§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH,
in rising to call the attention of the House to the Statutes generally known as the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Acts, and to move for leave to introduce a Bill, said: In conformity with a paragraph in Her Majesty's Speech, and with the undertaking given to the House by the Prime Minister last year during the debate on the annual Continuance Bill, I now rise to call attention to the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Acts, and to state to the House the proposals which Her Majesty's Government have to make with regard to that subject. I will not conceal from myself the difficult and serious nature of this question. I am convinced, on the one hand, that a feeling is entertained by every hon. Member of this House—and I can assure hon. Members from Ireland that it is entertained as fully by Members of Her Majesty's Government as by anyone else—that, as soon as possible, Ireland should be placed in this matter upon an equality with the rest of the United Kingdom. But, on the other hand, we feel that on us, as the Government of the country, rests the responsibility of maintaining peace and good order in Ireland, and we shall 999 not shrink from any proposal which we may think necessary to secure that result. Now, I think it will be convenient to the House if I first direct their attention to the provisions of the Acts at present in force relating to this subject. I will do so without travelling into minute details. I will merely give them the main points of those measures. The Acts in question are four in number—first, the Crime and Outrage Act, 1847, amended and continued by various subsequent Acts of Parliament, and continued by an Act of last Session until the end of December of the present year; secondly, the Peace Preservation Act, 1870; thirdly, the Protection of Life and Property Act, 1871, both of which are now fixed to expire, I think, on the 1st of June this year; and, fourthly, the Unlawful Oaths Act. That Act, like the Crime and Outrage Act, was continued by the Continuance Act of last year to the end of the present year. Now, the provisions of the Crime and Outrage Act relate mainly to two matters. First of all, they enable the Irish Government to enforce, in certain proclaimed districts, restrictions upon the free possession of arms; and, secondly, that where in such districts it may seem necessary additional police may be sent there, and their expense may be charged upon the district to which they are sent. The provisions of the Peace Preservation Act, 1870, have, however, practically superseded the Crime and Outrage Act, 1847, with reference to restrictions upon the free possession of arms. The Peace Preservation Act is divided into three parts; one applies to the whole of Ireland, another is applicable to such part as may be ordinarily proclaimed, the third is only applicable to such part as may be specially proclaimed. The clauses of the Peace Preservation Act which are in force in the whole of Ireland relate to these matters—they authorize the Lord Lieutenant, after warning, summarily to seize the press and type of a newspaper containing treasonable or seditious matter, subject to the verdict of a jury after seizure; they impose restrictions upon the makers of gunpowder and the dealers in that article; they provide for the arrest of absconding witnesses, and they empower the Grand Juries to grant compensation to persons injured in the case of murder or injury from an agra- 1000 rian or illegal combination. The parts of the Peace Preservation Act which apply to ordinarily proclaimed districts relate to restrictions upon the free possession of arms. They make the law on that point more stringent than the Act they supersede. They impose the necessity of special licences for revolvers; they increase the penalty for improperly having arms without a licence to so high a punishment as two years with hard labour; and they forbid gunpowder and arms to be sold to anyone except persons holding a licence for the possession of arms. There are also two other clauses—one empowering a magistrate in a proclaimed district in Ireland to investigate any felony or misdemeanour on oath, even although no person should be charged before him with the offence; and another empowering magistrates to issue search-warrants for handwriting in the houses of persons suspected of having written any threatening letter. These provisions are applicable to any part of Ireland proclaimed by the Lord Lieutenant in Council; and they are now applied to the whole of Ireland, with the exception of County Tyrone and portions of Antrim, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, and Derry. The remaining portion of the Peace Preservation Act, 1870, contain provision which are only applicable to specially proclaimed districts. They empower the arrest of persons out at night under suspicious circumstances, the closing of public-houses in such districts by the Lord Lieutenant, and the arrest of all strangers unable to give a proper account of themselves. These latter provisions have been applied only to a few parts of Ireland. When the present Government came into office we found they were applied to the town of Belfast, to County Mayo, County Meath, part of County Westmeath, small portions of Cavan, King's County, Limerick, Tipperary, and Clare. We have, after consultation with the magistrates of these counties, revoked the special proclamation in all these places with the exception of Meath, Westmeath, those portions of Cavan and King's County which immediately border on them, and a small district in Clare. The third Act to which I referred, the Protection of Life and Property Act, applies only to Westmeath and portions of Meath and King's County, and it gives the Lord 1001 Lieutenant the power of applying in that district its provisions, which enable him to arrest and detain in prison, without trial, persons suspected of complicity with the Ribbon system. The remaining Act, the Act against Unlawful Oaths, has been renewed from time to time, and it makes a connection with the Ribbon Society, or any of the other secret societies illegal. Having mentioned to the House the main provisions of these Acts, let me state shortly how they have been enforced. I think it will hardly be disputed that the law I have described is of a stringent and exceptional nature; but I also think it will be admitted that it has been prudently and fairly administered. I may speak not only on behalf of the present Government on this matter, but I think also on behalf of our predecessors. I think it is no more than my duty to express my sense of the personal care and attention with which Lord Spencer, the late Viceroy of Ireland, carried out the provisions of these Acts in that country, and having had the advantage of some experience in this matter, I may also say that my noble Friend opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) deserves all praise for the fairness and firmness of his administration, often under very critical and difficult circumstances. I will now state shortly, as far as that can be done by figures, what has been the operation of these Acts in Ireland during the past year. And, for a moment, I will refer to the Peace Preservation Act rather than to the Protection of Life and Property Act or the Unlawful Oaths Act. I will leave them to be dealt with at a later period. I find that in the whole year 1874 there were under the provisions of the Peace Preservation Act 144 cases of seizure of arms unlawfully carried or had; that for these offences 38 persons were summoned, 14 arrested, and 10 of these 14 were discharged; that of these cases 10 were prosecuted at the Quarter Sessions and 9 at the Assizes. Under the provisions of the 15th clause of the Peace Preservation Act there were 9 searches made for handwriting with reference to threatening letters in the whole of Ireland in 1874; 36 persons were arrested in a specially proclaimed district under the statute for being out at night under suspicious circumstances; 4 of these were 1002 committed to gaol under sentence of imprisonment, 12 strangers were arrested under the 25th section of the Act, and of these 2 only were committed to gaol. Four warrants were issued pursuant to Section 38 for the arrest of witnesses absconding, although they were bound by recognizances, and 3 of these persons were arrested. These figures, I think, at any rate show that during that year these Acts have been leniently and carefully administered; and with regard to the last quarter, ending December 31, 1874, I can state figures which show that this course is still being followed. During that quarter there were only 20 seizures of arms. Only 1 person was arrested for the offence of unlawfully having arms. Only in 1 case under these provisions was there a conviction at Quarter Sessions. There were only 4 searches for handwriting; 2 persons were committed to gaol for being out at night under suspicious circumstances; 4 strangers were arrested; and 1 absconding witness was arrested. No doubt those who will speak on this question will state—and I am quite willing to admit—that exceptional cases may be adduced in which, under these Acts, magistrates may have been injudicious, or the constabulary may have been over-zealous; but I hope the House will not forget that whenever this has happened the most has been made of it by writers in the Irish Press and by speakers in this House. I do not believe, however, that, taking everything into consideration, any other instance could be adduced of a case where such stringent powers were placed in the hands of magistrates and constabulary and where they have been so little abused. I have quoted these facts with a view to place before the House the actual working of those Acts during last year; but I do not by any means intend to bring them forward as an argument for their further continuance. The question whether they should be entirely or to any extent further continued must depend upon the state of the country and the special necessity which exists for their continuance; and it is to that, Sir, that I shall now venture to direct the attention of the House. And first, with regard to ordinary crimes. Everybody connected with Ireland—and in saying this I may venture to anticipate the speeches which will, doubtless, come in large numbers from the opposite side 1003 of the House—may, I think, be proud and thankful to notice the small amount of ordinary crime in that country. Ireland, I am thankful to say, is comparatively free from cases of theft, from immorality, and from those cases of brutal violence which too often disgrace the criminal records of England. I do not say that such cases are unknown in Ireland, for I am afraid that recently, as, for instance, at the North Tipperary Assizes, we have seen calendars exceptionally heavy with serious charges, including cases where brutal murders have been committed for the sake of plunder. But I mean to say that such cases are on the whole exceptional, and that taking the whole country through, the records as regards ordinary crime are such as cannot but be satisfactory to the Government and to this House. Then as regards agrarian crime. When my noble Friend opposite last drew attention to this subject, he quoted figures showing the number of cases of agrarian crimes during the past few years. Those figures I will repeat, and let me begin with the year 1866, when agrarian crime had reached its lowest point in Ireland. In that year the outrages reported under that head were 87 in number. In 1867 they rose to 123, in 1868 to 160, in 1869 to 767, and in 1870 to 1,329; but in 1871 they fell to 373, in 1872 to 256, in 1873 to 254, and in 1874 to 213. These figures, as far as they go, are no doubt satisfactory; but, in spite of them, I think it cannot fail to be admitted that crime of this nature still exists in Ireland to a dangerous and an unsatisfactory extent. I find the sending of a considerable number of threatening letters among the offences in 1874, and I also find not a few of them cases in which nobody was brought to justice, while there are other cases in which no one was punished for the offence. These are facts which, in spite of the small number of outrages, cannot be overlooked by the Government in dealing with this question. I will now take, one by one, the provisions of the Peace Preservation Act, and state to the House the proposals which the Government have to make in regard to them. First of all I come to the part of the Act relating to restrictions upon the free holding of arms. Now, I do not wish to make too much of the recent election for 1004 the county of Tipperary. That matter is not of such a serious nature that in itself it need influence the House in dealing with this subject. If the electors of Tipperary choose repeatedly to return Members who are disqualified to sit in this House, they are more likely to make themselves ridiculous than to do any one harm by their action; and with regard to Mr. Mitchel himself, I am bound to say that since his return to Ireland neither his actions nor his speeches have in any way tended to any serious breach of the peace. In fact, he has himself distinctly repudiated the idea of any such intention. Still, I think this House may fairly remember the reason why the electors of Tipperary returned Mr. Mitchel as their Representative. I take his own words. He stated to an audience at Cork that they returned him as their Representative because he never would consent to have peace with England; and I regard the election for Tipperary as of no more importance than as merely showing to the public at large what I fear those who are most acquainted with Ireland must admit, that in many parts of the country there does exist to a very considerable extent something more than dislike of the connection with England. Now I would ask the House if that be admitted—and I think it cannot be denied—whether the restriction which has been placed in most parts of Ireland, since 1847, on the free possession of arms by the people, ought to be at once and entirely removed? I frankly own it is difficult to exaggerate the danger which might accrue from the free and unrestricted possession of arms by a people so liable to be inflamed by speakers and writers, and so ready to take part in such hopeless and unreasonable enterprizes as some of those which have been noted in the records of Ireland during the last 20 years. There is another point to be considered. Lately, the emigration from Ireland has very considerably diminished in comparison with former years, and in place of that we have returning to Ireland people of whom I fear it must be said that during their residence in America they have acquired a good many Western vices and forgotten a good many Irish virtues. I do not think it would be conducive to security of life and property in Ireland that the free possession of revolvers, for instance, 1005 should be given to persons of the class to which I allude. Again, there is a strange, but widely-extended, predilection in the North of Ireland in favour of the use and occasional discharge of fire-arms in party processions. Often, I am bound to say, these discharges are harmless, but occasionally and more frequently than we could wish they are productive of very serious consequences. I do not think, therefore, that in those parts of Ireland where party feeling is rife and strongly divided it would be advisable to allow the unrestricted possession of arms. For these reasons, it is the intention of the Government to recommend to the House that the restriction on the possession of arms should be continued. We do not intend to take the exact provisions of the Act of 1870, for we think that they may be reasonably modified, and that it will be preferable in some points to resort to the provisions of the Crime and Outrage Act of 1847. For instance, under the Act of 1870, warrants to search for arms were allowed to be issued and to hold good for a period of three months. We think that term is unnecessarily long; we consider that the old period of 21 days is amply sufficient, and we intend to re-enact that provision. The punishment for the unlawful possession of arms was put by the Act of 1870 at a maximum limit of two years' hard labour. We think that is unnecessarily high, and we propose to revert to the old law, and to fix the limit at one year's imprisonment, without hard labour. Subject to certain limitations, we propose to confer summary jurisdiction upon the magistrates in this matter. Section 13 in the Peace Preservation Act, applying to proclaimed districts, authorizes the investigation of cases of felony or misdemeanour on oath, even though no person may be charged before the magistrates, and power is also taken—under Section 15—to search suspected places for evidence of handwriting. We propose to re-enact both those clauses. The first of these provisions is already in force in Scotland, where the investigation is conducted by the Procurator Fiscal; and the power exercised under Section 15 is still necessary, owing to the fact that threatening letters continue by no means unknown. Then, with regard to those provisions of the Peace Preservation Act 1006 which are in force throughout the whole of Ireland, we propose to re-enact Clause 38, which authorizes the issue of warrants to arrest any person bound over to give evidence upon proof of his intention to abscond. We also propose to re-enact the power contained in the old Crime and Outrage Act, providing that when an extra force of police is sent to a district on any special duty the cost may be charged upon the district, and also Section 39 of the Peace Preservation Act, providing that on the presentation of a Grand Jury, compensation may be awarded to the representatives of the injured persons in cases where any outrage committed comes under the head of agrarian offences. I think I have now mentioned all the provisions in the Peace Preservation Act which, in the opinion of the Government, it is necessary to re-enact in the Bill I am about to ask leave to introduce. Sections 35–7 in that Act relate to licences for the manufacture and sale of gunpowder. We think these are provisions which may properly, as far as they are necessary, be made applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom, and such of them as appear necessary will be included by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in a Bill he has already obtained leave to introduce for that purpose. Now I come to the other provisions of the Peace Preservation Act, 1870. First, with regard to the clauses which have effect in districts specialty proclaimed, authorizing the arrest of persons suspected, the closing of public-houses by the Lord Lieutenant, and the arrest of strangers, we think it is unnecessary to continue those provisions, and unadvisable to do so, unless there is a fear that they are required by the condition of the country generally. We do not think they are generally required by the condition of Ireland; and with regard to certain parts of Ireland where the Ribbon conspiracy prevails, we think it has been satisfactorily proved by the course of events that those provisions are incapable of meeting the evil. Sections 30–4 relate to the summary seizure and suppression of newspapers. When these sections were originally proposed in this House, they formed the subject of a very serious and active debate, not only on the part of the Members from Ireland, but also on the part of English Representatives. There seemed to be 1007 something almost unprecedented in imposing such restrictions upon the freedom of the Press, and there were not wanting those who argued that these restrictions, if imposed, would not secure the end in view; because it would be perfectly possible that treason or sedition should be spoken as well as written; that it should be sent secretly in letters as well as in newspapers; that it should be insinuated covertly in newspapers which, under the provisions of this Act, would not be liable to suppression; and that, in many ways, those clauses might be evaded. I think it may be said that the clauses have proved sufficient for their purpose. They have been fairly and carefully worked. During the four years they have been in operation only five warnings have been given to newspapers, and in no case has a seizure been made. The tone of what is called—I think unfairly—the National Press of Ireland has considerably improved of late under the operation of this portion of the Act. During my term of office it has been my duty to watch the course of this Press, and I am bound to say that I have seen nothing to warrant the Government in proposing to re-enact these provisions. We therefore intend to allow them to expire; but, at the same time, if the liberty thus restored is abused, we shall not be wanting in our duty, and shall come to the House with proposals which, in our opinion, will deal adequately with the evil. I come now to the third of the Acts to which at first I alluded. It was originally called the Protection of Life and Property Act, and only applies to certain parts of Ireland. I would recall the attention of the House to the state of things which existed in Westmeath and the adjoining districts at the time of the passing of that Act, and which induced the Government to propose and the House to adopt this measure. That state of things was far more serious and more dangerous than mere political disaffection, because political disaffection sooner or later, under one name or another, will break out and can then be suppressed by the ordinary power and authority of the Government. But the Ribbon conspiracy, which was then satisfactorily proved to exist in Westmeath, was an intangible evil, a kind of secret terrorism, which paralyzed the energies of every one in that part of Ireland, and destroyed the future of the 1008 country by driving away resident landlords, foreign capital, and everything which was likely to improve the condition of the inhabitants. I remember it was fairly described in the debates of the time as a conspiracy which ramified through nearly all the strata of society, interfering not only between landlord and tenant, but between incoming and outgoing tenants, between employers and employed. My noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington), in alluding to this matter in 1871, described it in terms which I will venture to quote, because I think no language I can use would describe it so accurately. He said—The reports we receive [from Westmeath and the adjoining districts] show that such a state of terrorism prevails that the society has only to issue its edict to secure obedience; nor has it even to issue its edict, its laws are so well known, and an infringement of them is followed so regularly by murderous outrage, that few, indeed, can treat them with defiance. Ribbon law, and not the law of the land, appears to be that which is obeyed. It reaches to such an extent that no landlord dare exercise the most ordinary of rights pertaining to land, and no farmer, employer, or agent dare exercise his own judgment or discretion as to whom he shall or shall not employ; in fact, so far does the influence of the society extend that a man scarcely dare enter into open competition in the fair or markets with any one known to belong to the society."—[3 Hansard, cciv. 994.]What is the Report of the Committee which sat to inquire into this question? I hope I may be excused for troubling the House with some part of this Report, because it is essential to the case I am now presenting. The Committee unanimously reported—That there is at present existing, within the county of Westmeath and certain adjoining portions of the county of Meath and of the King's County, an unlawful combination and confederacy of a secret nature, generally known by the name of the Ribbon Society. That this Ribbon Society has existed for a considerable length of time, and has within the last three years, as compared with those immediately preceding, increased in power and influence. That, owing to the prevalence of this society, murder and other crimes of the most serious nature have boon perpetrated within the district above referred to, and that by reason partly of sympathy with. the perpetrators of such crimes, and still more by the terror created by the existence and action of this society, it has been found to be almost impossible to obtain evidence on which to bring offenders to justice. That such immunity from detection and consequent punishment has had for its results an encouragement to crime, the diffusion of a spirit of lawlessness, and a corresponding decrease of confidence in the power of the law among the peaceful members of the community.1009That this society, originating in a desire on the part of its members to interfere in an unlawful and violent manner in matters relating to the tenure and occupation of land, has extended the sphere of its operations, and more or less pre-judicially affects other relations of life……That the society, besides leading directly to the perpetration of the crimes already mentioned, has infused a feeling of terror into all classes in the district, by reason of which its objects are frequently brought about, without any overt act of violenceThe Report goes on to say that the ordinary law, however stringently enforced, and the special provisions of the Peace Preservation Act, were inadequate to cope with this great evil. Let me recall to the House how this Act has been administered. During the period it has been in operation, since the Session of 1871, only 19 persons have been arrested under its provisions. They have been detained in prison for various terms. No one has been arrested during 1874, and no one has been in prison under the provisions of this Act, since July, 1874. I may add I am aware that in every case of the arrest of a suspected person under the provisions of this Act the Lord Lieutenant, in conjunction with the Law Officers of the Crown, made a most careful inquiry into the facts. I do not think any Act could be more carefully administered, and its effect will be proved not so much by the number of cases in which it has been brought into operation as by the amount of crime which it has prevented. So far as regards outward manifestations of crime, Westmeath and the adjoining counties, the state of which induced Parliament to pass this Act in 1871, may now undoubtedly be considered as peaceable as any part of Ireland. As I have said, very few persons have been arrested, and these few were not punished as convicted prisoners; they were kept under safeguard to prevent them from committing crimes, and the effect of the Act has been such that, although since they have been released several of them have returned to the districts in which they originally lived, they have been deterred by the knowledge that this Act was hanging over their heads from repeating crimes in which they appeared to have been so active before. It will be contended that this Act, so far as regards the district to which it extends, is seriously at variance with the constitutional freedom of subjects of Her Majesty in the United Kingdom. I 1010 think for that reason it will require the most careful consideration on the part of this House before consenting to its re-enactment, and therefore I wish to call attention to a few matters which should be duly weighed in dealing with it. In the first place, it may be said that the Ribbon conspiracy no longer exists—that the fact that Westmeath and the adjoining districts are quiet, and that comparatively few outrages are committed, bears testimony to the extinction of the conspiracy. I think the Question which the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu) put the other night, to some extent indicated his disbelief in the existence of this conspiracy at all. But no one who will take the trouble to refer to the previous history of this matter will fail to admit that the Ribbon conspiracy in Westmeath and the adjoining districts is no modern innovation—it has existed for something like 90 years. The hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly), whom I see opposite, admitted in previous debates that he had himself known of its existence in that district for 25 years; and the Crown Solicitors who gave evidence in 1871 before a Select Committee of this House on the question were corroborated by the evidence given before a Select Committee of the House of Lords in 1837, and of this House again in 1852. Can it, therefore, be supposed that a conspiracy so wide-spread as this has been shown to be should, after so lengthened an existence, be entirely extinguished by the repressive operation of an Act of not quite four years' duration? The Government have felt it their duty to consult, both confidentially and more or less publicly, the magistrates and police authorities of Westmeath and the adjacent districts on this matter. Of course, it is impossible for me to give in detail to the House the information which we have received on this head; but, speaking generally, I may say the magistrates and police authorities are unanimous in assuring us that this Ribbon conspiracy exists now as strongly as over, and that its action has only been kept down by the repressive force of this law. We are told of cases where outrages of a serious character—in some instances murder—are only in abeyance on account of the existence of this Act. ["Oh!"] Hon. Members opposite may say "Oh!" but 1011 I can tell them we have means at our command of obtaining accurate information which they do not possess, and the Government have adopted every mode of instituting fair and independent inquiries on this matter. What have the magistrates of Westmeath told us? At the request of the Lord Lieutenant, the magistrates of Westmeath, numbering over 50, met a few weeks ago to consider the necessity for the continuance of this Act, and they arrived at the unanimous conclusion that it was essential to the order and security of that county that the Act should be continued. But perhaps I may be told that English Members would not think of the application of a law of this nature to England. Well, I am bound to say that if magistrates in an English county to the number of 50—men differing in religious and political opinions, men selected not only from the upper, but the middle classes—had met, and unanimously informed the Government that the continuance of a law of this kind was necessary, the Government would incur a serious responsibility in rejecting their recommendation. Nor can these magistrates be accused of anxiety for their own persons. I have no doubt I shall be told that the improved condition of Ireland is, at least to some extent, due to the remedial measures passed by the late Government. That is an argument upon which at the present moment I do not care to enter. But, whatever security the Land Act has given to the tenant, it has so much the more made his position a coveted one in those parts of Ireland whore people resort not to the operation of the ordinary law, but to violence, to settle the disputed question of the occupation of land. The fact that the occupation of land is coveted makes the position of the existing occupiers dangerous. The more secure a tenant is under the provisions of the Land Act the more likely will his situation be coveted by some who, perhaps at a remote date, have been evicted from the holding which he possesses; and in the county of Westmeath cases have been known where claims of this kind have been set up on behalf of families whose ancestors were dispossessed years ago. In fact, protection is not now so much required by the landlord and his agent as by the farmer, and even those below him in the social scale, and therefore nothing could 1012 be more unfair than to charge the magistrates at Westmeath with any class feeling, as far as regards the recommendation they sent to Her Majesty's Government. But it is not their recommendation only we have to consider. We are often told in the charges of Judges and Chairmen of Counties of the peaceable state of Ireland and the absence of crime. Well, not me direct the attention of the House to the charge of Chief Baron Palles at the last Summer Assizes at Mullingar. He said that the cases to go before the Grand Jury were of an exceptionally light character, and then he went on to say—He would be very glad if he could inform the Grand Jury that the state of the county was accurately indicated by the calendar. From the exhaustive returns furnished by the County Inspector he perceived, he was sorry to say, indications of a state of things which every person having the welfare and peace of the county at heart should view with great regret. In Westmeath county for some years the people were living under exceptional legislation, and al though at present no persons were to his know ledge imprisoned under that Act, still no person could deny that its existence deterred parties from committing crimes which in years past were of such frequent occurrence. In point of number there was no comparison with the agrarian crimes of the present year and those of 1870 and 1871; but, at the same time, there were indications of the existence of a spirit that showed the wisdom of an act of exceptional legislation. Out of the 17 cases which occurred since last Assizes, there were six to which he should take the liberty of calling their special attention. Five of the cases were the sending of threatening letters, all of which were connected with the occupation of land.….Viewing all the cases as he did—that was to say, viewing them as indicating the existence of a spirit utterly opposed to the law—it occurred to him that it was only the existence of exceptional and strict legislation that awed some parties and prevented them resorting to actual violence. There wore, he was sorry to say, indications of a spirit in the county Westmeath that would not have the land laws administered as the law directed, but as they themselves wished.Since I have come down to this House I have received a telegram informing me of the purport of the Charge just delivered by Mr. Justice Fitzgerald to the Grand Jury of Westmeath. That learned Judge said—When there should be permanent diminution of outrage, and not till then, could they look forward to giving up that power which the law gave them to preserve peace and order, or even abandoning those exceptional laws which to some extent interfered with the rights and liberties (he would not say the privileges) which were the birthright of all Her Majesty's subjects.1013 Now, these are statements made after duo knowledge obtained in the ordinary way by two of the Irish Judges, and I think the opinions I have quoted from the Judges, from the magistrates, and from the police authorities are sufficient at any rate to show that there exists still, in spite of outward peace, a state of things in Westmeath and the adjoining districts which cannot be dealt with by the ordinary law. Now, what is the best method of dealing with it? Let me, Sir, refer again to what was said by my noble Friend opposite in May, 1871. He said—During the last suspension of the Habeas (Corpus Act, though it was not at all directed against agrarian crimes, yet the people of these districts were hardly aware of that fact, and when they thought there existed an arbitrary form of arrest they almost entirely desisted from the commission of those crimes."—[3 Hansard, ccvi. 725.]And the facts I am about to state are sufficient to prove that my noble Friend was right. In February, 1866, the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended in Ireland, and its suspension was continued by the late Government till the beginning of the Session of 1869. During that time agrarian crime was lower than at present. In 1866 the agrarian outrages in Ireland numbered 87; in 1867 they numbered 123; in 1868 they numbered 160, of which 21 were in Westmeath, five in Meath, and two in King's County; but at once, when in February, 1869, the late Government advised the removal of the suspension, we find an enormous increase in those outrages. In 1869 agrarian crimes in Ireland amounted to 767, of which 130 were in Westmeath, 61 in Meath, and 17 in King's County. In 1870, the Peace Preservation Act was passed, with the result of an increase of these outrages to 1,329, of which the number was 103 in Westmeath, 95 in Meath, and 38 in King's County. I may also mention the evidence of Mr. Reade, an able and experienced magistrate, who stated to the Westmeath Committee that—In my district in 1866 and 1867 there were no outrages, except two or three attempts at murder. More outrages have been committed since the passing of the Peace Preservation Act. The Ribbonmen feared that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act was to be brought forward again, and when they found out what the Act was their fear was removed.In the Spring of 1871 the Government 1014 thought it necessary, after the Report of the Select Committee, to introduce the Act allowing the Lord Lieutenant to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act in West-meath and the adjoining districts, and at once these outrages began to cease. In 1871 there were only 373 in the whole of Ireland, of which 40 were in Westmeath, 16 in Meath, and 24 in King's County. In 1872 there were 256, of which 25 were in Meath, 9 in Westmeath, and 15 in King's County. In 1873 there were 254, of which 16 were in Westmeath, 6 in Meath, and 12 in King's County. In 1874, of 213, 11 were in Westmeath, 8 in Meath, and 3 in King's County; so that, practically, that district was now in the same position in regard to this matter as it was in 1868. Well, now, looking at these facts, to the opinions expressed by the magistrates and police authorities, and judging from what I have stated to the House as to these outrages, and the danger of their recurrence if these restrictive laws were removed, I do not consider that the Government are proposing undue repression for Ireland if they recommend for a modified period of time the continuance of the Protection of Life and Property Act. Our proposal is to extend it for a period of two years. Our hope and expectation is, that during that period the state of the country may be—as it has not been during the last four years—such as to warrant the Irish Government in revoking the order under this Act, and thus in testing whether it is possible that these districts should continue peaceable under the ordinary laws. But we do think nothing could be more dangerous than that exceptional powers of this kind should cease in a district all, as it were, in a moment—that the Act should be suffered to expire in June, and that there should be no power, if these outrages should recommence in the winter, of applying any remedy sufficient to meet them. Therefore, we make the proposal which I have explained to the House. The only other Act to which I need refer is the Unlawful Oaths Act, which was continued by the Continuance Act of last year. That makes the Ribbon Society illegal, and it will be obvious from what I have already stated that it is our intention to renew it. We propose to renew that Act, and we also propose to renew such parts of the Peace Preservation Act as we think it neces- 1015 sary to continue for the period of five years. We do not think there is anything in that part of the Peace Preservation Act that is to be renewed which can fairly be called coercive, except the restriction on the free possession of arms. We do not think that for the period I have named it would be possible safely to allow the free possession of arms throughout the whole of Ireland; but, with regard to this, we propose by degrees to relax the law—to revoke, for instance, the proclamation of certain peaceable districts, and in other places to meet as far as possible complaints that are made on behalf of the farmers, by allowing the issue of licences not only to have arms in the house, but to carry arms on land occupied by persons holding a licence—in fact, making such gradual relaxations as may ultimately lead to the equalization of the law in the whole of the United Kingdom. I fear the statement I have had to make has proved wearisome to the House; but I am confident that, whatever opinion the House may entertain of our proposals, the Government will at least be credited with a careful and independent consideration, both of the state of the existing law and of the present circumstances of Ireland. We feel the responsibility which devolves upon us. We do not wish to shift it on to this House; but, acting as we do to a great extent on information which cannot be publicly communicated, we ask the House to repose in us that confidence and support which Government, under the circumstances, never demands in vain from the House of Commons. I may be told by hon. Members opposite that our cure for Irish discontent is a policy of coercion, but I can conceive no more unfounded charge. Hon. Members opposite, especially the hon. Members for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) and Meath (Mr. John Martin), have too often told us of the enslaved condition of their country—of the state in which it is kept under English rule—of the subjection of Ireland to an army of occupation. Put if there be any truth in these statements—and I admit that some of the laws now in force with reference to Ireland are of a restrictive character—is it not all the more clear that those restrictions cannot be immediately and entirely removed, and that, whatever the present outward appearance of that country, a 1016 policy of gradual relaxation is the only policy which the Government could safely recommend? I hope that in considering this matter hon. Members will not forget the undoubted difference between the circumstances of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Ireland, from whatever cause, is, in this respect, years behind England and Scotland in the advance of civilization; that you cannot there trust entirely to ordinary law, as in England and Scotland, where public opinion makes every man, of whatever class, an ally of the law. You cannot argue from the records of crime, where injured persons decline to denounce those who have injured them; where criminals rather than those against whom they offend have the sympathy of their neighbours; where notorious offenders are too often sheltered and harboured by those who ought to denounce them; where, through timidity, ignorance, or prejudice, juries dare not convict even when evidence is placed before them. Will any one deny that to be too often still the case in Ireland? I am thankful to say that in this, no less than in other respects, the condition of Ireland within the last few years has steadily improved, and I think we may see the day not far in advance when a fair administration of the law will encourage all men to act in support of it; when the certainty that criminals will be punished will embolden juries to incur what risk they may now fear in convicting them; when material prosperity will assuage political disaffection; and when Ireland will be, in the matter of agrarian crime, as far advanced on its past history as it is in other matters to which I need not allude. I think that we have proposed all that Government could safely do under present circumstances in gradual relaxation of the existing restrictive laws; but if I may venture to look forward to the next time when this subject will be brought before the House, whether I should occupy my present position or whether it should be filled by some abler man, one thing, above all others, I would hope, and that is, that the circumstances of Ireland will then be such as to warrant the Government in at length proposing that there shall be the same laws for Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I beg to move for leave to bring in a Bill embodying the provisions I have explained.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, I do not think my right hon. Friend has at all exaggerated the difficulty of the task which he had to perform. It is true that he has been able to propose some relaxation in the Coercion Laws which now exist in Ireland, and I am sure that every hon. Member who sits in this House will join with me in heartily congratulating the right hon. Gentleman and his Government in so far as they have found that the state of Ireland justifies them in making any relaxation or modification of those laws. But, on the whole, it must be acknowledged that the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made amounts in general terms, with the exception of those relaxations to which I have alluded, to the introduction of a Bill for consolidating the existing Peace Preservation Acts. I believe that while the right hon. Gentleman will mitigate the severity of some of the provisions of that code, he will probably make the code itself a more efficient and more generally useful one in consequence of the proposed consolidation of the different Acts to which he has referred this evening, and, although I believe that is a beneficial undertaking, still he cannot conceal from himself that it is one which will meet with very considerable difficulty and opposition in passing through this House. It is also one upon which I imagine no Government would have entered, if they had not been driven and absolutely compelled to do so by the proceedings which occurred in this House last year. Now, as to the necessity for the continuation of this Coercion code, or any part of it, I am willing to accept the proposition just laid down—that to a great extent the House must trust the Government for the opinion it may form as to the necessity that may exist for any such legislation as it is now proposed to continue. The Government, as my right hon. Friend has just told us, has, and must necessarily have, in their possession information which is not accessible to all of us. The Government can lay on the Table certain Returns, and give the House certain information; but there is, as I am perfectly aware, much information in their possession which it would be impossible for them to produce. Well, if the Government possess the confidence of a largo majority in this House for the transaction of any political Business 1018 whatever, I think no one can doubt for a moment that this of all other subjects is one on which that confidence ought most fully to be extended to them. But I do not believe a Government ever sat on that Bench which for one moment dreamt of proposing measures of exceptional severity for any part of Her Majesty's dominions for which they did not believe in their hearts there existed an adequate necessity. Well, the necessity which exists for the re-enactment of these laws arises, it appears, from three different causes. There is still the fear of insurrection; there is still the prevalence of party disturbances; there is still a continuance of agrarian crime. As to the fear of insurrection, my right hon. Friend has scarcely referred to any circumstance except the recent election in the county of Tipperary. Now, I agree with him that that is a circumstance which cannot be omitted from the consideration of this question, for, as far as we know, the great majority of the electors of Tipperary cannot possibly have any knowledge of the Representative whom they sent here the other day, except that he did take arms against the British Government, that he exhorted his countrymen to take arms also; and that, as far as we are aware, he remains still of the same opinion. Well, although the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. John Martin) the other night said he believed that a majority of the country did not agree with the verdict of Tipperary, these circumstances do show that in Tipperary, at all events—and probably it is not an exceptional instance—there exists a very considerable amount of disaffection towards the Government. But I think I may go further than my right hon. Friend, and say that if matters have not changed very much within the last twelvemonths, the Fenian conspiracy—whatever it may be in Ireland—certainly was not entirely extinct either in America or in England; that funds are being constantly raised for the purpose of that society, and that those funds—or at least so much of them as do not remain in the pockets of the collectors—are employed in the purchase of arms which are intended to be sent to Ireland or stored till an opportunity may arise for using them. I must say, then, that I do not think the Government are, in such a state of things, asking for excessive powers, when they 1019 ask that means shall be taken to prevent unlicensed persons from being in possession of arms, or, in other words, when they ask that arms shall not be openly taken to Ireland to be stored there and used whenever circumstances may favour the outbreak of insurrection. As to party disturbances, I rejoice to think that within the last few years they have very greatly decreased, and I have reason to hope that they may very soon become almost entirely things of the past. Still, I must agree with my right hon. Friend that as long as there exists, especially in the North of Ireland, a tendency on the part of Protestants and Roman Catholics on certain occasions to come into collision, it is not an unreasonable precaution on the part of the Government to secure that arms should not be promiscuously in the hands of persons who are likely to make an improper use of them. Well, the most important branch of the necessity for legislation of this kind is the prevalence or continuance—if such be the case—of agrarian crimes. As far as the case may be proved by figures, it appears from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that the condition of Ireland as regards agrarian crime is scarcely altered from what it has been within the last few years. In 1872 the number of agrarian outrages reported by the Constabulary was 256, in 1873 it was 254, and in 1874, though it had undergone a slight diminution, it was still 213. That shows, practically, that, taking the test of figures, the state of things remains much as it was during the last two years under the late Government. But I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the case cannot be entirely proved by figures. This is one of those cases in which the Government is possessed of information which we cannot have, and the right hon. Gentleman has certainly brought forward some strong statements proving that in Westmeath, and I believe also in other parts of the country, Ribbonism still exists and agrarian crime likewise exists. The smallness of the number of outrages certainly does not prove that agrarian crime has ceased. It may be due to the efficiency of the Constabulary or the police, or to the exceptional legislation which is in force. What the House wants to know, and what I understand from the statement of the right hon. 1020 Gentleman is the opinion of the Government, is that there still certainly does exist in Ireland a certain amount of crime that proves the existence either of secret societies, which seek by violence to impose a law of their own on the subject, or, in the absence of such secret societies, which shows a disposition on the part of large bodies of the people to substitute a law of their own—a law not recognized by the State—for the law of the land. Comparisons are often made between the amounts of crime in England and in Ireland; but the peculiarity of crime in Ireland is this—In England crime is an attack on the part of an individual on other individuals; but, in Ireland, it is an attack by society, or by a large part of society, upon individuals. It is the same in whatever shape it may show itself, whether the victim be the landlord who is using the rights over his property which the law gives him; whether it be the tenant who, having been lawfully inducted into his farm, is endeavouring honestly to make his living there; whether it be the employer of labour who chooses to exercise some discretion in the choice of the persons whom he employs; or whether it be the labourer himself who wishes to take his labour to the best market. You find that the spirit of agrarianism interferes in every one of these cases, and seeks to impose a law of its own—a traditional law, perhaps, but one which has never been sanctioned by the State, and which is in actual opposition to the law of the State. Well, as long as any crime exists in Ireland which shows the prevalence of such a state of feeling on the part of any considerable section of the people, I, for one, confess I do not think it would be safe altogether to abandon this exceptional legislation. So much as to the necessity which exists for the continuation of this code. ["Oh, oh!"] Let me remind hon. Members from Ireland who are about to oppose this measure, that exceptional legislation of this nature is not a new thing and is not peculiar to the English Parliament. The Irish Parliament itself first set the example of exceptional legislation. Nay, more, it did not deal with the question in the same wise spirit as the English Parliament did; but it enacted penalties of a much severer and harsher character. The Whiteboy Act, the Insurrection Act, and the Act for the Suppression of Re- 1021 bellion were passed by the Irish Parliament, and the first-named provided that—Any person or persons rising, assembling, or appearing' by day or night, armed or disguised, or wearing any unusual badge, dress, or uniform, or assuming any unusual name or denomination, to the terror of His Majesty's subjects, are declared guilty of a high misdemeanour and liable to be punished by fine and imprisonment, whipping, or other corporal punishment, and to give such security for future good behaviour as the Court should order.And further—Any person or persons rising or assembling as above or otherwise (save peaceably), and wilfully shooting at, maiming, or disfiguring any person, or sending a demanding or threatening-letter to any person… are declared guilty of a capital felony.That is the way in which the Irish Parliament—and the English Parliament for some time afterwards—dealt with such crime—by measures—that is to say, of severe and cruel punishment. Well, the next stage in this matter was the Coercion Act which was brought in by Earl Grey. There, it is true, there were several offences created or revived—offences of the same character as those which have been created or continued by the Peace Preservation Act—but the peculiarity of the Coercion Act of Earl Grey was, that it sought not so much to inflict punishment for the crimes as to insure a certainty of conviction. It was enacted that the offences in question might be tried by Military Courts formed for the purpose. After that Act was abandoned, the same object was sought to be attained by means of a measure enabling the Lord Lieutenant to order extraordinary Courts of Quarter Sessions to be held, with special powers for the trial of these offences. The next step was taken in 1847, when Sir George Grey introduced a Bill for the better prevention of Crime and Outrage in Ireland. By that measure, the Lord Lieutenant was empowered to increase the constabulary in proclaimed districts, find to make those districts bear the additional expense so caused. Those and the Acts relating to the carrying of arms have been the chief means which either this or the Irish Parliament have at any time attempted to bring into operation against the particular crimes to which I have referred. In my opinion, the most effectual part of this legislation has undoubtedly been the provisions relating 1022 to the carrying of arms, and next in efficiency I would rank the clauses enabling the Government to increase the Constabulary, and to charge the extra cost upon the district where the increase has been made. These powers the right hon. Gentleman proposes to retain, and they are powers which I hope this House will enable the Government to retain. The power with regard to the constabulary appears to me not only useful and salutary, but essentially just. Crime of the character which has been described could not exist if it did not meet with a considerable amount of approval, or, at all events, toleration from the inhabitants; and, although under this law cases of hardship may occasionally occur, it does appear to me, on the whole, just and right that in the case of a district, the great majority of the inhabitants of which, probably know something about the crime which has been committed, or, if they do not know, might know, or who might easily take steps which would prevent the commission of the offence, the people ought to be made to feel in their pockets the effect of tolerating such crime, and ought, at all events, to pay the cost of the extra Constabulary required. The right hon. Gentleman spoke at the conclusion of his speech, in terms which I think were almost too gloomy, of the present condition of Ireland. He spoke of the sympathy with crime which still existed, and of the difficulty of obtaining convictions from juries, and altogether appeared to me to take an unnecessarily gloomy view of the question. Perhaps the House would be glad to know that the facts are not really so bad as might be imagined. The House ought to be reminded that the condition of Ireland has in this, as in other respects, enormously improved within the last 30 or 40 years, and when the facts are considered, it will be seen that it is far from a hopeless struggle in which we are engaged. Perhaps I may be allowed to refer for one minute to the statements made in 1833 by Earl Grey, when it was his painful duty to introduce the Coercion Bill. Earl Grey said—Between the 1st of January, 1831, and the end of December, 1832, the number of homicides was 242; of robberies, 1,179; of burglaries, 401; of burnings, 568; of houghing cattle, 290; of serious assaults, 101; of riots, 203; of illegal rescues, 353; of illegal notices, 2,094; of illegal meetings, 427; of injuries to property, 796; of attacks on houses, 723; of firing, with intent to 1023 kill. 328; of robbery of arms, 117; of administering unlawful oaths, 263; of resistance to legal process, 8; of turning up land, 20; of resistance to tithes, 50; taking forcible possession, 2; making altogether a total of 9,002 crimes committed in one year, and all crimes of a description connected with and growing out of the disturbed state of the country."—[3 Hansard, xv. 733.]Compare this with the statement that last year the number of agrarian crimes in Ireland was 213, and everyone must allow that it is surely a great improvement, which ought to be borne in mind. In 1847 Sir George Grey gave, with reference to the six months ending October of that year, the following figures:—Homicides, 96; attempts on life by firing at the person, 126; robberies of arms, 530; firing into dwellings, 116. In one month of that year the number of homicides was 19; cases of firing at the person, 32; firing into dwellings, 26; robberies of arms, 118; total, 195—or very nearly as much crime in one month as there was in the whole of last year. As I before observed, we must not, therefore, following the gloomy apprehensions of the right hon. Gentleman, imagine that remedial or coercive legislation is a hopeless task for us to embark upon, or that the condition of Ireland has not greatly improved under its influence. From what I have said, I hope it will be seen that, in my opinion, this is no party question, and I believe that, with the same feeling, a large number of hon. Members on this side of the House will join me in giving the Government a most cordial support on this occasion. ["Hear, hear!"] I remember a speech—perhaps one of the most eloquent ever delivered in this House—in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), on the occasion of the introduction of a measure for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland in 1866, called upon the statesmen on both sides of the House to forget the policy of the past, and try whether, by some exercise of higher statesmanship, the necessity for continually applying to Parliament for exceptional coercive legislation with regard to Ireland might not be obviated. That appeal was not made in vain. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone)—whether rightly or wrongly need not now be discussed—has attempted to deal with that country in a higher spirit 1024 than had formerly been shown, and I am able to support the present Government with a clearer conscience, and with a better courage, than I could have done if I had not known that the British Parliament has done all that lay in its power to do substantial justice to Ireland. I do not wish to refer for a moment to the opposition given by right hon. Gentlemen opposite to the measures to which I allude. I have no doubt they honestly believed that those measures were not just or expedient. But I do think we have some reason to complain that right hon. Gentlemen opposite should while in Opposition, have made a party question of legislation with regard to Ireland. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), in addressing his constituents in February, 1874, said that he believed Ireland was, he might say at that moment, governed by laws of coercion of such stringent severity as was unknown in any other quarter of the globe. Now, those are the very laws which have been described to-night, and the material part of which is to be retained in operation by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman. But would anyone say, after hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that these are laws of coercion of such stringent severity as is unknown in any other quarter of the globe? If the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government would take the trouble to learn how the laws in question have been administered, and how far they are really laws of stringent severity, he would probably entertain a very different opinion on the subject from that which he expressed at the last General Election. It is very much to be regretted that party feeling has been introduced into this matter. I hope that the example thus set by the right hon. Gentleman will not be followed by this side of the House, but that as far as we believe that the measures of the Government are just, expedient, and necessary—and of the necessity for such measures the Government must be the best judge—no party considerations will induce us to obstruct those measures with regard to Ireland which they are now about to introduce.
§ MR. W. SHAW
said, speaking for himself, he did not regret having listened 1025 to the speech of the noble Lord who had just spoken, who had a right to complain that his peculiar privilege of introducing Coercion Laws for Ireland had been invaded by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Every measure of this kind had been brought in by some Whig statesman whose natural mission seemed to be to place Ireland under such laws. On behalf of himself and those with whom he was accustomed to act, he entirely repudiated on this question the Leadership of the noble Lord who had just sat down, and he was not sure that the noble Lord led even the front Opposition bench on the subject—in fact, he should like much to hear the views of the right hon. Gentleman who sat next to the noble Lord (Mr. Bright) with regard to it, whose opinions on Irish questions were always statesmanlike and generous. He (Mr. Shaw) was a supporter of the Irish measures of the late Government, but he never looked upon them as dealing completely with the condition of the people of Ireland, but as steps in that direction, as removing obstacles, giving a clear space for the action of high statesmanship. However, it was not the intention of those with whom he acted in that House to offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill, and he thought that this courtesy was due to the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of it. He, however, could assure the House that coercive measures were not the kind of government calculated to allay discontent in Ireland. He would only ask that the second reading should not be taken till after Easter, as many hon. Members from Ireland would be absent, attending the Assizes, and it would be well that all shades of Irish opinion should be present to discuss this subject. After listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he thought he might state that he had made out no case for the continuation of these Coercion Acts. The number of cases in which these Acts had been put in force had been very few, and he considered that the Government ought to have looked at the state of the country, its peace and prosperity, and its gradual growth, and he expected that they would generously propose the repeal of these laws. But he had been disappointed, and he felt astonished that they should propose to keep some of these laws in force. If such laws existed in England 1026 and Scotland, how would the people deal with them? Why, there would be a revolution. They would not bear with them for a month. It seemed that these Coercion Bills were all that English statesmen could offer to Ireland. They thought they could keep down the dissatisfaction which existed in Ireland with them. The noble Lord the late Chief Secretary (the Marquess of Hartington) had told them that he and his late Colleagues had done everything in their power, when in office, to promote the welfare of Ireland; and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had, both in his books and his speeches, advocated the claims of Ireland to just consideration, and now he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would put his speeches into action, and open up the resources of Ireland. But what had the right hon. Gentleman done for Ireland? The Government of which he was a Member supported the Galway contract, but every man of common sense saw that it must end in disaster; and last year the present Government devoted towards improving the fisheries a sum of money which belonged to counties in Ireland for other purposes. What the Government should attend to was the ameliorating of the condition of the people of that country. It would not do for the Government to suppose that putting down their feet in this manner would tend to pacify the people of Ireland. The case of Westmeath was one of considerable importance. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary said he was in possession of information regarding that county which was confidential, and could not therefore be disclosed to the House; but he would tell the right hon. Gentleman that the reports of resident magistrates and police constables were not of the most valuable kind, and were not always to be relied on. No doubt, those gentlemen were unwilling to exaggerate, but still they did so. They had nothing else to do but to write reports. The law in respect to the possession of arms was in a most vexatious state. The fact was, the people of Ireland were treated like children. It was considered that they might damage themselves or other people; but the people would have arms in spite of the Acts. As to insurrection, the thing was out of the question. No doubt, a spirit of dislike to English 1027 government existed in Ireland, for he did not think that looking at the history of the world, anything was more absurd than the system of English government in Ireland. The Government treated the people of Ireland in a spirit of oppression, dislike, and distrust; and such policy always had, and must continue to produce its natural result. If, in the county of Westmeath, there were reasons for this Act—Ribbonism being such a hateful thing—he would not offer the slightest opposition to that part of the Bill; on the contrary, he would support it. But the right hon. Gentleman had given them no information on the subject. Let them look at the crime and disorder which existed in England, and let the Government propose a Coercion Bill, and let the police put men into gaol and keep them there without trial, and very soon the whole country would be in an uproar. It was their determination to give the Bill their utmost opposition at its future stages. Now, when the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord gave the House their views regarding Ireland, he might ask who they were—what did they know of Ireland? Why, nothing beyond the reports furnised to them, reports upon which no reliance could be placed. They were taunted with what Irish Parliaments had done, and told that the present state of Ireland was their own fault, but they never had had an Irish Parliament. Let the Parliament give them the chance of having one now, and they would find that the distrust and dissatisfaction which existed would be get rid of, and that insurrectionary spirit which was found in Ireland would soon disappear.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, he had the honour of representing the county of Westmeath, which had been, and still was to be, very hardly hit by the Coercion Acts under consideration. The right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord the late Chief Secretary (the Marquess of Hartington) had both spoken of the Habeas Corpus Act as being no longer suspended in Ireland, but did they know it was suspended as far as Westmeath was concerned? And yet the Chief Secretary for Ireland spoke of that county as being as peaceable as any other part of Ireland. The English Government, in fact, maintained the Acts just as they might maintain an old gibbet or a cannon in the market-place, 1028 simply to irritate the people of Ireland. What was the justification put forward for maintaining the worst parts of the Coercion Acts in force? The right hon. Gentleman, in making his statement to the House, said that a meeting of magistrates, at which 50 gentlemen attended, was held to consider the propriety of renewing those Bills, and that they were unanimous in recommending the Government to do so. Under these circumstances, they had no choice, and the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that any such representation made in England must have been attended to. But he (Lord Robert Montagu) would remind him that the magistrates of England were Englishmen, while those of Ireland belonged generally to an alien race, who hated the people among whom they lived, and were always anxious to coerce and oppress them. He protested against a policy of coercion being always followed, and reminded the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that, when he sat on the Opposition benches, he stated that it was the bane of Ireland, that the Irish people were demoralized by restrictive laws, and that a policy of consideration was the only one to be adopted. Such laws required force behind them, for without force they could not be carried into effect. The time might come when the Government of England would say to Ireland—"My father chastised you with whips; I will chastise you with scorpions," and the result might be similar to that which followed the uttering of that sentence—a part of the Kingdom might be torn away. He had come down to the House fully expecting to hear a proposal on the part of the Government for the repeal of the Coercion Laws. He greatly regretted that such a course was not about to be adopted. It had been asserted that the laws in question had been prudently administered, but that fact did not excuse the existence of laws which were irritating and unnecessary. Coercion Laws made the people the slave of the Government. What was a slave but one who was at the mercy of another. Tyranny consisted in the fact that people were subjected to the caprice of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman, arguing in favour of the continued existence of those laws, had enumerated all the cases that had arisen under the Peace Preservation Act, How 1029 few they were. And let them remember that when they had laws so coercive that, as the Prime Minister once said, the like never existed in any part of the world, and no arrests were made under them—the result was to show the peaceable character of the Irish people. Given tyrannous laws and no arrests, what did the fact prove but that there was no one to take up? They might depend upon it that magistrates and policemen liked to exercise power; and yet, with all the power those laws placed in the hands of Irish magistrates and policemen, they could not succeed in getting prisoners to put into the prisons. "Oh, but," said the Chief Secretary for Ireland, "we are reforming the Coercion Laws somewhat." He would say to the Chief Secretary, in the words of Hamlet—"Reform them altogether." Let them try a different policy from that which they had heretofore adopted, and say to the Irish people, not "We know you hate us, and want to get rid of us," but "You are our fellow-citizens, and we will treat you as such. We will put you on an equality with the people of England and Scotland, and not treat you as an inferior race." The right hon. Gentleman had admitted that the magistrates were sometimes injudicious, and the Constabulary over-zealous. But, notwithstanding that over-zeal and indiscretion, they had not succeeded in making out a case against the Irish. Why, too, should they place in the hands of injudicious magistrates and over-zealous constables weapons of coercion and irritation? It was not only unjust, but most unwise to do so. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was very little crime of an ordinary nature in Ireland, and none of that brute violence which disgraced parts of England. There had been no riots in Ireland like those which occurred in Sheffield, no sacking of police-stations and burning of adjoining houses. But what would be said if, on account of those occurrences, Coercion Bills were proposed for England and Scotland? There were, said the right hon. Gentleman, only 200 cases of agrarian crime in Ireland in the year 1874, and the greater number of these were threatening letters. But threatening letters were not confined to Ireland. Most of those who hoard him received threatening letters. How often did 1030 shopkeepers receive threatening letters, if they only contained threats of actions at law? For his part, he could not see in the proposal of the Government anything that would tend to ameliorate the condition of Ireland. Two grounds had been put forward for the continuing of the Acts. The first was, that some Irish people desired separation from this country. Well, the people of Ireland had at the General Election an opportunity of sending to Parliament men who represented their views, and they did not return a single Separatist. They sent to Parliament those who desired Home Rule; but that was only another name for the self-government which the Prime Minister once called the "old Tory policy." The only instance in which a Separatist had been elected was that which occurred the other day at Tipperary, and therefore that reason fell to the ground. The right hon. Gentleman gave as his other reason that emigration to America had almost ceased. He united with the right hon. Gentleman in rejoicing that the emigration from Ireland had ceased, because the strength of a country lay in its people. But the right hon. Gentleman said that these emigrants returned from the United States with ideas of violence which the people of this country did not sympathize with. But had they Coercion Acts in the United States? No; they enjoyed liberty there, and when the Irish emigrants had learnt to compare the freedom of the United States with that of Ireland, what would be the effect? Could we always expect to be at peace with all nations of the world? And when cruisers were fitted out by other countries, it was possible that the Americans might not trust to another Alabama adjudication, but declare war against us. We might then find that Ireland would be our weak point. He declared that this was a suicidal Bill, because it would make the Irish draw unfavourable comparisons between the Government under which they lived and that of the United States. He confessed that he had been deeply disappointed by the policy of the Leader of the Opposition. He expected that the noble Marquess would have given Notice of an Amendment directed against all exceptional legislation, except where urgent grounds could be shown for its necessity. The noble Marquess had been brought up in the traditions 1031 of a Whig House, and had been taught to respect liberty, and he expected him to declare his strong dislike to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. But, so far from that, the noble Marquess said that the Government must be in possession of more information from resident magistrates and the police than the Opposition could have, and he therefore said—"Do not let us judge for ourselves. Let us trust the Government, and legislate in the dark." Some day, however, a bright morning would arise, and it would be seen that there was a split somewhere, and that the Government majority had disappeared. The noble Marquess would not then trust the Government, but would take another line, because he would want the help of Irish Members. He called that an ignoble policy, if the noble Marquess would pardon him for saying so. The right hon. Gentleman said that the English Parliament might be coercive, restrictive, and almost tyrannous in its legislation for Ireland, but that so also was the Irish Parliament. But was that Parliament elected by the Irish people? No Roman Catholic could sit in that House. It was, in fact, an English House of Commons sitting in Dublin, which allowed itself to be dictated to by an English House of Commons sitting in London. The Irish Members had decided that it would be uncourteous to offer any opposition to the Government Bill in its present stage, but they would not be doing their duty—and the Members for Westmeath would especially fail in their duty—if they did not offer it their most strenuous opposition on a future occasion.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
said, he wished to point out that the Bill would leave each one of his constituents liable to be imprisoned at any time without any allegation of crime being made against him; further, the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that for the advantage of a great number it was necessary to sacrifice the rights of a few, was a most dangerous argument, seeing that it had been used abroad to justify political assassination. With regard to the law prohibiting the keeping of arms in Ireland, it was no doubt true that a farmer might go to a resident magistrate and would sometimes obtain permission to keep a gun in his house. The farmers, 1032 however, disliked going to the resident magistrate, and, although the liberty of the Press was, no doubt, important, yet it did not come home to every man like the prohibition against keeping a gun in his house. The fact was, that this law against carrying guns was a rigid Game Law for Ireland. He was himself very fond of shooting; but that was no reason why he should support such a rigid Game Law. If every Irish Member would vote steadily against all Game Laws, in a year or two the law which prohibited a man from having a gun in his house would have to be repealed.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHERLOCK
said, he must enter his protest against the renewal of these unconstitutional measures. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland anticipated that if these coercive statutes were repealed crime would revive in Ireland. But the same argument would be equally good in two years time. There might then be the same absence of crime, but it might again be said—"If you repeal these Acts crime might reappear." If there had been any facts to bear out the apprehension that a sleeping conspiracy was lurking in Ireland that would have been a strong argument in favour of the continuance of coercive measures. The Government had simply furnished the House with the opinions of those who were prejudiced by the position they held in Ireland, and who, yielding to the ordinary incentives that influence human nature, would not relinquish their power unless they were compelled to do so. There were public bodies in Ireland that altogether dissented from the opinions at which the magistrates had arrived, and the town commissioners of Tullamore, in King's County, had met and passed a resolution affirming the total absence of Ribbonism in that county. There had been but one prisoner in the county prison in the course of the last few months, and, to prevent any use being made of that fact, a number of military prisoners had been sent down. In the county of Westmeath, at a meeting of the Catholic Bishop and his clergy, a resolution had been passed stating that in their opinion Ribbonism did not exist in the district at present; and he could not imagine what object they could have in passing 1033 such a resolution, if Ribbonism really did exist, seeing that the men who were affected by it, when it did exist, were the farmers who were the most influential members of their own flocks. It would have been a most unpopular thing to do if Ribbonism really existed. The statement that a murder had been adjourned for two years until the Act expired would be a laughable statement if it did not relate to a murder; and seeing that such murders had generally been committed during the continuance of excitement, the story of deliberate postponement was not consistent with what he knew of the country and its people. If there were any truth in the story, why was not the intending murderer taken up under the provisions of the Act? The Chief Secretary had claimed credit for prudence and moderation in administering the Act. But as the object of the Act was to preserve life and property by imprisoning all persons whose liberty was dangerous to the peace of the country—to leave them at largo would have been inconsistent with the spirit of the law. If it were fairly administered, it must be administered with all necessary rigour, and there could be no such thing as a claim to credit for prudence in carrying it out. The Tipperary election could not be a reason, though it might be an excuse, for the conduct of the Government, and it had no more bearing on the question than any other election—that of Stoke-upon-Trent, for example. It was not with reference to Tipperary these Acts were passed, but they were passed when agrarian outrages prevailed in Westmeath. These had ceased, the reason for the Acts had ceased, and therefore their continuance was unconstitutional and uncalled for. Although he should not offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill, he would ask the right hon Baronet to give some time for its consideration.
§ MR. R. POWER
said, he did not for many reasons regret the speech of the noble Lord who occupied the unenviable position of being a Loader without a party, but he regretted to have heard the cheers which greeted the announcement that a policy of severity towards Ireland was to be continued. His own county of Waterford had always been characterized by freedom from crime and violence, and he there- 1034 fore felt bound to offer his protest against a system of legislation which tended to degrade the people, and to the abuse of all authority. In 1870 some facts were offered as an excuse for the course that was adopted; but now, not oven the flimsiest excuse was made for the continuance of Acts that were detestable to the majority of the Irish people. Exceptional legislation could only be justified by exceptional circumstances; but the present tranquillity of Ireland had been admitted on all hands, and especially by Chief Justices Whiteside and Monahan and Judge Barry. Those learned Judges, in their Charges to their respective Grand Juries, had borne witness to the absence of Ribbonism, and since July last, no person had been imprisoned under these Acts. It had been said that that would be the result of coercion; but in Waterford, Limerick, and Cork, which were under these Acts, there had been an increase of ordinary crime; while in Tyrone, which was not under them, there had been a decrease. He therefore denied that that tranquillity had been brought about by coercive measures; but even supposing that they had done good, there was no necessity now for retaining these Acts on the Statute Book. When a patient was restored to health, medical men did not continue the administration of medicines. If they did, a disease far worse than that which had been cured might be the result. In the same way, he feared that coercion would produce a worse disease than it was intended to cure, and that it would foster disloyalty among the people. It was said that disloyalty was duo to political agitators; but what was it encouraged the agitators? Why should the Constitution in Ireland be suspended, and why should that country be treated in a different manner from the rest of the world? Since the year 1800, the system of governing Ireland was a succession of Acts of Peace Preservation and Coercion, interrupted by homœopathic doses which gave no real satisfaction to the people, and ignored the fact that the safety and integrity of the Empire must rest upon loyalty in the hearts of the people, and not upon terrors produced by coercive laws. The way to make people disloyal was to treat them as rebels. If coercion were an effective remedy for disloyalty, Ireland ought to be one of the boat governed 1035 countries in Europe. For one, he must protest against the Bill which the Chief Secretary for Ireland asked leave to introduce, believing, as he did, that in the present state of Ireland it was unjust, unconstitutional, and impolitic. By the course which they were taking, the Government admitted that the administration by England of Irish affairs was a failure, and proclaimed to the world that it was only by adopting measures of coercion that they were able to maintain their authority in that country.
§ MR. STORER
said, it was extremely difficult for any Englishman to understand why it was that Irishmen wished to do away with laws which they must admit had the effect of preserving peace and order in Ireland, especially when they were told by the responsible Minister of the Crown that the resident magistrates, the justices, and the police, all considered their continuance necessary. For his own part, he could account for the necessity of dealing with that country on a system so totally different from that which was required in England, only upon the theory that the people of Ireland were naturally fond of sport, and took a delight in being shot at. He had been in Ireland once, and, when there, had hoard of a gentleman there who was fired at so constantly that he got the appellation of "Woodcock." And if coercive laws now in force were completely repealed, he had no doubt there would be one general conflagration in Ireland; for it was clear that no concession or sop which might be given to that country—in the shape of a destruction of a Church or robbing the landlord for the benefit of the tenant—would conciliate the Irish people, so long as they listened to the voice of agitators who led them for their own special purposes. He hoped, therefore, the Government would endeavour to conciliate Ireland in that which was the only proper way—by treating her as part of this great Kingdom, and not dealing with the inhabitants as if they were children in long clothes, who could not walk by themselves, and required petting. He trusted that Ireland, under a system of government which treated them exactly like the people of other parts of the United Kingdom without fear, favour, or affection, would soon regain the use of its common sense.
§ MR. RONAYNE
said, the fact that Ireland was legislated for by hon. Gentlemen like the previous speaker, who had only once been into the country, was sufficient reason why the Gentlemen with whom he was associated were asking for self-government. The result of the one visit the hon. Member had paid to that country, and the amount of information he had acquired whilst there, seemed to result in this—that he had heard somebody or another called "Woodcock." As to the hon. Gentleman's opinion that the people of Ireland should not be treated as children, but instructed in the art of walking alone, that was precisely what they wanted, but they protested against being followed about by policemen and arrested without any conceivable justification. It was no matter for surprise, he might add, that the wishes of the Irish people were not generally consulted in the passing of measures which related to them, since not only the right hon. Gentleman who was now Chief Secretary for Ireland, but the noble Lord who preceded him in office, had more than once expressed the hope that any mistakes which they might make in the discharge of their duties might be attributed to ignorance of that country, rather than to any desire to deal otherwise than justly by her. It was said the Irish people were disaffected; but if they were to be treated to nothing else but Coercion Bills, had they not, he would ask, some cause to be so? He recollected a speech of Archbishop Manning's, in which he said that Prince Bismarck had founded his charge of sedition against the Roman Catholic clergy in Germany on letters and documents which he refused to produce—secret information, he went on to add, on which no English Minister would found a coercion law. That, however, was precisely what an English Minister was doing in the present instance—founding a Coercion Bill on the authority of the police and magistrates, some of whom in many parts of Ireland were totally unworthy of belief. ["Oh, oh!"] Both in religion and politics the magistrates of Ireland as a class were hostile to the people, and hole-and-corner meetings of them could be get up at any time to vote for coercion. They get their information from the police, and the police in turn obtained it from persons who themselves committed crimes, and 1037 by accusing other people sought to put the police on the wrong scent. He thought that if the House had before it the documents supplied by the magistrates to the right hon. Gentleman, they would find they were all based on the representations of the police. The noble Lord the late Chief Secretary for Ireland had told them as the land of Ireland was Protestant, the magistrates representing the land must necessarily be Protestant. In his own county—Cork—there were 390 magistrates, and of these only 65, one-half of whom were absentees, were Roman Catholics. He did not make use of that argument in anything like a sectarian spirit, for every one who knew him knew that he had just as great a respect for Protestants as he had for Catholics; but the result of that exclusion of Roman Catholics from the list of magistrates was that every petty sessions bench throughout the country was occupied by a number of men who differed from the mass of the people to whom they had to administer justice, in religion, in politics, and in sentiment. In fact, they differed from them in every point that could inspire confidence in their decisions. The consequence was, the people had no confidence in them. They were not singular in that respect, as the Government itself had no confidence in them, for they associated with them the stipendiary magistrates to be their teachers, and even to be spies upon them. Again, as regarded the control of the police, the county magistrates had no authority whatever. On the contrary, they were controlled by the police, instead of the police being controlled by them. The House, he was afraid, did not understand the difference between the county magistrates of England and the county magistrates of Ireland. In Ireland, they were a class distinct in creed and hostile to the people, and whenever it was proposed to make any concession to the people, the magistrates were those who were the foremost in opposing it. In England, on the contrary, there was a community of religion and of sentiments between the people and magistrates. The country was too overrun by the constabulary. A magistrate was not satisfied unless he had a policeman to attend him to church on Sunday, or unless he had a police station at his lodge gate; and all because he 1038 had not to pay for them. If the House put the cost of the constabulary upon the landed property of the country, they would very soon find how few the magistrates considered were required for the preservation of law and order. When any extra police were quartered in a locality, it was the poor occupiers and not the landlords who had to pay for them, and that was a practice which gave rise to a great deal of oppression. Having said that much with respect to the county magistrates, he would now ask the House to consider who were the stipendiary magistrates who were to be their teachers. The Earl of Posse told them that the men selected for the office of stipendiary magistrate were broken-down roués, men damaged both in fortune and reputation, and that the appointments themselves were jobbed away. Archbishop Whately said the same thing, and added that fitness was the only claim disregarded. They were men without any legal learning whatever, ignorant alike of law and of the principles of the Constitution, drunkards, and so involved in debt that they could not appear abroad except on Sunday. Some time ago the corpse of one who died in the town of Shenrone was seized for a debt which he owed his butcher, and he (Mr. Ronayne) had no doubt that if Government had acted upon the representations of that stipendiary, that poor butcher would have been locked up. The people of Ireland had no confidence in these appointments, and with regard to those whose opinions were taken on important questions for the guidance of Dublin Castle, the first question asked by them was, how the English Government would like to have them answered. He believed the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary went over to Ireland with the very best intentions, but when he got there he was entirety in the hands of the Castle officials. The right hon. Gentleman had indeed navigated the Shannon on an outside car, and in a week solved the great question of its drainage, which had puzzled the best engineers for the last 10 years or more, and came back with the great ornithological discovery that the partridges are 10 clays earlier in Ireland than they are in this country, and he could not help thinking that if the right hon. Gentleman had stuck to the partridges, he would have done 1039 better for Ireland and better for the Government.
Motion agreed to.
Bill to amend and continuo certain Acts for the Preservation of the Peace in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 77.]