HC Deb 25 March 1870 vol 200 cc641-81

[Mr. Chichester Fortescue, Mr. Secretary Bruce, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland.)

COMMITTEE. [Progress 24th March.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 27 (Newspapers containing treasonable or seditious matters, &., forfeited to Her Majesty).


said, he believed a few words would not be wasted upon a little incident that occurred last night in connection with the question of adjournment. He invited the reconsideration of the House and of the First Lord of the Treasury to that appeal from the heat, passion, and prejudice of the small hours to that spirit of fair play to which the weaker party seldom appealed in vain in this country. Now, what were the facts of the case? A Bill had been introduced into the House to suspend the Constitution of Ireland, to invest an unpopular tribunal with almost unlimited inquisitorial powers, and to place the liberty of the Press at the mercy of personal government. This had been opposed by a small minority; but small in numbers as that minority was, it represented, he believed in his conscience, the majority of the people of Ireland, and millions of men on the other side of the Atlantic not responsible to public opinion here, and whose opinion it would be inconsiderate, if not dangerous, to despise. Notwithstanding this, what opposition did the minority give to the Bill? It was read a first time with scarcely a protest; it was read a second time certainly without any tedious or factious opposition. Yesterday they went into Committee on the Bill, and from four o'clock until midnight he had remained in the House without going out even to dine; and he believed he should be supported in saying that he had not occupied the Committee by any lengthy observations, and had merely thrown out what he deemed urgent suggestions. The Irish Members had absolutely been occupied in assisting the Government to bring the machinery of this little Bill into something like working order. Between nine and ten o'clock a discussion commenced on that part of the Bill to which they entertained the gravest objection, and after three hours' discussion the Irish. Members asked for an adjournment; whereupon the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. R. N. Fowler), assuming for the first time that position to which he had probably been recently elected of Leader of the Opposition, or being ambitious to fill a post to which he was so pre-eminently entitled, called upon the First Minister of the Crown in the name of the Opposition, in the name of the House, and in the name of the public opinion of England, to assume to be dictator of both sides of the House, and to speak and act as no Minister had ever done before. He (Mr. Moore) confessed he thought the right hon. Gentleman responded to that appeal in a spirit worthy of the despotism he had been called upon to assume. He ventured to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the discussions on the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, when, day after day, week after week, he might almost say month after month, the opponents of that measure moved adjournments. The right hon. Gentleman replied, and in one sense truly, that to those adjournments he had not personally been a party. He did not mean to imply that the right hon. Gentleman had, but merely intended to point out that he was one of a small minority who resorted to that mode of action; and he would say, moreover, that the right hon. Gentleman did actively assist and encourage the minority in carrying out that system. In the course of those protracted proceedings did the right hon. Gentleman make any remonstrance in regard to the course of action which was adopted? Instead, however, of meaning to taunt the right hon. Gentleman for the course he then pursued, he believed that among all his Parliamentary successes the right hon. Gentleman had never done a greater service to religious liberty, to public justice, and to common sense than he performed on that occasion. At that time Lord John Russell, like Lot's wife, turned his back on the straightforward road of Liberal statesmanship, and his figure might be seen even to this day. He would now proceed to the discussion of the Bill, because he maintained that this clause was, in fact, the Bill. All the rest of the measure was mere pretence. Before the Government—in proposing a Bill for the protection of life, and "especially of property," in Ireland, as the Chief Secretary remarked—undertook to include in it another Bill for gagging the Press, they ought to have proved that the Press which they intended to gag was in collusion with the illegal combinations which it was the object of the Bill to repress. His hon. Friend the Solicitor General for Ireland ought to have done that, for there was no man more capable than he of proving what existed, or of making it appear that something existed. But the hon. Gentleman, after searching through the files of the national journals, was unable to adduce a single passage from an original article in airy one of them to support his argument. A letter from John Mitchel was read to the House, but his hon. and learned Friend must have known that Mitchel, who was one of the best of haters in the world, hated the Fenians more deeply, and expressed his opinion of them in stronger terms, than any Member of that House. Indeed, there was no one in that House who could express his dislike of Fenians in language half so powerful as was used by that rancorous rhetorician. No proof whatever had been given by the Solicitor General that the national Press was in collusion either with agrarian outrage or sedition; but notwithstanding that want of proof some hon. Members had indulged in coarse and unseemly language which was unworthy of the House and of their honourable character. Whatever the national Press might be, it represented the opinions of millions of intelligent and brave men, and the opinions of such men would find a voice in spite of any legislation. Now, he denied the fairness of assuming that the national Press in Ireland represented the opinions of the Fenians; but, at the same time, he must say that between the Fenians themselves and the vagabond associations with which this measure proposed to deal there was no connection, collusion, or sympathy whatever. Of course, he was now speaking of the Fenians as a body, as there might be some Ribbonmen who professed to be Fenians, who in reality were not, as all the world over it was customary for bandits to profess that they were members of some political association. But, between the opinions and objects of the Fenians as a body and the opinions and objects of such men there was nothing in common. Let the House judge of the intentions and motives of the Fenians by their acts. In the whole course of those abortive attempts at insurrection, which all hon. Gentlemen must well remember, did they stain by any outrage on life or property any ephemeral success which the fortune of war placed in their hands? On the contrary, The Times expressly declared that they showed mercy when it was scarcely expected from them; and it was well known that many were subsequently convicted on the testimony of men who had been prisoners in their hands, and whom, if they had been assassins, they would have assassinated. The Nationalists, whether Fenians, non-Fenians, or anti-Fenians, while wishing to change the form of government under which they lived, did not desire to abrogate all law; they desired not to drive the gentry of Ireland from their native land, but to recall them to a sense of the rights and duties of property; and they had no wish to foster that internecine animosity between Catholics and Protestants which other parties endeavoured to encourage. On the contrary, they wanted to unite the Orange and the Green in their hearts and on their banner. While these men, whether Protestant or Catholic, held fast to the faith for which their forefathers fought they pined for the day when Irishmen of all religious persuasions might unite for the defence and service of their common country in the spirit of that Christianity which they all professed. Such of these men as were Catholics, while they held fast to the spiritual teaching of their Church held fast also to the traditional teaching of that great political leader whose heart was buried at Rome, and who said— I here protest against his Holiness the Pope having anything to say directly or indirectly with regard to our political rights, and his interfering either directly or indirectly in our political struggles. Those were the words of O'Connell. Those men adhering to his teaching, while they wore resolved to hold immaculate that faith which they had inherited from their fathers, would also hold fast to that spirit of resistance to foreign domination which had characterized those who had gone before them, and to the domination of the red above the green in the cardinal's hat as well as in the case of the British uniform. He denied, therefore, in the name of the Nationalists of Ireland, that there was any connection between them and the Fenians or the perpetrators of agrarian outrage. Believing that the national Press of Ireland only represented the opinions of the people of Ireland and of Irishmen who lived in America, he protested against any attempt to associate their name with those of robbers and murderers—an association dishonourable to them and which would prove fatal to the public peace, by investing such men with a political respect to which they were not entitled.


said, he thought his hon. Friend (Mr. Moore) had wandered away from the question before the Committee. The simple question before them was, whether the word "seditious" should or should not be struck out of the 27th clause. The Committee were not now discussing whether the word "treasonable" should also be omitted; that question had been disposed of last evening. It was quite clear that it was proposed by the Bill to confer great powers on the Government, which he hoped they would never exercise except under the pressure of necessity; but if the word "seditious" were left out, the benefit of the clause would be altogether lost. Indeed, so strong was his opinion upon that point, that he would prefer having the word "treasonable" omitted instead. The difficulty of defining "sedition" had been spoken of. His right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) had last evening quoted the definition which was given of the word by a distinguished Judge; but there was, in reality, no difficulty in ascertaining what it meant. Various Irish Acts of Parliament, such as 16 Geo. III. and 50 Geo. III., which created an offence, which was the administration of an oath to form a society for a seditious purpose, dealt with the subject. In 16 Geo. III. was found the phrase "seditious libel," and in 33 Geo. III., "factious and seditious persons," and the word might be traced through many other Acts. It was quite clear, therefore, that "sedition" was recognized by the Legislature as a well-known word in the law. Again, he found that in 1868 the present Justice Fitzgerald, who was distinguished by his eminent judicial qualities, in charging the grand jury in the case of "The Queen v. Pigott," used the following words:— Gentlemen, as such prosecutions are unusual, I think it necessary that I should define sedition, and point out what may be a seditious libel. Sedition is a crime against society nearly allied to treason, and it too frequently precedes it only by a short interval. It is a comprehensive term and embraces all those practices, whether by word, or deed, or writing, which are calculated and intended to disturb the tranquillity of the State, and lead the Queen's subjects to resist or subvert the established Government of the Empire. Its objects are to create commotion, and to introduce discontent and disaffection, to stir up opposition to the lawn and Government, and to bring the administration of justice into contempt, and its natural and ultimate tendency is to excite the people to insurrection and rebellion. The distance is never great between contempt for the laws and open violation of them. Sedition has been aptly described as 'disloyalty in action,' and the law treats as seditious all those practices which have for their object to excite discontent or disaffection—to create public disturbance or lead to civil war; to bring into hatred or contempt the Sovereign or the Government, the laws or Constitution of the realm, and generally all endeavours to promote public disorder. Sedition being inconsistent with the safety of the State is regarded as a high misdemeanour, and as such punishable with fine and imprisonment, and it has been truly said that it is the duty of the Government, acting for the protection of society, to resist and extinguish it at the earliest moment. The same learned Judge quoted on that occasion the following passage from Sir Michael Foster's book on Crown Law:— Seditious writings are permanent things, and, if published, they scatter the poison far and wide; they are acts of deliberation, capable of satisfactory proof, and not ordinarily liable to misconstruction, and they are submitted to the judgment of the Court naked and undisguised as they came out of the author's hands. Now, that passage was taken from a work to which a Judge in the present day, if he wished to instruct his mind on the subject, would refer for his law, and if what was there set forth was true it would not be very difficult to find a definition of the word "seditious." The same learned Judge said that comments upon public characters made bonê fide did not come within the scope of the word; and he could assure his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock that there was not an Irishman come to years of discretion, who could not give a practical definition of sedition so as to answer all the purposes of the Bill. It had been said by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Moore) that he (the Solicitor General for Ireland) had quoted extracts from certain journals on a previous occasion in a manner which was calculated to deceive the House. Now, he had made quotations from The Irishman, and other papers published in Ireland, some of which consisted of extracts from American papers, but which had been reproduced in Ireland and published in large type; he had stated that these were extracts, and had in no way deceived the House; he had the papers then and now for any Member's inspection; and while upon that point he would again call the attention of the Committee to a passage which occurred in the Charge of Mr. Justice Fitzgerald, to which he had already referred. The learned Judge said— With respect to articles extracted from American and other newspapers, it was recently contended in argument before the Court of Queen's Bench by the learned counsel for Mr. Pigott, that even if those articles were of a seditious or treasonable character the defendant was justified, in point of law, in publishing them as foreign news. Gentlemen, I am bound to warn you against this very unsound contention; and I now tell you, with the concurrence of my learned colleague, that the law gives no such sanction, and does not in the abstract justify or excuse the republication of treasonable articles, no matter from what source they may be taken. In reference to all such republications the time, the object, and all the surrounding circumstances are to be taken into consideration, and may be such as to rebut any inference of a criminal intention on the part of the Government. But it was contended by the hon. Member for Mayo that there was no connection between those treasonable writings and the commission of agrarian offences. They could, he said, be attached as treasonable, and there was, consequently, no necessity for the insertion in the Bill of the word "seditious." Now, he would ask the permission of the Committee to read a single extract from The Irishman of the 22nd of January in the present year. It was as follows:— When Frederick, the Prussian King, once asked a peasant what constituted a citizen, the gruff Teuton replied—'A gun and a vote.' There could not be a better definition; for the man who has a gun can back his vote and guard his rights. He need not quail before a landlord's frown nor a policeman's uniform. If a Minister desires to overawe the possessors of the franchise on the hustings by a display of armed force, the voter with the gun is a match for the bireling soldier without a vote. If a lordling wishes to drive him like a led sheep to the polling-booth, there is an unanswerable argument why he should not do so in the blue gleaming of the rifle barrel grasped in his manly hand. If a hostile Government attempts to curtail, restrict, or abrogate the privileges of his manhood, he can follow the maxim of the Roman of old and 'dare to be free.' By his vote he can record his protest against all injustice, and by his gun he can enforce its termination. The man with a vote and a gun is every- where the denizen of a free country. He is everywhere a member of a community jealous of its prerogatives, and able and ready to guard them. He stands everywhere buoyant against oppression, everywhere certain of redress if he be wronged, and everywhere he has something to fight for worth all the risk of the invocation of the Lord God of battles. Now, that was exactly the class of article which would be caught by the word "seditious" in the Bill; and he hoped the Committee would believe him when he said that were it not that he did not wish to take up their time he could make quotations from twenty or thirty articles of a similar character, and these from newspapers all published and circulated in Ireland. Under those circumstances the Committee ought, he thought, to be satisfied that the employment of the word "seditious" was necessary, while he trusted they would not think he had been guilty of any attempt to deceive them by having quoted extracts from articles which might, in the first instance, have appeared in America, but which had been published in Ireland within the last twelve months; and published not merely as news, but for the purpose of giving them a wide and extended circulation among people whose minds were intended to be influenced by their perusal.


said, he regretted that he was not an Irish boy of sixteen instead of an English Member of mature age, as he might in that case be able to understand the word "seditious." Yesterday he had thought it difficult to understand the precise meaning; but after the judgment which the hon. and learned Gentleman had just read, he found it still more difficult. There could be no doubt that when the Executive Government came down to the House and declared that they could not protect life and property in Ireland with the powers which the law at present gave them, it became the bounden duty of every hon. Member to assist them in securing that object. In doing so, however, it was necessary to avoid the common error of being too precipitate. The six Acts of Lord Sidmouth, which were passed under the influence of panic, illustrated his meaning. History repeated itself. For his own part he did not like the word "seditious," because he looked upon it as being very comprehensive. He would not go back to Mr. Justice Holt; but he did not forget that in 1745 a man had been hanged at Carlisle for high treason, the only overt act proved against him being that he had taught a parrot to whistle "Blue Bonnets over the Border." In 1819 two gentlemen, at a public meeting in the town he represented, moved and seconded a resolution to the effect that, in their opinion, Birmingham ought to be represented in that House. Another man supported that resolution, and they were all tried for sedition. It was a peaceable meeting. There was no disorder, and nothing illegal or irregular; but they were tried at Warwick Assizes and found guilty of sedition. The mover and seconder were sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment; but the man who spoke to the resolution to two years' imprisonment, the reason for the difference being apparently that this man, named Haddocks, who was to be honoured for his boldness, justified himself at the trial by declaring that he had done no wrong, but had merely used the right of a free-born Englishman in expressing his opinions. Coining down to later times, he was present in 1831 at a trial at Warwick, where two men were tried for sedition, upon a charge which showed of what beautiful expansion the word was susceptible. In those days there was much political agitation, and the streets were blocked by the people, and the magistrates said this must not be, whereupon a placard was issued to the effect that the magistrates knew nothing of law, and that the people were right. On the trial of the persons who put out this placard, the Judge said that sedition consisted in disobedience to constituted authorities. He (Mr. Muntz) believed at the time that that view was correct; but since then he had got older, and he hoped wiser. No doubt, the question whether the defendant had been guilty of sedition was left entirely in the hands of the jury; but in a state of great political excitement men would be found guilty who at other times would be acquitted. In 1841 the late Feargus O'Connor was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for a seditious libel written in The Northern Star. There was nothing very violent in the article. It abused the Government for their conduct to the Chartist prisoners; but was not half as bad as some of the articles in The Marseillaise or in the Irish "national" papers. As to the contents o these journals, he did not think the Go- vernment could overlook them any longer. The Bill was a necessity, and he did not want to get rid of it—the first duty of Parliament being the protection of life and property. But sedition was a very dangerous word, and he should like to avoid the use of it. Another danger was that, although the Bill was to last only one year, it would be renewed over and over again, and be one day made a model Bill for repressing agitation in England. England had not been free from agitation. The Blanketeers and Chartists were still remembered, and he was afraid there was looming in the distance anything but a peaceable attitude on the part of our working population. He felt, then, that care should be taken in framing the clauses of the Bill, that any unnecessary tampering with the Press should be avoided, and every penal clause in the Bill be made as dear as possible.


said, he could not agree with the eulogy which his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo (Mr. Moore) made on that portion of the Irish Press, which had so presumptuously assumed the title of "National," but which he considered had inflicted deep injury on the national character, loosened the reverence for religion, which was one of its distinguishing characteristics, and directed to most mischievous courses and disastrous ends the best impulses of a generous people. That being so, he was anxious to explain the vote he was about to give for the Amendment. He believed the Bill would be a nullity unless it dealt with the foundation of the evil, and it would be unjust if those who had been incited to crime should be punished, and those who incited them to crime should escape punishment. The House, however, should not go one step further than the necessity of the case demanded, and should jealously guard the liberty of the Press and of the subject. He was astonished to hear the Solicitor General for Ireland say that any boy arrived at years of discretion could define what sedition was. He could only say that though he was no longer a boy, he would not take upon himself to define the word; and he was resolved that, so far as he was concerned, he would do nothing to bring about the day when it should be left to any Minister, however eminent, to decide the point on his own personal authority. Almost anything that occurred in times of political agitation might be brought within that category. He hoped it would always remain part of the British Constitution that such vital questions should be decided by a jury of twelve men. Under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, the Government, even in times of great public danger, were only allowed to imprison persons on charges of high treason, treason-felony, or treasonable practices. But no Government had attempted, even under these exceptionable circumstances, to ask the House for power to imprison persons on charge of seditious acts or seditious writing. In his opinion, the House would go far enough if it limited the clause to writings of a treasonable nature, or inciting to murder, or any felony, and one step further would do a mischief to the Constitution. He trusted the Government would listen to the suggestion that they should first give a warning to the newspaper proprietor before proceeding to the extremity of seizing the plant of the newspaper. This arrangement would have one good effect; a Government would hesitate long before taking the extreme course, but a warning would be a more simple matter, and could be given without so much deliberation, and might be the means of rendering it unnecessary at all to have recourse to it.


said, that the Solicitor General for Ireland had quoted from The Irishman of the 22nd January an article which he pronounced seditious. If it were so, why had not the proprietor of the paper been prosecuted; if it were not so, why should the Government ask for powers to treat as a seditious print that which was not seditious? He was bound to conclude that the article in question was not seditious in the opinion of the Law Officers, or else prosecution would have followed as a matter of course. What was wanted was a definition of sedition in the Bill itself. Treason was defined in the statutes, and felony was known to the common law; but sedition was still a vague term in law. It was not known to the common law of England. As the clause stood, it gave an indefinite power to the Government such as it ought not to have; and it was incumbent upon the Committee to require of the Government such a definition of sedition that newspaper proprietors might know when their property might be considered in danger.


said, he should support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie). He would not attempt a definition of sedition; but he felt perfectly satisfied that the publication of the speeches of Church of England clergymen last year might have been regarded as seditious; that the same character might be ascribed to the publication of Mr. Madden's letter on his dismissal from the office of under-Sheriff; and that any newspaper publishing speeches such as had been made, and would be made again, at Orange demonstrations and meetings held to remonstrate at the interference with the Ulster custom, would be held to be seditious.


wished to say one word in explanation of the vote he intended to give. There was no doubt that the powers asked for by the Government were not only excessive, but powers such as no Government had asked Parliament to confer on it before. One voted at all times most unwillingly upon these Coercion Bills; they were not a pleasant page in our history, nor did they form a pleasant page in the history of political parties. About a quarter of a century ago Sir Robert Peel brought in a Coercion Bill, and was turned out in consequence.


Sir Robert Peel went out on the Arms Bill.


said, it was all the same; whether it was an Arms Bill or a Peace Preservation Bill, they all partook of the nature of coercion. They were stretches of the Constitution; and he was justified in saying it was upon a Bill of this character that Sir Robert Peel was turned out of Office by a combination of the Whigs and the discontented of his own party. But a month or two only had elapsed when the Whig Government brought in a Bill of a similar character; and, as if to illustrate the strange vicissitudes of fortune, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and the Secretary of State for War—who were turned out of Office with Sir Robert Peel for introducing a coercive measure for Ireland—were now introducing a Bill more stringent by far than any Bill ever before brought into Parliament. But what were they to do? He confessed that "sedition" was a most elastic word, and the powers conferred by the clause would have to be exercised with great discretion; but he dissented from the argument that the provision must be rejected because it interfered with the liberty of the Press. He would rather describe it as an interference with the licence of the Press. For what was the liberty of the Press? In this country it was happily a means to secure good government; but if that liberty of the Press in any part of these dominions, whether in England, Scotland, or Ireland, instead of leading to good government exhibited a licentious character, making government impossible, and preventing the due protection of life and property, Ministers were perfectly justified in coming to Parliament for further powers. Although he was of opinion that such extraordinary powers should not be given to a Government except in extreme cases, he was not prepared to take upon himself, as an individual Member of Parliament, the responsibility of refusing those excessive powers. Hon. Members must recollect that the Bill came before them paripassû with another, which should satisfy those discontented parties against whom this coercive measure was directed; and they might be certain that the Government would not ask for these powers unless they, in their peculiar position, believed they could not maintain the security of life and property without them. When the Government, with ample information respecting these matters in their possession, had come to such a conclusion, he would not, how- ever much disliking Coercion Bills and clauses interfering with the liberty of the Press, take upon himself to vote in favour of the Amendment, because, in voting, each of them was bound to assume that his single vote might turn the balance.


said, that he always listened to anything proceeding from his noble Friend opposite (Lord Elcho) with attention; but he must state that if the grounds he laid down for supporting the present Bill were admitted, there would be an end to all discussion in that House, and Parliament might as well place despotic power in the hands of Government if all measures like the present, brought in under their responsibility, must be passed. He, for one, had hitherto abstained from taking any active part in the discussion of this Bill, because as an old and consistent Mem- ber of what was called the Liberal party —though he had always had great difficulty in finding out what the Liberal party was—he had a great repugnance and dislike to enter into any discussion of these Bills, whether called Coercion Bills, Arms Bills, or Peace Preservation Bills. He had seen too much of them in his time, and had never known them to do any good. He was ready to admit that when the Government came down to the House and stated, on their own responsibility, that they could not take on themselves the preservation of life and property in Ireland without being intrusted with extraordinary measures, the House was bound to consider their proposal with attention; but he did not agree that the Bill was at once to be shuffled through without discussion; and he thought that instead of sneering at Members who raised discussions like the present, the House ought to be grateful to them for viewing unusual proposals with jealousy. With respect to the first part of the Bill, containing police regulations, knowing the state of Ireland as to agrarian crime— knowing that the long impunity given to it by the inactivity of the Law Officers of the Government had created an epidemic of agrarian crime, he granted that extraordinary powers were required, and that some stricter regulations were necessary with respect to the carrying of arms and the sale of gunpowder. But, passing over that part of the Bill, he came to the general provisions with respect to the Press. He heard the other night the speech of the right hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Horsman), who was extremely ingenious in picking a hole in a Bill, being only second to the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) in that great art. The right hon. Member for Liskeard complained that there was a want of originality in the Bill; but, for his own part, he must say that it was the most original Bill he had ever seen. It was introduced in a most original manner—in answer to a Question put a fortnight before. Such a thing had never been known previously as the Prime Minister getting up and giving a sketch of a Bill in answer to a Question. Again, it struck him as a most original thought to combine with a Bill for the prevention of agrarian crimes clauses for putting down the liberty of the Press. He had nothing to say in defence of the Press of Ireland. He was sorry to say he thought it was in a very defective state; but they must remember that without a demand existing in Ireland there would not be the supply. However, as far as his experience of Ireland went, he denied that there was any necessary connection between agrarian crime and political disaffection. The two things were separate; and he went further and said that at the time Fenianism was most rampant in Ireland agrarian crime was most scarce. In 1865 and 1866, when Fenianism was rampant, the Judges of Assize were universally complimenting the juries on the absence of agrarian crime; therefore, it was a mistake of the Government to bring in a Bill mixing up police regulations respecting agrarian crime with an attack upon the Press. He granted that the articles which had been referred to were as seditious as possible, because the term sedition was so elastic that it would comprehend anything; but when the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Dowse) — might he long remain so!— quoted in March an article from The Irishman of January, 1870, he (Mr. Osborne) said, if that article was seditious, then the Law Officers of the Crown were wanting in their duty when they allowed it to pass unnoticed and unpunished from January to March, and then came down to the House and asked for an ex post facto law in order to obtain additional powers to control the Press. He wished to know, then, whether the Government had exercised the powers they already had to the full? If they had not exhausted them, they had no right to come to the House, and particularly to a Liberal House, elected, as they all knew, under an extended franchise, and ask for the grant of additional power for controlling, or, as he should say, gagging the Press. Let them take care that in all their anxiety to pass a Bill for the preservation of life and property in Ireland they did not imperil the groundwork of liberty itself. He rejoiced that the present Amendment proceeded from a man of such high standing and consistent Liberal character as the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), and he trusted that the i matter would not be allowed to degenerate into a mere lawyers' quarrel as to the meaning of the word "sedition." What did they think was Lord Coke's definition of sedition? It was—"Any man taking his own course." He held in his hand a text-book by a great writer — Broom on Constitutional Law — and the author, after mentioning the definition of sedition, said— From the above definitions may tolerably well be inferred what is the offence of seditious libel; it is, however, susceptible of an elastic meaning, and accordingly the Crown, when strong enough, has been in the habit of punishing almost every obnoxious criticism on the acts of Government as constituting a seditious libel. He had not been brought up to the honourable profession of the law, but he should like to hear the Solicitor General for Ireland answer that statement. They were now asked to open a door which might lead to they knew not what. He had heard that not long ago an hon. Gentleman, now a Member of that House—he would not mention his name—appeared on the hustings in the sister isle, dressed in what he was sure the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland would call a most seditious garb. That Member, wearing a cravat of the most ample folds and of the greenest colour, and bearing on his breast the representation of a harp without the crown, called upon the crowd to give "three cheers for the Fenian convicts." He (Mr. Osborne) wanted to know whether that was seditious or not, and whether any newspaper publishing the words would or would not be liable to prosecution for sedition? He could not expect the learned Solicitor General to give either assent or dissent; but he (Mr. Osborne) maintained that the paper that published the account the next day would be liable under that Bill, if they passed it, to seizure for publishing sedition. He had heard some discussion about Fenianism and the Fenian Press; but it was a very silly thing for a man to sneer at Fenianism without understanding it. Fenianism was not the disease itself, but the symptoms of disease which was chronic, and which had existed since the Union and before the Union. It took the shape at one time of the United Irishmen, and then of the Irish Volunteers, and it had a varied appearance; but it was nothing more than, as it was well described by an Irish writer, "nationality run mad." A wise Government would try to turn that nationality into proper channels; but he denied altogether that this could be effected by Peace Preservation Acts. Nor could they do it by carrying out the farce which consisted in proposing identity of institutions in England and Ireland. Identity of institutions did not exist—identity of institutions could not exist. The conditions of society were perfectly different. He perfectly agreed with an observation made, he believed, many years ago, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), that the best thing they could do for Ireland was to get rid of identity of institutions. When they were bringing in a Bill abrogating freedom of contract, and prescribing regulations for the letting of land—a measure they would not dare to bring in for England under any circumstances, any more than they would dare to propose for England that other Bill which was now before them—they must not talk to him of identity of institutions. He did not go so far as some appeared to do, who talked of governing Ireland according to Irish ideas—although there was some dispute who said that or did not say it— but he did say, if they would govern Ireland, they must get rid of their English notions, and rule Ireland by that spirit of nationality which, like a strong under-current, was at the bottom of much Irish crime and more Irish discontent. By this measure they were stopping a hole here to open another there. It would do no good, but the contrary. They might put down this class of publications; but they would startup elsewhere, or in different shapes. So long as there was a demand for that kind of reading there would be a supply. Did they suppose they would put down discontent by giving additional strength to a vice-regal system? If any one could suppose so, he must be strangely ignorant of Ireland. If they wished to govern Ireland by Imperial policy, they must rely on the really Irish spirit. They must appeal to Irish national feeling. They must get rid of their Lord Lieutenant. They must give Ireland the reality of government. What reason had an Irishman to be loyal? What did he know of the real government of the country? They sent over a great English nobleman, and fancied that if he entertained royally and hospitably in the Castle, that was popularity; but the people of the country knew nothing about it. And then they came to Par- liament for a measure of this kind to put down the Press. If they wished to appeal to the Irish sentiment, they must appeal in a different way. He went much farther probably than many other Gentlemen in that House. He was not a Repealer; but he would like to take the Imperial Parliament over to Ireland, and let it sit there, so as to allow hon. Gentlemen to see what Ireland was; and then they would, perhaps, not be in such a hurry to have recourse to those measures He rejoiced that an English Member of position and consideration in the House had moved this Amendment; he would go with him into the Lobby satisfied that he was doing his duty. He only wished he could persuade many others to follow his example.


said, he was not going to address the Committee on the general question now before it; but having heard the statement of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne), and having now for the first time an opportunity of stating in his own words what occurred in Tipperary, on the occasion to which allusion had been made by the hon. Member, he now wished to state, in regard to what the hon. Member for Waterford had said, that he never— either on the hustings of Tipperary, or at any time during his canvass, or in any speech he made—used the words which the hon. Gentleman attributed to him, and he never proposed a cheer for the Fenian convicts. He felt that he had been the subject of what he must call undeserved misconstruction. He was quite sure the hon. Member for Waterford sincerely believed that what he had stated to the Committee had actually occurred. [Mr. OSBORNE: I saw the cravat myself.] He felt that a serious charge had been made against him, and the hon. Member said the words he used were seditious. [Mr. OSBORNE: I did not say that.] He repeated that the words never were used by him. He never saw any newspaper report in which the reporter stated that the words were used, although he did see it stated in a leading article that they were used. He repeated on his honour as a Member of that honourable House, of which he had always been ambitious to be a Member, that the words in question were never used by him. He did not complain of the hon. Member for Waterford having, in fair political warfare, used the words against him, but he trusted the Committee would accept his explanation. At a future time he might have the opportunity of addressing the Committee in reference to other matters connected with himself personally; but having for the first time heard the statement made by an hon. Member for whom he had a sincere respect, he trusted he might be considered not unduly to have taken up the time of the Committee in giving the statement his distinct denial as a Gentleman and as a Member of the House, and he had only in conclusion to thank them for their kindness in permitting him to give this denial.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne), among other charges against this part of the Bill, complained that they did not recognize the principle for which he contended— that literal identity of institutions was impossible between Great Britain and Ireland. Speaking generally, he (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) agreed with that principle; but he maintained that the whole course of the policy of the present Government, whether shown in other great measures or on this great measure on which they were now unfortunately engaged, was entirely in accordance with the spirit of that principle which he understood his hon. Friend to lay down— that Ireland was to be treated in a spirit, not of literal identity of institutions with this country, but of real and genuine equality. He might say, without irreverence in this matter — "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life;" and they had endeavoured, in the policy which had been accepted by the House and the country, to treat Ireland as they would treat England and Scotland under similar circumstances. The Government had given proofs of their adhesion to that principle in the great measure of 1869, and in the great measure of 1870, and also, though in a different and painful form, in the very measure now before the House. For the House knew very well—it had been recognized over and over again by those who had taken part in this debate, especially by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer)— that if either England or Scotland could be shown to be in anything like the same condition as Ireland, there would be no hesitation in applying to Great Britain the very same legislation they were now applying to Ireland. Then, with regard to another complaint of his hon. Friend the Member for Waterford, he must observe that it was a mistake to say they were passing an ex post facto law to apply to Press offences, for nothing would come within the scope of the Bill that had occurred before the Bill became the law of the land. His hon. Friend with reference to a quotation from one of the newspapers, read by the Solicitor General for Ireland, asked why they had not prosecuted that paper. He seemed to think that Government had exercised no thought or consideration on that matter—that it had been allowed to pass per incuriam, by negligence or sloth. But there was nothing of the kind. The reason why that and other papers had not been prosecuted was that, for reasons they thought good and sufficient, they did not think it their duty to prosecute them. They took that course on the advice of their best advisers. To prove the technical offence of treason-felony simply by written words was an enterprize of the greatest difficulty. It was said, indeed, that a prosecution for seditious libel was comparatively easy; but in the opinion of the Government such prosecutions would have been worse than useless, and that opinion was based upon past experience as well as upon the facts of the case. If they had prosecuted the paper from which an extract had just been read by the Solicitor General, a conviction might possibly have been obtained without any very great difficulty. But what would have been the result? The editor would have passed a short time in seclusion as a first-class misdemeanant in one of Her Majesty's prisons; but the Government would have been flooded with memorials and petitions for his release, signed by the most respectable and influential gentlemen in Dublin, and, meanwhile, the paper would have gone on, not only with equal, but with greatly increased prosperity and success. That was the proceeding which his hon. Friend the Member for Waterford blamed the Government for not having adopted. Then the hon. Member appeared to agree with the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Moore) who thought it wrong that the powers contained in the clauses relating to the Press should be combined with the police re- gulations contained in the earlier clauses. He did not quite know whether his hon. Friend objected to the mere collocation of the two subjects in one Bill, and whether he would be satisfied if the two subjects had been introduced in two separate Bills. If that was all, he (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) did not think the matter worth arguing about. But he denied that there was any separation between the two portions of the Bill. He denied that the earlier portion of the Bill was aimed at agrarian crime exclusively; it was aimed at disturbances and outrages of all kinds. The provisions as to the possession of arms, the robbery of arms, and other offences, were most useful as applied not to agrarian crimes only, but also as connected with disturbances of a seditious character. This Bill professed to be a Peace Preservation Bill; and he would ask any Gentleman whether it would have been possible to leave out of the Bill those portions that related to the Press? Did anyone suppose that the weekly propagation all over the country of those articles of which his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for Ireland had given them one mild sample did not tend to thwart all attempts to preserve the peace of the country? If it would have been foolish to separate these subjects into two Bills, it would have been still worse, it would have been an abandonment of their duty if they had not undertaken to deal effectually with the Press as a necessary part of the question of the preservation of the peace of Ireland. In his Charge delivered to the jury in the case of "The Queen v. Pigott," Mr. Baron Deasy, one of the highest legal authorities in Ireland, had denned what an Irish journalist might safely teach and write, and, on the other hand, what it would be illegal for him to do; and, as any Government would, no doubt, receive similar advice from its Law Officers, the Committee would, perhaps, allow him to read a passage from the Charge of that eminent Judge. Mr. Baron Deasy said— Gentlemen, the defendant here is the proprietor, printer, and publisher of a paper called The Irishman, and in this country, as you all know, the public journalists enjoy very extensive privileges, and have very extensive rights. The public journalist is entitled to canvass the acts, the conduct, and the intentions of those who may he entrusted from time to time with the administration of the government by the Crown He is entitled to canvass, and, if necessary, to censure those acts. He is entitled to comment on, canvass, and, if necessary,' censure the proceedings of Parliament. He is entitled to criticize and condemn the acts of public men. He is entitled to point out any: grievances which he may think the people labour under, and argue for their removal, and suggest what remedies may occur to him for the purpose, He is entitled not only to publish but to comment on, to criticize, and, if necessary, to condemn the conduct of Judges and their decisions; nay, more, even the verdicts of juries are not exempt from fair and reasonable criticism.… I have told you within what limits a journalist may exercise his opinions and his talents; but I should tell you also the things which he is not permitted by law to do. He must respect the existence of the form of government under which he enjoys and exorcises these very extensive rights and privileges to which I have referred. A public journalist must not either covertly or openly devote the pages of his journal to overthrow the Government; he must not, when a treasonable conspiracy exist in the land — and such a conspiracy now exists in Ireland and in parts of this country also —he must not, for the purpose of overthrowing the Government, make his journal auxiliary to the purposes of that conspiracy; he must not devote it to supplying the members of that conspiracy with intelligence which they may use to advance their objects; he must not use his journal to encourage them to persevere in that conspiracy; he must not devote his journal to encouraging those who may not have embarked in it to become involved in its meshes; he must not sow disaffection and discontent generally throughout the land; he must not inflame the minds of the people so that they may be more accessible to the members of the conspiracy, or so that they may be the more ready to join in the insurrection which these conspirators are seeking to bring about. He may, as I said, comment on the acts of the Government and criticize them severely; he may, as I said, canvass and criticize proceedings in courts of justice, and the conduct and demeanour of the Judges who preside; but he must not devote his journal to the purpose of bringing the administration of the law generally into contempt, and exciting the hatred of the people against the law. Neither can he legally devote the pages of his journal to excite animosities between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects; he must not use it for the purpose of exciting the feelings of the people of this country against their fellow-subjects who live on the other side of the Channel. He read that opinion to the House as a specimen of the view taken of sedition by the highest legal authorities in Ireland. As the debate had taken a very wide range, and had grown into a general discussion upon the subject of the Press clauses, it might be convenient to the Committee, and might save time, if he were to state at once the course which the Government proposed to adopt. There were only two changes of any importance which they proposed to make. In the clause under eonside-ration the words— Or any engraving, matter, or expressions having a tendency to foster, encourage, or propagate treason or sedition, or to incite to the committing of any felony occurred immediately after the words which were now being discussed. Objections had been made to these words by hon. Gentlemen who were as anxious as the Government themselves that the' clause should be effectual for its purpose; and the Government, admitting that they were, to a certain extent, open to objection, were willing to leave out the words which he had read, and to substitute these words— Or any engraving, matter, or expressions encouraging or propagating treason or sedition, or inciting to the committal of any felony. He hoped that change would remove a good many objections. He had also to inform the House that, at the proper time, the Government would be prepared to introduce words which would have the effect of securing that, before any of the provisions of the Bill were put in force against a newspaper that paper should receive one previous warning. For this course there appeared to be good and sufficient reasons, and it would not in any essential degree weaken the powers of the Executive. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire) had given notice of an Amendment that three prior warnings should be given; to that course the Government could not consent, but they were ready to undertake that one warning should be given.


said, he congratulated the Committee that they, after two nights of fruitless effort, had at length obtained from the ministry a definition of the word "sedition." The Chief Secretary had read a statement from Baron Deasy, describing what a journalist might do and yet be within the law, and what he could not do with impunity. According to that definition an offence would be constituted by bringing the existing law or the administration of it into contempt by teaching the people to be discontented with the laws under which they lived, and trying to get those laws changed by the manifestation of their; dissatisfaction with the existing state of things. Any effort to improve the law would, according to this definition, be seditious. All the great organizations to effect reform—to abolish the taxes on food—to effect any changes of any kind in the already existing laws were all seditious organizations, and any journalist who supported the views of such bodies would, under the operation of this Bill, be liable to ruin at the discretion of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and his advisers. If he (Sir John Gray) knew anything of the British constitution, if he knew anything of British law, if he knew anything of the history of England, and the progressive steps by which the English people obtained their present proud position, which enabled every Englishman to claim liberty as his birthright—the right to meet—the right to discuss any law—the right to remonstrate against any law that tended to produce evil or abridge popular liberty, had always been regarded as an inherent right in the people, the exercise of which was not seditious. It was no less an inherent right of the people if they felt aggrieved by the law, to use all legitimate means within the law and within the Constitution, to arouse their fellow-countrymen to a sense of the wrongs inflicted by bad laws, and thus by Petition to the House, by remonstrance, by the power and influence of public opinion, to induce their representatives to alter the law, and to bring it into harmony with their interests and their feelings. Yet, according to the definition adopted by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and now propounded to this House as the meaning to be attached to the word sedition in this Bill, to do in Ireland that which is the birthright of every English citizen to do is sedition, and will subject the Irish journalist to the cruel operation of the despotic law proposed for that country. It was usual for Judges, when prosecutions for sedition were before the courts, to draw a distinction between the object and the means to obtain it. That was a most proper and legitimate distinction. The object might be lawful and the means unlawful; but here that which constituted the very foundations of the liberty of the people was declared to be sedition, whatever the means and whatever the incidents of the exercise of that right which was alone theirs. To this definition he objected; to this every free-born Englishman would object; yet those who were to carry this Bill into effect in Ireland gave that as their idea of sedition and as the declaration of the object they had in view in framing this Bill. The noble Lord (Lord Elcho) who preceded the Chief Secretary for Ireland said a great many things about the liberty of the Press and his unwillingness to interfere with it. He (Sir John Gray) knew of no special immunity that was attached to the words or writings of a man by virtue of his being the owner of a printing press. Instead of speaking of the liberty of the Press he would speak of the liberty of thought, of the freedom of opinion, of the right of a free citizen to express his opinions as a freeman to freemen. He stood not up for the Press as a press. A man was not made lesser or better than others by his investing some hundreds or some thousands of pounds, be it more or less, in types and printing presses. He stood there to defend freedom of opinion, and, in so far as the Press was used, to communicate to the eye as the voice did to the ear. To render permanent, definite, and widespread, the opinion expressed against wrong and in favour of right, he would maintain the liberty of the Press as the means of disseminating free thought and securing free discussion, but no further. The noble Lord asked, in reference to the Government, a very proper question. He said—What is the Government to do?—putting that question as an argument for the Bill. He (Sir John Gray) would answer the question by saying to the Government—"Do your duty." If it be true that treason and sedition are openly preached in Ireland, and have been for years past, as is asserted by the Law Officers of the Crown, he asked the Government have you done your duty in conniving at it, and thus encouraging, if not stimulating it? He asked the House if these statements be reliable, had the Government done its duty, has it ever tried to do it; and he would venture to advise that they be told to do their duty first, and if that fails then, but not till then, to ask for new powers. Extracts had been read through that debate, but though there were more than 100 journals in Ireland one journal only was quoted. He wished the House, when asked to give its sanction to a despotic law against the Press in Ireland, to remember that there was no attempt even to show that a second journal had transgressed the law; and yet the discussions were carried on as if the whole Irish Press was disseminating treason and sedition, and inciting to revolution and to outrage. But if that one had done so, had the Government tried to check the evil, if, indeed, it existed, or did it not rather admit that the charge was not sustainable by not instituting a prosecution? That journal sent tons of printed papers into the chief centres of trade and industry in England, yet no prosecution took place. But they were told that no prosecution could be successful. On even this the Government has changed its front. The Solicitor General for Ireland had said that a verdict could not be got in Ireland, and now the Chief Secretary says a verdict for sedition could be very easily obtained; but the Government, instead of taking the more manly, if more troublesome, course of instituting legal proceedings against a newspaper proprietor, sought to endow three gentlemen in a back room in Dublin Castle with power to put their thumb upon any newspaper they chose to consider as offensive.


explained that he did not say it was very easy to obtain a verdict for sedition. What he had said was that it was with the greatest possible difficulty a verdict was obtained for treason-felony, but that it would be easier to do so for sedition.


said, he saw very little difference between the correction and his misunderstanding of the expressions used. He asked how it was the Government had not attempted a single prosecution, and was it a fact that it was difficult to get verdicts in treason-felony cases? In 1848 an Act was passed, popularly known as the Treason-Felony Act, under the regimé of what was called the Liberal party. Under that Act John Mitchel was tried, convicted, and sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude, and his paper. The United Irishman, ceased to exist. On this, Mr. Martin, a Presbyterian gentleman of great enthusiasm, determined to stand in the front, and produced a paper called The Felon; but lie was convicted and transported, and The Felon ceased to exist. Mr. O'Dolierty started The Tribune, a paper of the same class; but he was also tried, convicted, and sentenced to transportation, and The Tribune came to an end. Thus they had three convictions out of four prosecutions, and in the case of the fourth, the trial of Mr. Duffy, the pro- prietor of The Nation, the jury disagreed three times; but Mr. Duffy was so harassed by these proceedings, so damaged financially, that he had to leave the country, and in course of time he rose to power by his talents and ability, and he became a Minister of the Crown in Australia. Mr. Duffy belonged to the "Young Ireland party," which was a kind of offshoot of the O'Connell party, and he never went quite so far in treason as Mitchel and the others did, and, in fact, Mr. Mitchel started The United Irishman as a rival to the less advanced Nation, and to its less seditious and less treasonable character was due the failure of the prosecution against him. The Government were unable to prove that Mr. Duffy had published treasonable articles, and consequently they failed to obtain a verdict against him. Thus 75 per cent of the prosecutions under the Treason-Felony Act succeeded, a larger number than the average of successful prosecutions for any criminal offence of a non-political kind; and yet they were told it was almost impossible to get convictions in Ireland, and that therefore they must create a Star Chamber despotism. Why, then, if for the more difficult cases the law has been found sufficient, why is it not tried in the easier class of prosecutions, that for sedition, before these extravagant powers be given? Did they find any difficulty in convicting the Fenian prisoners? Some hundred men were convicted, some were still in prison, some were in their graves; some, alas! were in madhouses. It was then a libel on the Irish jurors to say convictions on full proof could not be obtained— a libel invented to screen the Government for neglecting its duty. The question now at issue was not as to what Press laws ought to be adopted as a future code, but whether it was right to grant such a power as it was proposed to vest in the Irish Executive? It was, in point of fact, proposed to give to the Government, which in Ireland meant three or four legal gentlemen ensconced in a dark room in Dublin Castle, the power to do as they pleased—to constitute themselves a worse than Star Chamber, and to control the entire Press of the country. Why did not the Government prosecute offending newspapers? The hon. Member for Dungarvan could, he thought, if he chose, explain the true reason. The Government had already prosecuted a vast number of men, and had procured convictions against them, but the Law Officer of the Crown, who conducted the prosecutions with honour and with credit, lost his popularity, and with it lost his seat. That probably was the reason why it was not intended to institute any further proceedings against the Press; and, of course, it was far easier for two or three gentlemen whose names would never appear before the public to meet quietly in a backroom and make suggestions as to the execution of the Press law to the Lord Lieutenant, who had no occasion to keep up his popularity among constituents. These legal officials would have the whole power in their hands, and might seize on any pretext for pouncing on a newspaper, not really on account of an obscure paragraph, forwarded possibly by design, which had crept in unawares through the inadvertence of a fatigued sub-editor between two and three in the morning, but because of rigorous and manly articles against the conduct and action of the Government. The thumb-screw would then be applied to that paper, which would be effectually prevented from troubling the Government any more. The whole Press of the kingdom would be held by these men as in the hollow of their hands, and the journalist who dared to hold free opinions, and to express them, might be made amenable, and subsequently ruined for his independence. The Lord Lieutenant was not, he believed, remarkable for political sagacity or profound statesmanship. Now, many Members present recollected a great statesman whose memory was justly revered on account of the principal act of his political career—the repeal of the duty imposed on the food of the people. Well, Mr. Cobden, addressing that House as the spokesman of the Anti-Corn Law League, described the sufferings from want and starvation of the people of Stockport, which he then represented, and he asked—"What are you going to do? Are we in this House to tell the 60,000 people of Stockport that they are to lie down and die? If we are to tell them that, the responsibility of their death must rest on the Government." Yet what was the charge made by that sober - minded, calm and experienced statesman, Sir Robert Peel, against Mr. Cobden? He actually said, by making use of such words, Mr. Cobden was inciting the people to assassinate him— the Prime Minister of England. If, therefore, an experienced statesman like Sir Robert Peel could be so carried away by panic and passion as to bring forward such an accusation on such slender grounds, what could be expected from a juvenile statesman or a couple of lawyers who had been pitchforked into a position of power in Ireland, and who might in the chagrin of momentary political defeat, or in an hour of foolish panic, grasp at the opportunity of putting down that Press which complained of bad laws, exposed the incapacity of the Executive, or advocated the liberties of the people.


said, although he did not agree with all that had fallen from the First Minister of the Crown as to the Bill containing nothing which was unconstitutional, he was, nevertheless, prepared to give it his support. He could not, however, give it that support without first stating in a few words what he believed to be the main facts of the case. He wished to remind the Committee and the country that in the two years and a-half during which the late Government were in Office they had to encounter, as far as treason and sedition were concerned, a far more serious state of affairs in Ireland than that which confronted Her Majesty's present Government, and yet the late Government did not feel it to be their duty to apply to Parliament for powers of this exceptional character against the Press of that country. On the contrary, they were content to put into effect the law as they found it against the treasonable and seditious Press. Indeed, they never even contemplated or discussed the propriety of applying to Parliament for powers of this extraordinary and exceptional nature. On retiring from Office they handed Ireland over to Her Majesty's present Government in a condition, speaking relatively, of progress, of contentment, and of peace. Another circumstance to which he wished to refer was that the present Government had been during their tenure of Office the most powerful Government of modern times, and that they had done in and for Ireland what they listed. They had carried one of the most revolutionary measures of recent times, had debased their opponents and elevated their friends, and had carried out to the full the policy they thought fit to pursue with respect to Ireland, and yet, in spite of all this, Her Majesty's Government now came forward and told the House they would not be answerable for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in Ireland unless the Legislature conferred upon them these exceptional, and, he might almost say, extravagant powers. Be it so. On the express declaration of Her Majesty's Government that these powers were essential to the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in Ireland lie freely conceded them his support, as far as his vote was concerned. While conceding it, however, he must distinctly state that in his humble opinion those powers were the necessary consequence, supplement, and complement of the policy, action, and language of Her Majesty's Government.


Sir, the noble Lord who has just spoken—differing, I must say, from every Gentleman who sits beside him—cannot afford to lose the smallest opportunity of importing party spirit into this discussion. I am not about to treat the speech of the noble Lord as an indication of the feeling which exists on the other side of the House, because I am bound to say that a perfectly opposite spirit has been manifested in that quarter. But as the noble Lord thinks fit to refer to that period of peace and contentment which prevailed in Ireland without the extraordinary powers for which we now ask, I may be allowed to remind him of that which he seems to me to have altogether forgotten—that he never had any share in the governing Ireland, during the existence of the late Administration, aided only by the ordinary law; for the extreme measure of a suspended Constitution was in force during the whole period which the noble Lord has with such singularly good taste and propriety brought under the notice of the House. I turn now to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny (Sir John Gray), and I feel satisfied that whatever difficulties we may have in obtaining verdicts against seditious newspapers in Ireland, we should have little or none in obtaining a verdict against him for having committed an error in reporting history. He has told us what Sir Robert Peel said to Mr. Cobden in 1842; but he has completely omitted the material words of Mr. Cobden. The words on which Sir Robert Peel made a charge against Mr. Cobden, which he afterwards most handsomely, unreservedly, and most properly withdrew, were the words in which Mr. Cobden said that he would hold him "individually responsible." Now, I should never ask for any amendment of the law against my hon. Friend in order to obtain a verdict against him on the score of want of accuracy, if his offence were one which was indictable. I was a hearer of those words of Mr. Cobden, and I see a right hon. Friend of mine opposite who was, I have no doubt, also a hearer of them. What was meant by them was, that such was Sir Robert Peel's influence over the Government of which he was the head that the acts of that Government were to be considered as his acts. Sir Robert Peel treated the words as referring to his personal character, and upon that ground made the charge which he afterwards entirely and absolutely withdrew. Now, as to the Bill under our consideration, my hon. Friend says we ought not to ask for the extraordinary powers which it professes to give, inasmuch as verdicts for treason-felony might be obtained by prosecutions instituted under the existing law. He points out to us that verdicts for treason-felony were obtained in 1848, and one prosecution failed. Now, I would remark that the failure of a political prosecution is a more serious matter than my hon. Friend seems to think, and to institute a comparison between the amount of sympathy excited in such cases and in ordinary cases seems to me to be a mode of arguing which is entirely fallacious. In 1848 the Law Officers of the Crown no doubt were of opinion that the articles then published in certain newspapers did afford a ground on which they might hope for a verdict. They were, I believe, articles of a kind which contemplated measures of immediate rebellion and violence against the armed force. Now, that is exactly the element which is wanting in such articles as those against which the present Bill is directed. The articles which now appear are written with a view to throw the people into a treasonable attitude of mind, teaching them to expect rebellion, to prepare for it, and to take part in it when it comes. As regards prosecution for seditious libel the case is different. Verdicts have been obtained, and may be obtained, but with considerable uncertainty. More than that, the punishment inflicted is totally inefficient for the prevention of the offence. I would here observe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), in moving the omission of the word "seditious" from Clause 27, does not appear to be aware that in the view of the Government his Amendment, if carried, would be equivalent to putting a negative on the clause—a result which I am sure he did not contemplate. I do not deny that there are many things to be said in support of the opinions which my right hon. Friend has advanced, but it is only fair that he should know how we look upon the proposal which he has made. The debate has covered the whole general principle of the clause, and I am not sorry for it, for that principle is involved in the use of the word "seditious," without which the clause could not, in the judgment of our legal advisers, be made to work. We have heard the character of the articles against which it is directed described, and have had specimens from those articles read which might be multiplied usque ad nauseam. They all belong to the same class, and it is for the Committee to say whether that is a class of writing which ought to be permitted to go on. If it ought not to be so permitted, it is in vain to endeavour to put it down by prosecutions leading to the imprisonment of the editors of newspapers, since during their confinement the articles might continue to be produced. If we limit our demand for extraordinary powers to the case of treason only, it would be almost impossible, according to the unanimous judgment of those who would be responsible for enforcing the law, to obtain any of those verdicts for treason-felony by means of which alone the only effective corrective could be applied to the mischief. I wish my statement upon this point to be as distinct as possible, because it is not in any spirit of authorship or fastidious pride that we refuse to adopt the Amendment which has been proposed. If we could reconcile our views with those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock, we should very gladly do so; but, looking at those enactments as enactments which are intended to take practical effect, it is our solemn belief, supported as we were in the debate of last night by legal authority independent of the Government, to which it is impossible to attach too much weight, that without the power for which we ask it would be in vain to endeavour to carry them effectually into execution. The omission of the words "or seditious" would so maim and mutilate the clause that it would lose its vital principle. I hope, therefore, my right hon. Friend will see that, although no doubt unintentionally, so far as he is concerned, the result of the success of his Motion would be destroy this portion of the Bill.


said, that the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Sir John Gray) had pointed out that the Bill would give the Government power to seize without trial any newspaper which in times of disturbance might offend them. The House was asked to sanction the institution of a procedure of confiscation without trial, based upon the interpretation of a term which had been explained on the high authority of Mr. Broom to be so elastic that it would cover the expression of objection to any act whatsoever of the Government. He should be sorry to stand in the way of the suppression of crime or the prevention of felony; but it was admitted that the Government had not used the powers which they possessed. The Government ought not to possess the arbitrary power of seizure before trial. It was true that a person might succeed in an action against the Government and be compensated out of the Consolidated Fund; but the circulation of his paper might in the meantime be stopped, and he might be ruined by some official stretching his power to the fullest extent. It should be remembered that sedition was not propagated by newspapers alone, for in the chapels the priests had been known to use such seditious language that the troops were not allowed to attend without the presence of an officer. There were provisions in the Bill that would enable the Government to exercise an arbitrary power against printed matter which they might hold to be of a seditious kind, although by the mere fact of printing the publisher afforded evidence against himself, which would render prosecution easy—as the First Minister had admitted—as well as successful, and left it deficient only in the penalty, which might easily be supplied. He recognized the full force of the objections taken by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie). The House was invited to establish an unconstitutional and dangerous precedent, not for arresting treason or felony — because the word that would accomplish that object would remain in the clause after the Amendment was carried—but by placing in the hands of the Government the power of seizing without trial any newspaper that might use expressions that might come within the interpretation of the word "sedition."


said, he was reluctant to trouble the Committee for a moment; but he thought he should be acting a cowardly part if he did not state his reasons for the vote he intended to give on this Amendment. He came down to the House determined to find reasons, if he could, for supporting the Government on each and every part of the Bill, and he was prepared, as far as he could possibly do so, to support them in passing a most stringent and exceptional law for the purpose of preserving peace in Ireland. But the sole question they were now discussing was, whether they were to pass a law enabling the Government to seize any newspaper which, in their judgment, contained seditious matter. Now, if he knew what "sedition" meant he should vote for retaining that word in the clause; but he defied any lawyer or any man to say what "sedition" meant, or, still worse, what was not sedition. Many Gentlemen he now addressed might have talked with those who remembered well the day when everything that a man said or did which proved him to be a lover of his country and of liberty was by the Government of the day, and sometimes successfully, construed to be sedition. The same thing might happen any day now, because "sedition" was a word coined in bad times, when the Constitution was not reverenced as thoroughly as it was now — glosses had been put upon it by lawyers and Judges before Fox's Libel Act was passed, the consequence being that our text-books were full of definitions such as might apply to any Member of this House while earnestly and patriotically doing his duty. He could not, therefore, consent to give to any Government so elastic and dangerous a power as would be given by allowing them to seize valuable property upon their own definition of the word "sedition. "Moreover, he was of opinion that it was quite unnecessary to retain the word "sedition" in order to meet any case in which the Law Officers of the Crown ought really to advise a seizure. The very instance quoted by the Solicitor General for Ireland as one of the most outrageous and atrocious acts of the Press, which they required power to punish, was, to his (Mr. Denman's) mind, fully met by the other part of the clause; because any Judge or jury, anxious to decide according to the truth, would find in the article read by the Solicitor General, about the guns a direct incitement to felony, and a direct encouragement to treason. If this word "seditious" were retained, occasions might soon arise in which the Government, led on by the power conferred on them by the clause, might occasionally do acts and make mistakes which would cause enormous damages to be given in any action brought against them. The last state of that Government would be worse than its first, and they would soon bitterly regret having asked for this extraordinary and undefined power. The moral strength given to a Government by such a Bill as this depended very much on the unanimity with which the powers it conferred were passed. He did not believe there was any part of the Bill against which so strong a minority would vote as against the retention of this odious and uncertain word. He should be reluctantly compelled to form one of the minority; but the Government would do a gracious and conciliatory thing, and would greatly strengthen their hands in carrying the remaining clauses of the Bill, if they retired from pressing the word and adopted the Amendment.


said, his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Denman) seemed to have serious apprehension that the power conferred by the clause was likely to be abused. Now, he would not dispute that the power was capable of great abuse, and that by its means innocent persons might be punished for acts which were not evil in themselves, and in which they had no evil intention. But it must be remembered that the circumstances in Ireland were so exceptional that an exceptional remedy was required. The power was a large and dangerous one; but was not any large power liable to abuse? The practical question was, could Parliament trust the present Government with a power which might be abused? He did not believe that half-a-dozen persons thought the power was likely to be abused, and he said this not as a special compliment to the present Government, for he would say exactly the same of the Gentlemen opposite if they were in Office. The fact was that, in the present social condition of this country, and with the vast power of public opinion—which all public men very properly dreaded—it was impossible that any Government could abuse such a power. Should it be abused, be the consequences on their heads, but for his part he cordially and cheerfully trusted them.

Question put, "That the words 'or seditious' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 333; Noes 56: Majority 277.


said, he rose to move the insertion of words in the clause, the effect of which would be that the Lord Lieutenant, on being of opinion that a newspaper contained treasonable or seditious matter, might thereupon instruct the Attorney General to file an indictment, or ex-officio information, and then issue a warrant for seizing the newspaper and all the printing materials. If afterwards a verdict was found for the Crown, all the plant so seized would be forfeited to the Crown. He thought that Amendment would meet all that the Government could require. The Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Dowse) had stated that the provision in the Bill was necessary, as the Government would not otherwise be able to get a verdict; because one man on the jury holding out would prevent a verdict from being returned. But, on the other hand, what hope would there be for the editor of The Irishman or Nation, whose property might be confiscated, to obtain a verdict, for was it not more likely that one juryman would hold out for the Crown? One part of the clause in the Bill stated that all papers deemed treasonable or seditious, wherever printed, might be seized in Ireland. Now, there were in London, and other large English towns, a great many Irishmen disaffected to the Government; and supposing a paper or engraving published in London infinitely worse than any printed in Ireland, sent over to Dublin, it might be seized in the latter city, while the property in the office in London where it was published was left unmolested. He held in his hand a remarkable cartoon, printed and circulated in London on the 16th of October, in a paper called The Tomahawk. It represented on one part a bully, described as a "heartless, cruel, brutal, and grasping" Irish landlord turning a poor Irishman out of his holding; and, on the other, the evicted tenant was depicted behind a hedge, with the landlord lying in the road shot dead. The publication of such a document as this merited the condemnation of the House, and if English and Scotch Members would by large majorities apply the present measure to Ireland, he wanted to know why a clause should not be introduced to render it applicable to such publications as The Tomahawk, printed in the City of London, or elsewhere. A paper with such cartoons published in London, going over to Ireland and circulating there, would be far more mischievous than if originally printed in Dublin. Would the Solicitor General for Ireland introduce a clause to meet such cases? The hon. Member moved an Amendment to the effect he had described.


said, he hoped the Committee would not consent to the Amendment proposed, which would alter the entire framework of the clause. Under the guise of a technical Amendment, it would completely change the whole proposed legislation on the subject. The vote just given and the discussion which preceded it all went on the assumption that those extraordinary powers were to be conferred on the Lord Lieutenant, and that he, acting upon them, under such advice as he could procure, should seize the paper, plant, and material, as forfeited to the Crown; but the Amendment insisted, as a preliminary, upon the commencement of legal proceedings against the paper, and that those proceedings should be brought to a successful termination; and if they were not brought to a successful termination, the result would be that everything which had been done would be undone, and the party would be remitted to his original position. He did not say that such a proposition could not under other circumstances be considered, but it could not be considered in this case. If the Amendment were adopted, the clause would become such a specimen of Parliamentary patchwork as had never before been exhibited. With reference to the cartoons referred to, he certainly did not admire them. He considered, however, that they were very different from those contained in the papers he referred to, and had a different object in view. These considerations were beside the Amendment of the hon. Member; the real objection to it was that if it were adopted, it would require that the Lord Lieutenant before seizing a paper in Dublin should institute legal proceedings against the proprietor or publisher, who might live in New York or London.


said, he wished to draw attention to the fact that the Solicitor General for Ireland had not answered the question which his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Downing) had put to him—whether, if the article inculpated were produced in England, the same law should not reach it? The Government should at least deal impartially in the matter. He trusted the Solicitor General would answer the question definitely and distinctly.

Amendment negatived.


said, he objected to the words in the clause which would enable the Government to seize all printing presses, engines, machinery, and other plant found upon the premises as well as the actual types and paper employed in printing the seditious matter. He would beg to move in lines 9 and 10 to leave out "engines, machinery, and other plant." As the clause now stood, if The Tomahawk was sent to a publishing house in Dublin all the machinery could be seized as being "in or about the premises where such newspaper is published."


said, the argument of his hon. Friend, if good for anything, would extend to type as well as the engines; for type might equally with them be used in printing matter which was not seditious. Without going into the question as to whether objectionable papers printed in London could be seized in Dublin, he might state that engines and machinery in the place where such papers were found would plainly not be liable to seizure, as these would not be "materials used or employed in the printing or publishing" of such newspaper.


said, it appeared that this was to be the result of all their discussion—a certain class of printing offices in Dublin was to be prosecuted and broken up, while exactly similar establishments in London, in Liverpool, or even in Holyhead, which was but three and a-half hours' journey from Ireland were to be left untouched. Were these offices to be at liberty to publish any amount of Irish treason and sedition, and to excite to murder and agrarian outrage, and action to be taken only when the paper so published was found in Ireland? Were the police only to be at liberty to seize the well-thumbed copies after they had been read in every forgo and shebeen house in Ireland? ["Oh, oh"] Hon. Members might exclaim, but that would be the operation of the Bill. It was, accordingly, a measure for throwing hundreds of men out of employment in Dublin, and putting the trade of sedition into the hands of starving artizans in this country. It would not stop the publications, at which the Bill was aimed. A measure more useless, more irritating to Ireland, or more certain to recoil upon its projectors, he believed had never been brought in since England had governed Ireland. The people of Ireland would say that they could not expect reasonable or just legislation from the British House of Commons.


said, he thought it very unjust that printing establishments, engaged in perfectly legitimate operations, should be in danger of seizure and forfeiture to Her Majesty because of some paragraph held to be seditious which might be slipped into a newspaper printed on the premises. Under the French Press laws, the most stringent then in existence, the Courrier de Dimanche, a highly seditious paper, was suppressed in 1866; but not until after that paper had received eight warnings, and had undergone two suspensions and one judicial condemnation for exciting hatred and contempt of the Government. The effect of the Bill, he feared, would be to destroy not alone property which the Government might wish to destroy, but property of innocent and loyal persons, and so to excite a feeling of insecurity throughout the whole of the print- ing trade in Ireland, and deteriorate the value of all newspaper property.


said, a practice existed in London and other large towns under which a single office contracted for the printing of perhaps a dozen different newspapers. The papers were put together elsewhere, and the contractor performed the merely mechanical work of printing. Yet the Government proposed to visit that printer with the penalty of seizure, which they intended for the authors of those publications.


said, the Government would have no objection to insert provisions in a subsequent part of the Bill to the effect that the engines and type should be preserved intact, pending the result of an action by the person who felt himself aggrieved.


said, he wished to point out that, as Her Majesty's Government had undertaken to give one preliminary warning to the newspapers intended to be proceeded against under the Bill, it was impossible that a paragraph slipped in accidentally could be attended with the penal consequences which had been suggested. He hoped, however, that the-Government would, introduce some provisions preventing seditious matter printed in England from finding its way to Ireland.

Amendment negatived.


proposed in line 14 to leave out "shall be forfeited to Her Majesty," and insert— May be seized under the warrant of the Lord Lieutenant and detained, pending the prosecution of the publisher of such newspaper. His object was to provide a safeguard to the publisher, and to ensure a decision by a jury on the nature of the publication alleged to be seditious.


said, this was simply a repetition of what had already been moved by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing), and was a matter rather of form than of substance; because, unless the character of the publication was such that the articles were liable to seizure, there would be no forfeiture. This clause did not determine what steps should be taken to make the forfeiture effectual; but it gave the Lord Lieutenant power to seize the plant of a newspaper on his being satisfied that there was some ground for making such seizure. It was not intended to destroy the plant so seized, but simply to detain it, in order that it might be restored to the owner in the event of subsequent legal proceedings terminating in his favour. In that case the owner would obtain restitution and such damages as he might be able to recover.


said, there was a difference between providing for the detention of the property and insisting on a prosecution for seditious publications. This was not the proper time to discuss the question of detention.


said, the Government would be bound, if they seized the machinery, to keep it in order; for if they did not, and the subsequent proceedings wont against them, a larger amount of damages would have to be paid. But that was not all that the hon. Member (Mr. Callan) desired. It would be very hard to destroy a man's opportunity of getting his livelihood by keeping his machinery unused.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.


said, in order to carry out the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) he would beg to move in line 16, after the word "Whore," the insertion of the words "after the passing of this Act."

Amendment agreed to.

On Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill,"


said, he objected to the clause, and would take the sense of the House upon it.


said, he must also object to the clause. If there was in the Irish newspapers one thing more valuable than another, it was their free discussion of the acts of their clergy. This clause would place in the hands of the Chief Secretary the power of crushing that discussion.

Question put, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 255; Noes 29: Majority 226.

Whereupon, the Deputy Serjeant at Arms being come with a Message for the House to attend the Lords Commissioners, the Chairman left the Chair.

Mr. Speaker resumed the Chair.

And it being now Seven of the clock, House adjourned till Nine o'clock.

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