§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, that this Bill raised one of the most important questions which could be brought under the consideration of Parliament, going as it did to the very root of legislative power, and touching immediately the liberties of the subject. It was a Bill, moreover, which was regarded with thrilling interest and the greatest anxiety by a considerable portion of Her Majesty's subjects. That being so, it was 149 not too much to ask the House to lay aside every prejudice, and endeavour calmly and deliberately to consider the question in order that they might arrive at a just and right conclusion—and there were many prejudices which would have to be discarded if Parliament wished to arrive at such a conclusion; and among them was the most common of the failings which beset the human mind—the desire of exercising power. There were two different kinds of power, the exercise of which produced very opposite results. There was the power that consisted in the exorcise of moral influence; and the man who sought to exercise that power might be held to be actuated by a moral ambition. On the other hand, there was a power which consisted in the exertion of physical force; and to use this was justly regarded as ignoble, and it generally culminated in rendering the user an oppressor and tyrant. Well, government by physical force was the simplest of all forms of government, inasmuch as the Governor had simply to declare his will. That kind of government, however, was not that which tended to the happiness or to promote the contentment and loyalty of the people. Coercion was readily had recourse to because it was so easy; and when those exceptional acts were repeated frequently they at length became the permanent form of government. That most certainly was not the way to govern; and his proposition was that exceptional or coercive legislation was neither right nor expedient, but was, on the contrary, most unjust and impolitic; and he said the employment of physical force was so ready a means of government that it behoved every Government to be on their guard lest they should shirk the difficult task of acquiring moral influence. Count Joseph De Maistre had said what had since been frequently quoted, that "any one could govern in a state of siege;"—meaning that as long as you had physical force at your command it was easy to make people do what you desired. 'But the danger was that some day that physical force would fail, and that the predominant power of the population on which you relied might withdraw their allegiance. Then that would happen which we are told of in Holy Writ, when one of the most powerful Kings of Israel, in the glowing language of Scripture, said to his subjects, 150 "My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." But the physical force on which he relied did fail him in an unlooked-for hour, and ten-twelfths of his kingdom were taken away. The true ruler, on the contrary, did not seek to govern by physical force, but by moral influence. The Chief Secretary stated as one reason for introducing a Coercion Bill, that the people of Ireland wanted separation from this country. He (Lord Robert Montagu) might meet that statement with a direct denial; but assuming it to be correct, what deduction did he draw from it? That the English Government had not known how to rule, but had resorted to coercion to save them the trouble of learning how to govern. The assertion of the Chief Secretary was therefore a condemnation of his own and previous Governments. What he called exceptional legislation was the application of different fundamental principles of legislation to different parts of the country. England was to be governed upon the principles of freedom of conscience, liberty of the Press, and liberty of the subject; while Ireland was to be governed on the principles of intolerance, under Press laws, under a system of restraint, and what he might almost call illegal imprisonment. That he would say was exceptional legislation; and when such legislation was had recourse to, they applied a system of freedom to one country and of coercion to the other. Such a principle was unknown to our earlier history. Until the time of Queen Anne the principles of all legislation were agreed to and published by the King in Council, and every parish was allowed to apply those principles as it thought fit. Even in taxation no budget was brought forward, but each county was told what quota it had to pay, and the different parishes imposed the taxation on houses or lands as they thought proper. England in those days was but a federation of free Republics. To apply that to Ireland, what was the system proposed by the present Prime Minister? What was required, he said, in 1868, in a very remarkable speech, was this very freedom of Government under a strong Executive. His opinion was that "they should return to the ancient system of self-government." "Local self-government" and "freedom" were synonymous 151 terms according to the present Prime Minister. Although he (Lord Robert Montagu) did not belong to his Party he was proud to say he had learned the principles of political science from the right hon. Gentleman. On the 18th of March, 1869, the present Prime Minister said—The Tory Party, however it may at times have erred, has always been the friend of local government, and…on local government political freedom depended."—[3 Hansard, cxciv. 1693.]He might make a similar quotation from the late Prime Minister: and when two such eminent men agreed in opinion, they could not do wrong in accepting their dicta. The late Prime Minister had just published a pamphlet on what he called "Vaticanism." He did not agree with the doctrines the right hon. Gentleman laid down in that pamphlet; but he agreed with him in this—that,As a rule, the real independence of States and nations depends upon the exclusion of foreign influence proper from their civil affairs. Wherever the spirit of freedom, oven if ever so faintly, breathes, it resents and reacts against any intrusion of another people or Power "into the circle of its interior concerns, as alike dangerous and disgraceful.With the adoption of Revolutionary principles came centralization, which imposed the details of laws on all the people of a country, regardless of the special conditions of any locality. These centralized laws were felt to be a hardship; but, instead of returning to the true principle of local government, we resorted to the bungling system of permissive legislation. It would be far better merely to assert the principles of legislation, and to leave each locality to apply them in its own manner. If, then, it was a hardship to enforce details on all places alike, how much greater was it when we altered the principle of law, and forced on one part of the Kingdom principles which were utterly alien to its feelings and destructive of its progress. They were told in Blackstone that the Habeas Corpus Act was the second Magna Charta of the liberties of Englishmen, because through it no man could be detained in prison without just cause. But while the Habeas Corpus Act was enforced in England, while no one was arrested on suspicion, and while no one could be detained longer than was necessary to bring him to a fair trial, in Ireland 152 it was quite different. In that country a man might be arrested and thrown into prison on suspicion, on mere surmise, on a calumny whispered into the ear of a magistrate, and the arrested person might be detained during the pleasure of the Lord Lieutenant. So that in the most important matter affecting the liberty of the subject, there was one law for England and Scotland, and another for Ireland. Such inequalities would be deemed astounding by an "intelligent foreigner" from China or Japan. They could be justified only on the ground of necessity. The late Prime Minister, speaking of the Peace Preservation Act in 1870, said it was not a measure to be adopted unless under a most stringent necessity; it was a strong application, like alcohol, which might give temporary relief, but which laid up disease for the future, and it ought to be applied only on the apprehended outbreak of civil war: and the present Leader of the Opposition (the Marquess of Hartington) said the Government would not be justified in bringing forward the measure until every other remedy had been tried and failed. And the present Prime Minister, in a speech he made last year at Buckingham, declared that "Ireland was ruled by coercive legislation of the most severe and most stringent kind," that it "was governed by laws of coercive and stringent severity, such as did not exist in any other quarter of the globe;" and he asked—and properly asked—such coercive severity need continue until the year 1875?—and he said in this speech that the country was debauched by the application of laws founded on violence and aggression. Thus, the right hon. Gentleman traced the necessity for coercion in the present to coercion in the past. He also spoke of Members being returned who were pledged to the "dismemberment of the Empire;" but in applying that phrase to the adherents of Home Rule, he did them great injustice, because it was the object of Home Rulers to strengthen the unity of the Empire by returning to ancient and Tory principles of Government. No one in Ireland desired to bring about Home Rule by violence; its advocates sought it only by persuasion, argument, and legislation. In introducing this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland said it was his duty to show that such legislation 153 was necessary; but, instead of making out a strong case for it, he did the very reverse. He said the country was comparatively free from theft, immorality, and those crimes of brutal violence which too frequently occurred in England, and he showed that there was a remarkable diminution in agrarian crime, and for these reasons he said the re-enactment of the law would require careful consideration—yet after this declaration, the right hon. Gentleman came down to that House, and announced that the Peace Preservation Act must still be kept in force. The Protection of Life and Property Act applied only to Westmeath—the county he had the honour to represent—and in that and the adjoining county the right hon. Gentleman said the absence of violence bore testimony to the extinction of the Ribbon conspiracy. Crime, he said, had diminished in Ireland—but still the country must be coerced. Such statements went to prove that exceptional legislation was unjust. Under the Peace Preservation Act there had been only 144 seizures of arms, in respect of which 38 persons were summoned; only 14 were arrested, and of these 4 were committed, and 10 were discharged. Many of these charges had reference, perhaps, to the possession of a fowling-piece, or a blunderbuss which would not go off. Of 36 persons arrested for being out at night only 4 were committed, the other 32 being set at liberty. Of 12 persons arrested for merely being strangers, only 2 were committed. Three witnesses were arrested on suspicion that they were about to abscond, and they were all discharged. In 1870 the number of agrarian outrages said to have been committed were 1,329, of which a large number occurred in Westmeath—and this constituted the alleged necessity of the measure. That number went on decreasing every year, until in 1874 only 213 cases of agrarian outrage occurred, and they were nearly all cases of writing threatening letters. Under the Life and Property Protection Act there were 19 arrests in 1871, and not a single arrest in 1874, nor had there been a single person in prison for offences under the Act since June. 1874. So far from making out a case, these figures showed that the Act was not necessary, and if it was unnecessary nothing could be more unjust or imprudent. If the House examined the general statistics 154 of Irish crime, it would be found from a Blue Book published last autumn, that in the year 1864 the number of indictable offences throughout Ireland was 10,865. They went on gradually diminishing until 1873, the last year given, when they were 6,942. Previous to 1864 the agrarian outrages in Ireland were about 356 a-year; in the year 1872–3 they were only 255. The number of violent and dangerous assaults and of ordinary assaults showed a similar diminution. The Returns proved a singular fact—which was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary himself—that in Ireland crime, generally speaking, was concentrated in the large towns, while the rural districts were comparatively free. Thus the excess of crime in Dublin over Westmeath was not less than 92 per cent. yet there was no Protection of Life and Property Act for Dublin. In Cork city the excess of crime over Westmeath was 66 per cent; in Galway, 64 per cent; while in Kildare, the rural district in which crime was most frequent, the excess was 36 per cent more than in Westmeath. Yet no Peace Preservation Act was put in force against these localities; while unfortunate Westmeath had to suffer the full infliction. Again, the rural district of Kildare was higher in crime than any other in Ireland:—and why? because there was a camp of English soldiers at the Curragh of Kildare—against whom no Peace Preservation Act was put in force. In 1873 the Prison Inspectors asserted that most of the crime in Ireland was due to drunkenness. An able statistician, Dr. Hancock, had pointed out the effectiveness of the machinery for the apprehension and detection of crime in Ireland. Excluding the superior officers there were 25 policemen for every 10,000 people in Ireland, while there were only 12 in England and Wales. While only 25 per cent of offenders escaped in Ireland more than 50 per cent escaped in England. Yet, with all this well-paid machinery for the detection of crime in Ireland, 22 per cent less offences were committed than in England. If, too, they examined the number of persons sentenced to penal servitude and to capital punishment respectively in England and Ireland, the latter country would be found in the better position. If coercive and exceptional legislation was necessary for Ireland it followed 155 à fortiori that the Government ought to propose it for England and Scotland. As the Chief Secretary for Ireland had alluded to the rampant brutality which prevailed in England, he had, for want of anything better to do, cut a few little scraps out of The Times of riots and violent assaults during the last few months. There were, for example, the Fraserburg riots, where 300 or 400 people sacked the police office and threw the furniture out of the window. Then came a disturbance and riot at Sheffield on Saturday, at midnight; there was fierce fighting in the streets, there were cries to burn down the house of one of the offending parties, and a large number of police were assaulted and brutally injured; and a fight at Alnwick between the pitmen. Then there was an extract from The Pall Mall Gazette narrating how three men had assaulted a married man who was standing at his own door, insulted his wife, and on his interfering to protect her, knocked him down and attempted to murder him. The number of cases of violence reported from various parts of England was so great that no one could have been surprised to hear some time back that the Home Secretary was meditating a sort of Coercion Bill for England. He, for one, however, was astonished to learn subsequently that the right hon. Gentleman had abjured his intention, for it was clear that a measure of the kind was much more urgently needed in England than in Ireland—especially after the ruffianism they had heard of as having occurred at Birmingham and Hanley. He thought, then, that he had clearly shown coercive Acts to be unnecessary in Ireland, and, being unnecessary, it followed that they were unjust. It might be asked why two Governments, one of which professed to be Liberal but was, in reality, most illiberal, and the other of which, while professing Toryism, abjured that principle of self-government which, according to the Prime Minister, was at the root of Toryism, should have forced coercive legislation upon Ireland? The reasons were not far to seek. The landlords of Westmeath, who desired to make evictions, had memorialized the Irish Government to liberate the "captains" of the Ribbonmen from prison—the object of the memorialists being that these "captains," if well paid, should give timely information to the magistrates 156 and the landlords and would also protect the last-named class in the carrying out of their eviction processes. A short time back the Chief Secretary for Ireland said he was not aware of these memorials; but he (Lord Robert Montagu) was aware of them, and knew the names of some of the signatories.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
The noble Lord is in error. I did not say I was not aware of these memorials. What I did say was I had made inquiries, and that no such memorials had been presented.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
was afraid the right hon. Gentleman had been misinformed. Such memorials had been presented signed by magistrates, and one of the persons liberated in consequence of such memorials was Captain Duffy, who was at the present time at large in Westmeath. If the Chief Secretary was not aware of any such memorials was it not somewhat curious that the Bill now before the House should contain a clause giving the Lord Lieutenant power to do the very thing for which they petitioned? Why did they insert a clause providing that the Justices should have power to liberate prisoners whom they deemed it "inexpedient" to punish without proceeding to conviction. If the persons charged were innocent it would be the plain duty of the Justices to discharge them, and no discretionary power of discharge would be necessary. The obvious meaning of the clause was to empower the Justices, who desired this timely information, to liberate evil-disposed persons who had hitherto been engaged in misleading the people. It was a great injustice to the people of Ireland, and it was specially unjust to the people of Westmeath, to give power to the Justices to set at liberty the members of illegal societies. There was another clause in the Bill to which he took exception. This was a clause to continue the operation of an Act of 2 & 3 Vict. c. 74, continued by the 11 & 12 Vict. c. 89, in relation to the taking and administering of unlawful oaths in Ireland. The first mentioned Act was passed in order to exempt the Order of Freemasons on certain conditions from the operation of the Act of 50 Geo. III. c. 102, and 4 Geo. IV. c. 87, against the administering and taking unlawful oaths in Ireland. The Act of 2 & 3 Vict. rendered it penal for any Society to 157 have and use secret signs and passwords; all persons offending against the provisions of that Act were declared to be guilty of felony, and liable to seven years' transportation; but the second clause exonerated Freemasons from these consequences on condition that two members of the lodge made a declaration on oath before a justice of the peace that the lodge was formed in conformity to the ordinary rules of the Freemason's lodges of the kingdom. Another condition was that on the 25th of March in every year two members of each lodge were to appear and swear before a magistrate, and declare what were the objects of the society, and also deposit with the clerks of the peace a list of the members and office-bearers; otherwise they might be held guilty of felony and subjected to seven years' transportation. He had made inquiry in Dublin recently, and found that the conditions of the exempting Act had not been complied with in any instance, so that every member of a Freemasons' lodge in Ireland was at the present time a felon, and liable to seven years' transportation. It was not difficult, therefore, to imagine a Law Officer of the Crown, who happened to be a member of the Grand Lodge in Dublin, being called upon to prosecute himself. Imagine the hon. and learned Gentleman or the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, when he interposed to prevent O'Donovan Rossa or Mitchel from taking their seats in this House, being interrupted by the information that he was as much a felon as they were, and equally disqualified from sitting in the House of Commons. If it could be shown that the right hon. Gentleman was a member of any such illegal Society and subject to those penalties, the career of the right hon. Gentleman, hitherto so brilliant, would by this untimely discovery be nipped in the bud. He might go further and imagine worse. He might imagine the popular Lord Lieutenant, on returning to the seat of his Government, anticipating a brilliant reception and a warm welcome from the people of Ireland—and finding himself in the custody of two sergeants of police, on the charge that he was a member of a Secret Society, being the Master of a Lodge that had not fulfilled the conditions of 2 & 3 Vict. c. 74, continued by 11 & 12 Vict. c. 89, and therefore guilty of a felony and liable to 158 seven years' transportation under 50 Geo. III. c. 102. Of course, this was all pure imagination; but, in point of fact, each of these distinguished men was liable to punishment under the existing law. It would be a sad thing for Ireland to find her popular and handsome Lord Lieutenant wasting his sweetness on the desert air of van Diemen's Land. It was clear that legislation at variance with constitutional principles was carried out differently in different parts of the country. The policy which he would desire to see pursued towards Ireland was that indicated by the Prime Minister himself when he said that the Irish ought not to be treated as a conquered people; and the Tory Party boasted that their policy was to give to the Irish people a power of local self-government. The Prime Minister knew the generous hearts which Irishmen possessed; he knew that in the warmth of their affection they would forget the past, however unjust it had been, if only a kind sympathy were extended to their country, and that they would heartily co-operate with him in carrying out a just system of government in the future. Having read history, the Prime Minister knew that the Irish were the bravest of the brave—he knew how Irishmen had distinguished themselves in the Peninsular, in the Crimean War, and in every other war, and he knew that they, of all peoples, most hated oppression and injustice. He (Lord Robert Montagu) warned the Government that the Irish people would some day resent the tyranny under which they groaned, and that the continuance of coercive measures would bring about that very dismemberment of the Empire which was now so much dreaded. He called upon them to be wise in time, while as yet the Irish people might be turned into their warmest friends and supporters; and remarking that Ireland had always been the weak point of this country, he reminded them of the Pennsylvanian line, which turned the tide of victory at the time our North American Colonies separated from us. The policy he urged upon the present occasion was the policy of the Prime Minister as announced in his speech in April, 1868:—I say that during the period when I have had a lead in public life—I am sorry to say more than five-and-twenty years—I have acted159conscientiously on this principle alone, and I ask what was the policy which we pursued in Ireland? That policy was a policy of conciliation.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House disapproves of the imposition or maintenance of exceptional legislation, except in those cases where urgent grounds, proving the necessity of it, have been clearly shown; and that sufficient grounds for the maintenance of any exceptional legislation have not been proved to exist at present in Ireland,"—(Lord Robert Montagu,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to Be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. R. E. PLUNKETT
Sir, I do not propose to follow all the ramifications of the discourse of the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu), nor to comment upon the first part of his speech, as the question of Home Rule is not at present before the House. With regard to the second part, I will only say that his statistics as to the diminution of crime in Ireland must afford pleasure to every Irishman. But they only show that these restrictive measures have been successful, not that they should be repealed. Could he have produced such statistics before these restrictions were imposed, there would have been no question of imposing them. But by way of an argument against their continuance, he states that in England, where these laws do not exist, there is more crime than in Ireland, where they do. He even shows that in those parts of Ireland where only the less stringent of them are in force, crime is 92 per cent. 56, and 34 per cent in excess of the crime in those districts where these measures are imposed in all their stringency. It is admitted that Ireland is at present governed by laws of exceptional stringency, and the question before the House is, whether these laws, so far as they are not repealed by this Bill, ought to be continued. And the principle upon which we must decide appears to be a very plain one. If the ordinary laws of the United Kingdom are sufficient to preserve peace and to protect life and property in Ireland, we ought not to add to them others of an exceptional character. If, on the other hand, the ordinary laws of the Kingdom are ineffective, or cannot be 160 carried out in Ireland, then it is clearly the duty of any Government of that country to pass such supplementary measures as shall be necessary to keep the peace and to give protection to life and property. The question has been raised whether we have evidence of the insufficiency of the ordinary law. I fear that the history of Irish trials, even of those which have recently taken place, shows only too clearly that the ordinary law is not sufficient. If witnesses can be found, they give evidence at the risk of their lives, and even upon the clearest and most conclusive evidence, juries will not dare to convict. Until we can rely upon Irish juries to do their duty we cannot say that the ordinary law is sufficient for Ireland. Then we have the declaration of the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that the Government have information which satisfies them that these restrictive measures cannot yet be withdrawn; but he added that this information could not, without breach of faith, be, laid before the House. Certainly that reservation has a most unpleasant sound about it; and probably, when the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition rose to reply, some hon. Members may have expected that he would take exception to it. But the noble Lord had himself been Chief Secretary for Ireland, and had in that capacity earned respect both in Ireland and in England; and he, speaking with more knowledge on this matter than any other Member of the House, was so convinced of the necessity of these measures, that, rising above Party considerations, he frankly supported Her Majesty's Ministers. If the welfare of Ireland had been preferred to Party interests many years ago, I do not think we should have been discussing these measures now. I say that these measures have been rendered necessary by misrule in the past; but now that England admits that, and is only anxious to do what is best for Ireland, it is childish to let resentment for the past make us blind to the necessities of the present. To my mind, the very fact that the Government cannot produce the information which they possess, points to a state of things in Ireland that would make it very unwise to withdraw these laws. They were not imposed by any one Act. They were introduced only as necessity arose. They are not—except the Westmeath Acts— 161 operative, but permissive; they did not apply of themselves to any part of Ireland, but were only imposed on such districts as required them. And I think the fact that it has been found necessary to include under their action every part of Ireland, except, I believe, Tyrone County and parts of Fermanagh and County Down, show that they were not uncalled for. Both the present and the late Government of Ireland agree that they are necessary, and we know that they do not speak without having ascertained the opinion of the resident magistrates. No one attempts to deny that these laws have prevented a great deal of crime, and, as far as I know—and I have been watching the list pretty closely—not one single Petition has been presented against them. They are stringent; but with the Amendments which this Bill proposes, I do not think that they injure any peaceable subject of Her Majesty. An hon. Member complained last year that he had been prevented from carrying a revolver without a special licence—I think it was the hon. Member for Cavan. But I think that his complaint tells more for the Bill than against it. For why did he want to carry a revolver? Either as a weapon of attack or as a means of defence? If he wanted it for purposes of attack, that is a strong argument for this Bill; if he wanted it for self-defence, what does that reveal about the state of Ireland? It is not upon the farmer or the labourer that this Bill will press, so long as they are peaceably inclined, though it may inconvenience country gentlemen, who often want to carry arms from one county to another. The farmer rarely wants to carry wants beyond the limits of his own holding, and this, and more than this, he can do under the Bill before us. He has only to get a licence through a stipendiary magistrate, and unless there are good grounds for refusing him, no substantial farmer will have any difficulty. It is quite true that licences "have" been refused to small farmers, on this ground, that where they are known to possess arms, it very often happens that their houses are broken into and their arms carried off. If hon. Members will look into the Appendix of the Report of the Westmeath Committee, they will find whole strings of such robberies. So that it comes to this—that in the case of men who cannot 162 take care of their arms, it is evidently better both for them and for the community that they should give them up to the police than to nocturnal marauders. It may sound strange to English ears that a man is more likely to be attacked, if he is known to have arms; but we have ways of our own in Ireland, and that is one of them. There is no class of men to whom these laws are so necessary as to the farmers. I hope the House will bear with me if I give a brief illustration of this by a few facts which I may give on the authority of an Irish magistrate, though I can corroborate most of them myself. Shortly before the passing of the Westmeath Act, Ribbonism spread over a part of Meath which had until then been one of the quietest in Ireland. First, shots were fired at night, apparently without any particular object. Then, farmers received threatening letters, and were ordered to employ one man or discharge another under pain of assassination. I may remark that not one of these letters was sent to a landlord. The next phase was, that houses were fired into, and then a train was fired at, and a second-class carriage riddled with slugs. The farmers were in fear of their lives—they were the slaves of an invisible society, and might be forced to employ a man who was worse than useless, and whom they felt to be a spy upon all their actions. A reign of terror was established, and those who lived in thatched houses scarcely dared to sleep at night. But if the farmers were to be pitied, there were some who were still worse off at that time. There were many men in that neighbourhood, who either in very early youth or under compulsion, had taken the Ribbon oath. Many of these had for years led respectable lives, and some were in positions of considerable trust. But with this revival of Ribbonism they were plunged into a degrading servitude. Body and soul, they seemed in the power of a secret gang of murderers, who might command them to commit any crime under pain of being murdered if they refused. Nor was this a danger that threatened them alone, they knew too well that their wives and children might be the victims as well as themselves. All this misery was caused by four men. Everyone knew who they were; but not a man dared give evidence against them. 163 Lord Spencer, whose unfailing energy and industry deserve the warmest gratitude of Irishmen, knew almost every detail of their lives; but not a witness could be got to come forward openly. The leader of the four was arrested, and then occurred something sadly characteristic of Ireland. Two thoroughly respectable farmers were frightened into giving bail for this man. They said afterwards that they never thought their bail would be taken. While things were in this state, the Westmeath Act was introduced into this House. What followed? This Ribbon quartette did not await its passing. They vanished, and with them every sign of disturbance in that neighbourhood. Confidence has been restored since it has been seen that the law is stronger than the Ribbon Society, and there is now comfort and prosperity where all was terror and disturbance. I would ask the House on which side the coercion lay. Are people more free under the reign of terror or under the reign of law? And I would point out that the virtue of all laws of this sort lies rather in their duration than in their severity. The evil we have to contend against is one of longstanding, and it cannot be cured in a moment. A contempt for law, which has been engendered by the vacillation of the past, will not be eradicated by vacillation now. The well-disposed in Ireland have been too often sacrificed in vain attempts at pleasing those who regard every concession as a sign of weakness. It was the alternation of foolish sentimentalism and spasmodic severity that was so fatal to the progress of Ireland in days gone by: that oft-repeated attempt at governing Ireland upon the "Irish ideas" of those whose one idea was to have no Government at all. There was no want of truer ideas in Ireland. Again and again, when England has looked round for the man to govern her greatest colonies or lead her proudest enterprises, she has found him in an Irishman. But she did not then go to the class from which she drew her Irish ideas. And now, again, the gentlemen of Ireland have offered their advice, they have warned the Government that the time has not come when these laws can be removed, and I think the House should not lightly reject their counsel. I most earnestly hope that the day is not far distant when these restrictions may be withdrawn, but 164 every rash attempt to anticipate it only puts it further off. It is for this reason that I have spoken—for this reason alone that I shall support the Bill.
MR. OWEN LEWIS
said, he opposed the measure on behalf and in the name of the people of Ireland, in the name of the fundamental principles of the British Constitution, and in the name of our common humanity. That Constitution, as wisely carried out in England and Scotland secured the happiness and contentment of the people, and there was no more ardent admirer of it than he was; but, unfortunately, in Ireland they knew very little of what constitutional government was. All the Irish people knew of the Constitution was, that it was continually being suspended by whatever Ministry was in office. If they wished to make Ireland as contented as England and Scotland, she must be governed in the same way. The whole history of Ireland was one scene of coercion, which had always produced sedition, and then sedition was laid hold of as an excuse why coercion laws should be continued. To make Irishmen contented they must treat them wisely, and, above all things, justly. Were Irishmen so treated they would become at once contented, happy, and loyal. These coercion laws were not only harsh and unjust, but they were unnecessary and uncalled-for. They were not asked for by the working men, the shopkeepers, or the professional men, but only by one class, and that class was the Irish gentry. It was a class, however, which did not represent either the feelings or the sympathies of the Irish people, and certainly did not possess their confidence. In days when their power was untrammelled, they treated the people as serfs and helots; and in later times they had been opponents of every concession, and of every attempt to restore to the people the national rights of which they had been deprived. In 1829 the gentry opposed the emancipation of three-fourths of their fellow-countrymen. In 1867 they opposed religious equality; in 1871 they opposed a moderate system of tenant-right; in 1872 they opposed both the passing of the Ballot, and the passing of the Juries Bill which provided that no man, however humble, should be punished until a jury had been impartially selected. In 1873 they opposed religious education 165 in Ireland, although they had supported it in England; and in 1874 they opposed the extension of municipal privileges and the borough franchise in Ireland, while now in 1875 they sought, he was sorry to say, the re-enactment of these laws. The Bill was unjust and uncalled for, and before they passed such laws, they should consider the feelings of the people upon whom they would impose restriction. They had been told that no oppression would be suffered under it, because the officials would see that everything would be done justly; and though no one could doubt the humanity of the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary, yet they ought not to be asked to pass this exceptional law, a law which Englishmen and Scotchmen would rebel against if proposed for their countries—they would not entrust their liberties and freedom to men because of their humanity. Personal liberty and freedom ought to be enjoyed in Ireland, as in other parts of the Queen's dominions, as a matter of right and of course, and it was too sacred a thing to place at the disposal of any set of men, however careful and conscientious they might be. The law was unnecessary in Ireland. The condition of that country did not justify its being passed. He ventured to say that at the present moment Ireland was more peaceful than she had been for many years before, and that there was there perfect security for life or property. In fact, contrasting the feeling and bearing of the two peoples, the English and the Irish, there was more necessity for laws of the kind in England than there was for them in Ireland. To show that oppression might occur under those Acts, he would refer to the case of Patrick Casey, that had been brought under the notice of the House by the senior Member for the city of Limerick (Mr. Butt), in which the only son and support of an aged father was suddenly seized and incarcerated for two and a half years, without trial and without being allowed to be visited by his family. In fact, he could see no difference between the law, as applied to Ireland, and those laws which existed in France in the last century under the old regime, and which had led to the dethronement and downfall of the Bourbon dynasty. In France a man could be arrested at the will of the monarch, and he could be incarcerated for any length 166 of time without being brought to trial—kept in gaol without knowing the name of his accuser. The same thing could occur in Ireland, the only difference being that the prison in France was called the Bastille, and in Ireland Kilmainham; that the system in France was called lettres de cachet, and in Ireland the warrant of the Lord Lieutenant. If they wished to see the people respect the laws, they should take care that the laws were of such a character that they deserved to be respected. He protested, in conclusion, against those Coercion Acts in the name of the Constitution, because their continuance would tend to weaken the hands of those who wished to teach the people to seek the redress of their grievances by constitutional means; and he protested, in the name of his country, and of their common humanity, against exceptional laws being passed for Ireland.
§ MR. CONOLLY
said, he regarded the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down as more suitable for a debating society than for a practical Assembly like that House. The fact was they had just heard a speech which was very forcible in reference to the value of the British Constitution, but had nothing specially to do with the matter then before them. One and all of the hon. Gentlemen' upon the benches on the other side seemed to be purblind, for they consented with marvellous agreement, to ignore that which alone could justify exceptional legislation, and that was the existence in Ireland of a most brutal conspiracy, which was called the Ribbon Society. The hon. Member who had just spoken had extolled the British Constitution; but had kept studiously in the dark that deep stigma upon Ireland of which he ought to be more ashamed than he was of his advocacy of a timeserving popularity. If the hon. Gentleman wished by supporting a policy that would set gangs of murderers and evil-disposed persons free, to the injury of commerce, the encouragement of social terrorism, and the destruction of the liberty of the lower orders in Ireland, to build up his popularity thereby, he (Mr. Conolly) could only say he diet not envy him in it. He was proud to belong to the order of Irish Gentlemen, and it was a defamation to state that they opposed Catholic emancipation, or that they opposed tenant-right, or that they had not 167 represented the people of Ireland honourably, uprightly, and conscientiously. He confessed that these discussions caused personal pain to him, because it was disagreeable to acknowledge that so long as this plague-spot remained in Ireland, measures must be adopted to ensure the government of Ireland. Every one who was acquainted with the ramifications of that dark and black conspiracy knew that it was their duty to ask for exceptional measures. It was impossible there could be a parity of laws and an exercise of the Constitution in the two countries so long as Ireland remained what she was. Therefore it was that those who were acquainted with Ireland and the Ribbon conspiracy which existed there came forward and asked that these exceptional powers should be granted. He would be delighted and hail the day as one of the happiest he ever saw if equal laws could be applied to the two countries, but in the name of all that was right and truthful let them not tell the House and the country that Ireland had any right to equal laws until she had removed from her soil that odious and black spot—the Ribbon conspiracy, and when that had been done then they could come and ask for equal laws for their country.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he would ask why the Government did not come to the help of English Members, and tell them what was the real cause of this measure. By not doing so they incurred great blame. The hon. Member who spoke last (Mr. Conolly) spoke of the Ribbon conspiracy, but they all knew, as it was known all over the world, that it was the priests' conspiracy which the Ireland had to fear. There was, in fact, a double government in Ireland. Could any one name an instance of any country in the world where such an organization as that of the Romish priesthood was permitted to array themselves against the Government of the country? The Romish priesthood were an organized Government—a rival Government to the Sovereign, and to the laws of the country. He blamed the Government for not doing justice to the country by firmly grappling with that evil. He complained of the late and the present Governments that they did not in justice to the country, the Constitution, and to themselves, and in mercy to hon. Members, give some reasonable excuse for this 168 exceptional measure. He had sought by means of simple statements of facts to make the real nature of this conspiracy known throughout the country. For that purpose, he sent forth the unhappy man Murphy, who created so great a consternation among those who sided with the priesthood, that he was kicked to death in the town of "Whitehaven. The murderers of Murphy were sentenced to six months' imprisonment; but that period was reduced to three months' and they then returned in triumph to their fellow townsmen. That was all the work of the Roman Catholic priests. He (Mr. Whalley) might be asked, where was the remedy for this? If his advice were asked, he would say that men ought to go forth and proclaim on the platform the errors of the Roman Catholic religion, and he would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman opposite to listen to him. Let him give him (Mr. Whalley) the power; let him go into Ireland armed only with the sling and stone of free discussion, and accompanied by a few men like the unfortunate Murphy, and he believed that he could do more than Prince Bismarck did in Prussia. That was all that was needed to justify this House before the country and the world in retaining these measures of coercion. He had not less sympathy for Ireland and her honest peasantry than those hon. Members who were sent over specially to represent her, and he would ask them whether they really believed that any English Member wished to renew these Acts for the purpose of oppressing the people of Ireland? Did they not believe that that House had made many sacrifices to remove practical grievances? Was not that really felt by the Irish Members? He was anxious to express the pain he felt at the continual renewal of these Coercion Acts, and to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to-let the country and the world at large know that what the Government had to contend against in Ireland was the same power with which the German Government were now struggling—namely, the Roman priesthood. Whether that power was manifested under the form of Ribbonism, or Fenianism, or any other "ism," let them call it what they might, that was the one sole cause of all these troubles, of Irish discontent and disturbances. Again, he asked them to give him (Mr. Whalley) the power to 169 repress those disturbances. It was found necessary in the time of Queen Elizabeth to send forth faithful, honest, and true missionaries, and to bring before the people the sort of discipline doctrine, customs, laws, and usages by which they were governed, in order to show them what passed. In support of his appeal, he might state that the man to whom he had before referred, Murphy, preached in the neighbourhood of Birmingham, and that he (Mr. Whalley) was with him on more than one occasion. He asked the House to mark this—that although a chair was always placed on the platform for a Roman Catholic priest, there was no other answer to what was said but riot, and sometimes murder and assault, in every direction. The result was—and he quoted from the leading organ of the Roman Catholic party in this country—that not a single Roman Catholic priest could be seen in the streets of the towns where Murphy preached.
An hon. MEMBER rose to Order. The remarks of the hon. Member for Peterborough were irrelevant to the question before the House.
§ MR. WHALLEY
He did not very distinctly catch the observations of the hon. Member opposite, nor did he understand the nature of the intimation which the Speaker had been pleased to give him. However, he would now conclude his observations. He wished to express to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway his very sincere regret that he placed such confidence in Her Majesty's Government that he must support them in this matter. Upon the other hand, he most earnestly appealed to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, for their own credit's sake and for the sake of the credit of the country, to give to that House and to the world at largo, some better excuse for this Coercion Bill than had boon suggested by the hon. Member who had spoken about Ribbon societies. They would have to recognize some day—and the sooner the better—that they had to contend in Ireland and increasingly in this country with a foreign Power which knew nothing of our Constitution, except as far as it could make use of it to carry out its own ends, which were antagonistic to our laws, our institutions, our national character, and to the honour 170 and the social interests of this country, besides being repugnant to the conscience of every man who called himself an Englishman.
§ MR. KAVANAGH
said, that he should not have trespassed on the time of the House, but for some remarks of the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu), who had said in no measured terms, that the conduct of this country towards Ireland was grossly tyrannical and coercive. That strain was taken up by hon. Members opposite, and echoed and re-echoed, until at last an hon. Member found in the Irish famine the curse of British rule. The hon. Member went further than that, and said the result of English policy had been to turn the population of Ireland into rebels. He (Mr. Kavanagh) thought the hon. Member must have been carried away by his feelings, for he could hardly have remembered what the state of affairs was at that time; he could hardly have remembered that if it had not been for the charity and generosity with which England went to the aid of Ireland in that hour of need people would not have lived to be rebels, but would have perished of want. He had never yet heard it said that, with all their faults, the Irish people were wanting in gratitude, and the hon. Member for Meath must have forgotten himself in making such a remark. He (Mr. kavanagh) endorsed the old saying that "Speech is silver, and silence is gold;" but they might be too silent, and he felt bound, on behalf of his constituents, to come forward now, and not allow the imputation to be cast upon them that they were either participators in, or sympathizers with, the crimes against which these Acts were framed. His constituents regretted with him, sincerely and earnestly, the necessity which first caused the adoption of them, and which he now regretted to believe rendered their continuance necessary. Against what was the law relating to murder framed? Was it not against the crime of murder? Who felt it as a restraint or coercion? Was it not those who committed murder? Who felt the law against the administration of unlawful oaths to be coercive? Was it not the conspirator? Who felt the law enacted against the writing of threatening letters as coercive? Was it not the dastardly coward—and crime made 171 dastardly cowards of all her votaries? Those laws were not felt as coercive or as restraints save by those who wanted to break them, and he believed that they could have no stronger proof of the necessity for their continuance than the fact that they were felt as a restraint. Those laws to the well-disposed and peaceable inhabitants were a protection, not a restraint; and he thought that hon. Members opposite paid their constituents a very sorry compliment by representing them as groaning under the oppression of laws that were directed against such crimes. On behalf of his constituents he repudiated any such idea. His constituents felt with him sorrow and regret that Her Majesty's Government, who were responsible for the peace of the country, should feel obliged to come to that House to ask for such power; but he emphatically denied that his constituents felt those laws either as a restraint or a coercion. He confidently asserted that, for the last four years, since the mad dream of Fenianism had vanished, no case either of arrest or prosecution had taken place in the county of Carlow. As far as that county was concerned, therefore, these Acts were a dead-letter, and he might say, on his conscience, that they might be repealed without the slightest risk or danger, so far as regarded the county of Carlow, if the Government chose to show that mark of favour to a well-disposed and peaceable part of the country. He was not, however, there that night to ask for this favour; he was there only to defend the character of his constituents, not to seek for them licence to commit crime. He wished from his heart that the same could be said for the other parts of Ireland. He wished from his heart that hon. Members opposite, instead of exciting the passions of the people by describing to them the Peace Preservation Act as one of tyranny, would show them how, if they ceased to desire to commit crime, the law would cease to oppress, and the so-called yoke to gall. With reference to the Motion of the noble Lord, which was now before the House, he heartily agreed with the first part of it—That this House disapproves of the imposition or maintenance of exceptional legislation, except in those cases where urgent grounds, proving the necessity of it, have been clearly shown;172 but he entirely dissented from the concluding sentence—and that sufficient grounds for the maintenance of any exceptional legislation have not been proved to exist at present in Ireland;and therefore he should give to Her Majesty's Government his support for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, he had attended carefully to the arguments which had been urged in support of the Bill, and he was bound to say he found little in them beyond what been adduced on former occasions and for the same purpose. There was, however, one feature in some of them against which he felt it his duty to protest. The hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Conolly) had asked an hon. Member at this side of the House how he dared to make the statements he did as to his county; and his example was followed by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley), who asserted that the opponents of the Bill were advancing arguments which they did not in their conscience believe. He (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) would only say that if such expressions might be used in that House, the sooner the debate ended the better. The hon. Member for Carlow had spoken of the freedom of his county from the kinds of crime that had led to the passing of these Acts. What the hon. Member had said was well-founded, and had a very important bearing on the nature and necessity of these laws; for it was well known in Ireland that Carlow had been singularly fortunate in that respect, beyond all other counties in the South of Ireland; and also that the cause of that immunity was the fact that in Carlow the people had a race of kind and beneficent landlords, who allowed their tenants and others around them to live and prosper. That was the reason why Carlow thus stood out among Irish counties, and why Coercion Acts were unnecessary for it. Now, two courses were open to an hon. Member who stood up to oppose Coercion Laws. He might say there was nothing either in the quantity or in the nature of Irish crime that required anything, in the way of repression, more than the fair and impartial administration of the ordinary law. He believed that that argument commended itself to many Members who knew Ireland and the Irish people well, and had as great an interest in the welfare and contentment 173 of the country as Her Majesty's Government could have; but he must, at the same time, state that he did not believe it would be possible to induce a majority of the House to coincide in that view. The second course was this. An opponent of the Bill might say, that he saw it was useless to argue the question upon the nature and quantity of Irish crime, or upon the other grounds on which it was sought to justify coercion; but admitting that crime did exist in Ireland to an extent to call for powerful means of repression, he might contend that coercion was not the proper course, because, according to all past experience, it tended not to eradicate, but to perpetuate, the evils against which it was directed. The Government admitted, by the restrictive measures they had eliminated, and those they proposed to mitigate, that the disorders of which they complained were disappearing; and what, then, was the nature of the evils against which their Bill was directed? To answer that question correctly, it was necessary for them to inquire into the origin of those evils; for until that was clearly ascertained, and knew what they were dealing with, it was impossible for them to tell whether the remedy of coercion or some other was the proper one. They must also consider what had been the effect of coercion in past years, and what would be its probable effect in the future. The evils that were said to justify coercion were of two very distinct kinds. The Government declared that life and property were endangered in Ireland by combinations of class against class and of interest against interest. They declared that it was the circumstance of agrarian crime that required a special remedy—that while English crime was isolated and proceeded from the passions of individuals, agrarian crime seized on a large body of Irishmen as by a common impulse in their efforts to assert real or imaginary rights. Another ground was that of disaffection to English rule. He could not deny that there existed in Ireland, on the part of a large number of the people, a desire of separation from England, as distinguished from a desire to have the management of their own affairs; but no one pretended to think or to hope that that disaffection would develop into rebellion within any proximate 174 time. Taken at its highest and its worst, Irish disaffection was likely to be, in theory, no doubt, enthusiastically embraced by a certain number of persons, but it was quite incapable of being brought into action. That being so, there was no immediate danger to this country, and, so far, no occasion for restrictive measures; and it was therefore at least possible to suspend them in order that the Government might try in the interval the effect of a constitutional treatment of the country. That method, however, could only be tried at intervals of freedom from attack, such as the present. Those were the two great crimes alleged against Ireland, but it was said that there was another phase of Irish life, not partaking of the nature of crime, but having a certain relation to it. The bulk of the people had no actual participation in crime, but it was said that they stood aloof from its detection and punishment, giving no assistance in the jury-box for its repression. It was then said that in such circumstances crime could not be repressed without the intervention of the special laws, and that the Irish people had themselves made the necessity for the introduction of coercion, a principle confessedly alien to the normal condition of a free State. Now, let them assume that all that was true, and ask themselves what was the origin of these laws. He did not think that Irishmen were more free from faults than other men; but the wisest statesmen had admitted that, to a large extent, agrarian disturbances in Ireland, the disorganization of society, the disaffection of the lower class, and the apathy of the middle class, were the natural result of the laws enacted for Ireland by successive Governments. From the year 1800 every Government had persisted in postponing measures of redress and reform, no matter how much needed, until all hope of obtaining them had been quenched in the hearts of the people. Promises remained unfulfilled, and wrongs remained without redress long after their existence was admitted. If they had carried out the stipulations made at the time of the Union, they would possibly never have heard of the agitation for Repeal which O'Connell organized. For that they had Mr. O'Connell's own word. He constantly said that his motive for organizing the Repeal agitation, was the impossibility 175 of obtaining just and necessary reforms in that House. A famine, and the desperation which famine brought, came in 1847. All the materials for a conflagration were present, and they burst into an insurrection in 1848. That insurrection was abortive and immediately put down; but the result of half-a-century of their policy was to leave Ireland completely disorganized and disaffected. Then came a demand for tenant-right and religious equality. They were urged under constitutional forms until all hope of success seemed at an end. The upper classes in general were ostracized from political life by their want of sympathy with the people, and every General Election left them less numerous in that House. The middle class had become apathetic on political subjects, and political power was passing more and more every day into the hands of the Irish democracy. Then came Fenianism, and they loft Fenianism and the British Government to settle accounts between them. Fenianism being put down, the English Government made certain concessions which were as just and necessary 20 years before as when they were introduced. Was it wise, how-over, that the idea should be lodged in the minds of the people that abortive insurrection was the only way of obtaining measures of justice? There was another thing which had a very strong bearing on this subject of coercion—namely, the wide line which separated the gentry, and particularly the Protestant gentry, from the great mass of the people in Ireland, with the exception, he was happy to say, of a few places like Carlow. That separation arose from differences of race and creed, and an undue maintenance of privileges and territorial rights. A great portion of the coercion laws were passed for the maintenance of those privileges, but more generally for the maintenance of those territorial rights; and that fact alone was quite enough to maintain and enlarge the breach that existed between the gentry and the people. A still worse fact was, that those laws were administered by a magistracy belonging to the very class in whose interest they had been passed, and the consequence was, the utter alienation of the upper Protestant class from the people. The same causes, if they were still suffered to exist, must 176 of necessity prevent Irishmen from fusing into a united nation, and entering into the practice and the spirit of the Constitution. Again, up to a comparatively recent time, the Bench was filled by men taken exclusively from one race, who had spent the best part of their lives in combating, within that House and out of it, every measure of relief demanded by the other. He did not mean to say anything against the ability or the honesty of the Judges. It was enough to say they were the partizans of one section, and that no confidence was felt in their administration of the law in any case involving class interests. A very strong feeling had now arisen in Ireland that many important constituencies had ceased to return Representatives in the proper sense of the word, and had become mere gifts at the disposal of the Liberal Minister or his Irish friends. Again, until the other day, juries were substantially selected from one class and from one creed. Lord O'Hagan's Act had altered that, and if complaint was now made of the acquittal of prisoners by Irish juries, it would be easy to find their counterpart and cause in the hasty convictions of juries chosen from the ascendancy under the old system. During the last 75 years they had had coercion laws in Ireland of varying degrees of stringency, and what had been their effect? They were utterly powerless as preventive measures. They had not prevented the outbreak of two rebellions, or the existence of a spirit of disaffection so dangerous, that in the opinion of right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House it would break out again into rebellion on the first favourable opportunity. Nor had they eradicated the crimes which they called agrarian. They felt it impossible to maintain the code in its rigour on the face of their admitted diminution; but it was the Land Act that, by the partial redress it had given, and the nascent spirit of confidence in the law which it had generated, had diminished those crimes. Ministers know well that it was only after that tardy concession to justice was felt that the diminution began. It was surely not unreasonable to say that a system that had thus failed for 75 years, and in a country the freest in Europe from general crime, ought to be abandoned. If the alleged evils of Irish society were not within the reach of the 177 Common Law, they were too deep-seated to be repressed by a measure which had so long been tried in vain. To get rid of them, the House must place Ireland under the Common Law, and must bring to its administration, instead of political Judges and officials, the gentry, the middle classes, and the body of the people of Ireland. They must confine to the Judges those judicial functions which were proper to their office, for thus alone would they re-establish the prestige of the Bench in Ireland, and the confidence of the people in its justice. The Irish aristocracy must cast aside the remnants of the spirit of ascendancy of a class apart from the people, and must show their willingness to enter into cordial relations with the people, and then the greatest obstacle to the pacification of Ireland would be removed. But that obstacle could not be removed whilst those coercion laws existed on the Statute Book. The middle classes must be roused from the apathy into which a long course of misgovernment had plunged them.
Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
resuming, said, that that interruption, he believed, was clue to the suggestion of a Member of his own party, whom he begged to thank for it. He would say in conclusion that if they wished to pacify the Irish people and introduce into that country a healthy public and political spirit, they must not rely on a policy which had led to an unbroken series of failures. Before the late Liberal Government went out of office, the Irish Government had been carried on by means of patronage, which, in fact, vitiated the whole of the public service and created general dissatisfaction and discontent. That must be remedied. He scarcely expected that a majority of English Members would vote for the Resolution of the noble Lord; but he did hope that every Irish Member and every Member on both sides of the House, who desired the ultimate reconciliation of Ireland, would vote against a continuance of this coercive and exceptional legislation.
§ MR. J. P. CORRY
said, that as an Irish Member, representing one of the most populous and certainly not the least prosperous constituency in Ireland, 178 he wished briefly to state the reasons why he could not support the Motion of the noble Lord, and would give his vote for the second reading of the Bill. English and Scotch Members might be misled by the assumption of some hon. Members opposite, who claimed to speak in the name of the whole of the Irish people. He denied that they did so, or that they in any way represented the general fooling of the people of Ireland. There was a very large and influential section of the Irish people who did not sympathize with the noble Lord and his Friends in their views, and who took exception to such an airing of what were called Irish grievances.
Notice taken that 40 Members were not present: House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. J. P. CORRY
, resuming, said that, considering the inflamnable materials existing in parts of Ireland and the attempts to cause excitement there, it would not be wise to repeal the Coercion Acts altogether. Indeed, from his knowledge of Ireland he considered that the Government had in the Bill gone as far in the way of a relaxation of the existing coercive legislation as they could at present safely go, and he hoped that before the time fixed in those Bills had passed, a better state of feeling would exist.
§ MR. O'REILLY
rose to Order. He wished to know if the hon. Member was in Order in reading his speech.
§ MR. J. P. CORRY
proceeded to say that in Belfast there had been some disgraceful riots, which he (Mr. Corry) took an active part in suppressing; but no respectable man took part in these proceedings, and when the magistrates asked the Lord Lieutenant to issue a special proclamation, which he was entitled to do under the Coercion Acts, they were seconded by no class more strenuously than by the working class. Peace was thus restored, and during the two years throughout which that proclamation was in force, he never heard that any person was aggrieved by it, the people being quite as free as if they were living in London. He confessed that he felt some anxiety, when the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary 179 for Ireland proposed this, as to the extent to which he was going to give up the safeguards which had made life and property more secure in Ireland; but he had no doubt the Executive Government would use the power which would be given them under the Bill in the mildest way, and he trusted that in a short time the whole of Ireland would be relieved from its operation. Complaints had been made by hon. Members opposite as to the sources from whence the Government received the information on which the continuance of preventive measures were based. That information was from the magistrates and those who were responsible for the security of life and property in Ireland. He regretted that the Government had been compelled to bring in such a Bill, but, under all the circumstances, he could not do otherwise than support them.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
said, the circumstance of his having long had the honour of a seat in that House, while it afforded him on many previous occasions an opportunity of speaking on questions of a similar character to that then under any consideration, prevented his offering new remarks to the House, and he should have refrained from addressing it were it not that his county was specially made to suffer by the provisions of the Protection of Life and Property Acts. The history of Ireland was, unfortunately, in a great degree a recital of coercive measures. The existence of crime, though created in a great degree by unjust legislation, and often still more unjust administration in former times, seemed in some degree to warrant the introduction of stringent, if not oppressive, legislation. But of late years he was happy to find a change of opinion on all sides of the House in reference to Irish matters, and while opposed to the measure under consideration, he was fully prepared to admit that the feelings of English Members on the Government side of the House, as well as those upon the Opposition Benches, were not unkindly disposed towards Ireland, and that in the support which they were giving to a measure of restriction of the Constitution in that country, they were influenced by a desire to repress crime there rather than to deprive the Irish people of the benefit of constitutional laws. Neither had he any doubt that 180 the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had every desire to do justice to that country, and he regretted that the Government had not been able to carry out their intentions. In former years when measures of coercion were introduced for Ireland, the very existence of a nomenclature referring to illegal organizations afforded some slight primâ facie case for their introduction. The names Whiteboy, Terry Alt, Molly Maguire, and others, were not then unfamiliar, and imported the existence of illegal and dangerous confederacies. There were no such designations now existing. It would not be pretended that this Act was a remedy against Fenianism. He (Sir Patrick O'Brien) on a late occasion had given the reasons for his belief that that confederacy was now powerless in Ireland, and he would not weary the House by repeating the reasons for forming that opinion. The question, then, for their consideration was, on what grounds the Government sought for a renewal of these Acts, and that led him to regard the state of society existing when similar legislation had been proposed for their consideration. When Earl Grey was Premier and asked Parliament to pass a Coercion Act for Ireland, he stated that in one province, in one year, as many as 173 murders had been committed. In a subsequent year Sir Robert Peel, in justifying a similar measure, used the remarkable words that in that year more blood had been shed in Ireland than had sufficed to roll back the fiery torrent of French valour at Busaco; and when Sir George Grey subsequently proposed measures for a like purpose, he also stated that there had been in the previous year 96 homicides and over 200 attempts atrobberies of fire-arms. He might fairly ask the Government to contrast the existing state of affairs in Ireland with what it was in those days. The hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Conolly) had stated a short time ago that hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Bill would let loose the marauders now in prison. But where were the marauders? Why, with all the power they possessed for their capture, the Government had not a single man in gaol under the Act of July, 1871. During the interval between the introduction of Sir Robert Peel's measures and those of Sir George Grey evictions in Tipperary were almost unlimited. 181 One gentleman was so often shot at as to acquire the name of the "woodcock," but he had lived down all the ill-feeling against him, and became one of the most popular landlords in that county. He had seen by the public prints that a shocking murder had recently occurred at Ferbane. But that was an isolated case, and he gathered from the public prints that it had been caused by family differences. He, in common with his friends who sat around him, was there to assert that murder admitted of no palliation, and he would resign his seat in that House, much as he valued it, before he would desist from proclaiming that sentiment in every society. Now, as regarded the clauses referring to the possession of arms, it was a cruel hardship that a respectable farmer was obliged to obtain the licence of a resident magistrate in order to enable him to obtain a gun to destroy vermin on his farm or to protect his property. The mode of granting these licences was most objectionable. Without mentioning names, he would assert that in granting those licences there was no uniformity of action. One resident magistrate would grant a gun to a respectable man, holding some 30 or 40 acres of land, and across a narrow brook another resident magistrate would refuse a man in precisely the same circumstances a similar privilege. It was idle to say that this poor man had his remedy in an appeal to the Lord Lieutenant. He would not be listened to in opposition to the resident magistrate, when, as was often the case, he was backed up by the local magistrate of the district; and talking of magistrates brought him to the consideration of the probable administration of this law. Under the amended Act the magistrates had more power than under the old Acts, for they possessed the summary jurisdiction which had been alluded to. He was not there to speak with disrespect of the Irish magistracy, or of any other class of his fellow-countrymen. But he would say, that his firm belief was, that for years past the majority of gentlemen included in Her Majesty's commission did not possess the entire confidence of the mass of the people. Again, no doubt, it might be said that the distinguished nobleman who at present presided over the Irish Government and the right hon. Baronet would see to the proper administration 182 of this law. But he believed this would not be found in practice to be the case. The noble Duke was justly respected in Ireland, and was a fair and impartial governor; but, then, he was a layman, and must rely upon others learned in the law. The distinguished Gentleman who was now Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who was an honour to the University he represented, and whose fame was appreciated in that House, had no charge of these matters. They rested in the charge of the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland. Of that Gentleman's character and honour he would speak with all respect; but he would not be doing his duty to his constituency if he did not say that he believed that he had no practice in the criminal law, and was therefore not qualified to carry out the provisions of this stringent Act. He believed that he had made out a case against the Bill. There was no fear of Fenianism, and there was at present scarcely any agrarian crime in Ireland. Should the occasion arise, and that it was shown Government could not be carried on without resource to coercive measures, that House he knew would willingly recognize the necessity, and he, for one, in such an event, would not oppose the measure; but, as he said before, no case of necessity had not been shown, therefore he should vote against the second reading.
THE O'CONOR DON
said, he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu), who introduced the Amendment, in his general objections to measures of a coercive character; but he could not conceal from himself, and it would be un-candid to conceal from the House, that the Bill now before them was in a very different form from that in which it had been presented to them in 1873. The Government, in asking for these extraordinary powers, had made great and important concessions, and many of the restrictions that formed provisions of previous Bills did not appear in this one. For instance, the Bill of 1873 contained clauses restricting the liberty of the Press, which had disappeared from this Bill. It contained provisions for the arbitrary arrest of strangers—clauses rendering persons going out at night liable to arrest. It contained several other provisions of a most stringent 183 and coercive character, which had not been heard of up till 1870, but were then introduced in consequence, it was said, of the very disturbed condition of the country. All these provisions had disappeared, and it would be a great mistake not to admit, to the fullest extent, the concessions which had been made by the Government. When the Bill of 1878 was before the House, he moved an Amendment which was tantamount to its rejection on the second reading, and he then stated that these Coercion Acts could only be got rid of by degrees. It was impossible for any Government to sweep them away all at once. He blamed the Government of that day for having re-introduced the Acts without the slightest relaxation, and without any intimation of the ultimate abandonment of these measures. Holding that opinion, then, and being of the same opinion still, it would be uncandid if he did not give the Government every credit for what they had done. In the principle they had adopted he entirely concurred. Nothing could be more unfair or contrary to the fact than the statements that Bills of this description had their origin in English feeling. He did not believe there was any feeling in this country which would force on the Government measures of this kind with regard to Ireland. They had their origin in Ireland, and they had been renewed from time to time in obedience to demands which came from Ireland. ["No, no!"] It was most unjust to represent these measures as emanations of English hostility to Ireland; they had arisen from demands from Ireland which, to a certain extent, compelled the Government to yield to them. He could understand that the right hon. Baronet who so ably filled his position of Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant went to Ireland actuated by the very best intentions, imbued with great admiration for the British Constitution, an ardent lover of freedom, and anxious that the Irish people should enjoy all the liberties of Englishmen. That righthon. Gentleman, on arriving at Dublin Castle from England, heard on every side that exceptional laws of this description were necessary, and the demand for coercion came chiefly from those who were entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out the ordinary law—namely, from the magistracy and the 184 gentry. The truth was, they—the magistracy—had been so accustomed to carry on the government with the assistance of these extraordinary laws, that it had become almost a matter of second nature with them to fall back upon the Executive for assistance, and if these laws were swept away suddenly, those who were responsible for the government of the country would perhaps unconsciously fail in their duty, while those who were inclined to violence and outrage would take advantage of that state of things. The safest course was to relax these laws gradually, to accustom the magistracy to rely upon the ordinary law of the country, and not to seek for any extraneous assistance from the Government of Dublin Castle. If the Bill of the Government were confined to the re-enactment of the state of things which existed before 1870, even with the addition of what were known as the Westmeath clauses, he should feel that he could not conscientiously vote against the second reading, although, unless forced by absolute necessity, he should probably not give his vote in its favour, having such an inherent objection to laws of this description. But he was sorry to say that the Bill was not entirely confined to the state of things existing prior to 1870. The Bill seemed to him to be capable of being divided into two portions—those which related to what were called proclaimed districts and to the county of Westmeath and parts of the neighbouring counties, and those which extended to the whole of Ireland. All the enactments which came under the former head were clearly special in their character, and limited in their operation. It would be possible for the Executive, even if the Bill passed, so far as those clauses were concerned, gradually to withdraw the proclamations until the whole of Ireland would be as free as any part of England. And the same with regard to the portions which related to Westmeath, those rested with the Executive, and might have no practical operation whatever, and he believed that, at the present moment, there was not a single person confined in prison under those clauses. The hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Conolly) had said that the Bill was justified on the ground of the existence of a Ribbon conspiracy, and that while that conspiracy existed, it was advocating a timeserving 185 popularity to oppose it. But were there not provisions in the Bill which referred to the whole of Ireland, and did they not all admit that the Ribbon conspiracy was not universal over the whole of that country? The man who held that Ireland was in the worst condition would admit that there were portions of the country which were as free from any unlawful conspiracy as any portion of England. And yet there were clauses in the Bill, over which the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had no power, and which, whether he liked it or not, would be in force in the most peaceable districts in Ireland, and, amongst these provisions, he would notice the one by which the innocent inhabitants of a locality were mulcted with a tax and a fine, because it happened that an isolated crime of agrarianism had been committed amongst them. On what possible ground could that be justified? If the object were to compensate the individual who had suffered, why was the imposition confined to agrarian crime? If the object was to punish the offender, directly or indirectly, that object was defeated in nine cases out of ten. If the offender was an evicted tenant or a discharged labourer, he would not bear any portion of the penalty; and, indeed, if it fell in part on the successor of an evicted tenant, he would be gratified by that fact. If the object were to prevent local sympathy with the offender, or to lead to his detection, he would ask whether, since 1870, the imposition of the fine had produced evidence against a single offender, or any assistance in vindication of the law. The police tax was based on the same principle; but that was a special payment exacted from a locality, in consideration of extra police being sent to it, and there was some justification for it ensuing out of the fact that the inhabitants of the district received some protection through the presence of the police; and yet the evidence before the Westmeath Committee of 1871, went to show that that tax produced dissatisfaction, disloyalty, and discontent among the respectable portion of the community. It was declared by nearly every witness examined before the Westmeath Committee, that such an imposition had been attended by the most lamentable consequences, and that instead of adding to the peace and tranquillity 186 of the country, it had a contrary effect. These clauses were included in the Bill, and seemed to him to be utterly monstrous in their character. They implied such impotence on the part of the Government, such a return to the ages of barbarism, that he should oppose as heartily as he possibly could any Bill in which such proposals were contained. There were also other proposals which extended to the whole of Ireland. There was one which empowered the police to arrest and bring up persons who were believed to be able to give evidence upon a charge for which no one was in custody, and who were unwilling to give evidence. "What evidence could be got from an unwilling witness that would be of the slightest use upon a criminal trial? He thought the only effect of such a clause would be to cause irritation. Then, what could be more unconstitutional than the provisions relative to arms? If every one who had possession of arms were made to take out and pay for a licence, the Government would know by whom arms were kept; but the existing irritating provisions were of much more severity than in the Acts previous to 1870, and they were continued in the present measure. With regard to ths character of the Bill also, he considered the form in which it was drawn to be very objectionable. A number of previous statutes were referred to, and it was impossible to understand the various provisions without consulting four or five Acts of Parliament. That complaint, he admitted, applied to many other Bills; but it would have been easy, in the present instance, to have the clauses of the old Acts, which were to be continued, introduced in the Bill, so as to make it complete in itself. Another objection was that Clause 3 embodied a number of provisions which should constitute five or six different clauses. For these reasons he was obliged to vote against the second reading. Irish Members, however, in their representations to their constituents, ought not to overlook the concessions which the Government had made. He appealed to some of his hon. Friends below the Opposition Gangway, who exercised great influence in Ireland, to place before their countrymen the bright as well as the dark side of the present Bill, and to remind Irishmen that it would depend upon 187 themselves, whether it would or would not he followed up in future years by further concessions. It would depend upon the course taken by the Irish people during the next succeeding years whether the Bill, when its term expired, would be allowed to die out. That would, no doubt, be the result, if peace, order, and tranquillity continued in Ireland, and nothing would be more deplorable than that outbreaks should arise. He trusted that his hon. Friends would impress upon their fellow countrymen the necessity of proving by their conduct that coercion laws were unnecessary; that the concessions of the Government would be received in a proper spirit; and that, in future, no pretence would exist for saying that exceptional legislation was necessary for Ireland.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he was anxious, for two reasons, to express his opinion in support of the Bill now before the House. First, he believed the Government had a very invidious duty thrown upon them in being obliged to bring the measure forward, and he considered they ought to be supported by all those persons in that House who really thought they were doing their duty; and, secondly, he was desirous that the Bill should not wholly be discussed by Irish Gentlemen, but that English Gentlemen should also express their opinion upon it; and being an English Member, and representing a large English constituency, he wished to say a few words on that coercive measure before the debate was concluded. His name had been mentioned already in the course of the debate, and he had been spoken of as generally one who was an enemy to Ireland. That assertion he denied. When he first entered that House he found Mr. O'Connell there defending what he called, and what he felt to be the interests of Ireland, and no man stood more faithfully and strenously at his side than himself (Mr. Roebuck). Mr. O'Connell had to meet real grievances in Ireland. He complained of them, and compelled the English Government to reverse them, and while so doing Mr. O'Connell had his most strenuous support. But the history of Ireland had really to be taken into consideration when they were discussing the Bill before them. He acknowledged at once, as he had often done before, that the government of Ireland by England in former times was 188 about as bad a government as the world ever saw. The people were subject to every sort of oppression, their religion was oppressed, their consciences were coerced, and they were made, in fact, the slaves of the English people; and what was more curious than all was, that the colonies introduced by England into Ireland became, in the course of a generation or two, more Irish than the Irish themselves, and, in fact, portions of the most disaffected part of the Irish people. One of the most remarkable things in connection with the history of Ireland was the history of the county of Tipperary. Tipperary was very nearly depopulated by Oliver Cromwell, and his army supplied the place of the original inhabitants of that county. Cromwell's soldiers formed connections with the women of Tipperary, and ever since Tipperary had been one of the most turbulent counties in the whole of Ireland and the most opposed to England. For that, however, he did not blame the people of Tipperary, seeing that the people of that county, and Ireland generally was up to a certain period, as he had said, very ill-governed. But the government of Ireland changed when the people of England got a large share of the government of their own country—that was after the Reform Bill of Earl Grey. Since that time the English people and the English Government had striven to do justice to Ireland by removing the laws which coerced them, and for the most part they had succeeded. At that very moment—and he said it boldly—the people of Ireland were as well governed as were the people of England; and the curious thing was this—that while one could not rase out from a people the recollection of wrongs, which had been burnt into them by a long series of cruel and imperious acts, the only chance we had of turning and changing the popular mind of Ireland on the subject was rendered difficult by the extravagant language of hon. Gentlemen sent to that House by the Irish people. What he had to complain of was, that the wild conduct which those hon. Gentlemen had hitherto pursued in opposition to the Government of England had led the people of Ireland to believe that they were still subjected to the same harsh and horrible form of government under which they had previously groaned. This was the reason why these laws were 189 necessary, and he charged hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, the leaders of the Irish people, with being the cause of the Coercion Acts under which their countrymen were now suffering. But he must say that during the present debate, he had remarked a very decided change in the language usually held, and he felt that if that language had always been held, these Coercion Acts would not have been necessary. [Laughter], Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but he said that they were here before the English people as before a jury, and they must abide by their acts and their language; though, he said, that by that language which they were now employing, they would conciliate the people of England. But there were effects upon the people that had been working for centuries, and considering the way in which the people of Ireland had been treated, they could not expect to make a change in an instant. He had seen for some generations past—for he was now, unfortunately, an old man—he had seen, through them all, the Governments of England endeavouring, with the best of their ability, to govern the people of that kingdom. But he was told that they had now brought about a state of peace in Ireland, that showed the utter uselessness, and that it was wholly unnecessary, to have these laws now in existence. Of this, however, they were aware that before these laws were passed, there were in Ireland great disorders, and the moment these laws were passed, they vanished—they went off to America. Repeal these Acts and they would all come back; and they would have again exactly that state of things that these very laws were brought in to obviate. What he wished to say was, that he quite coincided with the language used by the speaker who immediately preceded him, the hon. Member for Roscommon, (the O'Conor Don), that these Acts should die out peacefully, and if, as he said, the people of Ireland should show by their quiet conduct and their obedience to the law that they did not need these coercive measures, he (Mr. Roebuck) was of his opinion, that no Government of England would dare to re-enact these laws. But that must be done by experience; it could not be effected by at once sweeping away these Acts of Parliament from the Statute Book. Let them remain there as a dead letter. 190 Let the people of Ireland show that they were obedient to the law; let the people of Ireland show the people of England that they did not desire to be separated from England; and when they showed them that these laws were unnecessary, let them be abrogated. But so long as the leading Gentlemen of Ireland distinctly advanced their opinions, that Ireland must be separated from England, or be ruled by a Government wholly separated from that of England, he told them that it was necessary that these coercive laws should be retained. Let them show that they had lost and given up that wild opinion of separation and Home Rule, and he told them what he believed to be the exact truth—let them show that they were really one with them in England, a united people, living under one law and under one Legislature, under one Sovereign; let them show that they were really one with them, acting lawfully and obediently to the laws, and then they would find that no further Coercion Bills for Ireland would have to be passed in the Imperial Parliament.
§ MR. O'REILLY
said, the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken had brought a grave charge against the hon. Members who, in that House, represented the Irish people—a charge that they had by their language caused disaffection and disorder in Ireland. He challenged the hon. and learned Member to give proof of any such utterances.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
explained that his observation did not refer exclusively to the present Members for Irish constituencies, but to all the successive generations of Irish Members.
§ MR. O'REILLY
said, he would accept the explanation. Having been in the House for 14 years, he could speak for the utterances of Irish Members during that period; and he asserted most distinctly that to none of those utterances could be traced the cause of the coercion laws under which the people of Ireland were suffering. The Irish Members had always drawn a distinction between the past and the present, and had always recognized what had been done for Ireland by the sweeping away of the alien Church, the securing of freedom of elections, and the reform of the municipal corporations. He wished also to acknowledge the fair 191 advance towards improvement in the matter under notice made by the Government; and he admitted that in regard to exceptional legislation, the Government was entitled to make large demands upon the confidence of the Legislature, and he would have been glad if he could have accepted those proposals without offering any opposition to them. On the present occasion, however, he found it impossible either to vote for the second reading or to refrain from voting against it. He contended that the Executive were entitled to make large demands upon the Legislature when they expected insurrectionary movements, and if he had been in Parliament in 1848, as he was in 1866, he should have hesitated long before refusing the Executive the measure they asked for. But there were no such insurrectionary movements in Ireland existing now as to call for any exceptional legislation whatever, and, therefore, the Government were bound to state their reasons for the Bill. This legislation applied to all Ireland. Taking, as a typical question, the law affecting the possession of arms, powers such as were contained in the Bill could only be justified on two grounds—first, the possession of arms with a view to insurrectionary movements; and, secondly, the possession of arms as likely to lead to agrarian or other crimes. The Executive Government did not profess themselves as having the slightest fear of insurrection, although there were some men, strangers to the country, who preached armed resistance, and others, young, excitable, and foolish Irishmen, who wasted their money in the purchase of arms with a vague view to insurrection. Personally, he should applaud any Government which prevented such fools wasting their money for any such purpose. In his opinion, the only weapons which ought to be prohibited were those which were capable of being used for military purposes. The use of ordinary fire-arms would, he believed, be sufficiently restricted by the imposition of a tax. He contended that the law, as it stood, was of no practical use, because if a man was bent on murdering his neighbour, he would soon find a weapon to do the deed with. Beyond that, there were great anomalies connected with the levying of the penalty, and he maintained that that legislation would not prevent agrarian outrages. The suggestion which 192 he had to offer was that there should be a registration of arms, and, as he had said, a tax put upon the possession of them. The greater part of Ireland was now proclaimed, but districts in the North, where they shot each other, had not been proclaimed until recently.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
Will the hon. and gallant Member allow me to explain that all parts are proclaimed except Tyrone, and portions of Antrim, Down, Donegal, Fermanagh, and Derry.
§ MR. O'REILLY
The railway outrage took place in a proclaimed county, and, therefore, that did not prevent the possession of arms.
§ MR. O'REILLY
There was no question about the county Louth, and no question of Ribbonism there, and yet county was proclaimed. Twenty-five years ago Ribbonism did prevail in that county, but it had vanished through the action of Cardinal Cullen. The stipendiary magistrates granted the licences; but they did not all act on the same principles. What' he complained of was, that that should not be left to those gentlemen, and what he wished to point out was, that the law was practically inoperative. He appealed to the heads of the Government, and not to the permanent officials in Dublin Castle, to re-consider this matter. The Act was not useful for any purpose, except to make the people feel that they had a grievance. The law was an absurd one, and an insult to the people, and therefore it was injurious to the peace and prosperity of the country. Next, as to the fining of localities. That was an exceptional law. Such laws might be necessary and useful; but this law also was neither. It gave the Government power to send down extra police at a great charge. This legislation in many other instances than those to which he had referred was uncalled for, and useless for its own purposes. He and his hon. Friends would not oppose legislation against the possession of arms intended for military purposes, or against particular districts as to which strong evidence was adduced; but they must oppose exceptional legislation for all Ireland vesting power in the Executive Government which might devolve upon persons more liable to panic and the abuse of power than the 193 present Lord Lieutenant and Chief Secretary,
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. J. P. Corry) had stated as his reason for supporting the Bill, that in Belfast no inconvenience was suffered by any respectable person in consequence of their not being able to carry arms. He was not aware that any inconvenience was felt by respectable people in St. Petersburg. The argument adduced by the hon. Member for Belfast for supporting the present law, or a continuation of it, would equally apply to the establishment of an absolute despotism in this country. He did not believe there had been any Ribbonism in Ireland for several years, but there was a very active Ribbon organization 25 years ago, and since then all bad conduct had been termed Ribbonism, just as Fenianism, which had practically ceased in Ireland, had become a term affixed to people in a disaffected state of mind. If he believed that those organizations existed, he would support the Government in their endeavours to repress them, but he did not believe in their existence. He admitted that coercive laws were the result of a certain Anglo-Irish opinion in Ireland, but the persons who formed it did not represent England; they leant on the power of the Empire for the purpose of securing class privileges, and they influenced: unduly a Parliament imperfectly acquainted with the condition of Ireland, which by coercion produced mistrust in the minds of the people, provoked outbreaks, and then, in times of panic, resorted to further coercion. The ordinary law, if applied with firmness and vigilance, would accomplish all that was required. These laws had originated in a panic arising not from authentic information, but generated by rumour, which, as had been rightly said, was dispersed broadcast without any certain authority, to which malignity had given rise, and to which credulity gave magnitude.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he did not know whether it was intended to continue the debate on another night; but, so far as it had gone, he thought it might very well be brought to a close that evening. Whether it was continued or not, if a division was taken on the Amendment of the noble Lord, he should certainly esteem it his duty to give his support to 194 the Government, and to vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill. The Government was responsible for the peace, order, and security of Ireland. Being so, they came forward, and on that responsibility asked the House to support the Bill. Under the circumstances, it would require very strong proof of the absence of any necessity for such legislation to induce hon. Members to refuse to vote for its second reading. At the same time, he agreed that the Bill was very clumsily drawn, and very difficult to construe. It was not framed in a manner calculated to render the law intelligible. That, however, was not a peculiarly Irish grievance. They all knew the old maxim—"English law is the perfection of reason." According to Swift, it was to be understood not of the natural reason of man, but that which was to be acquired by long practice in the Court of Chancery. He did not know what amount of reason, nor where acquired, would be necessary in order to construe such legislation as that contained in the clauses of the Bill. For instance, the effect of the 3rd clause was that certain recited Acts, as quoted by one Act, as partially repealed by a second Act, as amended by a third Act, and as continued by a fourth Act, should be read and construed as modified by a fifth Act. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) was rather severe on the conduct of Irish Members generally; but he (Mr. Dodson) was glad to hear him exempt the present generation; because, during that discussion, the hon. Members for Ireland did not, in his mind, deserve the imputations cast upon them. It appeared to him that most of the criticisms and observations of Irish Members, especially of those who had spoken lately in the debate, were directed not so much against the second reading of the Bill as against particular clauses, which could be best considered in Committee. That made him doubt whether it could be intended to carry that debate beyond that evening, and whether the noble Lord should press his Resolution to a division. It must be remembered that the Bill in several important respects relaxed the provisions at present in force, and restored legislation to the state in which it existed previous to the Preservation of the Peace Act, 1870. 195 The stringent clauses as to newspapers were repealed; but he understood from the Chief Secretary's speech that those clauses were repealed because they had done their work, and because he thought that the circumstances were now such that they were no longer necessary. He did not understand the right hon. Baronet to say that those clauses had been either useless or inoperative in their time, but the contrary. One of the grievances upon which the noble Lord had insisted was the power given by special proclamations; but the Bill proposed to repeal the powers given under the special proclamations. The hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don) had objected especially to the continuance of that portion of the former Act which placed on a proclaimed district the charges for extra police, and also for compensation for injuries done, remarking that the burden did not fall on the criminal, and did not stimulate the inhabitants to exert themselves for his discovery. But the principle of that legislation was not peculiar to Ireland. It prevailed in the case of riots in England, where the district was made liable by law for the damage done by the rioters; although the burden did not fall on the guilty, or fell, at least, on the innocent quite as much as the guilty, while it also did not necessarily lead to the discovery of the criminal. The object, however, of such legislation was to set the feeling of the community against the perpetration of such acts, and thus to discourage their repetition by making the people of the district indisposed to encourage amongst them those who had been, or were likely to be, guilty of such crimes. It had been urged also that, while it might be wise not to allow the indiscriminate possession of arms by a population liable to be incited to the unlawful use of them by agitators coming perhaps from another country, yet the, possession of arms for purely sporting purposes ought not to be prohibited. That objection, however, did not operate against the second reading of the Bill, and it might easily be met by moving an Amendment in Committee confining the prohibition to revolvers, rifles, and weapons suitable for warfare. The noble Lord the Mover of the Amendment had tried to show that there were fewer crimes of violence in Ireland than in England, and fewer in Westmeath than 196 in the parts of Ireland to which the Westmeath Act did not apply. "Well, however that might be, the supporters of the Bill might reply that those results, if they were real, were owing to the operation of the very Acts which the noble Lord so strongly condemned. But in truth, they could not argue correctly from the number of crimes as to legislation of that sort; because in Ireland they had to deal with a state of society very different from that existing in England. In Ireland the sympathies of the population were not with the law, but against the law; and the offender was not a mere individual, but a member of a secret society, whose commands he obeyed, whose support he received, and among whom he was regarded as a hero, whereas in England he was looked upon as a pariah and an outcast. The noble Lord quoted statistics to show that crime was diminishing in Ireland, and especially in the districts to which the Westmeath Act applied, wishing them to infer that the Act might be repealed. But if crime was diminishing, so also was the stringency of the Acts being diminished, and it must be the hope and wish of every hon. Member that, at a time not far distant, that kind of legislation for Ireland would be altogether dispensed with. He could not but hope that the remedial legislation for Ireland which had now been carried on for the past 40 or 50 years was telling with effect in a constantly-increasing ratio, and that they were now approaching the term of Coercion Acts for that country; but for the present, as the Government declared on their responsibility that they thought a continuance of these Acts was necessary, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. MOORE
said, he must contend that in a case of this kind the burden of proof as to the alleged disturbed state of Westmeath and other parts of Ireland rested upon those who instituted this system of legislation—a system which was so totally opposed to the British Constitution. It was legislation which, if brought in for this country, the people of England would not tolerate for one hour. No facts whatever to justify it had been laid upon the Table of the House for hon. Members to study, as would have been done if the introduction of such a measure with regard to any English county had been contemplated. 197 He was perfectly prepared to support the Government in anything that might he necessary for the maintenance of law and order; but, at the same time, when they brought forward such a measure as that before the House, it was their duty to submit the facts to the House. He believed those facts would show that the outrages occurring in Ireland extended over a very small area. He (Mr. Moore) was the Representative of Clonmel, and a resident landowner in Tipperary. He had travelled through that county day and night, alone and perfectly unarmed, and he should be sorry to do so in most of the English counties. There must be a fairer understanding and a greater freedom in the expression of public opinion before Ireland could be successfully governed. He strongly condemned the system of "back-stairs government" in Ireland, under which private information was given without any proof of the facts upon which it ought to be founded. It would be well if more weight were given to the expressions of opinion of the Irish Members, who were really responsible for the country, and whose interest it was, quite as much as it was that of the English Government, to maintain the peace and order of the country.
§ MR. P. J. SMYTH
said, he was sure the House would admit that his duty to a great constituency assailed, forbade that he should give a silent vote on the question. As a Representative of Westmeath, he thought he had some reason to complain that the right hon. Baronet had cast all the onus on that county. The people proper of Westmeath—the farmers, farm labourers, traders, and shopkeepers—were a frugal, industrious, and peaceable people. Nature had done much for their fine county, and as far as in them lay they tried to second her beneficent designs. The acts which a few years ago cast a baneful shadow over the lakes and fields of Westmeath, were the acts of a very few individuals—strangers some of them to the county—strangers all of them to the feelings and manners of her generous people. He was not there to excuse or palliate any—the slightest violation—of the eternal laws on which civil society rested, but he felt that Parliament should have paused before affixing a stigma on a great county and prosperous community. (Still more should it pause, now that no 198 cause, save suspicion, had been shown for the renewal of Coercion Acts. He submitted that before hon. Members could justify to their consciences the re-enactment of the Westmeath Act, two things should be made clear. First, that a wide-spread agrarian conspiracy did actually exist in that county; second, that the perpetrator of outrage was beyond the reach of the ordinary law, wisely and firmly administered. Of the first, there was not even an allegation; of the other, there was no proof. The testimony of the Judges of Assize during the last four years was uniform, and to the one effect, that Westmeath was tranquil. The late Lord Lieutenant, Earl Spencer, on whom was cast the odious, and he was sure to a nobleman of his nature, the irksome and painful task of administering the Act, had not hesitated to go, accompanied by the Countess, in the midst of that lawless population, and unguarded and unattended, enjoy the sports which the lakes and fields of Westmeath afford. If magistrates chose to harbour suspicions, and ask the House to legislate on a maybe—a perhaps—a sky might fall, look out for larks—the answer of the House should be—" We have other work to do than, Session after Session, to tear up our Magna Charta and our Constitution, and with the fragments erect for your gratification barricades against suppositious and imaginary crime." Magistrates, like ordinary persons, should come into that high Court with clean hands. But it was notorious that the exterminator was the precursor of the Ribbonman in Westmeath. Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione quœrentes? He had no wish to impeach the magistracy or the landed proprietary of Westmeath. Among them were good and estimable men. But he might ask them, whose is that domain stretching in a westerly direction from the county town on towards the spot where the sweetest poet in the English language was born, and the scene of the "Deserted Village" laid? And where were gone the little homesteads that once studded every mile of that road? They were levelled, wantonly levelled, to give width and scope and grandeur to that demesne. Well might poor Goldsmith's lines of prophetic inspiration rush upon the mind—Sweet, smiling village, loveliest of the lawn,Thy sports are fled and all thy charms withdrawn;199Amid thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen,And desolation saddens all thy green;One only master grasps the wide domain,And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain.The one only master was one of those magnanimous magistrates who blushed not to come to the door of that House praying for coercion against their county. He spoke then under the correction of the right hon. Baronet. He presumed not to put any question, but he ventured to affirm that among the signatories to a memorial praying for the release of persons arrested under the Westmeath Act were magistrates who now memorialized the House for a renewal of that Act. If the statement were uncontradicted, he would leave the House to draw its own inference. Mr. Marlay, a gentleman of whom he would be sorry to speak a disrespectful word, had published in The Times a letter advocating coercion for the county of which he was an extensive proprietor, a magistrate, and Deputy Lieutenant. He was answered through the Irish Press by the Rev. Mr. Barton, P. P., of Castletown, the largest parish in the county. Mr. Marlay testified to his own suspicions. Father Barton testified to facts within his personal knowledge. Mr. Marlay expressed a fear that Ribbonism still existed. Father Barton said—" It could not exist without my knowledge, and I say there is none of it." Mr. Marlay was an absentee during the greater portion of the year. Father Barton dwelt continually in the midst of his people. On whose testimony ought that august Assembly of English Gentlemen to proceed to give judgment in that cause? When His Excellency the Duke of Abercorn issued his circular to the magistrates, he (Mr. Smyth) was astonished it did not occur to him as Chief Governor of Ireland—not for a class but for all orders of her people—that magistrates were not the only persons to be heard. There were farmers, traders, shopkeepers, all whose interests lay in the maintenance of peace and order, and on whose shoulders rested the burden of the county rates. Why were they excluded? Why above all were the Catholic clergy ignored in the inquiry? Who so qualified as they to express a true opinion as to the state of the country, and give wise counsel to the Executive? The motive of the exclusion was transparent. Coercion was a foregone 200 conclusion, and but one body only, and that a body dependent on the Executive, could be found to give it countenance. He answered for Westmeath. She would be found equal to this new trial. She would maintain peace and order within her borders. But that affront she would, with becoming dignity, resent. The object avowedly of that new Coercion Act was non-political, but it would not be without a political effect, and in a direction the opposite of that intended by Government. It would intensify the faith of those who, like him, cherished the dream of a magnificent and independent Ireland yet to be. A great statesman said, on a memorable occasion in that House—"My great difficulty is Ireland." Continue that course of class legislation—for such it was; maintain the Convention Act—that blot upon the Statute Book; renew the Westmeath Act; perpetuate the Peace Preservation Act—your principle distrust, your guide suspicion—and the great difficulty of Sir Robert Peel would become, of the right hon. Gentleman, the insuperable impossibility.
§ MR. O'CLERY
supported the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath. He could only say that such a course of legislation as that proposed by the Government was quite worthy of the Liberals of the House; because it was a matter of history, that more Coercion Acts of the most stringent and tyrannical character had been introduced under their rule, than by any other Government since the passing of the Act of Union. Such Acts must prove utterly useless to prevent crime in Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had had the candour and boldness to state, for the first time, that the object of this sort of legislation was to prevent insurrection in that country. Therefore, instead of being termed "The Peace Preservation Act," the Act now sought to be renewed should be called "The Insurrection Prevention Act." It was sad to see that the result of the Union between England and Ireland was that, after 75 years of English rule, it was necessary to pass an Act to prevent insurrection in the latter country. That was an indication that there was something radically wrong in the English government of Ireland. What did they find at present? They found the Government of England, 201 which professed to be the friends of freedom, and which gave shelter to the political refugees from other countries, bringing forward a most unconstitutional measure against the people of Ireland. He was free to say that the English Fleet was employed in countenancing and encouraging revolution in Sicily; but there was no parallel between the case in Sicily and that of the Irish people. The Irish people were not naturally revolutionists; and when other countries were revolutionized, the Irish people resisted the revolutionary movement; they had no sympathy with such movements, and he sincerely hoped they never would. There had been times when Englishmen had trampled upon law and upon the Throne, and then they termed the Irish, who had stood fast by their faith and by their Sovereign, rebels. The people of Ireland were frequently told that they enjoyed the benefits of the British Constitution; yet in the face of such a boast, and in a time of profound peace, such a measure of coercion as that now before the House was brought in by the Government. It was said there were at present 40,000 armed men, including the Constabulary in Ireland; and could anyone be surprised that foreigners made remarks upon such a state of things? Well, if 40,000 armed men were required at a time of profound peace in Ireland, what number would be required there should this country be engaged in a war? When the other night he listened to the burning words of the hon. and gallant Member for Renfrewshire (Colonel Mure) speaking of the attack on the Redan, he heard him describe the British soldiers who were led on to the attack as lying down five deep in the trenches with fear, and he was proud when he heard it was said that those men were not Irish soldiers. It was said that the recruiting for the British service was not going on well; and surely such legislation as that now proposed was not of a kind to induce the Irish to join the Army. Emigration was going on largely from Ireland to America, where the Irish had hosts of friends; and it would be wise in the Government of this country to so legislate for Ireland as to induce Irishmen to remain at home, and not leave the country for America in a discontented mind. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said on a former occasion 202 that he would rather govern Ireland on the principles of Charles I than on those of Oliver Cromwell; and he-wished the right hon. Gentleman would act upon those principles, and not be diverted from them by the reports of self-interested Irish magistrates. The people of Ireland came before the House as men, and asked to be treated as men, not as slaves. Parliament would find it to its interest to adopt that policy with respect to the Irish people, who, if properly treated, would loyally respond to every effort which was made to maintain the power and the prestige of the British nation. He therefore most heartily gave his support to the Amendment moved by the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath.
said, he had heard no sufficient reason alleged for the continuance of exceptional and coercive legislation in a country whose condition, so far as the absence of crime was concerned, contrasted favourably with that of England. For several years past, and up to the present time, the Judges of Assize had spoken in terms of marked approbation of the state of the county of Louth—which he had the honour to represent—and yet in that county the Constitution was suspended. Mr. Justice Lawson, in 1873, found the calendar a blank, and spoke of Louth as taking the first rank as a model county; the Grand Jury at the Summer Assizes of 1874 were informed that there was not a single case to send before them; and in the spring of this year Mr. Baron Fitzgerald found a like gratifying state of things existing. Why was it, then, that such a peaceable country should be coerced and proclaimed. He held a large property there, and was one of the largest ratepayers in the county, and yet he could not carry a gun over his own grounds without running the risk of being taken up by a policeman. A friend of his had tried the experiment, and was arrested for doing so. He and several other large ratepayers waited upon the magistrates and asked to be favoured with a certificate to enable them to carry arms, but their request had been imperatively refused; and yet at the same sessions certificates were granted to several small occupiers and ratepayers, but they happened to be men of a certain religion and of a particular complexion of politics. Looking to the 203 peaceful state of the country, these Coercion Laws were an insult to her people, who had not the slightest chance of justice and fair play being done to them. His hon. Colleague had last year told the House how a monkey was taken prisoner for firing his popgun in the streets of Belfast, that being a proclaimed district, and no doubt the poor monkey had to undergo the full penalty of the law. Some months ago a poor feeble beggar was sent to gaol in county Westmeath because he was found out after sunset and had no fixed habitation. Two men were lately apprehended in Kells, when each was sentenced to a month's imprisonment because one had some tools with him for the repair of a monument, and the other because a Prayer Book was found in his pocket. He mentioned these facts to illustrate to what extent the law was strained in Ireland. He wished that the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland had taken the advice of the ministers of religion in Ireland and not of the magistrates as to the necessity for continuing and carrying out such a policy of legislation—because the bulk of the magistrates had no feeling in common with the people—they had always been antagonistic to them, in the past they had oppressed them, and they still wished to keep them in thraldom. Coercive measures were never known to effect a cure. The Roman Catholic priests of Louth had a short time since held a meeting and passed a resolution to the effect that it was their opinion that Ribbonism no longer existed in the country, and that opinion had been backed with the authority of the Bishop.
§ MR. FAY
said, that hon. Gentlemen opposite had not risen to answer the arguments used against the Bill. They knew that these arguments were unanswerable, and therefore they observed a contemptuous silence. He was the first Catholic Member that had been returned from Ulster. He spoke in the name of 800,000 Catholics, and in their name he denounced this course of procedure on the part of the Government as reprehensible. Those measures of repression were wholly uncalled for, especially in his part of Ireland—Cavan. Everywhere the feelings and habits of the Irish people were trifled with. There was no such thing as a British Constitution. For non-delivery of arms none 204 were arrested; 59 strangers were arrested, none convicted; for carrying arms several were arrested, but none convicted. Many other arrests of a most annoying and frivolous character were made, but with results equally abortive. He could understand hon. Gentlemen supporting the Bill against all argument, for they seemed to have been returned to the House for no other purpose than to defame the character of Ireland. ["Oh, oh!"] He was ready to apologize if he had exceeded the privilege of debate; but he could not help speaking what he felt at his heart. The Irish people were entitled to equal rights with those of other portions of the country, and he could see no reason in withholding them from them. When taking up that day's paper, he saw eight murders in one day recorded there; while, in all his experience, he did not know when so many murders had taken place in Ireland in a whole year. He asked that Ireland might have a fair trial for only one year; and were that conceded by the Government they might find themselves rewarded by the consequences of liberty enjoyed by a contented people, and of which Englishmen showed themselves so tenacious and so proud. He hoped his words would not be without some effect on Her Majesty's Government, and that they would yet pause before they finally committed themselves to a policy that had not conduced to the peace or the welfare of Ireland.
§ MR. O'LEARY
said, it had been observed by an hon. Member on the other side of the House, that Coercion Acts would become unnecessary in proportion as crime diminished; and in that case, he would ask whether it was possible for the Irish people to have Coercion Acts over them until they arrived at a condition of virgin purity? He had heard so many baseless arguments reiterated in favour of the Bill, that he regarded hon. Members with pity, and he would therefore move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. O'Leary.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, if the hon. Member had intended, when he rose, to conclude with that Motion, he should have, at least, addressed the House till 205 midnight, and there would then have been more reason for the Motion he had just made. He hoped, however, the hon. Gentleman would re-consider his Motion, as he must feel that he was scarcely justified in making it. There was every disposition on that side of the House that hon. Gentlemen opposite, especially those connected with Ireland, should have ample opportunity of expressing their opinions. Indeed, he had, as was his constant practice, throughout the evening been quite willing so to arrange the debate with hon. Gentlemen opposite as to meet their convenience in every way. If it was their wish that the debate should be adjourned at the proper time, when the subject had been sufficiently discussed that evening, he should be ready to meet their wishes. But if the hon. Member would withdraw his Motion, he would suggest to him that they might possibly conclude the debate that night at an hour rather later than usual—say, 2 o'clock. They would thus have the advantage of hearing several hon. and right hon. Members who had not yet spoken, and particularly right hon. Gentlemen on the front Bench on the other side, who always commanded attention at late hours. But wishing to give hon. Gentlemen opposite every opportunity for expressing their opinions on the subject of the Bill, he repeated that the Government were anxious to meet their convenience in every way. If it was felt to be for their convenience that the debate should be adjourned, the Government would not oppose their wish, though they could not accede to it at that comparatively early hour—20 minutes before 12. If, on the other hand, they wished the debate to be concluded that night, say before 2 o'clock, he should be happy to meet their views in that way, and as far as he could, secure a calm and dispassionate debate.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, he would admit it was rather an early hour to adjourn the debate; but he thought it was the fact, that hon. Members on the opposite side had been expecting to hear something from the Government Benches in reply to the damaging statements and arguments which had been made by the Irish Representatives. The Government appeared to wish to meet those statements by a conspiracy of silence, and if these tactics were continued, he should 206 vote for the adjournment. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would withdraw the Motion, and that some Representative of the Government would assure the House that some of the statements which had been made were untrue, and that they had something to say in support of the Bill.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, that though prepared to address the House at the proper time, he was of opinion that the speeches against the Bill had been satisfactorily answered by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) and the right hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson). He was anxious to hear any further arguments which might be adduced by hon. Members below the Gangway on the other side, and when an opportunity was afforded him, he should he prepared to reply on behalf of the Government.
said, he had yet to learn that the right hon. Gentleman could shift responsibility from his shoulders to that of hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches in that way. Hon. Members on his side of the House were entitled to hear what case would be made out for the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman. They had waited with astonishment in the expectation of such a statement being offered them by the Government, and while Irish Members were ready to admit that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had manifested the most courteous spirit towards them, they did not admit that the debate had been conducted in a seemly manner towards the House by Her Majesty's Government. What he understood the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to mean was, that he would rise at the proper time and say that he considered that the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield and the right hon. Member for Chester had done his duty. He protested against the Government flinging a Bill of that atrocious and desperate character upon the Table of the House—a measure which was intended to destroy the liberties of his countrymen—and then sitting silent while Irish Members one by one rose to protest against it, without one word of justification or explanation. It was true the Bill might be carried by a majority—a largo Government majority; but to sit silent while these remonstrances against destroying the liberties 207 of Ireland were uttered, was like that of a benign cat watching the play of a mouse it intended to devour. The Irish Members were, however, determined that their country should not be subjected to a law which the Government would not dare to propose for England, Scotland, or Wales. They would not have their country dealt with in that way, and he asked his hon. Friend the Member for Drogheda to withdraw his Motion for the adjournment of the debate, in order that the right hon. Gentleman who was the father of the Bill might make out a case for his offspring.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he could assure the House and the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) that his only desire in remaining silent till now was to further the progress of the debate. It was his duty, he knew, to defend the provisions of the measure under notice, after it had received full discussion; and having carefully listened to the speeches which had been made, he must say that, excepting those of the hon. Members for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) and Roscommon (The O'Conor Don), he had seldom heard a debate in that House which had travelled so very widely from the question before it. The noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robort Montagu), who opened the debate, and other hon. Members who had spoken below the Gangway, had uttered lengthy tirades against coercion; but he had heard few references either to the existing laws in Ireland or to the provisions of the Bill before the House. The hon. Member for Louth, with that fervid eloquence for which he was distinguished, spoke of the Bill as a measure of an atrocious and desperate character, and as one that would take away the liberties of his country; but did the hon. Gentleman appreciate the fact that the laws which were now applicable and applied to a great part of Ireland were far more stringent than the provisions of this Bill? Did he appreciate the fact that this measure was proposed as a relaxation of the existing laws? He had supposed that from the hon. Member for Louth—if from no other 208 hon. Member—some acknowledgment would have been given that, thanks to the present condition of the country, the Government were able to propose a relaxation in the law with regard to the Irish Press. It might have been supposed that hon. Members coming from the counties now specially proclaimed, in which strangers were subject to arrest and committal, and what was known as the Curfew Law was in force, would have acknowledged the fact that neither of those provisions were re-enacted in the Government measure. He should also have supposed there would have been some acknowledgment on the part of the licensed victuallers of Ireland of the fact that it was not proposed to re-enact the law which enabled the Lord Lieutenant summarily to close public-houses in specially proclaimed districts. The Government were only too thankful and happy to make these relaxations, which were substantial and real, and he could not refrain from expressing his surprise that the hon. Member for Louth should speak of the measure which proposed these relaxations in the manner he had. He did not propose to dwell at any length upon the speeches of the hon. Members for Roscommon and Longford, because many of the points raised by them would be better dealt with in Committee; but he hastened to acknowledge the good sense and good feeling which pervaded those speeches. He ventured to say that if speeches upon Irish questions were always marked by equal moderation, it would be far easier to conduct the affairs of Ireland than it now was. But the reference to coercion made by many other Irish Members showed that they were ignorant not only of the existing law, but also of the provisions which the Government proposed to re-enact. How far were the latter provisions of a coercive character, and how far did they justify the extraordinary epithets just applied to them? The noble Lord the Member for Westmeath laid down the principle that if legislation were right for England, the contrary legislation must be wrong for Ireland, and he summoned the "intelligent foreigner," who was usually invoked on such occasions, to give his opinion. "If" said the noble Lord, "a superior person from Japan could be present at our deliberations, he would undoubtedly say that the 209 proposed exceptional legislation was iniquitous." But this "superior person" would probably observe with justice that circumstances altered cases, and that it did not necessarily follow that legislation adapted to Ireland was equally adapted to England and vice versâ. He had explained fully in the speech with which he introduced the measure what were the provisions they did not propose to re-enact, and why they might properly cease to exist, and also what it was proposed to re-enact; and he did not think this measure could fairly be called of a coercive character. What was the special legislation now proposed for Ireland? First, there were restrictions upon the free possession of arms. Hon. Members must not forget the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) that the free possession of arms could not be considered a natural right. No such right existed in England or Scotland, because under an Act passed not many years ago, a licence duty must be paid before anyone could keep arms. It was thought essential that in Ireland there should be a farther restriction, and that persons desiring to possess arms should obtain licences from a properly appointed authority. Surely that was not a provision of an exceptionally coercive or "atrocious" character. It had been said—Why do you apply to Ireland provisions and restrictions which do not apply to England and Scotland? The answer was obvious, and in introducing the Bill, as he had said, he thought he had given sufficient reasons why the free possession of arms would not be at the present moment advisable in Ireland. It must not be forgotten that this restriction had existed since 1847; that although the Government hoped and believed that the Fenian organization was no longer in a position to do mischief, no little disaffection still existed in many parts of Ireland; that many persons returning from America desired to carry and use revolvers; and, finally, that in party processions the carrying of arms was sometimes attended with dangerous incidents. An unfortunate example of the last class of cases occurred a few days ago in a county not proclaimed, because a party of Home Rule excursionists came out of another county into an otherwise peaceable county and brought arms. These reasons, he hoped, would induce the House 210 to decide that some restriction upon the possession of arms was necessary in Ireland beyond the law which was necessary in England and Scotland. On that point he could appeal to an authority to which he did not always attach great importance, though he was sure it would be accepted by hon. Members opposite. A speech was made in that House in 1856 to the following effect—that—Their whole experience of Ireland demonstrated that they could not safely govern that country without some power on the part of the Government to put a check upon the possession of arms by the people. This necessity arose from the existence of secret societies. In 1846 the Government tried the experiment of leaving the Lord Lieutenant without such a power, and what was the result? The result was that public auctions of arms took place, and the state of Ireland the next year was marked with outrages of the most serious character."—[3 Hansard, cxlii. 1575–6.]He quoted that passage from a speech of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt). He felt, however, that what he had said on that subject of arms was not applicable to the whole of Ireland, nor was the law at present applied to the whole of that country. He could assure the House that it was the intention of the Irish Government safely and gradually to relax the provisions of the law over a greater portion of Ireland than at present. He believed by degrees it would be perfectly possible that in the quieter parts of Ireland the possession of arms might be as free and unrestricted as in any portion of the United Kingdom. But he believed that that could not be clone, except gradually; and by the policy which the Government up to that moment had pursued, they had given an earnest of their intention to proceed further in the same direction. For what had they done? In the proclaimed parts of Ireland it was the practice of the late Government to issue search warrants to remain in force for a period of three months. They proposed, under this Bill, to reduce those three months to the original period of 21 days. And more than that, when, last summer, the three months for which the search warrants had been issued by the late Government expired, and it became his duty to consider whether they should be again issued, he thought it unnecessary; that the great thing to be guarded against was the importation of arms, 211 which might get into the hands of dangerous persons; and therefore he came to the conclusion that the search warrants should continue in force in those ports only where importation might be most expected. But with regard to other parts of Ireland, if it appeared necessary that arms should be searched for, that in every case special application should be made to him, and his authority obtained before the search warrants should be issued. He merely mentioned that as a proof that Government was determined safely and gradually to relax those restrictive provisions; and he would point to the Bill before the House on that particular subject to show that, not only in administration, but in legislation, they desired to pursue the same course. The noble Lord the Member for Westmeath referred to the statement which he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) made with respect to the small amount of ordinary offences, and the diminution, satisfactory as far as it went, of agrarian crime in Ireland. He was thankful to see that small amount of ordinary crime and that diminution of agrarian offences in that country; but in considering the matter we must take into account something more than a mere catalogue of crime, and must look at the special circumstances of crime in Ireland. "We must remember not only what crimes were perpetrated, but also whether the perpetrators were brought to justice and convicted. Now, he had before him a statement relating to certain agrarian murders which had been committed in Ireland in 1874. He would ask the House to consider, when he laid before it the circumstances of those cases, whether they were of opinion that the ordinary English law could deal with them. The noble Lord the Member for Westmeath had told the House that if crime existed in Ireland it was sure to be detected, and the perpetrators to be convicted. He wished he could say that was his experience with regard to agrarian crime. He found in the Papers to which he referred a statement of five cases of murder and one attempt to murder. In one case the persons arrested for the crime had not yet been tried, and in another the jury had disagreed; but in not a single one of the other cases had any one been brought to justice, much less had there been a conviction for the offence. But why had 212 they not been brought to justice? Because evidence could not be obtained against the perpetrators of the crime. The first was the murder of John Stapleton in the county of Tipperary. He had no doubt that the perpetrators of this crime were well known by the neighbours; but the universal desire seemed to be to protect them, and not a single witness could be found to come forward and prove the case. The next was the murder of Johanna Hayes, likewise in the county of Tipperary, and which was the subject of some very strong remarks by Baron Dowse. In this case the sister-in-law of the murdered woman, who resided with her, when about to be sworn, began to cry, and refused to give evidence, saying that she did not want to be brought into it, and that she should be called an informer; and the account finished with this—"There is no likelihood of the murderer ever being brought to justice." Again, on the 13th September, a man named Stephen Scanlan was shot at his own door also in the county of Tipperary. Two men had just been tried for this crime, but sufficient evidence could not be procured, and the jury disagreed. There was another case—that of Stephen Church in Londonderry County; he was murdered on the 26th December, between 5 and 6 o'clock in the evening, while sitting in the house of a friend (Matthew Brown) by a shot fired from the outside of the window; and what was the fact? This told the story of Irish agrarian crime better than anything else. There were five young men sitting with him at the time, but not one of them attempted to go outside and look after the murderer. They said they were afraid. And only the other day, in King's County, a man who had returned from America to claim some property which had got into the possession of another person, instituted at the last Spring Assizes a suit of ejectment against that person. He won his suit, and in a few days the ejectment would have been carried out. The other day, while this man was attending a wake, he was shot dead at 2 o'clock in the morning, also through the window of the house; and although 20 young men were sitting there, only one of them, who was a dismissed sub-constable, dared to go out to try to find the murderer. In spite of 213 all that was said by hon. Members opposite, who talked of the liberties of their country, he maintained these were facts which could not be dealt with by the ordinary law. The provisions of this Bill, which they proposed as calculated to deal with them, were not only restrictions on the possession of arms, but also provisions to which objection had been taken by the hon. Members for Roscommon and Longford. They proposed to re-enact those clauses of the existing law which enabled magistrates in Ireland, like coroners in England and procurators-fiscal in Scotland, to take evidence with regard to crime where no person was charged with the offence. They also proposed to re-enact the clauses which enabled search to be made for handwriting, upon sworn information, with regard to threatening letters, which were too often the precursors of crimes of murder; and, in addition, the provisions of the Crime and Outrage Act of 1847, by which a special police tax could be imposed upon districts where those crimes occurred, and of the Act of 1870, by which the Grand Jury of the county was enabled, subject to the fiat of the Judge of Assize, to give compensation to those who were injured by these crimes. It was all very well to say that these provisions with regard to compensation and the police-tax might be used unfairly and improperly. But he would tell the House what the Grand Juries throughout the whole of Ireland in 1874 had done. So far as the Returns obtained up to that time enabled him to judge, it appeared that they had presented the sum of £870 as compensation to those injured by crimes committed; and during the same year there was no more than £184 of special police-tax spread over throe cases under the clause which they proposed to re-enact. He did not think any one could say that, so far as the last year was concerned, any unfair advantage had been taken of either of those provisions. But they were sensible that to a certain extent with regard to compensation by Grand Juries, the power was liable to be improperly used, and, therefore, they proposed in the measure now before the House certain provisions which would place it on a better basis. As regarded the principle of the special taxation, he felt that it was sound and right, for it was a tax on cowardice and indolence; 214 and although it might not induce witnesses to come forward against the person who had committed a particular crime, yet it was certain to deter persons who had paid the tax from aiding and abetting any such crime in the future. He looked upon it as a useful deterrent in regard to crime of this nature. The continuance of the Westmeath Act was the only portion of the Bill which could be considered open to the objections raised on constitutional grounds. In introducing the Bill, he endeavoured to show that in 1871 no reasonable man doubted the existence of a terrible conspiracy, which practically over-rode the ordinary law, which interfered with every relation of life, and which tyrannized over peaceable and respectable people, in a very different way from the operation of this Act. In 1871 the House appointed a Committee, which unanimously reported the existence and the power of that conspiracy. Its history was a fact; and the question arose—What is probable in the present and in the future? The Government had these facts before them, and had consulted the magistrates of the county of Westmeath as to the present condition of their county. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Louth cheered that statement. He was one of those who regarded the magistrates of Ireland as aliens in race and religion, and attached no importance to any opinion they expressed. For his own part, he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) believed that the magistrates were in race at one with the people of that country—["Oh, oh!"]—and if anything would make him despair of the future of Ireland it was the importance which was attached by hon. Members opposite to the religion of a magistrate. Did they not believe that it was possible for a Protestant to do justice to a Catholic, and a Catholic to a Protestant? We had long since got beyond that point in England, and he looked forward with hope and confidence to the day when they would do so in Ireland. Why did the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath object to the magistrates of Westmeath as alien in race to the people of that country? He had never heard that the noble Lord was an Irishman; but he had heard that the noble Lord voted for the second reading of the Peace Preservation Bill in 1870. Yet, in spite 215 of that, and the fact that the noble Lord was an Englishman, the electors of Westmeath elected him as their Representative. It was to be hoped that no more would be heard of those charges against the magistrates as aliens in race and religion. He attached as great importance to the statements they made to Government and in public as to the statements made by English magistrates; and the Irish magistrates, irrespective of race and religion, had expressed the opinion that the Westmeath Act should be continued. In addition, the Government had the opinions of two Judges of Assize at the Spring and Summer Assizes at Mullingar. With these statements before them, the Government would be wanting in their duty to the country if they declined to propose to the House the re-enactment of these provisions. More than this, the Ribbon Conspiracy—the existence of which, to his astonishment, had been denied by the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna)—had a history of nearly 100 years, and could it be supposed that it was to be extinguished by an Act which had only been in operation four years? The noble Lord the Member for Westmeath had quoted certain parts of his (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach's) speech and drawn incorrect deductions there from. He had never said that that conspiracy was extinct; but only that it was dormant, in consequence of the existence of this law. Those who had formerly been the leaders and perpetrators of these crimes were now kept in fear by that Act, and if Parliament repealed it, for aught they knew these crimes would commence again. He would again repeat that while it repressed crime, it did no harm to the loyal and peaceful inhabitants of Westmeath. It had been administered in a fair and cautious manner under the calm and deliberate advice of the late Law Advisers of the Crown; and if it were necessary to put its provisions in force, the present Government also would take the opinion of its Law Officers. As the present Attorney General for Ireland had been referred to, he would assert that no more conscientious and painstaking person had ever filled that office. The law, moreover, would be administered not on mere surmise, but upon satisfactory evidence that it ought to be put into operation. It had been administered 216 with moderation, as was proved by the fact that 19 persons only had been included under the Act; and yet with sufficient severity to bring peace and order into a district that before the Act was passed was under the rule of Ribbon societies, and was, so to speak, frightened out of its senses by agrarian outrage. The House would not feel inclined readily to throw aside an instrument that had done such good work, but would, he hoped, entrust it to the Government for a further limited period, with the assurance that it would be dispensed with at the earliest moment consistent with the maintenance of law and order in that part of Ireland. He now came to the Unlawful Oaths Act. The noble Lord the Member for Westmeath had amused the House by imagining what might happen if the provisions of the Bill were put in force against the Lord Lieutenant or the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He begged to remind the noble Lord that the provisions in the existing Act had no application to any society working under the authority of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and as the present Lord Lieutenant was the Grand Master of Freemasons of Ireland, it might fairly be argued that he and the Freemasons were in no danger. With regard to himself, at any rate, the noble Lord might feel quite at case; for it so happened that very much against his desire he had been unable to attend a meeting of any Freemasons Lodge in Ireland. The object of this legislation was to secure that if any person alleging himself to be a Freemason or a Christian Brother wished to escape the operation of the Act he should be properly registered, in order that some public notice should be given, so that it might be seen if he were what he pretended to be. If it were necessary to amend the Bill in Committee so as to ensure that the same publicity might be given without unnecessary trouble to the members of those societies, he should be ready to agree to such a proposal. He believed he had now touched upon the principal points raised in the debate, and he would, in conclusion, ask the House to remember that the Government were only asking for the continuance of existing laws, and not for the enacting of fresh ones. Having taken into its consideration the improved state of Ireland, the Government did not propose to re-enact these 217 laws without great modifications. He would now appeal to hon. Members below the Gangway whether they could oppose such a policy. Let them turn their thoughts from vague denunciations of coercion laws to the actual provisions of this Bill and the intentions of the Government. He gave them full credit for an earnest belief in the statements they had made, and for good faith in the opinions they had expressed. On the other hand, they would, he hoped, give credit in turn to the Government for the same belief in the necessity of their proposals. Her Majesty's Government had endeavoured to obtain sure and reliable information on the point from those best qualified to give it, and, having afterwards sifted the information with great care, they proposed that measure to the House, believing it to be necessary for the peace and good government of Ireland. Hon. Members opposite said that coercive laws were no longer necessary in Ireland. Her Majesty's Government, on the other hand, maintained that a modified code such as was proposed in the Bill before the House was necessary for Ireland. The question then arose as to which opinion was the correct one. If hon. Members opposite were right in thinking that Ireland would be as peaceable and flourishing as at present if these laws were for ever removed from the Statute Book, and yet the House adopted the view of the Government and passed the present Bill; the position would be that the Coercion Laws would continue temporarily in a far less stringent form than at present, with the least possible inconvenience to peaceable and well-disposed persons. If, on the other hand, the House, declining to adopt the proposal of the Government, were to repeal all these Coercion Acts, the result would be that during next winter, as sure as he was addressing the House, there would be grave danger of a repetition of the acts which had heretofore disgraced Ireland. They might have renewed bloodshed, a fresh feeling of insecurity of life and property, which would drive away capital from the country, banish resident proprietors from Ireland, and drag the country back 10 years in the path of progress in which she had now gone so far. If hon. Members opposite would but put this argument fairly to themselves, 218 they would see that in accepting the proposal of the Government they would be accepting the least of two evils. If the proposal was not accepted and the evils to which he had referred chanced to rise, the infallible consequence would be a re-enactment of measures far more coercive than any now proposed. In conclusion, he would say that the Government had proposed the measure in the desire to preserve peace in Ireland, to secure the position which that country had attained in material progress and advancement, and to provide that under the protection of the law, Irishmen should advance still further towards that goal of prosperity, in relation to which he feared they were still somewhat behind the rest of the United Kingdom. It was in this spirit that he recommended that Bill to the House, intending, as he had stated, to administer it with the care and caution which had characterized the Irish Government for some years past; and indulging in the confident hope that, by gradually and safely relaxing its provisions, the Government might be able to secure that, at a date earlier than that fixed in the Bill for the expiry of the various statutes enumerated in its clauses, there might be no longer any coercive laws in Ireland.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he should move the adjournment of the debate, and would suggest that the House should meet again at 2 o'clock and proceed with the Bill in a Morning Sitting.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Callan.)
said, he must object to the proposal for a Morning Sitting, on the ground that he had on the Paper for to-morrow a Motion on the state of England in reference to a question somewhat similar to that which had been raised by the present Bill in relation to Ireland. In addition to that, there was another Motion, also concerning England, to be submitted by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin). From that, it could be seen that he made the objection in favour of England.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Speaking also in the interests of England, I think that is a measure which will keep, and it seems to me that any time before Whitsuntide 219 would equally serve the purpose of my hon. Friend. I certainly should not support the proposal for a Morning Sitting on Tuesday, as both sides of the House are opposed to it. In case the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire will not press his Motion, will the hon. Member for Louth withdraw his Motion and allow the debate to proceed tomorrow?
said, he had no objection to consult the convenience of the House, but he hoped that in return he should get a Government day for his Motion.
§ Mr. BUTT
thought that they should first adjourn the debate, and then fix a day for resuming it. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he had pushed forward the Coercion Bill at the expense of an important Irish measure which stood first on the Paper for Wednesday.
§ MR. DISRAELI
wished to observe that there would have been no chance of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick bringing in his Bill to-morrow evening, even if this measure were not before the House. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire had a Motion which would occupy the whole night, and then came another to be proposed by the hon. Member for Louth, so that it was impossible for the hon. and learned Member for Limerick to proceed. With regard to the intimation that Coercion Bills were pressed forward in preference to other Business, he could only say that he knew of no foundation for the statement. It was agreed that this measure of the Government should proceed to-morrow, and we divide on it, and if the hon. and learned Member really wished to bring on his Bill, he (Mr. Disraeli) would depart from his original plan; but he thought that it would be for the convenience of the House that they should commence the holidays on Tuesday.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.