§ SIR W. VERNER
said, unwilling as he was to detain the Bill from going into Committee, yet he felt that upon a measure of such vast importance to Ireland, he could not avoid making one or two observations. However he might rejoice at Her Majesty's Ministers, even at this late period, bringing forward any measure cal- 937 culated to give protection to the lives and properties of the industrious and well-disposed persons in Ireland—yet he could not avoid expressing his very great regret that they should, for so long a time, have neglected to pay any attention to the representations so often repeated of the increasing evils of that country. He was one of those who had raised his voice, humble as it was, to warn the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and those acting with him, of the inevitable consequences that must ensue from the indiscriminate purchase and use of firearms in Ireland. He had done so, because the experience of many years had taught him that the Irish peasantry were not a people in whose hands arms could indiscriminately, with safety, be trusted. The purport of his Motion was to obtain further proof that the withdrawal of the Arms Bill had been most pernicious in its consequences. He knew that arms were eagerly and extensively purchased—that they were purchased by men from whom it was most desirable they should be withheld—and that they were purchased with the worst designs by the worst characters—all this it was his object to show. He believed such a privilege had never before been conferred by a sane legislature upon such a class of beings as had taken advantage of it in Ireland. When (continued the hon. Gentleman) in a country like Ireland, the assassin who can be hired to take life, and the peaceable subject who desires to defend life and property, are offered indiscriminately permission to have arms, it is not surprising that murders should be so frequent. Is it to be wondered at that when the representatives from every county and every borough in Ireland meet here to discharge their duty, they should have dreadful tidings to tell from their different districts, and still more lamentable forebodings of worse things to come? It ought never to be forgotten by hon. Members who legislate for Ireland, that there is one peculiarity in the condition of that country which demands especial care and consideration—the feeling entertained by the people is favourable to the murderer—their disposition is to screen—to protect him. He (Sir William Verner) was not going to inquire how this was brought about; whether from education or example; whether from those deep-rooted hatreds they had been taught to entertain from their earliest youth, or from those secret combi- 938 nations which unhappily extend over the greater part of the country. Be that as it may, the fact is undeniable. The assassin may exercise his inhuman trade of murder, without encountering the abhorrence of men as yet unstained with blood—without any feeling of danger from those who know his crimes. He may attend the fields of labour, and the house of prayer. He may be seen at the fairs and markets, at the assizes and the sessions. He may mix with those who may be led by curiosity, or, perhaps, some worse feeling, to view the body of his victim weltering in his blood by the road side. He may be present at the inquest, and, it is not impossible, be found amongst the persons, who, upon their oaths, found a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown. He may converse freely with those who knew he "did the deed," and walk leisurely away—nay, more, he may plead the crime he has committed as a claim to hospitality and protection, and find his claim admitted. Such a time to give encouragement to the indiscriminate possession of arms was most unseasonable, and added greatly to the evil. The poor were taught they had a claim, not on the rich, but upon the industrious for support. It was not said wealthy men ought to maintain you, but landlords and farmers are bound to do so—they owe it to you. What did this mean? How was it understood? That the idle and disorderly should demand from poor people like themselves, because they were industrious, to maintain them in their evil ways—to become impoverished and ruined, that they might live and riot at ease. Thus were the classes arrayed against each other—the ill-disposed and idle against the good and orderly. He would now call the attention of the House to the period when the Arms Bill was brought before Parliament, and what the noble Lord at the head of the Government was reported to have said:—The question now is, whether the House will agree that all powers in the matter shall be taken away from the Government; and that any person in Ireland shall have any arms that they please, and introduce gunpowder, and sell that gunpowder and arms in any part of the interior or along the coast. He (the noble Lord) would say, that his belief was, that by this course they would be giving encouragement to outrage, and that there would be more loss of life in Ireland, by allowing the Bill to expire, than if it was allowed to continue. There was no doubt, if the Bill was thrown out, that persons would go about selling their assistance to commit murder.The Bill was read a second time, and car- 939 ried by a majority of thirty-three in a House of seventy-nine Members. On the Saturday following, to a question from Mr. Escott, then Member for Winchester, Sir G. Grey, the hon. Baronet who has introduced the present Bill, said, "It was intended pro formâ to go into Committee on the Irish Arms Bill, on the Monday following, in its amended shape." On Monday the noble Lord withdrew the Bill, and "assured the House that the Government was determined, at all events, that the security of life and property in Ireland should not in their hands be diminished." He would now advert to a remarkable coincidence, which occasioned considerable surprise at the time. A gentleman possessing great power and extensive influence, of whose memory he (Sir W. Verner) would not speak one word of disrespect, announced the withdrawal of the Arms Bill, at a repeal meeting in Dublin, on the same day that a Minister of the Crown made a communication, to the same effect, in his place in Parliament. The intelligence it made manifest between Conciliation Hall and the Cabinet boded no good to Ireland; and when, on the same day, a Minister announced in Parliament and Mr. O'Connell proclaimed in Ireland that it had become every man's admitted right to arm himself, all that was required to invest murder with a character of justice was done. He should like to know from the noble Lord, were he in his place, but, in his absence, he would ask the right hon. Baronet who represented him, how long he thought this state of things would be tolerated in England? Did he not know that before six weeks had passed over the deputations from all parts of the kingdom would reach from his Lordships' residence in Cheshamplace to his office in Downing-street, and that the table of the House would not contain one twentieth part of the petitions that would be laid upon it? But the case was. different: Ireland was the scene of action—the landlords the victims. The noble Lord, had, no doubt, been told that landlords have brought it all upon themselves. The noble Lord has, no doubt, also heard that the crime of the assassin was the act of the moment, while the offence of the landlord was the guilt of years, and this in extenuation of the murderer. He would ask, can anything palliate murder? and yet it is attempted to be done, even in that House. He would tell the noble Lord that this is no ordinary case—the blood of murdered men cries aloud for 940 vengeance. Their widows—their children—their families—their friends call loudly upon the noble Lord, not for blood—too much blood has been shed already—but for protection—for that protection for themselves which was denied to their husbands—their fathers—their mothers, when living. He had upon the same occasion presented a petition to the House, from Roscrea, signed by eight magistrates, three clergy of the Established Church, and two Roman Catholic clergy, and all the respectable inhabitants, in which they represented, "that on the previous fair day arms were sold by auction in the street, and eagerly bought by crowds of the tenant order." A Mr. Watson, whose son was fired at and dangerously wounded, writes—"Owing to the general armament, the whole population of the tenant order in Ireland may walk the country with their guns primed and loaded at all hours. Spain was never worse—you can get a man shot for half-a-crown." The right hon. Baronet concluded the reading of his catalogue by an observation which he (Sir W. Verner) considered of no great importance, more particularly as concurring fully with the opinions he had expressed, and supporting the statement he had made in May last; thus he could not refrain from calling the attention of the House to it. The right hon. Gentleman said, "he had concluded his lamentable catalogue of outrages and murders, and as every case which he had brought forward, and which constitutes a type of that long catalogue of crimes which have been committed—in every case the crimes have been perpetrated by the means of firearms." He had now only to refer to a letter he had received within the last week from a gentleman in the county which he (Sir W. Verner) had the honour to represent, and which would show to the House the opinion entertained in this country of the state of Ireland. The gentleman, who is a clergyman, had applied to several assurance offices in London to insure his life for a small sum—he had received the same answer from them all, one of which he in-closed, and which the hon. Member would read to the House:—Sir—In reply to your letter, I beg to inform you, that we do not grant assurances upon the lives of persons resident in Ireland.He agreed with the hon. Member for Meath, in his recommendation to the Government, not to allow any other measure to interfere with the one now before the 941 House, and which was so loudly called for in Ireland, He had no doubt when the ordinary laws of the land were respected, and the people showed that obedience which was due to the constituted authorities, any further measures which might be deemed advisable for the welfare and prosperity of the country would be adopted. But he never could give his consent to make terms with rebels, as long as they retained arms in their hands.
§ MR. ANSTEY
entertained the strongest possible objection to the Bill. He did not think the Castle of Dublin could be safely entrusted with an unlimited discretion over the liberty of the people of Ireland. The only thing established by the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) was, that the system by which Ireland had been governed, had utterly and lamentably failed; and it was in consequence of that failure that the House was called upon to confer this absolute discretion on the Lord Lieutenant. When the right hon. Baronet had acknowledged the failure of that system, it might have been concluded that he had made up his mind to retrace his steps, and make the common law of this realm, and of Ireland, a light to his footsteps; but although he admitted that the statutes for the repression of crime in Ireland had utterly failed, his conclusion was that there should be more statutes. He abhorred, as much as any one could, the crimes that had been committed in Ireland; and he did not understand what right any Member of that House had to address those opposed to the Bill in terms implying an imputation of a most degrading and insulting kind. He believed the present measure was utterly useless for the repression of crime in Ireland, and would be effectual only for the introduction of a state of things scarcely inferior in its mischievous character to that state of things which the proposed Bill was designed to remedy. He should be the last person to deny the great merit of Lord Clarendon; but he did not think it right to hare the country placed at the absolute discretion of any man. There was no public man in whose integrity and ability he had more confidence than in the right hon. Baronet; but that consideration would not for a moment affect his determination to oppose a Bill which would invest him, after all—for the Lord Lieutenant was only his delegate—with absolute power over Ireland. This Bill had been framed in England and upon English advice, and did not come recommended to the House by a sin- 942 gle suffrage or suggestion from the other side of the Channel. Had the Bill proposed that the magistrates should be empowered to grant the use of arms to such as paid taxes and poor-rates, he might have been prepared to support it. But it prohibited all persons whatsoever (with the exception of a few privileged persons enumerated in the Bill) however high or low, however loyal or disloyal they might be, from having or using firearms for self-defence against nocturnal or mid-day violence. And whilst it proposed to deprive the subjects of Her Majesty in Ireland of the privileges which they ought to enjoy according to the common law of the empire, it also seemed to cast reproach upon the gentry and magistrates of Ireland, for it provided that the power of licensing should not be exercised by the local magistrates, but should be confined to those whom the Lord Lieutenant, residing in Dublin Castle, chose to delegate. He had heard the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Dudley Stuart), and other hon. Members state that if the Bill did not meet the views of the Irish representatives, they were bound to produce a better measure in its stead. He could not say that he saw the force of that argument. He thought, that if the Legislature was determined on destroying all independent jurisdiction within the kingdom of Ireland—if they were resolved, in their superior wisdom, to prevent Irishmen from having the management of their own affairs—if they would think, speak, and act for Ireland, they must at all events be prepared to accept the full responsibility of their thoughts, words, and actions, and were not entitled to call upon those who told them that failure would be the result of their present measure, to state what they would have done had they been in the place of Her Majesty's Ministers. But he had no hesitation to answer the objections of hon. Members who supported this Bill, by stating his conviction that all the evils under which Ireland, and he might also add England, at present groaned, were owing exclusively to our departure from the common law. He wished the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department would proceed in the repression of crime upon the old principle of local responsibility for local crime; and that he would impose upon a district, within which a murder had been committed without the murderer having been discovered, the burden of providing for the 943 family of the deceased. The people under such a system would do all in their power to drive the ill-disposed and the outlaw from their borders. He called upon the Government to carry into effect the wise proposition of their late Sovereign. The members of the Melbourne Administration knew well what he meant. He alluded to that wise proposition of King William IV., which he had devised for the good of England, and which they intercepted. Let them establish that system of rural municipalities recommended by the late King, so that the usurpations of the Legislature might be abolished one by one, and the common law, the first departure from which was the first commencement of crime, might be fully re-established. If they did that, they would give the people of Ireland an interest in the repression of crime, and the preservation of order. The administration of justice would then cease to be considered, as it was now in that country, a foreign function; the Irish people would not then be governed by a suspected Treasury and a distrusted Executive. They would then see realised in Ireland that which had been recently realised in some of the districts of British India, where agrarian injustice having been put an end to, agrarian outrages also ceased, and the country was restored to tranquillity. The present system of centralisation was the great cause of the evils of Ireland. He objected to this Bill on principle, but he would refrain as much as possible from trespassing upon the House during its progress. He had not as yet opposed that progress with any factious opposition. To meet any Bill with such a course was at all times a difficult and delicate matter, and could only be authorised by the concurrence of various circumstances: that was to say, first, an indisposition upon the part of the House to listen to the arguments that might be brought forward against it; secondly, the existence out of doors of a decided opposition to the measure on the part of a large body of the peodle; and, thirdly, the presence within that House of a compact and united minority. Now, with regard to the first circumstance, he could not say that there had been an unwillingness on the part of the House to listen to the opponents of the measure. As to the second, he regretted the absence of that strong and enlightened opposition to the measure out of doors which might have been expected; and, as to the third, the existence of unity of action on the part 944 of the minority, the less he said on that perhaps the better.
§ MR. P. SCROPE
could not agree with those hon. Gentlemen who, in opposing the Bill, had thrown out strong imputations against the Government for bringing in this Bill, because they had on former occasions opposed measures of coercion towards Ireland. From 1833, when he first had the honour of a seat in that House, he had opposed coercion, because he thought it was not a proper mode of legislation, and that instead of using severe means they should search out and remove the causes of those evils. But the present Bill seemed to him introduced under circumstances and to be a character totally different. There had been Governments that not only ignored but denied the existence of the evils of Ireland; but a change had come over public opinion since those days, and there was now a general belief that the misery and crimes of the peasantry arose from the uncertainty of the tenure, and from the uncertainty whether they could reap their crops or derive any advantage from their labour. He would just read what the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government said in his speech on June 15, when opposing the second reading of the Coercion Bill of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth:—The possession of land in Ireland is that which makes the difference between the existence and starvation of the peasantry; and therefore their ejectment from their holdings is the cause of violence and crime in Ireland.It was not possible to express the cause of these evils more clearly. The noble Lord went on to infer that this state of things must be put an end to by passing measures to increase the means of subsistence, and to place the land more within the reach of the Irish peasantry. In pursuance of that policy, and of the course to which he was pledged, he had introduced and carried that great act of justice, of mercy to the Irish peasantry, which might be denominated the Magna Charta of the Irish people, for it gave the solemn sanction of the Parliament and the nation to the principle that no man should for the future die of starvation in Ireland, without the responsibility resting on the Government of the country. He regretted extremely that a measure introduced last year, which might be considered one of the series for placing at the disposal of the peasantry those large portions of land which were now locked up by the landlords, in the exercise of their 945 dog-in-the-manger policy, had not been successfully carried out, and looked with expectation to measures of a similar character from the Government of the noble Lord. On one of those promised by the noble Lord—namely, that with respect to the relations between landlord and tenant—he set the highest possible value; for he believed that to the absence of security of tenure, and to the uneasy feeling which thence arose in the minds of the people, might be traced the origin of all those crimes and disturbances which agitated the country. He was convinced the noble Lord had arrived at the true opinion on this point, and that the House agreed with him; but he doubted very much whether the public out of doors had reached the same degree of enlightenment, and he had heard statements and assertions which confirmed him in the belief that erroneous impressions existed on this subject. It had been said that outrages in Ireland were confined to a very few districts, but he begged the House and the country not to lay that "flattering unction to their souls." The system had been going on for the last sixty or seventy years, and though its effects were for the time confined to particular districts, these were but the local eruptions of a deep-seated, long-continued, and widely-spread general disease. The constabulary returns of the number of agrarian outrages in 1845, presented to the House in 1846, would prove this, for on looking to it he found there was hardly a county in Ireland in which cases of the kind not prevail, from 6 or 8 in Antrim and Armagh, to 154 in Clare, 72 in Limerick, 74 in Leitrim, and 253 in Tipperary. The cause of the greater amount of disturbances in Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary, was, that the soil, being for the most part of an alluvial character, was suited for pasturage, and that the landlords therefore endeavoured to diminish the numbers of the peasantry upon it. There had been thus a constant struggle going on for years between the people, anxious to obtain arable land, and the landlords, who were desirous of turning it into pasture; or, as it might be described in other words, a contest between men and women, and bullocks and sheep, for the possession of the soil. Tenant-right existed in Antrim and Armagh, and therefore the number of agrarian outrages in those counties was less than in Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary, where, in the last particularly, it had been frequently 946 denied, and where ejectments were very frequent. He could not but quote to the House on this point the evidence of Mr. Cahill before the Devon Commission, a gentleman who, as Crown prosecutor in Tipperary, had peculiar opportunities of knowing the exact state of the case. He said—I am perfectly convinced that there is no agrarian outrage committed but that the inhabitants about know all the circumstances and the parties concerned.To what do you attribute that indisposition; is it to terror or any other cause?—In some degree to terror, but there is an actual indisposition on the part of the people to give evidence. They believe that their own interests are bound up in the cause of the parties committing these murders, and any party giving evidence against them is looked upon as an enemy to the general class to which he belongs.Do you conceive that undue protection is given to the parties engaged in these outrages?—My impression is that the occupiers of land—farmers and small tenants—will all receive a man that they know to have been guilty of a crime of that description, and that they will harbour him and protect him, and he is, in point of fact, looked upon as a better man than another because he has put down what they call a tyrant. He is sure of being received wherever he goes, and has the character of what they call a 'good boy.'Another witness, equally worthy, whose evidence went to the same effect, was Mr. Maurice Collis, who had been engaged as agent to the estates of Trinity College, Dublin, and was for a long time engaged in compiling statistical returns. That gentleman said—I went among the people in Tipperary, and when I told them the very bad name their county had in every part of Ireland—that I should be shortly in the north, and that I would scarcely be credited when I mentioned that I trusted myself amongst them, a total stranger, and that too on inquiries about their lands, at such a late hour—the reply was, that there was no danger, but that they would not be ground down by any landlord or agent, and that if in other places persons acted in the same way, perhaps they might fare better. I asked about the plan adopted when leases fell in, or in cases of ejectment, emigration, &c. &c.; the answer was, no compensation or consideration. I stated the general system in the north; and when I related cases where the tenants were ejected for non-payment of rent, and that when the new tenant came in, he would not get the farm, nor in many cases would he take it, without purchasing the tenant's right, and any balance which remained, after deducting the arrears, was handed over to the former tenant, and unless the arrears were very great, he had generally to receive a handsome sum; they said, if such a practice was adopted in Tipperary, there would be but few murders; and if the same practice was in the north amongst landlords and agents as in their county, they might be worse. I turned to one man in particular, and said to him, 'You are not oppressed by 947 your landlord, yet you encourage that observation by your manner, and yet you well know you could not turn off any one of your cottiers, which I noted down a few minutes since, except at the risk of your life.' His reply was, he did not know the day he or some of his friends or relations might be ejected. They then mentioned the names and circumstances of several tenants in their neighbourhood who were lately served with ejectments, and they asked me what were these men to do.Did they say anything about the landlord?—They did; from the statements made, I said something about his being shot. They said he had been fired at three times; and when I said I thought Tipperary boys were better marksmen, some person in the crowd said he would get it yet.Did you gather from that conversation with them that what they seemed to consider as a most unjust practice towards them, was ejecting them from lands on the expiration of their leases?—Yes, that was the thing they dwelt on. It is considered a barbarous act on the part of the landlord, and an equally meritorious act on the part of the tenant to revenge it. And, as they express themselves, they and their fathers before them toiled on the land, they knew every sod of it, they paid the full value of it, and were still willing to do so; but no men could stand and see themselves turned destitute and houseless on the world. In no observation made did I collect anything like an objection to pay the full value, or more than the full value of the land.It appears that the very farmers were afraid of turning off their labourers, lest violence should be offered to themselves, or to those who were newly employed by them. All these facts tended to show that a state of things existed in these counties contrary to civilisation and to every principle of human nature and of feeling. He admitted that the excuse resulting from starvation had been put an end to by the law passed last year; but the whole class of small holders, forming the middle classes of. Ireland, were exposed to be ejected from their holdings, turned out to utter destitution, and have no other refuge but the workhouse, or such other provision as was afforded by that law, of which they had as yet had no experience, and which, if not carried out more humanely than before, would not rescue them from the extremities of starvation. It was said that the present crimes were different from those committed on former occasions. He believed their number was not greater, though perhaps the attacks had been made on a somewhat higher class. But let the House recollect the circumstances in which Ireland was now placed. Last year, from 500,000 to 1,000,000 of persons died of want. Was not this enough to increase the dread of the survivors at the present moment, and to induce them to grasp with 948 still more desperation than before the sole source of subsistence they possessed—the occupation of a small portion of land? It would appear to him a miracle that the rental of Ireland should be collected in the present year, and enough left for the population to subsist upon. The whole system seemed hitherto to have rested upon the potato; when that was destroyed, he did not see how it was possible for them to find subsistence for themselves and their families. The rents were formerly paid out of the potato crop; when that was destroyed, whence was the rent to come? Yet the rents which had been fixed in former years still remained due. The value of the destroyed potato crop was about 16,000,000l.—equal to the presumed rental of Ireland. This would necessitate the purchase of food to a great extent; and having nothing from which to provide means of living, how were they to make up the rent due by them? It should be remembered, that the effect of the poor-law passed last Session was, to a certain extent, to induce landlords to proceed more rapidly than ever in the clearance of their estates, and got rid of the class of small tenants under 4l. a year, whose rates were payable by the landlord. The hon. Member for Tavistock said, the only hope for Ireland was the wholesale and universal clearance of small estates. Earl Fitzwilliam said, that the great evil was the existence of 7,000,000 cottiers, occupying small tracts of land with their cottages, and that this was an evil which the State ought to proceed to remove as speedily as possible; that was, to remove the only means of existence of 7,000,000 of the population. That, no doubt, was an exaggeration; but the number of occupiers of land under ten acres was 600,000, and the population represented by them, 3,000,000 or 4,000,000. When men of authority and influence were heard in high places using such language as that, and speaking so lightly of the possibility of getting rid of small occupiers, removing them from the only moans of existence at present in their possession, or which they could hope to possess other than the workhouse, he really thought they needed not to look further than that for the cause of the extraordinary increase of alarm which was evident in the minds of the peasantry of Ireland—alarm at the prospect of being turned out of their holdings, and sent to utter destitution. He had said enough to justify his opinion that the 949 insecurity of tenure was the cause of those outrages. It was not only the cause of agrarian outrages, but of the other evils which existed in Ireland. What were the most prominent evils afflicting that country? The want of industry in the peasantry, and, at the same time, the miserable state of cultivation prevailing. These evils were to be referred to the same cause. The peasantry did not exert themselves, because they were not allowed to reap the fruits of their labour; therefore Ireland did not produce one-fourth of what it might produce. It was notorious that when a small farmer took a tract of land, land brought it by the sweat of his brow into a state to produce profitable returns, in many instances the landlord or his agent came down upon it, and made him pay an increased rent for the farm, thus appropriating all the increased produce which could be grown by his exertions. If a single instance of that kind occurred in a district, of course it indisposed all the peasants to make improvements, in their anxiety lest they might be made to pay a double rent. Hence it was, that if they made a little money, they laid it in a bag in the corner of their house, and refused to make any improvements, which it would be easy to effect from one end of Ireland to the other. He might produce instances from Tipperary and other parts of Ireland of the rent being doubled the very first year. The great evil was the refusal to give encouragement to the peasantry to improve the land, on which otherwise they would be glad to spend their labour. The remedy, therefore, was to give them security of tenure, and, in the words of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) last year, "to place more at the disposal of the peasantry of Ireland the land which it was so great an object of desire with them to possess." That pointed to a better law of tenure, and a measure he had long advocated—the placing the waste lands at their disposal. He could prove that there was not a single district in Ireland, not the most distressed that had been named, which could not be made to maintain its population, if proper means were adopted to encourage their industry. He might mention one case which furnished a curious instance of this. Last Session a Committee was appointed in the other House to examine the question of removing a large proportion of the population of Ireland to the colonies. It seemed to be the object of the noble Lord who presided to make 950 out a case that Ireland was not able to support its population, and, consequently, that emigration was absolutely necessary. Questions were asked of several witnesses as to a union which was represented to afford the most striking example of a surplus population—that of Glenties, in Donegal, with a population of 43,000 souls, and a rental of only 16,000l. a year. Of course, putting the case thus, those who were not acquainted with the circumstances said there could be only one remedy—emigration. That was an instance of a fallacy very common, that of judging the means of Ireland for supporting its population by the rental which was now taken from the country; whereas the very fact of a low rental proved that its resources were not half developed, and the rental might be doubled if a proper use were made of them. Father Mathew was examined on the point, and stated that he knew Glenties well; that there was no district in Ireland which presented such resources for the employment of the labouring population; that there were many thousands of acres of waste land in the neighbourhood which might be made extremely profitable for the maintenance of the people, and that the farmers told him the cost of reclaiming it was 8l. an acre less than the value of the crop which might be raised from it; but that if they reclaimed it, they had no security against being turned out of their farms directly. He might refer to many other instances to show how the insecurity of their tenure operated. Mayo was capable of maintaining in comfort and happiness the whole of its now miserable population. There were in that county 1,200,000 acres, of which only 500,000 were in cultivation; and 500,000 of the waste had been declared by Mr. Griffiths to be capable of profitable cultivation. These were the grounds on which he believed that nothing more was wanting to remedy the miserable condition of the tenantry—the uncertainty of their condition—which led to agrarian outrages, and the poverty of the country, than placing at the disposal of the peasantry some of those lands at present lying waste. This would enable the population to live without coming on the resources of England. The hon. Gentleman quoted, in support of his views, a letter of the late Mr. Drummond. It was for the Government and the Legislature to interfere to limit and define the rights of the landlords, and enable the tenantry to carry on the 951 cultivation of their native soil in such a manner as to obtain subsistence for their industry, without being detruded from the surface of the land, and driven over, as they must otherwise be, to this country, in numbers far exceeding those of last year. He was not opposing the measures of Her Majesty's Government; his only object was to press on Government and Parliament the necessity of taking the most vigorous, prompt, and determined means of putting an end to those crimes which were so deeply to be deplored.
§ MR. SCULLY
said, that though no one attempted to deny that crime and outrage prevailed to a great extent in Ireland, he felt bound to state that in Tipperary crime was restricted within small districts. The condition of that county had often been alluded to in the debate; and on a former occasion the hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall) had noticed with some severity the language which had been used by a Roman Catholic clergyman at a public meeting in that county. At that meeting he had been a spectator, a prominent spectator, and he could state upon his conscience that the effect of the speech—the whole speech—upon him, was, that it was intended to repress outrage and crime. The words were not, perhaps, such as he himself should have used, had he spoken on the occasion; but he must again state that the substance of the speech, as delivered, was such as led to the impression that its object was the repression of crime. With respect to the Bill before the House, he must say that he did not think it would be effectual for the suppression of crime. He thought that the vigorous application of the ordinary law would have effected all the objects contemplated by this Bill. He had read in a newspaper published in the county which he had the honour to represent, that the number of criminals in the gaol of the county town (Clonmel) was 350, and that of those 19 were cases of murder. Why, he asked, should not a special commission be sent down for the trial of these men? Why could they not adopt a course similar to that which they pursued when disturbances occurred in Wales, in 1843? From the evidence given before the Devon Commission, it fully appeared that these outrages were generally connected with questions relating to the occupation of land. It was their duty, then, in the first instance, to root out the cause of crime. One of the great difficulties in 952 the way of bringing offenders to justice, was the impossibility of procuring evidence, arising from the sympathy of the peasantry with the criminal. Glass legislation had produced much evil in Ireland. Among the landlords, however, were many who had done their duty; but one bad landlord often was the cause of the good landlord being made to suffer. There were two matters mentioned in the report of Lord Devon's Commission, to which the disorganisation of the social condition of the lower classes in Ireland had been chiefly attributed—namely, the want of education, and the want of employment of the people. And there was very little doubt but that the evil of the existing state of things in that country had been much aggravated by those two causes. What greater inducements could there he to the perpetration of crime than ignorance and idleness. The hon. Member who had last addressed the House had drawn a melancholy but a too faithful picture of the condition of that country. With the knowledge, then, which the House possessed of the evils resulting from the ill-regulated relations between landlord and tenant, the want of enlightenment, and the absence of productive or profitable labour, ought not the attention of the Legislature in the first instance to be mainly devoted to those questions? With respect to the proposed Bill, he was not averse to such a provision as that which was made in the first clause, for the granting of licences to possess arms. But with respect to those provisions for the expenses of the increased constabulary force which might be appointed, he thought these were in some degree unjust, as by them the innocent would be made to pay for the crimes of the guilty. He considered the punishment also which was attached to some of the offences created by the Bill was excessive; and he objected to the great powers which were placed in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant. Such powers might, perhaps, be safely entrusted to such a nobleman as the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; but who could tell how soon they might devolve upon an individual not capable of exercising them with so much moderation and judgment. The power, too, which it placed in the hands of the police he considered objectionable; however, generally, that body might be accounted as discreet and excellent a force as ever carried arms. It behoved the Legislature, therefore, to be 953 cautious in entrusting such extraordinary powers as those given by the proposed measure to parties who might, perhaps, abuse them. He would not offer any further opposition to the Bill going into Committee, but would reserve to himself the right of amending such parts of it in detail as seemed to him objectionable.
§ MR. O'FLAHERTY
agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that it would not be attended with any good practical result to offer any further opposition to the Motion for going into Committee on the Bill. For his own part, he did not think the Bill would remedy the evils it was intended to meet. He concurred in the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. P. Scrope) that those evils were deeply rooted, and he thought that legislation should at once, and in the first instance, be directed towards the settlement of the relations between landlord and tenant in that country; and a measure of such a kind would do more towards producing peace and tranquillity in Ireland than such a Bill as the present. He approved of the poor-law in Ireland; and he thought, with a few amendments, that it might be made to work very beneficially. He thought it would be advantageous, for instance, to confine to the respective town-lands the poor of each, and then a good man would not be obliged to bear the expense caused by a neighbour's delinquencies or defalcations in his duty.
§ MR. O'CONNOR
would not have intruded upon the attention of the House, but for something which had fallen from the hon. and gallant Colonel the Member for Armagh (Sir W. Verner), and from the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. P. Scrope). The observations of the former hon. and gallant Member must have made the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir G. Grey), pray to God to defend him from his friends. He thought that the hon. Member for Stroud's speech, however, furnished the strongest possible reasons why remedial measures should be introduced for Ireland instead of coercive ones. That the landlords of Ireland would use the powers of the proposed Bill to screw out higher rents from their unfortunate tenantry, he very much feared. But he believed they would have been in Committee then upon the Bill but for the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh—a speech which proved that the hon. and gallant Member was not a judicious counsel, for he should have held 954 his peace when he found the court was with him. It had been said that there was no expression of public feeling in this country against the proposed Bill. Now that he (Mr. O'Connor) denied, for had he not presented a petition, most numerously signed, against it? For his own part, he was opposed to the Bill, because it was a direct violation of the principles of the British constitution; and, more than all, because it was unaccompanied by remedial measures. He thought the existing law was sufficiently severe. It appeared to him, seeing that so many hon. Gentlemen opposite who might be expected to speak on this question, were silent on the subject, that the Government must have mesmerised or electrified, or used some mysterious influence of that sort over them, to keep them from expressing their opinions on the present measure.
§ MR. REYNOLDS
was not one of those hon. Members who had been mesmerised, and as he had voted against the Bill in all its stages, he begged to throw himself on the indulgence of the House, while he briefly explained the motives by which he was influenced in the course which he had pursued. He did not intend to offer any factious opposition to the Bill. He had not been sent to that House for factious objects; and, therefore, he would not object to the Bill going into Committee, where he hoped it might be improved as much as possible. He had to express his deep regret, however, that the Government had at all introduced that Bill. He was opposed to the Bill both on constitutional grounds and because of its inutility. Let him remind the House that since the time of the Union of the two countries the Imperial Legislature had passed no less than about thirty Coercion Bills for Ireland. Every year brought its Coercion Bill as regular as any annual enactment. It had been said that the present was a comparatively mild measure. Now, he did not think it was such a milk-and-water measure as the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Home Department had described it, for in its 17th Clause, for instance, it enacted the incorporation with itself of one or two former Coercion Bills, the provisions of which it would have been well to have set forth. But even in introducing this measure the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) had acknowledged that crime in Ireland had considerably diminished in the present year of 1847, as compared with the preceding one of 1846. 955 The crimes of the Irish aristocracy against the Irish people were so notorious that he doubted very much whether any person who denied their existence would be believed; although he freely admitted that there were in Ireland some landlords who for benevolence and kindly feeling might bear a comparison with the best landlords of this country. But he did not mean to say that the landlords were the only oppressors of the poor of Ireland. He believed that there were many more oppressors of the poor of that country clothed in frieze than clothed in broad cloth. He believed that the most unrelenting enemies of the Irish poor were the members of the class immediately above them; and he was not surprised to find that a portion, at least, of that class were in favour of the Bill before the House. He would vote against this Bill, because he believed it would be inoperative for the punishment of the guilty, while it contained provisions that would enable those who had the administration of the law to inculpate the innocent. It had not been found necessary to suspend the constitution in England when the insurrection under Frost and Jones took place in Wales—an act amounting to high treason; nor was the constitution suspended in the case of the Rebecca riots in Wales, or the disturbances in the North in 1842. In all those cases the ordinary law was found sufficient, the only extraordinary steps taken by Government being the appointment of special commissioners to meet the various cases. The same course was followed when the Terry Alt disturbances occurred in Ireland, and also when the Queen's County and Kilkenny county were in a disturbed state. Then why was a special commission not tried now? The House had been informed by an hon. Member that 300 prisoners were lying in Tipperary awaiting trial. Could not a special commission be appointed for the trial of those prisoners? He was satisfied that such a course would have a better effect than a dozen Coercion Bills. He opposed the Bill also because it would encourage the spy system, which would be a great cause of increasing crime in Ireland. It would, in fact, be holding out a premium not for the prevention, but the encouragement of crime. The 12th Clause of the Bill would not possess the negative merit of being inoperative of evil. He feared that it would be productive of very great mischief, inasmuch as that it would promote such infa- 956 mous occurrences as the conspiracies of Shinrone and Doneraile, and afford a fatal facility for the diabolical operations of those miscreants whose object it was to spread disunion through the country, and to distribute the money which that House entrusted to the Executive Government for the administration of justice in a deliberate attempt, not to prevent crime, but to foster and encourage it. While on the subject of blood-money, he would take occasion to express his conviction that until the Government came to the determination of never again devoting one penny of the public money to such a purpose, they might expect to have from year to year an abundant crop of agrarian crime and outrage in Ireland. That department of the police system which was known as the detective force, was, in his opinion, the very nursery and hotbed of crime. It was his conscientious conviction that it was an atrocious system—an execrable and infamous system, and he would never hesitate to declare his unqualified abhorence of it. The principle of the British constitution was, that it was better that ninety-nine guilty men should escape, than that one innocent man should suffer; but the principle of the detective system was, that the immolation of ninety-nine innocent men was as nothing compared with the punishment of a single offender. No country could be free, happy, or contented where the blood-money system prevailed. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department made in the speech with which he introduced the present measure, a grave and solemn allusion to the frequency of the offence of writing threatening letters. Documents of that menacing character he (Mr. Reynolds) had himself occasionally received; but he invariably had found that their style of composition was admirable, and that the handwriting was better still—a fact which favoured the supposition that they had been penned by persons of greater intelligence, and in a higher sphere of life than the peasant population. He would take leave to warn the right hon. Baronet against attaching too great importance to such communications. Ten to one they were written by some officer of police. Why, such things had occurred before now—witness Doneraile and Shinrone—and why should they not again? Nothing in life was easier than to get up a manufactory of such letters. At all events, it was grossly unjust to malign the whole character of the Irish people on 957 account of such proceedings. With respect to the Bill itself, he was not sanguine enough to believe that any exertions of his, or of the minority with whom he acted, could bring about its defeat. Unfortunately its fate was inevitable. He saw clearly enough from the temper of the House that the Bill would pass, not in all its integrity—for it would be ludicrous to couple the word with such a measure—but in all its native deformity. He had no doubt but that even a more severe measure would be sure to receive the assent of the House. He had heard one hon. Gentleman, of a peculiarly beneficent turn of mind, observe, that if the task of drawing up a Coercion Bill for Ireland had been assigned to him he would have concentrated in one measure the accumulated virus of every other Coercion Bill that had ever passed, and presented the Irish people with the very essence of coercion. If the present Bill were likely to confer any permanent benefit on Ireland, he would not resist it; but he believed in his conscience it would have no such effect. It would not disarm the marauder or murderer; but it would leave the well-meaning farmer or gentleman at the mercy of the murderer, who if he could not get arms by peaceable means, would procure them on any terms. If the Government had come forward and proposed to define what classes in Ireland should be permitted the use of arms, he would have voted with them. He would willingly give his sanction to a law to enact that no man in Ireland should be permitted to keep arms, unless a man rated to the relief of the poor. He did not see the benefit of giving arms to a man unless he had a dwelling to protect. After fixing the qualification at 5l., he would enact that no man should be permitted to carry arms beyond the precincts of his farm or property, unless he were licensed to kill game; and he would make it a misdemeanor for any man to carry arms, unless expressly privileged, at night. He was of opinion that the Government were wrong in not having applied a legislative remedy to the undue possession of arms before now. The present measure ought at least to have been accompanied by some remedial enactments. When he received a summons to attend in that House, on the 18th of last month, he had hoped that his presence had been required to assist in preparing some such measure, but he had been grievously disappointed. A Landlord and Tenant Bill, a Bill to facilitate 958 the sale of encumbered estates, and a Bill to revise the grand jury laws, had all been promised, and would all be excellent in their way; but not one of them would afford any immediate relief for destitution in Ireland. He repudiated the intention of begging money for his countrymen in that House. If his country got fair play, and were wisely and honestly governed, she would be well able to support her own poor. Last night he had heard a noble Lord speak of the quantity of money voted for the relief of Irish distress. He held in his hand a Parliamentary paper containing the particulars, and he found certainly a very large sum voted for that purpose. He found an amount of 10,942,000l. voted, of which 7,815,000l. had been expended. Of this he might say that 3,500,000l. were in the nature of a grant, and the remainder in the nature of a loan. He had heard much said of the liberality of England, and no man entertained a more exaggerated, notion of that liberality than he did. He had the honour of reckoning many Englishmen amongst his most steadfast friends; but anything might be exaggerated, and so might English liberality. It must not be forgotten that the sum voted was to come out of the Consolidated Fund, to which the people of Ireland and Scotland contributed, and therefore the sum of which they made a present to Ireland was partly chargeable on herself, and the enormous balance was chargeable upon Irish lands and railroads, and very properly so. He was by no means prepared to rob the English Exchequer, or encroach on the revenues of any part of the United Kingdom; but it had been admitted that the potato failure was an imperial calamity, and that it should be borne by the imperial resources. Had that promise been kept? It had not. If so, the whole sum ought to be debited to the Consolidated Fund. He was not now casting any blame on the collective wisdom, but merely wished to dispel the illusion that England had made Ireland a present of 10,000,000l. England had made Ireland a present of 3,500,000l. or 4,000,000l. [Mr. B. COCHRANE: What did the British Association do?] He was asked what the British Association had done. He answered with pleasure that they had contributed a very large sum. The British Association had done towards his country what the British people always had done in a time of calamity—they had opened their purses. He was glad that he had been asked the question, because it en- 959 abled him to answer it there as he had answered it elsewhere. Any influence which he might enjoy among his fellow-countrymen he had invariably used for the purpose of impressing on their minds that, in the hour of calamity, when it had pleased the Almighty to visit them with famine and pestilence, their best and stanchest friends were the people of England. He hoped he had satisfied the hon. Member. [Mr. B. COCHRANE: Hear, hear!] He trusted also that he should have the benefit of his vote and assistance when measures of amelioration and substantial benefit should be introduced for the relief of the people of Ireland in that House. He was no advocate of violence to any one; but when his countrymen, as a body, were branded as assassins and murderers, he must not be surprised if a shout of defiance was echoed from the rock of Cashel. He trusted all would combine to neutralise those feelings of bitterness which had proved the bane of his country. He regretted to observe a disposition to indulge in strong expressions against the people, to screen the landlords, who, in his opinion, were the cause of that misgovernment to which might be traced the agrarian outrages which had disgraced Ireland; and he acknowledged with regret that the oppressions of the landlords and the murders which had followed, might be placed in the relation of cause and effect. The robbery of the hon. Member for Bolton, in Wales, had been referred to, on which occasion it was said the people had lent their willing assistance to secure the criminals; and it had been asked if the same thing could have happened in Ireland. The same thing had happened in Ireland, he would show. Mr. Pryme, a pay clerk of the Board of Works, was travelling in a jaunting car from Kilkenny to a place called Bennett's Bridge, when he was attacked by highway robbers, who fired at him and his party. The encounter ended in the robbery and murder of Mr. Pryme. How did the people act? They assisted the authorities in pursuing the murderers, who were taken, convicted, and executed. He had been in the habit of travelling with large sums of money in all parts of Ireland for eight years past; and although this fact was known to the people, he had never been attacked or molested. This was a proof that crime in Ireland was of an exclusively agrarian character. He repeated that it was not his intention to offer any factious opposition to the Bill. He threw all the responsibility on the Government. 960 If the Bill was to pass, it mattered little whether it became law on the 1st of January or on the 1st of May. If it were a good Bill, the sooner it passed the better. He believed it to be a bad Bill; and if it were a bad Bill, and likely to work ill, the sooner it passed the better, because the sooner would his prophecy be realised.
§ COLONEL ACTON
regretted the delay which had been interposed to going into Committee. He hoped that the Bill would have the desired effect, though he greatly feared that it would fall short in consequence of the intimidation of juries. He believed that juries would be always ready to do their duty if they could do so with safety: but he had conversed with many who told him they were apprehensive that they would not be able to do so under the threats to which they were subjected.
§ House in Committee.
§ On the 1st Clause,
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
complained that this clause was at variance with the statement made by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department in introducing the Bill, who professed an intention of confining its compulsory provisions to those districts in which outrage prevailed. The effect of the clause, as it stood, would be to subject, at the pleasure of one man, the most peaceable districts in Ireland, where crime and outrage had been unknown within the memory of man, to all the pains and penalties contained in the Bill. He moved an Amendment to insert words limiting the operation of the Bill to those districts in which crime and outrage had occurred.
§ MR. R. M. FOX
objected to the clause, because he conceived it was so partial in its operation that it would tend to extend crime instead of preventing it. He begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he had taken this subject into consideration, and whether he had in contemplation any measure for preventing the extension of crime into those districts that are now peaceable?
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
remarked, that the object of the Bill was to lessen the facilities which now exist for the commission of crime, and to lead to the detection of those who are guilty of crime. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick had said, that on getting leave to introduce the Bill, it was stated that it should have but a partial application; but he (Sir George Grey) remembered that he distinctly stated that the partial application 961 might be extended to any part of Ireland in which, in the opinion of the Lord Lieutenant and the Privy Council, the Bill ought to be enforced. With regard to the observations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Longford, he (Sir G. Grey) did certainly hope that the commission of crime did not arise from the mere sanguinary wish to take away life. He considered there might be causes which led to the commission of those crimes in some parts of Ireland that were not in operation in other parts of the country; but if the crime extended to those districts where such causes did not prevail, no measure could be too severe to put down such a system.
§ MR. FOX
believed, as had been observed on a previous night by the hon. Member for Mayo, that in general those crimes were committed by persons who were not under the control of any authority; he considered that they would emigrate, when they found it expedient, to other districts, and could be had in many instances for purchasing them.
§ The Committee divided on the question that the words be inserted:—Ayes 4; Noes 203: Majority 199.
|List of the AYES.|
|Meagher, T.||O'Connor, F.|
|O'Brien, T.||Reynolds, J.|
|O'Connell, J.||O'Connell, M. J.|
§ [It seems unnecessary to insert the Noes.]
§ Remaining clauses of the Bill agreed to.
§ MR. BAINES
then proposed the clause, of which he had given notice, to the effect that accessaries after the fact to murder and attempt to murder may be tried and punished, although the principals may not have been convicted or taken. The hon. and learned Member explained that there was no defect in the law as it stood with respect to accessaries before the fact; for, by the 9th of George IV. they were liable to be convicted, although the principal might not have been convicted or taken. Up to that time an accessary before the fact could in no ease be convicted, unless the principal was rendered amenable to justice. If, therefore, a murderer had escaped, the accessary before the fact could not be touched. The House would scarcely believe that when that defect in the law was remedied as regarded accessaries before the fact, the same defect was suffered to remain with respect to accessaries after the fact, so that now if a principal were not forthcoming for trial, you could not 962 touch a hair of the head of an accessary after the fact, and by the law he would literally go scot free. He conceived this point of great importance as regarded Ireland, where there was a general sympathy with offenders, and an inclination to screen them from justice, and he trusted the Government would embrace the opportunity of removing so serious a defect from the law both of England and Ireland.
§ Clause brought up and read a first time.
§ On the question that it be read a second time,
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
considered the country was greatly obliged to the hon. and learned Member for the introduction of the clause. He had not intended to give any kind of support to Her Majesty's Ministers in this Bill, which he considered one of the most milk-and-water and cowardly Bills ever introduced to the notice of that House; but his resolution had been changed from reflecting on the necessity of seeking out and punishing accessaries after the fact of murder. He thought some measure ought to be devised to reach those gentlemen in soft raiment who preached peace, but who had anything but peace in their hearts. He had no hesitation in saying that when men were denounced from the altar, let those who denounced them be hung—or let them be transported for life. He thought that the clause proposed would be of great value to this Bill. Unless a measure ten times more coercive were adopted, the state of Ireland would be ten times worse than it was.
§ Clause read a second time, and ordered to be added to the Bill.
§ House resumed.
§ Report to be received to-morrow.
§ House adjourned at One o'clock.