HC Deb 18 July 1881 vol 263 cc1208-19

said, he did not rise to join in this little interlocutory conversation, but for the purpose of moving an Amendment to the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair. He might say that the Motion was entirely due to the courteous and elegantly polished manner in which, early in the Sitting, the Chief Secretary for Ireland refused to give an answer to the Question put by himself and his hon. Friend the Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham). His hon. Friend put an inquiry which was of great importance in reference to the state of Ireland, and the inquiry met with no response from the Chief Secretary. He now felt it his duty to protest against the course adopted by the Chief Secretary; and he rose to move, as a formal Amendment to the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will cause to be procured and laid before this House, Copies of the Charges delivered by Judges Harrison and Lawson, of the Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, and of Chief Justice May, at the recent Summer Assize in Ireland. This was a matter of considerable importance, for they had been unable to extract any information whatever from the Government on the state of Ireland. Alarming accounts were seen in the newspapers of an unbroken series of outrages and disturbances, although the House knew that for the purpose of dealing with this state of things Government had been armed with powers of a most unlimited nature. What was the exact state of Ireland so far as he had been able to get at it? He found that while the House for the last two months had been engaged in discussing the Land Bill there had been a large increase of crime, and that not only of the less serious class of agrarian offences, but of crimes of a serious character. There had been also a large increase in the number of arrests, and in the proclamations issued for dealing with these evils. That was the state of Ireland. Now, what was the number of agrarian offences in March last, when the Chief Secretary asked for his Bill? The agrarian offences were 145. In April, after the passing of the Coercion Bill, they rose to 291; in May they rose to 337; and in June they remained 336. This was the testimony of figures; but the House also wanted on this point independent testimony, and no testimony was of such value as that contained in the Charges of the Judges delivered to Grand Juries when they proceeded on their Circuits. More than that, it was by these Charges that the Government were themselves guided in estimating the state of the country, and it was made a strong point by the Chief Secretary in bringing in the Coercion Bill. Now, the Government seemed to be under an impression that they held no responsibility to Parliament at all, that this Bill relieved them from that, that all the ordinary Business of the Session might be loft to go anyhow; even when the Government had suspended all the Constitutional liberties of Ireland, they were relieved from all responsibility on their part, because they were engaged in the Irish Land Bill. Now, he did not think that was at all the right view to take. He asked the Chief Secretary if he would endeavour to procure the Judges' Charges and lay them before the House. Of course, these Charges contained most valuable information as to the existing state of things in Ireland after four months of the Coercion Act; but the Chief Secretary made no answer at all. The Chief Secretary did say previously that there was a difficulty in procuring copies of these Charges; but to this it might be said there would be no real difficulty, because, in all probability, the Judge would have made notes; there were also the shorthand writer's notes, and, in any case, there were full and ample reports in the Irish newspapers, and it was perfectly easy to submit the report to the Judge for correction. It was no uncommon thing to lay Judges' Charges before the House. It was done in the case of trials on Election Petitions, and he should think that a Judge's opinion on the state of Ireland was more important than his opinion of a corrupt borough. Those who read Irish newspapers knew perfectly well that the Reports of these Judges presented a most gloomy picture of the state of Ireland; but these Charges had been shortly and imperfectly reported in the English Press, and the public, as a whole, were not acquainted with the real state of Ireland. Now, it was in order that the English public might have the state of Ireland brought home to them, and might know, in spite of the Coercion Act and the Land Bill, what success the Government had had in governing Ireland, that he moved for this Address. Unless Parliamentary attention was drawn to this matter, it was impossible to get at the state of affairs, and he could find no better way than by laying these Judges' Charges before Parliament. He would also point out that not only was there a serious increase in crime, and that of more serious crime, but the general strike against all payment of debts went on in a more acute manner than ever. He could tell the House of instances that would show the extent of this. He knew of two cases in London where ladies, dependent for their living upon their portions charged upon Irish estates, had actually to apply to a London workhouse for out-door relief, they having received no payments since the Government came into Office. That might be but a coincidence, but it was a fact. The other day he heard of a gentleman, who had a large property in Ireland, who had had to remove his two sons from school and send them to a Board school. [Laughter.] That might seem a good joke to the hon. Member for Stockton and the Radical Party; the more poverty and misfortune overtook the upper classes the more were the Radical Party satisfied with that state of things. All this while crime in Ireland was increasing, arrests were increasing, proclamations were increasing, while time was idled away on the Land Bill, which was made the excuse for the neglect of all ordinary Business. When opportunity offered, the Government were ever ready to accuse the Opposition of making unfounded charges; but they were now only asked for information. If what he had said was not correct, let the Government produce their Judges' Charges, they would give a far better description of the state of Ireland than he could pretend to give. But if the Chief Secretary wrapped himself in silence, as he did in answer to a Question that afternoon, at least, he (Lord Randolph Churchill) was justified in calling attention to the importance of the subject, and to the inference that the Government dared not produce these Charges.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will cause to be procured and to be laid before this House, Copies of the Charges of Judges Harrison and Lawson, of the Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, and of Chief Justice May, at the recent Summer Assize in Ireland,"—(Lord Randolph Churchill,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he did not know whether he owed an apology to the noble Lord, but he was sure he did to the House, for an unfortunate reticence on his part, which had led the noble Lord to give the Chief Secretary and the House the benefit of his remarks at greater length than was expected. If those remarks had merely been addressed to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, it was not so much matter. The simple reason why he did not answer in the afternoon was because he did not think the Question was seriously intended. He did not repeat, what he had stated before, that he had no power in respect to these Judges' Charges to procure an official Report, and he thought it was generally understood that he had no authority to lay these Charges on the Table. They were not written documents. The noble Lord said they might be obtained from newspaper reports, after asking the Judges to correct them; but that, surely, was not the way to procure documents to lay on the Table. The noble Lord also stated that the Charges in the case of Election Petitions had been produced; but in those cases it was well understood beforehand that this was to be done, but it had never hitherto been done in the case of Judges' Charges to juries. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) could not undertake to produce them. He would be glad if they were produced, for there was nothing that he could not wish to make known. It was quite true that in former debates he referred to these Charges; but he quoted them from the newspapers, as the noble Lord had done; but it was out of his power to make them official documents, and it would be creating a remarkable precedent to do so. He would not detain the House at that time; he would only say it was not in his power to comply with the noble Lord's request. But as to a general debate on the state of Ireland, if the noble Lord wished to call it up, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) would be prepared at the proper time to meet it.


said, he recognized the noble Lord's sincerity when he desired that the English people should know the truth about Ireland, and he said that the truth was to be learned from the Judges' Charges. But then he picked out just three or four special Charges, and that was the way he would instruct the people of England on the state of Ireland. Now, he would beg leave to tell the noble Lord that when the English people wanted to be informed on the state of Ireland, the last place where they would get a true picture would be in the gloomy colouring of the Charges he had made the object of his Motion.


said, he was not surprised that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not regarded the noble Lord's Question as serious, and he doubted if anyone in the House did. But he did not propose to detain the House on that subject; but he wished to point out that the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair was made in order that the House might go into Committee of Supply on the Civil Service Votes, which numbered 115. Some of these were very different from others, and he wished to ask the Government if they had any objection to postpone five out of the number? These five involved very small sums; but they were distinctly of a contentious character, and a discussion upon them could not be taken at that hour. One of these Votes was for the Office of Privy Seal, for which the Government only asked £500. It was an Office which the Liberal Party a few years ago proposed to abolish when in Opposition, and a division was taken, in which the Motion was only defeated by a majority of 32. The other Votes he referred to were those for the Lord Lieutenant's Household, the Chief Secretary's Office, the Vote for Criminal Prosecutions (Ireland), and the Constabulary Vote. He thought the Government would see the application was reasonable; and, if granted, he thought there would be no opposition to going into Committee.


said, the hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) complained that the noble Lord had selected only four Judges' Charges; but there was nothing unreasonable in that—[Interruptions.] He would be grateful to the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Dodds) if he would refrain from interruptions by means of inarticulate noises. The hon. Member was in the habit of doing this without, so far as he could judge, contributing anything to debates and discussions in the House. He would be glad if the hon. Member would control himself. The noble Lord had selected those Charges which contained a description of the state of things in Ireland at the present time, and which contained most reliable statements. However, as the Chief Secretary for Ireland had pointed out that it was out of his power to produce these Charges, he had no doubt that, under the circumstances, the noble Lord would not persevere with his Motion. But he might venture to remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in the answer he gave to the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham), he stated that these Charges were under the grave and serious consideration of the Government. Now, if that were so, as it was undoubtedly right it should be, and if there was no precedent, then it was worthy of serious consideration whether the Government were not justified in establishing a precedent for the future by taking such measures as would enable them, where it was necessary and proper, to lay these Charges on the Table of the House. The House had grave reason for anxiety. He recollected that at the close of last Session attention was called to the condition of Ireland, and statements and assurances had been given by the Government which had not been strictly fulfilled. And now they were approaching the end of another Session, and, under the circumstances, and considering the state in which Ireland was, the noble Lord, in calling attention to the subject, had done nothing but fulfilled a duty.


said, the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), as well as the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), had taken the liberty of referring to him (Mr. Dodds) personally in a manner which he conceived to be wholly unwarrantable. He called the House to witness how constantly they wasted valuable time in a way which, in the opinion of the great majority of the House, was wholly unjustifiable; and because he (Mr. Dodds), in common with many other hon. Members of that House, had, as they were perfectly justified in doing, in accordance with the established usage and practice of the House, expressed their disapprobation of such unwarrantable conduct, they had been subjected to those personal attacks by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lincolnshire. Those hon. Members constantly and persistently wasted the time of the House in a most unwarrantable manner; and if, instead of that, they more frequently imitated him (Mr. Dodds) and other hon. Members and kept their seats, the Business of the country would make greater progress, and there would be no necessity for any manifestation of impatience. If every Member of the House abused its privileges in the same manner as the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock and the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire it would be impossible to transact any Business whatever. The noble Lord had, by his injudicious Amendment to the Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," at that unseasonable hour—between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning—set up a windmill; and it was a humiliating spectacle to see the noble Lord crawling up the Gangway to his Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire, to get him to help him out of his difficulty, and knock it down by suggesting, as he had done, that the Motion should be withdrawn. He (Mr. Dodds) hoped that the House would not permit that groundless Amendment to be withdrawn, but would emphatically negative it, and thus mark their sense of the conduct pursued by the noble Lord and the hon. Member opposite.


said, he did not wish to interfere in a charming domestic quarrel with which he had nothing to do; but he expressed his personal regret that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had been unable to comply with the request of the noble Lord. Those who knew Ireland would understand that many of these Judges' Charges were in the nature of prize essays in competition for the Land Commission; and, perhaps, now that was over, there would be less of these pictures with Salvator Rosa colouring. Those who understood the people of Ireland and the undercurrents of Irish life, and the movements that went on behind the judicial scenes, were perfectly aware why Mr. Justice Lawson and several other of the learned Judges indulged in these histrionic performances on the Judicial Bench. The production of these Charges would, if accompanied by something like a truthful description of the gyrations of those political personages when they were delivering their Charges, be a great advantage to the House. If the Charge delivered by Mr. Justice Lawson at the Kerry Assizes could have been given, with some comment on the excited tone in which it was delivered, he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) would have been able to bring before the House a Motion which it had long been his purpose and desire to introduce calling for the removal from the Bench of Mr. Justice Lawson and Mr. Justice Fitzgerald. He did not know whether he would include all the four Judges; but he would have moved for the prompt, if not the immediate, removal from the Bench of those two hot partizans, who went through those ignoble performances on the Bench in the hope of getting every bit of patronage.


rose to Order, and asked whether it was competent for any Member of that House to speak in such disrespectful terms of the Judges of the land?


The language of the hon. Member with reference to persons of high position and character is unguarded, to say the least of it; but I am not prepared to say that it is not within the bounds of Order.


said, he would not have alluded to those Judges except for the noble Lord having spoken of them as trustworthy persons. They were the men who had been calumniating the character of their countrymen; and was he to be mealy-mouthed when he came to tell the House what he thought of these ermined partizans, who were running away with the character of their country? He did not think there would be many more such Judicial Charges now that the Government had bestowed the Commissioner-ships under the Land Bill, for the Judges would adopt a much milder tone, and their pictures of Irish life would be much less exaggerated.


observed, that the Chief Secretary had said that he did not think the noble Lord, in asking his Question to-day, could be serious—and it was a most remarkable thing that whenever the Chief Secretary was put in an awk- ward position he did not think the question serious. That was his refuge. There was another remark made by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that this was not the time to bring this matter forward. That was the favourite method of meeting matters of this kind, and the Chief Secretary knew very well that there was no other opportunity but when the adjournment of the House was moved for Members to elicit information. It seemed to him that the time of the Chief Secretary never would come. He only wished it would; and, with regard to these particular Charges which the noble Lord, with his knowledge of Irish life, laid so much stress upon, the noble Lord knew that everything that was said by the Judges was rehearsed in the Privy Council. The way the little game was worked was this. The Government wished to suspend a province or a county, and the Privy Council and the Judges received the tip from the Chief Secretary, and the Judges then went down into the country and made a great cry about its condition, which they painted in the blackest hues they could. It was by these means that the Coercion Act was passed. Mr. Justice Fitzgerald, at Cork, knew beforehand that it was the intention of the Government to apply for coercion, and he having blown the last trumpet in Cork, the Chief Secretary camp to the House and read long extracts out of his Charges. He put it to the noble Lord whether he ought to treat the Judges' Charges seriously? They were echoes of Dublin Castle, and ought only to be treated in that way.


thought every hon. Member would agree that this discussion had lasted long enough; and, with regard to the observations of the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. Arthur O'Connor), he should be very glad, if possible, to accept his proposition; but he felt that it would not be in his power to do so. The Votes referred to were taken on the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee of 1866 and 1867, who advised that Votes on Account should be taken for such Services as had already been sanctioned by Parliament. Therefore, it was not the fact that only such sums should be taken as were necessary. These Votes had been examined most carefully, and nothing had been asked for that was not required. The noble Lord had stated that there were contested Votes; but there would be exactly the same opportunity for testing these Votes whether these Votes were taken on account or not, and the hon. Member would have as good an opportunity of opposing any of the Votes when they were dealt with in Committee of Supply as if no Vote on Account were taken. He, therefore, hoped the hon. Member would be content to allow the Government to take a certain amount on these contested Votes.


said, he thought the House was entitled to ask the President of the Local Government Board for an answer to the appeal made to him by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) and the hon. Member for Mid Somersetshire (Mr. R. H. Paget). The Rivers Conservancy and Floods Prevention Bill, no doubt, dealt with a subject of great interest, and was intended to remove a serious evil. It covered a great tract of country, and introduced into local taxation a principle of which—


The hon. Member is not at liberty to discuss the merits of this Bill on the Motion before the House.


said, he was only desirous to learn from the President of the Local Government Board whether it was intended to proceed with the Rivers Conservancy and Floods Prevention Bill?


wished to say one word in consequence of what fell from the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Dodds). That hon. Member had charged the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock and the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire with wasting the time of the House. With regard to the noble Lord, he would remind the hon. Member of an authority which he would respect—namely, the Prime Minister. In a debate last Session the Prime Minister had paid a high compliment to the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock on the speech which he delivered upon the course taken by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), and other Members, in regard to the financial policy of the Government. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire had been a Member of the Duke of Richmond's Commission, and he would appeal to the House whether the hon. Member was in the habit of wasting the time of the House?


said, that with reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy), he did not believe that the Judges did act in any way in concert with the Privy Council in getting up mock statements with regard to the state of the country. He believed that they stated the facts that appeared before them; but he was happy to say that in one part of Ireland, where the population was more loyal and industrious than in other parts, one Judge had had the agreeable task this year of receiving from the Sheriff a pair of white gloves. That was in the county which he himself represented.


said, the Government seemed to him to have acted in an erratic manner, and from some underhand motive, and to have obtained information unobservable by any one individual from any part of the outside world. He was very much opposed to these Votes being brought on at this time of the night; and he thought it would very much facilitate Business if the Government postponed the four or five Votes suggested by the hon. Member for Queen's County. The first Vote was for the Privy Seal, which was a Vote that could not be defended upon its merits, and he would suggest that the Government should agree to postpone the contested Votes. The Land Bill could not last more than another week, and on Monday those Votes could be properly discussed instead of having to be discussed twice over.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.