HC Deb 12 June 1882 vol 270 cc840-3

wished to ask the Prime Minister a Question of which he had not given him Notice. He wished to ask whether, considering the large amount of innocent blood now being shed day after day in Ireland, he was prepared to ask the House to vote Urgency with respect to the Prevention of Crime (Ireland) Bill?


said, that before the right hon. Gentleman answered that Question, he should like to ask him if his attention had been called to the following declaration with regard to outrages in Ireland. It was in the form of a Pastoral from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Hierarchy in Ireland. It was as follows:— We should fail in our duty, without in any sense excusing the crimes and offences which we have condemned, if we did not declare that in our belief they would never have occurred had not the people been driven to despair by evictions and the prospect of evictions for the non-payment of exorbitant rents. Furthermore, the continuance of such evictions, justly described by the Prime Minister as a sentence of death, is a permanent incentive to crime. He would ask whether Her Majesty's Government would postpone all other legislation until some measure for the immediate stoppage of evictions on the Non-payment of exorbitant rent was passed?


wished to ask whether it was the intention of the Government during the passage of the Prevention of Crime Bill, and before it could be completed, to take any further measures for the prevention of murder, outrage, and crime in Ireland?


My attention has been called generally to the document to which the hon. Member for Dungar-van (Mr. O'Donnell) refers, and I am not sorry that he has quoted certain words of mine in it, because I wish to say that it is entirely under a misapprehension that the opinion is said to have been expressed by me that a sentence of eviction is a sentence of death. What I said was, in my own judgment, whether rightly or wrongly, altogether different from that—namely, that, taking into account all the circumstances of the time and the condition of all but famine in which a number of people were, it could be no great matter of surprise if, from their point of view, a sentence of eviction appeared to be a sentence of death. It was not a statement made by me; I said it would be no great wonder that the people should think so. With respect to the other matters in the letter referred to, they do not call for any expression of my opinion, but rather belong to a discussion on the general state of Ireland. Speaking from memory, I think I am quite correct in the substance of what I have said as to the words attributed to me. With regard to the Question of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), it is a subject of constant anxiety with us how we can promote and expedite, to the best of our ability, the passage of this Bill. The time spent upon it has been considerably longer than we should have desired, and, perhaps, than we may have considered altogether reasonable. But then I am bound to say that it is an opinion which the Government has had to form many times during the present Session in regard to particular debates; and we are also bound to bear in mind that we have been discussing some of the nicest and most difficult questions, involving Civil rights, that this House can be called upon to consider. The modification of trial by jury, and the giving of a new application to the law respecting intimidation, are certainly matters on which we should not think ourselves warranted in attempting to draw the line between liberty and excess. We shall endeavour to consider, if necessary, what measures we ought to take to expedite the proceedings of the Committee; for while I do not hesitate to say now that we have got through all those difficult subjects, I hope I am not too sanguine in anticipating some more speedy progress. My hon. Friend inquires whether we will not ask for Urgency; but to ask for Urgency is one thing, and to obtain it is another. I think the circumstances under which we shall ask for Urgency will be such that, so far as we can judge, the House will be willing to grant it. We are not desirous of complicating the matter if we can possibly avoid it. I do not understand the Question that has been put to me by the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir Henry Tyler). We are now legislating on the subject of the prevention of crime in Ireland; and I do not understand what the Executive can do more, while that legislation is under the discussion of the House, than what we have been doing, and are doing, to the best of our ability— namely, to use to the utmost extent the forces that Parliament has placed in our hands for the maintenance of peace and order.


inquired whether the Government intended to take any steps to prevent the execution of evictions in cases pending before the Land Commission?


wished to know whether, on the second reading of the Compensation for Disturbance (Ireland) Bill in 1880, the Prime Minister did not use these words— It is no exaggeration to say, in a country where the agricultural pursuit is the only pursuit, and where the means of the payment of rent are entirely destroyed for the time by the visitation of Providence, that the poor occupier may in these circumstances regard the sentence of eviction as coming for him very near to a sentence of starvation.…In the failure of the crops, crowned by the year 1879, the act of God had replaced the Irish occupier in the condition in which he stood before the Land Act. Because what had he to contemplate? He had to contemplate eviction for non-payment of rent, and, as a consequence of eviction, starvation."—[3 Barnard, ccliii. 1663.] He wished to know whether the Prime Minister did not declare that a sentence of eviction was equivalent to a sentence of starvation?


I have used many words since that speech was delivered; but, speaking from memory—though, I am sorry to say, my memory is not as good as it once was—I do not hesitate to say that the second passage expresses with great exactitude what I said; and with reference to the first passage, it entirely corresponds with the account which I gave just now.