HC Deb 19 May 1863 vol 170 cc1984-7

said, he thought some explanation was due of the circumstances connected with a meeting of Irish Members said to have been held in order to consider the provisions of the Government Bill relating to Irish Salmon Fisheries. If that meeting had been of a public character, all whose interests were concerned should have been invited to attend; if not, there must have been a violation somewhere of the rules of conduct usually acted upon in such cases. He begged to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether a statement which appears in several of the Irish Papers, to the effect that on last Thursday a meeting of Irish Members, convened by Sir Robert Peel, was held in one of the apartments of the House of Commons is correct; and, if so, to inquire why he omitted to invite the attendance of Members representing large interests in connection with the Irish Salmon Fisheries; and whether the report of what took place at such Meeting which appears in The Freeman's Journal of Saturday last, headed, "From our own Correspondent," is a correct one; and whether there was a reporter present during the proceedings?


said, he would beg to remind the right hon. Baronet that he had not answered the latter part of the Question addressed to him in the earlier part of the evening with reference to the grounds on which permission was refused by the Stipendiary Magistrate to Mr. John Crawford, of Newtowngore, to keep arms for the defence of himself and his property.


I am afraid I did not sufficiently explain myself in answering the Question put in the early part of the evening. There have been frequent attacks, as my hon. Friend states, on the property of this miller; but having made full inquiries through the stipendiary magistrate, we have reason to believe that there has been great exaggeration in reference to these attacks, and that they were not made with any malicious intent—in fact, that they were not strangers who committed the offence. More than that, the police station is in close proximity to this property; and if danger were appre- hended, assistance could easily have been obtained. It is well known that under the powers of the Act of Parliament certain parts in Ireland are proclaimed. The district in which the miller lives is one of them; and that is the reason why licence has not been given to carry arms. As regards the Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for the County of Waterford, I must admit that I was equally astonished with him to see a very full report of a speech supposed to have been made by me on a very interesting subject—a speech occupying half a column of the newspapers—a very good speech, but I must candidly admit that I did not make it. We all know that reporters are very inquisitive gentlemen, and that they endeavour, if possible, to obtain a knowledge of what is taking place even in the most secret conference; but I sat there during the whole time the meeting lasted—about two hours—and neither in the cupboard, under the table, nor elsewhere, did I see anybody who gave me the impression that he was taking notes of what was passing. I therefore utterly disclaim being any party to that speech. An hon. Friend of mine said, "I presume that is the speech you were going to make in introducing the Salmon Fisheries Bill, which you afterwards had not the opportunity of making, but which still appeared, as you had sent it off beforehand." And such a thing did once occur. It is perfectly well known that an hon. Member once prepared an elaborate speech, with "Hear, hear!" and "Cheers" introduced in it, which he could not deliver because the House was counted out, but which appeared in the papers nevertheless. I can assure hon. Members that was not the case with me. I never sent that speech—I should be very glad to have made it; but I sat there listening to the remarks of others, to be prepared for discussion when the question should come before the House. The meeting was not strictly private, although held in a private room. The object was to ascertain the views of hon. Gentlemen returned from Ireland with regard to the Bill the Government was on the point of introducing in relation to the Irish Salmon Fisheries. [Mr. WHITESIDE: Was it a meeting of Irish Members generally?] Not generally; the room was too small. I endeavoured to explain the other night that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the County of Limerick (Mr. Monsell), my right hon. Friend the Member for the County of Kerry (Mr. Herbert), and my noble Friend the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas), agreed with me that by meeting together we might so frame a Bill as to secure that general approval which was not accorded to the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wexford. I asked my noble Friend the Member for Marylebone (Lord Fermoy) and a number of other gentlemen to be present; the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Blake) came into the room, and I asked him if he would be good enough to get together any Irish Members who might be interested in the subject, as we should be glad to receive any advice which they might offer. My hon. Friend, I believe, tried to do so, and perhaps the report which appeared in the newspapers is in some small degree to be traced to him. For I understand now, having just received a letter on the subject, that the report of our proceedings was made by an hon. Gentleman who admits that he was not present at the meeting, but gave to the reporter an account of what he presumed had taken place. [Cries of Read !] It is a private communication, and, of course, it would be improper for me to do so, but the Gentleman says he did it as "an impromptu movement." Once more I beg to say that I have nothing whatever to do with the report. I believe the Under Secretary for the Home Department did speak to several of the Irish Members on the subject, and probably a good deal of what is put into my mouth may have fallen from him.


said, as he had been rather pointedly alluded to by the right hon. Baronet, he wished to say a few words. In the face of the letter he himself had written to the right hon. Baronet, it was surprising that he should convey to the House the impression that the report appearing in The Freeman's Journal was traceable to him.


said, he had understood the hon. Member for Waterford himself to declare that the report which had appeared might be traceable to some remarks he had made in the Gallery. He assured the hon. Gentleman that he had no wish to misrepresent him.


said, the right hon. Baronet had entirely misunderstood his observations, and he was anxious for that very reason that the letter which the right hon. Baronet held in his hand should be read to the House. He had never intended to convey that the report was traceable to him in any shape or form; and the hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. Butt) would no doubt, bear him out in his assertion that the report probably emanated from a gentleman who had not been present at the meeting at all. He did not look upon the meeting as in any way a confidential one, nor did he suppose that gentlemen present were precluded from mentioning what transpired. It was quite true that the right hon. Gentleman did not make the very capital speech attributed to him; but the substance of it was contained in a printed paper, which was furnished to those who attended the meeting, and which contained the head a of the proposed Bill. He believed that the speech emanated from an hon. Member who was not present, but who derived his information from an hon. Member who was. He could not see that any imputation rested upon any hon. Gentleman for what had taken place.


said, that what was attributed to the right hon. Baronet as a speech was in reality a printed circular, which was placed in the hands of the Members attending the meeting, and he thought the whole affair had been treated in too grave a manner.


said, that with reference to the case of the miller who had been refused an arms licence, he wished to say that he had voted for the introduction of the Arms Bill, and under the circumstances of the country thought that such a measure was necessary; but he did hope that the right hon. Gentlemen would take care to prevent the exercise of any undue authority by those who carried out the Act. Generally speaking, the stipendiary magistrates of Ireland acted with much discretion, but he protested against their taking upon themselves to refuse permission to carry arms to a man who could by no possibility make a bad use of them, and who had been actually recommended to carry arms by a local magistrate.


said, that a refusal to allow a person to have arms in his possession was entirely subversive of the liberty of the subject. He thought it must have originated in a mistake, and he hoped that it would not go forth to the public that this monstrous doctrine came from the Irish Executive—namely, that a respectable man was not to have arms for his defence because he lived in a proclaimed district.