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Ministerial Statement

Volume 282: debated on Thursday 2 August 1883

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asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether the House is now in possession of all the Bills which the Government intend to present this Session, with the exception of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and the Appropriation Bill?

The Question of the right hon. Gentleman is a most reasonable one at this period of the Session, and I hope I will give an answer that may be satisfactory. Of course, I shall not refer further to the Tramways (Ireland) Bill; but there is one of the necessary annual Bills which the right hon. Gentleman has not included in his specification, and that is the Public Works Loans Bill, which it is necessary to pass. [Sir R. ASSHETON CROSS: Hear, hear!] The only other Bills that there is any intention on our part to introduce are, in the first place, a very short Bill, to which it is my confident belief that the assent of the House will be given—a Bill to be introduced in the other House by the Lord Chancellor, relating simply to the form of verdicts given in criminal cases of lunacy; and, further, with regard to cholera, my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, viewing, I will not say, the proximity, but the possibility of an outbreak, finds it will be necessary to ask the House to introduce a few necessary provisions for insuring the more effective and regular action of the public authorities with respect to the disease. I think the House will recognize that these are exceptions which might justly be made. I had supposed that the Bill with regard to the peccant boroughs would be included in the Continuance Bill; but I now understand that it will be a separate Bill of suspension merely, for the purpose of stopping any legislation and holding over the cases until next year. That being so, Sir, I propose to explain the course of Public Business. Our first object is to get through the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill. The stages of the Report and the third reading remain, and we propose to take them either to-night or to-morrow. If we are not able to take the Report to-night, we propose to take it to-morrow, and the third reading on Saturday, and also the Report of the Bankruptcy Bill. ["Oh, oh!"] I have already done what I can with respect to the limitation of subjects, and I may say this—that, in the first place, although the prospects of the House, with respect to au early termination of the Session, are not altogether as good as we could wish, they are certainly not less favourable, but rather more favourable than they were at the time when I introduced the subject to the House three or four weeks ago. I do not think we need lay aside the hope, if circumstances should be tolerably propitious, that the Session can be brought to a close on some day in the week ending Saturday, the 25th. The application for Saturday Sittings becomes a matter of great urgency and convenience or of less inconvenience to the House, for the sake even of the comfort and advantage of hon. Members—serious as is the burden imposed upon the Speaker and the officials of the House at this time of the year. I have looked over the list of the last 11 years, and I see that Saturday was first taken in five of these years in the month of July, and in three more in the first or second weeks in August, so I hope that this will not be regarded as an unreasonable proposal in the circumstances. As to the third reading of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill, which we may confidently assume will not require any debate, the Government propose to take it, so as to send it to the Lords without delay. If the House agrees to sit on Saturday we should propose that the Report on the Bankruptcy Bill should be then taken; and next week we propose that Supply should be taken on Monday and on Thursday, and that on Monday the South African Vote shall be taken, and on Thursday the Egyptian Vote—that is to say, the salary of Major Baring. On Tuesday, as has already been said, it is proposed to take the National Debt Bill, and after that the Parliamentary Registration (Ireland) Bill, carrying forward those subjects, if necessary, to Wednesday.

said, he was sure he only expressed the feeling of a large number of Members on both sides of the House when he said that the 7th of August was a day altogether too late on which to enter upon the consideration of a Bill of such great importance as the National Debt Bill. There was no disposition on that side of the House to place obstacles in the way of the Government in reference to a Bill of this kind; but it would be utterly impossible for the House, as a House, to enter upon its consideration at so late a date. The effect of such an attempt would be to revive the subject next Session on the consideration of the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill; and there would, therefore, be an unsettlement of the question. He was sure the minority would accept any decision that might be arrived at after careful consideration; but-the minority would not accept a decision on this Bill at so late a period of the Session. ["Order!"] Then he would give Notice of a Question on the subject.

pointed out that, as Monday was a Bank Holiday, it would be inconvenient to business men if the Bankruptcy Bill were put down for Saturday. It was important that business men should be present when that measure was under discussion, and many of them had made arrangements to go on a holiday from Friday night until Tuesday morning. He hoped that some other Bill would be put down for Saturday.

I do not quite appreciate the strength of the argument that because Monday is a Bank Holiday the Bankruptcy Bill ought not to be taken on Saturday. Perhaps the hon. Member will communicate with the President of the Board of Trade on the subject. I was rather surprised to bear the remark of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith), that the minority of the House would not accept the decision of the majority on the National Debt Bill. I hope that was a hasty expression, which perhaps would have been qualified if it had been within the Rules of the House that the right hon. Gentleman should have explained himself more fully. The Government are not dealing with this question in a spirit of levity. We believe that there is among the financial authorities of this country, and among the people directly interested in maintaining the public credit—I will not say unanimity, but there is an enormous preponderance of opinion in its favour, and a very lively and deep anxiety that the Bill should go forward. I believe, also, that it is agreeable to the views of a very large majority of the House. If we wore proved in the wrong in that view, undoubtedly we should not feel justified in pressing the Bill through the House. Although the Bill certainly deals with subjects of very great importance, its aims and provisions are of a character perfectly familiar and long established in the legislation of the country; and the Bill is only brought in to keep going—if I may use the expression—our regular financial system upon lines very well known and approved in general by the House.

explained that he did not moan that the minority would not accept the decision of the majority of the House this Session, but that they would feel it to be their duty to revive the consideration of the question next Session.

said, there were already 14 Bills upon the Paper which had not been read a second time, while six others stood for Report. He wished to ask the Prime Minister whether he meant that the House should deal with all the Bills which the Government had in charge, which included the Contempt of Court Bill, the Stolen Goods Bill, the Constabulary and Police (Ireland) Bill, and the Medical Act Amendment Bill? If these Bills were all to be taken, the House could not separate on the 25th of August.

I do not think that there are 14 Government Bills which have not been read a second time. With regard to one or two of the Bills mentioned by the hon. Member for Newcastle, I cannot speak of them, because I am not aware whether they are the subjects of contest or not. With respect to the Constabulary and Police Administration (Ireland) Bill, the Government have come to the conclusion that they could not hope to carry it without imposing upon the House a burden in respect of the prolongation of attendance of Members such as they cannot be fairly called upon to bear.

wish to add to what has been said on the subject by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) that Saturday has always been looked upon as a holiday by business men, and therefore I hope that the Bankruptcy Bill will not be taken on that day.

If it is the case that Saturday is an inconvenient day for proceeding with the Bankruptcy Bill, the Government—although I am very reluctant to do it—can make an exchange, and take the Parliamentary Registration (Ireland) Bill on that day.

asked when the Local Government Board (Scotland) Bill, which stood third upon the Orders for that night, would really be taken?

, in reference to the observations of the Primo Minister on the National Debt Bill, reminded him that an Amendment had been upon the Paper for a long time. It indicated a somewhat different view from that which the right hon. Gentleman had expressed as to the unanimity of feeling on the Bill. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to remember that, although there might be a complete unanimity of feeling amongst financiers in this country in favour of the Bill, that unanimity did not extend to Ireland, which had to pay its share—

said: The intention of the Government now is to go forward with the Estimates in order, with the exception that we propose to take the South African Vote on Monday, and Major Baring's Vote on Thursday. In reply to Mr. LEWIS,

said, that he could not say when the Report of the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Bill would he taken.

asked the Vice President of the Council when the second reading of the Education (Scotland) Bill would be taken?

said, he hoped on an early day—probably some day next week. The hon. Member was aware it was not a contentious Bill; and he hoped some evening before half-past 12 they would be able to dispose of it. Subsequently,

asked the Prime Minister whether there would be any objection to putting down the Criminal Appeal Bill for Saturday?

said, that, looking to the number of Amendments to the Bankruptcy Bill, it might be better to dispose first of the Report of the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Bill, on which many Amendments had been proposed, for which the Attorney General had promised to provide.

said, that it was absolutely necessary to give the preference to those measures which required the attention of the House of Lords. The Bankruptcy Bill was one of those measures, and it was for that reason that the Government had thought it necessary to go forward with that Bill.

said, that, practically, the Schedules to the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Bill were the Bill, and he did not think they could be satisfactorily dealt with at the end of the Session when everybody had left town.

said, he hoped in three or four days to be able to make a further statement.

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether it was seriously intended to introduce on the Report stage more than 30 clauses, extending the Bill to Ireland, which had not been discussed in Committee? He wished to know whether an opportunity would be given for discussing this enormous mass of new matter in Committee; or did the Government intend to force it through on Report, when the clauses could not be adequately discussed?

The Government have given a distinct and public pledge upon this matter—that, on the one hand, they would not seek to press upon Ireland any measure in respect to Bankruptcy to which any serious exception was taken by any considerable number of people; but that, on the other hand, if it were clearly and conclusively shown that there was a general concurrence of opinion in Ireland as to the Bill being extended to Ireland, the Government would use their best exertions to carry out those wishes. I have received myself a Memorial signed by, I think, 62 Irish Members of all Parties in the House—a most representative Memorial—and I have also received Memorials from public meetings held in different commercial centres in Ireland, from Corporations, and from Chambers of Commerce. I have come to the conclusion that there is such a general concurrence of opinion in favour of the extension of the Bill as will justify the Government in making every exertion to carry it through.

said, the right hon. Gentleman had not answered his Question. He had not proposed to discuss the merits of the Bill, though he should be prepared to do that at the proper time. The Question he had asked was, whether it was intended to endeavour to put 30 now clauses into a Bill dealing with a totally now subject, and not to have these clauses discussed in Committee, where alone they could be properly discussed?

I can only say, in reference to that, that although it is necessary in order to apply the Bill to Ireland to introduce 30 new clauses, yet, when once the principle of the application is accepted, there is really very little to discuss in those clauses, which are very nearly formal.

wished to ask the President of the Board of Trade two questions. The first was, how many of these 62 Members read the Bill?

Now, Sir, I have to ask you a question on a point of Order with reference to the Bankruptcy Bill. The Bill was referred to a Grand Committee. There were a number of clauses of which Notice had been given by the Attorney General for Ireland to apply the Bill to Ireland. These clauses, which might have been discussed in Committee, were withdrawn, and therefore it is an absolutely new Bankruptcy Bill for Ireland. Is it to be held that because clauses were put before the Grand Committee and withdrawn that we shall not have the Bill re-committed for a discussion of its clauses in Committee?

That is not a point of Order. It is an argument that may very properly be used when the matter comes on for discussion; but it is not a point of Order.

I beg to give Notice that when the matter comes on, I will move that the Bill be re-committed.

I wish to know, will the Bankruptcy Bill be taken on Saturday? It would be a matter of extreme inconvenience if it were.

I beg to give Notice that I will ask the Prime Minister, Whether he thinks it a proper course for Her Majesty's Government to pursue to send round a hand-to-hand requisition instead of having in that House a discussion on so important a question as that affecting the Irish Bankruptcy Law?