HC Deb 05 May 1882 vol 269 cc234-8

I wish, Sir, to put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, which, though I have not been able to give him private Notice of it, he may now be able to answer. It is, Whether the late Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant was privy to the secret information consequent upon which the Government thought it right to release the "suspects?" That appears to me to be an important point, not cleared up in the debate yesterday. Further, I wish to ask, whether the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give the House any further particulars or details as to the character and sources of this information, and, if so, when?


I quite understand that there was no discourtesy on the part of the hon. Gentleman in putting this Question without Notice. I know very well that in times like these, suggestions occur with rapidity, and it may be desirable that they be acted upon promptly. Nor have I any difficulty in answering the Question, excepting that I would rather it had been done by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Forster) had he been in the House. As he is not in the House, and as the matter is indefinite, and as it admits of answer without doubt or question, I will say at once that the character of the evidence, the principle and most important part of it, and probably that which the hon. Gentleman has in his mind, was documentary, and that the documents in which it was contained reached me from my right hon. Friend the late Chief Secretary for Ireland.


I beg leave to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would have any public objections to giving that documentary evidence to the House? [Cries of "No‡" from the Ministerial Benches.]


That is a question of the gravest nature in point of honour and feeling. I would rather not give any opinion on the subject at the present moment. My object has been to leave it in the hands of hon. Gentlemen, wholly without prejudice or fetter of any kind, and especially in the hands of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), to whom, I think, it was justly due to make his own statement, entirely unembarrassed by any proceedings on my part. I have merely described, on my own responsibility, what I take to be the general effect of them. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman entirely appreciates the statement I have made.


Sir, I beg to give Notice that on Monday next I propose to move the following Resolution:— That, having regard to the critical condition of Ireland and the recent statements of Ministers of the Crown, this House is of opinion that it is of paramount importance to the best interests of the country that the whole Irish policy of the Government should be forthwith submitted to the consideration of Parliament. I wish also to ask the Prime Minister, whether he will afford me the necessary facilities for bringing on that Resolution?


Sir, I perfectly understand the scope of the Motion of which Notice has been given by the right hon. Gentleman; and in perfect consistency, I think, with what I have said as to the absolute necessity of carrying forward the questions as to the Rules of Procedure, I admit that the question brought forward by the right hon. Baronet cannot be carried forward without the Government; and, therefore, I have to say to him that the very first day at our disposal—namely, Monday next—shall be placed at his disposal. Further, Sir, I have to say that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington) stated—or I mentioned on behalf of the Government last night, I forget which—that we would to-night appoint some Order for Tuesday at 2 o'clock. With regard to the Notice of the right hon. Baronet, I hope that, in the present state of Public Business, it will not be thought impertinent if I express very respectfully my desire that it shall not be discussed upon the same scale of amplitude, relatively to the importance of the subject, on which some comparatively very small matters have been recently discussed. This is of great importance. I can hardly anticipate that it would close on Monday night; but should it not close on Monday night, provided we can make arrangements for placing Tuesday also at the disposal of the right hon. Baronet, we should do our best for that purpose. I shall consequently propose no arrangement to-night for a Morning Sitting on Tuesday. Although the issue raised by the right hon. Baronet is of extreme importance, I hope I am not over sanguine in the desire that no further demand need be made on the time of the House for arriving at a conclusion.


asked, whether, if the hon. Member for Manchester's (Mr. Slagg's) Motion was negatived, the right hon. Gentleman would again set up Supply, to enable the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. J. R. Yorke) to take the sense of the House upon the important question raised in his Resolution?


If the Motion is negatived, Supply sets up itself. It does not admit of an answer from me.


asked Mr. Attorney General for Ireland, If it was the case that the Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary had been called on to retire, or had been granted a long leave of absence, which would probably lead to his resignation?


I am not aware of it, Sir.


Sir, on Monday next I will ask the Premier, whether, especially since the 1st of January of the present year, any recommendation, petition, or request has been placed before the Government from any body or public authority of a non-official character in Ireland, whether elected or non-elected, ecclesiastical or civil, Protestant or Catholic, or from any public meeting, or from any Representatives of Irish constituencies, whether belonging to the Liberal, Conservative, or Home Rule Parties, in favour of a continuance of the recent policy of coercion in Ireland; whether it is the case that, outside a certain official class, there has been a general agreement of opinion in Ireland, so far as the Government could ascertain, against the continuance of the recent policy of coercion in Ireland; and, whether it is true that the officials who supported the late Chief Secretary's recent demand for a continuance of the policy of coercion are the same officials on whose authority Parliament was assured last year that the authors of outrages were well known, and the Coercion Act would immediately enable the police to arrest them, and prevent the continuance of crime?


I think, Sir, it may meet the convenience of the hon. Member if I endeavour to answer the Question now. By a continuance of the policy of coercion, I imagine the hon. Member evidently means the prolongation or renewal of the Protection of Person and Property (Ireland) Act, and I answer in the negative. I am not aware of any application made to the Government for the renewal or the continuance of that Act. With regard to the next Question, as to the general state of opinion in Ireland on the subject of coercion, I hope the hon. Gentleman will he content, on this occasion, to treat that matter in debate, because I do not think it would be quite fair, on the part of the Government, to give their impressions upon the state of opinion in that country on a particular subject in answer to a Question, considering that answers to Questions ought to be confined as much as possible to matters of fact, or of a very definite character indeed. Then, as regards the third branch of the Question, my answer is plain and simple. I am not aware that any official persons of any kind have been parties in any matter to the proceedings connected with, and anterior to, the resignation of my right hon. Friend. What the sentiments of those gentlemen may be, I have no means of knowing. It has been altogether a transaction within the Councils of the Government, and upon the responsibility of the Government.


I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon; I did not refer at all to the resignation of the right hon. Gentleman. What I asked was, if the officials whose authority was quoted last year on behalf of the introduction of the Coercion Act, on the ground that the authors of outrages were well known to the police, are the same officials who have been quoted as in favour of a continuance of the policy of coercion in Ireland, without any reference to the resignation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford?


I think that, as regards that portion of the Question, perhaps the hon. Member for Dungarvan had better give Notice, because I have not definitely in my mind the persons to whom he refers, or the quotations that have been made.