of having the opinion of this House expressed broadly on this question, which is one above all others demanding the attention of the House, I think the Government ought to afford an opportunity for the renewal of the discussion.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Monday 24 th April.