HC Deb 17 February 1868 vol 190 cc802-10

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the second time."—(The Earl of Mayo.)


said, he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the second reading of this Bill, nor did he complain of the manner in which the powers conferred by the measure had been exercised by the present Government. But there were some circumstances connected with it, about which he desired some explanation from his noble Friend. He wished to ask why the Bill was to be limited to Ireland? why it was not to be extended to England? It might be said that in this country the Government could rely on the fidelity of the nation, but he thought he could show that the population of a great part of Ireland was as much to be relied upon as that of England. Great crimes had been committed at Chester, Manchester, Clerkenwell, and other places. There had been threats of the assassination of Her Majesty's Ministers, and there had been the actual assassination of some of the police. The Government appeared to have taken the subject into consideration, and had adopted certain precautionary measures. They had increased the Metropolitan Police Force, and armed the constabulary with revolvers. It appeared, however, that the constables were not to use them in their own defence, or in carrying out the law; for a constable was expected, according to the newspapers, to have three shots fired at him before he returned fire. That had happened in England. In Ireland, all the propertied classes—the clergy and the landlords—were ready to support the Executive Government. In all the arrests that had taken place, there were but eleven men connected with the land. As the circumstances of the two countries were precisely similar, he saw no reason why any difference should be made in the treatment of England and Ireland; and if it were necessary, as he believed it to be, that this measure should be extended to Ireland for another year, he thought it should be extended to England.


said, it was quite impossible on his own part and on the part of those who sat upon that (the Opposition) Bench not to give an assent, however reluctantly, to the second reading of this Bill: but it was equally impossible to let the occasion pass in silence. He willingly admitted that it was necessary for the Government to ask and for the House of Commons to grant the continuance of these exceptional powers in the hands of the Executive of Ireland. These powers had been used by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and by his noble Friend (the Earl of Mayo) with moderation and discretion, and with a due regard to the liberty of the subject. Those powers were strictly measures of prevention—prevention of such insurrectionary movements as would require to be suppressed by force of arms and the shedding of blood, and their continuance was demanded from the House of Commons by a sense of duty to the country and for the sake of the peace and safety of the Empire, and of Ireland in particular. He believed that the passing of this Bill would be in accordance with the opinion of all those in Ireland who had property and honest industry to lose, and who desired the maintenance of peace and order—that was to say of the great majority of the people. Having, however, admitted the necessity of this measure, they yet had it before them in all its naked deformity as a simple measure of coercion, which they were now called upon to pass for the fifth time, and for the third year of its continuance. That was a state of things demanding their most earnest attention and consideration. It was a formidable symptom and evidence that could not be denied of a lamentable and unsound state of things—of a malady to which as yet they had not begun to apply a remedy—of disaffection still raging—of an insurrectionary and dangerous conspiracy which all the powers of law and order had not yet succeeded in crushing, and which had not yet been rendered hopeless or impossible by any active loyalty on the part of the population of Ireland. This was bad enough, but what was worse was that the Government had laid the House under the painful necessity of saying "aye" or "no" to this measure without its being accompanied by the introduction or even the announcement of any remedial policy for Ireland. He thought it was a situation of which they had a right to complain when they were called on to support this measure in the absence of any information from the Government upon any one subject of Irish legislation. They had been told that night that they were to have a Reform Bill for Ireland; and although he knew that some persons last year were profane and sceptical enough to doubt even the introduction of that Bill, that was a scepticism to which he did not himself give way; but on those great questions which were admitted to be the cardinal points of the Irish problem—the land, education, and the Church—at that moment they were in absolute ignorance of the intentions of the Government. The only exception to that statement was to be found in the fact that a high authority in the Ministry had within the last few weeks declared that the great question of the Irish Church was not to be dealt with by Her Majesty's Government. Now, the question of the Church he held to be the greatest, in a Parliamentary sense, of all the Irish questions; for whatever might be the comparative importance of other Irish matters, it was with the Established Church, as an institution depending wholly upon the will of Parliament, that Parlia- ment was most capable, and therefore most bound, to deal. On the other two great questions they were left altogether in the dark. Under these circumstances he thought they had a right to complain of the painful position in which the Government now placed them in compelling them, by a sense of duty and necessity, to vote for the second reading of this Bill, unaccompanied by the slightest information as to any intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to enter upon a remedial policy for Ireland.


desired, like his right hon. Friend who had just spoken (Mr. Chichester Fortescue), to enter his protest against their being called upon to read this Bill the second time without having before them any proof whatever that the Government were determined to grapple with the very serious difficulties, dangers, and grievances of the Irish people. It was a most melancholy fact that, sixty-eight years after the Union between the two countries, the British House of Commons should be called upon year after year to suspend the great Palladium of the Irish people's rights in order to carry on even the semblance of government in Ireland. He quite admitted the necessity of the present measure; but he said it was necessary simply because successive Parliaments and successive Governments had failed to grapple with the evils which notoriously existed in the sister country. Since the Act of Union was passed they had had three rebellions in Ireland and constant supensions of the Habeas Corpus, and he could not even remember how many times it had been suspended since he had been a Member of the House; they had had Insurrection Acts, Arms Acts, and every kind of coercive legislation; but all had failed to conciliate the Irish people to the rule of that House and of England. He traced all the confusion and mischief now prevalent in Ireland to the fact that they had not recognized in their legislation for its people the truth that they were a Catholic nation. The vast majority of the nation had no share in the government of their country. Forty years had passed since Catholic Emancipation; and yet down to that hour the Catholics of Ireland, and also of England, were not represented in the Cabinet, or in any of the great offices of State, or even in Ireland in all the offices which governed that country. Neither the Lord Lieutenant, nor the Chief Secretary, nor even the Under Secretary was a Catholic. So with every department of the State, from the highest to the lowest—that could be called a governing portion of it—the Catholics were studiously kept out of employment, and the vast majority of those in office were not only Protestants but Englishmen. What would English gentlemen think of it if they were governed by a Catholic Government and by Irish officials? Yet that was the exact parallel to the case of the Irish people, who would never tamely submit to such an indignity, and never ought to do so, because it was contrary to human nature and against the feelings of free-born men. The true source of the difficulty was that they did not govern Ireland through the representatives of the great popular party in Ireland, but treated the Irish as a conquered people. Was it equality with England to give one-eighth of the people in Ireland the whole ecclesiastical property of the country and to ignore the great majority of the nation? They had not the same laws in operation in England and in Ireland, and therefore the Government had to come to the House for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and for other coercive measures. Until they governed Ireland as they governed England they would never have peace or quiet in Ireland. Why not govern Ireland as they governed Scotland? The Scotch people would not submit to an Episcopalian establishment, and their feelings had been respected. Hence they were a peaceable, a contented, and a prosperous nation. Why should not Irishmen be treated with the same justice and common sense? It was often said that they had the same laws in Ireland as in England; but he denied the assertion. In regard to national education, as also in regard to land tenure, the systems pursued in the two countries were directly opposite. In England every landowner made substantial improvements in his tenements for his tenants, and every unexhausted improvement made by the tenant was allowed for when he gave up his tenancy. In Ireland the opposite principle prevailed. The landlord would not improve his tenements or land for his tenants, and made no allowance for improvements. Laws should be passed equalizing the management of property in the two countries. Then as to education, while one system existed in Ireland, the very opposite was at work in England. In England they had acknowledged the denominational principle, and in so doing they admitted that religion was the true foundation of all education. The only reasonable education was to teach the children of the poor that religion was their first duty. In England that was done, but a different principle prevailed in Ireland. These and other things ought to have been grappled with long ago, and if they had been, they would never have heard of Fenianism, The Irish people, moreover, complained and very justly, that they were scarcely ever visited by any of the members of the Royal Family, although they had in times gone by, when the people of England had turned traitors to their sovereign, been remarkable for their loyalty to the Crown. In later days, when George IV. could not drive in safety through the streets of London, he met in Ireland with a most enthusiastic and brilliant reception; and Her present Majesty also got a most magnificent welcome in that country. It was no wonder, then, that Ireland felt aggrieved at the neglect which she had experienced at the hands of royalty; or that she should find fault with the fact that there was not in Ireland a single royal residence, while there were no less than three or four in London, and thirteen or fourteen in England, Scotland, and the Isle of Wight. It was matter of complaint, too, that all the business of the country was conducted, and all the public money expended in Great Britain, and that the public patronage was disposed of in this country in the great public establishments to the exclusion of Irishmen, and that they were deprived of those advantages which they ought to enjoy, seeing that they contribute some £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 a year to the national exchequer. Again, the fisheries of Ireland were grossly neglected, and unless something was done to place her railroads on a more satisfactory footing she would have additional reason to be dissatisfied with the way in which her interests were disregarded. The truth was that the entire governing power in Ireland was vested in Protestants and Englishmen, and that she was treated as a conquered nation, instead of being dealt with on the equitable principles upon which the affairs of Scotland or our colonies were managed. For his own part, he was as much opposed to Fenianism as any man, but he could not help saying that those who sat on the Treasury Bench must be looked upon as its real promoters unless they devised some remedy for the great evils arising from misgovernment, under which Ireland now laboured.


asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whether any of the ninety-six persons whom he had on Friday last stated to be in custody under the operation of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act had been in custody for more than twelve months, and, if so, what was the longest period for which any one of them had been confined. He also wished to know how many of those prisoners had been re-arrested on their return from America subsequent to their discharge from gaol on condition that they should go to that country. The noble Lord would be good enough, perhaps, further to state whether Mr. Train, who had recently honoured Ireland with a visit, and had been arrested on his arrival there, had been taken into custody owing to some mistake on the part of the police, or by warrant of the Lord Lieutenant under the operation of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act?


said, he was happy to inform the hon. and learned Gentleman that none of the ninety-six persons whom he had mentioned as being now in custody had been confined during the entire time that the Habeas Corpus Act had been suspended in Ireland. The longest period for which any of those prisoners had been detained was one year and eleven months, and that protracted confinement occurred only in the case of a single individual, for whose discharge he was happy to say, an order had been made last week. Of the ninety-six prisoners all had been arrested for the first time except sixteen, and it was only under very peculiar circumstances that the Government had found themselves called upon to exercise their power of committing again to gaol a person who had been previously discharged. He found, he might add, that there were only four men in custody who had returned from America after having obtained their discharge on the condition that they should go to that country. As to Mr. Train, his arrest took place under the following circumstances:—He arrived in Ireland from America in one of the mail packets, and the police, who had strict orders to watch all the arrivals from that quarter, searched his luggage in the discharge of their duty, and found among his papers a considerable number of printed documents, consisting principally of speeches which he had made in America, and which were evidently of a very strong Fenian tendency. Those speeches, it appeared were delivered at Fenian meetings, and, as far as he could judge—for he did not read them all—they expressed very great sympathy with the Fenian movement. Proceeding on the general orders to which he had already referred, and without having received any instructions beyond them, the police therefore arrested Mr. Train, and took him before the magistrates. In doing so he believed they acted entirely in conformity with their duty, and were perfectly justified in adopting the course they took. The arrest was made late on a Friday evening, and on the following day one of the police officers went up to Dublin and had an interview with several Members of the Government, to whom the circumstances of the case were explained. The result was that an order was sent down to Cork to release Mr. Train on his making a statement to the effect that he had not come to Ireland to promote the objects of Fenianism. That statement was made, and he was the next day released from custody.


said, he did not rise to offer any remarks on the Bill before the House but simply to say that he thought the noble Lord (the Earl of Mayo) laboured under some misconception as to the circumstances attending Mr. Train's arrest. He was in Cork at the time it took place, and could state that his detention was not owing solely to the action of the police, but that the responsibility for it was snared by Mr. Hamilton, the resident magistrate, who was a man not likely to have recourse to any proceeding of the kind without authority from high quarters.


said, that was perfectly true. Mr. Train was brought before the magistrates by the police, and was committed by the magistrates in the ordinary way.


said, that he feared what had been said on the other side of the House would in Ireland be considered to amount to a moral justification of the proceedings there which they all deplored. He could not let the statement go forth that there was a necessity for a renewal of the Act simply because the discontent which existed in certain classes in Ireland was engendered by the quasi wrongs of the Irish people. The Church Establishment was spoken of as an Irish grievance; but he should like to know what tenant farmer in Ireland paid a farthing of tithe? In that country nine-tenths or more of the tithe were paid, by the Protestant landlords; and, though it might be some grievance for a Roman Catholic landlord to be called on to pay tithe, he felt quite sure that the Government and Parliament would be quite willing to put an end to that grievance, and if his hon. Friend the Member for Water-ford (Sir Henry Winston Barron) would confine his attention to that point he should have his support. With regard to the land question the most outrageous fallacies were uttered, as he well knew, being acquainted with the tenure of land both in England and Ireland. The hon. Baronet the Member for Waterford said that a tenant who made permanent improvements in England without the consent of his landlord obtained compensation; but that was the error into which the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) fell in the debate on Irish land tenure in the Session of 1866, but which he did not venture to maintain and repeat when questioned directly by himself (Mr. Darby Griffith) on the subject, two days afterwards. What was called tenant-right in England had reference to arrangements, not between tenant and landlord, but between a tenant going out and another coming in, on account of crops, acts of husbandry, and such matters. The tenants in Ireland desired to assert a quasi property in the land, leaving the landlords a fee farm rent or something of that kind. The tenure of land in Scotland was under nineteen-year leases, and during that time the tenants made fortunes, and at the end of the term the landlords generally raised their rents; but what Irish tenant would be satisfied with a nineteen years' lease, or would give up the land willingly at the end of it? In Ireland leases for thirty-one or sixty-one years were expected, and that was totally opposed to the rights of property as understood in this country. He believed that as great harmony existed between farmers in Ireland holding 100 or fifty acres and their landlords as existed between landlords and tenants in England, and discontent existed only in the case of farmers with such miserable holdings as five, three, and two acres, or even so little as one acre or half an acre, or less.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.