§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
rose to a point of Order. He had the Bill for an hour, and several hon. Members had only had it for half-an-hour; in fact, it could not be obtained before 9 o'clock that morning; 3 and he wished to know whether it was in accordance with the usual practice of the House, in the case of measures of such importance, that the second reading should be taken so soon after it had been put in circulation, being only three hours after its delivery?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, it was quite out of the question that he should interpose between the House and the consideration of the Bill, as the House itself had ordered it to be set down for second reading that day. It had been delivered, and he certainly did not propose to interpose.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir William Harcourt.)
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Galway (Major Nolan) had just done good service in calling attention to the peculiar and extreme haste with which the measure was pushed forward by the Government, and to the danger of it being made a new precedent when they had a Bill which had only just been printed and put into their hands brought forward for second reading. But he (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) was afraid they had got into a way of making so many new precedents with regard to the Bill that it was hardly worth while to make a difficulty about raising another. He could hardly suppose that any objection so comparatively small as that would be allowed to interfere with the rapid progress of the Bill, when they considered the more grave and portentous departures from usages, traditions, and precedents which had had to be accomplished in order to enable the House to make progress thus far. If he had no other reason to justify him in moving that the second reading of the Bill be deferred for a few months, it would be enough to remember the language and attitude with which it had been introduced, and to remember certain new sayings and doings which preceded its introduction. Owing to the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland a new figure had risen on the political horizon in connection with the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had taken charge of this new portion of the 4 coercion scheme. They all admired the ability and eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman. On one remarkable occasion the Leader of the great Conservative Party now in the House of Lords, wishing to pay a tribute to the right hon. Gentleman's powers of speech, complimented him on what he called his "Rhodian eloquence." A good many hon. Members of the House and a good many persons outside, not having all their classics at their fingers' ends, and not remembering certain passages in Plutarch, were rather puzzled to know what Rhodian eloquence meant; and an hon. Member of the House suggested that the noble Earl had spoken of Rhodian eloquence because he thought the right hon. Gentleman's style of speech was exactly the sort of tall talk which might be expected to come from the Colossus of Rhodes. However that might be, the Rhodian eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion had been employed in a manner not only impolitic, but also most unjust and unfair to the interests of either Ireland or this country. He had employed his Rhodian eloquence for the purpose of inflaming the passions of this country against Ireland, and against the Representatives of Ireland, and for the purpose of raising such a spirit among the Irish magistracy and the Irish officials as must render it all but impossible that a measure of this kind should be fairly carried out. He (Mr. M'Carthy) was compelled, for the purpose of showing the justice of his argument, to refer to one or two passages in the previous history of this coercion scheme. The right hon. Gentleman, since he had had charge of this measure, in order to hasten it on, had lost no chance of charging Ireland and the Irish Representatives with entering into a combination with some of the worst, most malignant, and most diabolical organizations that had ever been talked of or dreamed about in political history. The right hon. Gentleman had never failed to endeavour to make the House believe that the Irish Members were themselves engaged and confederated in a most odious conspiracy which the right hon. Gentleman believed to exist, or persuaded himself had existed. It was not so very long since, on an occasion where an hon. Friend of his (Mr. M'Carthy's) made some remarks about the Irish-Americans and their purposes, 5 that right hon. Gentleman rose and distinctly charged, by implication, his hon. Friend with a perfect knowledge of the Fenian conspiracy, and of all it was doing; and he implied again and again, in slow and measured tones, with the most manifestly deliberate purpose, that the hon. Gentleman who spoke was actually in co-operation with that Fenian conspiracy. It was not long after that that the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a Question, which he might have dramatically arranged, as to whether he had recently come to know anything about the movements of the former Fenian head-centre, James Stephens, said, in a solemn, theatrical manner, meant to convey a world of meaning, that he had made the astonishing discovery that James Stephens was at that moment in Paris. Everyone in the House knew what the right hon. Gentleman meant to convey. Everyone knew that the hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. Parnell) had just gone to Paris, and that the right hon. Gentleman meant to convey that the hon. Member for Cork City and Mr. Stephens were then, by a concerted arrangement, in political combination. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention to the House, and, if he did not know it, he showed a singular lack of information he might have had officially—he did not mention the fact that Paris had been the residence of Mr. Stephens for a great number of years, and that his returning to Paris was just about as remarkable as the hon. Gentleman's occasionally returning to London. This effort to show that there was a certain distinct cohesion between the Irish Representatives and conspiracy was carried still further in the most recent utterances of the right hon. Gentleman; and it was only yesterday, in answer to a Question, that he distinctly and emphatically charged certain Irish Representatives of the Land League with being in confederation with some persons in plots for assassination and inciting to commit murder. These charges he made as expressive as he could, not only by all the authority of his official position, but by every aid of intonation and gesture; and he endeavoured to impress on the House, three-fourths of whom probably knew nothing of the matter whatever, that the leaders of the Land League were the confederates and fellow-conspirators of a person called John Devoy, whom he accused of being 6 an assassin, and a man who incited to assassination. He (Mr. M'Carthy), therefore, distinctly charged the right hon. Gentleman with having used his high position, and the supposed accuracy of knowledge which his position gave him, for the purpose of impressing on the House and on the country, and particularly on Ireland, the belief of Her Majesty's Government that the Irish Representatives, or their Leaders, were the fellow-conspirators of Fenian rebels and assassins. If he (Mr. M'Carthy) had no other reason but that for objecting to intrusting powers such as this Bill conveyed to Her Majesty's Government, the fact would be enough that such charges had been made by a right hon. Gentleman in such a high position as the Secretary of State for the Home Department. A Government which contained anyone who could so misuse his high position as to make or authorize such charges as these, was unfit to be intrusted with any arbitrary powers over the liberties of any portion of the Queen's subjects. The right hon. Gentleman was the head of the official Department of which the Chief Secretary for Ireland was only a Member. He presided over the Irish Department as well as the English, and was chief of all the organization which was to be intrusted with powers by that Bill, and his language proved that he was not a fit person to be intrusted with any powers over the liberties of even the least important of Her Majesty's subjects. That, if there were no other reason, would induce him to oppose the passing of the Bill. It would compel him to oppose the intrusting the liberty of any person whatever in the hands of a Minister so reckless, and yet so deliberate in his statements, as the right hon. Gentleman. He need scarcely say that for himself, and for those with whom he acted, he utterly repelled the extravagant charges of the right hon. Gentleman; and he declared deliberately that they had no more to do with these schemes, these plans and plots he talked of, if they existed, which were more foul and diabolical than any recorded in history, than the right hon. Gentleman himself and the Ministers who sat on the Treasury Bench with him. He was not surprised to find that in "another place" the style of argument started by the right hon. Gentleman had now found 7 a rival and superior in the mouth of one who was even a greater master of Rhodian eloquence than the right hon. Gentleman himself. The chain of conspiracy by which the right hon. Gentleman connected the Fenians with Stephens and Devoy, and through them with the Irish Members and the Irish people, had had another link added to it by the noble Earl (the Earl of Beaconsfield), who stretched it to much more exalted aim, and attached it to the movements and eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman himself and his Leader the Prime Minister. They had this chain lengthening at each remove, so constructed as to show John Devoy and Stephens at one end and the Prime Minister at the other. He knew that the noble Earl traced all the disturbances in Ireland, and all the machinations that were going on in and out of Ireland, not to the existence of the melancholy ocean, but to the eloquence and statesmanship of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and his Colleagues. For his own part, he was not sorry to find the argument of the right hon. Gentleman thus reduced to that absurdity; and he was rejoiced to find on the latest authority—that of the noble Earl to whom he had referred—that if his hon. Friends were the fellow-conspirators of Devoy and Stephens, at least they had the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and his Colleagues as their companions in the band. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had recently quoted Cicero. Naturally, as coming from him, the quotation was a somewhat familiar one, as he rarely taxed the memory with very recondite quotations. He (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) was not surprised to find that the quotation was not perfectly accurate, or, at least, was somewhat incomplete. He presumed the right hon. Gentleman had of late been seized with the ambition to play the part of Cicero. He already rivalled him in eloquence—at least, he himself, doubtless, thought he did. Perhaps he was also anxious to rival him in playing the great part of the saviour of society. He (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) was sure that the right hon. Gentleman was convinced that he had equalled Cicero in that respect; but he forgot there was one point of difference between himself and Cicero in regard to the situation which he endeavoured to con- 8 jure up. Cicero had his antagonist face to face before he began to denounce him. He assailed him in his presence, and it was the overpowering eloquence of Cicero which led to the remarkable "evasion" to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded. But the right hon. Gentleman, who aspired to be the modern Cicero, waited until his antagonist was out of the way before he began his denunciation, and that series of astonishing charges given out in such un-Parliamentary and unusual language, which, he thought, would never have been made if his opponent had been present. He was strongly opposed to giving the enormous powers which the Bill would confer into the hands of a statesman who was, apparently, determined, at any cost, to attitudinize before the country in the character of the modern Cicero saving society. He opposed the Bill, further, because it was to be extended over an extraordinary length of time. The right hon. Gentleman was to save society, if the country maintained him in Office for five years, by exercising the most arbitrary powers over the people of Ireland. The Constitutional powers which were supposed to belong to Parliament were to be suspended for five years, and during that period no chance was to be given to Parliament to re-consider the position of affairs. He objected to so startling a departure from the practices of their statesmanship. Why was the House asked to give up for that extraordinary period its right of reversing or continuing this arbitrary rule of the Government in Ireland? Then there was a portion of the Bill which was spoken of as mitigating the general powers of former measures, and which lie protested against—namely, the summary jurisdiction which would be given over anyone contravening the Act. They were to be liable to a fine of £20, and imprisonment; but it would be observed that under the Bill any man charged would be placed at the mercy of the magistracy of Ireland, upon whom the duty of saving Ireland was to be imposed. No opportunity was to be given to the man to appeal, or to have his case taken before a jury. He would be sent before a body of men who, roughly speaking, represented only one class of the community, and who were the determined and avowed enemies of the Land League and those who sup- 9 ported it. That was a portion of the Bill which, to do justice to all, must undergo some revision; and he could not imagine a better justification than that for resisting the passing of such a Bill to the utmost. There must be an opportunity given to a man to get a trial before a jury. Besides that, he objected to the Bill because it would be utterly useless for the very purpose for which the right hon. Gentleman told the House he wished it introduced. It was intended to enable the Constabulary to search for and obtain possession of arms held for unlawful purposes. But after the warning now given all the rifles and revolvers would be concealed. He would assert that not one single revolver or gun held for unlawful purposes by anyone in Ireland would ever, under the Bill, come into the possession of the Government; and, what was more, he believed the Ministers themselves were of the same opinion. Let them pass the Bill with whatever rapidity they liked, the mere notice of the introduction of it was surely warning enough to all persons supposed to have arms for unlawful purposes. He remembered the Rebellion of 1848 and the Arms Act of that time. There were many weapons in the hands of the people of Ireland at that time, and there was, what there was not at the present day, an organization in the country having for its object armed rebellion. And yet, at that time, the police came into the possession of none of the arms which were intended to carry out the rebellious movement. It was known the Government were going to move. All those who had weapons took care to put them in places of concealment, and to bury them in the ground. In the present day he knew many parts of Ireland where down under the turf there were corroding and rotting away the obsolete weapons with which, at that time, certain young enthusiasts hoped to drive the Saxons into the sea. All the weapons that Government would get hold of would be the guns with which farmers frightened the crows off their farms. For the reasons which he had stated, amongst others, he objected to the Bill, and maintained that there was no reasonable excuse or necessity for such a measure. But the right hon. Gentleman said, although he had no great hope of getting vast stores of rifles in Ireland, at least he would be able to prevent men who 10 had the weapons from making an ostentatious parade of them in the open country. Were there, then, not powers enough in the ordinary law to enable the Government to put down any such lawless act, if the Ministers only chose to exercise those powers? The right hon. Gentleman had said that bands of men armed with rifles had paraded the roads, breaking into houses, frightening people, and firing shots. But if they had got in Ireland a vast number of military and constabulary, and a swarm of magistrates and officials of all kinds, and could do nothing to stop such proceedings, what was the use of their authority? How were they to do it under the new Act? How would a power to search for weapons enable him to prevent such things? He opposed the Bill because it was unnecessary for every purpose which the measure was intended to compass, and he opposed it because, even if some Bill were necessary, the measure was in itself imperfect; and even if there were the greatest urgency and most imperative occasion for a stringent measure of some kind, that was not the kind of measure which they could safely in-trust to the hands of Her Majesty's Government. He objected to it at the present time, because, inflamed as the passions of people had been, it was not safe to intrust the powers given in the Bill to the magistracy of Ireland. He objected to it because of the manner of its introduction, because it had been made to seem one part of a necessary scheme of legislation to put down some dark, gigantic, and monstrous conspiracy which the right hon. Gentleman would fain have them believe was in existence, and in which he charged hon. Members of that House with being partners and confederates. Every argument as to the want of necessity, as to the unfitness of the time, and of those who introduced it, all applied with great force to that most unfortunate measure which Her Majesty's Ministers were striving to pass. No doubt they would gain their object. The right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues were armed with such powers, they had brought the House into such a condition, that he believed there was nothing whatever they would ask which would not be granted. He believed there was no sacrifice whatever of public liberty and Constitutional rights which they might not have if the 11 right hon. Gentleman would only arise in his place and make some portentous allusion to conspiracy and assassination at the expense of its best and most Constitutional traditions. He would say, in conclusion, that they would have their success now as they had had their triumphs before; they were the saviours of society; they had had their coup d' etat; they had had their 2nd of December; for the present they could attitudinize and swear that on a certain day they saved the State. But they could not buy that magnificent success without some sacrifice, and the sacrifice was, that the greater triumph they won, the greater distrust they inspired in the minds of all reasonable men who loved Constitutional ways, and all the greater—some time or other—would be the re-action against their policy, their measures, and the whole spirit in which they had endeavoured to carry those measures into practical operation. For himself, he felt a pride in opposing that measure, as he opposed the measure which was lately brought in; and he believed some day all who took part in opposing it would be regarded by the country as having done an honest and spirited public duty. He opposed that measure, as he opposed giving any despotic powers into the hands of a body of men who had shown that they were willing to sacrifice the best traditions, the dearest Constitutional privileges and principles of the people, for the purpose of obtaining a temporary triumph, of serving an Opposition, whom they had made their masters, and of forcing an unfair and despotic measure down the throats of a people who ought to be free; but whom their policy and their legislation, or, rather, their want of true policy of legislation, had placed at their mercy. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the rejection of the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Justin M'Carthy.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MAJOR O'BEIRNE
said, he also rose to oppose the Bill, but for different reasons to those put forward by the hon. Member (Mr. M'Carthy). He opposed 12 the second reading, because there was a law in Ireland which enabled the Government to require persons who carried arms to take out a licence, for which 10s. had to be paid. The magistrates and landowners of Ireland had complained, over and over again, that that law had not been enforced—perhaps from selfish reasons—but certainly the police force, which had been described as "an army of occupation without any occupation at all," might have been employed in carrying out the law which existed. Probably the cause of that law not having been enforced was that it it would have interfered with sporting. He agreed that the right to carry arms should be limited. In some parts of America it was so, and he did not think that the Irish people would object to it. He believed that his constituents were extremely indifferent whether the Bill were passed or not; but if he should be in the House when the division took place he should vote against the second reading.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, that, in his opinion, the Bill ought, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, to have been introduced by one of the Law Officers in Ireland, who perfectly understood the wants of the country, because the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who had evidently not read the previous Acts, was betrayed into the remark that this was an easier Bill than all the others in the same direction. There were, at least, three other Bills which it would have been necessary to have read in order to have an accurate understanding of what the law was—namely, the Act of 1875, and the former Acts of 1870 and 1871. He (Major Nolan) had to complain that the second reading had been taken before they had had an opportunity of studying the Bill; he thought that that was a dreadful precedent to set up. He wished to point out that the House did not adjourn until 2 o'clock that morning, and he received a copy of the Bill at 9 o'clock, giving only three hours to devote to studying its details. He did certainly read it through, and compared it as well as he was able with the former Acts; but he had not had proper time to study the measure. However, from the short examination which he had been enabled to make of it, he had no hesitation in saying that this was a much more severe 13 measure than the old Acts. For instance, under the old Acts the Lord Lieutenant could proclaim a barony, or half a barony; but under the Bill, taking its very first words, "in a proclaimed district," there was no definition given of a "proclaimed district," consequently the Lord Lieutenant would be able to proclaim any district, and very probably he would not proclaim less than a county, so that a much larger number of persons would have to be brought under the operation of penal laws than there was the slightest necessity for bringing under their operation. In the old Act of 1870, which was referred to, and in the Act of 1875, a large number of people were exempted. All magistrates were exempted, and all military and constabulary officers, and, he believed, all civil servants. He believed that practically the non-exemption of magistrates would act very severely on many persons who were not magistrates; and he would say that the principles of a Bill of that kind, particularly under a Liberal Government, ought to have gone in the direction of extending the exemptions from its operations; but the present measure actually did away with all exemptions. He wished not only that magistrates, but some other classes, say the jurors of the country, were exempted; and thus, by degrees, the exemptions would be so numerous that, practically, every person would be allowed to have arms. He thought it was not a good thing to leave anything to the Lord Lieutenant, except some details of the Bill. Under the old Act any two justices of the peace could grant licences to carry arms to any occupiers of agricultural holdings within the petty sessions jurisdiction of such justices; but, under this Act, there was no such power. That omission alone would make the Bill a very much heavier one than the preceding Bills; and, in his opinion, it was a serious objection to it, which he should endeavour to amend in Committee. It also gave power to the police to search any person who was suspected of having arms. That was a most terrible power to give, and he was not aware that there was any precedent for it in the English Constitution. Probably that power would not be exercised in the case of respectable people; but still it would give the greatest annoyance and trouble unless the Lord Lieutenant gave special instructions on the subject. 14 He was quite sure constables would use this power for the purpose of annoyance, and also for the purpose of showing their zeal, if not their superiority. Among the other grounds on which he objected to the Bill, as being unusually severe, was the fact that it did not give to magistrates the same power they had under previous legislation to summarily dismiss nominal offences against the Act. He could not say that he had studied the Bill; but the little attention he had been able to bestow upon it had enabled him to discover the difference from the old Acts which he had enumerated; and he had no doubt that, if time was given, many other important differences would be found. He should like either of the Law Officers of the Crown to show them any point in the Bill which was more lenient than the Peace Preservation Act of 1875. They could not do that, for the Bill was a much more severe and vexatious measure than the old Act. He hoped the Government would see their way to consent to a few modifications. The Bill ought to be thoroughly considered in Committee; and he would advise the withdrawal of any very strenuous opposition to the second reading, in order that they might impress upon the Government the desirability of making one or two concessions in Committee. He must oppose the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. SEXTON
, who seconded the Motion for the rejection of the Bill, said, he only received a copy of it 20 minutes before he came down to the House that morning, and it was not for him to say whether 20 minutes was considered by the House to be a proper Constitutional period in which to study a difficult measure like this. He could not understand its introduction at all; but he supposed the Irish Members ought not to be surprised at anything done in the way of repressing Ireland, after the example they had lately had of coercive legislation. The Secretary of State for the Home Department had quoted Shakespeare in his speech last night; but it appeared that the taste for despotic power shown by the right hon. Gentleman had "grown by what it fed on." He (Mr. Sexton) could not see how that Bill could be regarded as a supplement to the Protection of Person and Property Bill. Once firearms were taken from a person, it might be con- 15 ceivable to supplement the action by sending him to gaol. But as the Government had already passed a Bill enabling them to put persons disagreeable to them, and whom they might suspect of being evilly disposed, in gaol, he thought that Bill was utterly surperfluous and unnecessary. When a man was imprisoned, it was quite unnecessary to take any action with regard to the possession of arms. The main points of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department's speech appeared to be the Charge of Judge Fitzgerald with regard to Ireland. He (Mr. Sexton) thought objection might justly be taken to the continual quotations here from the Charges of Judge Fitzgerald and others, and to that extraordinary importance which official speakers in that House appeared to attach to the language of those gentlemen. That was not the first time that the Charges of Irish Judges had been quoted in support of coercive measures by Ministers. The House, however, should bear in mind that Irish lawyers were brought up to be subservient to the Administration, because they knew the Government could exercise a most important influence upon their career, and that their promotion depended, not so much upon legal ability, as upon political services; and they knew, also, that even when they had reached the Bench their success depended upon the same service. In the discussion of a great question of that kind, which involved the freedom and the liberties of a whole people, it was unphilosophical and unstatesman like to look at it from the point of view of a Criminal Judge, who fixed his attention upon an isolated crime, instead of taking in at one glance a large and adequate view of the whole condition of society. Greatly exaggerated statements, made by Irish Judges, were repeated in support of the Bill, notably one by Mr. Justice Fitzgerald, to the effect that "Every farmer's boy, every farmer's son, and persons of that class, appeared to be armed with either a rifle or a revolver." It must be perfectly evident to any reasonable man, whether he were acquainted with Ireland or not, that that sentence was not one conceived in a judicial frame of mind; that it ought not to be quoted, and ought not to be depended upon as an argument in favour of a measure involving the liberties of 16 5,000,000 people. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department opened his remarkable speech by the expression of a hope that they would hear no more of recriminations; but he followed up the expression of that pious and chivalrous hope by one of the grossest, most venomous, and most flagrantly unjust attacks which had, within his (Mr. Sexton's) brief experience, been made upon a Member of that House. The injustice and unmanliness of the attack was only aggravated by the absence of the Member most concerned, the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). That absence might be well excused, if the hon. Gentleman found he could do more useful work elsewhere. If the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote), or the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India were absent, no doubt their absence would be of more importance than that of the hon. Member fir the City of Cork; but the latter felt, that he had no influence on the legislation of that House, and he (Mr. Sexton) believed that if he had as sweet a voice as the Seraph Ithuriel he would be unable to add more than a cypher in that House to useful legislation for Ireland. Therefore, finding work more useful to do elsewhere, he had chosen to go there and do it, rather than attend the House. That was his crime; but the attack which had been made upon the hon. Member for the City of Cork would make him the more prized by the people of Ireland, who knew that, with great energy and with complete contempt of his own comfort, he was absent from Parliament in order to obtain, wherever he could, friends for them and their tenantry. Neither would it lower him in the eyes of the same people that he had been attacked while upon that mission by a Member of the Government they hated. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department was, no doubt, the foremost rhetorician of the Government; he was, in fact, the Chief Wrangler of the Treasury Bench, and his speech last evening was evidently delivered in pursuance of a transparent device by which the strong man was thrown forward in a moment of emergency, to give an appearance of strength to prevailing feebleness. The right hon. Gentleman praised the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) in order that he 17 might, by his artistic rhetoric, make a gloomy contrast between the hon. Member for Tipperary and the hon. Member for the City of Cork. He (Mr. Sexton) was persuaded, if he knew anything of that hon. Member, that when he saw the report of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, he would examine his conscience, and wonder whether, as Daniel O'Connell did when he was complimented by The Times, he had not done something unpatriotic, and against the interests of his country, to cause him to be so complimented. The right hon. Gentleman copied from the Chief Secretary for Ireland a method of argument which was certainly extremely illogical. He gave them particular instances of everything, and from them established a general theory. Upon an explosion at Salford, or a speech made in New York, or an article written in an American paper, or upon the defection of one solitary Irish priest, the right hon. Gentleman was quite ready to found a general and universal theory. If the right hon. Gentleman was now pursuing his studies of logic at school, and were to argue in such a manner, he would stand a good chance of having some of the provisions of the Whiteboy Act applied to him by his master. But the fact was that the right hon. Gentleman had wholly misrepresented the speeches of the hon. Member for Tipperary when he inferred from them, with very faulty logic, that the Land League and agrarian crime were causably connected. No doubt his hon. Friend had suggested organization, and that the young men should attend the meetings in military order; but he (Mr. Sexton) could see no objection to that advice to organize themselves. In any public movement, no matter how peaceable it might be, organization was of the utmost value; and he could conceive that, in certain cases, the possession and knowledge of the use of arms might act as a useful influence even upon measures of reform to be proposed by a Constitutional Government. He did not mean to say that the arms need be used; but that the fact of their existence might be a conceivable element in obliging a Government, otherwise apathetic, to introduce some measures of reform. The young men of Ireland had been advised to organize, and to be "afraid of no one." That in itself was very reasonable advice. Again, the right hon. Gen- 18 tleman referred to that part of the hon. Member for the City of Cork's speech where he recommended the people to organize, and so paralyze the hands of the Government, and prevent them enacting such laws as would throw the men who organized into prison. Any Government guilty of a sin against public interest and Constitutional principle well deserved to be impeded and paralyzed. The right hon. Gentleman said that in September last crime began to follow the teaching of the Land League. Did not the right hon. Gentleman know that September opened the winter quarter; that in this year the greatest distress prevailed, and that development of crime was to be attributed to this fact? Did he not remember that the evictions in the March and June and September months of last year far exceeded the usual average? Did he not know that these evictions left their sediment of vengeance in the minds of the people; and did he not know that two-thirds of the whole agrarian crime of last year occurred during a period of the greatest distress? He (Mr. Sexton) earnestly protested against the endeavour to cover the character of the Land Leaguers with conspiracy and crime. They had been called cowards and poltroons; but the men who did join the Land League, and attended its meetings, required to have moral courage, because they were marked by the landlords and the magistrates. He ventured to say they might with truth have been accused of cowardice and poltroonery if, after finding the Government tamely submitting to the despotism of the House of Lords after they had made an abortive attempt to relieve the people of Ireland, Irish Members had left the people to their own devices in the face of a powerful and infuriated class of landlords. If this had been the course they had adopted, he had no hesitation in saying that instead of there being 100 evictions in the December quarter, there would have been at least 1,000, because there were now in the hands of the sheriffs fully that number; and for every 100 crimes now on the record there would have been 10 times that number. He and his hon. Friends knew that by organizing, by enforcing upon the people the necessity of peaceful action, and by winning them from crime, they would decrease crime. They knew that if they 19 did this, the landlords and the Government would by-and-bye come forward and charge them with the responsibility of crimes that might be committed. It would have been perfectly easy for him (Mr. Sexton) to stand aloof from the movement, to let the people go into their own desperate ways, to let crime prevail over the land, and perhaps bloodshed itself. The House could conceive that in doing so he would not have subjected himself to an attack by any skilful Minister, and to a charge of cowardice or poltroonery. The Irish Members, however, in a spirit of moral courage decided to stand on the side of the people; and as long as their own conscience approved their own action, he believed they could regard with indifference the denunciations of even so powerful a master of rhetoric as the right hon. Gentleman. He would ask whether, if any public organization in England were now engaged in an open and candid struggle for a reform of the law upon grounds admitted by the Government themselves to be ample, any Minister would come down to the House and endeavour to attach the responsibility of crime to the leaders of that organization? The moral sense of the country would revolt against such a proceeding, and the manliness of the English race would repel it as an insult. There were other points as to which the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman seemed very inadequate. He had said that if the Arms Bill were passed armed gangs would not be able to march along the roads. It was a very remarkable fact that if armed gangs had been marching upon the roads, the police had not, in one solitary instance, been able to encounter them. It was as unlawful now for armed bodies of men to march along any thorough fare as it would be were that Act passed; and if such bodies were seen at the present time it would be the duty of the police to challenge them and call them to account. Then the right hon. Gentleman had quoted from the newspapers of the day before, no item of which could, at the time, have been contradicted; and he had mentioned the attempted murder of Mr. Hearne by way of giving the last tint of colour to the picture he had drawn. Unfortunately for the right hon. Gentleman, the very latest news put quite a different complexion on the case, and 20 showed that the crime was not agrarian, or, at all events, that it was not supposed to be so by Mr. Hearne himself. But, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman knew best after all. One of the London papers that day had spoken of the revolver taking the place in England of the old blunderbuss and horse pistol. An outrage quite as atrocious as any that had occurred in Ireland had lately been committed in Essex. A woman was threatened in her bed, and robbed of £30 in money, and some valuable credit notes; but there was no proposal to bring in an Arms Bill for England, and why? Because the English people would not stand it. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, had read passages from the play of King John; but he (Mr. Sexton) was at a loss to understand in what way the people of Ireland were concerned in the doings of King John. He could not conceive what bearing upon the present state of Ireland any quotation, however elaborately and well delivered, had to the connection between a certain English ruffian of bye-gone days and a disreputable English King. He truly believed the right hon. Gentleman had missed his vocation. The right hon. Gentleman delivered the quotation very effectively; and it suggested the reflection that while the State, had no doubt, gained an able servant, the stage had lost an admirable actor. He could, perhaps, discern the drift of that passage from King John; but he wholly refused to admit its appropriateness. It implied that the leaders of the Land League had a foreknowledge of the crimes that followed its meetings, though it was obvious that no one but a Cagliostro could have any such power of prevision. So much for the right hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Sexton) protested against the Bill because he believed it to be superfluous; for, in the power they had already received to imprison any man they pleased, the Coercion Bill had given to the Government power as extreme as any despotic Government could demand. Having obtained that power, he would have thought the Government, after their effort last year, after the general effect of their policy last year, and after the declarations made during the Recess by some of their eminent Members, would have thought it their duty to have commenced the present Session by 21 the introduction of a remedial measure. Unfortunately that hope was not realized. They had obtained one Coercion Act, and now they were proceeding in a still further repressive direction. He objected to the Bill on that ground, and also on the ground of its provisions. It gave the Lord Lieutenant power not to deal only with evil-doers, but with the people of the whole of Ireland alike; and it also explained the fact that after 80 years of Union with England, a Liberal Government, supported by a strong infusion of Radicalism, had to resort to the complete disarmament of the Irish people, without even foreshadowing the promised remedial measures. The next provision, which referred to the power reposed in the resident magistrates, was one of the most shocking that ever came under his notice. It provided that not only every person taken up under the Act should be deprived of the privilege of proving his innocence before a jury of his fellow-countrymen; that he should not only be summarily convicted, but that he should be convicted by one man—not even by a bench of magistrates. That one man would be the stipendiary magistrate—the paid servant, and the obedient slave of the Administration. When the authorities of Dublin Castle thought it well to arrest any man under the Act, the resident magistrate—the paid servant of the Crown—would deem it almost as a matter of official duty—in fact, as dependent upon the earning of his salary—to follow up the primâ facie case of the Government by a conviction of the person brought before him. Any man in Ireland might, in fact, make up his mind, if he was arrested under the Act, that his arrest would amount to a sentence and a conviction. He further objected also to the term for which this Act was to operate. In former times, when this country was governed by Whigs and by Tories, one or two years at the most was deemed sufficient for such an Act to operate; in fact, that was done for the express purpose of enabling the Representatives of the people to scrutinize it at their earliest assembly at the beginning or ending of each Session of Parliament. Indeed, it had been the lot of Tory Governments even to limit the operation of such Acts only to one year. In this case, however, the Bill was based upon the crimes of a single month last year; and in order to 22 neutralize the crime of the month, the first right of free men—the right to bear arms—must be taken away for five years. He might be disposed to imagine that after the Bill had been in operation for one year or for two years, the Government might, by-and-bye, claim that they were performing an act of grace by cancelling it; but he thought that they would not be enabled to do this as, from the aspect of affairs at present, it was not unlikely that the irony of politics would be once more illustrated, as it was in the matter of the Peace Preservation Act of 1870, and it would fall to the lot of a Tory Administration to cancel the Whig-Radical Arms Act of 1881. He objected to the Bill, because he was convinced, by actual experience, it would be utterly useless for its purpose, seeing that no Arms Act had ever effectively operated for the repression of crime in Ireland. He would test that statement by actual figures; and he would challenge the right hon. Gentleman to refute his arguments on the point. Arms Acts had not infrequently been passed by that House; in fact, 30 of them had been brought forward within the last 100 years. On the 16th July, 1830, an Arms Act was passed by the House. It was a very stringent measure; and, in order to prove the fact to the House, he need only say it was objected to even in the House of Lords as vexatious and oppressive, and the Duke of Wellington defended it by stating that it was merely a Continuance Bill; but he had to acknowledge that it was a renewal of a Bill passed so very long previous as 1707. That Bill was considered sufficient, although it imposed severe restrictions; and on the 15th October, 1831, it was followed by an Act, which was well known to them all as "Stanley's Arms Act." That Act embodied very stringent penalties, and even awarded transportation as punishment for the possession of unregistered arms; and it had to be renewed in 1831. They should consider that five Acts, one exceeding the other in stringency, and including almost every provision in the matter of penalties that the wit of man and the ingenuity of lawyers could devise for the unregistered possession of arms, had all failed in their purpose. Lord Althorp, in introducing Lord Grey's Coercion Bill in the House of Commons in 1833, 23 stated, with regard to crime in Ireland—I shall confine myself to cases of serious crimes which are either committed by use of firearms, or else those serious crimes committed by persons who have arms upon them at the time they commit the crime.What was the effect? In the three months of the year 1829, before the passing of the Arms Act then in force, Lord Althorp stated there had been 10 murders committed; in the corresponding months of 1830, the year of the passing of the Act, there were 15 murders; in 1831, with no less than two Arms Acts in force, there were 47 murders; and in the year 1832 there were four times as many murders committed as in the year 1829, before the passing of the Arms Act. Now, let them turn to highway robberies, which were usually effected by persons with arms in their possession. In the year before the passing of the Act these numbered 69; the year after, 154; the year after that, 152; and the third year after the passing of the Act they amounted to 173. The total number of crimes of an insurrectionary character were—in the year before the passing of the Act, 300; in the year of its passing, 499; the year after, 814; and the year after that, 1,413. The total number of offences against the person was—in the year before the Act, 4,446; in the year of its passing, 4,783; in the year after, 4,180; and when it had been two years in operation, 5,549. This was the result, as stated by the responsible Minister in that House—that in four years after the passing of the Act the amount of crime of this kind committed was five-fold what it had been in 1829. He (Mr. Sexton) stated in the House, on the strength of these figures, that it was entirely futile to endeavour to restrain the class of crime against which these Acts were directed by such enactments. In 1835 these Coercion Bills were allowed to drop, and a remedial measure was passed, relieving the people from some of the most painful incidents connected with the collection of tithes; and two years after that Lord Mulgrave, the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, said that the lapse of these Acts had removed many provocations to crime, and the friendship of the people had been conciliated by large acts of mercy. These words indicated the true policy 24 which should be pursued by the Government at the present juncture, and by which they would have been saved the egregious error of endeavouring to render law in Ireland more effective, by making all law, and the name of law, hateful to the people. The next period when an Arms Act was passed was in 1843, and it was vehemently resisted by the Irish Members; but, despite that opposition, a very stringent measure was passed, giving uncontrolled and plenary powers to the Lord Lieutenant with reference to the treatment of persons found in possession of unregistered arms. What was the effect of the Act upon crimes committed with deadly weapons? In 1844, there were 146 homicides; in 1845, 139; in 1846, 170; and in 1847, four years after the Act was passed, 212, or 50 per cent more than in the year immediately succeeding the passing of the Act. With regard to firing at the person, the cases were, in the year after the passing of the Act, 93; in the second year after, 138; in the third year, 158; and in the fourth year, 264. The highway robberies were, in 1844, 73; in 1845, 96; in 1846, 258; and in 1847, 343, or nearly five times as many as in the year after the passing of the Act. The cases of bearing arms were, in 1844, 79; in 1845, 89; in 1846, 138; and in 1847, 206. Could figures more clearly show the utter futility of Arms Acts to disarm those who wished to keep arms in their hands? As to firing into dwellings, the number of cases was, in 1844, 77, and in 1847, 257. In 1870, the Peace Preservation Act was passed, one of the most stringent Coercion Acts ever applied to Ireland, and what were its results? In the year 1869 the number of murders and man-slaughters was 77; in the year in which the Act was passed they were also 77. The year after the Act was passed they were 71; in the next year they were 87; in the year following, 81; in the year 1874 they were 84; and in 1875 they had the extraordinary fact to face that the number of homicides was 111. Highway robberies also showed an increase during the operation of the Act, being in 1869, 23; in 1870, 32; in 1871, 30; and in 1873, 27. Without a single exception, he claimed, upon the indubitable arguments of these figures presented to Parliament by command of Her Majesty, that he established the 25 fact that these Acts, whether simple or complex, whether stringent or easy, had assisted in a continuance of progressive increase of the class of crime against which they were directed. The opposition which the Irish Members had given to these measures had provoked a good deal of animadversion, and both in the House and in the Press condemnatory remarks had been made with regard to them which could not be heard by any sensitive man without a feeling of pain; but the Irish Members had no other course to pursue than that which they had taken. They found the liberties of their people attacked by all the wantonness of despotic power, and they could not think of relaxing their opposition to those measures on the promise of any political bribe to be for hereafter in the shape of remedial legislation. In view of those attacks, they could but act on one principle—to stand up in behalf of the helpless. The Poet Laureate had said—And statesmen at her Council met,Who knew the seasons when to takeOccasion by the hand, and makeThe bounds of freedom wider yet.If the poet had confined those lines to England, they might have some application; but he did not think of Ireland when he wrote them. In Ireland statesmen did not widen the bounds of freedom; they rather narrowed that share of liberty which the people were suffered to enjoy. In doing what they had done, he and his hon. Friends had recognized but one rule of conduct—namely, that they had no choice but to assert their right to those liberties, whatever might be the opinion entertained in that House or the country of the course which the Irish Members had taken. He believed they were justified in protracting the conflict, and they would have laid themselves open to the charge of being called cowards and poltroons if they had taken any other course. No doubt it had been a contest between David and Goliath; but, owing to the intervention of superior powers which he need not more specially define, the hapless David in the present case had to fight without a sling. However, they had fought the contest with such powers as in them lay, and they would leave the verdict not to that heated Assembly, but to the judgment of all generous men whose emotions and consciences lifted them out 26 of the sphere of Party passion, Party intrigue, and mere Party conflict. Perhaps, by-and-bye, when reflection came back to those who now opposed them, they would think more generously of their actions, and consider that, if they had been placed in the same position themselves, they would have acted in the same manner. Finally, with confidence drawn from all he had read and learned of the record of human struggles against injustice, knowing that the part they had taken was shameful only to their adversaries, he left the verdict upon their conduct in all those transactions to the calm and impartial view of the country.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, this Bill was not quite the same as the last. They had recently been engaged in discussing a Coercion Bill, which, he understood, had been passed in "another place" at an early hour that morning, and which was one to suspend the liberties of the entire Irish people, and to put them under the foot of the Chief Secretary for Ireland; and now they were called upon to consider another coercive measure, though, as he thought, of a much less objectionable character. It simply enabled the Executive to deprive those of arms who possessed them without a licence from the magistrates. Had the present Bill been introduced at the commencement of the Session, and had it not been preceded by that very strong Coercion Bill to which he referred, he did not know that he should have supported it; but he certainly should not have offered any strenuous opposition to it. There was always a great advantage in the possibility of the Executive being able to deprive the criminal class of arms; for they often committed deeds of violence with them, and they would not be half so dangerous if they had not arms in their hands; and if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had brought in a Bill to prevent the dangerous classes from having possession of arms or dynamite without a licence from the Government he should not have opposed it. But the main objection to such a measure as the one before the House was that it was ill-timed, and that it legislated specially for Ireland in a different way from England. Now, why was that distinction drawn between England and Ireland? Right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury 27 Bench frequently complained that there was a Party in Ireland that desired disunion and separation from England; but it seemed to him that those right hon. Gentlemen encouraged that by making these distinctions between the law in England and that in Ireland. He wanted everyone to have the widest guarantee for freedom, and why should freedom be invaded in Ireland if not in England? The Bill would continue in force for five years, and during that period certain privileges and rights, which were possessed by Englishmen, were to be denied to Irishmen; and it should be remembered that the Representatives of the majority of the Irish people declared their deliberate opinion that those attacks upon the privileges and liberties of Ireland were entirely unwarranted. The last Bill was passed over the heads of the Irish Members, and that, he thought, was one of the most undesirable things that could happen, for as long as it continued there would continue alienation towards the English connection with Ireland, and ill-feeling towards England itself. He submitted that the right hon. Gentleman had not shown any case for the Bill. If he had told them that a rising was expected in Ireland, and that a large number of persons with arms were to meet together to bring about a revolution, if the powers sought were not granted, they must have accepted his statement and agreed to pass such a measure. But the right hon. Gentleman had done nothing of the sort. He did not base the Bill on the slightest possibility of an insurrectionary movement taking place in Ireland; but upon the fact that certain outrages had been committed. He did not even say that those outrages were being committed at the present time. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: I did.] The right hon. Gentleman said he did say they were being committed; but he did not prove it. He only proved that they were being committed by saying that they had been committed. The right hon. Gentleman fell back upon those old Blue Books which, he (Mr. Labouchere) thought, had been sufficiently exploded. If the Government considered it unnecessary last year to bring in a Continuation Bill in reference to the expiring Peace Preservation Act, the right hon. Gentleman should show that outrages were being committed now 28 in such numbers as would make justifiable what he and his Colleagues considered last year was not justifiable. The right hon. Gentleman had fallen back on the old argument that the Land League was responsible for the outrages, and he referred to a speech delivered by the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) a considerable time ago; but he (Mr. Labouchere) could see no incitements to insurrection in the speeches of the hon. Member for Tipperary, for only the other day the same hon. Gentleman had strongly discouraged the commission of outrages, and recommended only passive resistance, which would be continued whether the people had arms or no. He (Mr. Labouchere) did not deny the existence of outrages; but they had never been brought home to the Land League. But outrages did not exist in Ireland only, or more than in England. They ought also to remember that Ireland was being governed by a very exceptional law. They had given to the Chief Secretary for Ireland enormous powers—such as used only to be given to a Russian Governor of Poland. He had power to imprison any man on mere suspicion; and really, if he could not govern the country without more coercive measures, he (Mr. Labouchere) was inclined to think that it was the workman, and not the tools, that were in default. He was inclined to think that the ordinary law was very good, but the workman required change. There was a clause in the Act of 1870 which enabled a man brought before a magistrate for being in possession of arms to appeal to a jury, on the understanding that if convicted he should be liable to two years' imprisonment. He believed that in the Act passed by the Conservatives that jury clause was continued; but the Conservatives reduced the term of imprisonment to one year. The present Government got rid altogether of the appeal to a jury. It was true, it was provided that a stipendiary magistrate was to be on the Bench; but it was also true that any number of non-stipendiary magistrates might go and outvote the stipendiary magistrate. Was it a great concession to allow anyone accused of having arms to claim the right of being tried by a jury, on the understanding that if he were convicted he would be subjected to one year's imprisonment? Very few would risk that unless they were inno- 29 cent, or unless they had a fair and reasonable explanation to offer. He had exceedingly little confidence in the magistrates of Ireland, mostly Protestant landlords, who regarded the majority of the people as personal enemies for having refused to pay their rents. There ought to be some sort of appeal from the Magisterial Bench to a higher tribunal. There was an understanding last week that this Bill was to be withdrawn. That impression was conveyed to the public in the ordinary way, and those who supposed it would be withdrawn were justifiably in error. Liberal Members were glad to hear it; but there was regret among the Opposition, who began to clamour for their bond. The Government considered it was desirable to have the support of their opponents, and so the Bill was then brought in, to the great delight of the Conservative Opposition, but to the regret of the majority of the ordinary supporters of the Liberal Government. Did the Government really suppose they were obtaining the support of the Conservatives on general principles? The Opposition were exceedingly wise in their generation. They had distrust of the future legislation of the Government. They were not exceedingly anxious for a Land Bill for Ireland; certainly not for a Land Bill for England; nor were they in love with a Bill for the re-distribution of seats, or for the extension of the franchise, or for a Bill to put an end to corrupt practices. The support given by the Opposition to the Government, consequently, was an insidious support; for they knew that Coercion Bills would provoke a great amount of debate, if not of Obstruction, which would delay the introduction of the Liberal measures for the passing of which the Government was placed in power. Therefore, Ministers ought not to yield to hon. Gentlemen opposite in order to obtain their support, when the object of that support was secretly and insidiously to encourage Obstruction and prevent sound Liberal Bills being brought in. Moreover, possibly they thought that in the event of a General Election they might catch part of the Irish vote by widening the breach as much as possible between Liberals and Irish Members.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member was now passing into a line of argument which was not in any way con- 30 nected with the Question before the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
continued that it seemed to him remarkable that, on Friday last, they were allowed to suppose that the Bill would be withdrawn; and on Monday they found themselves mistaken, and during that interval the Chief Secretary for Ireland had gone to that country. These facts seemed to support the theory that these Coercion Bills were forced on the right hon. Gentleman by the English garrison in Ireland. It would be interesting to know what communications had passed between the Government and the right hon. Gentleman since his return to Ireland. So long as he was here, it seemed to be felt by him and his Colleagues that the Bill was not necessary; but when he went over to Dublin he was seized by the permanent officials there, and he had induced his Colleagues again to make the sad mistake they had made before, of bringing in a Coercion Bill at the desire of the English garrison in Ireland. He (Mr. Labouchere) hoped the Government would, as soon as possible, break away from their connection both with the garrison in Dublin and with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Conservative Benches. They might depend upon it they would never obtain sound legislation on Irish or on English matters until Ministers ceased to be hoodwinked by the permanent officials, or be humbugged by the Conservative Leaders in that House.
§ DR. COMMINS
objected to the manner in which the Bill had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. In doing so, the right hon. Gentleman had made use of several quotations from their great dramatist; but there were many passages in his works which it would not have suited the right hon. Gentleman to cite in reference to legislation for Ireland. He could not help thinking that a more appropriate one would have been found in the words addressed by the Chancellor in Hamlet to his son—"My son, with how little wisdom this world is governed." The quantum of wisdom which had directed the introduction of the Bill was even less than that which usually governed the world. They had been treated to a great deal of histrionic display, and a large amount of simulated indignation; 31 but no facts had been furnished to justify such a measure. The word poltroon had been applied by the right hon. Gentleman; but the man who, from the safe entrenchment of the Treasury Bench, launched at an absent man language which he would not launch when present, who used words which he would not use in the Lobby, and dare not use in the street, or in the club, the man who would do that, was more in accordance with his (Dr. Commins') idea of a poltroon. The public would judge between the absent and the right hon. Gentleman as to who most deserved the name of poltroon.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member applies the expression "poltroon," as I apprehend, to a Member of this House, I must call upon him to withdraw it.
§ DR. COMMINS
said, he did not apply the term to any Member of the House. He was discussing the use of it on a certain occasion by the right hon. Gentleman opposite; and, unless any Member wished to apply it to himself, he (Dr. Commins) did not apply it to anyone. With reference to the quotation made by the right hon. Gentleman from the Charge of Mr. Justice Fitzgerald, he would ask the permission of the House to cite from a volume of Hansard for 1834 a condemnation by the Solicitor General of that day of the introduction of politics into the Charges of the Judges.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must invite the hon. Member to address himself to the Question before the House. He is now calling in question the conduct of a Judge; and that is not the Question before the House.
§ DR. COMMINS
said, that he was sorry if, from his inability to express himself, the right hon. Gentleman did not catch the argument which he wished to address to the House. He was alluding to the quotation which had been made from the Charge by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He found fault with that quotation; and, in support of his objection, he desired to read what had been said by a former Solicitor General with regard to the introduction of politics into the Charges of Judges.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must again distinctly call upon the hon. Member to address himself to the Question before the House.
§ DR. COMMINS
said, that, of course, he must submit to the ruling; but the language he desired to quote was much stronger than any he could use. The Bill was one that appeared very innocent; but it laid traps for the unwary. In all previous Arms Bills the powers given to the Lord Lieutenant were strictly defined; but the present one gave him power to do almost anything. By this Bill the Lord Lieutenant might call any agricultural implement an arm. He might bring the carrying of a pitchfork under the Act. It might be said that the Lord Lieutenant would not do anything so absurd; but they could not fix a limit to the absurdity to which he might go. Besides, little guarantee against abuse was furnished even by the resident magistrates, very few of whom were barristers of any standing, while the majority were ex-policemen and ex-military and naval officers. He objected to the principle of giving increased summary jurisdiction to magistrates who were not lawyers, without allowing an appeal to be had to a Superior Court, where the services of a trained and skilful Judge and a jury would be available in the investigation of a case; the tendency in this country at present being further to enlarge the limits of trial by jury rather than to narrow them, as they were now sought to be narrowed by the Bill before the House in the case of Ireland. The Bill, too, entirely disregarded the Constitutional guarantees which were the right of every British subject. It would, no doubt, pass into law; but it would be entirely ineffectual. Would it, he asked, do anything whatever towards preventing crime, or restoring the order which ought to exist in the country, and which he said did not exist in it? No one had yet gone so far as to say that the majority of the people of Ireland were criminal, or were criminally disposed. The measure was directed against a small minority of the people; but it would apply equally to the well-disposed and to the ill-disposed. It had been conclusively shown in the course of the debates on the Coercion Acts that they had been invariably followed by an increase of outrages. The parties who were sought to be restrained by the Act would be sure to put their firearms beyond the reach of the police. The Government would, in fact, put a premium upon lawlessness, 33 by the fact that the law-abiding people would be disarmed, and that thus the restraining power of the fear of individual resistance would be taken away. He opposed the Bill also because it was unnecessary. People were to be deprived of firearms, because it was suspected that they intended to commit acts of violence or intimidation. But the Bill which had been recently debated was sufficient to deal with that class of offence. The Lord Lieutenant had full power to act in such cases, even if arms were not found; and he could not see what additional powers were necessary, or what greater powers this Bill would confer. For his part, he believed that mischievous effects would result from its operation, and no good ones. The search for arms would create feelings of resentment against the law. The great misfortune of Ireland was that the people did not look upon the law as their protector, or upon its administrators as their friends; and when the law was put in force needlessly bad results would assuredly follow. In 999 out of every 1,000 cases of searching for arms, the search would be fruitless and the law regarded with the utmost disfavour. Remedial measures alone could produce respect for the law. In the year 1833 a Coercion Bill was introduced into that House, and what said the then Solicitor General, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Campbell in reference to it? He pointed to it as a proof "how essentially Ireland was hated by the English nation," andwhat a lenient view was taken of measures of this kind which tended to degrade the mass of the Irish people.Those weighty words, which ought to be well considered by the House and by the Government, were re-produced by Lord Campbell in his autobiography. Again, he wrote, in March, 1833, while the Bill was yet in progress—The Irish Coercion Bill places me in a most distressing situation. My constituency are all in a flame. I shall not be at all surprised if it prove the ruin of the whole Party. Loss of Office I should care little about, if we fell with dignity; but it is rather disgraceful to be turned out for grasping at arbitrary power.Lord Campbell afterwards verified that foreboding. They did not now seem to have any Member of the Government who took the same view Lord Campbell did, or who regarded the passing of such a Bill, as he did, with mortification. In 1841, reviewing the situation, his Lord- 34 ship put on record the causes of the fall of Lord Grey's Government. The first, he said, was the appointment of the Speaker; the second, and principal, was, he said, "a much more serious error, the famous Coercion Bill." He added—Ireland certainly was in a dreadful state; but a better remedy might have been expected from the champions of liberty than a suspension of the Constitution and trial by court martial as a substitute.Such was the deliberate opinion of a great Liberal official. With respect to the present Bill, he (Dr. Commins) hoped Her Majesty's Government would recognize the truth of those words, and see that conciliation, not coercion, was the true remedy, as no law could be effectual which had not the support of the mass of the community. If an assurance were given to the House by the Government that, in Committee, they would mitigate the severity of the Bill, he and his Friends, knowing that the measure would become law, whatever they might say or do, would cease to fight a useless battle. If the Bill was to be carried without change there would be no remedy, because he did not anticipate any other remedy; for even if remedial measures passed the House, he doubted whether they would pass the House of Lords for the grievances under which Ireland was labouring. He could only say that if Coercion Bills were to be the only outcome of the professions of the Leaders of the Liberal Party, it would be a sad thing for Ireland, if not for Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. FINIGAN
said, he rose to oppose that measure as one not calculated to effect the object which the Treasury Bench said was to be attained. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and shared his regret that he had been intrusted with the Bill in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, because he (Mr. Finigan) would not do the Secretary of State for the Home Department the injustice of accusing him of knowing anything of Ireland, or of the government of Ireland. Therefore, he readily excused the right hon. Gentleman, because he was holding a brief which he, doubtless, was bound to speak from. The right hon. Gentleman, with even less discretion than he (Mr. Finigan) thought him capable of, made statements 35 which he would show were not founded on truth or justice. He spoke of the desertion of the Land League by the priests, and boasted that a certain Father O'Connor, of Cork, had resigned his position in the Mallow branch of the National Land League, and stated that that was a proof that they were leaving that organization. Instead of dealing with the Land League, and with the Bill, in a spirit of justice, he quoted merely from newspaper reports; and he (Mr. Finigan) was authorized to inform him of the contents of the following telegram from Mr. O'Brien, hon. secretary of the Land League, Mallow:—The Home Secretary is wrong about Father O'Connor. He is curate of Doneraile, and is a member of the Doneraile League. He is not president since this League started, and did not want to be a member of the Mallow branch as well as of the Doneraile branch. No such term as that of 'rogue' or 'coward' was used in committee at Mallow against the Rev. Father O'Connor.If any more of the facts adduced by the right hon. Gentleman were founded upon mere newspaper statements, he trusted the House, or that portion of it which delighted to call itself Liberal, would, at all events, be liberal enough to study the aspect of the different charges not from newspaper reports, but from veritable statements which they were always ready to produce, and which, being made by responsible persons, could be verified. In his speech last evening, the right hon. Gentleman had thought fit to attack two absent leading Members of the Irish Party. He (Mr. Finigan) was authorized to say that one of those Gentlemen (the hon. Member for Tipperary) would be in his place in the House to-morrow to answer the charges which had been made against him; and he hoped that the other hon. Member (the hon. Member for the City of Cork) would also be present, when, if he had the courage to do so, the right hon. Gentleman might repeat the aspersions, calumnies, and slanders which he had levelled at the head of the distinguished Leader of the Irish Party in that House. That would give an opportunity for further explanation before the House. With respect to the Bill, he objected to its being continued in operation for so long a period as five years, and contended there could not be the slightest necessity for proposing so long a period. There was not a shadow of 36 evidence of outrages being committed which justified the passing of such a measure at all; and the statements of the Chief Secretary for Ireland upon the introduction of the Protection of Person and Property Bill had not been borne out by the Returns which had been published. It was absurd to say that landlords should have the power of evicting without being prepared for resistance on the part of the evicted persons, which would sometimes take the form of agrarian crime and outrage. The plan of a Liberal Government should have been to have provided remedies before providing coercion. The present Government, however, was not a Liberal, but a Whig Government; and more Arms Acts and Coercion Acts had been passed for Ireland by the Whigs than by any other Party. It was said that the present Bill was a corollary of the Coercion Bill which had already passed the House, and as such, he should be prepared, if compelled, to accept it, but with this material difference—that the Coercion Bill was only to remain in force for 18 months, while the present measure was to extend over a period of five years. It seemed that the measure was, therefore, brought forward merely to further repress Ireland. There was a political move behind it. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench evidently wanted the Bill to extend beyond their term of Office. The Representatives of Whig principles, by whom the Bill was introduced, knew full well that their period of Office would expire long before the five years had elapsed, and that after such expiry they would have a cry based upon denunciations of tyranny in Ireland, and the great desire of the Liberal Party to procure perfect liberty in that country by the repeal of this terrible corollary to their own still more terrible measure of coercion. The right hon. Gentleman had brought forward no statistics or arguments to show that the people of Ireland were generally armed, or that the few who possessed firearms had them for undesirable purposes. The county Clare proclaimed some few months ago, on the ground that it was in a disturbed state, had only brought to light one man who could in any way be said to be touched by that Act. The Irish people knew what the object of the Conservatives was, who were, at least, straightforward; but the 37 pretence of friendship from this so-called Liberal Party had by this time disgusted them beyond measure. When the Bill was passed the last vestige of respect for this Whig Ministry would have disappeared. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan) that the Bill was far severer than the Peace Preservation Act of 1875, for the Conservative Act contained the following provision, which this Government had not seen fit to include:—If the magistrates and justices find an offence not proved, they shall dismiss the charge, and make out and deliver to the person charged a certificate under their hands stating the fact of such dismissal.This extremely Liberal Government had done nothing to perpetuate that part of the old Bill. The Government had not made out their case. The case failed even on the evidence they themselves adduced. There was no evidence to justify this miserable measure of Peace Preservation, and to show that it was founded upon fact, and not upon fiction. The source of the evil complained of must be looked for, not in the desire of the Irish tenants to commit outrages, but in the system of landlordism under which those unfortunate tenants were driven to seek redress. It had been said that aggrieved Irish tenants could obtain full justice in the Courts of Law; but those who knew the facts were perfectly well aware that all such talk was idle, because the law could not be put in operation except at so great a cost that the large majority of the tenants could not afford to invoke its aid. Reference had been made in the course of the debate to the utterances of Mr. Justice Fitzgerald. He had nothing to say against the personal character of that learned Judge; but he must be permitted to say that, in his opinion, it was highly improper for any man holding high judicial position to lean to any side in Party politics, and try to back up either a Whig or a Tory Government, as Mr. Justice Fitzgerald had done. The whole political situation, as far as Ireland was concerned, was such that he thought it would be much better for the country to be under the rule of the Land League than under that of a tyrannous Whig Government, which was blindly supported by a majority in the present Parliament. If the Government wished 38 to do away with agrarian crime, and to put a stop to what they called treasonable practices, they must at once turn their backs on the Coercion Bill and upon any such proposal as this before the House. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of Christianity. It was amusing to hear Christianity championed on the Liberal Benches; and as for civilization, if those Liberal Benches represented civilization in Ireland, the less they heard of it the better. He had also made a strong appeal to the House, founded upon the weakest statements possible; but he (Mr. Finigan) must grant that while Ireland was to have a Coercion Bill it was immaterial whether this Bill was really passed or not. It was however, a great injustice to his country that her wrongs should be made use of by the Government for the meanest and most miserable political purposes, while they were careful to place themselves in a position which would enable them to abjure their present politics when the Conservatives returned to Office. The Bill gave power to the police to arrest persons without warrant, on suspicion that they were possessed of arms; but he thought the Government had sufficient power by the Coercion Bill to arrest such persons, on the ground that they suspected them of being guilty of treasonable practices. He (Mr. Finigan) told the House that if the Government imagined that they could rule Ireland, or make Ireland loyal, contented, and progressive, by Coercive Acts such as those they were thoroughly mistaken. If men were driven to America, and England considered that she had the best of the bargain, when the men so driven away became American citizens, he must tell the right hon. Gentleman that he was wrong. It was by such Acts as those which drove John Devoy from Ireland that secret societies and Fenianism were spread all over the world. If that policy were continued, it was the best measure the Government could possibly take for rendering Ireland disloyal and discontented, and ready to wait until the country should be hemmed in by enemies. The time must come when England would be in a difficulty; and then, instead of finding Irishmen bound by loyalty to support her Empire, they would be found, as O'Connell had before told the House, ready to make her difficulty their opportunity.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. W. M. JOHNSON)
said, that if ever the time came when, in the words of the hon. Member for Ennis, these Islands were hemmed in by enemies, he believed there would be found among the subjects of the Queen men numerous enough and strong enough not to have yielded to the influence and arts of the demagogue and the agitator, ready to defend their hearths and homes, to maintain law and order, and to sustain the authority of the Queen in a country in which, amid all the Empires of the world, true liberty and true freedom were to be found. The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) had declared—and the statement had been repeated by the hon. Member for Ennis—that the Bill was aimed at the rights and liberties of the tenantry of Ireland, in the interests of the landlords who were the English garrison in Ireland. He (the Solicitor General for Ireland) could imagine no enemy of a country so dangerous as the man who sought to foment and keep up ill-feeling between different classes, and to spread disorder and terror where order and peace should prevail. The Bill was not levelled at the liberties of the people of Ireland, because the people of Ireland had never yet claimed as one of the liberties of their country the right to commit murder and to spread terror with impunity. In Ireland, as in England, it was the right of the people that their lives and property should be secure. In the present state of things in Ireland the Government did not consider that the lives and the property of individuals in that country were safe; and accordingly they had presented this Bill to the House with the view of putting an end to the reign of terror that now prevailed there. It was unnecessary for him at that time to go back through all the sickening tales of murder, wrong, and injury which had been recently perpetrated in Ireland during the past few months, which must be fresh in the memory of hon. Members, and which had brought about the intolerable despotism and insufferable tyranny which prevailed in that country at the present moment, displacing all order. The present system of terror which was now in force in Ireland was established and kept up, not by armed men garrisoning the whole of the country, but by bands of armed men who 40 went about and struck terror into the minds of individuals whenever and wherever they deemed it necessary for their purposes that they should do so. It would be sufficient for him to refer to recent instances, which showed how the terror—which no one now could deny existed—was inspired. He did not altogether object to the reports in the newspapers of the day, and hon. Members opposite had repeatedly referred with honourable pride to the part they had taken in the journalism of the day. It hardly, therefore, came well from these hon. Members to impeach the reports of newspapers. The case of Mr. Hearne referred to by his right hon. Friend yesterday occurred on the 28th of February, and it was almost incredible that it should have happened. There was the case of a gentleman in a civilized country, within a few yards of his own door, a petty sessions clerk, and a small landowner, who was followed, and shot down by two men armed with revolvers. Six bullets took effect on the unfortunate victim, and in a few minutes he was carried to his house, as was feared, fatally wounded. Was that not such a case as required the Government to pluck the weapon from the red hand of the assassin? He saw from an account of the matter which appeared in the newspapers that Mr. Hearne had received a threatening letter a few months previously, and that fact was a sufficient answer to those who asserted that threatening letters were not followed up by acts of outrage. As it was not entered in the return of outrages, it would appear as if Mr. Hearne had acted upon the recommendation of some hon. Members, and treated that threatening letter with contempt, and attempted murder then had followed. He did not wish to go through cases which had been referred to in the debates recently; but could hon. Members picture to themselves this circumstance occurring in a civilized country? In the county of Kerry, near the village of Ballymacelligot, a band of 50 armed and disguised men went through the district at night, entered house after house, and carried away 40 guns, besides money. Though disguised, there were two men named Marshall and Sullivan, who were members of the Land League, and who had been arrested on suspicion of complicity in this outrage, on the evidence of a person whose house was attacked. He 41 (the Solicitor General for Ireland) did not make this charge against the Land League. He was only quoting the account in the paper; but the Government looked at the fact, and it was necessary to look at those facts, for they were bound to preserve the subjects of the Queen from murder and outrage of this kind, by whomsoever they might be committed. This act of outrage occurred on the 27th. There was a raid of 150 men at Loughrea, and no one identified or traced, though this was repudiated by the Land League. On the 24th February an armed party burst into four houses at Errislannan in Connemara. This could not be charged to the Land League. It appeared to have arisen out of differences of another kind, being of a religious nature; but the Government had to regard these facts, and it was immaterial, in that view, what were the causes of these outrages. In this case shots were fired; an old man, named Ward, was shot through the arm, and the slug could not be extracted. Could such proceedings be allowed to continue, or were the Government to disarm these men, who swaggered about by day, and roamed in gangs at night? A few days before that, in a peaceful district in Ireland, a part of the county of Cork, a Mr. Lysaght received a threatening letter, and a month after his ploughman was fired at and hit while ploughing his master's land, and the would-be assassin then leaped the hedge, and attacked the ploughman, who had fallen senseless, with the coulter of the plough. The man who was wounded was ploughing a field which his master had bought and paid for in the usual way. It appeared, therefore, that no outrage was too horrible to be perpetrated by certain persons in Ireland. Then there was another case—that of Mr. Dunscombe, having property at King Williamstown, on the borders of Cork and Kerry—as the crow flies, some 30 miles from Cork. At 3 o'clock in the morning, his daughter-in-law (Mrs. Dunscombe) residing in a suburb of Cork, was awoke by finding three men in her house, two of them armed with revolvers; their faces were blackened, and they were dressed as countrymen usually are. They searched the entire house for her father-in-law, who they thought was in the house, and who had also received threatening letters. Now, here is case also where the threaten- 42 ing letters had been received before, and the executioners of the sentence were found in the house with a couple of revolvers at 3 o'clock in the morning. He thought that they could not say that they were not there for the purpose of executing the threat contained in the letters. Let hon. Members picture to themselves such a state of things as that—they might as well have visited her in a London suburb, such as Highgate. Then it had been argued that those arms were mere toys. If the so-called toys were used for the purposes of mutilation, for the purposes of murder, the sooner such toys were taken out of the hands of the people the better it would be for the country. They had heard of the unfortunate murder of Mr. Boyd, which took place within a mile and a-half of New Ross. That murder was committed on the high road, and in the Sunday afternoon, and when large numbers of people might have been about. The scene of the murder was commanded by the whole of the hillside. What were the instruments employed on that occasion? Three rifles were used. He had seen them. They all bore the Tower mark. They had been converted into breech-loaders with a military bayonet attached, and had been so contrived and altered that they could be taken to pieces and be easily hid, or readily carried if necessary. What was the object of that contrivance? Judging by the result, it was murder. Now, here is what exists in Ireland; this is what a great part of the country has come to through diseased and disorganized public opinion; and he put it to hon. Gentlemen on the opposite seats whether they expected the Executive to stand by and do nothing, while such proceedings went on? The Government, in bringing forward the measure, had asked to be armed with power, not to invade the privileges of a people who did not assert that crime was one of the Constitutional privileges of the nation, but for the purposes, if possible, of taking weapons from the hands of assassins, and would-be murderers; to deprive them of the weapons by means of which they exercised their tyranny, those who swaggered about by day, and marauded about at night, creating terror and alarm. The Government desired to protect the people so that they might live in peace and quietness, and not be disturbed by these 43 domiciliary visits. In the Blue Book presented to the House, which had been referred to in the course of the debate, it would be found that there was armed party after armed party visiting different people here and there. The remarkable circumstance was that, in many instances, he found that injury was inflicted because the person on whom it was inflicted had paid his rent; many injuries were committed besides, because it was not known whether the man had paid his rent or not, but it was assumed that he had. In one case in Kerry, however, it had not been made a matter of speculation—it had been made a matter of business. The visitants would not take the answer as to whether the man had paid his rent, but fired several shots, and demanded the pass-book to see whether it had been paid in accordance with their valuation views. The hon. Member for Sligo County (Mr. Sexton) had said that measures of this kind did not decrease the number of agrarian outrages; but was that so? In 1866 the whole number of agrarian outrages in Ireland was 87, in 1867 they rose to 123, in 1868 to 160, in 1869 to 767, and in 1870, before the Land Act was passed, to 1,339. In 1871, when the Westmeath Act was passed, the 1,339 fell down to 373, in 1872 to 256, in 1873 to 254, and in 1874 to 213.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. W. M. JOHNSON)
The agrarian outrages rests on one basis alone—and that is the basis of terror. It is not the act of violence done to an individual, but the general terror and alarm in the country that prevented men who fulfilled their obligations from remaining free agents. Arms were carried about to intimidate the people; and if that were not sufficient, then it became necessary to resort to the violence of mutilation and assassination by arms. Yet they were told that these Acts were of no use. Various criticisms had been passed on the Bill. An hon. Member had told them that he thought the gun licence, which would not be interfered with under the Bill, would be a sufficient safeguard against firearms getting into improper hands. That, however, was not so; and, moreover, the police could not interfere in a matter, which was 44 purely one of excise. As to a district which was to be proclaimed, a difficulty under former similar Acts had been avoided; and now the district could be limited to any place—even, for instance, a street, or half a street, if necessary. The hon. and learned Member for Roscommon (Dr. Commins) had said that he found nothing in the Bill which prevented its application being extended to a pitchfork. It would, however, be found, on reference to the Bill, that the definition of arms included cannon, gun, revolver, pistol; and any description of firearms and other arms not so described were described as sword, cutlass, pike, and bayonet. The criticism of the hon. and learned Member was, therefore, not well-founded. With regard to the objections taken to the provisions of the present Act by the hon. and gallant Member for the County Galway (Major Nolan), he did not think that any of them could be maintained. With respect to the first objection, as to the exemption of certain classes from the operation of the Act, for the purpose of insuring which provisions had been entered in the Act of 1870, he had examined all the previous Acts, and he found that the persons exempted were Her Majesty's Forces, Militia officers, Constabulary special constables, Coast-guardmen, and magistrates. These provisions had been simply omitted in order to avoid the multiplicity of detail which was the general complaint against Acts of Parliament. The Lord Lieutenant would have the power of excluding any class from the operation of the Act; and the elimination from the Act of those details made it so clear that all who "run may read." The next objection taken was that in the Act of 1875 it had been provided that, upon the certificate of two Justices of the Peace, it would be imperative upon the licensing officer to grant an arms' licence to an occupier of land. But those provisions were put in the Act for the obvious reason of affording an opportunity to tenants of agricultural holdings to have a gun for the purpose of scaring away crows and other such uses. The Lord Lieutenant, he (the Solicitor General for Ireland) apprehended, would only put the Act in force where it was absolutely necessary for the preservation of the peace that the people should be disarmed; therefore, such a provision would be unneces- 45 sary in the Act; but as in the case to which he had previously referred, which occurred in Ballymacelligot, in many cases, where it was not necessary to disarm the farmers themselves, it was absolutely necessary that the arms in their possession should be put into safe keeping, so that they might not fall into the hands of midnight marauders, as in that instance. The next objection was with reference to the power of searching a person suspected. But he might inform the House that the provisions in the present Act were the same exactly as in the preceding ones. In fact, in the present Act, the powers in this respect were decidedly modified. Formerly, anyone had the power of searching a suspected person; but now the authority to do so was proposed to be vested only in Justices of the Peace and peace officers—individuals by whom the power was likely to be exercised with as little danger of injustice as possible. The next criticism of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was as to the omission of a clause from the Act which appeared in the last one, providing that when a person was acquitted on a charge of having arms in his possession, he was entitled to a certificate setting forth the fact of such dismissal. He (the Solicitor General for Ireland) was entirely at a loss to discover how that provision came to be inserted in the last Act, as it was the law of the land since 1853, and was wholly unnecessary. Not alone a person charged with an offence under the Act, but with any offence whatever, was, under the ordinary provisions of the Petty Sessions Act, entitled to a certificate of the decision, signed by any Justice of the Peace, and not alone a convicting Justice. All the orders that would be made under this measure were to be laid, within a limited time, before Parliament, where they would be open to criticism.
§ At this point,
§ MESSAGE to attend THE LORDS COMMISSIONERS.
§ The House went;—and being returned;—