§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Sir Michael Hides-Beach.)
§ MR. BIGGAR
, in moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice, said, he considered the Government were acting very improperly in introducing a measure of this kind, which was alike uncalled-for and unnecessary—as he would be able to prove when he 1452 came to speak of the condition of Ire-laud—not merely as regarded the particular localities which were the objects of exceptional legislation, but of the state of the country generally. He had listened with profound attention to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland throughout the long speech which he made in support of the Bill, and he (Mr. Biggar) had to express some astonishment that the right hon. Gentleman had throughout his speech dealt entirely in generalities. He set out by assuming that a measure of this kind was necessary, but he carefully refrained from furnishing the House with the data on which he grounded that assumption. In one part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman admitted that the present state of Ireland was one of perfect peace and tranquillity, and that this measure was only intended as precautionary; which was an admission on his part that the Bill was not required at all. The only argument in favour of the Bill offered by the right hon. Gentleman in his long address was that magistrates of Westmeath had declared that its provisions were necessary for the security of the public peace; but as he (Mr. Biggar) would presently endeavour to show, that argument was of no great weight. In the first place, the magistrates from whom the memorial in favour of the renewal of coercion proceeded sat with closed doors; and, secondly, the memorial was not the memorial of the entire magisterial Bench of Westmeath, but that of a select number well known to be prejudiced against the people, and without sympathy with them in anything which concerned their interests. A memorial proceeding from such an assembly as that ought not to carry with it any weight whatsoever. He did not deny that those Westmeath magistrates were very worthy gentlemen; but not being able to ascertain facts for themselves, they relied on those supplied to them by spies and informers, which were altogether worthless. Such being the information on which the Westmeath magistrates based their representations to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Government, he contended, were not justified in bringing forward this measure to take away the liberties of the whole people upon such representations. Another argument which he would urge against the Bill was that 1453 the last Assize showed there did not exist in Ireland any organized conspiracy to set the law at defiance. In Meath everything was tranquil: at the last Assizes there was not a single case for trial: in Fermanagh there was only one case; and generally throughout Ireland the result of the last Assizes was to show that the country enjoyed a perfect immunity from crime. Again, the Roman Catholic Bishops and clergy, who had a more intimate knowledge of the habits, the feelings, and of the every-day life of the Irish people than any other persons whatever, had decided against the Bill, which they considered not only unnecessay, but as calculated to foster and keep alive those very feelings of hostility to the Government which it was the intention of the measure to suppress and eradicate. Those gentlemen could supply the most accurate information to the Executive, as to the real condition of the country; but he regretted to say the authorities chose to rely more on the reports and representations made to the magistrates by the police, and which were obtained from the most worthless sources, from informers and from spies. The Roman Catholic clergy were the well-known opponents of secret societies, and discountenanced them with all their influence. They know of everything which took place in the country—he was not, of course, alluding to information obtained by them in the confessional—but from their personal acquaintance with the people who consulted them and acted upon their advice in all the relations of homo. If a young man was leading an improper course of life, his parents were sure to call clerical influence to their and; and thus those youths who might, perhaps, feel an inclination to join such societies as those to which he referred were deterred from so doing. Had the Government consulted those gentlemen, they would have found that there was no necessity for the renewal of the Coercion Acts, but that the rights and privileges of the Constitution might at once and with perfect safety, and with great advantage to the country, be restored to Ireland. He (Mr. Biggar) had communicated with several of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland on the subject—the Bishop of Meath, the Bishop of Down and Connor, and the late Archbishop of Cashel—inquiring of them, whether Ribbonism existed, or existed 1454 to the extent that was alleged in Ireland, and they replied that, as far as they could judge, it did not; and they were unanimously of opinion that the common law, if justly and impartially administered, was all that was required for repressing crime, and that no necessity for exceptional legislation existed. Dr. M'Dermott, Bishop of Raphoe, wrote that not a trace of Ribbonism or Fenianism was to be found throughout his diocese, and he added—I am decidedly of opinion that it is not desirable to renew the Coercion Acts, they seem to me to do very little good; and to pass them may do a great deal of harm.The Peace Preservation Act was originally brought in on account of outrages that had been committed, and which, perhaps, called for its introduction. But these outrages had entirely died out, and no new necessity for renewing its provisions had been shown. As for the Report of the Westmeath Commission, it was of no value. It declared there was a wide-spread conspiracy, fenced in by a most awful oath; yet although, if the representations of the witnesses were correct, thousands must have taken that oath, a single copy of it had never been produced. They were therefore asked to pass this Bill on the bare assertion of the Government that the Bill was desirable. In fact, Ireland was as peaceful a country as any in the world, and he said emphatically it was a great shame that the whole of the Irish people should be treated as a nation of criminals, tyrannized over and subjected to continual coercion. The propositions contained in the Bill were of a most frightful character, and the whole country seemed to be left entirely at the mercy of one man, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, on his part, might coerce the Irish people as he pleased. Powers, too, were given to the magistrates which were liable to continual abuse. [The hon. Member here read in a manner which made it impossible to follow the application, long extracts from the Report and Evidence of the "Westmeath Commission, from the Catholic newspapers of Ireland, and from statements and resolutions of various public bodies, and meetings. The general purport appeared to be to denounce the necessity for any exceptional legislation in regard to Ireland, to assert the general tranquillity and good order of the country 1455 and the absence of Ribbonism, and to protest against the invasion of the liberties of the people.] Resuming his speech, the hon. Member was understood to say, that he, in the next place, objected to the Bill by which it was proposed that this coercive system should be put in force. The Bill was framed with the object of renewing and modifying detached portions of three or four previous Acts. He thought that even a practised lawyer would be puzzled to understand it. If persons were to be punished for breaking the law, it was only fair they should know what the law was which they were not to break; but he was satisfied that it would be impossible for persons of ordinary intelligence to understand this Bill. Then its provisions were conceived in so vicious a principle that it was difficult to tell which of them was the worst. The plan of imposing on localities where outrages had been committed a special charge for extra police was most unfair, for it might well be that the inhabitants were wholly blameless. The manner in which the coercion was to be carried out was without a parallel in any free country. Peaceable people were not allowed to have arms to protect themselves, while evil-disposed persons would get arms in spite of the law by running a little risk. With regard to the provisions against sending threatening letters, such letters were often sent more by way of a joke than anything else; and it was unreasonable to say that on account of the writing of those letters the police were to be at liberty to search people's houses at all hours of the day or night. In many cases great annoyance had been caused to innocent persons by the exercise of that arbitrary power. A man who intended to commit an outrage was not likely to give his victim any notice; and where a letter of that kind was sent at all, the object of the writer often was only to give annoyance and not to injure the person to whom it was addressed. With respect to the Act against secret societies, it was quite inoperative, although under its provisions Freemasons and members of the Orange Society in Ireland were liable to be prosecuted. It was improper to retain a law of that kind which it was not intended to enforce impartially against all, but which put it into the power of the authorities to punish severely a few persons, while the 1456 great majority of those who infringed it wholly escaped. The clause against secret societies ought therefore to be struck out of the Bill, and he did not see on what ground the Government could defend it. No doubt, as a whole, they were not, as a body, a very brilliant set of men; but, nevertheless, they should remember that it was for their own political interest not only to consider the people of Ireland, but to satisfy the democracy of England. He did not wish to see the Government now in power replaced by Gentlemen on the front Opposition Bench, until the latter had given some reason for the change, which they had not done hitherto. But Her Majesty's Government were wasting a great deal of time about questions of Privilege and Irish Coercion Bills which would prove perfectly inoperative. He did not see why the Government should waste not only the time of the House, but their own time, which was of very material importance, in having matters of this sort debated, and in passing a measure which would be looked upon as a stigma upon England as well as a stigma upon Ireland. There were questions of far more importance to which they ought to turn their attention—questions arising out of the Master and Servant Act, the Friendly Societies Bill, the relations between landlord and tenant in England, and so on. But if this Bill passed to-morrow, the effect of it would be not one crime the more or one crime the less committed in Ireland, it would simply subject well-disposed persons to annoyance at the hands of the police. It was said in support of the Bill on the second reading that it would be carried by an enormous majority. And so it was, but that majority was composed for the most part of persons who had not heard a single argument for or against the Bill, and to vote for Bills of this kind without hearing what was to be said for or against them was most improper. There was no reason why coercion laws should be directed against secret societies in Ireland, so far as Roman Catholics were concerned, because the clergy of that Church being altogether opposed to secret societies of any kind, very few Roman Catholics were members of such societies. The system of coercive Acts in regard to Ireland which had been carried out for more than a century was a disgrace to the English Government. From the 1457 beginning of the reign of George III., Act after Act had been passed, and the restrictions imposed repeated and augmented, and even in the Acts of the present time some of the restrictions of the Acts passed in the old evil times were preserved. [The hon. Member, who was almost inaudible, was understood to recapitulate some of the arbitrary enactments of older statutes, and to point out that they were in substance or effect reenacted in the various Arms Acts and Peace Preservation Acts of the present reign]. It was one of the great blots of this Bill that it authorized, on the warrant either of the Lord Lieutenant or of the Chief Secretary, the imprisonment without trial or any means of redress, not only of offenders against the law, but even of those who might be supposed to have a personal acquaintance with them. While so imprisoned they were prohibited from holding any intercourse, whether orally or in writing, with their friends and relatives outside. So extraordinary a power as that ought not to be vested in any one man. But his power of coercion did not stop there. If a crime was committed in any district, even although the criminal had no connection with that district whatever, the Lord Lieutenant could quarter an additional police force on the people, and this peace tax had been a source of great injustice. He appealed to the Government not to disgrace themselves, and not degrade the Irish people by forcing upon them a measure of this kind. As evictions had in former times been a fertile source of disaffection and disorder, and they were not likely to occur so often now that the land laws had been altered, there was all the less reason on that score why Bills should be passed of the character now under consideration. In his opinion, Dr. Plunket suggested a more sensible course of proceeding in 1871 than was now recommended by the Government. He said that if the ordinary laws were strictly enforced, they would be quite sufficient to repress crime in Meath, Westmeath, and King's County, the amount of which he thought had been greatly exaggerated; and he added that an improvement of the condition of the labouring population would be a much more powerful instrument in the cause of order than all the coercion Bills that were ever passed. The hon.
1458 Member proceeded to argue that Ribbonism had its origin and its continuance in the desire of the people to deter the landlords from evictions and the capricious tyranny of the landlords, and for this purpose read numerous long extracts from documents and evidence; when—
Notice taken that 40 Members were not present: House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. BIGGAR
continued. The Bill for giving a right to search for arms on a mere excuse, and often without even a pretence, the real purpose being to discover any papers that might give information about suspected persons. The hon. Member proceeded to read extracts from the evidence before the Westmeath Committee—as was understood;—but in a manner which rendered him totally unintelligible. At length—
§ MR. SPEAKER
, interrupting, reminded the hon. Gentleman that the Rules required that an hon. Member, when speaking, should address himself to the Chair. This Rule the hon. Gentleman was at present neglecting.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that his non-observance of the Rule was partly because he found it difficult to make his voice heard after speaking for so long a time, and partly because his position in the House made it very inconvenient for him to read his extracts directly towards the Chair; he would, however, with permission, take a more favourable position. The hon. Member accordingly, who had been speaking from below the Gangway, removed to a bench nearer to the Speaker's Chair, taking with him a large mass of papers, from which he continued to read long extracts, with comments. At length the hon. Member said he was unwilling to detain the House at further length, and would conclude by stating his conviction that he had proved to every impartial mind that the Government had made out no case for the maintenance of this monstrous system of coercion, and that their proposal was perfectly unreasonable. The hon. Gentleman, who had been speaking nearly four hours, then moved his Amendment.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
, in seconding the Amendment, said, that this was not simply a renewing Bill, but a Bill to renew certain portions of certain Bills, 1459 and to repeal certain portions of other Bills. In many respects the measure reflected credit on the Government. In so far as it was a repealing Bill it was good; but in so far as it was an enacting Bill it was a structure of ingenious confusion. The delay which he and his Friends asked for was in order that the Bill might be submitted to the House in such a shape that it might know what the Bill proposed to do. He would not pretend that he did not himself know what the Bill proposed to do; but he denied that anyone could make it out from a perusal of its clauses. One thing it was intended to do was to re-enact for two years the special Coercive Statute, known as the Westmeath Act, which was passed in 1871, based on the evidence taken before a Select Committee, which was accepted as proving sufficiently the existence of a wide-spread organized Ribbon conspiracy, bound to secrecy by the obligation of a terrible oath, the text of which purported to be in evidence before the Committee. He did not believe in the existence of Ribbonism of that nature or in that sense at all; and if he had believed it before the Committee of 1871 sat he could not believe it since he read the evidence it had taken. The Report of the Committee was founded upon evidence which, so far as it was even credible, rested on the foundation of hearsay and rumour alone. He had landed property in Westmeath for the last 20 years, and he knew the county well; the very nature of his property in that county was such as to render him sensitive to the presence of such an organization if it existed, for he paid a fee farm rent for his lands which were occupied by tenants who paid him a rack rent—his statement in that House was therefore as likely to be correct in this matter as that of any of those gentlemen who deposed before the Committee. He (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) disbelieved in toto that Ribbonism, or any secret organized confederacy of the nature imputed, existed. The witnesses who were examined before the Committee gave their evidence very fairly, and he had no doubt with a sincere desire to state nothing but the truth; but the Committee took for facts all that the witnesses said even when they gave merely hearsay evidence. The Ribbon Oath was read, and had a great effect upon 1460 their minds; but he could say that he had never read a document so obviously and patently fictitious as that oath was. It had been suggested that it was drawn up by a policeman; but he inclined to believe that it was a stupid hoax—however that might be, he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) would unhesitatingly say that he never read a document so obviously fictitious. It was an insult to Irishmen, or to anyone who understood the Irish character, to ask them to base legislation on a document which was the production of some one in a humorous or half-lunatic condition of mind. He would now read from the evidence taken before the Committee the text of the oath, which being once accepted as genuine might account for the whole discrepancy between his belief on the subject of Ribbonism and that of the Committee. The so-called oath purported to be set forth in a paper headed "Obligations of a Ribbonman," which he would read. It began—The person is first asked by the Captain or Committee-man, Is it your wish with all your heart and mind to assume the heavenly act of Ribbonman or any other title you may got from the Board? The person answers 'Yes.' The Captain of the Committee then says—' Take the Book in your right hand and go down on your bare knees—you swear that you will never prosecute a Ribbonman or any other title he may get from the Ribbon Board before Judge or Jury or any man that can trust our system.'—The person then, if it is not his wish to receive the chief secrets, may rise and go away, but if he answers 'Yes,' the Captain orders him to bless himself and take the Book in his right hand, and he is then sworn as follows:—' By virtue of the oath I have taken, I will and and assist, with all my might and strength, when called upon, to massacre Protestants and cut away heretics, burn British Churches, abolish Protestant Kings and Princes, and all others except the Church of Rome and this system, and by virtue of the oath I have taken I will think it no sin to kill and massacre a Protestant whenever opportunity serves: and by virtue of the said oath, if I know any of the members of this system to be backward in executing any of the aforesaid orders, I will immediately make it known to the Captain or the Committee-man belonging to the Ribbon Board; and by virtue of the oath I always will attend at one moment's warning to execute any commands belonging to the system, and that I will never see a brother hurt or abused by any not up to this system without assisting him, or will I buy anything from a Protestant at any terms if I can get it from a brother; and I also feel bound to believe that there is no absolution to be had from the Pope of Rome or any other authority belonging to that Church, on any part of this solemn test, or any favour in this world or that which is to come for a breach of this test.'1461 Now, he would shortly observe upon that interesting paper that it was the most obviously fictitious and trumpery document of the kind he had ever read, and that its production as authentic stamped the whole theory of the existence of an organized agrarian conspiracy in Westmeath with the character of fiction; nevertheless, it certainly influenced the minds of the Committee from first to last; but, for his part, he would simply observe that until he believed—as not long since in a famous case they were asked to believe—that a Catholic gentleman would write an affectionate letter to his mother, concluding with a prayer "that the Blessed Maria might have mercy on her soul; "he would hold that the document which purported to set forth not only the Ribbon Oath, but the formulary of the Ribbon proceedings, to be either a hoax or a fraud. He would admit, however, that the Committee of 1871, although influenced by the alleged discovery of the oath, were not solely moved by it: the existence of a kind of secret society was proved, and it was quite true that some two years before the Committee sat the railway station master at Mullingar had been murdered. That crime was committed without provocation, or on the very slightest provocation, and would disgrace any country. He would, however, now deal with that fact. The Chairman of the railway, Mr. Cusack, was one of the witnesses examined before the Westmeath Committee: he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) did not quarrel with Mr. Cusack's testimony in the least; but he charged on the company of which Mr. Cusack was the Chairman—or perhaps he should more correctly say on the Canal Company, the management of which had devolved on Mr. Cusack's company—that they (the Canal Company) had manufactured the Ribbon system which affected themselves, and had entered into very curious relations with it. Now he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) would hazard no assertions on this matter, and wherever a fact required to be proved he would put it aside unless he could establish it on the evidence taken before the Select Committee. The hon. Member then explained to the House the origin of the Midland Great Western Railway Company about 30 years ago, and its amalgamation with the Royal Canal Company, which latter was incorporated so 1462 long ago as 1789. The Railway Company came to be also the owners and managers of the canal, and Mr. Cusack was the Chairman and head of both concerns. He would read Mr. Cusack's evidence taken before the Westmeath Committee, with a view to show that the secret society with which the amalgamated company had to do was one recognized for a long time by the Company, and was not an agrarian conspiracy but a species of trades union.Question 1347.—Arc you aware whether outrages have taken place upon the canal with which you are connected?—No, I think since I have been, connected with the line there has "been no outrage upon the canal, although it runs parallel to the line.Question 1348.—How do you account for that?—I account for it by their having a secret society among the men, and by their having been allowed for years to have all the appointments to themselves. As soon as a man dies or goes away the company are told who to put into his place. These people act as a sort of police, and protect the place.Now, he fully admitted there was evidence here of a secret organized society, recognized time out of mind by the Canal Company, long before Mr. Cusack's time. He (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) would say confidently that there was no reliable evidence of any kind to prove that any organized society, other than this, existed in 1871, and he did not believe there was any other. But perhaps hon. Members might say that after all was a veritable Ribbon Society. They should, however, hear what Mr. Cusack had to say on that head—Question 1398.—With regard to the strange system of appointment which prevails upon the canal, have you reason to suppose that that is supported by the Ribbon conspiracy?—I do not say it is caused by the Ribbon conspiracy, because I think it existed for a long time before my time, but it certainly has the effect of keeping us all quiet upon the canal.Question 1399.—You have no reason for connecting that with the Ribbon conspiracy?—No, I have not.Now, could anything be clearer than that this the only organized secret society was, in fact, a species of trades union amongst the servants of the Canal Company? And when one reflected that the Canal Company and the Railway Company were one and the same corporation, did not the murder of Mr. Anketell, the station master, resolve itself into an atrocious attempt on the part of the servants, or hangers on of the Company, to got the upper hand on the railway as 1463 well as on the canal? Why should that act, base and atrocious as it was, be mixed up with the notion of Agrarian Confederations and Ribbon Boards and Committees, and Ribbon Oaths and Captains of Ribbon-men? They certainly found an account in the evidence of a Mr. Crofton, who was examined before the Committee, of a certain so-called Captain Duffy; but he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) ventured to believe that Duffy was a captain without a company, like the Australian highwayman who was in the habit of terrifying isolated settlers by pretending to head a gang. At any rate, there was no evidence that Duffy had a company, except the style of "Captain," which was nothing more than a nickname. The idea of an agrarian conspiracy would be dispelled by a careful examination of the evidence of some of the most intelligent of the witnesses. Mr. Julian, the Crown Solicitor for the King's County and Westmeath, was examined. He said, in answer to Question 2497—Formerly, questions between landlord and tenant gave rise to agrarian outrage; but now if the Ribbon combinations waited for cases between landlord and tenant, they might, if I may use the term, give up business, as they are so very few in number the consequence is that almost all the recent cases can scarcely be called agrarian at all.Quite right, and honestly deposed by Mr. Julian. So here again the case was brought back to the class of offences growing out of the system that had existed on the canal—a kind of irregular trades union—which the murderers of Mr. Anketell no doubt wanted to have extended to the railway. He hoped the House would bear with him whilst he read some portions of Mr. Rochfort Boyd's evidence which dealt with the system of fines inflicted on districts in which crimes had been committed. In answer to Question 1531, Mr. Boyd said—I look upon the area or the incidence of the taxation to be so faulty and so wrong as at the present moment to estrange the feelings and the loyalty of those who ought to be our best men—that is to say, the independent farmers of the country. It is within my knowledge now, for example, that at the present moment, from the taxes recently laid on certain districts for murder committed, and other outrages, there are some of the best conducted men in my county becoming fast reduced in circumstances, and if it goes on they will be utterly smashed, while those escape with impunity who are, in point of 1464 fact, the concoctors and the executors of the mischief which is perpetrated.Now what he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) had to say in respect to all this was, that those who were law-abiding and loyal should not be punished on account of others who had committed grievous outrages—would such a principle be applied in England? He meant, would the principle of the Coercion Law? Take the case of Lincolnshire, for instance, and suppose that it could satisfactorily be brought home that bands of poachers, who generally had an understanding with each other of a more or less intimate kind, had been engaged in desperate outrages upon persons or attacks upon property—would it be said that such a state of circumstances would prove a justification for placing a whole county or large district under a set of severe regulations? He ventured to say that nothing of the kind would be tried or ought to be tried. Why, because some outrages were committed, should a whole community be branded as if they were affected by a spirit of outrage? He wished to state, in the presence of the Prime Minister, the subject matter of the Resolution was to complain of the structure of this Bill—he and his Friends objected to the codification by means of one Renewal Bill, obscure in its meaning, of measures conceived in the spirit of the Coercion Acts. They asked that the Bill should be so framed as to show on its face what restrictions of the liberty of the subject it was intended to enact.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words" in the opinion of this House, it is inexpedient to proceed with the consideration of a Bill re-enacting and modifying detached portions of several statutes, until it is put into such a form as to show clearly and distinctly the provisions which are to form part of the continued and revised code,"—(Mr. Biggar,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. R. SMYTH
Whatever opinions, Sir, may be held on either side of the House as to the necessity and policy of the Bill now under consideration, I do not think that anyone can reasonably deny that it is the duty of Irish Members 1465 to make it the subject of serious challenge and debate. Whether the measure is right or wrong, it is, at all events, one of great importance to the people of Ireland, and of no less importance to the credit of Constitutional Government. This Bill avowedly puts in jeopardy or suspends the usual guarantees of the liberties of several millions of the people of the United Kingdom. Indeed, its only value consists in its doing that thing. Now, if such a measure were allowed to pass in silence through any one of its stages, it would hardly be creditable to the House itself, and still less to those Members who are specially intrusted with the duty of guarding the liberties and general welfare of Ireland. I therefore think, apart altogether from the merits of the particular Amendment which has been moved, that the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) was justified in raising a fresh discussion upon the Motion for going into Committee, and it need not excite surprise if, when we are in Committee, every clause and every line of every clause be subjected to the severest examination before it is declared to stand part of the Bill. What are we asked to do? Nothing, I am sorry to say, for which ample precedent may not be pleaded. I am sure that if, for the first time since the union between England and Ireland, a measure of this nature were introduced to the notice of Parliament, it would not only startle the people of England, but would awaken in them a sincere regret. English Members inside this House, and Englishmen and Scotchmen outside of it, are not our enemies. They want to be our friends if they only knew how; and I most truly believe that they have every desire to see Ireland happy and prosperous; for I cannot for a moment suppose that a powerful and generous nation like England—and which has a right to be generous because it is powerful, and because Ireland did not always fare so well at its hands as it has done in more recent days—should do otherwise than wish well to a country that is so intimately bound up with its own strength, honour, and fortunes. But hon. Members do not need to be reminded that good intentions pave the way in very opposite directions, and that it is the duty of legislators not only to intend to do the right thing, but to take every means of informing themselves what is the 1466 right thing to do. Now, an Englishman said to me not long since—"I confess Ireland is a great puzzle to me; I don't understand it at all." Of course, no English Member of Parliament would make such a confession; for if he did it would add greatly to the force of the arguments, and would give additional plausibility to the policy of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt.) And yet I do fear considerable misconceptions prevail about the causes of the discontent of Ireland. There may be hon. Gentlemen in this House who know little or nothing about the habits, the houses, and the real characteristic thoughts of the Irish people. They have not seen them on their farms or in their markets, and Ireland may possibly be to them a great and inexplicable mystery. I am confirmed in this opinion by calling to mind that no less a personage than the present First Lord of the Treasury once undertook to account for the discontent of Ireland on the supposition that the people had been driven mad by listening to the moaning of the Atlantic Ocean. That may have been only a droll remark; but I know it was made on rather a serious occasion, in connection with the proposal to disestablish the Irish Church, and if that be an idea that could be even comically entertained by the leading statesmen in this House what sort of theories may not be entertained by those who are not statesmen? If there must be Coercion Acts until the Atlantic Ocean is either dried up or silenced then our case is hopeless indeed, and the effective remedy for Irish discontent must be indefinitely postponed. On what assumption is this Bill based? The Government tell us that they cannot govern Ireland with out without it. Perhaps so. I dare say that is the case. But the whole fault may not he with Ireland, for the further question must be faced, and will be asked over and over again within these walls—at least, so long as there are Irishmen here to ask it—why cannot you govern Ireland without suspending the constitutional laws of the country? Of course, you must preserve peace at all hazards. You may be quite justified in confining the patient to his own room while you are administering restoratives; but what restoratives are you administering? I admit—and in doing so I am only making an admission that would be 1467 as frankly made by the most ardent I patriots of the House—that it is the duty of the Government to protect the lives and property alike of the highest and the meanest of Her Majesty's subjects in Ireland, for no Government could hold its place, or ought to hold its place, for one day that failed in this duty. But, at the same time, it would surely be more creditable to a Government if it could somehow preserve Irish life and Irish property by the same means that this is done in England and Scotland. I believe it can be done. There may be occasions when a short cut must be taken to secure tranquillity, and when the well doing inhabitants of the country may be reasonably asked to surrender some of their rights for a time, so that the ill-doing may be punished or put out of the way. The Government says that the condition of Ireland at this moment is a case in point, and in de fence of the particular measure proposed—a measure which we know is not as severe as some that have come before it—we are told that the meshes of this net are so constructed that good men will easily pass through, and only bad men will be captured. I am not so sure about that; for I have observed in net fishing that you very often enclose fish you do not want, and that you have a short supply of those you do want. I am not here speaking at random. The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) some nights ago amused the House by a reference to the patriotic misfortunes of Irish Members of Parliament. No doubt a good many Irish Members have been in prison, because so many people get into prison in Ireland who ought not to be there at all; whereas in some of the countries that might be named people can go to and fro in the earth a long time and write an immense deal of libellous rubbish before they have the slightest chance of getting into prison. The fact is if Irish constituencies excluded all candidates for Parliamentary honours who have been in prison, the area of selection would be inconveniently narrowed. But, now, may I ask what sent these gentlemen to prison? Not always the common law of the country; but they were generally sent there for crimes which had been specially created by Act of. Parliament. They were caught by Bills such as that now before the House, The 1468 Habeas Corpus Suspension Act caught the hon. Member for the county of Limerick (Mr. O'Sullivan), and the Party Processions Act caught the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Mr. Johnston); for the martyrs are not all on this side of the House; and as for the future it is not all unlikely that this Bill will bear a plentiful harvest in the next Parliament. Now, Sir, I am not to be understood as arguing against the right of the Government to seek and to obtain exceptional measures for repressing social violence; but what I complain of is that this is almost the only thing that is being done, and that the thorough remedial legislation which was so far advanced in the last Parliament is not being carried to completion in the present Parliament. I heard last Session an appeal from the benches opposite—an appeal made by an Irish Member from his place immediately behind the Treasury bench—I refer to the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Conolly)—to the Government to go on applying remedies of a permanent and substantial character to the condition of Ireland. We on this side do not set up for being special guardians of Irish interests. Conservative Members know perfectly well—and the speech of the hon. Member for Donegal last Session showed it—that finality has not been reached in the application of remedy and redress. There is no use in foisting Party comparisons into a debate such as that in which we are now engaged. I believe the present Government is as anxious as the late Government to promote the prosperity of Ireland on its good behaviour. But it was the avowed aim of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) and his Administration so to govern Ireland that it might arrive at peace through the avenue of prosperity; and it would be a source of much regret if now, or at any future time, the order of idea should be reversed, and it should be laid down as a maxim of Government that it must be at peace at all events, and be left to take its chance for prosperity. A forced peace will never lead to a satisfactory social condition. Why, Sir, the Irish people have been far too much accustomed to believe themselves at war with this country. It may have been their own fault; but the plain and undeniable fact is that war measures have generated in them a kind of feeling 1469 that they are, to some extent, justified in eluding them. They must be taught that the law is, and should be, the strongest thing in the country; but we ought to take care that the law, as far as possible, should be such as commends itself to the national instinct and conscience. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich was exposed to much hostile remark for saying that Ireland ought to be governed by Irish ideas, and the sentiment was caricatured by representing the shooting of a landlord as an Irish idea. It is nothing of the kind. The Irish know very well that it is a dreadful crime to assassinate anybody, and they have resorted to this abnormal iniquity as a recoil from, and a revenge for, what they considered the violation of their ideas. They have peculiar ideas like all nations; and one of their ideas is that human happiness is wrapt up in the possession of a piece of land and in living upon that land from generation to generation. [Mr. WHALLEY: Oh, oh!] The hon. Member for Peterborough says "Oh, oh!" by which I understand the hon. Member to signify that he is shocked at such an idea; but the hon. Member's alarms have frequently before been excited on common-place occasions, and this is only another illustration of his extravagant sensitiveness. The great difficulty in governing Ireland from your standpoint consists in this fixed and ineradicable idea—the land is the life of the people; deprived of that they are helpless and hopeless. You talk to an Irish peasant-farmer about political economy; but he acknowledges no political economy which puts him out of his farm. You can print what you please in books, but you cannot print theories of Government upon the human heart. We may be very sorry that people, millions of people, should have become so perverted in all their conception of things that they actually consider their own lives and the lives of their children superior to the laws of supply and demand, and oven object to go to the backwoods of Canada, and to the prairies of Nebraska, in obedience to these laws. But, so it is, and what can you make of it? It would be out of place for me to say anything just now beyond this—that in repressing agrarian crime something ought to be done in the direction of a further amendment of the agrarian laws, not in any 1470 violent or revolutionary way, not invading the rights of property, but tending towards the utmost limits of indulgence; and if that is done you need not despair of making Ireland yet a strength and not a weakness to the empire. I will candidly say that, in my judgment, the social condition of Ireland is not at this moment such as would warrant the Government in dispensing with some special machinery for preserving the peace, and if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cavan went in the face of that admission, I could not support it. But, as I understand the Amendment of the hon. Member, it only asks that the Bill shall be remodelled, so as to show us clearly what we are doing—that everything vital and substantial should be put down at full length in the text itself, and that the liberties of Ireland should not be stolen away by the skeleton key of a schedule. Coercion by a clause may be legitimate; but I do not like coercion by a mere marginal reference. I dare say the lawyers who draft these Bills know best what is good for themselves. They are not a lazy race of men. They rather like taking pains to find out from an Act of Parliament what nobody else can find out. But the hon. Member for Cavan wants in black and white what it is that is being enacted—no more and no less. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will be slow to attribute any Party object to the hon. Member for Cavan. For though he generally sits on this side of the House, where, unfortunately, there is more room, he is known to be on occasions a loyal supporter of Her Majesty's Government. The Amendment is not aimed at the principle of the Bill; but reasonably puts in a plea for a modification of procedure. Now, I know enough of the North of Ireland to be aware that so long as party processions are sanctioned by law—and I am not saying that it was a mistake to repeal the Party Processions Act—it would not be prudent, as the shocking occurrence in County Tyrone on last St. Patrick's Day too well proves, to permit an unlimited supply of fire-arms to those who take part in such processions, or to those who take umbrage at them and try to stop them. We have, for instance, a remarkable state of things in the City of Londonderry and its neighbourhood. In that city there has been for a long period 1471 of time a tolerably well-equipped army of young men, called "Apprentice Boys," deriving their name and their political lineage from the 13 young colonists who shut the gates of Derry against Antrim's Redshanks in 1688. These young men—and I have not one word or thought against them—being of undoubted courage, are in the habit of defending Derry twice a-year from the armies of King James the Second. They had for a great many years a park of artillery, consisting of some 12 or 15 pieces of ordnance, which they discharged from the walls of Derry, and sometimes, of necessity, discharged them over those portions of the city inhabited by classes of the population who very much disliked these celebrations and proceedings. Bad blood was the result, and party spirit ran so high that the Lord Lieutenant felt it necessary to proclaim the city and district around. These pieces of cannon were not licensed afterwards, and, consequently, they had to be removed to some place of secrecy, where they have been silent ever since. But counter demonstrations have been organized, and the Roman Catholics—for I regret to say these matters are regulated greatly by denominational interest, or supposed interests—say that if Derry is to be defended twice a-year when there is nobody attacking it they will, at all events, go through the form of taking it, and of marching round the walls; and round the walls they do march, not twice, but once a year. That is all well enough so long as the cannon is out of the way. But it is now freely said that if the Lord Lieutenant's proclamation is withdrawn, and the cannon brought back, the Roman Catholics intend to have cannon also. Even that might do if the two parties will agree to attack and defend Derry at different seasons of the year—the one on the 17th of March and the other on the 18th of December; but I have my doubts whether such an arrangement would stand, or whether it would not come to be considered too dull an affair for courageous Irishmen. The Protestants would think that Roman Catholic artillery on the walls of Derry would be unhistorical, and the Catholics would reply that they were going to make new history of their own, and the last condition of our city would be worse than the first. The Government cannot safely forego its power 1472 to meet emergencies of this kind, and this is only one instance of the evils which spring—at least so far as the North is concerned—not so much from agrarian hatred as from party spirit, religious and political. I think, however, that there might be some relaxation of the rules for licensing fire-arms, especially in the case of farmers who require them for killing noxious birds and animals on their farms. I hope both sides of the House can take a reasonable view of the position in which we stand. I am quite sure that an extreme view on either side, however it may be dictated by conviction, will not promote the true and permanent interests of the country. It has sometimes been said that there are occasions when a Member of Parliament may discreetly gain for himself a little cheap popularity; but I think no popularity is cheap which requires a man to pay down his convictions as the price of it; and I will add that I have no reason to believe that there is any Member here from Ireland who would not do all in his power to save his country first of all, and then protect his seat afterwards. I trust this Parliament, conscious of its power, will resolutely advance in the path of indulgent legislation. Whilst bating no job of its claims upon the obedience of the people, let us not for ever keep our eyes fixed on the weakness and sins of the people of Ireland. They have also good qualities which may be fostered into a loyalty that will stimulate them to fight the battles of the Queen by sea and land as they have done before. The country grudges no power to the Government which may be needful to keep down disaffection; but when the end has been accomplished there remains still something to be done; and I can imagine few recollections that could or that ought to be more grateful to Ministers of the Crown and Members of Parliament than the remembrance that they had been instrumental in drawing aside the last veil and letting the full light of a happy National life break in once for all upon the care and sorrow of Ireland.
§ MR. O'CLERY
gave his hearty support to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cavan. The most dignified course of opposing the measure as a whole was leaving the onus of discussing its details to the Government, which, by the great majority of Conservatives and Liberals 1473 which, it had at its back that night, was determined to force on Ireland a measure so hostile.
§ MR. WHALLEY
adhered to the opinion he had formerly expressed, that it was grievous hypocrisy on the part of the Government to endeavour to meet the difficulty of Ireland by coercive measures like this one. Was it to go forth to the world that the jurisprudence of this country, with all the power at its back, was unable to cope with ordinary combination, riot, murder, or agrarian outrage, which might occur in any English county? The real difficulty to he contended with was not the peasant's love of a bit of land, nor the attack and the de fence of the walls of Derry, but a development of the world-wide conspiracy organized for the express purpose of assailing the free institutions of every Government that did not submit itself to domination. If there was one man in Europe who knew this, it was the Prime Minister; and it was outrageous that he, with the power he had, did not grapple with the real difficulty instead of coercing the people of Ireland. We knew it was the business and sacred duty of the Romish priesthood to organize the peasantry of Ireland and other parties there, not excepting the trades unions. They would not be true to the advice that had been given to them, and would not have as much common sense as he could pretend to himself, if they did not pursue that course, for Cardinal Manning had counselled them to subjugate and break the spirit of this country, and render the people subservient to the purpose they had in view. As the matter stood, however, he could not say he was going to support the Government by voting for this Bill. It was, in his opinion, an attempt to meet a difficulty known to history as a distinct organization which, under the pretence of religion, sought to keep the country in a state of turmoil and confusion. It was that with which they had to grapple, and it appeared to him that the honest and industrious people of Ireland ought not, under a mere pretence, be made to suffer by the provisions of such a Bill as the present.
said, he need hardly assure the House that it was not his intention to reply to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) in his attack on the Roman Catholic 1474 clergy of Ireland. That hon. Member's opinions on the subject were well known, and it was unnecessary for him to occupy the time of the House by any answer. He confessed that if the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had moved the Amendment of which he first gave Notice—that the Committee on the Bill be deferred for six months—he could not have supported him; because such a Motion should only be made when the speakers against a Bill had been refused a fair hearing, or when the opinion of the House had not been fairly tested. In the present case it must be admitted that every opportunity had been given to Irish Members to discuss the Bill on the second reading; but he (Mr. O'Conor) submitted that the Motion now before the House was of a different character from any which had previously been brought before it. If there was one thing more than another which was necessary in enacting these highly penal laws, it was that their provisions should be perfectly clear. It should be clearly shown to those who would come under the Act what really were their liabilities; and he ventured to say that it would take a large amount of study on the part of an ordinary Irishman—who did not trouble to closely consider all the Acts of Parliament passed on this subject of coercion—to know what he might do and what he might not do. It would be equally impossible for him to decide what control a policeman had, and how far his duties went. He was satisfied if Acts of Parliament were passed in this form they would have a state of things in Ireland which would give the Law Officers of the Crown the greatest possible trouble. He desired that the Bill now under consideration should be withdrawn, and that another measure should be introduced which should clearly lay down what powers really were to be given; and he was satisfied that if this were done it would not meet with the opposition which this Bill encountered. The hon. Member for Cavan had given Notice of another Motion which he had not pressed, and which was directed against the re-enactment of the Westmeath clauses of the Act of 1871. For his own part, he would rather support a proposal against re-enacting the Act of 1870; because, although it was in some respects less subversive of the liberties of 1475 the people yet it was, in practice, far more irritating to the well-disposed persons in the country. He had opposed the Act of 1870 whenever its provisions came before the House, and he held that that measure had failed to carry out the objects it had in view. In order to establish this, he had only to refer to the speeches which had been made at the time that Act was passed, and what had since happened. The Bill of 1870 was not introduced in consequence of a general state of crime throughout Ireland, but because of the existence of crime in certain districts. The Chief Secretary of the day (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) himself said the Government did not rest the Bill of 1870 upon the condition of the whole of Ireland; but, on the contrary, they rested it on the condition of certain parts of Ireland, where the state of crime could not be successfully grappled with under the law as it then stood. In 1871 the noble Lord who was then Chief Secretary, and who was now the Leader of the Opposition (the Marquess of Hartington), came down to the House and proposed the appointment of a Committee, and what greater proof could they have had that the Act of 1870 had been a failure than that a year after it was passed a Committee of Inquiry had to be elected, and another Act passed to supersede it? The passing of the Westmeath Bill was clear evidence that the Act of 1870 had failed to carry out the objects for which it was introduced. That Act had subjected the loyal people of the country against whom it had been put in force to a great deal of unnecessary irritation, and it had done a great deal of mischief to innocent persons. Among other things, compensation was given to injured persons, and the amount of that compensation was levied upon those who had nothing whatever to do with the matter, and were in no way responsible for the injury. It was said truly that this was a return to the Saxon system of frankpledge, but he asked if that was any reason why, in the present state of civilization, they ought to revert to it? He should much have preferred voting in favour of a Resolution which would have condemned the Act of 1870, although he was aware there was also a great deal to be said against the Act of 1871. He was not going to argue that a case might not arise which could 1476 justify an Act such as this. He would go further, and admit that if coercive legislation was to be introduced at all, he did not know of anything which would do less harm than the power of arrest; but before they put it in force it must be shown that there was a necessity for it, and not be satisfied with dealing in general statements. Well, then, had that necessity been shown to the House? for it was the duty of the Government to make out their case. They had rested their claim upon reports they had received from the magistrates, the Clerk of the Crown, the police, and others; but was this class of evidence satisfactory? He maintained that it was not, because there was no doubt that those who had reported in favour of the Acts would like them to be continued because it rendered their duties much lighter than they would otherwise be. It was always a most unfortunate thing, but it was, nevertheless, the fact, that when measures had been forced upon a country for some years people got accustomed to them, and did not like to part with them. He, however, did not believe the House would assent to such a proposition as this without having the strongest possible evidence before them. In 1871 the Acts were passed after a Report by a Select Committee, but now there was no Report, and no sufficient evidence as to their necessity, or why they should be further prolonged? He should, therefore, vote against all the provisions of the Bill.
MR. JOHN GEORGE MACCARTHY
, in opposing the Amendment, assured the House that life and property in Ireland were as dear to those who opposed the Bill as they were to those who had introduced it. To English and Scotch Members the Bill was a matter of political interest only—to Irish Members it was one of deep personal moment, and concerned their lives, their property, their families, and the future of their country. Irishmen were ready enough to admit that for sufficient reasons the Constitution might, in the interest of freedom itself, be usefully suspended; but they objected to the Government acting on mere suspicion and on secret evidence which was not laid before the House. He had declined to pledge his vote to his Colleagues or anyone else until he had had an opportunity of hearing from Her Majesty's 1477 Ministers what case they intended to make. He had had that opportunity, and he had listened to what the Government had to say. In their voice there had been a conciliatory tone which was more persuasive than eloquence itself; but this did not afford the House evidence that it was necessary to place in the hands of the Government the exceptional powers that had been demanded. That evidence either existed or it did not. If it did, why was it not laid before the House; and if it did not, how could it be said that the proposals of Her Majesty's Ministers could be reasonably maintained? So far as ordinary crime was concerned, Ireland, instead of being worse than any other part of Her Majesty's dominions, was much better. There was no evidence of conspiracy for special crime. It might be said that there was a suspicion of this; but was the Constitution to be suspended on suspicion? It was lately said by the Lord Chief Justice of England that no man—not even the humblest individual—should be convicted on suspicion. It might also be pleaded that the Government had private information; but were the liberties of the people to be whispered away? When Her Majesty's Ministers came into power, many of the Irish people had hailed their accession to office with some degree of pleasure, recognizing, as they did, the brilliant genius of the Prime Minister and the kindly spirit he had recently manifested towards them both in his speeches and his writings. They regretted, however, to find that the only boon Her Majesty's Government, after being a year in office, could present to them was a Coercion Bill. The feeling of the people of Ireland in reference to this House was that it was an alien Assembly. If the passing of the Bill depended upon Irish votes, it would not have the slightest chance of becoming law. The people of Ireland knew just as well as the Government that the majority of Irish Representatives were powerless to effect anything in that House except by leave of the British Members. They read, as hon. Members did, the comments made on that fact. They heard the observations made concerning a constitutionally elected majority of Irish Members. They heard this majority was so weak that they could not do anything to help 1478 them—that they had been described as pariahs in the House. He Trusted this state of things would not always exist; that the time would come when Her Majesty's Government would not be so strong that they could afford to overlook the wishes and interests of the Irish people. He asked those in whose hands the Government of Ireland rested to use their power generously and gently, and he respectfully cautioned them that if they did not do so they would create rankling feelings of discontent.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
said, that having been a Member of the Westmeath Committee, he felt bound to address the House upon this matter. He considered that the Irish Members had great reason to complain of the manner in which this Bill had been introduced to the House. Last Session, when it was proposed to re-enact the four measures of coercion in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, the then Attorney General for Ireland (Dr. Ball) informed them that the Government had been in office for such a brief period that they had not had time to consider how many of them they should abandon, and how many they might renew in distinct Bills. The Prime Minister had given them a similar assurance, doubting at the same time if it would be necessary to retain any of them; yet here was a measure in which they were all blended into one, and a measure which originally applied only to Westmeath was insidiously extended to the whole of Ireland. He was not a man who hesitated to express his convictions, and if he thought there was the least necessity for the renewal of any one of those Acts, he would openly avow it, even though he might lose his seat in consequence of doing so; but, speaking with an intimate knowledge of the greater portion of the country, he could say that peace now reigned in Ireland. The Government ought to have inquired whether there was any necessity for continuing the Coercion Acts. The Peace Preservation Act had worked successfully in putting an end to agrarian crime, and ought now to be discontinued. It had been directed against three classes of crime: against Fenianism, against sectarian conflicts, and against agrarian crime. Fenianism was now dead in Ireland. There was nothing now heard of it there. Sectarian conflicts were confined to some portions of 1479 the Province of Ulster, and he could not see why the peaceful inhabitants of the other three provinces should be punished because of the illegal proceedings of the Orangemen in the North. In the South they lived in peace with each other, and no such thing as a party procession was ever heard of either in Cork or Limerick. He could not, in any manner, explain the grounds upon which the Government asked Parliament to give them these repressive powers. Their demand certainly received no support from the present state of the country in reference to crime. In the year 1874, there were only 216 cases of agrarian crime; but in 1869 agrarian crimes, in the shape of murders, attempted murders, firing into houses, and serious acts of that kind, numbered 1,360, and there were no fewer than 460 threatening letters. Yet it was under circumstances like these that the Government now came forward and stated that they required exceptional powers for maintaining order in Ireland, and that it was necessary that the Coercion Act should be renewed. The County of Cork was free from crime, but it had been proclaimed since the passing of the Act. The restrictions which those Acts imposed were of the most oppressive kind, and if English Members only knew what they were and how they operated, they would not be so ready to vote them as they appeared to be. He knew a gentleman who, going out for a day's shooting, had directed his servant to meet him with his gun. The man had not to carry it 50 yards to meet his master; but he was met by the police, and, as he had not a licence, the gun was taken from him. The gentleman lost his day's shooting, and could only get back his gun by writing to the Lord Lieutenant. Hon. Members might see from that one circumstance how thoroughly absurd and vexatious were Acts of this kind, for which, as he maintained, no sort of case had been made out. There never was, indeed, a case of less merit, or one less deserving the consideration of the House than that which had been submitted to it by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland, and he should give his hearty support to the Amendment.
§ MR. FAY
observed, that it must, no doubt, be pleasant to the occupants of the Ministerial benches to sit there and 1480 say nothing whilst Irish Member after Irish Member rose to oppose the Bill. They might, if they pleased, treat their remonstrances with contempt; but that procedure would not gain for them the better feeling of the Irish people. It seemed to him a very questionable matter whether they would pursue the same policy in dealing with an English instead of an Irish question. He should support the Amendment, but from an entirely different point of view from that taken by his hon. Colleague in moving it. The object of the Amendment was a very proper one—namely, that the Bill should be so modified as to be brought into an intelligible form. All this coercive legislation for Ireland was in direct violation of the principles of constitutional government, laid down by so great an authority as Blackstone, whose writings, one would have thought, Englishmen could not so easily have forgotten. He would appeal to the Government and the House to abandon this course of coercive legislation, and relieve the people of Ireland of the stigma of being treated as incapable of being governed excepting by force of arms.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH
said, he hoped the House would pardon him if on this occasion he did not enter at any great length into the principle of the Bill, or the reasons which had led the Government, while recommending a very considerable mitigation of the provisions of the existing law, to propose its continuance in certain particulars. He had listened to nearly the whole of this debate, and with special interest to the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. Downing). He thought, however, that if that hon. Gentleman had been in his place when he addressed the House on previous occasions in reference to this measure, the hon. Member would have seen that the policy of Her Majesty's Government in this matter was one of gradual relaxation, not only in legislation but also in administration; and that he had fair reason to hope that, if the state of the county the hon. Member represented were as he had depicted it, it would before long find itself under precisely the same laws as any part of England. The hon. Member had referred to the promise made to the House last Session by the Prime Minister and the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland; but he was somewhat 1481 unfair in attributing to the Government that they had in any degree departed either from the letter or the spirit of that promise. As the House would recollect, this subject was discussed at considerable length when the Annual Continuance Bill was before the House last year. His right hon. Friend the Prime Minister then undertook that a separate Bill should be introduced this year dealing with the question, and that promise had been fully redeemed by the introduction of the present measure at an early period of the Session. The debate of that evening appeared to him to contrast somewhat unfavourably with that which took place on the second reading of the Bill. He did not complain that a debate on going into Committee had entered at great length not only into the principles of the Bill, but also into details which had far better be discussed in Committee; but he did think it was somewhat hard that their debate that evening should have been, he would not say enlivened, by a course of "readings" from Blackstone's Commentaries, from the evidence which was given before the Westmeath Committee of 1871, and from all the statutes that ever were passed on the subject of Peace Preservation in Ireland, interspersed with unusual and not very audible comments by the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar). He thought it was somewhat hard, while those on the Ministerial side of the House had given a quiet hearing to this unusual kind of debate, that they should be accused by the hon. Member who had last spoken of having treated the arguments adduced by those on his side with silent contempt, and of not having taken part in this discussion. Why, the fact was, that after speeches of four hours' duration there was no time for any one on the Ministerial side to discuss the question at all; and he must add that, in his opinion, any reply had been by no means needed, for although he had listened with attention to all that had been said that night, he had not heard one single fresh argument adduced into the debate which was not adduced and fairly met on the discussion upon the second reading of the Bill. The hon. Member for Cavan and the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) adhered to the remarkable theory that Ribbonism did not exist, at a time when a Committee of the House— 1482 the Westmeath Committee of 1871—after hearing lengthy evidence, reported that Ribbonism was never so prevalent as then in Westmeath and adjoining districts. Every shade of English and Irish opinion was represented in that Committee. That Committee unanimously reported that Ribbonism had existed in that part of Ireland for years past; that it was then more prevalent than it had ever been; that it had led to murders, and a consequent system of terrorism of the gravest description; and that it interfered not only with agrarian subjects, but with almost every relation of ordinary life. If the evidence which led the Committee to that conclusion satisfied the hon. Member for Cavan and the hon. Member for Youghal that Ribbonism did not exist, it was hopeless for him (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) to adduce any argument which was likely to meet with their assent. In reply to the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. O'Conor), who had treated this subject with fairness and moderation, he might say, as he had said before, that the reason why the Government deemed it necessary to propose a continuance of this special Westmeath Act was that they believed that Ribbonism still existed, and was only restrained from breaking out by the existing law; that they were confirmed in this belief by the opinion of the magistrates of the county, who arrived at a unanimous decision on the subject at a very largely attended meeting; by the charges given by the Judges of Assize; and also by communications of a confidential nature, which could not, therefore, be stated to the House. It was improbable in the last degree that a conspiracy so deeply and widely ramified, and so ancient in its origin, should have been entirely extinguished by an Act which had lasted four years. The Government, therefore, felt it their duty, taking all these circumstances, and others to which he need not then allude, into consideration, to propose, for the limited period of two years, a continuance of this Act. He need hardly dwell upon the restrictions upon the possession of arms. The hon. Member for the county of Londonderry (Mr. E. Smyth) admitted most fairly that in the North of Ireland, with which, of course, he was best acquainted, the restrictive provisions with regard to the possession of arms were absolutely necessary. He (Sir 1483 Michael Hicks-Beach) ventured to say no one could charge the Government with having administered those restrictive provisions with any unfair bias towards any part of Ireland. The hon. Member for Londonderry seemed to advise the Government to substitute for this kind of legislation some sort of remedial measure. The hon. Member appeared to want a new Land Act. He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) did not wish to discuss the advisability of such a measure; but he would remind the House that the existing Land Act of which the hon. Member spoke so highly was passed in 1870, and was followed in 1871 by such a crop of agrarian outrages that the Parliament of the day thought it necessary to pass the Westmeath Act to which he so strongly objected. That did not encourage the belief that, if the measure now before the House were dispensed with, a new Land Act would suffice to secure peace and good order in Ireland. It was not necessary to dwell at length upon the arguments which had been adduced on the other side of the House, many of them relating to points which might be fairly discussed in Committee, and others having been already met in the debate on the second reading of this Bill. The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had placed upon the Paper a Motion dealing not only with the merits of part of the measure, but also with the form in which the Bill had been presented to the House. Upon consideration, the hon. Member had thought it wise merely to bring forward that part of his Motion which dealt with the latter question; and he had listened carefully, but in vain, to the speech of the hon. Member for any de fence of his proposal. He had no wish to excuse the Government by casting any blame upon the draftsman, who was responsible merely for putting into shape the intentions of the Government. Those who presented the Bill to the House were alone properly responsible for the form in which it was presented, and in reference to the present measure he took upon himself all the responsibility. If it were a new measure, or one for consolidating the law, there would be some force in the objections which had been taken; but, as a matter of fact, the Bill was simply one to amend and continue portions of existing Acts. The Government, in 1484 adopting what he must admit to be the somewhat involved provisions of one clause of the Bill, had simply followed the example set by their Predecessors in a section of the Act of 1873—a course which was rendered absolutely incumbent upon them by the fact that the Bill was one for continuance only. If hon. Members would turn to those points in which it was proposed to mitigate the existing law, or to repeal those parts of it which it was not thought necessary to re-enact, they would find the Bill clear and simple enough. When the hon. Member for Londonderry spoke of a skeleton schedule to steal away the liberties of Ireland, he made use of exaggerated language which was rather to be expected from below the Gangway than from the place which the hon. Member occupied in the House. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members might interrupt; but he thought he remembered having heard very similar expressions from the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) in the debate on the second reading of the Bill. He would remind the hon. Member who had used the expressions he had just quoted that the schedule contained nothing that could steal away the liberties of Ireland, but simply consisted of the titles of the sections of the existing Coercion Acts which it was proposed by the Bill to repeal. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had Amendments upon the Paper which would again raise the question of drafting; but, as the Amendments were intended for Committee, he would not attempt to discuss them until that stage was reached. Upon the whole question before the House, he would say that no one had any desire to stop the free expression of Irish opinion upon a matter so important to Ireland. The course of the debate that evening and upon the second reading showed pretty fairly that when hon. Members from Ireland had anything to urge upon the attention of the House, the House was ready to listen to them, however much it disagreed from their opinions. There had been circumstances in the early portion of the debate that evening which made him express a hope that the readiness with which the House had listened to those expressions of opinion might not be taken unfair advantage of by hon. Members opposite. The 1485 House had listened, he was sure, with the greatest pleasure to the able and attractive speech with which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick concluded the debate on his side on the second reading, and he was confident that to similar speeches the House would always be ready to listen. Many Amendments appeared on the Paper to be discussed in Committee—some of them conflicting with the principle of the Bill, and therefore of a kind which the Government could not possibly adopt; perhaps to others they might be able to yield a ready assent; but he was convinced that all would be discussed fairly by the House, and that the arguments in their support would be treated with all the attention they deserved. Therefore, he asked hon. Members opposite whether they did not think they had already debated at sufficient length the general principle of the measure; and whether they would not do more real service to the country they represented, and more justice to the views which they held, by allowing the measure now before the House to be dealt with in the ordinary business-like manner, and, without further debate, arriving at a decision upon the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair?
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
drew attention to the fact that the Proposer and Seconder of the Amendment had finished their speeches at a quarter past 10, two hours ago, and if hon. Gentlemen disputed that he should recommend them to take a glass of the beverage which the Prime Minister advised them to take a few nights ago. The English Members did not like to get up and propose a Coercion Bill for Ireland; but some Irish Members of the Government did. They knew that this was not a popular measure in every part of Ireland; but they could hardly be dragged in to support it with their speeches. He made an exception in favour of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) and his Colleagues; but the reason why they spoke was a very simple one. Their constituents were exclusive men, men who had got their degree of M.A., and they were a class representation—a class drawn from educated men; but the very fact that the Members for the University of Dublin were generally opposed to the wish of the population of Ireland was, 1486 he thought, the strongest argument that could be adduced against class representation of any sort or kind. The right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland had told them that no promises were broken, and that their Amendments would be fairly discussed in Committee. He (Captain Nolan) should like to know which of the promises to the Irish Members had been kept by the Government. He should like to know where was the Municipal Privilege Bill which they were promised last year should be passed. Several Irish Members on the other side of the House objected to that Bill, and although the House of Commons kept their promise, it was broken in the House of Lords, who rejected the measure. He totally denied that this Bill was a relaxation. He said it was the worst Bill ever introduced by any Government. He acknowledged that some of its provisions were a little advantage: but anything conceded in the shape of relaxation was more than made up by the extended duration of the Bill. The county constituencies received no benefit whatever under this Bill. The Chief Secretary had no right to bring in any measure which was to take away their liberties. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told them that there were in England 116,586 10s. gun licences, while in Ireland there were 3,578; but if the licences in Ireland were in proportion to the population, there ought to be in that country 25,000, so that there were upwards of 20,000 fewer guns in the possession of Irish farmers than there ought to be as compared with the number held in England. According to the statistics given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, only one man in Ireland held a gun licence to six in England. This was a real grievance, and when the Irish Members went amongst their constituencies this sort of irritation was continually cropping up, and it would be a running sore throughout the whole country. "When a free American landed in Ireland a stranger, he found that he was subject to a deprivation which was generally connected with slavery. History had recorded that the great difference between free men and slaves was that one was supposed to have free possession of arms, and the other was studiously deprived of them. How could the Government ask the people to 1487 rise en masse to fight for them when they had been deprived of arms, and would naturally plead that they were unacquainted with the use of them? Supposing the country had to pay a war contribution like Prance, the people who had been deprived of arms would naturally say—" Let the rich pay the whole contribution; why should we pay any share of it? "Again, might they not object, when they were deprived of acquiring facilities of defence, to pay even towards the armament of the nation. He admitted that the Government might annoy and irritate the Irish people with perfect safety, but the danger was this—that when they attacked the Irish people very hard, a certain percentage of those evils would aways fall upon the English people. It could hardly be argued that the possession of arms arose out of a passion for game. In every age and every country they had seen the passion for game pushing on the privileged classes. This Peace Preservation Bill, so far as it was backed up by the Irish magistrates, arose very largely from a wish for game, and it was good for the keepers to have one gun instead of five or six. In the last debate the strictures made by the Irish Members on crime in England were taken rather hardly. They did not say, however, that crime in England was greater than that pf the ordinary civilized nations of Europe, but that crime in England was less than that of Belgium, and that in Ireland it was less than in England. And although this was proved to be the case from statistics which could be regarded as trustworthy, it was proposed to re-enact a degrading law against the country in which crime was at a minimum.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. O'Leary.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he hoped that after the debate of this evening, and the manner in which the Bill had been discussed upon the second reading, hon. Gentlemen would think it consistent with their duty to go into Committee. He observed that it was the same hon. Gentleman who moved the adjournment of the debate to-night that had moved the adjournment on a former occasion. That showed that the experience the hon. Gentleman 1488 had obtained by his former Motion had had some effect in improving his Parliamentary management. He hoped he might be as successful in the appeal which he now made to the hon. Gentleman to re-consider his Motion as he had been before. If the House went into Committee, they would not proceed with the Bill to-night; but it would advance the course of business without having recourse to any of those extreme measures which he did not think desirable, but which the state of the Public Business might require. If the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his Motion, and allow them to go into Committee, they should be able on Monday at the usual and authentic hour to proceed with the Committee, fresh and eager; and their progress would perhaps be satisfactory to both sides. He had not himself listened to the whole of the debate; but that portion of it which he had heard had been sustained on one side at least with considerable interest. He was far from not admiring the mode in which Members from Ireland were conducting things. He did not share some of the objections which had been made even to the remarkable speech of the hon. Member who opened the debate. He had heard there was some originality about it. But the hon. Member for Cavan might, he thought, be content with what he had done to-night, for his speech was longer than the speech De Coronâ or Pro Milone, or any other of the great speeches that had come down to us. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side had had the whole evening for advocating their views, and though, as his right hon. Friend had stated, they might not have brought forward new arguments, they had had the immense advantage of repeating their views and increasing the impression which those views were calculated to make. He hoped, therefore, hon. Gentlemen would not insist on proceeding with the Motion for adjournment.
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
said, he should vote for the adjournment in order to give English Members an opportunity of speaking.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he thought it desirable the debate should he adjourned, as a large number of Irish Members still wished to speak on the subject. He would never be put down by ridicule. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government some 1489 time ago told the House an absurd story about Prince Bismarck, and said it was not to that Prince he had referred in his Guildhall speech. ["Order!"]
§ MR. BIGGAR
observed, that the right hon. Gentleman did not tell them who he did mean in that speech.
MR. O'CONOR POWER
joined in the complaints that had been made by other Irish Members that Members opposite had maintained silence during the debate, and regarded that as another Irish grievance. He should support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
suggested that if the Members for Ireland objected to the debate being then concluded the House might be asked to sit somewhat later than usual in order to finish it. The speech of the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) was a very remarkable one. Had such a speech been delivered from the other side of the House, or even from behind the front Opposition bench, it would have been received in a very different manner. But as it was, that speech was listened to with the greatest patience and the greatest consideration. He thought, therefore, the Irish Members should make some concession on their part, and endeavour to finish the debate that evening.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, he had no objection to the debate being continued to a later hour on condition that some Member of the Cabinet should proceed to address the House. The grievance of the Irish Members was that the Government had refused to make out a case for the Coercion Bill.
, referring to a remark which fell from the noble Marquess, assured the House that the hon. Member for Cavan had spoken as he did, not from any pro-arrangement with other Irish Members, but totally on his own responsibility, and without having given them any previous intimation that he intended to address the House at such length.
§ MR. BUTT
regretted the necessity for adjourning; but as several Irish Members had not yet been afforded an opportunity of explaining their objections to the measure, he should certainly support the Motion for adjournment. On 1490 the occasion of the introduction of the last Irish Coercion Bill there was a debate extending over 11 nights, and on the tenth evening the strongest speech against the measure was made by the present Prime Minister. That fact reminded him of one of the most interesting incidents in political history; for in the Life of Lord George Bentinck the author called attention to the Nemesis which befell Sir Robert Peel at the very time when the message came down that the Bill for the Repeal of the Corn Laws had passed the House of Lords.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 63; Noes 245: Majority 182.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
Sir, I beg to move the adjournment of the House. The last time I spoke here I spoke in irony, but I do not do so now. I beg leave to acquaint the House, and to inform the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, that, if the liberties of my country are to be destined by a despotic and insolent majority, those liberties shall de hard.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. O'Gorman.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
After the tragic address of the hon. Gentleman, I really do not think that the House would be in a condition to pursue this debate properly, and therefore I assent to the adjournment of the debate if the hon. Gentleman will alter his Motion according to the Form of the House.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.