HC Deb 10 August 1860 vol 160 cc1139-53

Order for Second Reading read.


moved the second reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he would propose that the Bill should be read a second time on that day three months. He submitted that no grounds existed for asking for the strong repressive powers which this measure would confer on the Government. They had the evidence of the Prime Minister himself, and of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that the people of Ireland were well affected. He admitted there had been times in Ireland when, owing to misgovernment, it was necessary that the Executive should be armed with stringent repressive powers; hut, although the misgovernment still remained, the diminution of crime and the absence of outrage rendered quite unjustifiable the proposal to renew the obnoxious Act of 1856. In short, there was no country in Europe in which the records of crime were so small as in Ireland, and in support of the statement he referred to the addresses delivered in various counties by the Judges of assize during the late circuits in Ireland. He quoted the addresses of the Judges to the Grand Juries in Monaghan, Roscommon, Clare, Meath, Limerick, Wexford, King's County, Westmeath, Down, Wicklow, Leitrim, and Waterford. In all those places the Judges congratulated the Grand Juries on the lightness of the calendars. Under these circumstances, it was a strange proceeding on the part of the Government to ask for repressive powers from Parliament.


seconded the Amendment.

Notice taken that Forty Members were not present: House counted; and Forty Members being present,

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


submitted that it was impolitic on the part of the Government to press this measure, because by doing so they would give the people of Ireland to understand that they had no claim upon their affection, and could not trust them.


said, he wished to ask why the Bill was brought forward, because, as far as his information went, there was no necessity whatever for it. In every county in Ireland the Judges had congratulated the Grand Juries on the absence of crime and the great contentment of the people, and he was, therefore, astonished at a measure which, as far as Ireland was concerned, suspended the British Constitution. Moreover, the Act itself was totally unintelligible. It vested powers in the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland of a most objectionable character. Not only had he the power of transferring forces—police and military—from one place to another, whenever in his judgment he deemed the peace to be in danger of being disturbed; but he had the power also of levying a tax for their maintenance. He also had the power of ordering any person suspected of possessing arms to be searched, and likewise the power of ordering prisoners to be moved from any one part of the country to another. Now, was that the case in any other part of the United Kingdom? For these reasons he should support the Amendment.


denied that the Peace Preservation Act had anything to do with the pacification of the country, and the prevention, detection, or punishment of crime. It was often a mere excuse for laziness on the part of those whose duty it was to enforce the general law. Wherever the ordinary powers of the law had been put into force, they had been found quite effectual. Within the last few years there had been in England crimes of greater magnitude than in the sister country, such as the Chartist riots, the insurrection at Monmouth, Thorn at Canterbury, and the Stockport riots. He repeated that this measure operated only as an excuse for apathy and negligence on the part of the authorities. For an offence which in England would only give rise to the interference of the ordinary authorities, all Ireland was degraded in the eyes of civilized nations by an Act which, from long experience, he believed to be utterly useless and inefficient. Believing that no case had been made out for this exceptional and degrading legislation, and that in point of number, magnitude, and atrocity, crimes in England had, within a given period, exceeded those in Ireland, he should also support the Amendment.


said, ho hoped that it would not be considered an insult to the people of Ireland that he should propose to continue for a limited period an Act which experience had shown to be productive of good effects. He gladly recognized the fact of the satisfactory state of Ireland in respect of crime; but he could not understand why the continuance of these powers should be construed into an impeachment of the people of that country. While he admitted with great pleasure the satisfactory state of Ireland in that respect, he could not overlook the fact that there were circumstances occasionally occurring in Ireland which did not occur in this island—circumstances which it was the duty of the Government to guard against in the interest of the peaceable and well-disposed portion of the community. They had all heard of recent occurrences, into which he would not then enter, and he had received information that "there was a sham fight, at which 500 or 600 persons were present, with an immense quantity of arms." That was contained in a Report from a Government officer, dated August 4, 1860. [Mr. BUTT: Where was that?] At Scarvagh. The Bill which he asked the House to accept contained only two powers—one to enable the Government to take away arms in proclaimed districts; and the other to impose the expense of an additional police upon the proclaimed district. He thought there was nothing unreasonable or unjust in either proposition, but that both powers were essentially for the interest of Ireland, as tending to insure the maintenance of peace and tranquillity. It was said that the powers of the ordinary law were ample; and that might be if the object in view was only to punish crime; whereas the powers of the Bill he proposed were intended and calculated rather to prevent crime. What had been the state of the town of Belfast in 1857? There were continuous riots, which were not put an end to by either police or military, but by the simple proclamation of the town. He repeated that the Continuance Bill before the House could not be regarded as an insult to the people of Ireland, but as a protection for the peaceful and quiet inhabitants. It was said, too, that the police had no influence on the repression of crime; but what had been the case in King's County? At the Summer Assizes of 1858, it was determined to withdraw the additional constabulary. In 1859, there were no less than forty-three serious outrages; and in December, 3 859, the magistrates applied for additional police. The Chief Justice, in the present year, noticed the heavy nature of the calendar, but congratulated the county upon an increased activity on the part of the police, and, consequently, greater success in the; detection of crime. The principle of the Bill was, first, that a district should be held responsible for any extraordinary amount of crime committed within it; and next, when large numbers of persons possessed arms which it was likely they would use to the injury of themselves or others; then there was a power not of punishment, but of prevention. It was only desired to continue the provisions of the present Act for a limited period, and that there was no wish on the part of the Government to enforce those powers unnecessarily was evident from the fact that at present there was not a single constable charged upon any district in Ireland. He hoped, therefore, the House would assent to the second reading of the Bill, which the Government had felt it their duty to introduce to meet any occasional outbreaks.


observed, that the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman would he tested by one question. Had Scarvagh been proclaimed?


said, that Scarvagh was situate on the borders of Down and Armagh, and the whole of the latter county was under proclamation.


said, he would then further ask, whether it was intended to take away arms from the people in the North of Ireland? He did not believe it, for the Protestants had never been deprived of their arms. This Bill, which had been renewed from time to time, was originally that Crime and Outrage Act of 1847 which, like the Coercion Act of 1841, was passed to meet anticipated disturbances. But now there was no such state of things, and he could not 3ee what necessity there was for this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the King's County; but the reason why crime had diminished there was not the proclamation, but the greater attention which the police had paid to their duties. The disturbances at Belfast in 1857 were traceable to the fact that the police of that town were appointed by the corporation, and were all connected with the Orange body. The Bill was distasteful and unnecessary. The argument that it was intended to prevent crime was the old argument which was employed to stifle liberty everywhere. The true principle to go upon in regard to Ireland was, to allow to the people their common and ordinary rights, and when they abused those rights then to punish them. But let them not, on the pretence of preventing crime, cast a slur upon four or five millions of people, and make it a misdemeanour for any man to carry a gun or pistol in any district which the Lord Lieutenant may have proclaimed. He trusted that the Government would reconsider the whole matter, and satisfy themselves that there was really no necessity for a renewal of the Act.


said, that when he heard the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland declare that Ireland was a peaceable country, and that this measure was taken as a matter of precaution, he thought the right hon. Gentleman would have also said that it was the intention of the Secretary for the Home Department to have introduced so admirable and excellent a Bill into England. If that were not done, he (Mr. Butt) asked the right hon. Gentleman what had he said to justify his exceptional legislation for Ireland? He (Mr. Butt) could term this measure nothing but a coercion Act. It belonged to that code of legislation which a great Irishman in that House had stigmatized as "Algerine." The whole purport of the Act was, that no Irishman should be entitled to have a gun in his House unless he obtained the permission of the Lord Lieutenant. The only justification offered for this Bill was the fact that 700 or 800 persons assembled at a place in the county Down, and had a sham fight, but which was followed by no breach of the peace. He asked was there ever heard such a justification for such an Act? Assize after assize in Ireland, the Judges congratulated the people on the diminution of crime, and it was under such circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman asked the House to renew an Act, the preamble of which set forth that it was necessary because, "crime and outrage are generally prevalent in Ireland." Measures such as that before the House were mischievous to the peace of Ireland, unless some strong necessity was shown for it. Unhappily, there was a tendency in Ireland, fostered by misgovernment, to throw everything upon the Government and to do nothing for themselves. It was a tendency which unhappily prevailed through many departments of Irish business, and therefore, the moment they told a magistrate of a county that when an outraged occurred, instead of exerting the powers of common law, he had nothing to do but to call for measures of coercion, he (Mr. Butt) said it was a premium upon that tendency which of all others it was their duty to discourage. It appeared from a return of the number of counties in Ireland that had been proclaimed that nearly every one had at one time or other been subjected to that indignity; and in a large proportion of cases the reason assigned for the step was of the most frivolous kind. It was an accusation against the Austrian Government in Italy that a native was liable to punishment who had arms in his house without the licence of the Government; yet that was the system which it was proposed to revive in Ireland. This measure was proposed in 1848, renewed in 1852, again in 1856, and now in 1860 it was again proposed to renew it for two years more. No one could doubt that in 1862 the Chief Secretary for Ireland of the day would again come down and propose that the Bill should be, as a matter of course, renewed again. He asked English as well as Irish Members—Protestants as well as Roman Catholics—whether any justification had been shown for continuing this Algerine measure in a time of profound tranquillity? He would make the Chief Secretary for Ireland a proposal which must be admitted to be a reasonable one. If the Government would limit the operation of the Bill to a few months, and let it expire on the 1st of May next, so that the House would have an opportunity of discussing the Bill in the month of April, and not in the month of August, he would not object to the reenactment of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had attempted to justify this Bill in consequence of a sham fight. But what was a Government worth if it could not prevent a few hundred men from having a sham fight in Ireland? The sooner those who made this admission gave up the Irish Government the better. In 1846 a similar Act broke up the strongest Government this country had seen for many years. Lord J. Russell, who then came in, proposed an Arms Act, which was to expire on the 1st of May, but at the close of the Session he was obliged to give up that measure. He called upon the House to declare that the day was gone by when Coercion Acts were required for Ireland.


said, he could not congratulate his hon. and learned Friend on the consistency of his speech, because, after speaking of this as an Algerine Act, a measure of coercion, an insult to Ireland, and a suspension of the Constitution, his hon. and learned Friend ended by proposing that this measure, introduced, as he said, without any justification or reason, should be enacted for the whole of the ensuing winter. When the hon. and learned Member read to the House a portion of a return, he scarcely acted quite fairly to a preceding Government: for he omitted the fact that the proclamations had been withdrawn.


I beg pardon; they have not been withdrawn.


said, many of the proclamations had been withdrawn. The proclamation, for instance, with regard to Cork was withdrawn in 1851. The hon. Member for Mallow (Mr. Longfield) had complained of the inefficiency of the local and stipendiary magistrates in Ireland. Ho differed with the hon. Gentleman on that point, and thought his remark most unjust to the Magistracy of Ireland. The hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. M. Mahon) had stated that if there were as efficient a police force in Ireland as in England, all crime and outrage would be detected and prevented. He (Mr. Deasy) held in his hand a resolution passed at a meeting of the magistrates of Tipperary, presided over by Lord Ha-warden, declaring that the present tranquillity of the country was owing to the efficiency of the police. He believed the Irish constabulary to be as efficient in the detection of crime as any men could be. The Bill had excited displays of feeling not warranted by its provisions, or by the circumstances under which it was introduced. In 1846, when the Peel Government was displaced, there was, in consequence, a cessation of the provisions which had previously existed restricting the use of fire-arms. But, in 1848, the Whig Government, which had succeeded to power, introduced a Bill reimposing the restrictions; and they had been continued by every successive Government from that time to the present. Speaking on his official responsibility, he believed that the rejection of the present Bill would be attended with mischievous consequences, and that the security of life and property during the coming winter might be seriously endangered if the House were to refuse to the existing Government those powers which Parliament had conceded to successive administrations and which had never been abused. Nothing was further from his intentions than to appeal to religious prejudices, but there were two grounds upon which the Government had a right to ask for a continuance of the Act of 1856—first, the unfortunate excitement which at present prevailed in the north; and, secondly, the existence of the Ribbon confederacy in many districts of Ireland. The Ribbon confederacy was gradually being suppressed, but if the House rejected the present Bill it would spring up again with renewed vigour. King's County and Westmeath might be mentioned as districts where Ribbonism existed. What was the state of things in the north? lie recently received a report, stating that an assemblage of Roman Catholics, armed, had created terror among the Protestants, and had produced a counter assemblage of armed Protestants in the neighbourhood of Armagh. Was that a state of things which, particularly in the present condition of Ireland, ought to be allowed to continue? Without the powers now sought the Government would be unable to put a stop to it, and therefore he hoped the House would read the Bill a second time.


said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had defended the unpaid magistracy, the stipendiary magistrates, and the police—a proof that the ordinary law was sufficient for the repression of crime. Every Judge in every assize town concurred in stating that the country was unusually free from crime. Where then was the justification for the Bill? It was said certain things might happen next winter; but there was nothing in the present state of the country to render such occurrences probable. If the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and learned Gentleman had been out of office, they would have opposed the Bill vehemently. [Mr. DEASY: I supported the Bill of Lord Derby's Government.] He must contend that the facts cited by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) were proof that there was no necessity for the Bill. He said that the Ribbon conspiracy was dying out. If the police and magistrates were so efficient, why could not they put it down altogether? It had been suggested that the Bill should be accepted, if its operation were limited to the 1st of May next, hut although he had no sympathy with crime or criminals, he would oppose the renewal of the Act for a single day. Whatever the intention of the Government, the Bill was a practical insult to the country. The opinions of the Judges cut the ground from under the feet of the Government. It was a lamentable comment on English Government in Ireland, that after sixty years of the Union, such a Bill as this should be necessary. Were a case made out he would vote for the Bill; but as it was, ho considered it wholly unnecessary and mischievous. He did not believe that the magistrates and police had been rendered more efficient by this Bill; it was rather attributable to a rebuke by the Lord Chief Justice from the Bench. Because there were a few isolated crimes in Ireland, was the whole country to be stigmatized and scandalized in the eyes of Europe? Were there no crimes in this country? Look at the Road murder. Had not the police and the most intelligent persons been baffled in the discovery of the murderer? And yet who would propose that all England should be stigmatized on that account? The Bill was a piece of insulting irritating legislation; it had done no good, and was a disgrace to the Government.


said, he did not agree with the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland that a meeting of armed persons, threatening to the public peace, could not be prevented without the provisions of the present Bill. By the common law any meeting, especially a meeting of armed persons threatening to the public peace, was illegal, and the magistrates had the power to put a stop to such meeting. No exceptional laws were required for that purpose; the common law was sufficient to preserve the peace, except in cases of an extraordinary description. Now, did such cases exist in Ireland? The county of Louth, in which the borough he had the honour to represent (Dundalk) was situated, though it was perfectly tranquil and peaceable, was a proclaimed county, not, as was stated, on account of any particular crime, but of confederate societies. Now, he did not believe there were any Ribbon Societies in Dundalk, and that was confirmed by the fact that of eleven men who had been arrested and tried there on the charge of being Ribbonmen every one of them was acquitted. Throughout Ireland no reason could be adduced for the continuance of this exceptional law. They were often told about tyrannical proceedings in foreign countries, and if they had heard that such a law existed, say in Italy, to what a great deal of declamation it would give rise! Hon. Gentlemen should look at home. He objected to the measure, because it was unnecessary, unjustifiable, and insulting; because it gave the people to understand that the Government did not trust them, and, in fact, treated them as criminals; and because the Government thereby stimulated the very crime they vainly attempted to extinguish.


said, he thought he should fail to act a manly part if he concealed his opinions on that question. He should support the Government in the course which they proposed. He agreed that exceptional laws were objectionable, and that the burden of proving their necessity lay on those who proposed them. But such proof might be furnished. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the county of Louth. In 1852, when he (Mr. Whiteside) was Solicitor General, and was on that circuit, he was waited on privately by a grand juror, who said, "My life is in danger; every hour of my life I am a miserable man. I have received notice that I am to be shot." This gentleman, in the management of an estate, had done something which offended the confederacy, and he received notice—they were courteous then—that he would be murdered. Prom the circumstances that transpired at the time, he (Mr. Whiteside) believed that it was not the grand juror whom it was intended to kill, but a relative of the present Under Secretary of the Colonies, than whom he did not believe a more amiable gentleman could be found, and there were several other gentleman in Louth whom it was also intended to murder. It was necessary to institute a prosecution, and an opportunity was afforded. Three men came to murder a gentleman whom they did not know. The difficulty was not to kill the wrong man, because that would render it necessary to kill the right man afterwards, so they got hold of a railway labourer, who was at work near at hand. This man was well paid, well fed, and clothed, and he was to point out the victim to the persons who were sent to hill him. The labourer did as he was requested, and the men dogged Mr. Eastwood's steps as he was going home at night, until, finding a favourable opportunity for their purpose they sprang upon him. But although armed they did not use their arms. The place in which they committed the deed was of a populous character, and they feared that if they had resorted to firearms disagreeable consequences might ensue to themselves; so they determined to stone him to death. As ho lay upon the ground, however, one of the men plucked from his pocket his gold watch, and gave it to the railway labourer for the civility with which he had assisted their designs. The man concealed the watch in a feather bed; the police discovered the watch there, and arrested him. He disclosed all the facts of the case; the murderers were arrested, tried, convicted, and executed. During that trial the whole nature of the Ribbon confederacy was disclosed. The law was put in force; the county of Louth was proclaimed. The hon. Baronet was right in saying that crime had ceased in the county, but it ceased by reason of the vigorous enforcement of the law and by the application of the powers of this Act—an Act which every gentleman of every persuasion who had any property in the county wished to see enforced, if they desired to retain their property or their lives. He believed that no Government would ask for powers of this kind unless it were necessary. The prosecution of Ribbon men at the last assizes had been adverted to. The Judge had tried the case fairly, and, although the men got off, that by no means proved that the confederacy did not exi3t. The hon. Gentleman had asked what would be said if there were such a law in Italy. There were strange laws in Italy, and, taking all in all, he should prefer to take the Parliament and system of England rather than all the advantages enjoyed in any part of Italy. With a free press and a free Parliament to point out grievances and rectify any evil, there was no danger of the abuse of such a law as the present. For a short time it might be necessary to pass such a Bill. He had refused for a long while to believe in the insurrectionary movement in the county of Cork; but what were the circumstances of that affair? A man sent to Lord Eglinton a long case and a letter, and inside the case was an improved model of the old Irish pike. The writer said in the letter, "It is the only-model I have," and using a well-known Irish term—"It is a needle you will find sharp and penetrating, and I recommend you to get a stock made, for they will be useful." Other persons swore that at night they had seen by the light of the moon bayonets glistening, men actually under arms, and had heard the word of command given. All that was proved at the trial. The men prosecuted were convicted, and the Judge pronounced a sentence of fourteen years' penal servitude, for he said, in passing sentence, "conspiracy struck at the root of government, and must be checked." It could not he said that the law of this country, particularly when it approached to treason, was enforced with severity. On the contrary, so safe was the monarchy in the hearts of the people that no offence was more leniently regarded. The hon. Member for Dungarvan was right in saying that there were many counties in Ireland in which scarcely any crime appeared to have been committed at the last assizes. Well, if the hon. Gentleman could show that the Government were about to apply the present Act to those counties ho would vote against it. Something, however, must be trusted to the discretion of the Government. They must give to every Government the credit of believing that they would not pervert the law or act despotically; and, although he was opposed to the present Government, he did not believe they would act in such a manner—least of all did he believe that the law officers of the Crown would act otherwise than from a paramount sense of duty. That was a matter in which he disclaimed anything like party feeling. He was prepared to leave it to the judgment and discretion of the Irish Government whether the Bill ought to be renewed or not for a short time, feeling satisfied that they would use the powers intrusted to them with moderation and forbearance.


held that it was a serious matter to apply exceptional legislation to one part of the United Kingdom. It was melancholy to think that, while England and Scotland was allowed to join in the Volunteer movement for the defence of the country, it should be considered necessary to prevent the people of Ireland from testifying their loyalty and patriotism in the same way. The Judges on circuit were unanimous in congratulating the country on the absence of agrarian outrage; and, in order to instance any cases of the kind, the right hon. Gentleman opposite was driven to ransack the annals of the past. The only justification for the measure was the unfortunate religious contests which were prevalent in certain parts of Ireland; and he believed that these differences were attributable solely to the distinction which was drawn by the laws and institutions of the country between people of different religions. In the Colonies, where no such distinctions were established, Irish Protestants and Roman Catholics lived together in peace and harmony. If the Government believed that these religious disputes could only be suppressed by the continuation of this Act, he would not venture to oppose it; but he hoped that when the time came for the next renewal, there would not exits in the state of the country even a shadow of an excuse for it.


said, that he found in the speech of the Attorney General for Ireland a confirmation of the prediction made at the time of the Union that no Irish Member would be admitted into the Government until he had ceased to have the feelings of an Irishman. It was admitted on all hands, that neither as regarded disaffection nor crime was there any ground for the measure; and it was only that ungenerous distrust of the people of Ireland which debarred them from being allowed to join in the Volunteer movement which animated the promoters of that measure. He wished to see political distinctions put aside, and that his fellow-countrymen should remember, above all, that they were Irishmen. He should not be induced to support the Bill, by the promise that the Party Emblems (Ireland) Bill should be carried against the Orangemen. He did not think any Gentleman would stand up and say he thought it was necessary for the security of property and life that this Bill should pass.


opposed the Bill. If the measure was such an excellent Bill as it had been described, why was it not applied to England as well as to Ireland? He ventured to assert that the Attorney General for England would not propose its application to this country. The argument in support of the Bill was of the weakest character possible, and resolved itself into an Hibernianism, that because the sham fight referred to was not a real fight, therefore the Bill was necessary. The common law of the land and the police force in Ireland were sufficient to preserve the peace of that country. Westmeath had been under proclamation since 1848; but it had failed to accomplish its object, though the common law had been found sufficient for the preservation of the peace of that county; and the same applied to other counties in Ireland. The county of Tipperary, which was now peaceful and remarkably free from crime, with no trace of Ribbon conspiracies, and no Orangemen, was placed under proclamation in 1847, and had remained under it ever since. That, he maintained, was a gross abuse of the Act. Yet the hon. Member for Liskeard would, no doubt, vote for this Bill; because that hon. Gentleman would rather go wrong with the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, than go right with him. No Irishman spoke in favour of this measure, except the Attorney General who was in, and the Attorney General who expected to be in. The proposal was supported by those who knew nothing of Ireland, and he would not say cared less. Hon. Gentlemen came from libraries, smoking-rooms, and cups of tea, to outvote the Irish Members. The House had two Coercion Bills before it; the one to put down the Ribbonmen, the other to put down the Orangemen. Let them have nothing to do with either Bill, but be all friends, and seek to suppress disorderly conduct by moral suasion, and the influence of a good example.


observed that his own county was eminently tranquil. The Judge at the last assizes sat only half a day; and yet it had remained proclaimed during the last thirteen years. And so of Donegal and other counties. He wa3 determined to oppose the Bill to the utmost of his power, not because it was brought in by the present Government, because it was totally uncalled for by the present circumstances of Ireland.


remarked that he should support the measure, not as a means of putting down one party or another, but as necessary for the preservation of the peace of Ireland.


moved the adjournment of the debate.


said, he could hardly believe that the hon. Member was serious in making such a Motion, which was, in fact, seconded by an hon. Gentleman who had already spoken.


said, he had actively opposed the Bill throughout, hut he believed the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hennessy) was doing the very worst thing he could in moving the adjournment.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate ho now adjourned."

The House divided:—Ayes 12; Noes 104: Majority 92.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 27: Majority 60.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Monday next.