PRIVATE BILL LEGISLATION
BY THE RIGHT HON. WALTER LONG, M.P.
The argument so often and so plausibly presented in favour of Home Rule, which urges that the Imperial Parliament is overburdened with local affairs, contains an element of truth. It would, however, be more in accordance with the facts to put the case the other way round: for localities are much more seriously inconvenienced in certain respects by the necessity of referring local business to the Imperial Parliament, than the Imperial Parliament is inconvenienced by the transaction of such business, which, if we are to believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it neglects (vide Nash’s Magazine, February, 1912). At the same time, to affirm that, in order to remedy what is no more than a defect in administration, it is necessary to overturn the British Constitution, and to build on its ruins four semi-independent Legislatures and one supreme Parliament, is merely to exemplify the cynical imposture of partisan misrepresentation: what Mr. Balfour described as “the dream of political idiots.”
There is no impartial person who does not clearly recognise that to constitute a separate Parliament for Ireland (to say nothing of England, Wales, and Scotland) must necessarily result, not in the more efficient despatch of legislative and administrative business, but in perpetual friction, clogging the mechanism alike of the subordinate and the predominate body. Ireland enjoyed—or endured—an independent Parliament during eighteen years, from 1782 to 1800; and, in the result, the greatest statesmen both in Ireland and in England were forced to acknowledge that the system had in practice failed utterly; and that there remained no alternative but the Union. To that view of the situation the great majority of the Irish people, irrespective of race or creed, were converted within a year before the passing of the Act, an event which was hailed with rejoicing. The experience of 112 years, fraught as they have been with occasional calamity and burdened with many blunders, has not produced a single valid objection to the principle of the Union, unless the survival among a diminishing section of the population of the old, bad tradition of hatred towards England, and its deliberate exploitation by pledge-bound politicians, is to be regarded as a reason for sacrificing the welfare and the prosperity of both countries.
The framers of the Act of Union did not, and indeed could not, provide for every contingency. It is therefore the business of those who are determined to maintain the Union, to adjust its machinery to modern requirements. An omission of capital import was the failure to provide for the efficient promotion of private Bills. The matter was, indeed, actually considered by the authors of the Act of Union. The Duke of Portland wrote to Lord Cornwallis, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, under date December 24, 1798, as follows:—