§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he was sorry at that late hour (1 o'clock) to have to 1534 trouble the House on this subject; but he would deal with it very shortly. The matter was one which should be got rid of one way or the other, either by granting the Committee or refusing it—it should not be kept on the Notice Paper day after day in this way. No doubt it could be disposed of in four or five minutes. Well, this opened up the whole question of the manner in which fines were imposed in Ireland for any damage done in a neighbourhood; and, to his mind, it was a matter of the greatest importance that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider it. He would give an instance to show how desirable it was that there should be some investigation. He would not refer to the Queen's County cases which were alluded to in the Motion, as he was not well enough acquainted with them; but he was informed by the two Members for the county that the cases were good ones. As to the Galway cases, however, the affair was different, they having occurred in his own neighbourhood and amongst his own tenants. It appeared that a hay-stack, worth about £97, belonging to a well-known solicitor, who was also an extensive farmer, had been burned. He did not for a moment mean to say, though he was moving for this Committee, that the solicitor ought not to have been compensated for the loss of this hay-stack. He did not contend that compensation should not be paid, for, after all, he did not think the law under which it was granted was a very bad one; but what he wanted to bring before the House was the manner in which this tax was levied. Eight shillings in the pound was levied on the townlands of Ballintubber, Brackloon, and Brockagh, which was a cruel and excessive charge, and one which should only have been upon the inhabitants of the townlands in the neighbourhood of the hay-stack, or upon the inhabitants of that townland to which the persons who did the mischief belonged. He did not wish to bring any heavy accusation against the Grand Jury in Galway; but he must say he believed they had very hurriedly put on the tax, and put it on people who had no claim on them. It was just as though that bag now on the Table of the House had been burned and the Government had put a tax to cover the cost of it, not on the whole of the Benches, but upon one particular Bench. Only 1535 three townlands, on which there was a poor population, had been selected to bear this heavy and crushing tax, though why he could not say, unless it was on account of their poverty. If the Select Committee was granted he was prepared to throw up the whole of his case, if the police could come forward and say they knew that men from these townlands had assisted in, or connived at, the burning of this hay-stack. But if there was no case, no reasonable suspicion that the damage was caused by people from these places, then, he contended, it was simply robbing these poor people to make them pay such a tax. A number of townlands in the hands of comparatively rich people were left untaxed, and the Grand Jury levied this charge in a manner that was positively cruel. They put upon these poor people a charge equal to a 6s. or 7s. Income Tax. Such a charge, if put upon a rich man, would be a great burden, and would be considered hard; but to put it on a very poor man was a terrible thing. All he asked for was an investigation, and if it were granted he should not insist upon having upon it many Irish Members. He was willing that there should be a majority of English Members upon it. The three town-lands he had mentioned were inhabited by tenants of his own. In consequence of his Parliamentary duties, he had been unable to attend the meeting of the Grand Jury, or, of course, he should have protested against the imposition of this tax, which, it seemed to him, had been levied upon these people because they were the tenants of a popular Member of Parliament. Such an imposition, for such a reason, was highly improper; and he, therefore, thought there should be an inquiry by a Select Committee, who should report as to whether it was not necessary that some change should be made in the law.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the manner in which a County Cess of 8s. 1½d. in the pound was imposed at the summer assizes on the townlands of Ballintubber, Brackloon, and Brockagh, in the county of Galway, and the manner in which a heavy County Cess was imposed on Cool, Raheen, and other townlands in Queen's County."—(Colonel Nolan.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. W. M. JOHNSON)
said, the proposition of the hon. and gallant 1536 Member was to inquire into an arrangement carried out under an Act of Parliament. It was not complained that there had been any irregularity in the proceedings that had taken place; and he must, therefore, on these grounds oppose the appointment of a Select Committee. The Act of Parliament provided a certain machinery for the purpose of levying compensation for these damages, and that machinery was the Presentment Sessions, where the claims for compensation were decided in a regular way. But from the Presentment Sessions the claims went to the Grand Jury, who gave their decision, and if that decision was quarelled with it could be traversed. The Act of Parliament provided that the result of the traverse before the Judge should be final and conclusive to all intents and purposes whatsoever. That being so, he did not see on what ground they could appoint a Select Committee to consider the matter.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he was surprised at the stand the right hon. and learned Gentleman had taken, and at the grounds he gave for that stand, because hon. Members knew that ere this—even this very Session—the Government had promised to amend this very law. In the Royal Address for a series of years the Government had promised to amend it; and even this Session there was a sort of promise given by Her Majesty's Ministers that they would take the condition of the Grand Jury Laws into their consideration. Yet, according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because a due process of law had gone on, though he himself thought, and though it was the opinion of the Government, that the law required amendment, it should not be amended, however bad it was, and there should be no inquiry with regard to it. Only that night he (Mr. Healy) had put down a Notice on the Paper of his intention to call attention to the Irish Grand Jury System; and to move—That this House regrets that the promises several times made in the Royal Address of Amendment in the Grand Jury System of Ireland have not been carried out.In this matter he really thought the Irish people were to blame for paying the tax. A common sense view of the matter should be taken by them. Some people said that in the case of the "suspects" some of the arrests were fair and reasonable; but in this case no one could say 1537 that the imposition of a tax so flagrantly unjust was fair and reasonable. There should, therefore, be some manifesto—which it would be very easy to issue—against the payment of the tax. It was said all round that it was an unjust tax, and yet the Government objected to inquiry. He had given Notice of his intention to ask whether the Government would inquire into the condition of the Grand Jury of the County of Cork, for he found that a member of that Grand Jury—Captain Somerville, like many other magistrates in Ireland—had used some very extraordinary language. Captain Somerville had refused to allow the advocate who had appeared for some of the poor tenants to proceed, and had said—"If you talk in that way we shall double the assessment." And yet the Government allowed the continuance of a law of this kind. He would tell the people of Ireland what they ought to do—they ought to strike against the payment of unjust taxes. When taxes of this kind were levied by the Grand Juries the people should refuse to pay them, and leave the Government to collect them as best they could. Year after year had passed, assessment after assessment had been made, and yet the Government had refused to amend this law, in spite of the declarations in the Royal Addresses. Let the people strike then. The people had no representation on the Grand Juries. They were appointed by the sheriff, who was appointed by the Government, and the people who had to pay the taxes had no voice or vote in the matter whatever. The taxes were levied by the Grand Juries; the Grand Juries spent the money, and "the people who paid the piper "—as the Home Secretary would say—"could not even call the tune." That appeared to him (Mr. Healy) to be an extraordinary state of things. What were the facts? Outrages upon man and beast were said to take place in Ireland. To whose interest was it that these outrages should take place? Was it to the interest of the people who had to pay for them? No; but a landlord who had an animal with a fatal disease—say a cow—might obtain £10 for her if her tail was cut off—the money being given as compensation for the outrage. The £10 would be granted by the landlord's personal friends, and the landlord would make, perhaps, 50 or 100 per cent profit on the transaction. 1538 To whose interest would it be, he would ask, that this cow should have her tail cut off? Was it to the interest of those who would have to pay for the outrage, or to the interest of the landlord who would make money out of it? These outrages, he contended, were bound to go on so long as the landlords made a profit out of them; and the only way to put an end to the mutilation of animals and the burning of hay-stacks was to give the people a voice in levying the taxes. So long as the landlords had the assessment of compensation so long would these outrages continue, because agents and bailiffs, and many other people, made a handsome thing out of it. He hoped the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) would go to a division, if it were only as a protest against the conduct of the Government with regard to Grand Juries; and he trusted the people of these town-lands of Ballintubber, Brackloon, and Brockagh, and of Cool and Raheen, in Queen's County, would refuse to pay one cent of these taxes.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I think, Mr. Speaker, the language employed by the hon. Member ought not to be allowed to pass without notice. I only rise for the purpose of calling attention to it, and to the policy recommended by the hon. Member. If laws are unjust they can be discussed with a view to their amendment; but that is not the course the hon. Member would recommend to the people of Ireland. He has distinctly recommended in this House that the people of Ireland should break the law.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
He has not disputed that the taxes are legally imposed. He disputes the justice of the law, and he is perfectly entitled to do so; but what he is not entitled to do is to recommend the people of Ireland, or of any other part of the Dominions of the Queen, to break the law, by refusing to pay taxes which are rightfully and lawfully imposed. That is what he has done. He has spoken of the "no rent" manifesto, and has recommended the issue of a non-payment of taxes manifesto——
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I am in the recollection of the House whether I have not made a correct statement—whether I have not given the very words of the hon. Member. I call attention to those words, and I hope they will receive the reprobation of this House, and of every man who desires to see the law obeyed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member desires to make a personal explanation the House will, no doubt, hear him.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he desired to state what he had stated, if the House was agreeable. If the House was not agreeable he would not do so. What he had recommended the Irish people to do was this—In cases where they considered the taxes unjust to compel the law to collect them as best they could. He had recommended them to do what the father of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) had done in regard to the church rate—namely, to refuse to pay until a levy was put upon the property.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
ventured to say that the objections offered by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland did not meet this case. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for County Galway (Colonel Nolan) asked for a Committee to inquire into the manner in which the county cess had been levied and the circumstances connected with it. The hon. and gallant Member had brought forward a case that would appeal to the House, and, he was sure, was one which should be inquired into. It was not for the Irish Members, in a case like this, to go all through the Grand Jury system. There could be no legitimate objection, from a Parliamentary point of view, to the Motion; and although he foresaw that it would be futile to go to a division, public opinion in Ireland required that their Representatives should record their view. Though he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) fell in the category of those upon whom the hon. Member for the Borough of Wexford (Mr. Healy) was from time to time very severe, though he was a magistrate in Ireland, he 1540 had much pleasure in supporting the Motion.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he had listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for the Borough of Wexford; and he was bound to take the earliest opportunity of saying that he did not think it was open, in the least degree, to the construction the Home Secretary had put upon it. ["Oh, oh!"] If hon. Members would content themselves to be quiet he would proceed to show why that speech was not open to the construction put upon it. The hon. Member had recommended the people in these townlands to withhold the payment of an unjust impost; but he had said, at the same time, that his object in giving that advice was that the Government should be put to the trouble of collecting the tax as best they could. He was not aware that, even in regard to the proceedings of citizens in this country, this proposal was by any means a novel one. The proposal was not only not a novel one, but had been absolutely carried into effect, and carried into effect more than once, and successfully, in procuring the reform of unjust laws. It was within the memory of everyone in the House who was well instructed in the history of England that the people of England had, from time to time, combated the imposition of unjust taxes by withholding payment. They gave the Government great trouble to collect the money, drew attention to the subject, and thereby brought about a remedy of the evils of which they complained. His hon. Friend's proposal was not a proposal to break the law, but simply to put those who had the power of the law in their hands to the necessity of enforcing it. If anything could have provoked an hon. Member to make such a Motion in the hurry of debate, it would have been the manner in which the Attorney General for Ireland received the moderate proposal of the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Nolan). What did the right hon. and learned Gentleman do? He was not disposed even to hear the case stated; he rose twice and endeavoured to attract the Speaker's eye, and interrupted the speech of the hon. and gallant Member. He then put before the House the case which, in a dry, lawyer-like spirit, he had prepared before he had heard a single word of the hon. and gallant Member's speech. He 1541 did not wish to hear what the grievance was, or in what way the Act had been exercised. No; he had referred to his law-books, conned the relevant and appropriate section, and, having satisfied himself as to the interpretation of it, he was not disposed to consider the matter further. Was it to be held that, because a procedure was according to an Act of Parliament, therefore it was not to be discussed? How had reforms in the law been legitimately, historically, and constantly procured in this country? Was it not by Committees of this House and the other House inquiring into the provisions of Acts of Parliament, investigating their nature, working, and operation, and ascertaining how far and in what degree they needed amendment? The theory of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a political and Constitutional heresy of the gravest character. He would refer to the common experience of all politicians in this country to show that Acts of Parliament were improved by the adoption of such proposals as this. What was the case now made? A hay-stack was burnt; and for the moment he would assume that the injury was malicious. If the police of the county could show that any of the inhabitants were parties to the injury, he would agree to the imposition; but what did that mean? It meant 8s. in the pound; it meant that people who for the last two or three years had been plunged in distress, and unable to pay their rent and common debts, except by depriving themselves of necessary clothing and food, were to have this crushing and ruinous impost placed upon them; and the Attorney General said that, because the Act of Parliament provided for this imposition, no inquiry was to be made into the manner in which the Grand Jury had exercised their power. He did not think the Constitutional lawyer sitting by the right hon. and learned Gentleman would support that view, for he was aware that the proper method of reforming Acts of Parliament was an inquiry into them by Parliament. Nothing could be more reasonable than the demand made by the hon. and gallant Member. These poor people were deprived of proper redress; and he invited any other Member of the Government to support the theory of the Attorney General that because a certain thing was in an Act of 1542 Parliament the manner of exercising it was not to be inquired into.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, his whole objection to the impost was the area over which it was levied. These people were surrounded partly by poor tenants, and partly by rich grazing grounds and rich domains occupied by people closely connected with the Grand Jury. He did not accuse the Grand Jury of seeking to injure these people; but he thought they desired to protect their own people. The taxation ought to have been levied over a larger area. The man who had been injured did not accuse the people in the neighbourhood. He was on perfectly good terms with them; he was a large owner and a solicitor, and he did not think that these people had done the injury. This was a clear and well-defined case, and the House had his (Colonel Nolan's) responsibility for the facts; and what better case could the Government have for an inquiry than this? He besought the Government to reconsider their decision, and grant an inquiry. He had advised several of these people to pay the impost, promising to bring the matter before the House, and saying he was sure the House would order an inquiry as to whether the impost was right or wrong.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, the appeal of the hon. and gallant Member who moved for an inquiry had produced no effect on the attitude of the Treasury Bench; and from no cause but the sheer arbitrary exercise of power, which ought to have been taken from the Irish Grand Juries long ago, a number of poor people, not one of whom was even reasonably suspected of having had any share in what had occurred, were reduced to utter ruin by these irresponsible persons. It was a common remark among the Liberal Party that the Irish Grand Juries were utterly unworthy of the functions they exercised; and there was not a county in Ireland in which scandalous and disgraceful partiality was not continually displayed by these Grand Juries. A short time ago a gentleman who was a Parnellite went to Letterkenny on business. For the purpose of the journey he hired two horses of a most respectable hotel proprietor in Derry. On his return from Letterkenny it was discovered that both the horses had been cruelly poisoned with arsenic, and while one died after fearful torture, the other only recovered 1543 after several weeks' illness. This was a clear case of malicious injury; but when the hotel proprietor appealed to the Grand Jury at Derry, although there was evidence given by analytical chemists of the highest authority that, beyond doubt, the poor brute had perished from poisoning, the Grand Jury had the face to declare "No malice." The Grand Jury now concerned was not unworthy to rank with the Grand Jury of Derry, and it had utterly ruined three innocent townlands in Galway; but it was to be protected even from inquiry, because it had acted on the strict letter of the legal attributes of which it ought to have been deprived long ago. That was the statement of the Law Officers of the Crown. The next contribution was by the Home Secretary, who stood up and put an extraordinary interpretation on the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Healy), and indulged in his habitual recreation of rebuking an Irish Member and holding his language up to reprobation! The idea of the right hon. and learned Gentleman holding language up to reprobation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, after having heard the clear and convincing explanation of the hon. Member who was so unjustly accused, and after hearing that supported by other hon. Members who had listened to it quite as carefully as he, maintained his seat without the slightest regard for the courtesy of the House, and without the slightest word of apology. He did not expect an apology from Gentlemen of the character of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who had not won his way to the position he held in the Liberal Party by the exercise of courtesy.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, no Member of the Government had made any reply to the statement of the Irish case. Was that worthy of the case, or of the ancient traditions of the House? His observation covered both Members of the Government who had spoken.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, it would have been gratifying to the House if the Government had granted this inquiry, for it could not be denied that the Grand Jury system in Ireland was not in very high favour in this country; and on the face of it this case of levy- 1544 ing 8s. in the pound, on the rental, upon people who were represented as poor people, was so monstrously glaring that there did appear to be a case against the administration of the Grand Jury. The hon. and gallant Member did not challenge for a moment the fairness of the law that where malicious injury had been done, the district ought to be called upon to pay compensation; but if it was true that there had been a selfish exclusion of a large area, and the inclusion of a small and poor area, then he could not retain his seat without protesting against such a state of things. They must all feel that if such things remained un-redressed, it could not be wondered at that the people in Ireland and some hon. Members of that House should express themselves, and even act in an injudicious manner. He would remind the Home Secretary that it was not alone in Ireland that people refused to pay charges and imposts that were regarded as excessive. In the papers of that day there appeared a case in which a farmer had refused to pay his tithes, and there had been a contest of no insignificant character, within the last 48 hours, which did not at all go beyond the recommendation of the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy). At the same time, he was bound to say that the hon. Members for Wexford and Dungarvan had scarcely taken a course likely to influence the House in their favour.
§ MR. P. MARTIN
said, he hoped the House would not be induced, by the statement made on behalf of the Government, to refuse an inquiry. The best way to preserve peace and order in Ireland was to show the people that there was no just grievance presented to the House which the House was not willing to redress; and it would be an evil thing for the people of Ireland to be able to say that the House refused to consider a case of this character when brought under its notice. What would be said when it was found that the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth), the Colleague of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, acknowledged that, according to what he had heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan), a fair case for inquiry had been made out, but the Government refused an investigation? It must not be imagined that the Irish people were not quick-witted 1545 enough to perceive that, notwithstanding his sophistry, the Attorney General for Ireland had not fairly stated the case. He had contended that the tenants on whom this crushing tax appeared to have been imposed might have appeared at Presentment Sessions, and, if dissatisfied there, have traversed before the Judges of Assize. If they had adopted that course they would simply have incurred unnecessary expense. The Presentment Sessions in Ireland dealt with a case simply to ascertain whether there had been malicious injury, and if there had, they fixed the amount of compensation. The Judges had nothing to do with the question whether that amount should be levied over a particular area or not; that was a matter which was left wholly to the discretion of the Grand Jury. That discretion might be exercised in the most capricious and unjust way, yet the ratepayers were not permitted to intervene or appeal. The facts vouched by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) clearly proved how unjustly and unreasonably the assessment had been made in townlands far distant from the place concerned, and where the people were so unable to bear the impost. If ever there was a case demanding an inquiry from a Select Committee this was a case; and let not hon. Members imagine this was a solitary instance of complaints of this character. Similar instances of alleged abuse in the determination as to the area had been again and again urged, as showing the necessity of amendment in the Grand Jury Code. Indeed, so far back as 1842—though the matter might now have passed from recollection—a Select Committee of that House entirely condemned the mode in which the areas of assessment were made by Grand Juries. It was a most dangerous power to place in the hands of any body of men. If Grand Juries, constituted as those bodies were, continued to discharge, as at present, without control or appeal, functions of this character, it would be ever said, as it had been frequently alleged in the past, that they would be led aside by the influence of prejudice and motives of self-interest. Therefore, when there was a case such as this, where an enormous impost was levied, an impost of 8s. in the pound, which, having regard to other rates, was sufficient to crush the tenants of these townlands; when the impost was made 1546 apparently without reason, and at the best capriciously; and when the hon. and gallant Member offered to prove that there had not been the slightest suggestion before the Grand Jury, or by anyone throughout that country, that the tenants had participated in the offence, a refusal of an inquiry would, he believed, bear evil fruit in Ireland.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENREAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. PORTER)
said, the hon. and gallant Member asked for a Select Committee to inquire into the manner in which the county cess had been imposed at the Summer Assizes on certain townlands in the county of Galway and in Queen's County; but if the request were complied with, and a Select Committee were granted as to the mode of assessment in connection with these townlands, no practical advantage would be derived, because, although there could be no doubt that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had made out a case of hardship, nothing further could be done in the matter. The House, in directing a Select Committee to inquire into the circumstances, would really not give to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that which appeared to be the object he had in view, which was rather a general inquiry into the operation of the Grand Jury Law. An inquiry into a special case of this kind, although at first sight there were grounds for the belief that it was a case of considerable hardship, would not accomplish what the hon. and gallant Gentleman required, because every care would be taken that the inquiry did not drift into what was, in reality, the very thing the hon. and gallant Gentleman desired—namely, an inquiry into the operation of certain clauses of the Grand Jury Act. No Select Committee appointed under this Reference could enter into any such investigation. The course now pursued by the Grand Juries was that when a claim for compensation was sent in it was investigated, and the Grand Jury had the duty imposed on it of ascertaining whether the damage had been maliciously done, and then of prescribing the district over which the compensation was to be assessed. He was sorry that his hon. and gallant Friend had not been able to attend the Grand Jury at the time this case was brought on. It did appear that the amount of £97, as the price of a haystack, was a very large amount to be levied over this area; but, at the same 1547 time, the Grand Jury was the only legal tribunal which could prescribe the area, and there were no means on the part of the House of correcting their decision. He hoped that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, having attained his object by raising a discussion, would not press the Motion. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman brought forward a Motion for inquiry into the working of the Grand Jury Act generally as to awarding compensation, the Government would consider his proposition. He thought there were a great many matters connected with the Grand Jury Act which might fairly be made the subject of inquiry, with a view to their amendment. But if the inquiry now asked for were granted, it would begin and end with reference to the facts of this particular case only, and it could not possibly affect any change in the law, or produce any satisfactory result.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General had certainly dealt with the question in a much better spirit, and with much better taste than his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General; and the hon. and learned Gentleman had one advantage over the Attorney General in appearing to have very little fancy for the melodramatic. But he hardly thought that the answer of the hon. and learned Gentleman was satisfactory. He did not think the inquiry which his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Nolan) desired was simply to alter the assessment of the compensation, or to get the decision already arrived at reversed. He (Colonel Nolan) rather desired to free these townlands from the disgrace of having a fine of this nature levied upon them. The hon. and learned Solicitor General suggested an inquiry into the working of the clauses of the Grand Jury Act. The Government had pledged themselves, over and over again, to reform the Grand Jury system. Not only the present Government, but other Governments for years past, had promised the reform of the whole system. His hon. and gallant Friend did not pretend that his Motion would bring about anything of that kind; but he had a much smaller and more practical object in view—namely, to show by this more narrow inquiry what the nature of the Grand Jury Law was, and how unjustly it worked. Such an inquiry would 1548 greatly strengthen the hands of any Government who desired hereafter to bring the general question forward.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 25; Noes 79: Majority 54.—(Div. List, No. 56.)