HC Deb 08 July 1875 vol 225 cc1198-205

who had given Notice of the following Motion:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that She will be graciously pleased to give directions to Her diplomatic servants on the Continent of Europe, and in America, to inquire and report, in the respective countries to which they are accredited, what is the practice relating to the imprisonment and trial of persons charged with political or other offences, and what are the rights of such accused persons to require an imdiate trial, or a trial within any specified period; and whether the laws admit of the close and prolonged imprisonment of a subject of those countries, and of his subsequent discharge, without being brought to trial, said, it was popularly supposed that the liberty of the subject was better taken care of in England than in any other country, and our statesmen had felt free to denounce foreign oppression, as Mr. Gladstone did in his pamphlet about the prisons of Naples. Recent events had shaken the faith of many as to the freedom of Englishmen. By the law of elections a single Judge could taint the character of individuals who might be guilty of technical though not of moral offences, and at the discretion of a single Judge they might be condemned to political ostracism. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary must, in the course of last year, have become acquainted with the manner in which the doctrine of "contempt of Court" had been exercised by the Judges, and he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) hoped that the House of Commons would take care that the liberty and rights of the subject should be more effectually protected in future. He desired now to allude to the fact that an individual in Ireland had been thrust into prison, and there kept confined in a dungeon for three years and a-half at the will of one man, and turned out without having been brought to trial or told what the charge against him was, or why he was thus treated, why his prospects had been blighted, his home broken up, and his feelings outraged. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had brought this question under the consideration of the House of Commons a few days ago, and asked for an inquiry into the circumstances; but the House refused to allow an inquiry to be made into the matter. That was a thing which would be recorded and commented upon by some future historian, and would excite surprise not unmingled with other feelings. If the House of Commons allowed a man to be kept in prison in Ireland for three years and a-half, and then at the expiration of that time to be turned out without trial, what man could say his liberties were safe? His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had brought the case before Parliament on a former occasion, and consequent upon that the man was thrust out of prison, but without inquiry into the cause of his long imprisonment, and why he had been kept there without being brought to trial. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had here a pamphlet, written by an eminent and distinguished man (Mr. Gladstone) in reference to the treatment of prisoners in Naples. That pamphlet caused a great sensation at the time. The prisoner alluded to by Mr. Gladstone had been then 18 months confined without being brought to trial, and the right hon. Gentleman the writer of the pamphlet stated he had visited and seen him; but did he visit the poor man who had been cast into prison in Ireland, and there kept for three and a-half years without being brought to trial? In the pamphlet the writer denounced the proceedings in relation to the Neapolitan prisoner as an outrage upon humanity and upon religious feeling, and he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) must denounce the proceedings against the poor man long imprisoned in Ireland, and then turned out without trial, as an outrage upon the best feeling of humanity and upon civil liberty and religious feeling. He must say that if the House of Commons did not awaken to such a damning fact as the incarceration of that poor man, without even the charge against him—if there were any—being communicated to him, the sense of liberty and justice in England was retrograding. Although by a slight manœuvre on the part of the Government he was unable consistently with the Forms of the House to bring his Motion to a division, he maintained that those things demanded an answer, and an immediate answer. If there was one spark remaining of that feeling which won all the liberties of this country, he called on the House to rouse itself to the magnitude of that question, and to determine whether or not that was the law which the people of England desired to have in operation in any part of Her Majesty's dominions.


I rise to Order. The Question before the House has no relation to the matter on which the hon. Member is now speaking. Sir, I want to know whether the hon. Gentleman is at liberty to stray from the Question before the House, and call its attention to a matter about Patrick Casey—a question on which the House has already decided.


said, the Question before the House was that he should now leave the Chair, and the Motion of the hon. Member could not be put. The hon. Member had not been out of Order in the observations which he had made; but he could not review the decision to which the House had come on the case referred to.


said, he was not in any way reviewing the decision of the House in this case, but he was asking the House to aid him in obtaining information in reference to the case of the man who had been so ill-treated as he had described; and he would venture to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman who interrupted him that in this country, by constitutional principle, money could not be obtained until the grievances of the people were inquired into. The magnitude of the Motion which he brought before the House in relation to their liberties was most important and deserving of every consideration. And, on such a question, the time he had now occupied in calling the attention of the House to it was surely not unreasonable. He submitted that the Act of 1871, under which this man was thrust into prison like a dog, was most harsh and oppressive, and ought to be repealed. The man, he repeated, was thrust into prison like a dog. Yes, and was thrust out of prison like a dog, without accusation and without trial. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members cried "Oh;" but it was so. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) was pleading now in the name of justice, and in the name of humanity, and he was also pleading in the name of freedom to have inquiry made into the case of this poor man. When hon. Members went abroad during the Recess he hoped they would not show any longer the self-satisfaction for which Englishmen had a reputation among other nations, that they would not hold up their hands and thank God that England was not as other countries were. With one exception, he believed, there was no country in Europe where such a thing could have happened as that to which he had drawn attention. He trusted Her Majesty's Government would grant the information which he moved for; and especially that they would ascertain what were the laws in foreign countries under which persons could be cast into prison without knowing for what, and kept there for a long time, and then turned out without trial. He would, in conclusion, say that he was determined to bring this question before the House and the public until he obtained the information which he deemed it his duty to ask for.


said, under the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland many persons could be imprisoned without any charge whatever.


pointed out that the hon. Member had already spoken to the Question before the House—namely, that the Speaker do leave the Chair, and therefore had no right to speak again.


said, that the Irish people objected to the treatment of the Irish political prisoners. He referred to the case of Daniel Reddin, who at the close of the Fenian troubles was sentenced to five years' penal servitude. In consequence of the hardships inflicted upon the man he was seized with paralysis, and the prison officials, acting upon the assumption that was malingering, applied strong electric batteries to him twice a-day, blistered him, and thrust sharp instruments into the muscles of his legs. [Laughter.] It was no laughing matter, as he (Mr. Parnell) was only stating facts. In addition to this, they, in the winter time, put him naked into a cell; and when he was physically unable to take exercise in the prison yard, caused him to be dragged to and fro, first by convicts and afterwards by warders. Finally, he fell from a height when endeavouring to shield a fellow-convict who had done for him work which he was unable to accomplish, and was then discharged from prison. He afterwards took steps to obtain redress in a Court of Law; but on the medical officers making affidavits to the effect that they had simply applied to the man the tests usual in cases where it was suspected that paralysis was assumed and not real the Judge of the Court stopped the proceedings, and the man altogether failed to obtain the redress he sought. This was a gross case, and he hoped that if Parliament did not take up the case English public opinion would be clearly expressed concerning it.


referred to the case of an Irish political prisoner named O'Brien, who for six months was kept in chains, and for what? Merely for doing that which he had a perfect right to do if he could—namely, to escape from prison. It was the duty of the prison authorities to prevent the possibility of his making his escape, but not by loading him with heavy chains. Notwithstanding the hardship of this man's case, the House had heard the Home Secretary express approval of the course adopted by the prison officials. He believed that many of his Friends about him could bring forward similar cases of hardship and injustice. It was only a day or two since they heard that Dr. Bernard, who had been found by a coroner's jury to have by unkindliness accelerated the death of a prisoner, was still an honoured Government official. These were matters which the House ought not to overlook.


said, that at his instance a searching investigation had been made into the case of the prisoner to whom the hon. Member who had just sat down had referred, and it was found that he had not been guilty of unkindness or want of skill or attention, but that there had been a certain amount of brusqueness in his dealings with his patients of which notice ought to be taken. Upon that subject he had been communicated with and cautioned. With reference to the question brought more immediately under the notice of the House, he had only to say that if the hon. Member (Mr. Meldon) would furnish him with the name of the prisoner and the place of his confinement, he would have an investigation made into the circumstances of the case.


protested against the waste of time which was occasioned by the bringing forward of individual cases of alleged hardship without Notice to the House.


observed, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken seemed to forget the constitutional principle, that grievance, even individual grievance, preceded Supply. This was not a Party question, and no one would maintain that a man had a right to be taken up, kept in prison, and discharged without a trial. He was surprised that no Member of the Government connected with Ireland had given any explanation of the matters complained of.


observed, that a feeling prevailed in Ireland that political prisoners were unfairly treated and persecuted, and that it was the duty of the Government to institute a public inquiry into the treatment which they experienced. He held it was high time that this matter was thoroughly investigated. The mere word of the three Commissioners would not satisfy the country in the face of the recent inquest. Foreign countries would have a curious opinion of England after reading in the newspapers that when a case of real hardship was submitted to the House of Commons it was simply treated with laughter.


said, the language and conduct of the Home Secretary, who had promised to give these matters his full consideration, would be received with respect in Ireland. Far different, however, would be the feelings elicited by the laughter and ironical cheers of hon. Members opposite when Irish Members addressed the House. The question before the House was one touching the liberties and even the lives of Irishmen, and, to say the least, it ought to have received more consideration. A case of alleged cruelty had been brought before the House, and it had been treated in a manner which he would not comment upon. He was afraid that was not the way to promote peace and reconciliation with Ireland. He thought a case had at least been made out for inquiry.


said, his silence thus far was not due to any want of feeling with regard to the statements which had been made, and he was sure that the matter of those statements had not caused laughter on that side of the House, although the manner of some hon. Gentlemen opposite was calculated to provoke a smile; and looking at the countenance of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick he thought that at one moment he had rather shared in that feeling. It was, in fact, painful to Her Majesty's Government to be obliged to maintain exceptional laws in Ireland. The desire of the hon. Member for Galway was that information should be obtained respecting the state of the law in foreign countries; but he failed to see what useful object could be attained by the collection and publication of such information. He might, perhaps, be excused if he did not refer to the particular case to which attention had been called, inasmuch as it had already been discussed half-a-dozen times this Session. The Government admitted that the state of the law in Ireland was exceptional, and that in this and other cases it had been found necessary to enforce it.


said, that if his countenance betrayed a laugh his countenance was false, for there was nothing in the discussion to call for laughter. Hon. Members on the opposite side below the Gangway seemed to gloat over the sufferings of the Irish prisoners in a manner which if not inhuman was unfeeling. Their conduct was calculated to create more ill-feeling in Ireland than anything else he knew, and he regretted the Home Secretary should have said anything to justify the placing in chains a man who should endeavour to make his escape from prison, as such treatment was contrary to the spirit of the British law. He would call the attention of the Premier to the impolicy of continuing the imprisonment of some 13 or 14 military men. Would it not be wise and prudent to recommend Her Majesty to put an end to these irritating discussions to throw open the prison doors by a general amnesty to all who were now confined? The punishment had been long enough, and it would be a wise and judicious act on the part of the Government.


regretted that the medical profession was not more largely represented in the House, and remarked that it was not clear that the treatment adopted in the case described by the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) was so objectionable as might, at first sight, appear. At any rate, more details were necessary before the House could judge of the matter.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.