HC Deb 30 August 1880 vol 256 cc752-5

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Lord Frederick Cavendish.)


said, before the Speaker left the Chair he was sorry to say he felt it his duty to bring forward a matter in which he was much interested, and which he feared, if he let the present opportunity pass, he would have no other opportunity of ventilating. He tried to bring it forward in June, when time was not very valuable; but, by a combination of the Government and the Irish Members, he was counted out. There were, however, some things more valuable than time, and one of those things was human life. The question he had to bring forward was, whether there was now any security for human life in Ireland under this Government? He hoped the Government would not think him uncivil in intervening with this question at that moment, because he remembered that last Thursday evening, when a long debate was expected, the noble Lord opposite made almost a piteous appeal to those who had Motions, of whom he was one, to withdraw them. Though he was disappointed in June, he felt it his duty not to countenance Obstruction, and with the patience of a lamb to give way. Now that Supply was passed, and that all the Votes were agreed to, and there was no danger of a week or a fortnight being occupied by remarks in general, the time had come for him to urge upon the Government what he considered their plain and bounden duty. It was not for him to quarrel with their judgment, or to seek to penetrate into the reasons of their real or ostensible policy; but one thing he did know, that they had chosen to abandon the Peace Preservation Acts. They had further abandoned them without any thought for the unfortunate persons who, in reliance on those Acts, had thought that their lives were safe, or that, at any rate, there would be compensation for their families if their lives were taken in an agrarian outrage. Whatever they thought of the policy of the Government—and whether they thought it weak or generous he cared not to inquire—at any rate, it was their duty to compensate those who had suffered injury during the continuance of those Acts. He was not going to argue this point on any narrow line of law; for he did not pretend to be as good a lawyer even as the English Law Officers, and still less than those of Ireland—who were, indeed, very able and accomplished Gentlemen — but still, with his little knowledge of law, he had always thought that those who had any right affected by any change in legislation had a sort of legal claim. What he maintained was, that the people to whose cases he was about to call attention had certain moral claims, and that these Acts should not be allowed to lapse without those who had suffered being compensated. These cases showed either the almost forgetful-ness, or else the most pitiful carelessness and weakness. If the Government had been faithful to right principle, and had not wished, in a vain-glorious spirit, to show how much superior they were to the Conservative Government, they would not have abandoned these Acts without, at any rate, making provision for those who had claims for compensation. He was not going to weary the House— [Cheers] — he was sorry to hear that cheer, because, surely, a few minutes could be spared for the discussion of a question involving many human lives. He called that a cold-blooded cheer. He was merely going to state a few cases; and, remembering the advice once given him by a very learned Judge before whom he was arguing, he would state his strongest case first. He held in his hand a notice issued for Dublin Castle, dated 17th April, 1880. ["Bead!"] He would read it all in due time. That was a date before the Liberal Government came into power; but it was, at any rate, known then that a Liberal Administration would be formed. But in March, long before they thought to come into Office, this case had occurred, and the proclamation to which he had referred was one coming from Dublin Castle, and offering a reward of £200 for bringing to justice the perpetrators of a murder. In describing that murder he would not use a Shakespearian expression, because it was hardly strong enough; but it certainly was a most foul and horrible murder. It was the case of a man named Nichol, who was guilty, in the first place, of being a Scotchman; secondly, of being a gamekeeper; and, thirdly-—which was, perhaps, worst of all—of doing his duty to his master. He was assaulted by five or six Irishmen on the 17th of March, knocked down, beaten, and murdered at a place called Glennir West in the county of Sligo. He left behind him a widow and six children, and he held in his hand the necessary notices served under the Peace Preservation Acts, claiming compensation—for the widow £8,000, for the children £300, £250, &c. What he maintained was, that if the Government, for political purposes, determined not to continue these Acts, they ought to consider such cases as that of this man Nichol. Of course, the murderers had not been discovered. They were sympathized with and screened in Ireland. One of the benefits of the Peace Preservation Acts was that penalties could be inflicted on districts where murder was committed, and so be made to suffer. They might call that justice, vengeance, or anything else; but to his mind it was simple justice, the injustice was in the fact that the Government had not considered these cases, though repeated hints had been given them; and he charged them with endeavouring to make political capital out of the abandonment of these Acts, and supposing that by this means this would conciliate the Irish Party. They had begun a course of weakness by throwing away an Act which they knew in their consciences was essential to the peace of Ireland—far more essential than the wretched Compensation for Disturbance Bill on which they laid so much stress. He hoped that it was even now not too late to consider if they could not do justice to these unhappy people. At any rate, he hoped it would go forth to the world that the Government, for political purposes, had acted in this way. Did they imagine for a moment that a prudent Scotchman like Nichol would have gone to Ireland if there had been no Peace Preservation Act? The Government might look at the narrow legal point; but he did not stop to inquire into that. There could be no doubt that justice was on his side. He had discharged his duty by bringing forward this matter, though not one ten-thousandth part as well as he should have liked; but still he had done what he could, because he felt that the blood of that murdered man, the sorrows and anguish of that widow and her children, and, above all, the blood of another man whose head was riddled with bullets, did lie at our door.

Motion agreed to.

WAYS AND MEANS—considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Resolved, That, towards making good the Supply granted to Her Majesty for the service of the year ending on the 31st day of March 1881, the sum of £13,614,207 he granted, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow, at Two of the clock.