§ (The Lord O'Hagan.)
§ SECOND READING.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, in asking your Lordships to read this Bill a second time, I shall not find it necessary to occupy your attention beyond a very short time in discussing the reasons for that Motion. The Bill has been, as your Lordships are all aware, for a long period indeed before the country. It has been debated night after night, week after week, and month after month, in the House of Commons, usque ad nauseam. It has been, in all aspects of the question which it raises, discussed by most of the public journals in this country on the one side and on the other. The result is that I should be very much unwarranted in supposing that there is a single Peer of those whom I now address who is not tolerably well acquainted with the reasons which can be given both for or against the Bill. The Bill comes before your Lordships under very remarkable circumstances. It is a measure which, though it has been modified in its progress, has been substantially more than one Session in the House of Commons. It has been encountered, during the last Session and in the present, by an opposition as ingenious and as obstinate as was ever offered to any measure presented to the House of Commons; 1862 and it has weathered that opposition by the aid of sweeping majorities on every occasion when any question has been raised. It comes before your Lordships, further, with the approval of the Government, who considered the measure very carefully and very anxiously, and from time to time proposed modifications, all of which were accepted. Finally, it comes before this House supported by a body of Irish opinion which, having regard to its weight and character, has never before been brought to bear, I believe, in support of any measure. I do not mean to say that this is a very great measure. It is, in fact, very small in extent. It is a Bill of very few clauses, its principle is exceedingly simple, and its object is very easily understood. It is not a Bill which will create a social revolution, or vitally change the manners of the country; but it is a Bill aiming at a good object, and it seeks, so far as can be done by such machinery as it contains, to destroy a vice which is the greatest curse of Ireland, and which is at the root of the misery and crime of that country. It is therefore, I believe, my Lords, that it has received, I will not say from all, but from the great mass of the intelligent Irishmen, most cordial support, and that a most anxious desire has been exhibited by the people, or most of the people, of all classes in Ireland, to have this Bill carried, and carried, if possible, in its integrity, or at least as it now stands modified by the action of the Government. I do not think it necessary to go much into detail as to the reasons for the measure, because I do not consider it desirable that I should tell a twice-told tale, which would be very tedious to your Lordships. I will not repeat trite and stale arguments which are familiar to most of those I am addressing; but I may say that there seem to have been two main objections presented by the opponents of the Bill, and by those chiefly who are interested in the liquor traffic; though I do not mean to say there are not others who have taken exception to the Bill on grounds which I do not entirely disapprove. But one of the principal cries that we have heard in the House of Commons and elsewhere is that it is a new Coercion Bill for Ireland; and we have had the changes rung on that expression till people have almost persuaded themselves into the belief that 1863 it was not a mere perversion of the English language, but that there was some foundation for it. It is a Coercion Bill, it is true; but only in the sense in which all laws are coercive. A law which interferes with the free action of any individual, for any purpose whatever, may be said to be a Coercion Bill; and if this is said to be a Coercion Bill, it is a Bill for a good and beneficent purpose—it is a Bill aimed to put an end to the greatest and most blighting vice of the country to which I belong. It is a Bill which is not at all out of the ordinary course of legislation; because, as your Lordships are fully aware, those who are pursuing the liquor traffic have not been left by the law of the land the same freedom of action that has been accorded to other traders, and for the plainest of reasons— that the liquor traffic, badly pursued, has results most injurious to the morals and good order of society. Over and over again restrictions have been imposed upon this particular trade, and by the Bill now before your Lordships, nothing is done but to extend to the whole of the Sunday the restrictive legislation which now affects a very great portion of the Sunday. The hours of closing which have been long prescribed by law no one objects to now, though, except in the matter of degree, the law which fixes them is as much a Coercion Act as this Bill is. These restrictions were designed to save the Sunday as much as possible from desecration, to prevent the day from being spent in idleness, immorality, and sometimes in the destruction of life, instead of being devoted to the service of God, and to the cultivation of good and kindly feelings. It is said, again, that all this sumptuary legislation is a mistake, and that it is useless to attempt to make people moral by Act of Parliament. I entirely concur that morality is only to be secured by training the heart and the understanding—but the process may be assisted by legislation. In a case of this sort, the law is a sort of external conscience to a man, warning him what is evil and showing him what is good; and therefore, though we cannot make people moral by law, we can assist them to become moral by removing temptations from them, and putting them in such a condition that good and virtuous habits may be cultivated more easily and better than they were before. Therefore, so 1864 far as these arguments are concerned, it appears to me that the case against the Bill fails altogether. But if there were any ground for alleging that this is an interference with the liberties of the people, I may remind the House that in Ireland this experiment—and it is nothing but an experiment, limited in its operation and duration in a very careful way—is not without precedent, though this precedent has not taken the form of legislative enactment. In some dioceses the closing of public-houses on Sunday, though not enforced by law, has been voluntarily submitted to for a very considerable time by the vendors as well as by the consumers of spirituous liquors. In those dioceses the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church—men of the greatest benevolence but great force of will—saw that Sunday drinking was most injurious to the morals and to the habits of their people. Over and over again they saw faction fights occurring on the Sunday, over and over again they saw in the neighbourhood of their churches people congregated together consuming intoxicating drinks, and in the end becoming the victims of secret conspirators. There was no combined action; but each Bishop acted for himself, and in two dioceses a Sunday closing law, not appealing at all to the civil authority, was put in operation. A great body of the publicans themselves were anxious to be permitted to close their houses, and when they found that they would not be placed at a disadvantage by others remaining open, but that all would close together, they were glad of the change. In those particular dioceses, the closing of the public-houses showed the advantage to the people in promoting order, peace, and domestic happiness, and the greater security of the district generally. Should this Bill produce as great moral and social effects on the country as have been produced by the voluntary action of the people in these districts, it will be a most happy thing for Ireland. I should not do justice to the cause I am advocating if I did not ask your Lordships' careful attention to the National Memorial which was presented last year on this subject. There had, indeed, in the antecedent year, been a similar Memorial signed by upwards of 10,000 persons, and the prayer was simply this. After referring to the past history 1865 of the movement, and the difficulty felt by private Members in dealing with it, and stating that the greatest interest was felt by all classes in the speedy settlement of the question, the memorialists begged to express an earnest hope that Her Majesty's Government would respond to the demands which had been made by three-fourths of the Irish Members of Parliament, that Parliament would pass a measure which would, more than any other, tend to give peace to Ireland. The importance of that Memorial is to be judged of not alone by the number of persons who signed it, but by the weight and importance attached to the names of the signatories; and on examining them your Lordships will find that it is signed by nearly all, if not all, the Roman Catholic Bishops, by every one of the Bishops of the late Established Church of Ireland; by the Moderator of the Synod of Ulster, by a large number of Presbyterian ministers, and ministers of other Dissenting congregations; by the great majority of the Magistrates, Town Councillors, and Guardians of the Poor in Ireland, and by thousands of gentlemen, bankers, merchants, and tradesmen. It was, therefore, taken as an appeal from the nation which it is impossible to disregard. It is only natural to entertain a Memorial so presented, and I think that your Lordships will be disposed to entertain the same opinion as I do, and that they will be inclined to agree with me that there has been, for the first time, a combination of Irishmen of all shades of religious and political opinion in complete agreement upon this one point, and. joining in a demand that Parliament should take steps to pass a measure, the effect of which will be to improve the morals, and consequently the happiness, of the people of that country. Such being the case, I think that it will take very little persuasion to induce your Lordships to pass this measure as a good one. Still less proper will it be to reject it when we are aware of the fact that the Irish Members generally have rallied round the measure, which is supported not only by the clergy and laity of Ireland but by the whole Press of the country. If ever there was a Bill which deserves to be called a national one, it is this. I think that I have said enough to induce your Lordships to give it a second reading; but if 1866 there be any lingering doubt of the propriety of such a course, it will vanish when I tell your Lordships that the measure is tentative in its character and temporary in its operation. All the Amendments proposed by the Government have been accepted by the promoters of the Bill, and it is limited in point of time, expiring in 1882, unless Parliament should see fit to continue it. I entertain very little doubt that if its effect is such as I believe it will be, there will be no difficulty in getting it continued at the end of that period. Whether that is so or not, I trust that your Lordships will find no difficulty in passing it. In conclusion, I can but express a hope that the same Parliament now approaching its close which has passed the excellent measure for the promotion of Intermediate Education in Ireland— a measure for which the present Administration deserves the confidence of the people at large—will also pass this measure, which is one of capital importance, and will be fraught with countless blessings to the community.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a" —(The Lord O' Hagan.)
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
I do not intend to give any opposition to the proposal of the noble and learned Lord. The measure is one which, as the noble and learned Lord has just stated, has occupied the attention of the other House of Parliament for a considerable period during last Session, and for a still greater period during the present Session. All the arguments which could be adduced to induce Members to vote for or against the measure have been put forward in that House in the most forcible manner it is possible they could be done. The noble and learned. Lord is perfectly correct in stating that Her Majesty's Government had to consider—during the passing of the Bill through the other House of Parliament—whether it would be for the public benefit of the people of Ireland that some such measure as this should be passed, and thinking that it was, and having considered the Bill, they proposed certain Amendments which were accepted by those who had charge of the Bill; and Her Majesty's Government now views the Bill as amended with favour, and will offer 1867 no opposition whatever to the second reading.
THE BISHOP OF LONDON
I cannot allow this Bill to be read a second time without expressing the great satisfaction with which I have watched its progress in the other House of Parliament. It is, as the noble and learned Lord remarked, a tentative measure, and, indeed, it might have been drawn more stringently without any injury to it. It will enable the principle to be tried, and I hope it will be so successful in its operation, and set so good an example, that it will be followed at no distant date by a Bill which may be carried with considerable unanimity for the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.