HC Deb 26 May 1871 vol 206 cc1355-67

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 9 (All persons in custody under this part of this Act to be treated as untried prisoners).


said, he would withdraw his Amendment referring to the detention of arrested persons in Government prisons, and would proceed to move another referring to the treatment of untried prisoners. He would move to omit the provision that it should be lawful for the Lord Lieutenant to prohibit any prisoner from holding any communication, either by word of mouth or in writing, with any other person who was not in the service of Her Majesty, or duly authorized to make such communication. Those words had been inserted during the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords, and they would prevent a prisoner from, either seeing his friends or consulting a professional adviser. He would propose, therefore, to restore the Bill to its original form, and also to add words providing that all orders made by the Lord Lieutenant for the treatment of untried prisoners should be laid before Parliament, together with a list of the prisoners and a statement of the grounds on which they were arrested. He felt it to be necessary to give to the Government the powers for which they asked; but as those powers were extraordinary, it was necessary to provide safeguards for their proper use.


said, that he had no objection to that part of the right hon. and learned Baronet's Amendment which related to laying on the Table of the House the orders made by the Lord Lieutenant, and the list of prisoners arrested under the Act; but he could not consent to the omission of that part of the clause which enabled the Lord Lieutenant to prohibit the prisoners from holding any communication with others by word or writing. If it was considered for a moment what these prisoners were supposed to be, and who were their friends, the Committee would see that the restriction in question was absolutely necessary. The prisoners that would be arrested under the Bill were supposed to be engaged in the Ribbon conspiracy, and unless the Lord Lieutenant had the power now proposed to be given it would be possible for a leader to direct the proceedings of the conspirators from the prison in which he was confined. There was no desire, however, on the part of the Government to prohibit any communications that might not be dangerous.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 (Duration of Part I. of Act).


rose to move an Amendment. He said, what was proposed in this clause raised a grave constitutional question, for it was proposed to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act for two years. The Bill put forward to effect that purpose was a sort of hybrid Bill, and was the first in which it was proposed to mix up the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act with provisions of another kind—namely, the continuance of the Peace Preservation Act of 1870. The Habeas Corpus Act had been in existence now for nearly 200 years. From 1679 until 1700 it had been suspended in England twice; during the 18th century it had been suspended on eight different occasions; and in the 19th century twice, the last time in 1817 or 1818, when Lord Sidmouth was First Minister. But from the time the Habeas Corpus Act became the law of the land the House of Commons had never consented to its suspension for more than 12 months, and now, for the first time, it was sought to establish a new precedent. The Act was suspended in 1689 for the first time, and never for more than a period of nine months, until 1722, when it was suspended for 12 months. Since that time 150 years had elapsed, and although during those years great difficulties had to be met, the suspension of the Act never extended beyond 12 months. He hoped, therefore, that a Parliament which had been returned on the basis of household suffrage would not set an example for which there was no precedent. He begged to move, by way of formal Amendment to give effect to his views on the point, that in page 5, line 4, the word "three" be omitted and the word "two" inserted.

Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 4, to leave out the word "seventy-three," and insert the word "seventy-two."—(Sir Colman O'Loghlen.)


said, he entirely concurred in the opinion expressed by his hon. Friend, and for the sake of preserving some remnant of the Constitution, and promoting good feeling in Ireland, he should support the Amendment.


said, he must congratulate the right hon. and learned Baronet on the ingenuity with which he had educed a constitutional theory out of a Bill which proposed a breach of the Constitution. Nothing but a grave necessity would lead the Government to propose to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act; but when that necessity existed, it was best to use the means most likely to answer the purpose. Now, in the opinion of the witnesses examined before the Committee, two years were the least period during which the suspension would be of any value; and that being so, the right thing was to make such a proposal in the most open, straightforward manner, not asking to suspend the Act for one year, with a resolve to come again and require the suspension for another year. If the duration of the Bill were limited to one year, the House would be told next Session that there had been no disturbances, and that, therefore, the renewal of the Bill was unnecessary, though the non-existence of outrages might have been owing to the operation of the Bill; or they might be told that there had been outrages, and therefore the Bill was clearly of no use. He wanted to see the people of Westmeath and other parts of Ireland do as the people of England did—preserve the peace for themselves. But before such a state of things could exist there must be a certain amount of confidence and of respect for the law. Unfortunately, in these districts there was no confidence and no respect for the law. The law most respected was the Ribbon law, and until the people had learnt that there was a stronger law than Ribbon law, it was useless to expect assistance from the people in preserving order. The effect of all the evidence was to show that the people were so paralyzed and so submissive to the organization of the Ribbon Society, that nothing but extraordinary powers placed in the hands of the Executive for some considerable period would change the feeling. He hoped that in two years such an amount of confidence would be restored among the better-disposed part of the people of Westmeath, that evidence would be forthcoming against the disturbers of the public peace, and that the Government would be able to obtain convictions. He hoped also that a period of peace and tranquillity of this duration would instil into the minds of the people of Ireland a feeling that it was better for themselves in every way to uphold law rather than submit to the tyranny of the Ribbon organization. This was the most important clause in the Bill, and on the part of the Government he could not consent to limit its operation to one year.


said, he hoped the right hon. and learned Baronet would withdraw his Amendment, as he (The O'Conor Don) entirely concurred in the remark of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that there was far greater danger to the Constitution in annual Coercion Bills for Ireland, brought forward and passed as a matter of course, than in a measure like this. The right hon. and learned Baronet himself assumed that the Act would be renewed next year; and if its renewal were certain, no matter what the state of the country, there was no earthly use in limiting the duration of the Bill, and producing fresh irritation next year by a revival of the question. He disliked Coercion Bills; but these annual renewals of them were unconstitutionalism made constitutional.


asked why, to meet a temporary difficulty, it was necessary to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act or deny the right of any of the Queen's subjects to a writ of Habeas Corpus for two years or two years and a-half? In frittering away this constitutional safeguard in the case of Ireland, there was a danger of its being disregarded and undervalued in the case of England also. It was impossible to find any precedent or instance in which Parliament had delegated authority to councillors or officers of the Crown to imprison at pleasure the subjects of this realm for two years. According to the history of England—and he wished the Government would sometimes be induced to look to our historical records and struggles, it was a violation of principle as well as of precedent for Government to demand these extraordinary powers for a period beyond the time when Parliament would meet again, or until the end of the next Session. He was of opinion that every patriot—though he confessed patriotism was certainly now at a very great discount—should stand up and say that he would not consent to such a protracted suspension of the Habeas Corpus Acts. On another occasion a proposal might be made to suspend these Acts for three or four years, until at last they might be thought a matter of convenience to obliterate them altogether from the Statute Book. It was stated, as an argument in favour of the clause, that a Committee of Inquiry had been sitting, and had made a Report; but he had not that awful respect, especially on a great constitutional question like this, for proceedings before a Committee which some persons felt, nor did he think that the House was bound to take for granted the accuracy of witnesses produced on one side of the question; and he asked whether there would not be a universal outcry if ever it were proposed to suspend the Habeas Corpus Statutes in this country for two years. For that reason, therefore, he should oppose their suspension in Ireland for more than a year.


said, the Parliament was liable to a dissolution. This year they would have the Ballot. They were promised it by the Prime Minister, and he believed they would get it. If so, the Government would fail in its duty if it did not, in the coming Reform Bill, give seats to Ireland on the same principle as seats had been given to England. The present Bill for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act would expire in June, 1873; but before that time there would, in all probability, be a General Election, and if that occurred, how could they have a free election in Ireland, a portion of the constituency being gagged as it would be by this Bill? Why, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland would be at liberty to suppress newspapers for sedition; and they all knew how easy it would, be to bring the Press under the penalties of the Act in that respect enacted. Why should they allow the Government to possess the extraordinary powers which would be given them by this Bill for so long a period beyond the constitutional term of 12 months?


said, he had not the slightest objection to the division being taken upon both clauses at the same time, nor had he any objection to the hon. and learned Member for Devonport (Mr. M. Chambers) discussing Irish as well as English subjects; but he protested against his doing the first until he had read his brief, and knew what he was speaking about. He ventured to assert that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not seen the inside of the Bill, or the Report of the Committee to which he had alluded, or he would not have ventured to reiterate the statement that the Bill suspended the Habeas Corpus Act for two-and-a-half years. The Bill, when passed, would not receive the Royal Assent until the 1st of June, and it would expire the 1st of June, 1873; and therefore how it could be made retrospective so as to enable the authorities to apprehend a man on 1st of January last, six months before the Act would come into operation, he was at a loss to understand. It was, however, necessary when it came into operation that it should apply to offences committed since the 1st of January last. This was the first time the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act had been applied to social and agrarian crimes; but it had been demonstrated in argument that it was absolutely necessary it should be so applied. If, then, it was necessary it should be done, it was idle to say it should be done for a short period only, thereby increasing local irritation and discontent. There was a secret and hidden agrarian conspiracy in this part of Ireland smouldering instead of bursting into a flame, creating a system of terrorism, which the well-affected were obliged to bow before rather than the ordinary law of the land. The only way it could be dealt with was by extraordinary powers, and for a defined and substantial period.


said, he agreed in the usefulness of the measure, but he objected to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act for so long a period. If the Government would undertake to restore peace in that part of Ireland within two years, he would, though reluctantly, consent to the proposal; but there was no guarantee that they would not, at the end of two years, come forward and ask for a further extension of time. The Act had never for 200 year's been suspended for more than a year at any one period, and for that reason he should like to take the opinion of the Committee upon the expediency of prolonging the term.


said, that what he had said with regard to the Amendment did not apply to the clause continuing in force the Peace Preservation Act.

Question put, "That the word 'seventy-three' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 60; Noes 8: Majority 52.

Clause agreed to.

Adderley, rt. hon. Sir C. Craufurd, E. H. J.
Ayrton, rt. hon. A. S. Dalglish, R.
Baxter, W. E. Denman, hon. G.
Birley, H. Dickinson, S. S.
Booth, Sir R. G. Dowse, R.
Bowring, E. A. Duff, M. E. G.
Brewer, Dr. Enfield, Viscount
Brinckman, Captain Eykyn, R.
Bristowe, S. B. Forster, rt. hon. W. E.
Bruce, rt. hon. H. A. Fortescue, rt. hon. C. P.
Cawley, C. E. Gilpin, C.
Coleridge, Sir J. D. Gladstone, W. H.
Goldney, G. Mundella, A. J.
Gore, J. R. O. O'Conor Don, The
Goschen, rt. hon. G. J. Parker, C. S.
Hanmer, Sir J. Patten, rt. hon. Col. W.
Hartington, Marquess of Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Herbert, H. A. Phipps, C. P.
Hibbert, J. T. Playfair, L.
Kay-Shuttleworth, U. J. Potter, E.
Knatchbull-Hugessen, E. H. Robertson, D.
Scourfield, J. H.
Lefevre, G. J. S. Stepney, Colonel
Lopes, H. C. Stevenson, J. C.
Lowther, J. Storks, rt. hon. Sir H. K.
Lusk, A. Talbot, J. G.
Macfie, R. A. Whcelhouse, W. S. J.
M'Laren, D. Williams, W.
Mellor, T. W. Winterbotham, H. S. P.
Meyrick, T. TELLERS.
Miller, J. Glyn, hon. G. G.
Morley, S. Greville, hon. Captain
Callan, P. Synan, E. J.
Chambers, M. White, J.
Charley, W. T. TELLERS.
M'Mahon, P. O'Loghlen, rt. hon. Sir C. M.
Maguire, J. F.
O'Brien, Sir P. Bagwell, J.

Clause 11 (Continuance of Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1870).

THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON moved, in page 5, line 6, after 1870, to insert— And the Act and Acts therein designated or referred to as 'The Peace Preservation Act,' as altered and amended by this part of this Act.

Amendment agreed to.

THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON moved to omit the remainder of the clause, after "seventy-three" inline 12.


said, he must oppose the clause altogether. He considered its taxing powers on districts where an outrage was committed as one of the most mischievous parts of the Peace Preservation Act. He should, therefore, divide the Committee upon it. When it was proposed to read the Bill a second time, he contended that before the Committee upstairs there was no substantial evidence in favour of the proposal; but that, on the contrary, it showed that the system of taxing a locality for crimes committed therein was fraught with the greatest possible evil. With only two exceptions, the evidence of the witnesses was that the system produced disloyalty and disaffection, and that it had not led to the detection or diminution of crime. He objected to the tax on principle, but he objected still more to the tribunal to which it was entrusted — namely, the grand jury, consisting of 23 gentlemen, for whom no qualification whatever was required, and who were appointed by a gentleman who might not possess any qualification himself.

Amendment agreed to.


then proposed to omit from the present Bill Clause 13 of the "Peace Preservation Act, 1870," which, he remarked, might be briefly described as the "perjury" clause.


was unable to assent to the omission of the clause, which simply empowered a magistrate to examine witnesses, even though there was no person charged before him with having committed a particular offence.

Amendment negatived.

MR. BAGWELL next moved the omission from the Bill of Clauses 30–34—the Press clauses—of the Peace Preservation Act of last year. The hon. Member remarked that his object was to leave the Press subject to the operation of the common law.

Amendment proposed, In page 5, line 12, at the end of the Clause, to add the words "with the exception of the Clauses 30, 31, 32, 33, and 34 of the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1870."—(Mr. Bagwell.)


, amidst considerable interruption, supported the Motion, and said, he thought it most unbecoming that hon. Gentlemen should endeavour to stifle discussion upon this question, while they had shown themselves very tolerant indeed of long speeches upon other subjects in the course of that very week. They were continually being lectured from the Treasury bench, and from other parts of the House, about the "sanctity of the British Constitution;" but when he saw the way in which the liberties of a country were dealt with when it came to actual legislation, he was sometimes disposed to believe that the British Constitution was "all fudge." When the Peace Preservation Act was introduced, it was distinctly understood that the Press clauses were proposed by way of experiment merely, and were only to last for a twelvemonth. Now they were coolly asked to assent to their continuance, nominally for two years, but really for a very much longer period; for the Ministerial theory appeared to be that as long as the Irish-American papers wrote in a hostile spirit to England it would be necessary to prevent the Irish newspapers from copying their articles. There ought to be a distinct statement on the part of the Government as to when they meant to withdraw their restrictive clauses, and he thought they ought to be contented with existing powers as furnished by the common law, especially as they could administer those provisions as rigorously as they pleased.


said, he should be happy if he saw anything in the present condition of Ireland which would justify the Government in omitting the Press clauses from the Bill; but he believed that if the Government had come down to that House and, omitting these clauses, had asked that the Peace Preservation Act should be continued for two years, the first question asked would be—Why omit these clauses? Were the Government able, on their Ministerial responsibility, to assure the House that the condition of affairs in Ireland was such that the "National newspapers," as they were called, might be permitted to write as they wrote prior to the passing of the Peace Preservation Act? If he were asked that question, he could not conscientiously reply that the condition of affairs in Ireland was such as to justify the Government in omitting these clauses from the Bill. The hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. M'Mahon) must have a very curious notion about "gagging the Press," if he applied that term to the conditions under which Irish newspapers were at present published; for he (Mr. Dowse) ventured to say that they enjoyed and exercised a liberty of writing greater than English newspapers would care to avail themselves of. In not one single instance had any notice been served upon an Irish newspaper under the Peace Preservation Act, the reason being that, of their own accord, they had trimmed their sails to meet the wind that was blowing. They sometimes went very close to the wind, but they kept clear of the provisions of the Act. It was not that the British Empire was afraid of these journals; but for the sake of the peace that was beginning to spread over Ireland, and for the sake of the Press itself in that country, it was thought necessary that these powers should for the present continue to be intrusted to the Government. The powers could only be used where sedition or treason was inculcated, and not only had the power never yet been employed, but the Government, in putting the law in force, would naturally render themselves amenable to the judgment of Parliament if they misused the powers conferred upon them.


said, he must object to the insertion, in a Bill intended for the repression of agrarian crime, of powers conferred solely to meet a state of things brought about by the prevalence of treason and sedition.


said, he must object now, as he had objected on a previous occasion, to any attempt at gagging the Press, and would have been much better pleased if the Government had omitted these Press clauses from the Bill. He thought it requisite that Government should be made aware of public opinion through the medium of the Press, and for that reason if a division were taken he should vote against the Government proposal.


, though strongly deprecating the continuance of these clauses, and more especially, as he contended that the argument urged by the Government on their first introduction had entirely disappeared, observed that it was useless for the few Irishmen who objected to them to attempt to oppose the determination of the Government to insert them in the Bill.


asserted that some journals published in London contained more dangerous articles than any to be found in the Irish Press. On a previous occasion the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington), the Prime Minister, and the President of the Poor Law Board, had urged the necessity of preserving the people of Ireland from the contamination of the Irish-American Press; and he wished to know how that matter was to be dealt with now? Governments had been turned out on questions of less importance than this; but times were changed, and anything seemed to be good enough for Ireland.


said, the hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. Maguire) had misunderstood his statement on a former occasion with regard to newspapers from America which had been seized under the Peace Preservation Act. What he said was, that no prosecution of any paper printed and published in Ireland had been necessary, for care had been taken to keep within the limits of the law. If hon. Members read the Irish National Press they would not suppose that it was "gagged;" and Irish-American journals, containing articles not merely of a political character, but inciting to crime, would be circulated in Ireland if these clauses were not in operation. He denied that they had any special reference to Fenianism or sedition, for at the time that Act was passed agrarian crime was rife, and it had not yet altogether disappeared.


was of opinion that the most dignified course for hon. Members who, like himself, disapproved of the Bill to pursue, was to refrain from taking part in the division, and leave the Government to deal with the measure as they pleased.

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The Committee divided: — Ayes 11; Noes 55: Majority 44.

Clause agreed to.

Amendment moved(Amendment of section thirty-nine of Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1870.—Moneys presented under section thirty-nine of Peace Preservation Act, 1870, may be raised and levied by yearly or half-yearly instalments.) Section thirty-nine of the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1870, shall be construed as if, instead of the words "the barony, half-barony, or other district in "which such murder or maiming shall have respectively been perpetrated," the words following had been inserted in the said section, that is to say: "any barony or baronies, half-barony or half-baronies, townland or townlands, or part or parts of any barony or baronies, half-barony or half-baronies, townland or townlands. Where any presentment shall be made under the authority of the said section thirty-nine of "The Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1870," it shall be lawful to set forth in such presentment that the sum therein mentioned shall be raised and levied within a period to be stated therein by yearly or half-yearly instalments, and the Treasurer of the County, Secretary of the Grand Jury Finance Committee, or the person or persons duly authorised to issue warrants for the collection of moneys to be raised or levied off such county, shall from time to time without further authority or presentment in that behalf applot and include in the amount or amounts authorised to be levied by his or their warrant or warrants by the respective collectors to whom the same shall be delivered, the portion or portions so set forth of the sum so presented, and the same shall be collected and levied from time to time, in like manner and with the like remedy in case of non-payment as all other money directed by such warrant or warrants is by law to be levied.—(The Marquess of Hartington.)


said, he had no great faith in the compensation clause, and thought it did not tend to repress crime. The evidence given before the Committee showed that it was looked upon in Ireland as a great hardship.


said, the right hon. Gentleman (Colonel Wilson Patten) was mistaken. The witnesses were dissatisfied with the charge for extra police, which was first levied under an Act of 1848.


asked, whether this clause would interfere with the 67th clause of the Irish Land Act?


said, he did not think it would; but if there was any difficulty, he undertook that it should be removed upon the Report.


said, he did not think that it was wise to punish a district for crimes committed in it, without knowing that persons in that district were guilty.


said, he would remind the Committee that by an Act of the American Congress the President could suspend the Habeas Corpus Act in any part of the States, and put in force a similar law to that in the present Bill in reference to compensation for murder and malicious injury.

Clause agreed to, and added to the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday next.