THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
, in rising to move—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the state of Westmeath and certain parts adjoining, of Meath and King's County, the nature, extent, and effect of a certain unlawful combination and confederacy existing therein, and the best means of suppressing the same,said: I need hardly attempt to describe the feelings of painful dismay with which I undertake the task now before me, for, in addition to the want of experience and knowledge of Irish affairs under which I labour, I have to approach a most difficult and distressing question, which has perplexed English statesmen for many years—namely, the manner in which Irish crime should be dealt with by Parliament. Under these circumstances it may be excusable, though it may not be wise, if, to begin with, I approach the most agreeable part of my subject. I feel, then, a pleasure to be able to say that the condition of Ireland as regards crime has during the last year very greatly and sensibly improved. Those who recollect the condition of Ireland for a much longer period than I can, will be able to make their own comparisons as to the state of things that existed in that country within their own recollection, and that which exists at the present time. They can contrast the present comparative quietude and peace in that country with the scenes of almost open warfare and bloodshed which they can recall to their recollection. I shall not go back to any distance of time, but I shall be satisfied if I can point out to 990 the House, as I think I can, that within the last year there has been a great and material improvement in the state of Ireland. It will be within the recollection of the House that during the last winter and spring agrarian and other crimes were very prevalent in that country, but that a great improvement in that respect has taken place, the proof of which can be traced in many ways. For instance, the assizes in different circuits are approaching, and there is hardly at any of them any considerable number of cases coming on for Crown prosecution. That circumstance, however, is not always the test of peace, for unfortunately when crime is rife it is often not possible to detect the criminals to a sufficient degree to bring them to trial in the Courts of Justice; but the reports received from the constabulary, who specially report every instance of violence and crime throughout the country, equally show a remarkable improvement. Within the last months of last winter, the months of January, February, and March, the number of offences specially reported by the constabulary was—in January, 713; in February, 601; and in March, 741; while in the first four months of the present winter the number was in October 224, in November 255, in December 204, and in the past January 231. If we compare the state of Ireland now with that of last winter with respect to those crimes classed in the criminal statistics as agrarian, the comparison is still more satisfactory. Whereas in January of last winter the number was 391, in February 303, and in March 356, the number in the first four months of the present winter was in October 11, in November 30, in December 20, and in January 35. I do not wish the House for one moment to believe that I attribute this great improvement—for a great improvement it is—to that course of remedial legislation which it has been the pride of this side of the House to initiate during the two last Sessions of Parliament. I am aware that we have had in operation during the present winter the Peace Preservation Act, which conferred on the Government powers considerably exceeding those ordinarily in the hands of the Government; but I claim for the Government the credit of having used both the ordinary and the extraordinary powers which have been placed in their 991 hands with vigour, firmness, and decision. During the past year it has only been necessary for the Government to issue but one Special Commission, but that has been attended with results of the best character. We have in every disaffected part of the country prosecuted the most vigourous searches for fire-arms, which have resulted in a large number of them having been taken from the hands of the disloyal and criminal classes. The constabulary force has been augmented in every disturbed district; experienced detectives have been employed in certain parts of the country not with all the effect that might have been expected, but still not altogether without effect; constant patrols have been established wherever, in the opinion of the constabulary, they could be of advantage, and the Attorney General and the Crown Solicitor have been instructed personally to undertake every case which appeared to be of any unusual gravity, and they have discharged their duty in a most satisfactory manner. Altogether, therefore, I assert that at no time within the recollection of any Member in this House, have the powers of the law been more vigorously, and at the same time more impartially, executed. This is an answer to those observations made in so fair, candid, and generous a spirit by the right hon. Gentleman opposite a few nights ago. I do not ask for a Committee of this House, nor do I wish the right hon. Gentleman to inquire how Ireland is to be regenerated or governed. We hope and believe that time and wise legislation will regenerate Ireland, and meanwhile the present Government is determined, as much as any Government has been, to exercise the powers conferred on them by Parliament, and to govern Ireland according to law. I now come to the painful exceptions from the general tranquillity alluded to in Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, and those exceptions occurred principally in the counties referred to in the Notice of Motion I have placed on the Paper—namely, in the county of Westmeath, and certain small districts bordering on that county, in King's County and Meath. In respect to the figures I shall have to lay before the House I shall not have much to say in reference to Meath and King's County, and, probably, it might not have been necessary to include them in the Notice 992 before the House, had it not been that we thought it better that the Committee to be appointed should not be fettered by any rigid line of boundary, but should be able to extend the inquiry, if they thought fit, beyond the circumstances of Westmeath to what has happened on its border. In Westmeath there has also been some diminution in the number of those offences which are classed under the head of agrarian crimes during the last winter; but I am sorry to say there has been a marked increase in the more serious class of crimes. In 1869 there were two murders and two attempts to murder in Westmeath; in 1870 there were four murders and seven attempts at murder; and in the past winter there have happened three murders and two attempts at murder; and in January of this year there occurred one further attempt to murder. In King's County there were in 1869 one murder and one attempt to murder; in 1870 two attempts; and in January, 1871, one attempt. In Meath, I am happy to say, there has been no serious attempt at crime; but, in the statement I shall have further on to make, I have reason to suppose that that part of Meath is as much subject to the Riband conspiracy as any part of Westmeath or King's County. Perhaps the House will allow me to read the particulars of two murders, which will show in a clearer manner than the mere recapitulation of statistics what is the nature of the crime with which we have to deal. The first occurred on the 25th of November last, and was as follows:—Francis Dowling, an Army pensioner, steward to Messrs. Perry, of Ballinagore Mills, when returning from his office in the evening, and about entering the gatehouse where he resided, was fired at and shot dead by some person unknown, who, from the impression made by his knee when taking aim, appears to have been concealed about two or three yards on Dowling's right. Four pellets struck Dowling. Deceased was an inoffensive man, and generally liked. About two years ago a man was dismissed from Messrs. Perry's employment. He was succeeded by Dowling. Revenge for this is the only motive assigned for the crime. Messrs. Perry have been three times noticed by threatening letters to discharge four persons, of whom Dowling was one, and about six months ago were informed that a man was told off to shoot Dowling. Two men were arrested (one of whom was the party dismissed), but both were discharged for want of evidence.The next case to which I wish to call particular attention is that of the murder 993 of a process server on the 29th of December last, and is as follows:—Thomas Waters, process server, was found by a police patrol one mile from Mullingar, at 11 o'clock, p.m., shot dead, his body still warm. There were three bullet wounds in his left breast. The Rev. Mr. Crofton, of Louth, about a month ago resolved upon evicting a notorious Riband leader, who had refused to pay an increased rent, but so great was the dread of this man that no one could be found to serve the ejectment notice. Waters at last undertook the task. His death deprives the landlord of proof that the notice was served, and the tenant in question will, in consequence, retain his farm for six months longer. It is believed that this crime was resolved on and carried out under the directions of the Riband conspiracy. The police repeatedly warned deceased of the danger of associating with known members of that society, and frequently escorted him (contrary to his wish) part of the way home. Three persons, all notorious Ribandmen, have been arrested. One of the three was seen drinking with Waters during the entire day of the murder.I regret to say that the three persons arrested on suspicion of having been concerned in this crime have been discharged for want of evidence. I will not refer to any other serious cases that have occurred, because there are persons in custody against whom there is more or less evidence, and with respect to whom there is more or less hope of obtaining a conviction; and therefore it will not be right, whilst their trials are pending, that I should say anything respecting their cases. These statements of actual murder and of attempt to murder within the limits of a small county are certainly bad enough; but I regret to say that does not complete the whole of my case. All these acts of violence are, we have reason to believe, the work of a Riband society in Westmeath, which has long been known as the centre and stronghold of that society. It has, no doubt, broken out at various times in other parts of Ireland, and it has, no doubt, also inflicted upon society in other parts of Ireland very grave and serious injury. In other parts of Ireland, I am happy to say, it appears almost to have disappeared; but in Westmeath, and on the borders of that county, it still continues to be in existence. That it is nothing new in Westmeath I think the following figures will prove. From a Return extending from the years 1848 to 1870 it appears that 40 persons died from violence within the county of Westmeath, and in 12 only of those cases were convictions obtained. In addition to these 40 cases there were 54 persons fired at, 994 and in five of these only were convictions obtained. Probably, most hon. Members know as well as I do what is the nature and object of a Riband society. Originally it had something of a religious and political character about it. I believe it began as a Roman Catholic organization for the protection of its adherents against the Orange society; later, however, it assumed a very different aspect, and devoted itself chiefly to enforcing a set of rules framed by its leaders for regulating the relationships between landlord and tenant; more recently, it has again assumed a religious character to a certain extent, but it still continues to take notice of breaches of its rules as regards landlord and tenant, and even interferes between employer and employed. This leads me to another part of the case—which is, that not only have these violent attempts prevailed to the extent I have described in the county of Westmeath, and not only do we suppose them to be the work of a secret society, but the information we receive from the resident magistrates, from the constabulary, and from private persons induces us to think that this society exercises an influence which no statistics I can lay upon the Table of the House will indicate sufficiently. The reports we receive show that such a state of terrorism prevails that the society has only to issue its edict to secure obedience; nor has it even to issue its edict, its laws are so well known, and an infringement of them is followed so regularly by murderous outrage, that few, indeed, can treat them with defiance. Riband law, and not the law of the land, appears to be that which is obeyed. It reaches to such an extent that no landlord dare exercise the most ordinary of rights pertaining to land; and no farmer, employer, or agent dare exercise his own judgment or discretion as to whom he shall or shall not employ; in fact, so far does the influence of the society extend that a man scarcely dare enter into open competition in the fairs or markets with anyone known to belong to the society. Under these circumstances, inquiry will naturally arise as to the powers given under the additional law passed last Session. We have already said what has been done by the Government with regard to the preservation of peace throughout the country. All those measures which I have before enumerated have been still more 995 strictly carried out in the case of Westmeath and the neighbourhood. The ordinary police force in Westmeath has been added to by, I think, 130 men; additional stations, too, have been established wherever an outrage has occurred or is apprehended; the cost of these additional stations has been in many instances defrayed out of a tax upon the inhabitants; the police have arrested numerous persons under the provisions of the Act of last year for being out at night under suspicious circumstances; but in very few of these cases have the magistrates been able to inflict the penalties of the law, because those persons who were arrested had taken good care that they were out on business, and that they had a lawful and also an additional excuse; patrols have been established wherever a constabulary officer had reason to believe they were necessary, and special protection has been given in many cases to persons supposed to be in danger. So far have the precautions of the constabulary reached that in some cases some of the worst characters have been almost constantly watched; but so perfect and complete has been the character and organization of this conspiracy, that the constabulary have attributed but little importance to precautions like these. They believe the Riband leaders can concert measures and project a scheme of retaliation by the meeting of two or three men in the road or in the middle of a fair. An outrage can thus be planned within earshot of the police, and all the necessary arrangements be made with a precision which could not be exceeded if the conspirators assembled in a secret meeting place. I need not say that the Irish Government, that my noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and myself have made most careful inquiries to see whether the police and magistrates possess any powers which they have not yet used; but they have conclusively shown us that even the additional powers of the Act of last year have not been sufficient to cope with this conspiracy of Westmeath and its neighbourhood. Now, if this state of things really exists—and it can be too readily proved—the Government say, and I say to the House, that it is an intolerable state of things. The Government are prepared to admit it, and we say that we are determined to apply to 996 the House for a remedy. What we propose to-night to do is this—to lay the facts which I have stated, and other facts which are too long to lay before the House now—to lay all these facts before a Committee of this House. We ask to have a Committee to join with us in thoroughly sifting and attempting to elucidate these facts. We do not ask the Committee to provide us with a remedy. We feel that to be the duty of the Government. But we do think we may fairly ask the Committee to assist us in examining into these facts, and into the state of things which I have described. Bad as the case is, it is not one which we think requires legislation in haste or in panic. There has been quite enough of hasty legislation, and we believe that any legislation not based upon a full and complete knowledge of the extent of the evil, and of the nature of the evil, and of the cause or causes of the evil, would fail in its object. We ask, then, that a Committee of the House should examine with us into the facts which I have laid before them, and we ask this for several reasons. First, we ask this Committee for our own assistance. It may, of course, be said that we have within our own reach all the necessary means of obtaining information. We have, no doubt, the information of responsible magistrates; we have the information of the constabulary officers; we have the information which can be given us by the officers of the law, and I should be the last person to disparage the value and the accuracy of the information which those officers can give us. Still, even with regard to them, we do not think it will be amiss that their knowledge and experience, that their observations and the results of their observations, should be thoroughly investigated by impartial and independent means. We think that new light may be obtained by bringing new minds to bear upon the Committee. In addition to that, we desire to obtain the assistance and knowledge which can be provided by persons whose information is not readily accessible by the Government. We hope and expect that local magistrates will come forward and give us their information. We hope that employers of labour will come forward and tell us what they know. In short, we hope that persons of all classes and creeds, who are acquainted with the inhabitants, with their 997 habits, and with their manners, will come forward and give us independent information upon this subject. And although, no doubt, the Irish Government have endeavoured to obtain as full information from those sources as they could, still we believe that a Committee of the House of Commons will have the means and opportunity of obtaining further information, and of sifting it in a more thorough and complete manner. That is one reason why we ask for this Committee. And the next reason why we ask for a Committee is in justice to ourselves and the House. It is possible—I do not know how that may be, but it is possible—that the House might, upon the statement I have made, be willing to admit that the case was proved, and to give the Government any powers which they might think fit to ask. But, Sir, I think the House, in taking such a course, would evade that responsibility which properly belongs to it. [Cries of "No, no!" and "The Government!"] I think, Sir, that the case does not depend on the mere figures which I have been able to lay before the House, nor upon the assertions which I have made, though I think them capable of being proved. I believe that the House has the means of obtaining full and sufficient proof of them, and I think the House would evade the responsibility which belongs to it if they took for granted from any Minister a statement of facts which they themselves have the opportunity of proving to their own satisfaction. The House does not, in ordinary cases, take for granted any statement made by a Minister on the introduction of a Bill; but the House examines for itself all such statements, and the grounds on which they are made. Why, then, in a case like this, when grave and great constitutional questions are involved, is the House to evade its responsibility, and refuse to examine the facts and grounds upon which a measure is to be laid before it? And, lastly, we ask for an inquiry in justice to the people of Ireland. We know the use that will be made by all the enemies of order and peace and of this country in Ireland, of any proposal made by the Government for additional and stringent powers. We know that the use made of it would be extended far beyond the district with which we are particularly concerned with to-night. We know that the evil results 998 arising from misrepresentation would extend over the whole of Ireland, and we therefore think that, before we ask for additional powers, before we expose the whole country to the risk of mischief by asking for this inquiry, it is due to the people of Ireland that they should have the opportunity of coming forward and testifying to the truth or the falsehoods of the statements which have been made with regard to a small portion of their country, or of showing that they have been exaggerated. It is due to them to have an opportunity of saying that these evils exist in Westmeath only, and do not exist elsewhere. It is due to them that they should have an opportunity of denying any participation in these crimes and in this conspiracy. These are the grounds upon which we think we may fairly ask the House to enter with us into an examination of the facts. We do not shrink from any responsibility that properly belongs to us; but we do say that the House, no more than the Government, has any right to evade the responsibility which properly belongs to it. I repeat that, in asking the House for a Committee to inquire into the facts, we have no desire to ask the Committee to suggest a remedy. Upon the facts so established, as I believe they would be before a Committee, the Government will be prepared, as I have said before, to legislate. The Government think the state of things intolerable, and a remedy they are determined to find, if not within, then without, the ordinary limits of the Constitution. Now, as to the terms of the Motion, there are two observations which I desire to make to the House. The first relates to the words in the Motion, "the nature, extent, and effect of a certain unlawful combination and confederacy existing therein." These words may seem to some Members of the House to be pedantic, but they have been chosen as the description applied to the Riband conspiracy in a former Act of Parliament. These words have been chosen to show the nature of the inquiry into the state of Westmeath, and the nature of the conspiracy generally known by that name. The other observation is this—that I have added at the end of the Motion that the Committee are to inquire into "the best means of suppressing the same." Now, these words form part of the Motion, because I thought it probable and desirable that 999 many witnesses who would come before the Committee, would wish not only to state the facts with which they are acquainted, but to state what in their opinion is the remedy that should be applied. I do not think it the least desirable that the witnesses should be precluded from giving their opinion on this subject. But I am quite aware that those words have been misunderstood and misapprehended. I am quite aware they have been misunderstood as meaning that we have asked the Committee not only to enter into an examination of the facts, but to provide a remedy. I am glad to state that that is not the meaning of the Government, and rather than that any false impression of the sort should exist, I will willingly consent either to alter the words referred to, or to omit them altogether, provided always it be understood that the witnesses shall not thereby be precluded from expressing an opinion as to the remedy they would suggest. Now, I come to one point of which a great deal has been made, and in respect to which much misapprehension exists, and that is the Notice which I gave upon the matter, but which does not form any part of the Motion — namely, that the Committee should be a Secret Committee. When the Government decided to move for the appointment of this Committee, we considered what evidence it would be possible to bring before it. In addition to the evidence to which I have already referred, it appeared to us that a good deal of evidence, and probably a good deal of valuable evidence, might be obtained from persons resident in the country, if they were not under the apprehension that their evidence would be published in the newspapers. It was thought desirable, therefore, that the Committee should have the power of giving gentlemen who may be willing to be examined the protection of secresy. It has been my duty to examine the question as to what sort of protection the Committee could give. I found that there are only two descriptions of Committees known in this House—the ordinary Select Committees and Committees of Secresy. The only difference between the two, I believe, consists in this—that a Secret Committee is one at which not even a Member of this House has a right to be present. The ordinary Select Committee has a right of excluding the public 1000 whenever it thinks fit, but, of course, secresy in the case of any particular witness would be defeated if one or two Members of the House insisted on the right of being present. Therefore, following the precedents which we have upon the records of this House, I gave Notice on the part of the Government of their intention to make this a Secret Committee—that is to say, to the extent of giving the Committee power to exclude the public and also Members of this House whenever, in the opinion of the Committee, this was necessary for the protection of witnesses. But there never was any intention—and if hon. Members will refer to the precedents they will find that the appointment of a Secret Committee does not necessarily involve any intention—of making this a Committee to sit altogether with closed doors. It was always intended that the question of secresy should be left entirely to the Committee itself; that the greater part of its investigations should be conducted as usual, but that they should have the power of affording to witnesses the protection of secresy whenever in their opinion this might become necessary. But I am not surprised that this part of the subject has led to a great deal of remark, and has been very much misunderstood; and I will frankly admit to the House that the precedents to which we must go back for the appointment of Secret Committees are not precedents derived from the best periods of our history. It is not satisfactory to go back to the years 1812 and 1818 for precedents of Secret Committees to inquire into public matters. It is true that there has been, at a later date, a Committee of Secresy, but that was an investigation of a very different nature—an inquiry into the Bank Acts. But to go back to precedents which are strictly applicable to this case, we should have to refer to the precedents of 1812 and 1818. The Government, seeing how much this matter has been misunderstood, have considered the matter again, and they prefer rather to make a deviation from the established practice than return to those precedents. We propose to leave the matter of secresy entirely in the hands of the Committee. We propose that the Committee shall be appointed precisely in the ordinary manner; and if, in the course of their inquiry, they should think that by sitting with closed doors they 1001 can obtain evidence which they would not otherwise procure, then the Committee will come to the House and ask for the necessary authority, and the Government will give them all the assistance in their power. ["Oh! oh!"] That is the way the Government proposes to leave the matter. I myself do not believe it makes much difference whether the Committee is a secret one or not. I believe that witnesses such as I have described will be willing to come forward whether the Committee is a secret one or whether it is not; if they would be afraid to come and give their evidence openly it is very probable they would be afraid to give it even before a Secret Committee. Still, if the Committee should think that they would be able to obtain evidence in this manner which otherwise they would be unable to do, it will be always in their power to come to this House and ask for leave to sit with closed doors. I am told that the appointment of this Committee is going to be opposed. I do not know upon what ground the opposition will rest. Certainly, I shall be surprised if it be opposed by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. For there is a precedent in point; it is not necessary to go back to 1812 or 1818, for the appointment of a similar Committee. I find that in 1852 a Committee to inquire into a very similar state of things in the counties of Armagh, Monaghan, and Louth was appointed by this House on the Motion of Mr. Napier, the Irish Attorney General of the Government with which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) was then connected. That Committee was appointed without any such statement on the part of the Government as I have been authorized to make to-night—that the Government were prepared to take any responsibility whatever in putting an end to the existing state of things. Mr. Napier, on the part of Lord Derby's Government, simply told the House of the state of things in those counties, and asked for a Committee to inquire into the facts and to suggest a remedy. The Government, as far as I can see, took no responsibility whatever upon themselves for the appointment of that Committee. As far, also, as I am able to discover, no person in this House took any objection to the appointment. Therefore, whatever may be the grounds upon which the appointment 1002 of this Committee is going to be opposed to-night, I can hardly imagine that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have set us the example of resorting to this means of obtaining information for themselves, will grudge us a like opportunity of obtaining information which we are anxious to acquire. I am perfectly aware that the proposal I now have to make will expose us to innumerable taunts as to the failure of what is called our system of remedial legislation. I know that, very shortly, we shall hear some criticisms, not of the most agreeable character, upon remedial legislation in general, and upon our policy of conciliation. But even if the proposal which I have now to make involved the most ample confession of mistake and failure, I believe Her Majesty's Government would not shrink from proposing to Parliament that which they felt it the duty of Parliament to undertake. But I beg to say for myself, and for the Government, that I do not feel in the least that I appear here in the character of a penitent in a white sheet, or that the proposal which I now make involves any confession of failure on the part of the Government. I certainly never heard any Gentleman on this side of the House say that the establishment of religious equality or the passing of a law regulating the tenure of land in Ireland would put a stop to the Riband conspiracy. I think it would have been the height of insanity for anybody to say so. I cannot see on what possible ground it could be imagined that the establishment of equal and just legislation should have any effect on the minds of men who have a system of laws of their own—not just laws, but the most unjust, the most arbitrary, the most tyrannical, and the most barbarous. I cannot conceive what sympathy such men could have with good legislation. And, therefore, I cannot imagine on what grounds it could enter into the mind of any man that justice, as applied to Ireland, would have the immediate effect of putting down Ribandism. I know it has been said—and I believe it to be true—that Ribandism and other forms of disaffection in Ireland derive their chief strength from the sympathy of the people. I believe that this strength is partly derived from this sympathy of the people, and partly from the fear which these organizations inspire in 1003 the minds of the people. But I believe, also, that sympathy with these forms of disaffection is waning day by day under the influence of just government; and I believe that the Government will, with the assistance of this Committee and of the House, be enabled to pass such measures as will, in a short time, put an end to that fear which is the other formidable weapon in the hands of these conspirators.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the state of Westmeath and certain parts adjoining, of Meath and King's County, the nature, extent, and effect of a certain unlawful combination and confederacy existing therein, and the best means of suppressing the same."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
said: The noble Lord commenced his observations by confessing the sentiment of dismay with which he rose to make the proposition with which he has terminated his speech, and I quite sympathized with the noble Lord. I thought it was a sentiment most natural, and it did him great honour, in my opinion, to be under its influence at that moment. Considering how the House of Commons has passed the last two years; the sacrifices which have been proposed and which have been submitted to, the unceasing vigilance, the teeming device, the constant energy, the great exertions that never have been wanting; remembering how legislation has been carried on to the exclusion of all subjects of Imperial interest but those which related to Ireland; how England has submitted to the postponement of measures of great importance, and Scotland has given up that darling scheme of national education which we have found so interesting and entertaining this evening; and viewing what apparently is the result of two years of constant legislation by a Government elected for the purpose of introducing an entirely new system in the administration of Ireland, and which cannot for a moment pretend that it has not been supported generously by the House in any of the measures which it deemed necessary to consummate this great end, I can quite understand, or, at least, I could quite understand, until the closing observations of the noble Lord, that he rose under a feeling of some dismay. But, according to the noble Lord, in his concluding sentence, there is no reason whatever why he 1004 should be dismayed—the state of Ireland at present, in the instance of this disturbed county and the adjoining districts, is exactly that which we ought to have expected. He tells us that religious equality, that agricultural equity—great ends which have been attained under his administration—were never for a moment to be counted on as a means by which a state of society such as he now introduces to our notice could be ameliorated. If that be the case why should the noble Lord be dismayed? The noble Lord should pluck up his courage. If he is to succeed in the singular proposition he has made to-night, he should have come forward, not as a daunted, but rather as a triumphant Minister. He should have said—"It is true that murder is perpetrated with impunity; it is true that life is not secure, and that property has no enjoyment and scarcely any use; but this is nothing when, in the enjoyment of abstract political justice—and by the labours of two years we have achieved that for Ireland — massacres, incendiarism, and assassinations are things scarcely to be noticed by a Minister, and are rather to be referred to the inquiry of a Committee."
Now, after the somewhat perplexing address of the Chief Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant, let me recall the attention of the House to the position in which hon. Members find themselves to-night, after the Notice which was given 48 hours ago. Suddenly the Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant comes down and announces the appointment of a Secret Committee to consider the state of a portion of Ireland, and not only to consider its state of combination and confederacy against the law, but also to devise means for suppressing the same. That was the way in which the question was put before us. Now, however, we are told it is not to be a Secret Committee; but have the Government well considered the effect of making such an announcement to the world, and expressing an opinion that it was necessary to have a Secret Committee to consider the condition of a portion of Ireland? Why, the telegraphic cable must have flashed the announcement to America 48 hours ago, and what do you think must have been the effect of it on those treasonable confederacies which are always in action—and are at this moment in action, as we know—against the 1005 authority of England? What must have been the effect of such an announcement? It must have produced a conviction in their minds that the Government found the whole state of society in Ireland undermined, and that the authority of the Queen was in imminent danger. To announce 48 hours after this that it is not the intention of the Government to propose a Secret Committee, indicates a tone of levity in dealing with a great question which ought not to pass unnoticed. Surely a Minister who proposes a Secret Committee on the condition of Ireland, by that proposition alone incurs the gravest responsibility. Now, to-night we find it is not to be a Secret Committee, and then, to our great surprise, we find it is also a Committee which is not to devise means for remedying the evils complained of. Then what is the Committee to do? Observe the description of this district of Ireland, where there are not only these evils, but these spreading evils—observe the description of it given by the Minister. It is brief, and terse in the extreme. He tells us it is intolerable. He tells us the state of Ireland is intolerable—["No, no!"]—that the state of a great portion of Ireland is intolerable, and therefore will want inquiry. ["No, no!"] Well, that the state of a county in Ireland is intolerable. Is it reduced to that? Is a county in a state so intolerable that you must come to a Senate to ask for a Committee to inquire into it? Can you not get out of the difficulty without coming to the House of Commons, and asking it to appoint a Secret Committee to devise means to govern a county? Well, Sir, secresy is given up and devising means are given up; so the question is—"What is this Committee to do?" Every impartial Member on either side of the House must have felt the difficulty, and asked himself that question. Why, the Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant gave us ample explanations as to the various means by which he might have gained complete information on all points which the Government required to guide them in order to meet the evils of this district; and, indeed, under the very Act which we passed last year, they have powers—extraordinary powers; so that, for instance, if there is a felony committed in a district, they can summon witnesses before them and examine them, even although such witnesses may 1006 not be connected with the felony. Why, what power has a Committee of the House of Commons, compared with this power? I would impress on the House the inexpediency of assenting to a Committee which is to relieve the Government from their responsibility as an Executive.
But the noble Lord, who says he will never appear in the sheet of a penitent, and holding the taper of remorse, told us to-night that, whatever the original intentions of the Government were, it is not their intention now to ask this Committee to devise any means to suppress the evils of which they complain, and which they describe as intolerable. I would say myself at once that, so far as I am concerned, I am perfectly prepared to support the Government in any demand they may make upon their own responsibility to terminate an evil which they describe, and I believe justly describe, as intolerable. There is no need to enter into an antiquated history of the horrors of Ribandism to induce the House of Commons to come to this conclusion. We know the evil. We have long heard of the evil, and of the perpetration of these new crimes and these new horrors; and I was only astonished that in Her Majesty's gracious Speech from the Throne they were not referred to with more distinctness. We have recently had from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland an announcement with reference to them which prepared us for the legislation which I suppose the Government will come forward and propose; and if the Government would come forward and propose a remedy, I think I might venture to answer for every Gentleman on this side of the House that he would give it an unflinching support. The evil is intolerable and ought to be put down, and we are prepared to support Her Majesty's Government if, in the exercise of their constitutional functions, they come forward and propose a measure, instead of asking the House of Commons to enter upon an inquiry into the matter. The matter is urgent, and the business of a Committee is necessarily always long. A Committee—to do what—to examine officers of the Government, to examine magistrates, to call for information from a miscellaneous multitude of witnesses? Why, a Committee of Inquiry for such purposes is always in existence. It is the 1007 Cabinet of the Queen. They have the best information, and they are selected men, who are supposed to be most competent to decide on that information; and on the results of their deliberations and on their convictions they ought to introduce a measure, and not move for a Committee, when the state of an Irish county is intolerable. Let the Standing Orders be suspended if the case is urgent.
The noble Lord has made some reference, from that richness of precedent with which he has been crammed on this occasion, to what occurred in 1852, and, in the midst of the distress of this regenerating Government of Ireland, supported by a hundred legions, and elected by an enthusiastic people, in order to terminate the grievances of that country and secure its contentment and tranquillity he must needs dig up our poor weak Government of 1852, and say—"There was Mr. Napier, your Attorney General, he moved for a Committee, and you were a Member of that Cabinet." If I had had a majority of 100 behind my back I would not have moved for that Committee. I did the best I could, and I passed a good Bill by a respectable majority. But was the situation in which I was placed similar to the situation of Her Majesty's present Ministers? Look for a moment to the relations which this Government bear to the House of Commons with regard to the administration of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) was elected for a specific purpose; he was the Minister who alone was capable to cope with these long-enduring and mysterious evils that had tortured and tormented the civilization of England. The right hon. Gentleman persuaded the people of England that with regard to Irish politics he was in possession of the philosopher's stone. Well, Sir, he has been returned to this House with an immense majority, with the object of securing the tranquillity and content of Ireland. Has anything been grudged him? Time, labour, devotion—whatever has been demanded has been accorded, whatever has been proposed has been carried. Under his influence and at his instance we have legalized confiscation, consecrated sacrilege, and condoned high treason; we have destroyed churches, we have shaken property to its foundation, and we have 1008 emptied gaols; and now he cannot govern a county without coming to a Parliamentary Committee! The right hon. Gentleman, after all his heroic exploits, and at the head of his great majority, is making Government ridiculous. If he persists in this absurd suggestion I shall leave it to fortune to decide what may be its results. If he will bring forward a measure—an adequate measure—a measure which will meet the evil, he will be supported. The late Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) knows very well what is the measure that will meet the evil, because he plaintively asked the magistrates at Meath what he should propose to help them out of their difficulties, and they met in quarter sessions, passed a resolution, and told him what was necessary. What the magistrates told the late Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant will be the groundwork, the gist, and the pith of the measure which Her Majesty's Government must bring forward. Under certain circumstances they will have to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act; but after the flashy speeches of the right hon. Gentleman opposite upon that subject we must have a Parliamentary Committee as a veil in order that he may save his self-love.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHERLOCK
, who had given Notice of his intention to move the Previous Question said, that the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland originally gave Notice of his intention to move the appointment of a Select Committee, including an inquiry not merely into the disturbed state of the county of Westmeath, but of a portion of the county of which he had the honour to represent (King's County), as well as of the county of Meath, and also the best means of suppressing the same. As representing one of the counties to be affected by the inquiry—an inquiry which in its terms suggested legislation to follow upon inquiry—and that inquiry being suggested as of a secret character, he deemed it his duty to his constituents to give Notice of his intention to oppose the formation of that Committee. The omission of the element of secresy materially altered the nature of the case. Secresy naturally suggested suspicion. No matter how high might be the character of that Committee—no matter how respectable might be the witnesses summoned before it, the moral impression 1009 left on the country arising from a secret inquiry and the decision of a secret tribunal would never have satisfied those who would have been effected by the legislation that the inquiry had been fair and impartial. The result of all legislation, in reference to crime ought to be not merely to prevent crime, but to satisfy those in the community who had no sympathy with the criminals that justice had been done. The investigation before the Committee would not have obtained that result. He submitted, however, that the suggestion of the noble Lord, although an alteration in terms of his original Motion, would still leave on the minds of the people of Ireland the impression of secresy, because he had informed the House that the Committee would have power to apply to the House from time to time for powers enabling them to exclude strangers, and carry on their investigations with closed doors. Now, the Committee, consisting of a large portion of official Members, would, he presumed, think it their duty to accept the suggestion and adopt the hint thus thrown out. And the Committee, whether directly secret or indirectly secret, would never satisfy the people that the inquiry had been a fair one, and that no undue means had been resorted to in order to obtain information which was not strictly accurate, and did not represent the actual condition of the parts of the country affected. It was a very important fact that in King's County, which would be affected by the inquiry, there had not been a single murder since 1869; and, therefore, so far as that county was concerned, there did not appear to be any pressing necessity for legislation to suppress any increase of crime in that county. The noble Lord had stated that the means which had been resorted to consequent upon the legislation of last year, had been of the most strenuous and energetic character. The country had been patrolled, a Special Commission had been appointed, the police had been increased, and every power that could be used by the Government had been brought into operation. And all to do what? To restore peace to this county, which had been destroyed by a very small band of men, who, if they were not affected by the entire power of the British Government—who, if they were not subdued by its patrols and increased 1010 police, still continued in the exercise of their nefarious pursuits, notwithstanding the coercive legislation of the Government, because we had had these inquiries, and this legislation, and these Preservation Acts year after year—and the Act of last Session was suggestive of this—that it referred to various Acts of Parliament commencing 30 years ago, all of them having the same objects in view, all of them being coercive in their character, and all of them failing to procure the end which was now suggested as the result of this present inquiry—the unity of Ireland. Well, it appeared to him, that if coercive measures had failed, they should look to some other measures — to some other cause for the origin of these offences, and to some other means of repressing them. The cases adverted to by the noble Lord were not agrarian offences. The murder of a steward arose out of a private quarrel, and that of the process server from a too strenuous discharge of his functions; and in neither case was the original cause of quarrel any dispute about land. It might be said that the well-conducted portion of society ought to have no objection to the introduction of a measure which would merely affect the ill-disposed, and those who were likely to commit crime, and which would not prejudice or affect those members of society who were not amenable to the law, because they had not committed such crimes. But they had been told by the noble Lord that additional sums had been imposed for the employment of supernumerary policemen, consequent on the committing of the crimes. Now these Peace Preservation Acts had operated sometimes with considerable injustice to those who had in no way participated in the crimes committed. As an instance in point, he might refer to the case of the King's County, in which there had been only one attempt to murder in the course of the last six months. It was a very extraordinary case, and one illustrating the hardship which resulted from the passing of these coercive measures to those who had no connection with the crime. The case was this—A small farmer, with seven acres of land, became embarrassed in circumstances several years ago. Being unable to pay his debts, he made over his farm to one of his creditors, and went to America. After living in America for a number of years he returned 1011 home, and hearing that his creditor had repaid himself by the possession of the farm, he asked him if he would restore it. The new occupant refused, and disputes and altercations arose, and the landlord, a gentleman of small property, kindly interfered to restore peace, but without effect. The debtor returned to America, but intimated, on going away, that he would have his revenge, and shortly after he left this country his creditor was fired at one Sunday on his way to church. His wife was wounded. Now, what had been the result? Additional police had been placed on the townland in charge of the house of the man. The burden of this would fall on the tenants of the gentleman who tried to reconcile these parties—very small tenants and poor men, and if they paid this assessment they would not be able to pay their rents. In addition, the domain land of the gentleman was also largely assessed. Now, there was the man who had exerted himself to the very utmost of his power to prevent this crime made to suffer for it. In a parish in Westmeath, in consequence of an exemption of Protestants from a similar tax, a meeting was held, and a resolution passed by the Catholics, condemning the invidious distinction as one only calculated to excite and sustain religious animosities, and tend to promote disorder; and the meeting protested against the assumption that Catholics were not as loyal as Protestants, and declared that they were as loyal. In the raising of such a tax there was a departure from strict impartiality; and if this Committee were appointed, he would suggest that the inquiry should be extended to the mode in which these assessments were levied, and whether there had been any partiality in the levying of them. The noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland had borne testimony to the general tranquillity of Ireland. He could say for his own county—of King's County—that peace did prevail, except in regard to the very small portion where intruders came from the county of Westmeath. All borderers were troublesome. He should not have addressed the House if the inquiry had been confined to the county of Westmeath. He should have left that duty to the hon. Member for the county of Westmeath. But in the name of the King's County he must protest against this proposal. He objected to 1012 legislation following legislation. There was also an Act in full force—an Act supported by the entire power of the British Government — giving perhaps necessary, but unconstitutional, powers to the Government of Ireland. These powers would continue in force until August next, and he felt that the present measure to follow upon this inquiry would not lessen the evil, and that measures of a different kind must be resorted to to eradicate, from time to time, the spirit which prevailed, unhappily, in small portions only of Ireland.
§ Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Mr. Serjeant Sherlock.)
§ MR. G. E. BROWNE
said, he regretted, that the first time he had the honour to address the House, that the subject of debate was one of so unpleasant a nature and relating to Ireland. He would not occupy the time of the House but for a very brief period, whilst he endeavoured to show that this Select Committee, as moved for by the noble Marquess the Chief Secretary for Ireland, was inexpedient and unnecessary. Now, if there was not at present a Peace Preservation Act in operation in that country then there might be some grounds to apply for a Select Committee to inquire into the present state of the county of Westmeath and portions of the adjoining counties. But with that Act in full force, he could not see the necessity of adopting so unusual a course. He was at a loss to know, if those counties were so disorganized or in such a state as the noble Marquess had described, why the local authorities were unable to contend that the Peace Preservation Act was ineffective. He believed if this Committee was appointed its labours would be fruitless and abortive, and might have an effect that none of them desired—of irritating the minds of the people and estranging them still further from the Government of this country. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government had shown his disposition to deal fairly and justly towards Ireland, as proved by the Land Act of last Session, and the Church question of the Session before, and he had no doubt the people felt grateful, and fully appreciated his efforts in their behalf. He would only say that there was no one deprecated and deplored so 1013 much as he did the unfortunate existence of those secret combinations so detrimental to the advancement of the peace and prosperity of that country, and he was grieved to have heard from the noble Marquess that the county of Westmeath was as he had described it; but he rejoiced to have heard him say that the other portions of Ireland were in a peaceable state. But he (Mr. Browne) could not approve of the remedy the noble Marquess proposed when he considered that the Irish Executive was invested with ample power to meet and suppress the evils complained of. He should, therefore, support the Amendment.
§ MR. W. H. GREGORY
said, the debate showed that there were, to use the words of a famous statesmen, three courses in that case open to the Government. They might either take the course recommended by the hon. and learned Gentleman below him (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock), and also by the hon. Member who had just sat down, and that was to do nothing; or else the course recommended by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) who had suggested that the Government should at once act on their own responsibility; and then there was a third course, the one actually adopted by the Government—namely, to ask for an inquiry previously to legislating. As to the remarks that had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend below him, he must say that he had listened to them with surprise. How could he think that we could longer endure the state of things now going on in a part of Ireland, which was a scandal and disgrace to civilization? Why, within 12 hours of the Chamber in which they were assembled there existed a reign of terror, where the evil passions of vindictive men were the only law that was recognized; where secret tribunals issued their decrees, which were executed in the open face of day with as great a certainty as the certainty of impunity. It was perfectly impossible to acquiesce in such a state of things, which was only equalled by the condition of Southern Italy a few years ago, and by that of Greece at the present moment. The hon. and learned Gentleman affected to say that these outrages were not to be dealt with because they were not agrarian. He believed himself that in a great number of cases 1014 in Westmeath these outrages were not agrarian. They occurred in connection with all the varied business transacted in daily life. A man employed a herd or a shepherd and dismissed him for neglect; the secret edict went forth, and the shepherd's successor was instantly shot. The station-master at Mullingar dismissed a railway porter for his neglect of duty, and that station-master was shot. The company which owned a great railway traversing that district dismissed the guard of a train, and because the chairman and directors could not be met and shot down at noon-day, stones were repeatedly placed at night in the way of the mail train to upset it and wreak that most dastardly kind of revenge. That was the real state of the case: a law of terror, and not only that, but threatening letters falling—as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had described notices to quit as doing—like snow-flakes on every house in a county for many miles round. What if, in certain districts, murders had for a time ceased! But why was that? Because the whole county was so paralyzed with terror that no man durst do a single thing against the will of those secret tribunals. The contrivers and perpetrators of those outrages were perfectly well known to the police and the constabulary, but they durst not lay a hand on them because there would be no evidence forthcoming. When an hon. Member below him attempted to stop repressive measures in circumstances like those it should be borne in mind that that was not a landlord's question; it was essentially the question of the poor man and the peasant. The landlord might retire to London or to Dublin, and be safe from the assassin; if he chose to remain in the country he could go out and take his "constitutional" with a couple of agreeable constables; or if he liked to take an airing in his car, he could do it accompanied by the same officials with their rifles cocked and ready for action. How very different was the poor man's position. When he infringed any of the decrees of that secret tribunal, he knew that if he went to market, he knew his steps were watched; if he was lucky enough to return home safe, there was not a night on which he did not lie on his bed in fear and trembling lest his door might be burst open and himself placed on his 1015 knees and shot dead like a dog before the eyes of his wife and family. That was the state of things, and there was no palliation for it, no excuse. Years ago there was such a thing as the wild justice of revenge. When flagitious acts were committed by owners of land, driving people forth on the wide world, doomed to starvation and death, then, no doubt, in the last extremity of despair, men executed a bloody vengeance that could not, perhaps, be much wondered at, though it could not be defended. But those days had passed away; legislation had taken care that those acts of landlord injustice should not continue to be perpetrated, and there was now the fullest reparation for them. Therefore let them hear no more that nothing could be done. Something ought unquestionably to be done to put down a state of things disgraceful to a civilized nation. Then came the second point, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire said—"Oh, you should have come down at once and we would, in the most generous manner, have given you with open hands and open hearts any powers you liked to ask for." Now, he was sorry to say he was old enough to recollect certain transactions of the year 1846, when a great Minister came down to that House when Ireland was convulsed by outrage, and asked for additional powers to repress the evil. What then did the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the allies he borrowed from the other side do? They said that Sir Robert Peel was a man not fit to be intrusted with those unconstitutional powers, and they drove from Office the man who, above all others, was the most scrupulously constitutional Minister that ever ruled over this country. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was a good master of combinations. Were they so sure that if the Government had come down at once and asked for extra powers they might not have had a declamation equally strong and vigorous as that of that evening, inveighing against the Government for venturing to ask for powers which ought to be denied any Ministry? Would not the right hon. Gentleman opposite have turned to Gentlemen below the Gangway, and asked them whether they were prepared on the mere ipse dixit of a young Secretary for Ireland to violate the liberty of the subject, and accede 1016 to that most extraordinary request? Then there only remained one other course—namely, the one submitted to them by the Government, and he should support it. He believed it was necessary to examine witnesses, necessary to convince the House and the country that the state of things which he had described existed; and then, when the Government were enabled to justify the powers they asked for by evidence which had been properly tested and sifted, he was convinced, that the House would readily grant them such powers as would enable them to redeem Ireland from the disgrace and loss of character from which she suffered at present. He did not believe that party spirit, however strong it might be, would induce any Gentleman, no matter on what side of the House he sat, to tamper with assassination.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
Mr. Speaker, I ask myself if it is possible, after the speech which the hon. Gentleman has just addressed to the House, that we can on any ground fail to proceed at once to put down this system of terrorism and intimidation which he has described to us. The hon. Gentleman has dared to say here that the police can put their hands on these assassins, and yet he has ventured to call upon this House to delay, and to leave these unhappy people who for more than a year have been living under the system of intimidation and terrorism, so to continue for the sake of having a Committee of Inquiry. He is willing to leave them to linger in this condition while we have an inquiry. The noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) has newly come into the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland, and I am sorry to see that the beginning of his official experience in connection with that country has been so inauspicious and of so unsatisfactory a character. He is to be pitied in this matter; but he takes the office with all its responsibilities, and he finds that his first duty is to take the chesnuts from the fire which had grown too hot for his predecessor. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Fortescue) has retired from his business, and left the noble Lord to do the most disagreeable part of it. It will, perhaps, be remembered that early in the Session of 1870 this very county of Westmeath was mentioned in connection with Meath and Mayo as one 1017 of the disturbed districts in which there was a dangerous and formidable amount of intimidation and terrorism. But let me ask the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory) why he is afraid that we will not give the Government those powers that they may want for the repression of this state of things? When they came to Parliament for the Peace Preservation Act, did we not support them with both voice and vote, and did not we tell them that we would have given them even larger powers if they had asked for them, as we knew what the system of terror and horror which existed was? In this county of Westmeath there are people who, day by day, dare not stir from their homes without the defences which the hon. Gentleman has spoken of. There are husbands—gentlemen in the same position as yourselves—who never leave home without their wives expecting them to be brought back corpses. These things are happening every day, and the Government tell you to inquire! I say that this is a mockery and a folly. Even now the noble Lord tells you that he knows the remedy already—he does not come to ask for that, he knows what it is. There is no information to procure so far as the Government is concerned—they have it all in their possession already. The right hon. Gentleman who was Secretary for Ireland, the Attorney General for Ireland, and everybody who has been connected with that country, know that all these things exist, and that Westmeath cannot be dealt with by the Peace Preservation Act, because when you put the law in force, these things still exist in spite of it. Conspiracies exist and are carried on in open day, and the police know the men who are concerned in them and if the Habeas Corpus Act were to be suspended to-morrow, they would be able to put their hands on them in a moment. I tell you that it is a fact well known to the head of the Government and to the noble Lord that they could to-morrow, if they chose, put their hands on the perpetrators of these acts. I feel so strongly on this question that, if the Government would do something, I would not stand in their way. Rather than we should have a mean, cowardly, dishonourable giving-up of duties of Government, and that nothing should be done, I would even vote for this Committee. The Government has undertaken 1018 so much, has promised so much—although the noble Lord tells us that these hopes have never been held out. Why, it was only yesterday that I came across a speech which reminded me of the sort of hope they had held out. What said the right hon. Gentleman, whose voice I am sorry to say is at present silent in this House, but whom, I trust, we shall soon hear again? The right hon. Gentleman who was at the head of the Board of Trade (Mr. Bright), speaking in January last of the legislation of the Government, told us, as he had done in former times, that there was no statesmanship in acts of force and repression, for that men the most clumsy and brutal could take such measures. What we wanted, he said, were men of higher genius, and he marked out the right hon. Gentleman; we wanted men of the highest patriotism, and no doubt he felt that he and those who were working with him were men of that class, and that these were the men to remedy the evils of Ireland. He said—All crime shall cease, and ancient frauds shall fail;Returning Justice lift aloft her scale;Peace o'er the realm her olive wand extend,And white-robed Innocence from Heaven descend.'This may appear the language of great exaggeration, but if we are able to banish agrarian crime, if we can unbar the prison doors, if we can reduce all excess of military force, if we can make Ireland as tranquil as England and Scotland now are, then, at least, we shall have done something to justify the wisdom and statesmanship of our time.Yet, at this very time, the same crimes are being enacted in Westmeath, the same dark conspiracy exists as then, and yet you come for no further powers. The right hon. Gentleman near me (Mr. Disraeli) asks why you do not come to Parliament for the necessary powers to enable you to deal with this terrible state of things. The reason, no doubt, is because the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government has used such strong language with respect to the Habeas Corpus Act that he wants the House of Commons by a Committee to give him some sort of sanction for the measure he finds it necessary to ask for. When last year the right hon. Gentleman was asked—was urged, to apply to Parliament to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, he said he could not do so, that he would never do so except we 1019 were on the immediate verge of a civil war. In addressing his constituents in Lancashire, he distinguished between the policy of those with whom he was acting and that of those who sat on this side of the House. But now he has found that his remedial measures have failed; that his Peace Preservation Act has failed; that the men, women, and children whom he is bound to protect in this county in Ireland—for he is responsible for their protection, and every day and every hour that he does not bring forward measures for their efficient protection increases his responsibility—are in danger of their lives. I say, with a full sense of the difficulties of Government, and without wishing to taunt those who sit opposite, that when murder stalks abroad, when crime of that kind which makes every household a misery and a trouble to itself is prevalent, and when the Government merely comes down here and asks for a Committee, it is a Government which, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to employ a word which he used with so much emphasis the other night—it is a Government which makes itself contemptible.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
If the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Previous Question just now (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock) greatly underrated the gravity of the circumstances with which we have had to deal in a small district in Ireland, I think that the passion of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has led him grossly to exaggerate the condition of affairs. ["No, no!"] When I use these words I understate my conviction of the effect of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has taunted me with not having dared to propose to this House measures for the suppression of agrarian outrages in Ireland. Such taunts come strangely from a right hon. Gentleman who sat opposite to me this time last year, when it was my duty—from which I did not shrink—to propose measures more stringent, more effective, than any that have been proposed at any time within the memory of the present generation of public men—["Oh, oh!"]—more efficacious in their conception and in their result. The condition of things with which we have to deal is certainly singular, and therefore well deserving of 1020 the consideration of this House, and of Members of this House in whom we can place confidence. The Act of last year, not, I am happy to think, standing alone, but combined with the great remedial measures of that and of the previous year, has, as every person in Ireland knows, effected a marvellous change in the country for the better. [Laughter.] I hear a laugh from those hon. Members who have not had the opportunity, or have not taken the trouble, to ascertain the real state of the case for themselves; but I appeal to every fair man, of every creed and party in Ireland, as to whether what I say is not true, and whether the legislation of the Government, taken as a whole, including their measures for the preservation of peace and order, have not, in the short time that has elapsed, proved to be of the most remarkably satisfactory character. That is a fact acknowledged by every man, woman, and child in Ireland. Very different views are taken of this subject outside from what are held inside this House. I know that there are some hon. Members within these walls who hope for the failure of measures which come from their opponents—who long to see the failure of measures which have cost the Government and Parliament infinite thought and labour. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes, there are minds, at all events, that catch at the first excuse for believing that failure has taken place. But this is not the case out-of-doors. It is perfectly well known in Ireland that we have succeeded beyond expectation, and almost beyond hope, in improving the condition of the country, and that at no time within memory has Ireland been so prosperous, so calm ["Oh, oh!"]—I know what I am speaking of—I repeat, so prosperous, so calm, so confident of the future, so contented, so loyal as she is at the present moment. But those measures having failed in a very small portion of the country, is it so extraordinary and so unreasonable that we should come to this House to ask it to appoint a Committee, consisting of some of its best, its most capable, its most trusted Members to examine into the causes of this exceptional and limited failure? If that Committee be appointed we shall be most happy to lay before them all the facts connected with the subject, and they will be enabled to say whether we have failed in any point in giving full 1021 effect to the powers which we possessed. Although I readily admit that the information so to be obtained will be of value to the Government, still I believe it will be of equal value to the House as enabling them to ascertain beyond dispute the facts and causes of this want of success, which, as I have said, has been limited and exceptional. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire has alluded to the state of Ireland in 1852; but I say that any accusation that could be brought against the present Government at the present time would apply with double force to the Government of 1852, because I venture to say that the state of things in Ireland at that time was far worse than it is now. Sir, our standard of measurement has risen, I am proud to say, since those days. We do not pretend to be satisfied with the condition of certain districts in Ireland, or to tolerate the state of society that might have been tolerated in 1852. We have done our best to remedy some of the greatest and most admitted grievances of Ireland. We have kept the peace, at the same time, by introducing measures of an exceptional nature, no doubt, but which we thought were justified by the circumstances, and the wisdom of which has been proved by their success. We think that when we find existing a singular exception to that rule we are justified in asking the House to look into the matter in association with the Government. And if Members chosen by the House will look into the case free from the passionate partizanship of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down—["No, no!"]—his passionate but genuine partizanship — and free from that more calculating partizanship which we heard from the Leader of the Opposition at an earlier period of the evening—if they will approach it in the spirit of Sir Joseph Napier, the then Attorney General on the opposite side of the House, who said he would think himself disgraced for ever if he were to use such a subject as a party question—then I believe that they will be able to render a service to the Government, and to the cause of peace and order in Ireland.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
really felt that the time had come when it was absolutely necessary for some English Member to speak out plainly his mind with regard to this constant intrusion of Irish 1022 subjects upon the very gravest hours of the Session. The House had freely spent a large amount of time in considering, with the greatest care and tenderness, the real grievances of Ireland, and no one on that side of the House had felt that the time had been lost, however much they might have regretted the measures which had been brought under their consideration. They one and all entirely and heartily discarded those feelings to which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. C. Fortescue) had allowed himself to give currency, when he expressed a supposition that any hon. Member on that side of the House rejoiced in the failure of measures honestly designed to conduce to the welfare of Ireland. But it was utterly impossible that they, as men of sense, could forget the bitter cry of distress which arose from the Irish Secretary when he rose to propose the measure the House was then considering. He could see that the noble Lord, with his faltering voice and downcast air, was deeply and solemnly affected by the task put into his hand. The House could see that it went to the heart of the noble Lord as an Irish proprietor, and pierced his very soul as a Member of Her Majesty's Government, to make such a proposition as he brought forward. And no wonder that with faltering lip and trembling tongue the noble Lord expressed the regret he felt in admitting that the country had had enough of hasty legislation for Ireland. Hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House had felt that, though, perhaps, they had not dared to mention it so tersely as the noble Lord had done; and now it was surely not totally unbecoming that hon. Members representing large commercial constituencies should appeal to Her Majesty's Government to consider whether they were not very seriously affecting the commercial stability of the country by bringing forward a sensational Motion for a Secret Committee, and then, after the lapse of only 48 hours, telling the House that nothing serious, grave, or tremendous was intended by the proposal that the Committee should be a secret one. This proposal had not come upon the House at any slight crisis in our national life. The Government must surely know the very critical nature of our relations with America; and was it not of the very 1023 deepest importance that the position which England holds imperially in Ireland should not be exaggerated in the eyes of America? It was no slight matter to enable American politicians, who seemed already to trade upon the supposed weakness of Ireland, to say they were right in treating Irish malcontents with the dignity and consideration recently shown to the released Fenian convicts, by receiving them with the highest honours of the State. Had not Her Majesty's Government themselves to blame somewhat for the exceptional state of things they now came forward in formâ pauperis and asked the House of Commons to redress? To what were they to trace this contempt for the law which prevailed in Ireland, and how could they suppose that the Irish people would imagine the English Government had any great respect for the decisions of its highest tribunals when they remembered that the very first act of the present Government, when it came into power, was to release from prison certain persons who were suffering the punishment of the highest crimes they could commit under the law? This sudden alarm in Ireland was surely explained when they remembered that only a very short time ago some of the greatest criminals known to the English law were liberated and sent across the Atlantic in a state almost of dignity. If such things were to be repeated, the Government could not surely expect to be respected long, either in Westmeath or King's County. If Her Majesty's Government, with their full knowledge of the facts, had put it to the House that the safety of Ireland required the immediate adoption of remedial measures, no hon. Members occupying seats on the side of the House on which he sat would have failed to support the action of the Government; but they felt it to be a very grave question that of turning the Committees of the House of Commons into Committees of public safety—mere Committees of detective police—who should not have the power to suggest remedies for the dreadful evils so feelingly described by the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and so deeply deplored by the House, but who should simply collect information and leave the Government to apply some haphazard measure as a remedy. The Chief Secretary for Ireland made use, in the course of his speech, 1024 of the now hackneyed phrase "justice to Ireland," and he hoped the programme of the Irish Secretary would prove more powerful towards rendering that justice than some hon. Members supposed it would. He hoped, further, that the House of Commons would never allow that cry to become the instrument, even in the hands of the strongest Minister of the day, in order to induce or force the House of Commons to arrogate to itself the legitimate functions of the Executive Government, and to become a Committee of public safety, instead of acting the part of the trusted advisers of the Crown.
§ MR. AGAR-ELLIS
said, he did not think Her Majesty's Government, in making the proposal before the House, had any desire to shirk any part of its legitimate responsibility; in fact, he did not think such a plan would be possible of execution, even if it were contemplated. He felt certain further, that, before the Government could take any decisive action in reference to the matter, they desired further information upon it; information they would be able to obtain through the agency of the Committee it was proposed to appoint. The learned Serjeant who moved the Previous Question (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock) said he wanted no further legislation, but the course he proposed would defeat his own object; for if the Committee were refused, coercive legislation would proceed immediately, without further inquiry being made. Nobody on that side of the House pretended that the two great remedial measures for Ireland recently passed were final—that they would at once result in peace and prosperity being restored to that country. They were only links in a chain, and further measures were necessary before Ireland would be completely pacified. The Leader of the Opposition had talked of principles of morality; but it was hardly consistent with such principles when he said that his measures of 1852 would have been different if he had had 100 majority at his back.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
, as an Irish Member, deeply regretted the measure which the Government had proposed for Ireland. He should vote against that Motion on grounds different from those that had been advanced from the opposite side of the House. He believed, that the law, as it stood, was sufficient to meet every case of outrage 1025 in any county of Ireland. The Peace Preservation Act of last Session gave power to institute inquiries much more searching than any Committee appointed by that House could institute. If he was rightly informed, a Committee of the House could not inquire upon oath. They must, therefore, depend entirely upon the honour and the conscience of those who might be called before them to give evidence. The Peace Preservasion Act enacted that if a felony, or even a misdemeanour, was committed in any proclaimed district in Ireland, the magistrates had the power to bring before them every person of that district who they believed could give evidence on that felony or misdemeanour; they could examine them upon oath, or commit them if they refused to be sworn. Now, that was a power no Committee could possess. Was the state of Westmeath worse now than it was 12 months ago? The noble Lord admitted that it was much improved. The noble Lord stated that from the year 1869 to February, 1871, seven murders had been committed in that part of Ireland to which he referred, and in five of these cases the parties were amenable, awaiting trial. The noble Lord referred to two murders, the perpetrators of which had not been arrested. But was that a case for coming to the House for extraordinary powers? He (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) remembered that last year seven murders were committed one morning in London. Then, in Sheffield, scenes of horror had occurred that had never disgraced Ireland. Yet no extraordinary powers were asked for on that occasion, a Commission only having been appointed which gave witnesses certificates of indemnity—Broadhead, who paid sums of £40 for the perpetration of murder, having received one. In Mayo, which, was the worst county in Ireland a year ago, there was now no crime, and he believed time would work marvels in that respect. He knew personally that the people of Ireland were grateful for the remedial measures that had been recently passed with regard to that country; they felt now that they had something to be loyal for. He deeply regretted that the first official act of the noble Lord the new Chief Secretary should have been to ask for more repressive legislation.
I do not object to the Motion made by my right hon. and gallant Friend for the adjournment of the debate, but I wish to have an understanding that the debate shall close to-morrow evening. There is an important Motion that stands upon the Books for to-morrow evening, but that Motion is one which I do not think the House would deem it convenient to discuss at much length, because the President of the Poor Law Board will very shortly introduce a measure on the subject. I will not press for the withdrawal of that Motion; but, whether the hon. Member withdraws his Motion or not, I hope it will be understood that if this debate in which we are now engaged comes on at a convenient hour to-morrow evening, we shall finish it. It will lead to very great inconvenience to the public if that should not be the case, inasmuch as the next Government night has already been fixed for the consideration of a Bill of the highest importance.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he was not in a position to answer the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government as to the course to be taken on Tuesday; but from all he could gather from hon. Gentlemen who were sitting near him, the hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Motion referred to could not make any arrangement at present. If any difficulty should arise from the course which his hon. Friend might choose to take, it would be solely attributable to the conduct of the Government in calling for this Committee to act for them instead of acting for themselves.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.