HC Deb 03 August 1882 vol 273 cc646-50

, who had given Notice that he would call the attention of the House to the insecurity of life and property in England; to the extraordinary precautions lately found necessary for the protection both of public and private individuals; to the dangers to which public buildings are now exposed; to the publication in London of a revolutionary journal; and to the growth of secret societies; and to move— That the existence of associations in the. United Kingdom, organised for the purpose of carrying out political designs by unlawful means, demands the most serious and prompt consideration of Her Majesty's Government, said, there seemed to be some desire to divert public attention from the great importance of the subject; but, however much it might be for the advantage of any Department to represent matters as progressing smoothly, there could be no doubt that the public advantage was best served by a full knowledge of the facts of the case.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


, resuming, said, he would compare the six months at the opening of last year with the last six weeks of the present year; and it would be found that, so far from the country having become less subject to these alarms, the contrary was the fact. In the opening of the year 1881, there were rumours of a Fenian attack, and orders were sent to the Volunteers to look to their stores of arms and ammunition, and the same instructions were also sent to some of the depots. How true those alarms were was proved by the explosion at the Salford Barracks, when a large section of them was blown down, and by the tremendous incendiary fire at Plaistow, which destroyed £500,000 worth of property; while in March, May, June, and July almost equally serious attempts were made on public and private property. Grave as were the out- rages which were then committed, at that very moment special precautions were deemed necessary at Chelsea and Wellington Barracks, at Devonport, Chatham, Croydon, and at Richmond, in Yorkshire; The Times Office was under special police protection; at Clerkenwell there was a large supply of arms kept; The Freiheit was still published, not withstanding repeated prosecutions; and today, at the trial of the man Walsh, at the Central Criminal Court, elaborate precautions were considered desirable, policemen going about with revolvers in their pockets. The Premier, in his movements in London and in the country, was carefully guarded by the police. That meant that a certain number of persons were watching for an opportunity to make an attack upon him. He had shown that the secret societies existed, that they were dangerous to life and property, and that they extended all over England. They had a common origin and a common action. They were not of sudden growth. They took a long time to get established, but when once established they were very difficult to root out. No truer words were ever spoken than those spoken by the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) the other day, when he said that secret societies were now the most living and dominant mischief in Ireland. Of course, they were now, but they were not three years ago. The Government endeavoured to counterwork secret societies by secret agencies of their own, whereas in public they often gave encouragement to secret societies. Many Gentlemen would not now be Members of that House were it not for the heavy Socialistic vote thrown at the last Election, and there was a not unnatural reluctance on their part to offend those who controlled or influenced that vote. Words supposed to have been spoken by the Prime Minister had given encouragement to these secret societies. It was an idea very widely spread that the Prime Minister had somewhere intimated that a murder in Manchester and an explosion in the heart of the Metropolis had brought theoretical opinions into the sphere of practical politics. That outrageous sentiment had assisted secret societies, and had encouraged people to join them. What secret societies wanted was exactly to bring theoretical opinions into the sphere of practical politics. When the Prime Minister stated the means by which theoretical opinions could be brought into the sphere of practical politics, was it likely that perverse men would neglect using those means? There was another piece of advice which was supposed to have been given by the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—that if our rulers were sufficiently alarmed they would yield. It might be said that the right hon. Gentleman meant moral means of alarming; but the question what were moral means and what were immoral means depended upon the conscience of the man who used them. There were a number of persons who thought the dagger and the pistol were not immoral means to induce their rulers to take action in matters which they had at heart. There were a number of persons who thought murder and explosion were justifiable means; and could we wonder that we had the doctrine of murder publicly supported in England and assassination preached? What ought the Government to do? The Home Secretary had been singularly unsuccessful in dealing with secret societies. Prevention was better than cure. The Government ought to refrain from foolish and rash speeches both in that House and in the country. They should endeavour to restrain themselves, and not give encouragement to these societies by using words of a double construction—words which they could explain in one way to their own consciences and their own friends, but which were taken by the world at large in a very different manner.


said, the hon. Member for North Shropshire had, no doubt, expected that his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department would have been present to reply to his observations; but his right hon. and learned Friend had no reason for suspecting that the hon. Gentleman was going to bring forward his Motion that evening. He would undoubtedly have been in his place if he had thought the speech they had just heard would have been delivered. But, with the highest respect to his right hon. and learned Friend, he did not think the House had lost very much by his absence, because he believed that if his right hon. and learned Friend had been present he would have thought that that speech deserved scarcely anything more than his silence. He should like to know whether any good would be attained by the speech just delivered? The hon. Gentleman had referred to what had been spoken and to what had been written in many newspapers. He (Mr. Courtney) would recommend the hon. Member to practice two economies, that of reading and that of belief. He would advise him, in the first place, not to read all the rubbish which appeared in the newspapers, and especially not to reproduce it in speeches in that House; and, above all, he would recommend him to exercise some economy in the amount of the belief which he gave to what he read. The hon. Member complained of the patronage which had been given by the Government to what was going on; and if that was so, it was a curious sort of patronage, for they had successfully prosecuted both the editor and the compositor of The Fresheit. He also complained that some Members of the Government had indulged in vague and foolish speaking. He dared say that some Members of the Government, including himself, were open to that charge; but he thought it rested with those who complained to show them the example. They would not get to the bottom of these things by such speeches as that which the hon. Member had delivered; they must meet them in a practical way. The Government was fully aware of the necessities of the case, and if they had not shown more activity—some people thought they had shown too much—in suppressing open evidence of discontent, it was because it was felt that they must deal with it in a more radical manner.


said, that certainly the House had not lost anything by the absence of the Home Secretary, as the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had amply filled his place in giving utterance to remarks of a personal character. He (Mr. Arthur O'Connor), however, rose to complain of the want of facilities for discussing the Estimates and the details of public expenditure. Supply had been put off this year till a period when the House was exhausted, and even then the necessary details for the discussion were not before them. The Appropriation Accounts, which by Act of Parliament should be laid on the Table by the 28th of March, were not even yet upon the Table, and they had to go into this discussion without them. The financial changes which had been made in the Army and Navy Departments made it the more important that the House should be furnished with those Papers with a view to a proper discussion of the Estimates. Some of the salaries of State officers were charged on the Consolidated Fund, and some were made part of the Estimates. The House, he thought, should have been furnished with information with regard to that difference of treatment. While the salary of the Lord Lieutenant was charged on the Consolidated Fund, the expenses of his Household were charged on the Estimates. There were similar anomalies in connection with judicial establishments and diplomatic expenditure. In connection with Greenwich Hospital there was a fictitious debt, on account of which part of the sum voted went into the Consolidated Fund. There were other complications with the Board of Trade and with the Navy, and it was almost impossible to obtain an intelligible view of the financial position of the Hospital. These complications were misleading to the Committee in the voting of the Estimates. He had made every effort for the past three years to master the details of the Public Accounts, and had come to the conclusion that the control exercised by Parliament over the Public Expenditure was of a most illusive kind. The charge upon the Consolidated Fund ought to be restricted to the permanent Debt and to the Civil List, and then the Estimates and the Accounts would be more intelligible, and simplification would probably save a good deal of clerical and other labour.

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