HC Deb 17 March 1881 vol 259 cc1235-7

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether it is the case that the prisoners who have been arrested under the Protection of Person and Property Act, and are now in Kilmainham Gaol, are allowed the following indulgences, viz.: to associate together in a common room for six hours during the day, when they are allowed to smoke and are supplied with hot meals cooked outside the prison, and with beer and wine, are allowed to take exercise in company with one another, and are not compelled to do any work or submit to the usual prison discipline, have beds supplied other than those usually allowed to prisoners of their class; and, if so, whether these indulgences, allowances, and exemptions from prison discipline are in excess of those allowed to first class misdemeanants; and, if Her Majesty's Government will state whether these indulgences, &c. are granted by any special orders of the Irish Executive, and on what funds their cost is borne; and whether the persons to whom those indulgences were extended had been described by the Chief Secretary himself as "dissolute ruffians?"


wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman also, Whether these indulgences, allowances, and exemptions complained of by the noble Earl are not permitted in accordance with an undertaking given by the Chief Secretary in his place in that House during the passing of the Coercion Bill that special rules would be framed for the treatment of those prisoners detained under the Act and deprived of their liberty, charged on a reasonable suspicion with having committed offences under it?


asked, Whether the Tories in 1867 did not give the same privileges under the Westmeath Act, only that the hours of exercise were not so long?


asked the right hon. Gentleman, Whether a broad distinction is not drawn in every country in Europe between ordinary and political prisoners; whether under the despotism of Napoleon III. political prisoners were permitted to converse with their friends during almost the entire day, and not merely for a quarter of an hour in the day; whether the new Czar has not relaxed the punishment of the Russian political prisoners; whether the men detained at Kilmainham Gaol under the Coercion Bill are only suspects, and not liable to be treated as prisoners, and whether they are not for the most part men of good moral character and of respectable social position?


Sir, I will first answer the Question of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). I do not know what has been done in foreign countries, and therefore cannot say. I do not admit that these persons—or a large proportion of them—are political prisoners. Whether they are men of good moral character is a question on which I think the House will not expect me to offer an opinion. It is quite true that I applied to persons who planned outrages the expression quoted by the noble Lord the Member for North Northumberland (Earl Percy), and all the information I have since obtained goes to prove the accuracy of it. But I wish the noble Lord and other hon. Members to understand that our duty under the Protection of Person and Property Act is to arrest those persons whom we think for the safety of the country ought to be arrested, and who are reasonably suspected to be either the planners or perpetrators of outrages. Persons, therefore, may possibly have been arrested without being "dissolute ruffians." The information which the noble Lord desires as to prison regulations will be found in a Paper circulated to-day. These regulations prescribe treatment of a special character, and have been framed in ful- filment of an undertaking given during the progress of the Protection to Person and Property Bill through this House. It is true that the treatment of the prisoners is more liberal than that of first-class misdemeanants; but it was understood when the Act was being passed, that, as they were to be arrested on suspicion, and were not to be tried, they were to be treated as untried prisoners. Like untried prisoners, they are not required to do any work or submit to the usual prison discipline; the beds supplied to them are the same as those supplied to all untried prisoners; like them, they can obtain others at their own cost. As under the Westmeath Act, prisoners are permitted to associate during exercise and for a further period not exceeding six hours a-day. They may provide their own food, hot or otherwise, from outside the prison; and they are allowed to receive or purchase, in the 24 hours, not more than a pint of beer, cider, or half-a-pint of wine. All these indulgences are, as is generally the case, at the cost of the prisoner.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether we are to infer from his answer that all persons detained in Kilmainham Prison under the Coercion Bill are there on reasonable suspicion of being the planners or perpetrators of outrages?


They all come within the terms of the Act, which the hon. Member will perfectly well remember. The persons arrested were to be reasonably suspected to be guilty of treason, treason-felony, or treasonable practices, or in certain districts to have committed crimes punishable by law, being acts of violence, or intimidation, or inciting thereto. No one has been arrested who did not come within one or other of these categories.