§ SIR ARTHUR OTWAY
asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether he will cause such arrangements to be made in the various prisons in Ireland in which political "suspects" are confined, as will shorten the time of their solitary confinement; whether he sees any objection to a relaxation of the rules which confine the "suspects" to their cells from about six o'clock in the evening until the following morning; and, whether he will cause permission to be given to them to assemble, in such place and manner as is consistent with prison discipline, for two or three hours after their early supper?
§ MR. DILLWYN
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers the Question I should like to ask him whether his attention has been called to a letter in The Times of this day, signed "Audi Alteram Partem," giving extracts from letters alleged to have been written by some of the "suspects;" and if the description therein given of the treatment of "suspects" in Ireland is substantially true?
§ MR. DAWSON
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers, I wish to point out that the hour at which prisoners are confined in the evening is 5 o'clock and not 6, as stated in the Question of the hon. Baronet.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
With respect to the Question of my hon. Friend, I certainly saw the letter to which he refers. The letter certainly states that in The Tuam Herald—a paper of rather strong views in the direction of hon. Members opposite—two letters had appeared from persons at present confined as "suspects," in which they certainly gave the impression to their friends that they did not find the prison arrangements inconvenient; in fact, rather of a contrary kind. I have not myself seen those letters, but I have no reason to believe that they are not correct; and I have myself received information that several prisoners have taken the same view. With regard to the Question of my hon. Friend (Sir Arthur Otway), it is a matter of importance; and I am 1012 afraid I must ask the House to give me a little more time than is usual in answering Questions. Strictly speaking, my hon. Friend's Question would, to my mind, refer to a very small proportion of the "suspects" now in gaol. My hon. Friend uses the phrase "political suspects." As I have frequently stated, I do not think that any of those prisoners can be rightly called' political prisoners,''—[Mr. HEALY: Oh, oh!]—except those who are detained on reasonable suspicion of treasonable practices. I do not wish to debate the matter now; but I must again state that I do not think persons who are detained on reasonable suspicion of either committing crimes of violence, or intimidation, or inciting thereto, can rightly be called "political prisoners." I take my hon. Friend's Question as if he meant to apply it to all the "suspects;" and, undoubtedly, it would be undesirable that arrangements should be made for some and not for others. I can only again state what I stated last year. When asking Parliament to assent to the Act I stated that we intended to use it for the purpose of prevention, and not of punishment; and although I do not expect any credit from hon. Members opposite, I may say that I have carried it out irrespective of anything said about too much forbearance or too much relaxation, upon the principle of listening to every complaint, by whomsoever it was made, that reached me, and simply on this ground—that the regulations that were made were to be as easy as is consistent with being in prison, provided these three conditions were fulfilled—first, the observance of prison discipline, which, hon. Members must be aware, is necessary; secondly, provision for the safe-keeping of the prisoners; and, thirdly, the prevention of the carrying on from the prison these incitements to outrages for which the "suspects" were detained. And I do not think I need do more than refer to what are notorious circumstances to show that this last has been a provision necessary to be kept in view, and which it is necessary still to keep in view. As regards the six hours' association, I must remind the House that the matter was debated last year, and though I do not mean to say it was approved by hon. Members opposite—[Mr. HEALY: Hear, hear!]—because they were opposed to every matter connected with the Act—it 1013 was accepted by the House as an arrangement which was fair and reasonable, and which was believed to have worked well in the Westmeath Prison; and the case shown in the House was not against having the six hours adopted, but against the adoption of the general rule of prisons allowing only two hours. I stated a day or two ago, when the matter was brought forward, that I would immediately make inquiry as to whether more could not be given in the evening. I did so at once, and I am very glad to say that I find more time can be given. I propose that, without delay, this modification of the rule shall be made. There shall be half-an-hour allowed for exercise. [Mr. HEALY: Oh, oh! and laughter.] Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to finish. Half-an-hour more for exercise will be given in the morning, and an hour and a-half given in the evening after supper. The prisoner will not be compelled to take exercise at these hours if he does not wish to do so; it would be at his option whether he preferred to be in the association hall or taking exercise. I do not deny that there is some degree of danger in this; because it is an undoubted truth that such a letter as my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillwyn) alluded to does represent some portion of feeling in Ireland, because we not unfrequently have had cases in which we had reason to believe that people wished and preferred to be arrested. I think myself it is better to err on the right side; and, therefore, I am glad to be able to make this modification. As so much has been said about the authorities in Dublin Castle, I may say I am entirely supported by them on this subject. I wish to say one thing. If blame is to be attached to anyone for the administration of this Act, and if it can be proved afterwards that there is blame, it must fall upon me. I alone am responsible for it. I have carefully looked into the details of the cases, as much as I possibly could; and nothing could be more unfair than for me to allow the House for a moment to suppose that anything that may be considered harsh—although, I am sure, it has been my endeavour to make it as little harsh as possible—is due to the authorities at the Castle. I say at once that is not the case. I wish, with the permission of the House, to refer to one or two other matters bearing on this subject. 1014 It was stated by hon. Members opposite that the time for Divine Service was taken from the time during which the "suspects" associated. I promised to inquire into this, and stop the practice, if it did take place. My information is, that there was only one prison in which this was done. Half-an-hour was deducted at Kilkenny. [Mr. HEALY: And Armagh.] Well, that will be looked into; but it has been stopped at Kilkenny. Then it was stated that visitors came to gloat over the sufferings of the prisoners. This I did not believe to be true. [Mr. HEALY: I can give you the name of one man—Townsend.] Very numerous applications have been made to see the prisons in which the "suspects" are detained; but the rule is, and the order is, that these applications shall be refused. Then it was stated how hard it was that the prisoners should not have any recreation; and the hon. Member for Sligo descanted upon my barbarity in not permitting chess to be played.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
Well, the real truth is, that from the very beginning the game of ball, which is very good for exercise, was allowed, and when the matter was laid before me, I at once approved of chess, draughts, and similar games. Certainly, since last November, there has been no restriction on such games, and, so far as the game of ball is concerned, the permission has existed for a longer period. If permission was not given before, it was because it was not asked. Then it was said that the prisoners were not allowed to rest at night in peace, and that the lanterns of the turnkeys were flashed every now and then upon sleeping prisoners. This, I am told, is quite untrue. The warders have not, in fact, keys in their possession after 10 o'clock; and, besides, the prisons in which this was said to have occurred were not specified. I have only further to add, although they are not contained in this Question, that in other statements I believe there was either very great exaggeration or great mistakes. I think it is only fair to the members of the General Prisons Board that I should read the concluding words of a letter from one of the members of the Board in answering these questions. He says— 1015I regret to have not had sufficient time to enable me to inquire at each prison on the various questions raised; but I believe the treatment to be the same in all prisona. But the statements made are, in many instances, untrue, and in others much exaggerated.This is what I wish to impress upon the House—The extreme unfairness of not at once bringing to the notice of the Board any cases of complaint I need not again point out; as if the Board did not immediately remove any real ground for complaint any prisoner could at once appeal to the Chief Secretary.I may just say to those in the House who will believe me—it may be the large majority—that I never would have thought of neglecting to examine any case in which it was stated the Board had refused to redress a grievance.
§ SIR ARTHUR OTWAY
asked whether he was right in supposing the right hon. Gentleman to say that after the usual time for locking the prisoners up they would be allowed to assemble together for an hour and a-half in the evening?
§ SIR ARTHUR OTWAY
asked his right hon. Friend whether, in regard to the Question put to him by the hon. Member for Swansea, there was reason to believe that the letters in The Times were invented for a purpose; if not, whether he had any reason to suppose that, in all probability, they were the letters of an Irish prisoner; or whether it was not possible that they might be an Irish joke?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I do not think they were more than the mere expression of what the writers felt. I know that similar statements have been made before in Ireland.
§ MR. SEXTON
I ask the indulgence of the House to say a few words. The right hon. Gentleman has stated, on the authority of the Prisons Board, that some of the complaints made were exaggerated, and some untrue. I have made two statements in this House of my personal experience in prison, and these have attracted considerable attention. I wish now to say, most solemnly, in the presence of this House, that every statement I made was accurate; and that there were other matters equally accurate with which I have not troubled the House. I am prepared to substan- 1016 tiale all I stated, and much more, before any tribunal.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I am glad the hon. Member made that remark. If he will give me Notice of a Question on the subject to-morrow I will give him an explanation, and, to a considerable extent, a refutation of the statement he made about himself.