§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
regretted that he was not altogether in a position to accede to the appeal of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) with regard to private Members giving way with their Motions to facilitate the progress of Government Business. That appeal would probably have been accepted by everybody but for a very unforeseen and surprising occurrence which took place on Tuesday, respecting the course the Government announced it to be their intention to pursue; and, under the circumstances of that occurrence, he felt it his duty to ask them for an explanation of their intentions with respect to the policy to be followed towards Ireland, more particularly with reference to the new development of that policy foreshadowed by the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The Government had recently been asked by Members of both Houses of Parliament whether, in their opinion, they could, with any safety, prorogue Parliament without first asking that some additional and exceptional powers should be conferred 106 upon the Irish Executive for the preservation of peace in that country. The Government had replied that, in their opinion, the state of Ireland did not call for any departure from their original purpose. If, however, the state of Ireland did not improve, and further disturbances and outrages should take place, they would undoubtedly consider it their duty to call Parliament together and submit measures for the preservation of peace. That was the reply he (Lord Randolph Churchill) received to a Question he put to the right hon. Gentleman on Monday last, and practically the same answer was given in the other House to a Question put by Lord Oranmore and Browne; and with it he and others, who were interested in the state of Ireland, had to be satisfied. On Tuesday, however, in reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. Parnell), the Chief Secretary for Ireland announced a totally different version of the policy previously proclaimed. The right hon. Gentleman reiterated his determination, if occasion should arise, to ask Parliament for additional powers; but accompanied that reiteration with a statement, by way of threat, that if the Government were forced, by the exercise of the rights of property, to ask Parliament for additional powers, any measure for the preservation of peace he might think it necessary to submit would be accompanied by a measure which would relieve them from having to enforce the law as far as those rights of property were concerned. That was a very important announcement; and he thought the House ought to consider in connection with it what was the real cause of the disturbed state of Ireland at the present time, and what was the cause likely to lead the Chief Secretary for Ireland to ask Parliament for additional powers. That cause was the land. The distress had almost entirely passed away, and the only disturbing cause in Ireland at the present time was the land; and it arose, without doubt, from the claims of one class—the landlords—to retain the land, conflicting with the claims of another class—the tenants—to obtain the land. Although the Chief Secretary for Ireland had reluctantly, and against his will, been compelled, after careful and detailed consideration of the circumstances of Ireland —although, after trying the Irish land- 107 lords under the most comprehensive indictment, he had been obliged to come to the conclusion that he could not with justice hold the landlords responsible for the disturbances, he, nevertheless, thought proper to add that if he should be compelled, by the recurrence of scenes of violence arising out of the conflicting claims between landlords and their opponents, to come to Parliament for powers to enforce the law, he should accompany his request for those powers with a measure which would deprive landlords of all or some of their rights.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out to the noble Lord that reference to a past debate of the present Session was irregular.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he had been careful not to quote the exact words of the right hon. Gentleman; but, undoubtedly, the House was given to understand that it was the intention of the Government, in certain circumstances, to accompany any measure for giving the Irish Executive exceptional powers to deal with disturbance with one that would deprive the landlord class of a portion, if not the whole, of the rights which they wished to exercise. He did not wish to contemplate that serious eventuality; but he desired to call the attention of the House to the prospect before them on the eve of the Prorogation. They knew that the landlords in Ireland, during the coming autumn and winter, would continue to exercise their just and lawful rights with the justice and moderation which the right hon. Gentleman admitted, against his will, had hitherto characterized them; but they also knew that those rights would be resisted more violently than ever by the people, who had been officially informed, if he (Lord Randolph Churchill) rightly understood the words of the right hon. Gentleman, that if their resistance should lead to sufficient violence and disturbance the Chief Secretary would accompany a demand for powers to repress that violence and disturbance with a measure which would enrich the promoters of disorder with a portion of the property belonging to the class against whom they had been so long fighting. In a word, the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman's Irish policy amounted to this. He said to the landlords—"It is perfectly true that by the exercise of your rights you may force 108 me to ask Parliament for powers to restrict the natural liberties of the Irish people, and by so doing you will undoubtedly falsify my predictions and discredit my policy; but I warn you that if it becomes necessary for me to do this, you will get, in addition, something which you will not like and which you will not have bargained for." The tenants were, in effect, promised that, in that case, any measure for the preservation of the peace would be accompanied by another Compensation for Disturbance Bill. This was the natural and only construction which could be put upon the right hon. Gentleman's words and upon the policy of the Government; and it was proved to be the right construction from the fact that the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), in frank and candid language, on being made acquainted with this new policy of the Government, declared that he was in a measure satisfied.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The noble Lord is again transgressing. He has no right to quote the language of the hon. Member for Tipperary.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL,
apologizing, said, it was difficult altogether to avoid referring to what had been said on former occasions. The House, however, would see, from facts which must be in the recollection of hon. Members, that the construction he had placed upon the words of the Chief Secretary for Ireland was the right one. He had no doubt that the object of the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that of smoothing the way for the Irish Votes —had been gained. But if the hon. Member for Cork City and his Colleagues were conciliated by the new policy which had been foreshadowed by the Government, what, he asked, was the position of other hon. Members who felt that if the hon. Member for Cork City took such a favourable view of this new policy that he intended not to offer the Government any protracted opposition, the intentions of Her Majesty's Ministers must, of necessity, be violently opposed to those principles which were successfully maintained in the debates on the Compensation for Disturbance (Ireland) Bill? The reason why he had brought this matter before the House was that, all through the Session, the policy of the Government on Irish questions had been to use one kind of lan- 109 guage to the Home Rule Party; and then, by implication or ambiguous expressions, to convey to other hon. Members that the language used to that Party did not bear the construction that would be naturally put upon it, and that, consequently, no one need be alarmed. This course, whether the English Members or the Irish Members were being deceived as to the intentions of the Government, could not be satisfactory; and he did not think the Government could complain if hon. Members were disinclined to turn to the consideration of Supply for the Crown in Ireland, without first calling upon Her Majesty's Ministers to say frankly and clearly how far they intended to go in the direction of concession to the Party of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. It was of the utmost importance that the Government should make a clear declaration on the subject, in order that it might be seen whether that was really their policy or not. One of the gravest charges brought against the late Government was that they had kept Parliament in the dark as to their intentions; and he thought the present Government were running the risk of making themselves liable to the same accusation. They knew that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to treat the disturbances in Ulster by appealing to the magistracy; but what they wanted to know was, how long the state of Ireland was to continue disturbed, and the law to be violated, and the enforcement of the law to be defied? How many landlords, he asked, or agents were to be shot; how many sheriffs' officers and bailiffs were to be successfully resisted by the people; how many head of cattle and flocks of sheep were to be mutilated, before Ireland should be in that condition which would lead the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the conclusion that the ordinary law was insufficient to cope with the emergency? The right hon. Gentleman kept saying—"We are determined to enforce the law and maintain it," when all the time the law was not being enforced, nor order being maintained. He would give the House a practical proof of the state of Ireland as compared with its state some years ago. When the Zulu War broke out, the demand for troops was so great that the Military Forces in Ireland were reduced to 10,000 men. Such was the 110 state of things two years ago. Now there were 21,000 effective troops in Ireland, while the Constabulary was recruited up to its full strength. Yet, if a war chanced to break out to-morrow, or things were to go wrong in Afghanistan, he challenged the Chief Secretary for Ireland to say whether he would be able to reduce the military force in Ireland by a single man. Such was the condition of the country. The fact was the Government were attempting to do in Ireland, by means of military display, what they ought to be doing by Acts of Parliament, and they were endeavouring to impress on the minds of the Irish people that their country was verging on a state of martial law. That statement could be proved by a reference to the speeches of the Chief Secretary for Ireland—not, indeed, by those made in reply to Conservative Members; for when they endeavoured to impress upon the Government that the state of distress in Ireland was so bad that a grant for its relief ought to be made from the Imperial Treasury, they were told that they exaggerated, and when they referred to paragraphs in the newspapers describing the very serious condition of affairs, the answer was that they were unnecessarily frightened. But when the Chief Secretary for Ireland came to reply to the hon. Member for Cork City, or the hon. Member for Tipperary, he had no hesitation in enumerating a series of the most frightful outrages— enough to make one's blood run cold— to show that the Irish Government were scarcely in a position to protect life and property as matters stood. Now, he wanted to know—and he thought they had aright to ask—what,when the time arrived at which even the Government would think it necessary to take some extra step to vindicate the law, would be the nature of those measures which the right hon. Gentleman foreshadowed the other night? Was he going to re-introduce the Compensation for Disturbance (Ireland) Bill, or some measure of a still larger kind? Was the measure to be a temporary one, or one of a permanent character? Would it apply to all Ireland, or only parts of it? The right hon. Gentleman, a few evenings ago, made a pathetic appeal to hon. Members from Ireland to have confidence in the Government, to give them a year or six months to see whether 111 their reasonable desires could not be complied with. But he (Lord Randolph Churchill) and his Friends did not repose implicit confidence in the Government. It was a new fashion, he might add, although it appeared not to be out of Order, seeing that the Speaker had not called it in question, to apply the epithets "wicked and cowardly" in that House to the speech of a Member delivered outside it. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) could not himself see the wisdom or propriety of that course. It appeared to him that if the Chief Secretary for Ireland was justified in the use of those words, he ought to be justified in taking steps to obviate the mischief which might arise from the speech to which they related, and to prevent similar speeches from being delivered in future. If the epithets were in Order, and were properly applied to the speech of the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), he knew of other speeches to which similar epithets might with equal justice be applied. It would apply, among others, to a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright), in which he told the Irish people that Irish questions would be dealt with by the Liberal Party with more desperate determination than hitherto. Those words, he had no hesitation in saying, conveyed more to the Irish ear than anything which had been said by the hon. Member for Tipperary; and the same observation applied to the celebrated Mid Lothian speech, in which the explosion at Clerkenwell Prison, and the events which occurred at Manchester, were spoken of as having brought the Irish Church and Land Questions within the range of practical politics. But if the use of the word "wicked" was allowable as applied to such speeches as that of the hon. Member for Tipperary, then he must say that of all the speeches he had ever listened to or read that made by the Chief Secretary for Ireland himself on Tuesday night was the most wicked and cowardly. It was an incendiary speech, delivered by a Minister of the Crown, and it was of that speech that he now asked for an explanation before the House went into Committee of Supply.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he would not be tempted or provoked by the remarks of the noble Lord opposite (Lord 112 Randolph Churchill) to make any reply whatever to his personal attack. If the noble Lord and those who agreed with him really held the sentiments to which he gave expression at the end of his speech, he was content to leave them to do so. Until the noble Lord came to the close of his observations, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) was quite in the dark as to the object which he had in view. He hoped, however, that the House would not, on the present occasion, allow itself to be dragged into a great Irish debate, for there was Business before it which was likely to lead to considerable discussion. The noble Lord might have made his remarks about the hon. Member for Tipperary on Monday evening and the rest of his speech last evening. The noble Lord wished for an explanation of a speech which he (Mr. W. E. Forster) had made on Tuesday evening, and he did not know whether he would be quite in Order in complying with the request; but he felt obliged, to some extent to do so. [Cries of "No, no !"] He would only do it to this extent— that he was quite content to rest on what he then said. He desired neither to add to, nor to take anything from, the speech which the noble Lord had brought before the House; and he would further say he had had the satisfaction of seeing that that speech was fairly reported in most of the organs of public opinion. The noble Lord said he heard it; but if so, he either paid no attention to it, or, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) was sorry to say, must have intentionally misrepresented it.
§ EARL PERCY
rose to Order. He wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was in Order in charging another Member of the House with having intentionally misrepresented him?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
thought the noble Lord would have done well to have risen at the end of his noble Friend's speech.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
rose to Order. He wished to know if the right hon. Gentleman was in Order in referring to him (Lord Randolph Churchill) as he had done, when he merely repeated the right hon. Gentleman's words. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman, whether he was in Order or not, that he was completely mistaken if he supposed that he had any intention of misrepresenting him.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, in that case, the noble Lord had omitted a very important sentence in the speech of his (Mr. W. E. Forster's) to which he had objected, and of which he asked for an explanation. What he (Mr. W. E. Forster) had said was that, in looking forward to the possibility, certainly not the probability—for he most earnestly hoped and believed the Government would not be driven to the necessity—of having to ask for further measures to preserve the peace in Ireland, if, at the same time, they found, what they did not expect to find, that the landlords in Ireland were, to a great extent, making use of their powers—
§ MR. ONSLOW
rose to Order. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had been informed that it was not in Order to make quotations from the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman on Tuesday; and he wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was in Order in quoting from the same speech?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the Rule was that no quotations could be made from speeches in the current Session, and could only be allowed by permission of the House. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman had been impugned by the noble Lord; and the House was aware that it was usual, when a Member rose in such circumstances to make a personal explanation, to extend to him considerable indulgence.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, it was not quite in accordance with the hon. Member's (Mr. Onslow's) usual courtesy to allow a man to be attacked and not to allow him to defend himself. He thought the hon. Gentleman must be somewhat excited in the matter, otherwise he would scarcely wish the House to depart from its usual practice, which was that a charge should not be made by a Member on a fellow Member, and that the latter should be prevented from replying. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) should be very short in what he had to say. The words he wished to repeat, when he was interrupted, and what he had said on Tuesday was, if the landlords were to any great extent making use of their powers so as to force the Government to support them "in the exercise of injustice;" but those words, which made a material difference in the sentence referred to, the noble Lord had altogether left out. What he 114 had stated was simply that the Government, if they found, as they did not expect to find, that the landlords were making use of their legal powers for the purpose of injustice, and, at the same time, they found that in order to carry out the law it was necessary to ask for still greater powers than existed at present, they would not ask for such additional powers without asking, at the same time, for safeguards against the injustice. If the noble Lord, even at the present period of the Session, thought that the Government ought to apply for greater powers, it was his duty to bring the matter by a definite Resolution before the House.
§ MR. GIBSON
desired to offer a few remarks in reference to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The other evening he (Mr. Gibson) spoke immediately after the right hon. Gentleman, and he believed—and he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman himself would readily admit—that he had not then used any words to which the right hon. Gentleman could take exception. On that occasion he had, unfortunately, not heard the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and he then understood the right hon. Gentleman to have spoken not ungenerously and not unreasonably of the Irish landlords. When, however, he came the next morning to read quietly' and calmly the sentences of the right hon. Gentleman which he had not heard the previous night, but to which his attention had been called by some hon. Members, he regretted extremely that those sentences should have been uttered by the right hon. Gentleman; not that he thought for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman intended by those sentences to convey the meaning which might possibly be put upon them by an excited Irish people. Not only were those sentences unfortunate, but they were uncalled for; because the right hon. Gentleman, in the earlier part of his speech, had in reasonable, moderate, and not ungenerous language, paid a tribute to the conduct of the Irish landlords by stating that, as far as he knew, they were not at present abusing their position, and had not given occasion for the outrages that had recently occurred in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman said, in the first place, that he must honestly say, as far as he was able to learn, that the danger to be guarded 115 against was not caused by the action of the landlords; in the second place, that the cases which had been brought before him were not those in which the individual landlords had been to blame; in the third place, that for many of the things to which he had referred the landlords were not to blame. These were the three tributes which the right hon. Gentleman had paid to the conduct of the Irish landlords, and which he (Mr. Gibson) himself had thought were not unreasonable and were not ungenerous. In these circumstances, he thought it unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman should have gratuitously and unnecessarily suggested the possibility that these blameless and trustworthy landlords might, in the course of the next few months, conduct themselves so unjustly and so tyrannically that it would be necessary, in bringing in a Peace Preservation Bill, to accompany it with a Bill dealing with civil rights. He was satisfied that nothing could be further from the right hon. Gentleman's intention than to intend a meaning so injurious as that by the language he had used; but they had to deal, not with the meaning which the right hon. Gentleman attached to his language, but with that which would be put upon ambiguous and suggestive words when they were read by the Irish population. Therefore it was that he understood that the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), in making the observations he had done upon the language of the right hon. Gentleman, intended to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of giving some explanation of the meaning he attached to his words, and to state that meaning in a clear and precise way, so as to preclude any injurious interpretation being placed upon his language. He (Mr. Gibson) had listened to-night with regret to the words of the right, hon. Gentleman, which he was afraid had not made his meaning more satisfactory or less unfortunate, because they were the practical adoption, without qualification, of the words he had used on Tuesday. Indeed, the words which the right hon. Gentleman now used went beyond those he had used on the former occasion; because he now stated that the Government would not be justified in asking for increased powers without, at the same time, taking safeguards against the landlords.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
remarked that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was aware that he had stated that he should only ask for such safeguards against the landlords in case there was reason to believe that they were abusing their powers.
§ MR. GIBSON,
speaking for himself in the utmost sincerity, was satisfied in his own mind that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend his words to bear the injurious meaning of which they were susceptible; but he regretted to say that they were susceptible of that injurious meaning. Did not what the right hon. Gentleman said amount, in plain English, to this—that no Peace Preservation Act was to be introduced unconnected with another measure dealing with civil rights? They were dealing, not with the meaning attached to his words by the right hon. Gentleman, but with that which would be attached to them by a keen and intelligent population. The right hon. Gentleman had said on Tuesday that if the Government found that the landlords of Ireland were, to any great extent, making use of their powers so as to force the Government to support them in the exercise of injustice, a Peace Preservation Bill would be accompanied by a Bill releasing the Government from the obligation of supporting them in such injustice. Was that the real meaning which the right hon. Gentleman intended to attach to his statement? What would be thought if a responsible Minister of the Crown, after stating that it was his unfortunate and painful duty, after having satisfied himself that it was the only way to maintain law and order in Ireland, to ask Parliament to pass a Peace Preservation Act, were to say that, having arrived at that supreme decision after adequate deliberation, the Government would be unwilling to exercise their essential function unless Parliament would also give its assent to a Bill dealing with civil rights?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
observed, that he had said nothing of the kind. What he did say was, that if the Government had reason to believe that the landlords were making use of their powers for the purpose of injustice, then it might be necessary to bring in a Bill dealing with civil rights, in order to have a safeguard against the abuse of them.
§ MR. GIBSON
wished to know what the right hon. Gentleman meant by the word "injustice?" If the landlords were to commit a crime, or were to break the law, they would be amenable to justice. Therefore, what the right hon. Gentleman must mean was, that if he found that the landlords were legally enforcing their legal rights in a way that did not commend itself to him and to the Government, he would bring in a Bill dealing with civil rights. If that was his meaning, his statement was a very dangerous, a very mischievous, and a very misleading one to go forth in Ireland. It was hard enough to get respect for the law and its administration in Ireland at present; but when a responsible Minister of the Crown spoke of the enforcement by legal means of legal rights in that country as injustice that difficulty would be largely increased The mode of speaking of the right hon. Gentleman was one to be deprecated. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean that there was a justice superior to the justice of the law? Was the right hon. Gentleman prepared to draw a distinction between the justice administered by the Queen's Courts and that which might be laid down by some irresponsible person at an agitation meeting, and who might incite people to revile, repudiate, and resist the law of the land? How was that distinction to be taken? Some action of the Irish landlords might be just and reasonable. Who was to discriminate between the decisions in favour of landlords that might be upheld, and those which were to be cast aside into the category of those that were to be stigmatized as open to the charge of injustice and tyranny? Were the decisions of the Queen's Courts in Ireland to be submitted to the review of the Irish Executive, or what was the meaning which might be gathered or derived from these unfortunate, ambiguous, and loose words in the two sentences of the right hon. Gentleman the other evening? The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) had no difficulty in saying that they held out a distinct premium to disturbance and agitation; and he suggested that it might be worth while to take the pill for the sake of the gilding. Irish landlords in the past had been forbearing; and he (Mr. Gibson) hoped equally with the right hon. Gentleman that, in future, they would be just as forbearing, and 118 that they would not allow any angry words that were used in that House or elsewhere, or anything else, to turn them from their line of charity and forbearance, as far as was consistent with the support of their families and the discharge of their necessary obligations. He hoped sincerely that no Peace Preservation Act would be necessary. He ventured to say every loyal subject of the Queen, whether he was English or Irish, hoped the very same thing; but if, unfortunately, it should become necessary to pass a Peace Preservation Act, the Government were bound to make up their minds on that question by considering what was necessary to maintain law and order. There were no conceivable circumstances which could justify an Executive Government, once they had deliberately made up their minds that law and order could not be maintained without a Peace Preservation Act, in suggesting in the same breath that that duty would be made dependent on any conditions. The very moment the Executive Government said the performance of that supreme duty would be dependent on conditions, government ceased and anarchy began. If the right hon. Gentleman would read quietly to himself the two sentences referred to he would see that very dangerous meanings might be taken from them.
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
I rise to Order. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General for Ireland in Order in alluding to a speech in a past debate of the present Session?
§ MR. SPEAKER
No doubt a reference to a past debate of the present Session is out of Order; but I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, having made a personal explanation as to one of his speeches, that speech is now before the House.
§ MR. GIBSON
The right hon. Gentleman said—He would go further, and say, under any circumstances, if it was found that injustice and tyranny were largely committed—though he did not believe such would be the case—it would then be their serious duty to consider what their action should be, and he did not think that any man in the House would expect him to remain any longer the instrument of that injustice."— [3 Hansard, cclv. 2023.]What was the meaning of the sentence that he had just read? He (Mr. Gibson) 119 did not speak of the meaning which the right hon. Gentleman might have had in his mind; but the meaning which might be at once attached to those words by those who would read them in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had already pointed to the possibility of further legislation; but might not the meaning of the sentence he (Mr. Gibson) had just quoted be that if he found —there was not the slightest reason to anticipate it—that the landlords were guilty of what he might think amounted to injustice in the enforcement of legal process, he would withhold the protection of the law in the enforcement of that process?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not entitled to take a solitary quotation from a remark and give that quotation an interpretation different from the English language, and to omit entirely all the other statements in the speech. He was not going to be either annoyed or disturbed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he had read the entire sentence in its integrity. It might mean that the Executive Government would not lend its assistance to the enforcement of the law. If that conversation did no other good than to elicit a distinct disclaimer from the right hon. Gentleman that that was his meaning, it would not have been useless. He had understood the right hon. Gentleman to mean that in no circumstances would the enforcement of the processes of the law be omitted without fresh legislation.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, it seemed to him impossible for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to have heard his speech without knowing that what he had then stated over and over again was that it was their duty to carry out the law as it stood.
§ MR. GIBSON
was extremely glad that the right hon. Gentleman had made that statement. He was glad to have elicited some explanation of an unfortunate sentence in the right hon. Gentleman's speech; and he sincerely hoped when next the right hon. Gentleman addressed the House on such a subject as that he would speak in the same moderate way as he did in the earlier part of his speech, and would remember that it was not enough to have clear views in his own mind, but that it was necessary to 120 avoid ambiguous and doubtful language, which was open to decidedly mischievous misconceptions, and which might do a great deal of harm, although the right hon. Gentleman himself might never for a moment have anticipated when he used the words that any injurious interpretation could have been put upon them.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
said, that the debate showed the wisdom of the Rules of the House, which provided that speeches in previous debates should not be referred to. They had now for an hour and more been considering critically the language used by his right hon. Friend several nights ago, although the speech in question was made in the presence both of the noble Lord who had introduced this discussion (Lord Randolph Churchill), and also of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Gibson). It was unfortunate that such an irregular course should have been taken; and, being permitted now, he (Mr. Law) did not see how it might not be equally followed on other occasions in regard to any speech which an hon. or right hon. Gentleman might make. And were they thus to call upon hon. Members, perhaps a month or more after they had spoken, to answer for and justify not only what was the natural and plain meaning of their words, but what, by some possible and perverted ingenuity, those words might be interpreted to mean? Such a course might be interesting to some hon. Gentlemen; but at that period of a laborious Session, and that hour of the evening, he thought it was hardly a profitable way of occupying the time of the House. They were engaged in an inquiry whether the Chief Secretary for Ireland was justified in making a statement—not of what he was going to do, but of something which might possibly happen at a future day, but which both he and everybody else believed would not happen. This was the remote and hypothetical contingency which they were asked to set about considering. Well, in the course of the debate referred to statements were made as to the conduct of the landlords of Ireland; and his right hon. Friend, speaking generally of the conduct of landlords in Ireland in terms of praise, said that the cases of actual injustice on their part which had come under his notice were few, and that he had no 121 reason to expect they would become so numerous as to drive the Government into any course other than that which they had already determined upon. In answer to some observations of preceding speakers, his right hon. Friend went on to say that if, contrary to his belief and expectations, the conduct of Irish landlords should be such as to effect a great amount of injustice, causing such general discontent and disorder as to require the interposition of the State, he would probably accompany any application to Parliament which he might so be forced to make for measures of coercion with an attempt to curb that injustice. That was to say, in the very improbable event of the action of the landlords driving the people into general lawlessness and crime, so that it would be necessary to apply for coercive powers, the Government being thus, on the one hand, obliged to enforce what it considered, and what the House also would consider a large amount of injustice, would, on the other hand, at the same time, probably ask the House, while strengthening their hands by coercive legislation, to accompany that by some measure to enable the law itself to discriminate between justice and injustice. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson) listened to the whole of that statement, and got up afterwards and complimented the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland on the moderation of his speech.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
thought it was unfortunate, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not hear those words, that he did not resolve to remain silent and leave those who did hear them to comment upon them. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill) had heard the words; and if he then thought them objectionable, which he (Mr. Law) ventured to doubt, he should have delivered his attack at the time. If hon. Gentlemen did not listen to the debates going on they should not afterwards contribute towards making other debates. It would have been much more reasonable for the noble Lord to have at once got up and objected, or asked for an explanation, instead of waiting in silence for some days, and then assailing his (Mr. 122 Law's) right hon. Friend, because the noble Lord had at last discovered, or thought he had discovered, that the language of his right hon Friend might be misinterpreted by some possible or impossible set of people. It was, however, a curious circumstance that the portion of the speech to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gibson) had, in such strong language, called attention was the part in which the noble Lord saw no harm at all. He ventured, however, to say, with all respect, that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman came coolly to consider the speech of his right hon. Friend, he would admit that it did not bear the interpretation which he had put upon it. But he (Mr. Law) submitted that the House should not continue any longer this speculative and unprofitable discussion. If the course which had been now pursued were to become the rule, he was not sure that even the ordinarily well-considered and measured language of the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself (Mr. Gibson) would always stand the severe ordeal to which that of the Chief Secretary for Ireland had been subjected; but it was obvious that there would be no end to the debates of the House, if this irregular course were to be permitted of interminably discussing previous discussions.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he entirely agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Law) that, as to the general Rule, it was very inconvenient to go back to discussions which had occurred on previous nights. And if, on the present occasion, an exception might fairly be made to that Rule, it arose from the very great importance of not running the risk of any language going out to the public in this country, and still more in Ireland, on which unfortunate misinterpretations might be placed. He thought what was stated to-night would remove a misapprehension which appeared to have been put on the language of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, not only by Members of that House, but by persons out-of-doors and by the organs of public opinion. ["No, no!"] Well, then, in some places. His noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had given an opportunity for the removal of that false impression, and what had 123 taken place was his justification for calling attention to the matter, and not leaving the whole of the intentions of the Government in a state of possibly mischievous uncertainty for, perhaps, the whole of the Recess. They had been told, on the high authority of their great national poet, that there was great virtue in an "if," and that "if" was a great peacemaker. It seemed on this occasion to have been the "if" with which the right hon. Gentleman had accompanied what he had said as to the possibility of his having to ask for further powers that had made all the mischief. The right hon. Gentleman said if something or other, which he did not expect would happen, should happen, then something or other would be done. He thought it would have been wiser to have left that unsaid. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman would not shrink from the duty of maintaining law and order in Ireland—the right hon. Gentleman had said several times that was his determination; but he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it necessary or desirable to add the words to which exception was taken by his noble Friend. He rejoiced that the right hon. Gentleman had had an opportunity of explaining and disavowing the inference drawn from his statement. If it had been left unexplained or disavowed, the statement might have led to mischief. It was now clearly understood that the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to convey the impression which some persons had received from it. It was also understood that the right hon. Gentleman was determined, on the part of the Government, to maintain law and order in Ireland; and he trusted they should find the Government acting up to their undoubted and primary duty. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) hoped that after what had already been said the matter should drop, and the House be allowed to proceed to Business.
said, there was an impression abroad—in which he did not share—that the right hon. Gentleman and some other Members of the Government were ready to unsay one day what they said the day before. He clearly understood the Chief Secretary for Ireland the other night to say that if the landlords, in the exercise of their legal rights, proceeded to wholesale evictions, inflicting what the Government con- 124 sidered injustice, then Ministers should appeal to Parliament for powers to prevent that being done. He took that to be an intimation to the landlords not to proceed with evictions—an intimation which he hoped they would dutifully attend to.
§ MR. DILLON
said, for himself, he was not satisfied with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland the other night, although his Leader, the hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. Parnell) appeared to be; for, after hearing it, he stated that it would probably influence the action of the Irish Members during the remainder of the Session. He differed from his hon. Friend when he used those words.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member was clearly out of Order in quoting words from the speech of the hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. Parnell).
§ MR. DILLON
said, he wished to draw particular attention to the speech of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland, who said that the meaning to be attached to the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland was, that if the Government found that the landlords were exercising a considerable quantity of injustice, then the Government probably would apply to the House for some means to protect the tenants from injustice. That was an extraordinary qualification of the statement of the Chief Secretary for Ireland: "a considerable quantity of injustice," and, "probably" some remedy. It rendered the statement of the right hon. Gentleman perfectly valueless. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman was, that if the Government was obliged to ask for extra powers then they would afford protection to the Irish tenants, but not before then.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that was not the statement. The statement was, that if they found the landlords using their power to inflict injustice, then steps would be taken.
§ MR. DILLON
said, from his point of view, that bore out what he said. If the Government was compelled to ask for extra powers, then they would take steps to protect the tenants. What did that come to? Was he to go home to Ireland and tell the tenantry that if they submitted to injustice peacefully they would get no protection; that the condition on which protection would be 125 given was that they should bring about disorder? That was the clear inference from the right hon. Gentleman's statement. He found himself in accord with the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) who had called attention to the matter.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, there still appeared to be some doubt as to the precise meaning of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he would appeal to the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) to set all doubt at rest by the favour of a few words. The House had a right to ask, after the right hon. Gentleman's statement, whether the Government proposals to secure protection for law and order, should further powers be deemed necessary, would be made dependent upon the passing by Parliament of another Compensation for Disturbance Bill?
thought some answer ought to be given by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) to the question of his hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin). He (Mr. Gorst) wished to ask whether the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland on Tuesday night was made for the purpose of announcing a new policy in Ireland or not? He desired a definite statement. He would be sorry to attach too much meaning to words uttered from the Treasury Bench. But he spoke more with reference to the effect which those words had produced upon a certain Party in that House than to the words themselves. Why had the Irish Party in that House so suddenly withdrawn from opposition to the Estimates? Why had the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to threaten Irish landlords? It could only be for the purpose of conciliating the Irish Party in the House. ["Oh, oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman appeared to be trying to purchase the forbearance of that Party at the price of another Compensation for Disturbance Bill. He had a right to ask the noble Lord if that was the correct interpretation or not. At all events, that was the interpretation put on the speech by the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon). He thought they were entitled to know whether that interpretation was right or wrong.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I will only say, in reply to the hon. and 126 learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland appears to me to have been almost as much misrepresented by the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) as it has been by himself, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson).
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.