§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
rose to bring under the notice of the House the unsatisfactory manner in which the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant had answered Questions with respect to affairs in Ireland addressed to him recently by Members of the Irish Party. He said he put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman that evening, which was one of 775 several he had been obliged to address to him last week, and his answers were so utterly unsatisfactory that he must take this opportunity of bringing the matter before the House, and, in order to put himself in Order, he should conclude with a Motion. ["Oh, oh!"] He was sorry to take this form of bringing his statement before the House; but he had no other course left open to him after the answers given to his Questions. He had reason to find fault with the general tone of the answers of the right hon. Gentleman to those Questions. The whole tendency of the language of the right hon. Gentleman had been to minimize, as far as possible, every act brought before him. For the purposes of his answers, he had derived his information from the police; while the information on which the Questions addressed to him were based was derived from local sources of a more reliable character. He might instance a case which he brought under the notice of the House the other day in reference to evictions on the Mountbellow estate. He then stated that an old man, the father of one of the persons about to be evicted, had his death occasioned by the action of the bailiffs and police; and the right hon. Gentleman got up and immediately stated that the old man knew nothing about the transaction—that he was kept in perfect ignorance of it before his death. Now, how did the right hon. Gentleman know that? The only means of ascertaining it he had was by the police report, which he accepted as thoroughly bonâ fide, and gave to the House as if he were acquainted with the facts himself. Since he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) asked the Question he had received information from Mr. John Kennedy, Secretary of the Land League branch in Mountbellow, a gentleman who lived in the district, and who knew all the circumstances, and he stated that the excitement caused by the entry of a force of police with a notorious rascal of a process-server into the house in which the old man lived undoubtedly accelerated his death. He only gave that as one of the many cases in which the right hon. Gentleman had taken the statement of the police as gospel, and had endeavoured to minimize the evictions brought under his notice as much as possible. Whenever he ventured to call his attention to the number of ejectment pro- 776 cesses served, the uniform answer of the right hon. Gentleman had been that these processes were rarely pushed to the final extremity. In fact, the general tone of his remarks was that, if there were any arrears of rent, it was because the large majority of the Irish tenants were what was called rent malingerers. He had two telegrams from the Land League in Dublin which would bring to the mind of the House some idea of the evictions going on in Ireland at the present moment. Yesterday he received a telegram stating that, during the last week, 150 writs, 500 ejectments, and 500 civil bills had been reported; and that morning he had received a telegram from his hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), stating that over 100 threatened evictions were reported to the office that morning. From all parts of the country the information in the hands of the Irish Members was exactly the same. He appealed to his hon. Friends of the Irish Party on the opposite side of the House if their information was not the same as his—namely, that in all parts of the country the landlords were serving notices of ejectment as fast as they could, in order to drive out as many of their tenants as possible before the passing of the Land Bill. He had quoted a few, relatively speaking, of the number of ejectment cases brought under the notice of the Land League; but they by no means represented all the cases. In several parts of the country where the Land League did not exist, and where ejectments were more numerous in consequence, they were never reported to the public at all. His hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary wrote to him that in other cases notice of the writs did not reach the League for 10 days after their service. That was the state of things going on all over the country; and when he ventured to bring it under the notice of the Chief Secretary, the whole effort of the right hon. Gentleman was to delude the House, and especially his own Party, with the belief that these statements were so exaggerated that, practically, no evictions were going on at all. He had the honour of addressing a meeting which was largely attended by his Orange fellow-countrymen in Enniskillen a few days ago, and from Orangemen, speaking from an Orange platform, he heard the statement that the land- 777 lords in that district were serving notices as they had never done before. According, he might add, to another telegram which he had received, 13 families had been evicted in Mayo, in circumstances the description of which would, he thought, shock any human being. In The Freeman's Journal of the previous day he found a heartrending description of an eviction scene at Westport and Newport, where the police in large numbers assisted the Sheriff and bailiffs. In one case the unfortunate man evicted was the father of 11 children, one of whom was ill with fever, and it was only by the humanity of the Sheriff that the poor girl was not sacrificed in order to carry out the details of the law enforced by English police and soldiers, and supported by the taxes of the English people. The right hon. Gentleman that evening, when he asked him whether he was going to suspend evictions, said it would take too much time to pass a Bill of that kind. If the right hon. Gentleman had known his duty to his Party and the traditions of his Party, if he had known his duty to the Irish tenants, he would have passed a Bill for the suspension of ejectments long ago. When the Compensation for Disturbance Bill came down last year, if he had taken the course of an English Minister worthy of the best Liberal traditions, he would have sent it up again and forced it down their Lordships' throats. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to change the attitude of his mind on the subject of the condition of Ireland in exact accordance with Party and Ministerial exigency. He minimized the result and extent of the evictions now, and by-and-bye, when it was necessary, he would maximize them. That was not an honest or straightforward course for a Minister of the Crown to pursue. He ought to speak the truth at all times and under all circumstances. Some time ago a gentleman whom he knew, Mr. Patrick J. Sheridan, went and found the poor evicted tenants taking refuge from the inclement weather under the bushes. He went to Dundalk and made a speech on those unfortunate victims of oppression, and, no doubt, moved the hearts of his hearers. On the Wednesday or Thursday following that Mr. Sheridan was within the walls of Kilmainham Gaol. Thus the man, because he was generous, and Christian, and patriotic, 778 and took compassion on the poor creatures, was ordered by a Liberal Lord Lieutenant and a Liberal Chief Secretary to remain in prison. He had no hesitation in saying that the warrant under which Mr. Sheridan had been imprisoned was one of the most scandalous and shameful documents that had over emanated from a Liberal Government. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to be quite another person from the man who stood up in the House of Commons 12 months ago, and spoke so feelingly of the sufferings of the Irish tenants. It would seem as if he had since thrown himself into the hands of their worst enemies. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that they must wait for the Land Bill of the First Lord of the Treasury. He would willingly wait for it, if he thought that the right hon. Gentleman would recognize the importance of the struggle that was going on. But every indication was against that likelihood; and in the meantime property was being confiscated and lives lost, and by the time the Land Bill became law what would become of these poor creatures? The Chief Secretary had begun to maximize evictions the moment the Compensation for Disturbance Bill was rejected, and had continued to do so up to the present time. But there was another document besides the evictions Returns, which threw a strong light on the situation. The published Returns as to emigration showed that in the year 1880 there sailed from the Irish shores 95,857, or nearly 100,000 peasants out of a population of 5,000,000, an increase of 100 per cent on the previous year, and the largest number for the last 26 years. Since 1851 to the end of 1880 there was a total of emigrants from Ireland of 2,631,187, or upwards of 2,500,000, of the people who were expatriated by the land system; and still the cry was wait for the providence of a Liberal Administration! The Chief Secretary said he could not bring in a Bill to stop ejectments, and he said he could not refuse to give the aid of the military and the police in order to carry out the law. But the right hon. Gentleman said on one occasion, if he remembered rightly, that if he found landlords carrying out a harsh, stringent law, in a harsh and unjust manner, he would cease to be the executor of the harsh and unjust law. Were they not carrying out the law now 779 in a harsh and unjust manner? If the right hon. Gentleman's conscience reproached him for being the instrument of turning dying people out of their homes, why did he not refuse to be the executor of legislation which sanctioned such a proceeding? What were they going to do with regard to the people who were being evicted? They were going to bring in a Land Bill; but, supposing it was the best Bill in the world, what would become of the people who were being turned out? What good would the Land Bill be to the 100,000 emigrants and to the 5,000 evicted persons? Were they going to take the last farthing for rent which they themselves had declared unjust? He found it was the opinion of the Committee, presided over by Lord Bessborough, that rent had been increased since the last Land Act to an excessive degree; and in the Report of the Duke of Richmond's Commission the opinion was given that there were serious abuses owing to the arbitrary increase of rents. That was the statement of the Conservative majority; while the opinion of the Liberal minority was that there was strong evidence that rents had been raised to an exorbitant degree. Would the Government aid unjust landlords to exact such rents? If rents were not excessive, what was the meaning of the Compensation for Disturbance Bill? It was brought in because bad years had rendered ordinary rents excessive, and to save the tenants who could not pay them from being driven from their homes. Well, the Compensation for Disturbance Bill was thrown out, and had the position of the tenants improved? They were still under what had been described from the Treasury Bench as a sentence of starvation, and 5,000 of' them had undergone that sentence by being evicted. The right hon. Gentleman shook his head; but he would find the passage reported in The Times of the 6th of July—The act of God and the failure of the crops had placed the Irish occupier in the same position in which he stood before the Land Act. Because he was deprived of his usual means he had to undergo eviction, and in consequence of eviction starvation. The occupier might regard a sentence of eviction as coming very near to a sentence of starvation.Ireland in 1879 and 1880 was very near to the sentence of starvation; and yet right hon. Gentlemen sat on the Trea- 780 sury Bench without moving hand or foot in order to save the people from that sentence of starvation. He was at a loss to understand how the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues could reconcile such a position to the most elementary dictates of an honest conscience. In the case of the debates on the Compensation for Disturbance Bill they had from the Treasury Bench the most picturesque accounts of the misery in Ireland. He remembered the Chief Secretary for Ireland quoting from his friend, Mr. Tuke, an excellent passage, in which the Irish tenant clinging to the soil was compared to a sailor on the beam clinging to the last raft. What had become of the sailor clinging to the raft now? What had become of the picture of misery drawn by the right hon. Gentleman last year? The Treasury Bench were in this dilemma. Their language was either mere rhetorical flourish, meant to gain a petty victory in the course of debate, or, as he was sure was the case, it was sincere and genuine. If it was sincere and genuine, how could they now leave these people to perish? Ministers were either sincere or insincere. If, as he believed, they were sincere, then they stood condemned by their own utterances. The right hon. Gentleman, last night, in the course of his speech made a remarkable statement. He said that his Financial Account showed an addition of £55,000 under the head of Irish Constabulary. That was a statement he could not have made with satisfaction. It showed a state of things which a responsible Minister ought not to allow the existence of for a day. Ireland was now in a state of siege. The liberties of the people had been taken away. Hon. Members below the Gangway assented to the passing of the Coercion Bill in the belief that it was necessary for the protection of life and property. Would they have assented to it, if they knew that it would be used to enable landlords to exact exorbitant rents, and others to clear their estates? Yet, that was what the Coercion Bill was being used for. They were putting into prison honest and respectable citizens like his friend, Mr. Walsh, a man of respectable position, who had gained the confidence of his townsmen in municipal matters. That was the use to which the Bill was being put; and the right hon. Gentle- 781 man the Chief Secretary had always evaded the question whether the men now in prison were the village ruffians, the village tyrants, and the mauvais sujets who he had so eloquently described in his speeches. He would ask hon. Members below the Gangway who voted for the Coercion Bill against their better judgment if, when they gave their votes, they thought that the Act would be used to put into prison honest men who were endeavouring to better the condition of their fellow-countrymen? Was it not the contention of the Government that only scoundrels and miscreants would be imprisoned? The question of eviction had been pressed on the attention of the Government by the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who sought to get a claim inserted in the Coercion Bill for the protection of life and property of the Irish tenants as well as of the Irish landlords. His hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) had endeavoured, in various ways, to get some statement from the Government with regard to their intentions. His hon. Friend the Member for County Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) moved an Amendment on the Address asking the Government to establish some sort of armistice between the parties until the Government had signed the treaty of peace. What was his reward? The Prime Minister, in that ungracious manner which, I am sorry to say, he has more than once shown to numbers of Irish Members, using all the vast resources of his rhetoric, replied to the hon. Member for County Longford on mere points of form and order, and never said a word about the real question at issue—whether he would allow force to be used in order to carry out sentences of starvation against the Irish tenantry? The Irish Members had done everything possible to bring this question forward, and the only answers they got had been the minimizing answers of the Chief Secretary, or the oratorical flourishes of the First Lord of the Treasury. With regard to the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) would be sorry to say that he altogether approved of his action or of his words with regard to the First Lord of the Treasury or the Chief Secretary respecting the affair in Sligo; but the hon. Member for Tipperary was only 782 expressing the bitterness which at that moment was in the hearts of the Irish people with regard to the action taken by the two right hon. Gentlemen. The hon. Member for Tipperary said that the blood which had been shed in Sligo would be on the heads of the two right hon. Gentlemen. He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) could not accept that view; but the right hon. Gentlemen themselves would be sorry if their tenure of Office should be associated with bringing to the minds of the Irish people a conviction of that kind. But if the right hon. Gentlemen did not interfere in some way to stop the wholesale evictions going on in Ireland, they would be responsible, before impartial history, for the blood that would be undoubtedly shed in Ireland. By no single word or action would he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) do anything that might tend to increase the excitement now in Ireland; but he must say that he was not at all surprised that when those poor people were fighting for their very existence, for their homes, for the lives of themselves, their wives and children, when they found themselves deserted by all, even by a Liberal and friendly Administration, it was no wonder that they fell into a sort of madness, and that such scenes as took place in Sligo occurred. If such crimes were there committed the responsibility rested, not upon the people, who were maddened by misery, but on the Government, which having omnipotence to deal with their grievances—and the present Government was omnipotent to deal with them if only it would use the strength that lay behind it in the House and in the country—failed to deal with them. He wished to conclude with what he thought was a practical suggestion. No measure of Land Reform, no matter how comprehensive, would be of the smallest use to the vast mass of the Irish tenants at the present moment unless it was of a retrospective character. If they allowed the landlords to destroy all this interesting soil which the legislation of 1870 was meant to give, and the intended legislation of 1880 to enlarge—if they allowed landlords to exact rents, the exorbitances of which was now admitted both by Conservatives and Liberals, such legislation would not be of the smallest use to the large majority of the Irish tenants. If they did not attach to the measure some provisions 783 dealing with the deeper evils, the legislation would be of no avail. Their coercion might succeed, but their remedial legislation would fail; and if there was to be peace it would be a peace of solicitude, and if there was to be order it would be order of a kind, and would not much commend itself to a wise Government. The hon. Member concluded by moving the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. T. P. O' Connor.)
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
The remarks of the hon. Member will show to the House how impossible it is for me or for any Member of the Government to follow him into the discussion which he seems to wish to bring before the House. In his closing remarks he made statements with regard to the Land Bill which is to be brought in the day after to-morrow. He asked me in the course of his speech a question with regard to the Land Bill. He must be perfectly aware that nothing would be more contrary to custom, precedent, or convenience than for me to attempt to answer such a question, or to make any remarks this evening having reference in any way to the tenour or meaning of the Land Bill to be brought in the day after to-morrow. I suppose he really wished to show to the House and to the persons outside what the Land Bill ought to be; but he cannot expect that we should make a sort of partial statement of this measure in consequence of his Motion of adjournment to-night. He has made one or two remarks with regard to evictions in Ireland at present, and in the early part of his speech he thought fit to allude to my own conduct—[Mr. BIGGAR: Hear, hear!]—and he stated that I had minimized this year what I had stated last year, and that he thought it would have been a more honest and straightforward course if I had spoken the truth in these matters. [Mr. BIGGAR: Hear, hear!] I would wish the hon. Member, or any hon. Member, to bring forward a single statement in which I have minimized or maximized—
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I said I should be very sorry to attribute untruth to the right hon. Gentleman. I said his endeavour was to minimize 784 them, and that is a question of colouring. I denied all intention of saying anything offensive of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
It is quite true the hon. Gentleman said he did not mean to be offensive; but, almost immediately afterwards, he said it was better to speak the truth. I am very glad the hon. Member is not aware he used those words, because I suppose, therefore, he did not mean to use them. But when I am told it would be better for me to have taken an honest and straightforward course, I challenge hon. Members to show where, throughout these serious matters, I have in the slightest degree deviated from the truth. He said I attempted to minimize the number of evictions directly after the Compensation for Disturbance Bill was thrown out, and then he brought forward this extraordinary proof that the number of evictions were 5,000 and the number of caretakers were 5,000. The hon. Member must be aware that the evictions enormously diminished from the very time he said I began to minimize them, and I was correct in stating that evictions were diminishing. He said I had minimized them during this year. Well, the evictions in January were 43. I suppose I may have stated that fact; if so, it was no minimizing, but simply stating the precise fact. In February they were 92; and I am now very sorry to have to state—but it is quite as well I should have the opportunity of giving the information I only received this morning—that they are increasing and have increased. In March they were 215; but I defy the hon. Member to show that I have ever attempted to minimize them. I look upon evictions with the greatest possible anxiety. The hon. Member said my uniform answer had been that they were not pushed to extremities. I have given that answer once, and I should like him to prove that I have given it more than once. I gave it in answer to one particular question, and in answer to that particular question, I believe it was true. What we have to deal with is a much more important matter. It is not a question whether evictions have been minimized; but an important fact is that they are increasing, and it is one the Government are looking at with the greatest possible and anxious attention. 785 The hon. Member made allusions to our responsibilities. We are well aware of them; but we are not the only persons who have responsibilities. He made an allusion to the remark of the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon). I am sorry the hon. Member made that remark. He may have said things of me, and me of him; but I think he will regret having made the remark. [A HOME RULER: No, no!] I might know that the hon. Member who cries "No!" would not regret it. I do not think he would. The hon. Member for Tipperary said the responsibility for the murder of the two men rested on the Prime Minister and myself. [Mr. BIGGAR: Hear, hear!] Well, what happened was this. The four policemen were escorting a process-server along the high road. A mob attacked the five men, and in self-defence one of them had to fire, and was almost immediately knocked down and so injured that he can hardly live. In what way we can be held to be responsible for that matter I cannot imagine. The hon. Member said these men were going to serve processes to recover unjust rents. Is there not also this fact—that a great many persons have been told in Ireland not to pay rent, and that there have been refusals to pay rent? [Mr. HEALY: Unjust rents.] Yes, unjust rents; and a great many of the poor people to whom that is said think any rent unjust; and we know for a certain fact that since these recommendations have been given there have been wholesale refusals to pay rents which were fair and reasonable. For the bad state of affairs in Ireland, if there be one set of people more responsible than another, it is the set who have advised the people to take that course; but we cannot forget that there is a great deal of misery in this matter all round. I have not had time to inquire into this particular case, and therefore I will make no further reference to it; but I will say that many landlords and other persons have been reduced by these refusals of rent to the greatest poverty and want. These are the facts—the sorrowful, miserable, and disturbing facts—with regard to land tenure in Ireland with which we have to deal. They are the facts, amongst others, that have made us determine to make the Land measure for Ireland the great measure of the Session—they are the facts that 786 have made us anxious to bring in the Land Bill long before we have been able to do so; and if we had had the same assistance that has been given by hon. Members below the Gangway for the last two or three weeks earlier in the Session, we should have been able to have brought the Bill on before this. We are in hopes our measure will introduce a different state of things in Ireland. We look upon the matter of evictions with the greatest possible anxiety; but the House will not for a moment expect me to make any statement anticipatory of what we should do on Thursday.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
desired to say a word or two in justification of the course which had been taken by his hon. Friend near him, in endeavouring to call the attention of the House to the serious condition of things that now existed in Ireland. There was great truth in the hon. Member's remark that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had changed his attitude towards the Irish tenants during the last few months. Until the Compensation for Disturbance Bill was rejected in "another place," the right hon. Gentleman had figured as the tenant farmer's friend; but since then he had come forward as the advocate of the landlord's rights, and upon every possible occasion had spoken in a spirit of hostility to the tenant. The hon. Member, therefore, was quite justified in saying that there had been a complete change in the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman, and that he was now disposed to minimize, as far as possible, the tenant's claims. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed his anxiety to have the Land Bill brought in without delay, and had stated that if Irish Members had exercised throughout the Session the reticence they had shown during the last two or three weeks, that Bill might have been introduced long ago. What he (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) and his hon. Friends complained of was that the Land Bill was not introduced at the beginning of the Session. The Chief Secretary for Ireland evidently thought they should have observed a graceful reticence in order that he and his Colleagues might hurry through their most unnecessary and wanton Coercion Bill, simply because they had a promise that when that was done the Government would turn their attention to remedial legis- 787 lation. But it was the paramount duty of Irish Members to resist coercive measures, and in so doing they considered themselves perfectly guiltless. The right hon. Gentleman had drawn a picture of a process-server being attacked as he was going along the high road guarded by several policemen in the discharge of his duty.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I did not say that they were protecting him in the discharge of his duty. What I said was, that they were walking by his side along the high road.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, he would take it they were promenading the high road; but the right hon. Gentleman had omitted to state that the business of the process-server was necessarily and inevitably hateful to the people of Ireland. The duty he was called upon to discharge was one which struck terror into the heart of every tenant and peasant in Ireland. The appearance of the process-server was regarded as a visible sentence of expulsion or an embodied sentence of starvation by the people he went amongst. The Government, by carrying out their unjust and tyrannical decrees, had figured before the population of Ireland as the friends of the landlords and their tyrannical machinery. When it came into Office, the Government was almost omnipotent; it had a majority loyal almost to the depths of servility; and were the Government now going to say that they had no way of interfering between these extreme evictions and the people with whom they dealt so heavily? The Government had not done their duty; almost every attempt made to prevent the oppression in Ireland was met in a minimizing tone, and often in an indignant manner, as if to point out the Irish Representatives as people who merited the hatred and contempt of this House and of all proper persons. He had no hesitation in saying that the Government had, by their attitude, language, and policy last Session, done all they could to foment this very agitation all over Ireland of the tenants against the landlords. They acted, no doubt, with the best intentions; but their action, their language, their attitude did tend to excite fond hopes in the hearts of the Irish people; then, when it served their turn, they held off from their former attitude, denounced the 788 very agitation they themselves had set going, and charged the movers in the agitation with being criminals, and they brought in a Coercion Bill which repressed by force that very land move-merit which they themselves had encouraged and fostered and brought to such a crisis. On this ground, he thought the Representatives of Ireland were entitled to complain of Her Majesty's Government; and his hon. Friend was well warranted in calling the attention of the House, before they broke up for the Holidays, to the serious nature of the crisis now going on. He (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) would do all in his power to support him.
It appears to me a course unworthy of a Party who think they have such crimes and misdemeanours to charge against Her Majesty's Government to make a statement of these charges upon a Motion for the adjournment of the House. If these are the conscientious convictions they entertain, it is their duty to put forward these conscientious convictions in some tangible form in which they can be met and grappled with—in which those who advance the charges and who are cheered by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock can be confuted, and the opinion of the House, if necessary, taken upon them. What says the hon. Gentleman who last sat down? He says that in the last Session of Parliament we fomented the agitation in Ireland against the landlords. What proof does the hon. Member adduce of that fact? [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: The Compensation for Disturbance Bill.] Compensation for Disturbance Bill? Does the hon. Gentleman, whom the noble Lord cheers, say that that Bill fomented agitation? If so, then the hon. Gentleman and his solitary cheerer must part company. The hon. Gentleman will not say that that Bill was calculated to foment agitation against the landlords. On the contrary, we know, by the very frank confession of those who act with the hon. Member, that if that Bill had passed it would have very materially put down that agitation; and it was with the intention of putting down that agitation that we introduced it. I do not say that that was the sole intention with which we introduced it; but, at all events, it was introduced in the interests of peace and order in Ire- 789 land, and those interests, we believe, would have been fully secured had that Bill happily become law. I must say, in answer to the hon. Member for Longford, that from him and from his Friends we got very little assistance in passing that Bill. Whether it was because they thought it fomented agitation or not I cannot tell; but I must say that it would have been very hard for an impartial observer to make out, in the course which they pursued, whether they desired that Bill to pass or not. However, having first of all abstained from giving any efficient assistance to that Bill by which we sought to afford relief to distress, and still more to afford support to public order, the hon. Gentleman now says we did it to foment agitation against the landlords—a charge which, in the first place, is totally without foundation, and a charge which he himself has not ventured or attempted to adduce one syllable of proof in support.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
I did not charge the Government with bringing in that Bill to foment agitation; but I said that by their attitude and speeches they aroused strong hopes and passions in the Irish people, and so fomented agitation.
It amounts to the same thing. But the hon. Gentleman ought to have shown what he meant by our attitude, and how our attitude fomented agitation. It is easy for any man, under cover of words so vague and unintelligible, to make any charge whatever; and I might say, if I thought fit, that the hon. Member, by his attitude, is doing anything I please to impute. If it is from our speeches that the agitation is said to have proceeded, the hon. Member ought to show from our speeches what language it was that we used which tended to foment agitation in Ireland. But he has not done so. Without having done that, what did he say? First of all, that we fomented agitation, and then, he says, as soon as it served our turn, we turned round upon the promoters of that agitation which we had fomented. Why, Sir, how did it serve our turn? We never turned round at all. We pursued one and the same course all along. But, even supposing it could be shown that the course which we have taken in proposing measures for the security of life and property in Ireland was at variance 790 with what we had said and done before, how did it serve our turn? Does the hon. Member really think we had a political object to serve in proposing these measures on which we have spent nearly three months of the present Session? Is he so blind; is he so incapable of observing what passes under his eyes; is he so without the faculty of comprehending—I am sure he is not without the faculty of comprehending that and a great deal more—the political position as not to know that with the views with which this Government took Office, with the views they entertain of addressing themselves to useful legislation, nothing could so ill serve the turn of the present Government as to spend three or four months of this Session upon the coercive task which it has been our duty to undertake? It served our turn to set ourselves against this agitation I really do not recollect what was the next charge which the hon. Member compressed into the short speech which he has delivered, and in which he contrived to concentrate as much of unfounded accusation as I have almost ever heard delivered by any Member of this House in an equally small number of minutes. But, Sir, the hon. Member behind him (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) has spoken of my ungracious and discourteous manner in conducting these controversies. I have only to say in reply to that charge that if, upon any occasion, any excess of language or any defect of courtesy can be pointed out to me by that hon. Member, or by any other of those with whom he acts, I shall respectfully submit myself to the rebuke, and endeavour to repair the wrong. It may be perfectly true, for aught I know, that my manner has not always been gracious in the conduct, so far as it devolved upon me, of these controversies; but this I must say—that I have exercised much self-repression to keep my language within the bounds to which it has been confined. I shall continue to do so. I have felt how great mischief any man does, and especially how great mischief is done by any man in Office, who needlessly mixes his own excited feelings, or his own private or political purposes, with the grave and serious questions now depending between England and Ireland. We have allowed ourselves to be torn from the purposes which we most cherished upon taking 791 Office, in order to apply, what we thought, needful remedies to the momentary and immediate wants of Ireland, and upon that work we have spent the first half of the Session. [Mr. BIGGAR: Hear, hear!] We are now going to make an effort to deal with the sorest of the social wants and grievances of Ireland; and never in my knowledge—I will not say what the character of that effort will be, I will not prophesy its success—but I will say that never in my knowledge, extending over my whole life, has a Government, at any rate, bestowed greater care, labour, and anxiety in the consideration of the proposals which we shall have to submit to the House. I am quite prepared, after the speech of the hon. Member, to hear that we have done all this to serve our turn. [Mr. BIGGAR: Hear, hear!] That is the sort of reception I am taught to expect by the kind of sentiment that the hon. Member (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) has delivered to-night. Sir, that reception of our measure will have no effect whatever upon us. We shall endeavour, as we have endeavoured in the past, to maintain the principles of public law and order, and to apply to the rooted evils of the country those searching remedies which justice and policy alike demand at our hands.
§ MR. PARNELL
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has attributed motives to the hon. Member for Longford which the hon. Gentleman did not entertain in the delivery of his speech. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Galway has performed an exceedingly useful function in making inquiry from the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant as to the possible character of the proposed land legislation of the Government. It is true the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant advanced a technical point when he deprecated answering such a question before the introduction of the Land Bill; but the House will recollect that the Land Bill which is about to be introduced the day after to-morrow cannot be discussed on that evening. In the first place, it will not be printed, and, in the second place, anything like a general discussion at that stage of the measure would simply result in the postponement of its introduction until after the Easter Recess. It follows, then, that some three weeks must elapse before we 792 are to have an opportunity of laying the point to which my hon. Friend has directed the attention of Parliament before the House of Commons, and during these three weeks immense—enormous—damage may be done in Ireland and very great suffering inflicted, owing to the possible want of consideration of this point by the Government; and, therefore, I think the Irish Members would not have been doing their duty if they had allowed the House of Commons to separate before the Easter Recess without putting this matter before the Government and drawing their most earnest attention to it. Nay, more, notwithstanding the excited manner of the speech of the Prime Minister, I do trust that between now and the introduction of that Bill the Government will give serious attention to the point which has been urged by my hon. Friend as to the retrospective nature of their legislation. I think that, to a great extent, Ireland is entitled to have some consideration for the throwing out of the Compensation for Disturbance Bill of last Session. I am not one of those who consider that that Compensation for Disturbance Bill would have been of very much value in Ireland. Of course, regard to its passage through the House was criticized by the Prime Minister, and he said they did not receive much assistance from the Irish Members during its passage. Well, I can recall the House to the fact that while the Bill remained in its original condition the Irish Members did all they reasonably could be expected to do for the purpose of assisting the Government in its passage by voting for the second reading and by remaining silent. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant has told us this evening that the Irish Members can best assist Government by remaining silent, and more particularly with regard to land legislation. I will only say we anticipated this advice during the earliest stages of the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, and that we assisted the second reading of that measure by our silence and by our votes; and it was only when the Government appeared to us to depart from their original intention with regard to the measure that we felt bound to protest and walked out of the House in a body without voting. But how does the matter stand? I think that the Irish tenants who have been ejected 793 since the Government have come into Office are entitled to whatever protection the land legislation of the Government may give them, because the tenants are not ejected in Ireland if they are able to pay their rents. I know, as a fact, that even notwithstanding land legislation, that tenants in Ireland at the present moment do not submit to ejectment if they can by any possibility scrape together the means of paying their rents. Those tenants are ejected who have no stock for sale by the State, and the value of the interests in their farms is of no use. If tenants have stock to sell the landlords will sell it by a forced sale in preference to ejecting them; and if the tenant is paying a reasonable rent the landlord will sell out the interest of that tenant in order to obtain payment of that rent rather than eject him for non-payment of rent. Two hundred and fifteen tenants have been evicted during the month of March, the month succeeding your Bill for protection of Person and Property; 215 families, numbering altogether over 1,000 souls; and taking that for the average during the year, 12,000 persons would be ejected during the coming year if this average is maintained; and I say these persons are tenants, almost without exception, who are unable, either from poverty or rack-renting, to pay the rents demanded of them; and why should not these persons have the protection of the intended legislation of the Government if their rents are high, too high? If their rents are too high, why should they suffer simply because the Government failed in passing their Bill of last Session owing to the action of the House of Lords? Surely that is giving a premium to similar action in future; and surely the Government will consider the matter, and will see the very grave importance of the question which my hon. Friend has brought under its attention. As to the right of the Irish tenants to retrospective protection, I may, perhaps, be told that the tenants have six mewls to redeem their holdings after being ejected; but it is very little use for a tenant to be allowed to redeem his holding after his house has been levelled to the ground, and more especially when it is impossible for him to pay the rent. These rents for which the tenants are ejected are rack-rents; and if your land legislation is to be of any use at all, it will have to be 794 such as will enable tenants in such circumstances to obtain a reduction of such rents. If your land legislation is to be of any use to rack-rented tenants in Ireland, it ought to enable them to place themselves in that position which would render it impossible for the landlords to evict them, as they are doing at the present moment. If the Government had intended a month ago to introduce a Bill having a retrospective character like the Protection of Person and Property (Ireland) Act, what could have been more easy for them than to have announced that fact, which would have at once prevented the bad landlords from pressing their eviction suits against their tenants, because they would have known that if they persevered they would have to come under the penalties, if penalties are to to be provided in the proposed legislation of the Government? On the other hand, it would have tended materially to smooth matters as regards the action of tenants. The tenants would have known that they were going to receive some protection in the proposed legislation of the Government, and would not have been driven in their despair forcibly to resist the serving of processes. They would have submitted more peaceably and tranquilly to the enforcement of the law, and we would not have such scenes as, unhappily, occurred the other day in the county of Sligo. I admit it is exceedingly inconvenient to raise a question of this kind on a Motion to adjourn the House. I do not wish to make any charge against Her Majesty's Government; I wish to hold my opinion as to the proposed legislation of the Government in suspense until I see the provisions of the Bill before the House. But I think we have a right to draw the attention of the Government to this matter before they introduce the Bill; because I often see that when a strong Government introduces a good measure they do not like to entertain representations afterwards; and I trust that what we have said to-night may bear fruit, and that if the Government had not intended that the legislation should be retrospective, that they will give the matter their most careful consideration within the next few days, with a view of seeing whether they can satisfy the justice of the case by leaving the 12,000 persons who were evicted last year without the protection which they propose to 795 afford to the tenants in future, and by leaving those 215 families who were evicted during the month of March without the protection of the proposed Land Bill.
§ MR. HEALY
, referring to a Resolution which had been passed in the House, declaring that the serious condition of the West of Ireland deserved the attention of the Government, said, that the Resolution was passed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), and that the Chief Secretary for Ireland, so far as he was concerned, allowed the Resolution to remain a dead letter. The Chief Secretary, when he assented to the Resolution, must surely have had some intention of doing something with regard to it. The right hon. Gentleman had charged Members connected with the Land League in Ireland with a great deal of responsibility in connection with the present evictions. He would read to the House the words of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), another Member of the Government, as to what the action of himself and his fellow-Members had been in Ireland. It was quite true that they told the tenants not to pay unjust rents. He (Mr. Healy) himself had told some of the poor people in a remote part of the County Cork (Castletown-Berehaven) not to pay any rent at all, and he was prepared to reiterate that advice. [The hon. Gentleman read an extract from a publication of a statement made by Mr. Courtney with regard to Mr. Parnell and his followers, in which he stated that he could find no fault with Mr. Parnell in the policy which he had adopted, except in so far as he was not sufficiently explicit in his meaning, and he could not charge him with any attempt to mislead.] The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary ought to have known that, rather than submit to ejectment, the unfortunate tenants would be only too glad to pay their rents, no matter what they told them, and no matter whether they were just or unjust, if they could only scrape the money together. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the evictions had increased from 92 in February to 215 in March. He supposed the right hon. Gentleman would put the blame of that, not upon the Protection of Person and Property Bill, but upon the advice 796 given by the Land League to the Irish tenants before Christmas. That was another of the advantages the Government had in having a Chief Secretary in Office who did his duty by closeting himself up in Dublin Castle whenever he visited Ireland, instead of taking steps personally to see what the wants of the Irish farmers were. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister would go into the distressed districts of Ireland and see for themselves the extreme misery and destitution in which the people lived in their wretched hovels, eight or ten persons being huddled together in one room, with such domestic animals as they might possess, and often having only one meal of Indian corn per day, they would then better understand the stand which the Irish Members were making on behalf of those poor tenants who were being driven from their homes. The right hon. Gentleman admitted, in the previous Session, that if he had to administer injustice he would leave the Treasury Bench; but though he acknowledged that the law of disturbance was unjust, and though he had administered injustice since, he had not left the Treasury Bench. Not only did he do his best to resist every attempt made to keep the people in their homes, but he had caused an addition of £55,000 to be made to the cost of maintaining police, presumably for the purpose of additional weapons and machinery for the carrying out of evictions. He (Mr. Healy) was happy to be able to state that the odious duties which had been thrown on the police by the right hon. Gentleman's Government had caused numerous resignations; and in physique and general character the police force was greatly altered since the duty of driving the unfortunate people from their homes had been cast on them. The right hon. Gentleman had blamed his hon. Friend for bringing forward this Motion in an irregular manner; but he seemed to forget that the course pursued by the Government left no other course open to the hon. Member for Galway, who was perfectly justified in seizing upon the first opportunity of defending the homes and property of his countrymen from the destruction which the Government policy permitted and encouraged.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
thought that the indignation which had been exhibited by the Goverment that evening was 797 quite misplaced. The good which might be found in the promised Land Bill was one thing; but the protection of the existing tenants in Ireland was quite another. If a good Land Bill were passed, all the tenants who might still be in possession of their holdings would, for all future time, be protected from non-payment of exorbitant rents; but at the present moment, from inability to pay exorbitant rents, there were thousands of the Irish tenants liable to eviction. He held it to be an error of policy on the part of the Government to be always repeating the parrot cry that they were only executing the present law in Ireland.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
I rise to Order. Every single Member of the Government having left the House, there are not 40 Members present.
§ House counted, and 40 Members not being present,
§ House adjourned at half after Seven o'clock.