§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ (11.11.) MR. M'LAREN
I beg to move to report Progress, on the ground that it is absolutely impossible for the measure to become law this Session. There are eight pages of Amendments-to it in the names of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton and the Attorney General. It is so full of contentious matter that it cannot be-passed this day, and even if it passed this House it could not pass the other House also. We should, therefore, only waste time by going into Committee on the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. M'Laren.)
§ MR. ATKINSON
The last time I saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton he informed me that he intended to wash his hands of the measure altogether. I do not see why the Committee should expect me to wait until the right hon. Gentleman has washed his hands so long as to be able to go on with the Bill. The Bill has been accepted by both sides of the House, and its Second Reading has been carried without a dissentient vote. It is a Bill that tends to religious equality by dispensing with the attendance of a lawyer's clerk at Nonconformist marriages. It is brought in in the interests of my co-religionists—the Wesleyan Methodists—and is supported by hon. Members opposite, who have been stumping Cornwall and other parts of the country with me. I have brought this measure forward every Session for the last six years, and I hold in my hand letters from Lord Salisbury expressing his high approval of the measure, and requesting me to press it forward. We have a special claim on our leaders, if they can lead at all, to lead us in the direction of giving us this boon.
§ (11.15.) MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
I have no doubt that this is a very good Bill; but, at the same time, we must look at this matter from a practical point of view. It is evident that the measure cannot be passed this Session. It has to go through this House and then through the House of Lords. Whatever time, therefore, we devote to the consideration of the Bill to-day will practically be lost.
§ MR. CALDWELL
I would suggest to the hon. Member that he should take advantage of the discussion which has taken place to produce next Session a Bill that will meet with general acceptance. The feeling of the House is in favour of the measure, but the real question is the question of how to work it out. In the meantime, I think we must feel that we shall lose our time by going into Committee.
§ MR. ATKINSON
I beg to suggest that, in considering the Bill, we should be much better employed than in walking about losing time between now and the Prorogation. I have made every alteration that is necessary in the Bill to meet the views of the Attorney General. I have provided for the protection of the interests of Registrars; I have altered the fees in a manner that is satisfactory. I have conceded every necessary alteration to the critics of the Bill, and I would urge its supporters not to be flouted when there is ample time to pass it.
§ (11.20.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I do not see why the House of Commons should not pass the Bill through all its stages, and send it to the House of Lords, who can take a course similar to that which they are about to bake with the Appropriation Bill, and pass the measure through all its stages.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
It is impossible to ask the House of Lords to consider the Bill now, as they have adjourned, and will not meet again, except for the reading of the Speech from the Throne. It is true, as the hon. Member for Boston has said, the noble Lord at the head of the Government has expressed approval of the principle of 1392 the Bill; but the difficulties in the way of passing it now are of a practical character, and cannot be overcome. I therefore hope my hon. Friend will not persevere with the Bill this Session.
§ MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)
I would appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston to withdraw the Bill. The Government have promised that no contentious business shall be taken; and if the hon. Gentleman persists in the course he is now pursuing, he will be prejudicing one of the best measures which has ever been before the House. I am strongly in favour of the measure; but, as many hon. Members have left the House in the belief that no contentious business would be taken, I would strongly urge the hon. Member, in his own interest and that of the Bill, not to persevere with the measure.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
The President of the Local Government Board has absolutely proved my case. I thought that, as the Appropriation Bill had only just passed this House, the clerks would be preparing it for the House of Lords; but what is my astonishment to find that it has already passed through all its stages in the House of Lords, and that their Lordships adjourned some minutes ago! It would be possible for the House of Lords to do the same thing before the Prorogation with this Bill. They could pass it in a couple of minutes.
§ (11.25.) MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid.)
I would wish to add my appeal to the hon. Member not to press the Bill. I not only opposed the Second Reading, but it will be my duty to oppose the measure in all its stages. Under these circumstances, my hon. Friend must see that it is impossible to proceed with a Bill which will require very careful handling in Committee to make it acceptable even to those who voted for the Second Reading.
§ MR. ATKINSON
In reply to the last speaker, I may mention that I received a letter from a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, to which the hon. Gentleman belongs, declaring that the hon. Gentleman does not represent 1393 that Church at all in what he said about this Bill. The priest begged me to take no notice of the hon. Gentleman, as the Church wants the Bill carried. Under these circumstances, I hope the hon. Gentleman will take advice before he obstructs his spiritual superior. If he does not, I shall be compelled to write to the priest and point out the course he has pursued. Not only has Lord Salisbury expressed approval of the Bill, but he has written to me saying I should push it on, and he trusted I would get it through. I think I know more of Lord Salisbury's intentions as to this Bill than the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. I see no reason why the Bill should not be proceeded with today.
§ (11.28.) MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
As a Roman Catholic, not repudiated yet, at all events, by his ecclesiastical superiors, I must say I think that my co-religionists in Ireland would be insulted if an attorney's clerk were brought in to act as Registrar of Marriages. In Ireland the priests do that. I intend, however, to support the Motion for Progress, and I do not want to be misunderstood in doing so. The hon. Member for Boston says he wishes to avail himself of this opportunity to press his measure, but I understand from the Government that there is no such opportunity. The "opportunity" does not exist, and in forcing the Bill through on such a day as this we shall be killing time in a contentious sort of way, but we shall not be advancing the measure the right hon. Gentleman has at heart. I would appeal to the hon. Member again to take the sensible advice of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division, and withdraw the Bill now and bring it forward next Session.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
I am in favour of the principle of the Bill, but I feel that, under existing circumstances, there is no alternative but to vote for reporting Progress.
§ (11.30.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 40; Noes 2.—(Div. List, No. 416.)
§ Committee report Progress.