HC Deb 14 April 1874 vol 218 cc543-4

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether he was correctly reported by "The Times" newspaper to have said at Buckingham this year, that Ireland is— being ruled by coercive legislation of the most severe and most stringent Kind,… I call it severe and stringent legislation because I can find fat no Coercion. Acts ever passed for Ireland provisions of so severe a character as I find in the existing legislation, and which will go on until the year 1875: also, whether he was correctly reported to have said at Newport Pagnell, Ireland is really governed by the most stringent coercive Act that ever yet has existed." "Ireland at this moment, I believe I may say, is governed by these laws, which in severity,—I am not saying that the severity is not necessary: I refrain from entering on any question of that kind,—but is governed by laws of coercion and stringent severity that do not exist in any other quarter of the globe; and, further, asked whether he now judges that "laws of coercion and stringent severity that do not exist in any other quarter of the globe" are "necessary" for the government of Ireland by the British Parliament?


Mr. Speaker—It is some time since the observations referred to by the noble Lord were made, and a good deal has happened in the interval. I have not had an opportunity of examining the report of these observations in The Times newspaper since the noble Lord gave Notice of his Question; but I am perfectly ready to assume, from the general reputation of that journal for its reports, that it is substantially correct. With regard to the second, or rather the ultimate Question of the noble Lord, as to whether I now judge that "laws of coercion and of stringent severity that do not exist in any other quarter of the globe" are "necessary" for the government of Ireland, the noble Lord will remark that in saying what I did—although I believe that they are probably as necessary in the month of April as in the month of February—yet, in the month of February, I gave no opinion whatever about their necessity. And I am not disposed to give any opinion now. It appears to me that it would be extremely inconvenient for a Government to express its opinion upon a subject so important as that which has been introduced to our notice by the noble Lord merely in answer to a Question before the Orders of the Day.


I. should like to ask one further Question—namely, whether the Prime Minister does not think that it is part of his duty—["Order!"]—to remove from the legislation of the country—["Order!"]—any severity which is unnecessary, and therefore whether it is not also his duty to form his opinion upon that subject?


I beg respectfully to ask your opinion, Sir, whether it is within the understanding upon which Questions are permitted to be put in this House that questions involving the gravest subject of legislation should be thus submitted to Her Majesty's Ministers when the House has no legitimate opportunity of expressing its opinions on the replies that are given?


The Question put by the noble Lord was not out of Order. At the same time, the Prime Minister would have been quite entitled to decline to answer a Question of that character, as an answer might involve argument and debate.


I wish to ask whether the Prime Minister declines to answer me?—["Order!"]