MR. O'CONNOR POWER,
in rising to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the time has come when Her Majesty's gracious pardon may be advantageously extended to the prisoners, whether convicted before the Civil Tribunals or by Courts Martial, who are and have been for many years undergoing punishment for offences arising out of insurrectionary movements connected with Ireland,said, that as he had frequently addressed the House on this subject, it was only necessary for him to make a very brief statement on the present occasion, partly as an act of courtesy to the hon. Members who were present, and partly because of certain utterances which had recently proceeded from the Treasury Bench. In 1588 his judgment the continued incarceration of these political prisoners was not only a source of grave dissatisfaction, but of grave disaffection amongst the people of Ireland, and was also a source of surprise to many influential and respectable persons in this country who, after calm and impartial inquiry, failed to discover any grounds of sound public policy to justify the detention of these prisoners. Last year it was his duty in connection with the hon. Member for Limerick, and the noble Lord the Member for the county of Clare (Lord Francis Conyngham), to forward a Memorial to the Prime Minister in favour of an unconditional amnesty for these men, signed by 138 Members of Parliment, and the signatures would have been much more numerous had not many hon. Members been under the impression that most of the prisoners who were still detained were convicted of offences of a very aggravated nature. After the Memorial had been forwarded, and had been favoured by a negative reply from the Home Secretary, he brought the subject before the House, and was supported on that occasion by several English Members, including two ex-Cabinet Ministers, who had not signed the Memorial, their votes being gained because he was able to show to some extent that the prisoners had not committed offences of the aggravated character which those hon. Members had previously been led to believe was the cause of their punishment. But, before bringing the question under the notice of the House, he endeavoured to obtain the records of the proceedings before the court martial, and in the trials at Manchester, and the Government having declined to produce those records, they were no longer at liberty to found any argument upon the gravity of the offences. His observations had reference to the prisoners, three of whom were convicted of offences against the Articles of War, and two of participation in the attack upon the prison van at Manchester, and the shooting of Sergeant Brett. He did not go into the case of the sixth, because he was glad to remember that the Home Secretary stated that that case was under consideration of the Government, and he hoped that if not that at least at an early day the Home Secretary would be able to announce the release of Michael Davitt. The whole question involved 1589 nothing more than the liberation of six individuals. Three of them had already suffered 11 years' penal servitude for what were called military offences, but what he called political. He would not, however, quarrel with the term, but would ask the House to consider the provocation these men received, in the state of Ireland, the non-action of Parliament, and the refusal for a long period to redress admitted grievances; and it should also be remembered that they were nothing more than the tools and instruments of a political organization. Then, he would ask whether they had not expiated whatever offence they were guilty of by 11 long years of imprisonment? One of the three military prisoners was Corporal Chambers, at whose trial by court martial Constable Talbot and other Government witnesses against the Fenian prisoners were examined for the purpose of establishing a connection between the acts of the accused and the Fenian Brotherhood. If these men were not political offenders, he wanted to know why the Government did not demand the extradition as ordinary criminals of the six others who, last year, when the Prime Minister was coldly refusing to purchase a nation's gratitude by releasing these men, were snatched out of the hands of their keepers in Western Australia and conveyed to America, and why they did not protest against their being received as political offenders? That circumstance went to show that, even in the secret consciousness of Her Majesty's Ministers, there must be an acknowledgment of the political character of the offences committed by these men. None of the prisoners for whom he pleaded took any part in the Clerkenwell explosion; and though he had heard hon. Members say that they would vote for the release of all the other prisoners, it was a fact that those who were concerned in that act had in the ordinary course of law, or by the clemency of the Crown, been liberated long ago. In the case of the Manchester prisoners, which was a strong one in their favour, it was not denied that the shooting of Sergeant Brett was not a deliberate act. An attack was made upon the prison van which contained two distinguished leaders of the Fenian movement, and a revolver which was fired into the lock of the van happened to shoot Sergeant Brett. Without attempting to dispute that the 1590 offence was technically a capital one, he would point out that never was an offence of the same dimensions expatiated and avenged by the public law with greater severity. Three human lives had been sacrificed in consequence of the accidental shooting of Sergeant Brett, and six or seven men underwent five years' penal servitude in connection with the same offence. He did not ask the House to pass any censure on the president of the court martial or the Judges as to the sentences passed upon the prisoners, but the evidence in the case of the Manchester prisoners was in some respects of so incomplete and tainted a character, that one man who was sentenced to be executed was afterwards liberated, because the Government found that he had nothing to do with the transaction. Judged by the example of other nations the conduct of the British Government in the treatment of Irish political prisoners was without a parallel. The crisis in which France had recently been plunged did not prevent the President from releasing 800 Communists, whose object had been to overturn the very foundations of society; and immediately after the close of the Civil War in America, the cry of the Northern States was for an amnesty for the South, and not for revenge; and the subsequent policy of the American Government in the same direction had been universally recognized as wise and statesmanlike. If they really wished reconciliation, that was the way the Government should deal with the Irish people; but they had taken a course which tended to keep alive the strife of centuries, and to give point to a popular Irish ballad entitled The Felons of our Land, in which occurs the line—A felon's cap's the proudest crown an Irish head can wear.They would not succeed in degrading those men in the eyes of their countrymen any more than they succeeded in the same thing in 1848; and the visitor to Dublin would find in the centre of the greatest thoroughfare in the city the marble form of the gallant leader of the Irish people, William Smith O'Brien. These men were said to be not political prisoners, but felons. The Treason Felony Act had been the beginning of this notion, and how had it succeeded? The issue before the House was a very clear 1591 and simple one. There were six men detained; three for military offences, who had suffered 11 years; two for participation in the shooting of Sergeant Brett, and one had been convicted of a distinctly political offence on the charge of treason felony. He appealed to the Government once more to re-consider the whole subject of the Irish political prisoners, and see whether, so far from endangering the public peace by the liberation of those men, they would not rather stir the fountains of Irish gratitude, and produce a general feeling of satisfaction in Ireland. Trusting that the answer of the Government would not admit of the reflection—Forgiveness to the injured doth belong;They never do forgive who do the wrong "—he would conclude by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN,
in rising to second the Motion, said, that after the very exhaustive speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) he had very few remarks to make on that very important subject. He did not stand there for the purpose of palliating in the slightest degree the acts for which these men were confined in prison. He freely acknowledged that they had been guilty of the offences for which they had been punished. He was too well aware of the necessity of maintaining discipline to say one word in palliation of the crimes they had committed; but he was there, in his place, simply as a Member of Parliament, to ask that honourable House, composed of the first Gentlemen in Europe, to take pity on these poor prisoners. He asked no more, and had nothing to say in their defence. They had been condemned, and, he would acknowledge, righteously condemned. Was it intentional to still promote the imprisonment and punishment of those unfortunate people? He rather thought that the verdict of the House would be the reverse. He asked, therefore, for pity for these people, and he hoped that he should not be disappointed. But there was one point he would like to argue with the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and he took the opportunity of acknowledging that no right hon. Member ever occupied that position at the Home Office who had done so much justice to it, or shown 1592 more consideration for the just claims of those who were imprisoned. He rather thought, however, that, in the contest with respect to that question, the right hon. Gentleman had made a mistake—and he was not singular in it—for he had somewhat forgotten the history of his own country, in adopting the tactics used on a former occasion in reference to this subject. Other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, who had stood up in former Sessions on the Conservative side, had adopted the same principles and tactics as the right hon. Gentleman. He (Major O'Gorman) said this without meaning any disrespect; but he begged most distinctly to declare to the right hon. Gentleman, and to the House, and to that great country, which must be the judge of them all, that it was not correct to say that a man who had been guilty of violence, such as it was acknowledged these men had committed, might not still be a political offender. He could prove that most of the great political men of the country for centuries back had been most violent political offenders, or most violent offenders; he would leave out the word "political." Their policy was political, but they had used violence for the purpose of carrying their politics into effect. And he maintained that the right hon. Gentleman, and those who had preceded him, in considering that great subject, had been guilty of incorrectness in saying that the offences these men had committed were simply the offences of vulgar murderers. If these men had been guilty simply of vulgar murder, then the history of England contained a great many very vulgar murderers; very vulgar indeed. For he thought he could prove that the most celebrated politicians in English history were men who had made use of outrageous violence. He would begin at the very head of society. Richard II., King of England, had been murdered by his own first cousin. He happened, unfortunately, to be in Ireland—that unfortunate country—when Bolingbroke set up the colours of rebellion in England. And when the unfortunate Richard landed, he was arrested and sat upon a wretched horse, and escorted up to London. He was the undoubted King of England; there was no doubt about it, no man could dispute it. He begged to lean on that question longer than he should 1593 wish for the convenience of the House, in order distinctly to prove that political offenders had generally been guilty of the most violent offences. The King had been brought up to London; and was it necessary for him to go through and recapitulate the sufferings of that unfortunate King of England in that very town? No! He was certain that hon. Members all about him were too well acquainted with their own history. He had been murdered in that town, and his Crown had been put on the head of his murderer, Henry IV. And by the will of whom? By the will of those men who now wanted to prosecute further the incarceration of these wretched Irishmen. [Laughter.] Well, if they denied their ancestry there was an end of it, and he was with them. Their King had been murdered by a rebel, and that rebel assumed the Crown and put it on his own brow. And he reigned, and his son reigned, and his grandson. And yet he had been guilty of the most utter violence that any man could have been guilty of. Now, there was an instance which he thought to be true. He would go a little further. He would show them another royal rebel and regicide who had been distinctly rewarded by the great English people—Henry VII., Sir Henry Tudor, a vulgar Welsh knight. He had been made Earl of Richmond by somebody, whom he knew not, and he did not care. He was only a bastard great-grandson of John of Gaunt. What did he do? Let hon. Members remember their history. It was of great necessity to him in his present case. Richard III. was the undoubted King of England. There was no mistake about it. But what did this regicide and rebel, backed by the people of England, do? He had raised the standard of rebellion, and in open battle defeated his own King, and they were told in Shakespeare, but nowhere else he was glad to say, that he had murdered him on the field of battle. That man, the vulgar Welsh murdering knight, had been made King of England. And yet that man was not only elected King, but they took the Crown off the head of the beautiful Princess Elizabeth, the only surviving daughter of Edward IV., who was made Queen Consort, though she was entitled to be Queen Regnant. That was the reward which was given 1594 by the great people of England to the man who murdered their King, and who refused to allow his wife to be Queen of England, to which she was by right entitled, while he had no more title to the Crown of England than he (Major O'Gorman) had. That beautiful Princess was the only surviving daughter of a man who had been King of England, and whose two sons, it was said, were murdered in the Tower, though he did not believe a word of it himself. Yet she was passed by, and, instead of being Queen Regnant, she became the Queen Consort of the rebel bastard, and no man in that House could deny it. He would now go a little further into the history of England. He did not want to detain the House long, and he was sure he might appeal with confidence to hon. Members whether he had ever been a bore in the House. [Cheers.] He was obliged to hon. Gentlemen for acquitting him of that at least by those cheers. He now came to a rebel who was not so distinguished a murderer as Henry VII., he meant Cromwell. He murdered Charles I., and what became of him? He died in his bed comfortably afterwards, the Euler of his country. It was a small thing to say that they afterwards pulled up his poor remains and hung them in chains, but that was all vanity. He was a regicide; he was a most violent politician, far more violent than those poor people who, after 10 or 12 years' imprisonment, they still wished to keep in prison—or rather they did not wish it, for he did not believe there was an hon. Member on the other side who desired to prolong their punishment. How could they with the history of Cromwell before them, who murdered his King and died comfortably in his bed? Could any one deny that? Not one. He was well known in England; he was well known in Europe; and England was never so much respected as she was during the Protectorate of Cromwell. So much for a violent politician of former days, who made use of the most violent means to accomplish his ends. The greatest compliment ever paid to Cromwell was when Charles II., the son of the man who was murdered by him, sent the son of the Earl of Cork to ask Cromwell to allow his daughter to be married to himself. If that was to be the reward of a regicide, let them open the prison doors to these poor 1595 people at once. They must do it; they could not refuse it. To come further down to more modern history, there was one name which he thought would he remembered in England for many days, and if not in England, at least it would be remembered in every other country in the world—he referred to George Washington. He thought it would be admitted that that gentleman was rather a violent politician; yet he slept in an honoured grave. Nobody passed by his grave except in silence and in respect. That man, if he had failed, would have been treated as a rebel. He was sorry to hear his hon. and gallant Eriend—if he would allow him to call him so—the Member for Brighton (General Shute) say last year that the Irish political prisoners should have been whipped at the cart's tail. George "Washington never whipped the Marquess of Cornwallis when he had him in his hands. No, he treated him with respect, as one whom he had conquered in honourable warfare; and George Washington, the greatest rebel of modern times, now slept in an honoured grave. Was it necessary to recapitulate the story of Louis Napoleon, who went from this country to Boulogne and deliberately with a pistol shot a man in the ranks of the French Army? What was his reward? He was made Emperor of the French. What was he to say with respect to Count Andrassy? Thousands of pounds were offered for him dead or alive by the Emperor of Austria. He commanded the rebels of Hungary against their rightful King—not the Emperor of Austria, but the King of Hungary—and what became of him? Was he in gaol like those poor fellows, the Fenian prisoners? No; he was now Prime Minister of Austria and Hungary too. If he went back some thousands of years—[Laughter, and "No, no!"]—he observed that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, though not exactly impatient, rather implored him not—and he assured him it was not his intention to do so; but if he were to go back he should instance King Mithridates. He reigned for many years as King of Pontus, and he executed 80,000 men in one day. He might be considered a very violent politician, but no one dared to use violence towards him, and he reigned to the hour of his death very com- 1596 fortably, and was never put in gaol at all. They sent Julius Cæsar to attack him, but he was too late for old Mithri-dates. Then there was an officer of the name of Sylla, whom they all must have heard of. He put 5,000 men to death one day while he was eating his luncheon. Some one who heard the cries of the victims asked—"What are these cries?" "Oh," said he, "A few scoundrels whom I have ordered to be executed." Yet Sylla was not only Dictator of Rome, but actually resigned that position in order that the people might try him if he was guilty of any crime, and they deliberately declared that he was not; and yet he was a most violent politician. He hoped with all this evidence he had convinced hon. Gentlemen opposite. Were they prepared to go into the same Lobby with him, or to say "agreed?" If they were, he should not say another word. He never got up in that House without intending to win. He hated speaking; he detested it. His hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire had asked him to go to Oxford to-morrow for some celebration or other. He gave him a half-promise to go, but when he was told that he should have to make at least three speeches he decidedly declined. Therefore, as he was not fond of speaking, if hon. Members only intimated that they were convinced by his arguments, he would sit down. In that House they were men, they were Gentlemen, they were Christians; he hoped they were all good fellows; and he asked—Was there any good fellow in that House who would deny liberation, after their long incarceration, to these poor men? He thought he had proved his case so far by the historical facts he had cited, but he should throw all those arguments overboard and go altogether on a new ground. He would rely altogether upon the kindliness and upon the good heart of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria to release these prisoners, and he was sure that if his request were conveyed to her she would release them. He remembered long ago, when he was a young man, when she came to the Throne—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. and gallant Member that the introduction of Her Majesty's name into the debate is out of Order.
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
said, he did not intend to violate the Rules of the House, but merely to mention a circumstance that came under his personal observation in 1874, and which he thought he was entitled to refer to. After the Session of that year, the first Session he had spent in that House, he returned to Ireland, and one day, when sitting in his room, a knock came to the door. He answered the knock himself, and found outside the door a man, poorly, but respectably, dressed. He asked him what his business was, and the man said—"In the month of May last my wife had three children at a birth, and I wrote immediately to the Palace asking for the usual sum which is given to poor people on those occasions." ["Question!"] He said he received an answer from General Sir Thomas Biddulph asking for particulars.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am very unwilling to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member; but I fail to see the connection which the observations he is now making have with the subject before the House.
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
begged pardon; he was sorry he could not give the anecdote which the Speaker had ruled to be out of Order, as he thought it one of his strongest arguments. He hoped the Government would not advise Her Majesty at all; but would leave this act of leniency to the exercise of her undoubted Prerogative. ["Order!"] He was in Order, at all events in speaking of the Prerogative of the Queen. If the Government would only consent to suspend their advice, not for one day, but for one hour, he was convinced of the success of the Motion. The Prerogative of mercy was a grand Prerogative. If they were told the King of Sparta, Agesilaus, suspended the law of his country for one day, let the Ministers of England suspend their advice for one hour, and he had no doubt that the Royal Prerogative would be graciously exercised. Let Her Majesty exercise her Royal Prerogative and all would be well, for were they not told that—The quality of mercy is not strained;It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomesThe thronéd monarch better than his crown;His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,The attribute to awe and Majesty,1598Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;But mercy is above the sceptred sway,It is enthroneèd in the hearts of kings,It is an attribute to God himself;And earthly power doth then show likest God'sWhen mercy seasons justice.…Though justice be thy plea consider this—That in the course of justice, none of usShould see salvation; we do pray for mercy,And that same prayer doth teach us all to renderThe deeds of mercy.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the time has come when Her Majesty's gracious pardon may he advantageously extended to the prisoners, whether convicted before the Civil Tribunals or by Courts Martial, who are and have been for many years undergoing punishment for offences arising out of insurrectionary movements connected with Ireland,"—(Mr. O'Connor Power,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PEASE
defended those who were favourable to the liberation of the Irish political prisoners, from the charge which had been brought against them of being actuated more by sentiment, than by a just and fair consideration of the circumstances of their case. He held that it was by a sound judgment those hon. Gentlemen were guided who had now memorialized for the release of the prisoners. Had he (Mr. Pease), for one, been asked to sign that Memorial some years ago, he certainly should have declined. He had felt it a very painful duty to support by his vote those Coercion Acts which had been brought in and continued by successive Governments, because he regarded it as a public duty to guard against all assailants the integrity of the Empire and the securities for the peace and well-being of Ireland. But there were no such dangers to be guarded against now. As regarded the prisoners, there were now only six of them to be dealt with; two of them were connected with the Manchester outrage, three were military prisoners, and the other had been convicted of a distinctly political offence, described as treason-felony. Now, what had brought these men into contact with rebellion? On the other side of the Atlantic there had been a protracted and sanguinary war, which brought into existence, as was the rule 1599 with wars, a number of mere soldiers of fortune. Peace found these men without employment, and Ireland in a state of chronic disaffection, and they fomented the disaffection that existed and joined in the rebellion that followed. From the fertile seed-plot of the American war had been spread the germs of much lawlessness and violence, both in Ireland and in America. In the latter country it might be long ere the effects ceased to be seen. In Ireland the danger, they trusted, was overpast. The measures passed by Parliament had succeeded in removing much disaffection from Ireland, and that country was now in a much improved state compared with its condition 10 years ago. When these prisoners were tried crimes of all kinds were rife; now prisons were empty, workhouses were being closed, agrarian crime had almost ceased, and the Judges of the land were passing from circuit to circuit without finding any offenders to be tried. The country was in a state of alarm, and Government required to put forth a strong unfaltering hand when those prisoners were sent to gaol; but now they could afford to look back on the circumstances of that time, and make allowance for whatever tended in the past to lead them into rebellion. He had always thought, and he believed hon. Members who had investigated the circumstances would agree with him, that there was some contributory negligence on the part of the Executive Government. The authorities well knew, from telegrams they had received from Ireland, that a rescue at Manchester was in contemplation, and yet they permitted certain prisoners, the object of the contemplated rescue, to be accompanied only by two or three policemen through a crowd of on-lookers actuated by tremendous excitement. For the outrage that followed under these circumstances, moreover, three men had been hanged, while five or six others had undergone long periods of imprisonment, because of being technically implicated in the crime for which others had suffered the extreme penalty of the law. He could not fail to draw a distinction between the crime which was perpetrated under the political circumstances to which he adverted, and the deliberately planned assassinations which were the subject of discussion in that House the other day. when discussing the question of the pro- 1600 posed abolition of capital punishments, He, for one, believed that from the number of shots that were fired, had murder been contemplated, these would have been more effectual. ["Oh, oh!"] Such was his view. According to the evidence there were 20 to 30 men armed with loaded revolvers, and yet Sergeant Brett was shot unintentionally, in the course of an illegal attempt to effect a rescue. Then, again, the crime charged against one of the military prisoners was that of failing to give information of the contemplated rescue. That was, he admitted, an offence that called for punishment. On whom were they to rely, if not on the non-commissioned officers? But let it not be forgotten that that man bore a good character for 10 years' exemplary conduct—a circumstance invariably taken into account in estimating the severity of punishment due to crime; and then let hon. Members consider whether, after the long period of incarceration that man had undergone, it was not now a favourable time for inquiring how much longer for such an offence was imprisonment to be continued? Would not the country be as safe if the punishment were now remitted, as by its continuance? Were the Representatives of the people to say that it was absolutely necessary to the national safety and welfare that these men—some of them yet young men—must be kept in prison during the whole period of their natural lives? There was nothing derogatory to the power and dignity of the Government in giving a negative answer to this inquiry. Allusion had been made to certain men who had escaped. Had any steps been taken for the recovery of these men? He fancied the Government never wished to see them again. Well, they had had a real rebellion some years ago in Ireland, headed by a Gentleman who sat for many years in that House, and was highly respected by all who knew him—he alluded to Mr. Smith O'Brien. He was taken while in arms, holding a cottage for some hours against the Queen's soldiers; and, in that extreme case, when the offender was actually convicted of treason, and formally sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered, the dread sentence was afterwards commuted to 14 years' banishment, and was afterwards again commuted, and Mr. Smith O'Brien was brought home to his country. Had any of the men whose fate was now be- 1601 fore the House of Commons been guilty of as great a crime as Mr. Smith O'Brien? He had signed the roll of Parliament, had taken the oath of allegiance, was in the Queen's commission of the peace, and yet it was felt consistent with public safety to commute his punishment twice after he had been sentenced to death, and had been transported to mark the turpitude of his crime. He (Mr. Pease) confidently submitted that the political prisoners now under consideration ought not to be treated with greater harshness. They had offended, in ignorance, and under great temptation, and sinister and powerful influences. They had already suffered sufficiently to deter others; and he, therefore, trusted the House would pass the Resolution before it, and show the country to be as generous as it was great; by allowing those men to be released on their parole they would earn the gratitude of their fellow-countrymen.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, the Executive Government of any country had laid upon it a most solemn, responsible, and difficult task when it came to deal with crimes such as those which had been committed by men in the position of those whose pardon was now asked by the hon. Member who had brought the Motion before the House. He could not enter upon a discussion of the question under consideration without remarking upon two of the speeches which had been delivered, and which were calculated to check any inclination to mercy that might otherwise have existed. The whole circumstances were under the consideration of the Government, which had to pay regard to matters unknown to the House, and which were naturally outside its cognizance. He had listened with amazement to the speech of the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease). The hon. Member said he did not palliate or extenuate the crime that was committed at Manchester, but that was what he had done. He had reduced a crime of outrageous murder—["No, no!"]—a crime of outrageous murder, committed in a peaceable community, to a light offence, and he had charged the executive of Manchester with a want of faith in the loyalty and peaceable disposition of the inhabitants of that town. He had also told the House that there was no intention of making the attack with a view 1602 of taking lives; but he had admitted that no less than 40 shots were fired by men who, if unaccustomed to the use of arms, were regardless of the consequences. The men who made that attack were prepared to do any deed of violence in order to rescue the prisoners from the van. They did not care what blood was shed in the attempt to release those prisoners, and the hon. Member for South Durham had extenuated the crime, and spoken of it as a light offence. He (Mr. Hardy) hoped that in this country we should always be able to trust to the peaceable conduct of the people without having to resort to military force or violent means, and that we should not require to have our prison vans guarded by soldiers or great masses of policemen. But what were the circumstances of the case? It must not be forgotten that the men in whose behalf this murderous offence was committed had not been convicted, but were prisoners who could look forward to a fair trial. It was not a case occurring under a despotic Government, where a man had no such chance of a fair trial. The prisoners in this case were under remand, having the opportunity of a fair trial before them; and yet, under these circumstances, the House was asked to treat it as a light offence, attempting and taking the lives of public officers to rescue prisoners who might have been perfectly innocent for aught anyone knew, for they might have been acquitted on the merits; and yet they were told that what these criminals were now undergoing sentence for was not a crime to be visited by the severest punishment. The hon. Member opposite had said the question before the House was, whether the country would be safe if those men were let out of prison? Why, if we were to empty our gaols to-morrow, the country would be safe; but he (Mr. Hardy) had yet to learn that that was the principle on which crimes were to be punished in this country, and the security of its peaceable inhabitants was to be ensured. It was necessary to show that such crimes could not be committed, and that our laws were not to be violated with impunity. The hon. Member opposite had called this a technical crime of murder; but was that borne out by the circumstances of the case? It so happened that this offence was committed when he (Mr. Hardy) was at the 1603 Home Office, and he could remember something of what was taking place at that time. Perhaps, when the secret history of the period in which the crimes immediately connected with the question under consideration came to be written, it would be known that the conspiracy had ramifications extending far beyond anything that had been brought to light in course of the investigations that had led to the convictions of the men now in prison, and, further, that crimes of the most serious character would have been committed but for the prompt action of the Executive. Hon. Members spoke lightly of what was occurring in these times; but it must be remembered that it was only a part of the outcome of a deliberate conspiracy which was not confined to Manchester, but extended to other parts of the country, and he maintained that the circumstances were such as fully to justify the Executive in treating the crime as they did. It was not a question of vengeance, but a question of treating the prisoners so as to prevent the recurrence of such crimes hereafter. It was a question also of confidence in the Executive; and he hoped the time would not come at which the House would fail to rely upon the Executive, either to exercise the Prerogative of mercy, or to carry out the law to its full extent. Formerly men whose death sentences had been commuted for penal servitude were set at liberty after a fixed period of 12 years; but it was thought that cases differed so much in their character and in their effect upon the population that it was better to leave it to the Executive to determine at what time the convict should be released. This was one of the most remarkable Motions ever submitted to the House; it was not an Address to the Crown praying for the exercise of mercy, but it was to be an expression of opinion by the House, without any knowledge of the circumstances of the case, and of what might have been occurring at the time in any part of the country, which was known to the Government and was not known to the House. Upon a mere outside view of these transactions the House was to express an opinion that the time had come when Her Majesty's most gracious pardon ought to be extended to those prisoners. This was an unconstitutional Motion. [Cheers and "No, no!"] It was an expression of 1604 opinion, and not an appeal to Her Majesty's Prerogative.
§ MR. CALLAN
rose to Order, and asked, whether a Motion which the Speaker, in the exercise of his discretion, had allowed to appear on the Notice Paper, could properly be described as unconstitutional?
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
hoped he should not, by that expression of opinion, raise a question of Order. He was not aware that it was the province of the Speaker to decide upon Notices of Motion, whether they were Constitutional or not. The Speaker was to say not what was Constitutional, but only what was proper in that House. In describing the Motion as unconstitutional, he (Mr. Hardy) did not mean that it was improper in the sense of being rebellious; but that it indicated a wrong mode of taking up the question, for if it was to be taken up at all, it ought to be in the form of an Address to the Crown. If the Motion had merely invited Her Majesty to exercise Her Prerogative of mercy, he would not take exception to the form of it; but it was an expression of opinion as to the duty of Her Majesty; and it was therefore contrary to the principles upon which they acted in that House. Much had been said that was not calculated to induce the House to pass the Motion, dealing with its substance rather than its form. The hon. Gentleman the Mover had, as on former occasions, endeavoured to vindicate what had occurred. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Seconder claimed the pity of the House, and that was perfectly legitimate; but it was not a judicious course to hold up the objects of that pity to approval rather than condemnation. It was stated that they were precluded from discussing the character of the crimes, because the Government had not produced Reports of the trials. There were no authentic notes of such trials as that at Manchester except the notes of the Judge, which were sometimes submitted to the Secretary of State, if he desired to have them: there were no official notes which could be laid before the House; but the records of a court martial could be obtained for three years, on a small payment by the accused, or by anyone on his behalf. After the lapse of 10 years, he had been asked to print those of the court martials, and he had declined. It 1605 was only under the most exceptional circumstances, that the proceedings of a court martial were laid before the House. But, suppose such records could be produced, were they to retry the case upon them without seeing the witnesses? That would be a most unusual proceeding, only to be resorted to when there was some suggestion of corruption or impropriety in the trial. We must leave the tribunals to try these cases and judge for themselves; and that being so, they could look only at the verdicts and sentences. In the Manchester case the sentence was death; in the court martial, the sentence was death in one case, and penal servitude in the other two. In the latter eases it was admitted that the offence was of a serious military character. There could not be a more grave offence in a soldier than not disclosing a mutiny of which he had knowledge, which meant practically being parties to mutiny in the Army, which was bound, not only by the ordinary ties of citizenship, but by special oaths of allegiance. Non-commissioned officers were placed in a position of extreme responsibility; they had charge of the privates of a regiment, and if they conspired with them to mutiny, where would this country be? It had been suggested that soldiers should have been sent to protect the prison van; but if sergeants and privates were to be in a conspiracy to mutiny, what security should we have from such protectors? The offence was of the gravest character; but it was not under all circumstances to be punished to the extreme limit; but the course taken by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) was not the way to lead to mercy being extended. Gratitude had been talked of; but the gratitude of the released Fenians did not lead him to conclude that gratitude inevitably followed from pardon. In the United States the released Fenians had not scrupled to suggest what they called "skirmishing" against this country, and even the revengeful murder, not of those who had wronged them, but of anyone selected in order to affect the mind of the country, with the object of showing that it was not safe to punish "gentlemen" who called themselves "political prisoners." The hon. Member for Mayo had argued the ques- 1606 tion in a manner which did not indicate that he would be likely to show gratitude for mercy; he made a demand as of right, and he put forward Mr. Smith O'Brien as one sacrificed in a noble cause, and had referred to the statue raised to him in terms of eulogy and admiration. Far be it from him to express an opinion upon the conduct of Mr. Smith O'Brien. In the early life of that gentleman, he (Mr. Hardy) had the pleasure of meeting him on more than one occasion, and the first time he met him that gentleman sat on the Conservative side of the House; and he remembered that when he sat next him at dinner on one occasion, he thought he held some extraordinary opinions, which might ultimately lead him into difficulties. The host said that he had often told him that he would be tried for high treason and executed, and he added that it was on account of the extreme vanity of the man and the extreme wildness of his opinions. It was a curious circumstance that the host who was a very eminent lawyer, a man ' who had risen to great distinction in his Profession, and who had been very intimate with Mr. Smith O'Brien, had thus foreseen his career. He had no desire to say a word against Mr. Smith O'Brien, but he would say that when a statue had been raised in Ireland to him, and he was held up as an example to be followed, it could not be expected that the pardon of these men would be looked upon as an act of mercy on the part of this country, but it would rather be regarded as a right which was demanded for men who had done no wrong. If Mr. Smith O'Brien, who was a traitor, was held up to admiration, it was absurd to say that the pardon of these men would be regarded as an act of mercy on the part of this country; it would be looked upon as an act of contrition and remorse. He was far from saying he would not be a party to the remission of sentences upon men who had been convicted of crimes like these when the proper time had arrived; but if the remission were to be put forward as an act of repentance and remorse for what had been done in the course of justice, to the last moment of his life, in whatever position he were, whether seated on the Government or the Opposition Bench, he would resist a remission upon such grounds.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he was glad to hear it. The hon. Member had spoken of the example of other nations; but if these crimes had been committed in any other country, the hon. Member would never have had to ask for the pardon of the offenders, because they would have been shot in the first instance. Look what was done to the military prisoners of other countries. There were no open trials, no parade, no records kept; but the men guilty of these crimes would never have the opportunity of being pardoned, because they would have been immediately shot, as having been guilty of one of the worst crimes against the military laws of their country. He would venture to ask the House to look upon this question in the only safe way in which it could be regarded. The Government had a fair right to put common confidence in the Executive. In this country there was no desire for cruel punishments, or that they should be extended beyond the necessity of the case. He would admit that this question came very near the hearts of a great many of the Irish people; but they were not the Irish nation, and the Irish nation was not the whole people of the Empire. This was an Empire and not an aggregate of separate Kingdoms, and the Government had to consider the interests of the whole of this great Empire. It was also a free Empire. Every man who was wronged had an opportunity of bringing his wrong to light, and there was no man who suffered an injury who had not an opportunity of obtaining redress in a constitutional manner. Therefore, the man who took up arms had to vindicate himself from a charge of the deepest dye. Where there was no necessity—not even an excuse—for shedding blood, the man who raised his arm to shed blood committed a crime; and for that crime the country had a right to demand, he would not say vengeance, but the utmost punishment the law allowed. Much more when men who had taken upon themselves the character of defenders of the country violated the oaths they had taken and conspired to destroy the country, no punishment could be inflicted upon them which they did not deserve; and it was only when the Executive, looking at all the circum- 1608 stances of the case, saw that the time had arrived when, without injury to the country and the people at large, these, men might be pardoned, that they could be released. Until that time arrived there ought to be no interference with the Government in its advice as to they exercise of the Prerogative of the Crown.
§ MR. BUTT
wished to say, as one deeply interested in the welfare of the people of Ireland, that this was a question in which that people felt a very great interest. The question now before the House was one which could not be overlooked, and he deeply regretted the passion displayed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy). It would be regarded as the exasperation of a refusal which, if made at all, ought to be made with judicial temper, and it breathed a spirit of vengeance rather than the cool and deliberate judgment of a Minister of State dealing with an event which occurred 10 years ago. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by punishment being due to those who sought redress for real or imaginary wrongs? It was unnecessary to discuss on the present occasion the propriety of pardoning the Fenian leaders, because they were all pardoned and set free; and what the House had to determine, and what they were considering, was, whether they were to prolong the exasperation and ill-feeling, and undo the good effected by the release of the leaders for the sake of keeping the six miserable prisoners in gaol, for in any other country they would have been shot? He denied that this was an unconstitutional Motion affecting the Crown. The unconstitutional language of which the right hon. Gentleman complained did not come from the Opposition side of the House, but from the right hon. Gentleman himself, when he said that the House had no right to advise the Queen on any matter affecting the peace of the country and the dignity of the Crown. He maintained that the House had a right to record its opinion in a Resolution. He had before him the report of the trial of the prisoners charged with the murder of Sergeant Brett at Manchester, but he would first advert to the case of Davitt, who was tried under the Treason Felony Act for conspiring to depose the Queen. No act of violence was charged against him, but he was convicted of having supplied arms to 1609 Fenian prisoners with the knowledge that they would he used in the Fenian rebellion. On what grounds was this man detained when the Government had released all the rest? The Prime Minister, when in that House, said that he and a prisoner named Wilson were tried together—that Wilson was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude and Davitt to a longer term; and that as Wilson had served out his term, it would be reversing the sentence of the Judge to liberate Davitt at the same time. That time had, however, now passed, and after releasing O'Donovan Rossa and the other men who had planned the conspiracy, what reason could there be for detaining one who had only played a subordinate part in it? The remaining prisoners were the two men charged with complicity in the attack upon the prison van, in which Sergeant Brett was killed. One of those men, Shore, was convicted at Manchester, but how? Five men were altogether put on their trial and convicted. Three of them were executed, but the fourth, Maguire, a Royal Marine, after being convicted by the jury, with the full approval of the Judge, was proved two days afterwards to have been not near the place at all. The verdict was utterly false, and the man got a free pardon. The remaining prisoner had also been pardoned, on the ground that the witnesses had been mistaken in deposing that he had had a pistol in his hand. It was the first time life had been taken when the verdict as to the others had been shown to be so erroneous. This was a case of technical murder—a case of constructive murder. No man would pretend to say that Condon had a hand in firing the shot. With reference to the prisoner Condon, he submitted that the evidence against him amounted to this and this only—that he was guilty of participating in a riot. When the question was before the House four years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich said that when Ireland became tranquil, he would regard it as his duty to take the case of the prisoners, whose cause he pleaded that night, into consideration. He ought to add that the right hon. Gentleman guarded himself against misconception by saying that those prisoners who had been guilty of violence should be regarded as political prisoners. The question was, whether these men 1610 were political prisoners. He did not care to answer that question; but he would ask, if 40 or 50 people had been arrested and charged with the murder of Sergeant Brett, would the English people allow them, according to a technical rule of law, to be executed? They were not murderers, except by a technical rule of law. When it was said that they were murderers, he would be glad to know what was meant. He contended that it was not assassination, but constructive murder, into which any man might be drawn, just as in the case of rescue of a poacher from arrest. Was it, then, unreasonable that they should ask now, in the common interest of humanity, that this young man, only 18 or 19 years of age, who was convicted in such a manner, and who had been in prison for 10 or 11 years, should be liberated. Had he not, by the eclipse of his young life for 11 years, sufficiently vindicated the crime of which he was so found guilty? Was there any English Gentleman who wished to prolong that term, because he had been guilty of indiscretion in joining that crowd? If he were not released now, after 11 years' imprisonment, when would he be released? Having gone through that case, he came next to that of the military prisoners; but surely their case was not devoid of consideration, which ought to weigh with the House. Were there in the great American War no prisoners taken by the Federals from the Confederate Army, and from the Federals by the Confederate? And how leniently, he asked them to remember, were those prisoners treated. Let them also look at those who took part in the Canadian insurrection. The Government put a price upon the head of Papineau and recalled him to be Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken mysteriously of what was passing in his country, and of secret reasons which justified the further detention of these men. If there were any, if anything was passing in Ireland, the House had a right to know it, and what they were. They ought to know the facts, and he protested against insinuations of secret reasons—that was not the principle which should guide their actions. There remained but three military prisoners, and he thought the time had at length come when their case should be with equal propriety leniently dealt with. 1611 Those men, it was true, had taken the oath of allegiance, but there was not a single charge against them. They had not violated by a single act any engagement which they had previously entered into. He considered and believed that the detention of these men in prison was doing more mischief in Ireland than any other cause. If indiscreet speeches were made in Ireland where was the justification for them? If they released these men there would be no justification. The detention of them in prison created sympathy for them, and that again created sympathy for the crime. If they liberated these men they would do that which would affect the hearts and feelings of the people of Ireland. Speaking from his own knowledge, he could state that there was no subject on which the great mass of the Irish people felt more strongly than in regard to the release of those men; and he said that the continued incarceration of those six men had really marred the effect of the wise and statesmanlike act of liberating the other prisoners. The leaders had all been pardoned, while those six men, and those six only, were kept in custody; and he had never heard violent language used at public meetings in Ireland—and he always heard it with regret—without observing that those who uttered it invariably fastened on the detention of those men as the justification for their denunciations. Again, what discussions had they not had in that House about the treatment of their convict prisoners in consequence of the retention of those five or six men in prison? He did not think it was worthy of the Ministers of the Crown, he did not think it was worthy of a great Sovereign—and he said this with all loyalty to his Queen—that those men should be kept longer in confinement, thus causing exasperation to rankle in the hearts of a people disposed to be loyal if only fair play and justice were shown to them. [Laughter.,] The hon. Gentleman who laughed, if he got up and answered him (Mr. Butt) would probably show that he was entirely ignorant of everything about Ireland. He had himself always argued that question as if he were an Englishman, and if he were charged as an Englishman with any responsibility, he should feel it to be the best for England as well as for Ireland, that the imprisonment of those men should terminate, and 1612 that the gracious act previously done by the release of the other prisoners should now be made complete.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Butt), that every hon. Member of that House had a right to express an opinion on that matter, and because he did so, must protest against the slaughter of Sergeant Brett being described as a technical murder.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
protested against the assertion that anybody who had to do with the murder of Sergeant Brett was only technically implicated in it. What were the circumstances which occurred on the 18th of September, 1867, at Manchester? When that outrage was committed a man named Kelly and another man named Deasy, who were suspected of taking some part in the Fenian conspiracy, were charged before a magistrate, and two officers were in Court, ready to depose to the accused having had some hand in that conspiracy, and had a warrant for their apprehension. After hearing a certain amount of evidence the magistrate deemed it his duty to remand those men to prison in order that further inquiry should be made. Thereupon, they were placed in the prison van. Hon. Members would know exactly the construction of such a van. The hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease) had said there was negligence on the part of the police. What were the facts? There was some notion that there might be some attempt at a rescue. Whereas usually the van was under the conduct of a policeman who guided the horses, while another took charge of it behind, in that particular case there were seven policemen in front and four followed the van in a cab. When the van emerged from under a railway arch, about half-a-mile from Bellevue, a large number of persons were seen upon some vacant ground, slightly elevated above the road. They were armed with revolvers, and had evidently been waiting for the approach of the van, determined at all hazards to 1613 rescue the prisoners. It was proved afterwards that messages had been sent in order that the might be prepared. They discharged their revolvers at the policeman, stopped and surrounded the van, and some of them got on the roof and attempted to break it in by means of hammers, while others handed up large stones to aid them. Others, again, tried to break open the door. It was the duty of Sergeant Brett to guard the door. He was a brave officer, and he did his duty. He positively refused to admit the assailants. When he was in the act of closing a ventilator—which was something in the shape of a small Venetian blind—for the purpose, probably, of preventing them from getting a hold there, one of the conspirators pointed a revolver at the aperture, and, deliberately discharging it, shot the officer. ["No, no!"] Sergeant Brett fell in the van, the door was then broken open, and the prisoners were released. Hon. Members might, if they liked, call that accidental shooting, but he (the Attorney General) called it deliberate homicide. ["No, no!"] They might call it a technical crime; he called it vulgar murder. They might call it political offence; he called it deliberate and atrocious assassination. ["No, no!"] It was a deliberate planned attack, carried out by the prisoners who were afterwards convicted, regardless whether they committed murder or not, but determined to do murder rather than fail in their object. Those who had taken part in the outrage, and among them the men to whom allusion had been made, were brought to trial before a Special Commission at Manchester. They were tried before two of the most eminent Judges in the land—Mr. Justice Blackburn and Mr. Justice Mellor—and after a most careful and able summing up by Mr. Justice Blackburn, the jury found these men guilty of murder. It was perfectly true that circumstances were afterwards brought to light which convinced the Home Secretary that one of the men found guilty had been improperly convicted. It surely did not follow, however, that the evidence was not reliable with respect to the others. He did not know that that was suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt). What he understood the hon. and learned Member 1614 to say was that these men were not really guilty of intentional murder, that their crime was rather of a technical character, and that having been so long in confinement they ought now to be released. Whether they ought to be released or not, it was not for him to say. He had only risen to protest as strongly as he could against such an outrage being called a "technical" crime.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure, Sir, that all hon. Members of this House must be deeply impressed with the delicate nature of the duties which the Executive Government has to perform in a matter of this kind. It is, in truth, a matter greatly complicated by a variety of considerations, and even if I had found myself taking a view in some respects different from that which might be taken by Her Majesty's Government, I should still bow with great respect to their deliberate judgment. On the other hand, I think that on occasions of this kind, both policy and principle eminently dictate the observance by Members of the Government of the strictest measure in the language they employ, and of a judicial calm in the temper they display. I cannot say that I find that strict measure of language in the description which has just been given by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General. He protests against the homicide of Sergeant Brett being termed a technical murder, and I entirely agree with him in so doing. But it appears to me that it was in reference to murder, that I think it was called by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) a "constructive murder;" but that independently of that it was a most gross outrage against the law, and an act most dangerous to the peace of society. I have no disposition, therefore, to extenuate the act which appeared to me to require, and has received, very severe punishment. But is it not going a little beyond the limits of absolute accuracy to say that it was a "deliberate and atrocious assassination?" It was not the object of those who engaged in the undertaking. ["No, no!"] I am not aware that I am stating anything that is disputable in that proposition. Yet the risk of committing that most guilty act was a risk that they were ready and willing to run, and did run. But surely 1615 more than this is required in order to justify the description by a Member of the Government of this act as a deliberate and atrocious assassination. I greatly lamented the unnecessary warmth introduced into this debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He censured most severely the speeches made by the hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Motion (Mr. O'Connor Power), and particularly by the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease). It did not appear to me that it was, upon the whole, possible for these Gentlemen to have supported the Motion in a manner more free from exception than they did. I concur with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that a sounder discretion would have been exercised if, in lieu of moving this Resolution, an Address to the Crown had been proposed. If it be competent to me to do so, I would even now submit to the Mover of the Resolution, whether he will not ask the permission of the House to alter the form of his proceedings. Whenever we touch a question of Prerogative, we should recognize that it is better not to pronounce a separate and independent judgment by Resolution, but should content ourselves humbly to express our views and wishes, and lay them at the foot of the Throne. Recognizing the duty of the Executive Government to decide the matter, I am not prepared to take part in the Division in this case by supporting the Motion of the hon. Gentleman on another ground. I cannot blame those who have thought it necessary to take the sense of the House upon the question; but it appears to me so desirable that, in a matter of this kind, the Prerogative of mercy should be left in the hands of the Crown, to be exercised according to the advice the Crown may receive from those whose duty it is to give it, that only in the extremest case should I wish to support a Motion which strictly interposes the judgment of the House for the purpose of swaying the judgment of the Crown. I am not, therefore, Sir, disposed to take part in the division. Nevertheless, I confess I think the time has come when, with full respect to the judgment of the Advisers of the Crown, and with that due reserve with which I quite agree that every hon. Member of this House should speak, when something may be said of that 1616 general view of the case and circumstances which it is competent to us as Representatives of the people to take. In referring to this reserve, I mean to acknowledge that which was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He reminded us that the Government are habitually in possession of information which we do not possess, and bound to take into its consideration elements which we cannot. I therefore entirely submit myself to the decision the Government may adopt in view of any such information they may have at the present time. But I think that the feelings entertained in this House, as indicative of the probable sentiments of the country, are among the elements which the Constitutional Advisers of the Crown ought to take into consideration in the advice which they tender to the Crown on this question. After the time which has elapsed, and the share I, myself, had in laying down originally a broad and impartial distinction adversely to these men, it is not perhaps unfairly to be claimed of me that I should state the general aspect which the circumstances appear to me to bear. I contended when in an official position, and still contend, that the offence of the principal part of these prisoners does not fall purely within the category of political offences. And I observe that there has been a disposition on the part of those who support this Motion to sustain it on more general grounds of compassion and humanity, of policy and wisdom. The question which we have to determine is, what constitutes a political offence. It is quite clear that an act does not become a political offence because there was a political motive in the mind of the offender. The man who shot Mr. Perceval and the man who intended to shoot Sir Robert Peel did not become political offenders merely on this ground. By a political offence, I, at least, understand an offence committed under circumstances approaching to the character of civil war. Wherever there is a great popular movement, the offences committed in giving effect to the intentions of the people partake of the character of civil war. Reference has been made to the action of the President of the French Republic in pardoning offences committed by Communists; but it must not be forgotten that those offences—though darker than 1617 the crimes for which the Irish prisoners are under punishment—were committed in the progress of a civil war. But the riot committed at Manchester by a crowd locally gathered together was a proceeding totally of a different character, and must be considered as in the main belonging to the category of ordinary crime, though it is not on the ground that the offence is a political offence, that I think the prisoners in question can be recommended for consideration. But if these offences be not political offences in a strict sense, yet they were undertaken from a political motive, and in so far partake of that character as to affect, in a material degree, the moral guilt of the persons concerned. I do not say that the moral guilt of the parties concerned ought to be the sole, or even the main, consideration that ought to influence the mind of a Minister in administering justice; but still it is generally felt that it is desirable to keep public sympathy on the side of the law. Therefore, as the object of punishment is, after all, to deter others from the commission of similar offences, the question is, whether, in the present case, sufficient has not been done to satisfy the ends of public justice, and to act as a deterring influence. My memory differs somewhat from that of the hon. and learned Member (the Attorney General) as to the circumstances under which that gallant officer who stood to his post to the last was killed. He stated that the pistol was fired through the aperture in the door while Sergeant Brett was engaged in an effort to close it. My recollection and that of others is different. We were under the impression that the special object in view was the destruction of the lock. There is certainly some degree of difference between the two statements. However, I take the facts, upon the whole, as they have been stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I hope I have not seemed to desire to excuse the character of that act. It was a most gross outrage against the law; it was a most grave and serious danger to the general peace of society. But three men have expiated with their lives this single murder—not a common occurrence in this country. The cases are very rare indeed when the taking of a single life is avenged by the law by the taking of three lives. I am not, however, censuring that proceeding. Be- 1618 sides this we have before us the cases of six men. I put aside the case of the man Davitt, as to whom some hopes have been held out of separate consideration, and I cannot see what answer can be made to the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, who contends that his case belongs to a class strictly political. Neither will I enter into the specialities of the case of the soldiers, because it is very difficult for us without the assistance of the military authorities to form a minute estimate of their guilt; but the view we take of the Manchester case would really govern the case of the soldiers. If we think the punishment inflicted in the Manchester case sufficient, hardly any one would think it necessary to prolong the punishment of the soldiers, who have already suffered longer periods of imprisonment—one 11, and the other 10 years. Now, Sir, for those men sentenced to imprisonment for life, we cannot plead on the ground of the general rules of the Home Office, because I understand that, taking into view the date at which these sentences were pronounced, it would not be for a very long time that the Secretary of State, acting on the ordinary rule of 20 years, would enter into a review of their cases with a view to the exercise of mercy. The question, however, is, are these cases in which that general rule should apply? When we speak of keeping public sympathy on the side of the law we come to the important question of the degree of moral guilt; for public sympathy will be governed by the view of whether the act be base and wicked in itself, as well as perilous to the peace of society. Now, it is impossible not to feel that although this was a wicked act, it was not an act of that baseness, of that deep and aggravated guilt, which commonly attaches to cases of murder perpetrated from personal motives. If that is so, the question arises whether this penal servitude for 10 years, extracting as it does so large a fraction from the ordinary term of life, is not, upon the whole, a punishment quite sufficient for the act which was committed; sufficient to deter in the general view of the peace of society, and in that special view which cannot possibly be overlooked—namely, the protection of that valuable class of men who are the ministers of the law in the protection of life and property—I 1619 mean the police. But we must ask our-selves, whether enough has not been done to deter, and enough to satisfy the public conscience; for if we have filled up the measure of what the public conscience thinks justly due to an act of this character, we run the risk by prolonging the imprisonment of these parties of producing a re-action which may be fatal to the effective administration of justice? With all the reserves I have mentioned, and with all due deference to the Executive of the country, I cannot refrain from expressing a hope that either the time may now have arrived, or that the time will be very speedily considered to have arrived, when the cases of these men may be examined with a view to the exercise of the Prerogative of mercy. With this conviction in my mind, I do not think it unnatural or un-Parliamentary for the hon. and learned Member for Limerick to appeal to the convictions of the people of Ireland on this subject; for I can conceive that the recollection of an act of mercy may have the effect of determining many a wavering judgment, and may have a strong influence in conciliating the affections of a people whose condition has often been a matter to deplore, the soundness of whose political proceedings we may not be always able to affirm, but the truth and warmth of whose affections no one has ever been found to deny.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Gladstone) that this was not a matter which the House should rashly take into its own hands. It was a question of Prerogative upon which the Queen must be advised by her Advisers who were responsible to that House and the country for the advice they gave. That question of Prerogative was one of the greatest possible nicety; and it ought not to be raised, unless there was some gross case of abuse upon which that House should pass judgment, if it thought right, either by an Address to the Crown, or by an impeachment of the Minister who was responsible for having given the wrong advice. But in all matters of this sort, the nicest distinction was to be drawn between one case and another; and what seemed to him to be a mistake in the whole debate so far as it had gone was this—that a clear 1620 enough distinction had not been made between case and case. He would not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman as to his definition of political prisoners; he would rather not enter into that matter; but if there was one question which more than another gave trouble to Government, it was the question which was brought before the late Government as to what were political prisoners. When the question came to be discussed before the late Government, they evidently did draw a distinct line between one set of prisoners and another, and all who in their opinion were political prisoners were released, but all those who were guilty of what we might call ordinary crime were held in prison. That he was bound to remind the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was the deliberate conviction of the Government; and in his (Mr. Cross's) opinion, they were right. But in his opinion also, the Government could not take up this question as a new question; they were bound, unless some great error had been committed by their Predecessors, to follow the course they had taken. Therefore he, at the present moment, represented the Advisers of the Crown, not in his capacity of Secretary of State, but as a Representative of the late Government. ["No, no!"] He was merely carrying out the advice which was given to Her Majesty by their Predecessors. He wanted to call the attention of the House to one point of the utmost importance on which a great mistake had been made. In the first place, no distinction had been made between one prisoner and another. The words which fell from the hon. and learned Member for Limerick were these—He said he wanted the release of these six men for the satisfaction of the Irish people, making no difference between them whether the offence of one was more heinous than that of another. Now, the person holding the position he had the honour to hold was bound to consider that these six men were convicted of totally different offences, and he was also bound to consider the evidence in each particular case. But the whole argument of every one who had spoken had been for the release of the six men as a whole. He said that the case of each stood on a totally different principle. Another sen- 1621 tence fell from the hon. and learned Member for Limerick to which he must object. He stated that those who were sentenced to penal servitude for life were doomed to imprisonment for a lifetime. But nothing could be more unlike what was actually the case. The hon. and learned Member should know that was not so with any one of the prisoners; that was not the course which any Government would take in the matter. He must know that after a certain time, unless there were some very special circumstances in the case, every case would be fairly and fully considered, and each prisoner would be released. The right hon. Gentleman who had last addressed the House said that period was 20 years; he must beg to correct him in that matter; the period was 15 years, which made a very considerable difference. After a period of 15 years' imprisonment, the case of those who were sentenced to penal servitude for life would be fairly and fully considered, when a recommendation might be made to the Crown for the extension of the Royal clemency, so that not many years would elapse before the case of even the worst of them would be considered. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick had made another mistake in saying that the sentence was unjust, and that the imprisonment was a most unjust imprisonment. He emphatically denied that the sentence was unjust, or that the imprisonment was unjust, and he believed the words had fallen from the hon. and learned Member without serious thought. Now, having made these three observations, he wanted to say there had been throughout the whole treatment of these prisoners a great difference made. In the case of the political prisoners, they had been all released with two exceptions—Wilson and Davitt. The term of Wilson's imprisonment was shortened in 1875. An appeal was made to him to release Davitt at the same time. He thought that a fair application; but the result was, he was obliged to make inquiry into the circumstances of the case, and he was bound to say why he had not been released as the other was. The only record he could go to was the Report of the sentence pronounced by the Lord Chief Justice who tried the case. He was sorry to go into it, but he would read two sentences from what the Lord Chief Justice said. It was as follows:— 1622There was one thing which he could not hut regard with the utmost condemnation and horror; and that was, that assassination was not considered too desperate to be carried out, if it was found convenient to have recourse to it. That letter of his, of which the witness Forrester told the story, showed that there was some dark felonious design against the life of some one.In consequence of that letter having been found, one prisoner was treated as a tool in the hands of the other, and sentenced to penal servitude for seven years. That being so, the Government would not have been justified in letting out both men at the same time. He stated the other day it was necessary that a considerable difference should be made, and what it should be was under the consideration of the Government; and he did not see the slightest reason to depart from the statement he then made. The right hon. Gentleman, while thinking the question must be left in the hands of the Executive, pressed them to say that the time had come when the prisoners ought to be released. But what was the action of his own Government? The sentence of the man Wilson expired at Christmas, 1875, which was not very long after the right hon. Gentleman left office. The men they were speaking of were guilty of murder, and were sentenced to penal servitude for life. There was not much difference between 1875 and 1877. Although, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman's Government, it was not right before he left office in the beginning of 1874, to release a man whose sentence would expire in 1875, the present Government were bound to let out in 1877 the men who were sentenced to penal servitude for life. The right hon. Gentleman had been led into making observations on one case without duly considering all; had he been considering them as a responsible Adviser of the Crown, having regard to the action of his own Government, he could not have made a statement which, looking at his position in the matter, grave as it was, was the most reckless statement he had ever heard the right hon. Gentleman make; it was one which, had he been in office, and' had to bear his share of the responsibility, he would not have made. He would not argue the question of constructive or real murder any further. The great object of punishment was the prevention of crime; and the Government looked upon the murder of Ser- 1623 geant Brett as a great crime, inasmuch as an innocent man, doing his duty bravely, calmly, and nobly, was attacked by a number of persons, one of whom shot him. The jury found they were all guilty of a common intent—to use violence and commit murder for the purpose of obtaining their object. One of them did so, and the Judge properly ruled they were all guilty of murder. This was a principle which he agreed with, and which must be maintained in all cases, and under all circumstances. So for as they were concerned, and the public were concerned, they were all guilty of murder. Their case would be considered at the proper time, and the case of Davitt was now under consideration; but the question must be left to the discretion of the Advisers of the Crown. The advice he gave to the Crown he would continue to give to this House, so long as he had a seat in it, whether on that or on the opposite Benches.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he had had no intentions of taking any part in the discussion, and as it was he should only occupy the attention of the House for a few moments. He felt, however, after the course the debate had taken, that he was obliged to say a few words on the subject, as he wished to state the reasons which induced him to give the vote he was about to record. He entirely concurred in the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), as to the undoubted right of any hon. Member to invite the judgment of the House upon a question involving the advice to be given by Her Majesty's Advisers to Her Majesty in a matter of this character. Indeed, he did not say that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick and his Friends were not exercising a wise discretion in doing so. At the same time, he concurred with his right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich in deeply regretting that a question of this kind should have been discussed with any warmth on either side. One of the inconveniences almost inseparable from the discussion of such a question was, that the arguments adduced on one side of the House must almost naturally be supported with considerable warmth, but it was a matter of regret that they should be met with corresponding warmth on the other. He was not going 1624 to argue the case, because he felt that that had been sufficiently done already. He only desired to state briefly the grounds on which he should give his vote. He rather gathered from the speech of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) that he did not intend to vote on this question at all. Still, he did not doubt that the tendency of his right hon. Friend's speech was to advise Her Majesty's Government to consider favourably the appeal which had been made to them by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power). His right hon. Friend was of opinion that the time had arrived when Her Majesty's gracious pardon might be advantageously extended to these prisoners. That was to say, his right hon. Friend thought that the necessary term of the punishment of these prisoners had been completed. Now, he confessed, for his own part, he had not been able to arrive at a similar conclusion. In his judgment these prisoners must be treated either as ordinary criminals, or as political offenders. If they were treated as ordinary criminals, these cases would, in the usual circumstances, and at the usual time, come before Her Majesty's Advisers for examination. If, whenever their case did come before them, Her Majesty's Advisers should then find that there was in any individual case sufficient grounds for recommending to Her Majesty the exercise of the clemency of the Crown, such a decision would, no doubt, be received with perfect satisfaction on that (the Opposition) side of the House. If the case was to be treated as the case of ordinary criminals, he did not see that there was any occasion for the House to interpose in the matter. In due course it would in that view be treated in the ordinary way on its merits On the other hand, supposing these prisoners were to be treated as political offenders—whatever sense might be attached to that term—then, again, what he said was, that if on general grounds Her Majesty's Advisers, acting upon their own responsibility, should come to the conclusion that the political advantages which would accompany a general amnesty of these political offenders would be such as to outweigh any disadvantages that might arise from their release, he believed that such decision would also be received with the greatest possible satisfaction on his side of the 1625 House. But he felt bound to say, at the same time, that up to the time when he and his Colleagues left Office, they had not arrived at such a conclusion. Moreover, if he looked at what had occurred since they went out of Office, he was unable to see that any such change had occurred in the political circumstances of Ireland as would warrant him in advocating such a decision. He would admit that this was a most difficult and delicate question to deal with. It was a question on which one had to steel one's feelings and repress one's natural impulses. It was impossible to deny that the moral guilt of the men who were engaged in the Manchester outrage was not to be compared in heinousness to the moral guilt of some other murderers who had to be dealt with; but, on the other hand, it was equally impossible for the House to conceal from itself that the social mischief and misery and harm done by crimes like those of which the men had been convicted, greatly outweighed the mischief done by commoner and more serious offenders; and he therefore thought that a great deal of the responsibility must be left to Her Majesty's Government, and that a much stronger case ought to be made out before the House of Commons would be justified in interfering with that responsibility. He would not further argue a question that had been so fully discussed, but he saw no sufficient reason for altering the course which, after deep and painful consideration, the late Government felt it their duty to take in this matter; and though he would be glad if any such sufficient reason had been shown, if the present Government were unable to arrive at a different conclusion, he did not feel entitled either by abstaining from voting or by voting in opposition to the Government, to reverse the decision they had arrived at.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, that the hon. and learned Attorney General was quite incorrect in stating that the only persons now in custody were the actual murderers of Sergeant Brett.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER,
in reply, wished to alter the terms of his Motion, and to move an Address to Her Majesty representing that the time had come for the exercise of her Prerogative. ["No, no!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that it was not competent for the hon. Member 1626 to do so, unless he withdrew his original Motion.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that he intended to vote against the Motion, on the ground that the question was one that ought to be left to the discretion of the Government. He did not, however, wish his vote to be interpreted as the expression of any opinion that the time had not come for the mercy of the Crown to be extended to these prisoners; but he thought it a case in which the House of Commons was not called upon to interfere. He thought they might leave it to the discretion of Her Majesty's Government, believing that they would extend mercy to them if possible, and that they would consider all the circumstances involved in the case.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 235; Noes 77: Majority 158.—(Div. List, No. 241.)
§ Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."