HC Deb 31 July 1874 vol 221 cc1071-80

Bill, as amended, considered.


said, he had availed him-self since the adjournment of the House that (Friday) morning at a quarter to 4 o'clock, of the opportunity of consulting with those hon. Friends who usually acted with him, and he was happy to say that he was then able to announce the conclusion at which they had unanimously arrived with reference to the Amendments which had been placed upon the Paper; but before he did so, he hoped the House would bear with him if he adverted to the previous history of the measure before them. The Bill was introduced in the ordinary way as a Continuance Bill, and in that Bill, following, he admitted, the evil precedents of some recent years, were included Acts of very great importance, and among others Coercion Acts, vitally affecting the liberties of the Irish people His hon. Friends, together with himself, had no reason to suppose that the Bill was not one of the usual measures, which for several years past renewed those Acts as a matter of course, and virtually amounted to their perpetual renewal, and therefore they felt they were bound to make a stand against that system, and they did so. He believed that in doing so they had done service not only to Ireland, but to the general legislation of the House, by directing attention to the evil which was growing gradually up of including Acts of great consequence in an annual renewal Bill. That was the first point they had to assert, and he believed that they had the unanimous approval of public opinion and the opinion of the Press with them, when they said that the system was a vicious one. He was bound to say that in that opinion, Her Majesty's Government cordially, from the very beginning of the discussion, acquiesced, and, therefore, in the first place, he thought he was justified in saying that he believed that vicious system was put an end to altogether, and that, so far, English and Scotch Members would, with the Irish Members on that occasion, admit that that system of continuing Acts in this manner had been terminated, and that Irish Members had established a constitutional principle, for his hon. Friends and himself were, he contended, entitled to take credit that they had been the means of determining that the course which had been followed should not be pursued any longer. In saying so much, he was not to be understood as using the language of triumph, for such language would be most unbecoming in him, believing, as he did, the system to be so vicious as only to require to be noticed by the House to secure immediate reform. There, however, remained the question whether they ought to assent to the renewal of those Acts, and if there were any hon. Members of that House who were disposed to think that he and his hon. Friends had taken a course that might be called factious, he asked their attention to what had occurred. On Saturday last the Bill was put down for a morning sitting, He then made an offer to the effect, that if it were thought there was any danger of those political catastrophes, as they were called, occurring—and he regarded the danger as being very remote indeed—they would consent to the Bill being continued until September of next year. He regretted that the Government did not accept that offer. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government on that occasion pledged himself that those Acts should not be renewed in a Continuance Bill in the Session of 1875. They did not, however, think that they ought to be satisfied with that assurance, and therefore they prepared themselves to prevent these Acts being made perpetual in the manner proposed. Now, yesterday evening, after the debate had proceeded for some time, and after Amendments had been proposed, a declaration was made on the part of the Government, that they would accede substantially to the course which he had proposed—namely, that the Acts should continue only to the end of 1875. That concession, although not quite all which they had desired, very materially altered their position, and he would only say that some of the Amendments which had been placed on the Paper he would have been glad to press on the attention of the House; but he believed their true and proper course now was to protest, as they would do in one division, against the inclusion of the Peace Preservation Act in that renewal Bill, and then leave to the Government the responsibility of dealing with the matter. It must rest with the Government, in prolonging the existence of those measures for a certain period, to decide whether any amendment in them should be made or not. He would first, however, observe that in 1856 an Act was passed regulating friendly societies in Ireland. In the Bill that Act was omitted, and consequently all those societies in Ireland would be illegal. He wished to point that out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland, and leave the protection of those societies to him. But on one clause of the Bill they must take a division. He was now expressing the unanimous resolution of those hon. Friends with whom he was in the habit of acting in that House, and with whom, he rejoiced to say, there had been few occasions on which he had had a difference of opinion. They had determined, after the concession made by the Government, and after achieving the triumph of the principle for which they had contended, not to occupy further the time of the House with the discussion of any of the details of the Bill. They could not, however, in consistency or in accordance with self-respect, consent to the renewal of that Act till the winter months of next year. They divided upon that yesterday. They would divide now in a somewhat different form, and propose that they should expire at the end of the next Session of Parliament, as originally proposed by the Acts themselves. It should be remembered that the Westmeath Act would expire at the end of June next, and that, he contended, was a declaration of Parliament, that the whole of these Acts should be reviewed early in the Session of Parliament. They therefore proposed that all these Acts should expire at the end of next Session; and by doing so, they did nothing more than ensure an early discussion upon the question of their renewal, but he hoped they would never be renewed. They, however, intended to divide the House, as he had said, upon one Amendment, and they would throw upon the Government the responsibility of continuing the Act to which it referred. He wished to make an earnest appeal to the Government. They had heard a great deal in those discussions of the responsibility of the Government. He admitted fully that responsibility. The Advisers of the Crown were bound to ask for Her Majesty any powers that were necessary for the protection of life and property. But there was another and a deeper responsibility that rested on men in his position in that House. He would never advise the Government to forego those Acts, if he did not believe it was right and just, and for the interests of peace and order in Ireland to do so; and that was also the feeling of his hon. Friends. Some of them had largo possessions in land, and others in mercantile establishments in Ireland, while all of them had an interest in the security of their homos; and, as representing the immense majority of the Irish people, they told the Government that they did not need those Acts to secure the ascendancy of the law in their country. He, for one, believed that the Common Law, firmly and vigorously administered, was sufficient to secure the tranquillity of Ireland. He had faith in the grand old Common Law, with that elasticity which enabled it to meet every new danger that arose; and he believed that those Coercion Acts were the resource—he did not say it offensively to the present occupants of office—of a weak and incapable Government. Ireland had been handed over to the present Ministry in a state of tranquillity. It might be said that was the result of those Coercion Acts; but it was not so. Did anybody believe that the Act which disarmed the people of Limerick was the reason why there had been two maiden assizes in that part of the country? If he were speaking in an Irish Assembly, he knew what the response would be. In a greater degree than to any Coercion Acts, the tranquillity of Ireland was due to the efforts of those who, in the face of considerable obloquy, had preached the doctrine that it was not to unconstitutional courses or to secret societies, but to constitutional agitation and discussion in that House, that they were to look for the redress of grievances. He, therefore, asked the Government to pay more attention to what the Irish Members said than to the declarations of stipendiary magistrates and police constables, many of whom, from the tendency of their offices, would revive the Coercion Acts to save themselves the trouble of a vigorous administration of the ordinary law, and to take a course which he believed in his conscience, was more consistent with their own dignity and with the welfare of the Empire. Neither he nor his hon. Friends would offer any further opposition, except to the renewal of the Peace Preservation Act, 1870. His hon. Friends and him-self were prepared to take an independent course. He would not say that they were prepared to support the present Government; but they were just as averse from offering opposition to the present Ministers as they would be from offering opposition to right hon. Gentlemen on his own side, if they returned to office. They wished to deal with every Government as it dealt with their country. They knew no party there except the party of their country; and if that Government would only abandon the old policy of repression which sometimes stifled crime, but never effectually stamped it out; if they would give them equality with England, equality in their municipal institutions, equality in their franchise, equality in all respects before the law, that was all they wanted, and he was sure the House would find Ireland would not be backward in evincing the gratitude that would be due from such a course of conduct being pursued.


I have pleasure, Sir, in admitting that the hon. and learned Gentleman has addressed the House in a fair and moderate speech, and also that it is not the first fair and moderate speech which he has made on public affairs. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Friends, if they did not advance their peculiar views, would obtain for them an impartial consideration, if they adopted that tone always in this House. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman has objected to two things—first of all, to Continuance Acts; and, secondly, to Coercion Acts. What I complain of is that, whatever may be the opinions of the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Friends, it is extremely unfair to make their opinions upon those two questions a ground for any attack upon Her Majesty's Government, or any foundation for the embarrassment of Public Business at the present moment. Now, with regard to Continuance Bills, I am not prepared to say that there are not circumstances in which such Bills may not be necessary, and probably we shall never have a Session of Parliament in which some recourse to such instruments may not be required. But that in Continuance Bills it is extremely desirable Acts should not be included which touch some vital interests of the nation, I am perfectly ready to admit. Whatever may be one's opinion upon the necessity of legislation of that kind, all will, I think, agree that the policy which those Bills express and enjoin ought to be brought, forward in a manner more open and direct than can be done by a Continuance Bill; and, as a general rule, the introduction of Acts such as those to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred in a Continuance Bill is to be deprecated. These are not new opinions of my own, nor of the party with which I am connected. It is a fact which cannot be denied, that the very grievance of which the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Friends now so loudly and strenuously complain, was first brought under the notice of the other House of Parliament by noble Lords who are my Colleagues, and I have always agreed with them upon that matter. But what I do complain of is, that the question has boon taken up at the end of the Session, and worked and turned as it has been against the present Government, who could take no other line upon this subject. We have been upon these benches now for some time, and the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Friends, though they made many demands, intimated many requests, and occasionally made many complaints, never alluded to these particular Bills. My right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, when he first paid a visit to Ireland, was very anxious to know the subject which particularly interested the Irish people, and those Members of Parliament who arrogate to themselves, and not altogether with injustice, the peculiar privilege of representing an important portion of the Irish nation. And what was their recommendation? They said—"What we complain of is the unruly character of the River Shannon. The River Shannon is a stream of so turbulent a character that unless the English Government are qualified in their Ministerial capacity to cope with it, there is an argument in favour of Home Rule." ["Oh, oh!"] The hon. Gentleman who cries "Oh!" is probably the very man who hissed the hon. and learned Member for Limerick last night. But what are the facts? Her Majesty's Government, though having the conduct of public affairs during this Session, have really had it during a Session curtailed of one-third of its usual duration. It was only after Easter that Business really commenced in this House, and therefore it was quite impossible, in dealing with those matters which imperatively demanded our attention, that we could reform this system of Continuance Bills, which would be no easy nut to crack in any Session. However, I have already expressed my opinion upon that subject. I think it is in every way to be deprecated that Acts such as those to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has called our attention should be included in Continuance Bills, and, so far as we are concerned, they will not be included again. The hon. and learned Gentleman said the other night that my assurance on that head, though it was not altogether to be disregarded, was one in which too much confidence should not be placed, because events might occur which might prevent myself and my Colleagues from remaining in that responsible position which we at present occupy. Well, upon that subject I give no opinion. But that intimation was perfectly inconsistent with the assurance which the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Friends are now perpetually giving us, that there is no chance whatever of what they call "a political catastrophe" next Session. What I want to impress upon the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Friends is this—that when we urge the necessity, or rather the expediency, of a term of some months longer being allowed to this Continuance Bill than the hon. and learned Gentleman has proposed, it is a great mistake to assume that the only circumstance which can occasion the meeting of an autumnal Parliament is what the hon. and learned Gentleman calls "a political catastrophe." We have had a great many November sittings in my time, and very rarely occasioned by "political catastrophes." On the contrary, they have been occasioned by the action of the Bank Act in more than one instance. They have been occasioned, too, and may be occasioned again by circumstances involving questions of peace or war. It is not merely by a political catastrophe, a Dissolution of Parliament, or a change of Ministry that an autumnal Session is occasioned; and therefore, when we have the possibility of vicissitudes to encounter, it is certainly an act of prudence to provide that at the very moment when Parliament has to deal with these questions, we may have ample time to consider what we have to do. Now, leaving the question of Continuance Acts, I come to the much greater question of Coercion Acts. The hon. and learned Gentleman has, I will not say pressed the Government for an expression of their policy on that subject, but he has very frankly announced that the time will come and is not far distant when we must, of course, express our opinions on the matter. When the time comes we shall express our opinion. We shall take a just and complete view of the circumstances of Ireland, and if it be our duty to our Sovereign to recommend that that system of policy, which is described by the name of Coercion Acts, should, in our opinion, not be repeated, there could be no public men more happy than we should be in making that announcement. But, at the same time, let not the hon. and learned Gentleman for a moment suppose that to obtain a passing popularity either with him, his Friends, or any other body of men, we will conceal our opinion from our Sovereign. What-ever we believe to be necessary for the general welfare of the country, that we shall be prepared to propose, and upon the opinion of this House the fate of that policy will depend. I have again to acknowledge the becoming manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman under circumstances, I freely admit, of some difficulty, has conducted himself throughout this discussion. He has shown a proper sense of the dignity of the House and his own position as a not undistinguished Member of this House, and I trust that the general spirit which his conduct has elicited may not be a useless lesson to those who have not so much experience as the hon. and learned Gentleman.


said, he wished to say a word in explanation of a matter some-what personal. When the right hon. Gentleman said that when the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant went to Ireland, the only complaint made to him was about the River Shannon, he (Mr. Butt) must remind the right hon. Gentleman that the second night of the Session he moved an Amendment to the Address, complaining of the operation of these very Coercion Acts, and in it, he made no allusion whatever to the unruliness of the River Shannon, which like a great many other instances of unruliness, was to be attributed to the mistakes of English officials.


said, he had given Notice of an Amendment to extend the right of carrying arms to certain classes of persons who did not at present enjoy it, but he would not press the Motion, unless the Government accepted it.


, in moving as an Amendment, in Schedule 14, page 3, column 1, to except "19 and 20 Vic, c. 36, Preservation of the Peace, Ireland," said, he and his Friends were bound to enter their protest against the Act, but it was the last division they would have on the Bill.

Amendment proposed, In page 3, column 1 of the Schedule, line 46, to leave out the words "19 and 20 Vie. c. 36, Preservation of the Peace, Ireland."—(Mr. Downing.)

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 56: Majority 81.

Bill to be read the third time upon Monday next.