HC Deb 11 May 1875 vol 224 cc477-89

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)


said, he rose to move that the Bill be read a third time on that day six months. It was not his intention, at that stage of the Bill, to enter with any minuteness into the subject; but he felt it his duty to make that Motion, and to take a division upon it, by way of protest on his own part and on that of many Irish Members around him. Not only did they believe it to be unnecessary, but they objected to the form in which it was ultimately passing, continuing, as it did, for five years, powers over which the House would have no control during that period. The Bill, also, would outlive the House itself—a fact which, in his view, constituted a dangerous precedent. The continuing of the power of imprisonment for more than one year, whilst the writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended, was in itself a power so dangerous that he felt it his duty to divide the House upon the question before it, not with any expectation that he should be able to maintain a majority in favour of his Amendment, but with the intention of placing on record the protest of opponents.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Butt.)


said, that all that had been urged by the majority of the Irish Members had not been wasted upon him; but he had felt it his duty to vote for the Bill on every occasion, and for this reason—that the majority of the Members for Ireland had, for a series of years, expressed an opinion that Ireland was not to be governed upon the same principles as the rest of the United Kingdom. They had demanded the disestablishment of the Protestant Church in Ireland. They had expressed extreme satisfaction at the establishment of a different code of laws for land tenure for Ireland, as distinguished from the landlord and tenant law which prevailed in England and Scotland, and they had appeared in that House as the representatives of an organization which distinctly intended to establish a system of Home Government in Ireland, different from that which prevailed in other parts of the United Kingdom. When the majority of the Representatives of one section of the Kingdom expressed a firm determination not to be governed according to the laws which prevailed in the other sections, he considered that the Legislature of the United Kingdom was justified in establishing a different system of Government for that section, according to the best judgment of the House, and the requirements of the case.


said, he did not mean to reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, but he had risen for the purpose of directing the attention of the House to the danger of passing a Bill of this kind. The offences against which it was directed were not specifically named or described in it; so much so that he ventured to say there were not 10 Members of the House who understood the Bill. It was, in fact, only to be understood by the careful study of several other Acts of Parliament—of no fewer than 12 other Acts—which were referred to in the first part of the Bill alone; but the reference to those Acts afforded to the readers of the Bill now before the House no information either as to the offences they created or the penalties they imposed. This absence of information on the face of the Bill was the more objectionable, as the penalties enacted by the Bill were for the most part directed against the lower and more ignorant classes; but it would in every case be necessary in order to understand the Bill, to refer to the statutes of which he had made mention, no information concerning whose provisions was contained in the Bill itself. In fact, those Acts had to be carefully read by everyone who desired to know what the present Bill meant. Though himself a lawyer of some years' standing, he did not profess to recollect what was contained in those Acts; and if it was possible that persons in his position should not know the law, it was only fair that the Bill should give the information which all were supposed to have who had to obey the law. To do that might give rise to a little more trouble in drafting the Bill; but that was no reason why the Bill should not give full information as to the acts which might constitute offences against it and their consequences. The omission of which he had spoken had grown into a practice, and if it was persisted in—if previous enactments were to be embodied in Bills by simply stating the titles of the Acts which contained them—great public inconvenience must arise. Bills might be made a little longer by their being fully set out; and Her Majesty's Government might perhaps congratulate themselves on the rapidity with which they had got through this Bill; it had, in fact only occupied three weeks in Committee; but the discussions would not be greatly lengthened in consequence of adopting his suggestion, and all whom the law concerned would exactly know what it was.


said, he hoped the House would bear with him whilst he made a few remarks on the Bill; for though he was an Irish Member, he had as yet taken no part in the long discussions into which it had led them, and if he remained altogether silent upon it, his silence might be misapprehended. Having given his support to the Government on this Bill, he thought it only fair to his constituents that he should state the grounds upon which he had given that support, on all points of the Bill excepting one only, on which he had voted against the Government—that which gave the Government the power of keeping a man in prison for more than 12 months without his being brought to trial. He claimed this indulgence from his hon. Friends opposite, because he had before now proved that he was no friend to Coercion Bills. He had before now voted against their continued operation for more than 12 months; and last Session he declined to vote for including the Coercion Act in the Continuance Bill, on the ground that the House had had no authoritative statement from Her Majesty's Government as to the grounds upon which they desired the continuance of the statutes objected to. Who, indeed, he would ask, could be a friend to a Coercion Bill, except under the dire necessity of the case? None of them hiked to have to go back to their constituencies and tell them that they had taken part in passing a Coercion Bill. It would not be a pleasant duty even for an English Member; and he claimed for the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that he had not, throughout his whole career, shown himself in any way a friend of legislation of this kind. Finding these Acts, the work of his predecessors, on the Statute Book, he had felt it his duty to do that which the circumstances appeared to demand and to warrant; but in doing so the Government had entirely separated themselves from a policy of mere continuance. They had endeavoured, in the interests of personal liberty, to see what previous enactments of the kind they might dispense with, and, in the interests of order, to see what it was absolutely necessary for them to retain and to re-enact. It was well that that should be stated, in order that it might be understood in Ireland that the Bill had not been conceived in any spirit of hostility, or of undue repression, but that the most liberal and patriotic judgment had been exercised upon it. ["Oh!"] He would remind the House that in the Bill two of the most important provisions to be found on this subject in the Statute Book had been dispensed with—the Press Clauses and the "Curfew" Clause—the power of arresting suspicious persons at night. The power of search warrant lasting for three months had been cut down to the reasonable period of 21 days; the arbitrary power of the Lord Lieutenant to close public-houses without assigning any reason had been destroyed; the power of the police to arrest strangers in a proclaimed district had been entirely destroyed; and the absolute power given to the Attorney General to change the venue in criminal cases had been destroyed. Now, he would appeal to those who had formed hasty and censorious judgments upon this Bill, whether the Government were not entitled to the credit he claimed, and whether they were at all justified in describing this Bill as the perpetuation of a brutal and bloody code? The whole conduct of the Government in reference to the Bill was the best answer that could be made to such a charge. Every suggestion of amendment, no matter how hostile the source, received in the course of the debate the most careful attention from the Chief Secretary and the Solici- tor General for Ireland. In Committee the Government had also made various material concessions, among which were these—Licences must now be granted by resident magistrates on the certificate of two justices; night domiciliary visits had been prevented; a warrant to search for arms must be executed in the presence of the responsible person to whom it was addressed; a restriction had been placed on the period of imprisonment on summary convictions, while hard labour in the case of those summary convictions had been done away with; and, last and most important concession of all, the right of having the writ of Habeas Corpus had been restored. It must, however, be understood, that these concessions had been made by the Government in no spirit of weakness or of vacillation. They had been fully debated and considered with fairness and candour, and the Government had shown their desire, while making the law a terror to evildoers, not to place any unnecessary inconvenience or restriction on the liberty of the subject. He had been struck with one observation which had been made by the hon. and learned Serjeant who had just sat down, and he thought the hon. and learned Member must have been joking when he made it. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the limited extent of the discussions on this Bill. Now, he was under the impression that this was the 12th sitting of the House upon which the Bill had been discussed for hours togother. He himself believed that there never was a discussion before which had been carried on so long without any attempt to restrict it. No attempt had been made to restrict the discussion on this Bill, in the smallest degree, or the extent to which the opposition was designed to go. No sort of impediment had been thrown in the way of fair and impartial consideration of every Amendment which had been placed before the House, even though the same Amendments had been repeated two or three times. At the same time, he did not hesitate to say he would have preferred to see two other alterations made in the Bill. He thought it an unfortunate circumstance that they should have to continue this Bill for a period of five years, and would much prefer that it should have been continued for only three years; but when asked to support its continu ance for two years he felt that he could not conscientiously vote for a repetition of these discussions in so short a time. He believed, however, that many of the provisions of this Bill might be left with the greatest possible safety and satisfaction in the hands of the present Lord Lieutenant. The Duke of Abercorn was an Irishman, above all other things desiring the prosperity and welfare of the country; and he (Mr. Lewis) was sure he would not continue a proclamation a month longer than he believed to be necessary under his sense of duty, or by the requirements of public order. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, also, from the sympathy and cordiality with which he had entered into unquestioned Irish grievances, and the care with which he had attended to Irish measures, had entitled himself to the consideration and good feeling of his opponents. It was, undoubtedly, an embarrassing subject, and he had received from his constituents letters complaining of their being placed under these oppressive laws. Like good citizens, however, they had resolved to submit themselves to them, and to surrender their individual freedom, in the belief that the sacrifice was needed for the welfare of the State.


said, he thought that not more time than was necessary had been consumed in the discussion of a Bill which was to suspend for five years the constitutional liberties of the subject. He remembered that for a long time last year they were marched and countermarched through the Lobbies of the House on the clauses of the English Liquor Bill, and he did not believe that any honest, intelligent Englishman would grudge them an opportunity of expressing their views. The Prime Minister said, on the second reading of the Bill, that it was a measure of necessity framed in a spirit of conciliation. Why then did he ask to renew it for a period of unprecedented length? Nothing could show more clearly the increased confidence felt by all portions of the community, than the fabulous sums of money the farmers were willing to invest in land. A few years ago a farm of 50 acres, let at £3 an acre, was sold, and its occupation value obtained £1,500, or £30 an acre. Two years ago, another farm, 54 acres in extent, rented at 50s. an acre, obtained for its occupation value on being sold £2,500, or £46 an acre. In another instance last year, 7¼ Irish acres on a lease, of which 15 years remained, were sold for £540, or £77 per acre. It was in the face of facts like these that the Government asked the House to renew a Bill of this kind for a period of unprecedented length. He hoped that some better reason would be given for re-enacting this measure for a period of five years than the mere stifling discussion or avoidance of an unpleasant subject. He should certainly oppose the third reading of the Bill.


said, he did not rise for the purpose of following the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. Lewis) into the various topics upon which he had addressed the House, but rather for the purpose of calling the attention of the Government to certain points in the Bill which seemed to him to require notice. He would, in the first place, observe that there were many places in Ireland where two magistrates did not attend petty sessions. Without wishing to introduce sectarian considerations into the debate, he might further remark that in his own part of the country, though the large mass of the people were of the Catholic persuasion, to which he also himself belonged, they held opinions contrary to those of the magistrates. In the course of the debate many observations had been made on the Irish resident magistracy, and he should ill perform his functions as Member for an Irish county if he did not testify how much the Irish people owed to their resident magistrates for their administration of the law. For the satisfactory fulfilment of the duties of a magistrate it was absolutely necessary that such an officer should have a thorough knowledge of the habits of the people, and even of their wants and their thoughts; and the generally satisfactory administration of the law in Ireland was highly creditable to the magistracy of that country.


said, he had listened with some astonishment to the speech of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). To use a French phrase, he thought he might say of him, "Il a perdu une belle occasion de se taire." If the hon. Gentleman had not spoken, he would not have supposed he had such poor reasons for the course which he said he had taken in reference to the Bill. Those who had taken part in opposing the Bill had done so, because they believed it necessary to defend their constituents from a system of legislation which was certainly different from that which the House passed for England and Scotland. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire told them again, that they had concurred in passing the Disestablishment Bill. Those who passed that Bill, however, were the great Liberal Party, then in a majority, who bowed to the demands of the Irish people. Another charge that the hon. Member had brought against them was, that they desired that the Irish people should legislate for themselves. Why, that ought rather to be a cause of thankfulness to the hon. Member. Both parties alike ought to rejoice at being relieved from the necessity of bowing to the demands of Irish Representatives, and from a tyranny which he deemed so grievous. But in regard to the general policy of the Bill and the Ministry by which it was promoted, he had a large fish at the end of his line and he wished to play it a little. The noble Lord then read an extract from a speech of the Prime Minister, who speaking of the Coercion Bill of 1846, stated that in less than a century there had been no fewer than 17 Coercion Acts for Ireland, which might lead some persons to doubt whether violent legislation always proved efficacious; the Prime Minister further said that Bills of that description should always be accompanied by remedial measures, to redress the evils out of which the necessity had arisen, and that Ireland ought to be governed as nearly as possible on the same principles as England. In this case he must call on the right hon. Gentleman to be true to his own policy. He not only did not bring in any remedial measures himself, but helped to prevent the passing of others which Irish Members brought in for the benefit of Ireland, and his Government strangled the Municipal Corporation (Ireland) Bill. He exonerated the right hon. Gentleman himself—he believed he hated Coercive Bills as much as anyone in that House, for nobody on the eve of the late General Election could have spoken more strongly, more violently, or even more ferociously, against such Bills; but he regretted to say that while the right hon. Gentleman had been silent and courteous throughout the progress of the present measure, the only argument he had advanced to prove the existence of Ribbonism was, that those who believed in it ought to regale themselves by drinking dry champagne.


defended the remarks of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), and said, that while others pretended to be ashamed of belonging to a nation which suspended the securities for personal liberty, he, for his part, should feel ashamed of belonging to a country in which men were shot down in the high road by ruffians with blackened faces who hid behind hedges, and then scampered away in safety, and he should feel still more so were he to live under a Government so weak and pusillanimous as to refuse to take steps to put an end to so monstrous a state of things. He believed if the hon. Gentlemen opposite, below the Gangway, had a Parliament of their own on College Green, it could not exist for a week or a day without passing a measure every bit as severe as that under discussion, in order to maintain the indispensable and primary condition of all Governments—safety to life and property. The noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu) had complained of the introduction of coercive measures without remedial measures; but he seemed to have forgotten that nearly the whole of last Session was spent in the consideration of remedial measures, and if Parliament had shrunk from granting Home Rule, it was only because it was averse to the dismemberment of the Empire.


said, it was perfectly true what the hon. Gentleman had just stated, that if there were an Irish Parliament in College Green, it would itself enact coercive measures if proved to be necessary, but under the English Government coercion was the normal state of things in Ireland. And it should be borne in mind that while a child might accept correction at the hands of its own parents, it resented being chastised by a neighbour. The whole history of Ireland showed that her people had never yet obtained a single concession except by disaffection and sedition. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen who knew nothing about the history of Ireland might cry "Oh, oh;" but he challenged them—as he had often challenged them before— to point out a single concession which had been granted to Ireland during the last 100 years that had not been granted from the apprehension of an outburst of civil war or from some Imperial necessity. The people of Ireland had never obtained a single concession until the echoes of the guns in the Revolutionary War in America were heard here. Again, in 1792, when they asked for justice, the Relief Bill was thrown under the Table of the House; but no sooner was the declaration of war made by the French Directory in 1793 than all that was asked was at once conceded. In fact, he challenged them to go through the whole catalogue of concessions and point out one of them which had not been wrung from the fears of England or Imperial necessity. What had they now done? They had re-cast an Act which handed over the government of Ireland to the police, to the county magistrates, whom the Government itself did not trust, and to that cloaca maxima, the Castle of Dublin. In fact, the Irish people were deprived of their liberties by corruption and by force, and he did not at all wonder at the support given to this measure by the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, for the noble Lord was then the Leader of a Party—a party of Constabulary, who indulged themselves in illegally breaking the skulls of the Queen's loyal subjects, holding a legal meeting in the Phoenix Park, and no doubt he appreciated the law that would allow him to do so with impunity. The Royal Irish Constabulary, however, were not a police, but a military force. They were very useful in rural districts where beaus were scarce, and they were excellent hands at organizing archery and cricket matches. They were toasted, too, at public dinners, after the Army and Navy, and he had suggested to many of his friends in the Army and Navy who drank this toast that an equally deserving force with which many of them were more familiarly acquainted, the sheriffs bailiffs, should be similarly toasted. Government did not trust the Irish magistrates, and the Irish magistrates did not trust the Government.


expressed an earnest hope that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) would not insist on a division. He thought it would be a most melancholy thing for the House to divide on the present occasion, especially after the speech of the hon. Member who had just preceded him—a speech which he had, with great sorrow, to submit would do more harm than all the concessions of the Government would do good. That speech forced him to admit that we could not dispense with Coercion Bills in a country of which even the intelligent, benevolent, and educated men could be found capable of making use of language so wild and violent. Every clause, he might say every word, of the Bill had been debated, and the Irish Members had had full scope in bringing forward their Amendments, which he did not hesitate to believe were sincere. But there could be no doubt as to what the result of a division would be, and he thought it would conduce to the existence of good feeling between Ireland and England if matters were not pushed to that extremity. It was a very undesirable thing to give a factious opposition to the third reading of the Bill. [Murmurs.] A division now would, he maintained, be regarded by the country as a flag of defiance rather than as a honourable expression of opposition to the Bill, and it would compel hon. Members who, like himself, had assisted the Irish Members to go into the Lobby against them.


said, that, as he recognized in the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Waddy) a friend to the Irish people, he had listened with great attention to the observations he had made. The only question at issue with the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Ronayne) was upon a matter of historical accuracy, and he had yet to learn in what particular it was violated by his hon. Friend. It was certainly true that the Duke of Wellington, when Prime Minister, in introducing the Roman Catholic Emancipation Bill, asked the House of Lords to pass that Bill in order to avert a threatened civil war in Ireland. Was it not also a fact that another Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), stated when canvassing Lancashire, that his attention had been drawn to the grievances and oppressions of Ireland by the intensity of Fenianism. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Butler-Johnstone) had defended this Bill on the ground of the facility with which landlords were shot behind hedges in Ireland. The hon. Member evidently thought that it was the rule in Ireland to watch for landlords and to shoot them behind hedges. Now, he contended that was not the rule in Ireland. It had been sufficiently established during these discussions, and had been, indeed, admitted by the Government, that no language of that kind could accurately describe the present state of Ireland. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would not turn a deaf ear to the appeal made to him by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Montagu), and that he would remember his declaration that a coercive measure for Ireland ought to be followed by remedial measures. Several opportunities would arise in the course of the Session—as, for example, upon the further discussion of the Bill relating to compulsory sobriety in Ireland, the reclamation of waste lands, &c.—when the right hon. Gentleman could act up to the spirit of this declaration. He made this appeal to the right hon. Gentleman with the more confidence because he had introduced for the first time a Coercion Bill, the provisions of which would remain in force for a period of five years.


said, that as the Irish Members would probably be outvoted in the division, he would respectfully but earnestly appeal to Her Majesty's Government to make the measure as little injurious and obnoxious to the feelings of the people as possible. He would also say for himself and others who acted with him, that they would endeavour, each in their several spheres, to reduce as much as possible the discontent and dissatisfaction which they knew would arise from a measure forced upon Ireland in spite of the opposition of its Members. He trusted that a Coercion Bill would not be the only message and gift sent to Ireland by Her Majesty's Ministers.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 287; Noes 70: Majority 217.

Main Question put, and agreed to.


I believe that an alteration is necessary in the title of the Bill, and I move to insert, after the word "Ireland," the words, "and to grant an indemnity in certain cases."


did not consider the words necessary, but would not object to their insertion in the title, as they could not do harm.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed. [New Title.]