§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I desire to apologize to my hon. Friends the Member for Horsham (Sir Henry Fletcher) and the Member for Guildford. (Mr. Onslow), whose Questions stand next upon the Paper, for interposing and putting a Question to the Prime Minister, of which I have given him private Notice. It seems to me that the question with regard to the proceedings connected with the release of the prisoners from Kilmainham cannot remain in the position in which it is at present. Therefore I am entitled, and even bound, to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give us any further informatian with regard to those proceedings; and there are one or two questions of a specific character which I wish to put to him. The first is, What other Members of the Government besides those mentioned last night—namely, the Prime Minister himself and the late Chief Secretary for Ireland—had communication, direct or indirect, with the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) before his release? Secondly, whether those communications were made known to the Government as a whole, or whether they were made known to the late 829 Chief Secretary for Ireland in particular? Thirdly, whether any Members of the Government had personal interviews with the hon. Member for the City of Cork before his release? And, fourthly, I wish to know, with reference to something that fell from the hon. Member for the City of Cork in the course of last evening, whether the release of Michael Davitt was stipulated for or mentioned in the communications that were made; or, if not stipulated for, was mentioned as a matter that ought to be included in any arrangements which were to be made?
I will answer, Sir, the particular Questions that have been put to me by the right hon. Gentleman, and I will answer any other Question on the same subject to which I can reply without any violation of my public duty, or without being guilty of what, under present circumstances, I should consider a very serious error—namely, entering unnecessarily on a course of discussion, or otherwise, which is not favourable to the work of peace, law, and order in Ireland. [A laugh.] I do not think that this is a laughing matter, as the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Onslow) does, and I am sorry he does so think it. But, Sir, I do not intend to volunteer any statement upon the subject; for I am of opinion, viewing what has taken place, and in particular viewing what took place last night, that some of the proceedings connected with this subject have not been favourable, but eminently unfavourable, to the discharge of the duties of the Executive Government at the present moment, and to the success of the designs which, as is well known, they have in view. Perhaps I may be permitted to say, Sir, that hon. Gentlemen do not seem quite to apprehend the position taken by the Government upon this subject. Well, I will endeavour to assist them as far as I am able in that work of comprehension. Nothing in our view can be more simple, more distinct and isolated, than the question we have had to consider with regard to the release of the three suspected Members of Parliament, and with regard to the subsequent examination of the other cases which were treated at the same time as connected with it. In our opinion, that matter has no connection whatever with the question of arrears; no connection whatever with the question as to 830 Mr. Michael Davitt. It was simply a question of duty under the letter and spirit of a law of exceptional power. It was our duty to ask whether we had prospectively reasonable suspicion of conduct on the part of these Gentlemen tending, in the terms of the Act, to the disturbance of law and order; and if we had not this reasonable suspicion it was our duty, in our opinion—that is open, of course, to challenge by the House—it was our duty, looking neither to the right nor to the left, at once to open the prison doors to them. I hope that is a clear and distinct statement, and one that may, in some degree, help to simplify the issue in this matter. I will proceed now to answer the particular Questions put to me by the right hon. Gentleman, and which I thank him for giving me private Notice of. The first Question is, whether any Members of the Government had communication, direct or indirect, with Mr. Parnell? I am not prepared, as a mere matter of words, to admit that I had any communication, directly or indirectly, with Mr. Parnell. I should consider it more accurately framed if it were "received information from Mr. Parnell." But passing by that as a mere verbal question on which we may differ, I think it was mentioned distinctly by my hon. Friend the Member for the County Clare (Mr. O'Shea) that he had conversations, one or more—I do not know whether a written communication also—on the same matter with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I think it was mentioned by him last night. [Mr. GORST: No, no!] My right hon. Friend reminds me, as the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) has just displayed his incredulity in reference to this matter, that the hon. Member for Clare read a letter from him, and therefore the scepticism of the hon. and learned Member is on this occasion slightly in excess. The next Question is, whether those communications were made known to the Government as a whole, or to the Irish Secretary in particular? There were no such communications, and, consequently, that can hardly be answered. So far as I myself am concerned, I had no knowledge whatever of the matter, except what is in possession of my noble and right hon. Friends and Colleagues in the Government as a whole; and that I believe to be the case with regard to 831 the President of the Board of Trade, and I believe also with regard to my right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Forster). The next Question is, whether any Members of the Government had personal interviews with Mr. Parnell? Not to my knowledge. A further Question is, whether Michael Davitt's release was stipulated for? It has been stated several times that nothing was stipulated for, or entered into the reception or consideration of this evidence except the simple question of what we believed to be prospectively the intention of the hon. Members in custody. I need not say there was no stipulation with regard to Michael Davitt or anyone else.
§ MR. GIBSON
Were the Government aware that the hon. Member for the City of Cork desired that Mr. Davitt should be released?
I really cannot say at this moment whether such a thing was contained in the letter read last night—I do not recollect that it was—but I had no other communications made to me, and, so far as my recollection goes, I had no such knowledge.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I referred to Mr. Davitt's name in consequence of what fell from the hon. Member for the City of Cork last night.
§ MR. ONSLOW
Might I ask the Prime Minister if he has any objection to read the letter which the hon. Member for County Clare said he had sent to the right hon. Gentleman? The hon. Gentleman read the Prime Minister's reply, and it would be interesting to the House and the country if we had the letter to which it was an answer.
The only interest attached to it is this. That I should be called upon to produce letters addressed to me by hon. Members of this House on their own Motion is a question that would be rather a serious one. I can understand that the hon. Gentleman is under the impression that there is some connection between the letter of the hon. Member for Clare and the subsequent communications; and that that letter in some way or other brought the hon. Member for the City of Cork 832 on the carpet. Well, last night, when I heard the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Clare, I immediately rose to guard myself against any such interpretation of his letter; and I stated that his letter had no connection whatever, to my knowledge, with the views of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. This morning I have sent for the letter. It is a long and interesting and very intelligent letter, setting forth the views of the hon. Member himself very largely on the subject of Irish politics, and what may be called burning Irish questions, and I find in it these words—"This time, of course, Mr. Parnell has no part in the initiative." I hope that is quite conclusive as to that letter. It is right I should explain the words, "this time." Their meaning is this—that during a discussion last year upon the Land Bill, my hon. Friend came to me and made a proposal, the particulars of which I do not now precisely recollect—that is quite immaterial. He stated his belief, and stated that he had the authority of Mr. Parnell for conveying this belief, that such a proposal, if accepted, would render the Land Bill, I think, completely acceptable, or something of that kind. I told my hon. Friend I would make the proposal known to my Colleagues, which I did. We could not accept it, and it fell to the ground. That is the meaning of the words "this time." He wishes to distinguish between what he did last year in the name of Mr. Parnell and his own action on this occasion.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one Question? When he and the Cabinet came to the decision that the three Members could no longer be kept in prison on account of reasonable suspicion, were they then in possession of the conversation between the hon. Member for Clare and the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, in which it was stated that he had such control over Mr. Sheridan, who had instigated riot in the West of Ireland, that if released he could induce him to put down the outrages?
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
I wish to ask whether, on the 13th of April, when the revision of the cases of the "suspects" was submitted to the Lord Lieutenant, His Excellency had 833 reason to believe that the Government shared the opinion expressed by the Attorney General for Ireland on the 16th of February, that Mr. Parnell was steeped to the lips in treason?
It would be rather difficult for me to say what the opinion of the Lord Lieutenant was on the 13th of April when he revised the list, without communicating with him. This revision was not made by the Executive Government here, but by the Executive Government in Ireland. I can state this, which I think is a substantial answer to the Question, that I am not aware that on the 13th of April I, or any other person connected with the Government, had received any new evidence or information whatever as to the views of the hon. Member for the City of Cork with regard to the maintenance of peace and order in Ireland.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I beg to ask whether it is in accordance with official usage for a right hon. Gentleman who has left the Cabinet to read to the House a precis of a private communication without the consent of his Colleagues; and whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had the consent of his late Colleagues to read, as he did last night, the precis of the conversation with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Clare?
I wish to know whether the Cabinet, at the time it was resolved to release the prisoners, had in their possession any letter whatever from the hon. Member for Clare?
Certainly, Sir; and I should have thought that the hon. Member was in possession of the facts. It was, perhaps, the most important part of the evidence we had as to what we believed was the state of mind of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. In reply to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), there was no communication whatever between my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford and myself as to his reading of that precis. I am not aware of any official usage on the subject, and I am not aware that I should have been entitled to give my right hon. Friend permission to read it. He acted upon his own responsibility, and I do not think I have any right or title to pass judgment upon the correctness or incorrectness of his proceeding in the matter, further 834 than that which may be passed by any Members of the Government, and by every Member of the House at large.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
It will be necessary for me to make one remark. The memorandum of the conversation with the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) I kept as a confidential document, except that I communicated it to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and afterwards to my Colleagues. I should never have thought of reading it to this House had it not been for the statement of the hon. Member for Clare. When he referred to what had happened and alluded to a conversation with me, I thought it absolutely necessary to read that memorandum in order that the truth should be known, and also for the protection of my own honour, so that I should not appear to have acted an inconsistent, and what would, therefore, have been a discreditable part. I must remind the House that in doing so I simply alluded to a conversation with myself, and gave no information with regard to the action of other persons.
§ MR. O'SHEA
Under the circumstances, I can only say that the gloss put on the conversation I had with the right hon. Member by him last night did not convey to the House an accurate view of that conversation. I think the right hon. Member, who knew perfectly well that I had no information at all as to the organization of the Land League, must have known that I could have had no knowlege whatever with regard to Mr. Sheridan.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now entering upon matters of debate which it is not competent for him to do.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that the fact that the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) had been cut short in his observations was an additional reason why he should take a course which he was very reluctant to take, but which the singular position in which they found themselves rendered absolutely imperative. The House had been left in so astonished a state of mind last night by the revelations that dropped out one by one in the course of the evening, and the Prime Minister had said so little that afternoon in answer to the many questions put to him, that he thought it was absolutely necessary that some course should be taken which would give the Government a more ample opportunity 835 of explaining their conduct, and which would give them on that side of the House a more ample opportunity of criticizing it. Therefore, he should conclude the very few remarks he had to make by moving the adjournment of the House. What was the situation? When the Prime Minister announced to an astonished House the sudden reversal of the Government policy, he went out of his way to state that there was nothing in the nature of a compact or an agreement between the Government and the Gentlemen whom they had been, up to that time, confining in prison without trial. No one would have suspected or conjectured anything in the nature of an agreement, if it had not been for the extraordinary insistance with which the Prime Minister repudiated the very possibility of an idea that any such a thing had taken place. It would be within the recollection of all that when the Government had been accused, more or less informally, of having entered into such a compact, they had volunteered no information which would enable the House to form a judgment on the question. Last night, however, a lurid light was thrown upon the transaction by the sudden revelation of letters which their authors certainly never expected when they wrote them would become public. At 5 o'clock they had one revelation, which was supplemented at 1 o'clock in the morning by another even more startling in its character. Now the House seemed to have a tolerably clear notion of what had passed. And what was it? The Government and the Prime Minister persisted in reiterating the assertion that there had been no treaty or agreement. It appeared to him that this was very much a matter of words. He recollected that in a comedy of Molière's the hero declared that he had not sold his goods, but had only given them to a friend, who had, in exchange, given him some money. There was no sale; there had only been a free exchange of gifts. In the same way, the Government had not, indeed, entered into a compact with hon. Gentlemen behind him; they had only given those hon. Gentlemen something they very much desired, and the hon. Gentlemen, on their part, had given the Government something they very much desired. Each 836 party, before the transaction took place, knew perfectly well what they were going to give, and what they expected to receive. The Government were going to give the hon. Gentlemen their liberty and a Bill with regard to arrears. The hon. Gentlemen were going to give the Government peace in Ireland and support in Parliament. However that transaction might be disguised by words, there was no doubt whatever that it was a compact. There was no doubt whatever that the late Chief Secretary for Ireland looked upon it in that light, and it was largely because he looked upon it in that light that he felt himself compelled to resign his Office. He had felt that by entering into this treaty he might, indeed, gain for his Party a short Parliamentary support, and he might gain for Ireland a short interval from outrages, but that, practically, by asking the organization which had produced the outrages to cause them to stop, he was weakening the power of this Government and of every successive Government to deal successfully with Irish disloyalty and Irish disaffection. He did not believe that any such transaction could be quoted from the annals of our political or Parliamentary history. It stood alone—he did not wish to use strong language, but he was going to say—it stood alone in its infamy. If anything could add a darker touch to the picture, that darker touch had been added by the Home Secretary. Only three or four days before the Government concluded this Treaty of Kilmainham, the right hon. and learned Gentleman went down to his own constituency, and, at a public meeting at Derby, drew down the cheers of the assemblage by accusing the Conservative Party of having entered into a league with the Home Rulers, and this while he, or the Government of which he was a Member, was actually in the process of negotiating the treaty, the full particulars of which had only been revealed to the House last night and that morning. It seemed to him that the full consequences of these revelations were complicated and far-reaching, and must shake for ever their confidence in the statements of the Government. That they had been verbally accurate he was not going to dispute; but he was perfectly certain that if they had been verbally accurate 837 they had been substantially misleading. He believed that the Executive Government of this country had been degraded by treating on equal terms with men in whose guilt they so fervently believed that they felt themselves justified in imprisoning them for months without trial, by negotiating with men whom they had asserted to be steeped to the lips in treason, by negotiating with men who had used their organization for purposes adequately to characterize which the vocabulary of the Government had up till the preceding week proved scarcely equal. The Executive was degraded by negotiations with these men, and its power for good was, if not entirely destroyed, yet weakened, not only then, but for years to come. The agitators in Ireland would henceforth have the conviction that, by holding out to the Government alternatively the threat that they would promote outrage and the promise that they would stop outrage, they would be able to exact from the Government whatever legislative measures they might wish to see put upon the Statute Book. Hon. Members behind him had succeeded in coercing their own country by a mixture of threats and promises, and they had now succeeded in coercing the Government by similar means, and he believed that it would be long before the Irish Executive freed itself from the stain which, in a moment of rashness, the Government had put upon them. They had negotiated with treason; they had negotiated in secret; and, almost worse than all, it appeared that one of the things the Government had, in their own words, reasonable grounds for believing they would obtain by letting out of prison the men whom they had put in for the gravest crime—one of the things the Government expected to gain was their Parliamentary support. Transactions of that kind, in his opinion, deserved and required the fullest and most minute discussion in that House, the most ample explanations from the Government, and the freest criticism from the Opposition. He begged to move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
Sir, I cannot help congratulating the hon. Gentleman on the height to which he has at length 838 wound up his Parliamentary courage; and I will first endeavour to deal with the most logical portions of his speech, commencing with that witty and recondite reference to Moliére. He says there was a substantial compact between the Government and the hon. Member for the City of Cork; and he has not the slightest hesitation in flatly giving the lie to a body of Gentlemen who are as well entitled to be believed, and who, having grown grey in the service of their country, feel it but a light matter, as far as their character or reputation is concerned, that these rash accusations should be hurled against them from such a quarter. The speech of the hon. Member is not a mere baseless dream, conjured up by the strength of Party passions on the emptiest and most frivolous materials; it contains, at least, this one statement, that because in Moliére there was a man who, having sold goods and received a price, pretended that he had made a present of goods and received a present in return, the position of the Government is analogous to that. I am glad to see that a right hon. Gentleman, a late Minister of the Crown, knows so much of political life, that he thinks it wise and discreet not to agree to that. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) goes on to prove his point in this way. I am going to bring it to the test of fact. He says the substance of his complaint is this—that the hon. Member for the City of Cork was to get his release, and he was also to get legislation as to arrears in Ireland. The consideration the hon. Member was to have was twofold, for the Government was to obtain through him peace in Ireland, and they were to obtain Parliamentary support; and all this was known and understood beforehand. Is that a fair statement of the hon. Gentleman's charge? [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: It is. Sir.] Then I say there is not one word of truth in it from beginning to end. I say, Sir, that the hon. Member for the City of Cork, so far as the Government know, never knew he was to be released until he was released; and I defy the hon. Member for Hertford, and I defy those who may feel with him, including a late Minister of the Crown, to bring a shred of evidence to disprove what I say. [A laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John Mowbray) laughs at me; 839 but I must point out that this is the whole essence of the charge. The man of Moliére—the model man of the hon. Member for Hertford—understood perfectly well when he gave his goods that he was to get something in return; but I wish to point out that the very things the hon. Member says the hon. Member for the City of Cork and the Government knew, neither the Government knew, on their side, nor the hon. Member for the City of Cork, on his side. My first statement, then, is that the hon. Member for Hertford is bound, after making these charges, to go through with them. He has no right to make these charges and then recede from them. He declares that the hon. Member for the City of Cork knew that the Government were going to release him. I call upon him to prove it. I deny it. He did not know—he had not one shred or tittle of knowledge about his release until he was released. What else did the hon. Member for the City of Cork know beforehand? According to the cool assumption of the hon. Member for Hertford, he knew there was to be legislation on the arrears in the sense he desired. Again I meet the hon. Member for Hertford with a flat denial. The hon. Member for the City of Cork knew nothing of the kind; the Government had decided nothing of the kind; and I affirm that when the hon. Member was released from prison he knew absolutely nothing of the intentions of the Government with respect to arrears, unless it was what he had gathered from the speech made by me in the House of Commons, which expressly and absolutely reserved freedom to the Government to judge and decide for itself between the two methods of proceeding as to arrears—the method which the hon. Member for the City of Cork had approved of, and the method which he had rejected and condemned. Well, Sir, so much for what the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork knew on his side. Now I come to what we knew on our side. But permit me to say that if we did know upon our side what the hon. Member for Hertford said, that does not mend the position of the hon. Gentleman—not one bit; because everything depends upon the reciprocal knowledge. The knowledge of the man in Molière that somebody was going to give him something would not make a corrupt 840 compact. It was his knowledge that he was going to give the other man something in return, and was going to represent it as a gift, that made it a corrupt compact. Now, Sir, what did we know? The hon. Gentleman says we knew there was to be peace in Ireland brought about through the Member for the City of Cork. Sir, I would to God I had known it. I certainly, if I had known it, would have gone a long way in consequence of it. I set a value upon peace in Ireland very different from that which is set upon it by the hon. Member for Hertford, who seems to treat all expectations relating to it as simply matter to be used in making out a charge of guilt against his adversaries. The hon. Member says that we reckoned upon Parliamentary support—that we had reason to reckon upon Parliamentary support. Sir, as the hon. Gentleman has said this, I will read a few lines which were written by me upon first receiving the letter that was read last night, and I think I have a right to read my own words. They were written upon the spur of the moment, and were addressed to my right hon. Friend the late Chief Secretary for Ireland. After discussing the subject of the letter of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, of which I took a view entirely different from that of my right hon. Friend, I went on to use these words—He—that is, Mr. Parnell—then proceeds to throw in his indication or promise of future co-operation with the Liberal Party. This is a proffer which we have no right to expect, and which I rather think we have no right at present to accept.Now, Sir, I ask the hon. Member what he thinks?
It was written within half-an-hour of my first perusal of the letter from the hon. Member for the City of Cork to the hon. Member for Clare, that letter from the hon. Member for the City of Cork, being dated on Saturday, being received by me on Sunday afternoon, and I immediately, writing thus upon it where I was in the country, and, of course, without any opportunity of consultation with anybody. So much for the corrupt expectation of Parliamentary support from the hon. Member for the City of Cork which governed my conduct in regard to the release of the 841 "suspects;" and, with regard to peace in Ireland, why, Sir, of course, for me it was a happy thought—it was an agreeable disclosure that it was probable any influences which I thought had been used in an opposite sense before were likely to be used in the cause of right and justice, of law and order, of peace and security, and I am not ashamed of it. Now, I have gone through the statements of the hon. Gentleman, and I challenge him to show that I am in the slightest degree inaccurate when I affirm that from the Government the hon. Member for the City of Cork had not the slightest knowledge on either of the subjects before he was released upon which the hon. Member for Hertford makes bold to say that the hon. Member for the City of Cork was perfectly informed. But that is not all. I have yet got to deal with the other portion of the speech of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman is, indeed, in a deplorable predicament. What is the position in which he stands? He has got before him a Government whom he charges with infamy. The thin disguise which he casts over the word does not for a moment avail to conceal its true character. He has got a Government tainted, in his view, with infamy. He has got a Government which makes statements verbally correct, but substantially incorrect—that is to say, which delivers falsehoods in this House; and he has got a Government which has "degraded the Executive." Under these circumstances, what does he think is required of him by his duty? He says that this infamy and this degradation and this falsehood requires the careful criticism and the adjournment of the House. That is the height to which the hon. Gentleman has raised himself to-day. That is the height to which a late Minister of the Crown has raised himself to-day. As to the late Minister of the Crown, what is his state as to courage? Let him lay on the Table a charge against the Government. I say those who make those charges are bound to carry them to an issue. The hon. Member for Hertford has come out of the field, and he has been cheered by the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross). Let him remain in the position he has assumed. Let him prove his charges. Let him sustain them, or else with honour let him abandon them and 842 express his regret. But then, Sir, do not let him resort to the most miserable of all courses, and say, "We have a Government tainted with infamy—a Government tainted with falsehood—a Government that has degraded the character of the Executive; and I really feel myself obliged to claim the power of discussing and criticising such conduct, and to show my indignation on behalf of fundamental principles of public morality and public honour, by moving the adjournment of the House." I ask the hon. Gentleman whether it is desirable that charges of this kind are to be made and not to be sustained? I say this, in conclusion—if they are so made, and are not sustained, they are disgraceful to those only who make them.
§ MR. GIBSON
Sir, the Prime Minister has asked the House of Commons and the country, in the face of facts and incidents which have now been disclosed, without any thanks to him, to accept as a sufficient answer the language of bold, passionate, and inflammatory denial, and has asked us to believe that the two high contracting parties to this transaction have minds of Arcadian simplicity. I am bound to say, Sir, that the present knowledge of the country is such as is not to be put aside by indignation and passion, or even by ridicule; and I think we had a right to expect that at this stage of the transaction a complete frankness would have been exhibited. The stages by which this business has culminated in our present state of knowledge are certainly to the last degree peculiar. On a Tuesday, which I think the House will not readily forget, the Prime Minister came down to the House, and, without Notice, at 5 o'clock, made a statement which had not a single vestige of an intimation for the country or the House of this transaction which had occurred at Kilmainham—not a syllable. On the contrary, the only thing there was to warn the House and to arouse its suspicion was the fact that the Prime Minister, without being charged, and before he was charged on the matter, went out of his way to deny that there had been any arrangement. But, on the following Thursday, the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) made his explanation to the House, which the Prime Minister acknowledged was given with a reserve which did him credit. On that occasion 843 did the Prime Minister avail himself of the opportunity then obviously before him to make anything like that full and complete statement which the House had a right to expect? On the contrary, the House knows the varied and halting phrases by which it was taken into, not full but partial, confidence as to the facts. The House were first told that the Government had information—we were not told what kind of information, or the tendency of the information. Further, we were told that that information put the Government in a position of knowing the state of mind of the hon. Members recently confined in Kilmainham. And, thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to make a reference to the arrangement—of course "arrangement" is a term that is denied—relative to a Bill to be introduced on a certain basis. The disclosures of that Thursday were enough to make the House and the country anxious, uneasy, and alarmed. They were not complete. Questions were afterwards asked in the House by hon. Members from day to day, and the answers given by the Prime Minister were eminently calculated to suggest to the country that there was a something—whether it was to be called an arrangement, a transaction, or whatever it was—a something which the Government did not feel at liberty to take us into their confidence upon. I do not think that the hon. Member for the City of Cork has much reason to be grateful to the Prime Minister for his replies; but, unquestionably, those replies conveyed to the mind of the country that there was a something which the Prime Minister did not feel inclined to disclose. Last night the matter took a further development, but without the slightest thanks to the can-dour and frankness of the Government. Now I put this proposition. If this transaction was what the English people love—a fair, honest, above-board transaction, with nothing clandestine or secret about it, why was it kept back and not put forward? Why did the Government leave it to dribble out in partial statements and uncertain information, unless they felt that there was something to be ashamed of, something they preferred to keep in? The letter of the hon. Member for the City of Cork was not mentioned. That letter was read in the presence of the Government. I have a 844 right to notice the fact. I do not characterize the passage that was not read or not disclosed. I might use strong language about that. All I say as to that letter is, that the Prime Minister has stated in the last five minutes that it was the principal evidence on which the Government acted; and they all, from the Prime Minister down to the most subordinate official, allowed it to be read to the House with that passage omitted, although the Prime Minister, when he first read the letter, thought this passage so remarkable as to require from him a special note in a letter to the Chief Secretary. I pass no judgment upon that; but I have heard it suggested in the Liberal ranks and I have read in Liberal organs that the right hon. Member for Bradford is to blame because he insisted upon having out the truth, the whole truth—the letter, and the whole letter. I put this question to the House of Commons—Would any man in this House dare to stand up in his place and to say that the right hon. Member for Bradford could, as a gentleman and a man of honour, when he knew that the letter had not been read completely to the House, have allowed the House to remain under the erroneous impression that it had been read? I make that challenge very broadly and distinctly. These things are talked of out-of-doors. Some of the Liberal Press make these charges against the right hon. Member for Bradford. Is there in the House a solitary Member, Radical or Liberal, who dare rise in his place and say that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) was not bound, as a gentleman and a man of honour, to insist on the reading of the entire letter? You are silent; you whisper in the Lobby, and you talk outside. There is not a man of you, whether on the Liberal or the Radical Benches, that dares to rise and suggest that the right hon. Gentleman was not bound, as a man of honour, to demand that this letter should be read in its integrity. Now, what is this letter? Is it an important and vital step in this negotiation? Is it a protocol; is it a despatch sent by an engaging and attractive ambassador, who had the usual diplomatic direction as to leaving a copy with the other party, and making any further explanation that might be demanded? Now, I at once criticize this letter—I am 845 not a bit frightened by the Prime Minister—I criticize it as I would criticize it before any assembly in this Empire; and, unless I was addressing a body of men of the simplest and most innocent minds, I should venture to say there is not a single man in the community who would have a doubt as to the meaning which I venture to put upon it. Is it not obvious that these words disclose three considerations which were to move from the Government, and two that were to move from the hon. Member for the City of Cork? We are dealing with very shrewd, capable men—not with simpletons. There are many ways of conveying your meaning besides express writing; and I say that it is most obvious that the idea at the bottom of the mind of both parties was that release would follow the carrying out of this transaction. Surely that is a statement so obvious that no one talking outside in the street, where they can presume to talk common sense, would gainsay it. No one can for a moment think that the man who wrote that letter, if it was entertained by the Government, would be kept in custody 24 hours afterwards. Why, the terms of the letter demonstrate the absurdity of any such suggestion, because it says that the hon. Member for the City of Cork intimated that in a certain contingency "the strenuous and unremitting exertions" of himself and his friends were to be applied in a particular direction if certain things happened. How were the strenuous and unremitting exertions of the hon. Member for the City of Cork to be so applied unless he was out of gaol? Now, I say that the release was not mentioned there because it was too obvious to be stated. The understanding as to that release underlay the whole transaction. Of course, the hon. Member for the City of Cork could not stipulate for it. If he did, his influence in Ireland would have gone in a moment. The Government, again, could not do so, because it would not bear the simplest investigation. What was the next step in the consideration that was to move from the Government? Of course it was not admitted, because it was not their practice to admit anything. It was the Arrears Bill. Surely there is no man, I care not how extreme a partizan, who can question for a moment that there was to be an Arrears Bill on a certain basis.
§ MR. GIBSON
I am dealing with the letter at present. The hon. Member for the City of Cork intimated in the clearest possible way that he considered the passing of an Arrears Bill a sine quâ non; and the Prime Minister put that with the greatest possible clearness, when he said that the hon. Member for the City of Cork mentioned it as being absolutely indispensable in his view that the question of arrears should be settled on a certain basis. That was the second element of the consideration from the Government. [Murmurs.] Really, when I have plain facts to go upon, when I have got a letter on which I can put a plain meaning, and again when we have the Bill introduced last night, following if not word for word, at all events in clear meaning, the Bill of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Redmond), I must insist on my right to put a plain meaning on a plain transaction. Now, what was the last element of the consideration from the Government? It was vague, uncertain, but hopeful—namely, that possibly at the end of the Session, if things went well, if the Land Question was settled and set at rest—and now the suppressed passage of the letter comes in—if the Liberal Party were aided by the Land League Party in carrying out Liberal measures, then, at the end of the Session, the Coercion Act might be allowed to lapse. That was a contingent consideration that was offered by the Government to the hon. Member for the City of Cork. Now, what was the consideration on the other side? It is impossible almost to use words properly to characterize the transaction. The Government were about to release those men who, up to the moment of their release, were confined under warrants charging them with treasonable practices and with intimidation, and they were to use them as part of the police of the country—in other words, that the Government were to have as their consideration the co-operation of the hon. Member for the City of Cork in the government of the country. The other consideration, Sir, was the assistance which was to be given in the carriage of Liberal measures. I am not at all a suspicious man; but I think that the passage read by the Prime Minister to-day from his own letter relative to this 847 omitted provision was a curious passage, and I am sure that the high-contracting parties to that document considered it an injudious paragraph. The hon. Member for the City of Cork appears to have thought it proper that no general reference should be made to his release; the Prime Minister also, being a man of experience, considered that the matter of the promised support of Liberal measures had been indiscreetly introduced into the letter, and preferred to make a secret memorandum, in a letter to his Colleague, to the effect that, although at present it might be premature, yet there might be some hope held out for the future, and so forth; the meaning of the whole thing being this—I do not wish to appear as a party to a transaction with the appearance of bargaining for political support. Now, I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-day. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman had a right to be indulged in the use of all his great powers; but when he condescended to the employment of argument, it came to this—that neither party had anything which he had a right to christen knowledge; that the Prime Minister had no knowledge, and the hon. Member for the City of Cork had no knowledge. The meaning of the word knowledge is veiled in obscurity. I do not say they had knowledge; but I do say that each of them—to use the words of a recent Statute—had a "reasonable suspicion;" that the Prime Minister was reasonably suspected by the hon. Member for the City of Cork of certain intentions, and the hon. Member for the City of Cork was also reasonably suspected by the Prime Minister. But the matter does not rest with the letter; there was that memorandum which was read last night, which now goes forth to the country, without one particle of observation or explanation from the Government.
§ MR. GIBSON
Last night, I say, the right hon. Member for Bradford read to the House that memorandum, a painful and serious memorandum, suggestive of grave and very painful reflections to any man who understands public life in this country. The Prime Minister spoke afterwards, and the importance of his intervention was this—that, being on his legs last night, and having the opportunity of giving some explanation, the 848 Prime Minister resumed his seat, leaving that document to go forth as an admitted document, coloured as it was by the statement of the right hon. Genleman the Member for Bradford. The Prime Minister has intimated that he was not answerable for that document; but he knew that the statement had been made, he even thought it necessary to put down upon paper a repudiation of the passage in the letter which accompanied it; but did he think it necessary to save his Cabinet from the charge that it had entered into an alliance against outrages with those very persons who had caused the outrages to be committed? That document is a grave and serious record of a conversation practically admitted. ["No, no!"] Well, I prefer taking the events of last night. The only word which the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) then challenged in that document was the word "organization," which he substituted for the word "conspiracy." The hon. Member for Clare complained in general terms of a gloss being put on his words; but that is the only verbal correction he has made, after having had the opportunity of reading the whole statement in the paper. [Mr. HEALY: He has not spoken yet.] I am much obliged to the hon. Member, and I hope he will rise by-and-bye, and explain the whole circumstances. I must make this observation, and say that I think this memorandum contains a clear statement, which is of the greatest importance to the country, that a conspiracy which has been used to get up "Boycotting" and outrages will now be used to put them down. I should like to know what is the opinion of the Government with respect to this damning statement? What was the opinion of the Cabinet on this memorandum? Can it be said that they had no particulars? They must have had before them the words read by the right hon. Member for Bradford in all their directness and completeness. They had those words and nothing else, that we know of. Did it not enter into the minds of the Cabinet that they would hold no such terms as these? That is, indeed, a serious matter; and I should be glad that whoever speaks should indicate his views of this conversation, and should give something more than a silent repudiation to the statement that they mean to rule the 849 country by means of the organization which got up "Boycotting" and outrages. The hon. Member for the City of Cork also used words in his calm speech which will attract the attention of the country. He mentioned the man Sheridan, a man who has eluded the vigilance of the police, and who was to be used in quieting the people of Ireland. I admit the hon. Member for Clare may not be acquainted with the antecedents of Mr. Sheridan; but the Government could not plead that, because they knew of him from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford. The hon. Member for the City of Cork also introduced two new names, those of Egan and Davitt. Have the Government considered Egan's case? Is there any intention of his coming back to this country? Was Davitt's name suggested before the release of the "suspects" was agreed to? Was it mentioned to the hon. Member for Clare, and by him to the Government? Assuming that to be correct, surely it is impossible that the hon. Member for Clare should have forgotten it; and if he did not forget it, he must have told it, and if he told it, the Ministry must have known of it. We are entitled to know exactly the position of Davitt's name in this transaction. This is not an agreeable incident; and I should like to know whether, if the late Lord Beaconsfield had been alive, who for many a day ran the gauntlet of unmeasured vituperation from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister—
I think, Sir, if the right hon. Gentleman refers to me in using the words "unmeasured vituperation," I may recall his attention to the fact that that charge was made against me in "another place," about three years ago, that I invited a selection of passages in which this unmeasured abuse had been used by me; but, though investigation and citations were promised, no passage was ever produced, and no reference ever made to the subject again.
§ MR. GIBSON
I think I am entitled, at all events, to say—[Cries of "Withdraw!" and "No!"] I am quite willing to accept the expressions of the right hon. Gentleman, and I at once withdraw the expression; but, unquestionably, I think I am entitled to say this—that all through his public career the Prime 850 Minister never shrank from the most strong and severe criticism; and, that if Lord Beaconsfield had been a party to a transaction of this kind, there is no language of unsparing and scathing denunciation which would not have been applied to him. The Home Secretary, at Derby, made a jubilant and pleasant speech, taunting the Conservatives with having an understanding with the Home Rulers, because they regarded some questions from points of view which enabled them both to act against the Government. But neither side for a moment suggested that they regarded those questions from the same point of view, but that, regarding them from their own point of view, they independently arrived at the conclusion to oppose the Government. I should like to know, if the Conservative Party, as at present constituted, had entered into a transaction of this kind, what adjectives the Home Secretary would have abstained from using? Would he have gone back to his old habit of using powerful and eloquent epigrams against the Party opposed to him? I regret this incident. [A laugh.] Yes, I regret it from my heart, because I know its danger in Ireland. How can you expect the people of that country—I am not talking of any particular Government—to respect the Queen's Government, to respect the Executive, if it has been a party to such a transaction? Is it not an admission of pitiable weakness? Is it not an admission that the Government practically are willing to confederate with anyone for the advancement of their purposes? The right hon. Member for Bradford, in his first explanation with regard to his resignation, used words which ought never to be forgotten. He said, in effect, that this incident and the circumstances under which it took place have led to the weakening of respect for the law in Ireland, and may tend to the paralysis of authority. I do sincerely hope that no bad results may ensue from this. I do not know how far the Kilmainham compact may be in existence, or whether it be broken in consequence of being known; but I hope the Government, as far as can be, will act upon their own responsiblity, and govern, as the Queen's Executive is bound to govern, by the laws placed at their disposal and the great powers with which the Constitution surrounds and is ready to inforce those laws.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) has charged Her Majesty's Government with conduct to which he applies the word "infamous." Well, the hon. Member charges men who, I will venture to say, are men of honour equal to himself, with conduct to which he applied that language, and he applies it on the ground of the correspondence which has been the subject of discussion in this House. The hon. Member for Hertford ought to know something on the subject of secret memoranda. He has been brought up and learned in a political school of secret correspondence. He has served in a Government which has signed secret memoranda; and when these were published, and the Government were charged with what they had done, they said they were not authentic. The present Government of the Queen is incapable of conduct like that. If words like "infamous" are to be applied between one Party and another—a proceeding which is not one of good example—I think the hon. Member for Hertford had better look nearer home; but, in the meanwhile, I take upon myself to say that the hon. Member has used that language in the presence of this House, which is a House of English Gentlemen, and if he thinks he is capable of maintaining or sustaining such a charge, let him take the opinion of this society of English Gentlemen upon it. ["Oh, oh!"] Do hon. Members opposite think that, whatever may be the ties of Party, that a body of English Gentleman would support a Government of infamy or of dishonour? Therefore, I say to the hon. Member for Hertford, he has no right to use such language, unless he is prepared to bring it to the test; and if he is not, I will tell the hon. Member for Hertford that I treat that language with the contempt it deserves. ["Oh!"] That is my answer to men who make insolent charges which they know they are incapable of sustaining. That is my answer to the hon. Member for Hertford. Now I turn from the hon. Member for Hertford's language, which is mere loose empty abuse, to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), who, at least, condescended to give some reasons for his language. What is it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman charges the Govern- 852 ment with? He says they ought to have made a franker explanation. What is the franker explanation he desires? Her Majesty's Government are charged with two things, as I understand—first of all, with having released the "suspects" at all; and, secondly, with not having given, as fully as the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks they should, the reasons which actuated them in so doing. As regards the release of the "suspects," my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has placed that matter on the footing upon which he and his Colleagues always regarded it. The "suspects" were placed in prison because it was considered their being at large was dangerous to the peace of the country. Then the Government had to consider whether that danger continued to exist, or whether anything had occurred which had removed that danger; and if the Government were convinced, upon what they considered to be credible evidence, that that danger was from any cause removed, not only were they justified, but they were bound in honour to release the "suspects." That is the clear situation. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) stated, when we were charged with want of frankness, that information had come to his knowledge that the circumstances were such that the "suspects" might be released with safety. It was not incumbent on the Government—it would have hardly been within their right—to state that information, so long as the person who had given that information, and those who were authors of that information, were ready and willing to state it themselves. That seems to me to be a clear proposition also. The Government were bound to be satisfied in their own minds. But then it is said, "You ought never to have entered into this matter at all; you ought never to have allowed communications between the Member for the City of Cork and yourselves." Is that the charge against us? Is that the character of the charge? Were we to have received no information as to the views and state of the mind of the persons in prison, and were we not to act upon that information, if it appeared satisfactory? Those who say, "You ought not to have held any communication with those Gentlemen at all with the view to their release," are not attacking us only; they are attacking the right hon. Gentleman the Mem- 853 ber for Bradford. I am sure my right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) will acknowledge that what I am stating is perfectly correct. Day after day, and week after week, he was releasing "suspects" from prison. Why did my right hon. Friend release them. Why did he imprison them? He imprisoned them because he thought their being at large was to the detriment of the safety of the country. That was his opinion. Why, then, did the Government release them? Because they had come to the conclusion that that state of things no longer existed. How did they come to that conclusion? Was it by communication with the imprisoned Members? I believe—I ought not, perhaps, to state it, but I think I am stating nothing that is incorrect—that my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government frequently arrived at that knowledge without communication with them, but from the opinion he had formed of their relation to the country. But I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford would state, that if any "suspect" assured him, either personally or through some other party, that he was willing to use his influence in favour of peace and tranquillity in Ireland, he would have released him. I certainly would have been no party to keeping "suspects" in prison, unless I had believed these were the grounds on which he was acting. Why should the same grounds not be applied to the three Members of Parliament who were released? I am sure my right hon. Friend will not say that it is not the case. He does not deny that he was prepared, and that it was proper, to hold communications to ascertain the views of these Gentlemen for the purpose of determining whether their release could or could not take place consistently with the public peace and safety. If he had not been of that opinion, why was he a party to these conversations and letters? Who blames him for it? Up to the very last moment, there never was any difference of opinion between my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford and his Colleagues. He desired, as we desire, to ascertain whether there was good and solid ground for believing that the release of these Gentleman could be effected consistently with the public security in Ireland. The only point upon which we differed was, that we, his Colleagues, thought the information 854 was sufficient; he thought it was insufficient. There was no imputation as regarded him that this transaction should have taken place; the only difference of opinion was, was there sufficient assurance that the release of these Gentlemen would be attended by the employment of their efforts not for the injury, but for the advantage of the public peace? But my right hon. Friend has already stated to the House what was the first condition upon which he would have released the "suspects." He has told us himself, and I ask my right hon. Friend's attention, as I do not wish to misrepresent him—["Hear, hear!" and laughter]—Gentlemen opposite laugh; they are not to suppose that because Colleagues have separated, their friendship ceases. I know that in some Parties Colleagues cannot separate without animosity, but that is not the case with us. My right hon. Friend and we have parted without any feeling of that description, and, therefore, I am sure he will admit that I am endeavouring accurately to state the case. My right hon. Friend stated, amongst his first conditions, that he would have consented to the release of the "suspects," if he considered they had given a sufficient pledge; and the whole question was, what was a sufficient pledge, and was the one given sufficient? And the whole of this mystery, and of this imputation that we were doing a dishonourable thing, to which my right hon. Friend would never have been a party, is a thing totally without foundation. My right hon. Friend went with us the whole way, endeavouring to ascertain the views of these Gentlemen through this wicked course of dishonourable proceedings that we took, and we parted company simply because out of 14 Gentlemen, one Gentleman thought the assurance not sufficient, and the other 13 thought it was. That is the whole history and all the "infamy" of this wicked and mysterious transaction. But, then, it is said—"How profoundly immoral it is, that you are seeking and desiring to obtain the aid of those men to keep the peace in Ireland." I said the other day, and over and over again, and I will be judged by the country whether it is dishonourable, that in the present state of Ireland we should seek and desire the assistance of every man. [Cries of "Even Mr. Sheridan!"] Yes; 855 I know nothing of Mr. Sheridan. I have not heard of him in my life. But if he is likely, whoever he may be, to be found ranging himself on the side of peace in Ireland, I am very glad to hear of him—I am very glad to hear of any man who has taken any part—whatever part it may have been—in causing disturbance and disorder in Ireland—that he is ready to take part on the side of peace and order, instead of taking the part that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite have taken to-day in endeavouring to inflame the condition of Ireland. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes; talk of a lurid light, as the hon. Member for Hertford and his Friends have done. Why, if such alight exists, it springs from the brimstone of their own making. I should have thought that Conservative statesmen would have desired, at the present time, to have rallied all the force that could be obtained from every quarter to restore peace and tranquillity in Ireland, instead of indulging in these bitter taunts, instead of this desire to drive away from the cause of peace and order every man, and to use every weapon, simply with regard to the consideration of how it may tend to injure their political opponents. I have now endeavoured to state precisely the view the Government took with reference to the release of these "suspects;" and now let us see whether the course that they took was the correct one. So far as the machinery was concerned, my right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. W. E. Forster) was entirely at one with us. What, in fact, occurred? Why, this—that a Gentleman, whom we knew to be in a position of close personal intimacy with the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), said he had strong reason to believe that that hon. Gentleman, so far from desiring to inflame and propagate and continue the existing disorder in Ireland, was perfectly willing to use his influence in favour of peace and order. Had you a right, if you believed that, to keep that hon. Gentleman in prison? I say no, distinctly. If you believed that, you had no such right; and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford agrees with me in that. The only question is, whether we did believe it, and whether we had reasonable ground for so believing. Now, the hon. Member for County Clare (Mr. O'Shea) did undertake that friendly office, and he brought us assurances on 856 the part of these Gentlemen that they were desirous and willing to use such influence as they possessed for the purpose of restoring tranquillity in Ireland. I say, first of all, if that is the case, we had no right to keep them in prison. You did not want any compact of any kind as to the release. There was to be no consideration by any Party. ["Oh, oh!"] I say, without any compact whatever, we were bound, in law and in honour, if we believed that, to release these Gentlemen—[Ironical Opposition cheers]—and I expect to be believed when I say that, on behalf of the Gentlemen who do not cease to be men of honour because they are Ministers of the Crown, that we did entertain that belief, and acted upon that belief, and no man in this House has a right to say otherwise. There is no man who has a right to say that is untrue, and to make charges against the Government on that point. You may charge us with having been credulous, you may charge us with having been imprudent; but when we tell you that, upon the information which we received, we believed that the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his Friends honestly intended to use their efforts in favour of peace in Ireland, I say you have no right to say you discredit that assertion made by men, I will venture to say, and say no more, who are equal to the rest of this House. If that be so, what is the charge brought against the Government now? Why, it was not for my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury to bring out all the private conversations and all the letters that had passed, and which had led the Government to this conclusion. It is all very well to make inflammatory speeches on the subject, and to level charges of dishonourable attempts at concealment in this matter; but all the transactions in life, by which people arrive at conclusions, arise out of private conversations and communications of this kind. Everybody knows that is so. The question we had to arrive at was—Was the liberation of these Gentlemen justified by a bonâ fide statement that they would assist the cause of law and order in Ireland? We were bound to satisfy ourselves on that subject, and we satisfied ourselves as well as we could; and we did desire of the hon. Member for Clare that this course should not be based on mere 857 loose conversation, but that the hon. Member for the City of Cork distinctly should make that statement, as he did make it in the letter which he handed to the hon. Member for Clare, and which was placed before us. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gibson) has asked for a frank and honourable explanation. I have made as frank an explanation as I know how to make it. I confess I have not consciously kept anything back, and I feel nothing of which I am ashamed at all. We had to consider two things—one personally affecting these Gentlemen; and the other affecting the state of Ireland. As to the first, we had to consider whether these Gentlemen were righteously in prison. If they were the enemies of law and order in Ireland, they were, under that Act, righteously in prison; but if they had ceased to have a disposition to be enemies of law and order, and, on the other hand, were disposed to use their exertions to restore law and order in Ireland, then they were not righteously in prison, and the Government were not justified in keeping them there. So far as regards the personal relations of these Gentlemen. But we also, and we do not dispute it for a moment, had in view the general condition of Ireland. And, Sir, unhappy as the condition of Ireland is now, and terrible as is the disaster which has occurred, and which we all deplore, I say it most seriously to hon. Gentlemen opposite, do you believe, that when the dreadful event of last Saturday took place, it was better or worse for Ireland and for England that the "suspects" should be at large, or would it have been better that they should have then been in prison? I would ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, does he think the effect in Ireland would have been better if the "suspects" had been detained in prison? If he does think so, I must say again, with reluctance and distrust, that I am obliged to come to a different conclusion from that at which he has arrived, This is a time, in my opinion, when every man ought to desire, and see no shame in desiring, that the Representatives of the popular Party in Ireland should co-operate with all the forces which are ready to assist in restoring peace and order. Therefore, those taunts which some hon. Members have made seem to me to have only the effect 858 of increasing the evils which we deplore, and I think they ought to be avoided. There is one other point that I have been asked about, and that is the release of Davitt. I again wish to deal quite frankly with the House. Whether the hon. Member for Clare did at any time or not mention that it was very desirable that Davitt should be released, I cannot charge my memory with; but this I know, that the question of the release of Davitt was dealt with as a totally different question from that of the release of the Members of this House—it was dealt with several days subsequently to the cases of the hon. Members, and never was discussed or treated as a part of the same transaction. I am certain upon this matter. There has been some strong commentary upon the memorandum read last night by my right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) of his conversation with the hon. Member for Clare. As regards that, the hon. Member for Clare will have an opportunity of saying what he has to say upon it. Anyhow, it would not be my duty, any more than it is my desire, to criticize in any way anything that my right hon. Friend has done. He is far too good a judge, and has had far more experience in public life than I have had. The only thing I would venture to say is this—that I have always understood that when a memorandum of a private conversation is made, that it is always safer, before it is read in public, to submit it to the other party with whom you have had the conversation, in order to know whether he acknowledges the accuracy of it. I believe that is the universal practice in diplomacy. When one Minister sees another, he writes to his own Government to give his account of a conversation, and, in order that there should be no misapprehension on the subject before it is made public, it is always submitted to the other side to know whether it accurately represents what has occurred. Now, Sir, though I am afraid that in the opening observations which I made I may have indulged in some warmth, which was undue, perhaps, and must be forgiven when Gentlemen who, under circumstances not very easy, are endeavouring to do their duty, are charged with infamy and dishonour, I do not desire to conclude this discussion in any violent or inflammatory language. I feel a great deal too touched with not 859 only the difficulties in which the Government are placed, but the difficulties in which the country is placed, not to recoil from any language which might make things worse than they are. I know the temptations are very great—and I daresay that we may have yielded to them ourselves—to make political capital out of situations like this. I say it in no spirit of deprecation; but I do ask hon. Gentlemen, to whatever Party they belong, to consider whether at this moment, by imputing to the Government such charges as have been made to-day, which are not brought to the test of a division, they are strengthening the hands of the Government itself, or giving a fair chance to England and to Ireland in the present situation? If you think—and I daresay a great many of you may think, and do—that the present Administration are not fit to be intrusted with the conduct of affairs—["Hear, hear!"]—well, that is an opinion that I know you entertain—it is very reasonable you should entertain it; but, then, give effect to that opinion. But above all things, in my opinion, the most unwise is to keep the Government in Office in such a situation as that in which the present Government stands, and at the same time to endeavour to discredit and weaken it. Nothing can tend more to the injury of the country and to the destruction of those institutions which are as dear to you, I know very well, as they are to us. I have endeavoured, as far and as frankly as I can, to tell the whole truth as it is in my mind, and to state all the grounds and reasons on which the Government have acted. We had no hesitation about it. We considered that we had nothing whatever to conceal. We had a fact which we desired to ascertain. It was whether those Gentlemen who have been released from prison would or would not help in restoring peace in Ireland. We satisfied ourselves that they would do what they could in that direction. We thought then that it would be our duty to release them; and, under those circumstances, we thought it would be better for Ireland, and not worse, that they should be at large. That is the ground upon which we have acted. If we are wrong in that, condemn us for it. Condemn us for the error of judgment—of a judgment honestly and deliberately made; but do not let the House be 860 guilty of the injustice of imputing to men, in the position of public danger and difficulty in which we stand, that they have been actuated by intentions and by conduct which is unworthy, not only of English Ministers, but of English Gentlemen.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down (Sir William Harcourt) reminded him of the saying about March—it came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. The vituperation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, when he commenced his speech, as well as that of the Prime Minister, was excessive. In fact, the feebleness of the arguments of both those right hon. Gentleman was only to be judged by the excessive strength of their vituperative language. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had concluded his speech by challenging everybody who presumed to think that in that transaction the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers had not been characterized by prudence, to propose a Vote of Want of Confidence. But that was a resort which he (Lord John Manners) noticed a Government in difficulties was very apt to fly to. If his memory served him rightly, already in the present Session twice had Her Majesty's Government procured, either by themselves or by friendly agency at their back, Votes of Confidence in themselves; and, although those Votes of Confidence waste-fully consumed something like a fortnight or three weeks' valuable time of the Session, the result, so far as the division went, was not, perhaps, highly satisfactory to the Government. Having, however, obtained a majority, they appeared to be very well satisfied with that subdued mark of confidence. He had no doubt the advice of the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be taken into serious consideration. Towards the conclusion of his speech the right hon. and learned Gentleman said he had spoken with perfect frankness. He (Lord John Manners) quite agreed with him. He made no charge whatever against the right hon. and learned Gentleman for want of perfect frankness. So far as he could judge, in the absence of the Papers, which, perhaps, the Prime Minister would allow them to see some day, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had told a plain, unvarnished tale 861 of these mysterious transactions. But I what did the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman prove? It proved, to his (Lord John Manners') mind, that the highly-coloured and indignant contradictions of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister were not sustained by the more cautious statement of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. "How," said the right hon. and learned Gentleman, "could we keep the 'suspects' in prison, if we had reliable information that they were willing, on their part, to become obedient and law-abiding subjects of the Crown; and, more than that, that they were willing to co-operate in the maintenance of peace and order in Ireland?" The right hon. and learned Gentleman said the Government received information to that effect. Well, what was that information? By whom was it conveyed? In what document was it conveyed? It was conveyed in that document which was then public property—that letter of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman, throughout his speech, gave the House to understand that the statement made by the hon. Member for the City of Cork was a plain and simple statement, pledging himself and his Friends to the maintenance of peace and order, without any reference to any terms that were to be exacted by the Government.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I beg pardon. The word "pledge" I quoted for my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, it was quite immaterial. The condition, or understanding, or whatever it might be called, on the part of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, was a simple understanding that he and his Friends were not only to become law-abiding subjects, but were to help materially the Government in the maintenance of law and order. Making no reference whatever to the counter conditions contained in the letter, he would put this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and he thought it was a crucial test. Did he believe that the hon. Member for the City of Cork would ever have consented to come out of Kilmainham on condition that he should support law and order, and to help the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his Colleagues to maintain order in 862 Ireland, unless he bad a distinct understanding on the four points mentioned in his letter? [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: What four points?] The misfortune was that they had not got an official copy of the letter before them; consequently, he could only speak from memory. But he thought that the first matter mentioned in the letter was the question of Arrears; the second, the alteration of the Tenure Clauses; the third, the Purchase Clauses; and the fourth, Leases. The letter containing the information of the admirable intentions of the hon. Member for the City of Cork also contained that on which these admirable intentions were based. Again, he repeated his question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, or to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, whose part in these transactions still remained somewhat of a veiled mystery—Did he believe that the hon. Member for the City of Cork would ever have accepted his release from Kilmainham, and have given a promise to maintain peace and order in Ireland, had it not been for the corresponding conditions stated in the letter? He did not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman read in the newspapers what took place on the other side of the Atlantic; but he might have read a very important speech delivered, not many days ago, by a near relative of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, in which it was stated, most distinctly, that the hon. Member would never have consented to leave Kilmainham but for those conditions which he had secured for the people of Ireland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in his frank and clear statement, had admitted the whole case with reference to these transactions. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would permit him (Lord John Manners) to say that he had, in the course of his observations, made one slight historical mistake. He had said that never in the Parliamentary annals of that country had there been any such infamous transaction. No doubt, no present Member remembered the details connected with the Lichfield House compact of 1835; but there was a great phase of similarity between the Lichfield House compact of 1835 and the Treaty 863 of Kilmainham of 1882. Perhaps the best and fullest account of those mysterious transactions was to be found in the interesting work of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), in his Life of Lord Melbourne. The hon. Member for Finsbury was very favourable indeed to his hero, and he said everything he could to diminish the force of popular opinion against the negotiations which prevailed between the Liberal Party and the Leaders of the Irish popular Party. What he said was this—Without the support of the Irish popular Party it was obvious that no Liberal Ministry could stand.That was a curious historical statement, and he (Lord John Manners) was not prepared to contest its truth. The negotiations went on, and Lord Melbourne and his Colleagues found difficulties in the way of bringing to bear the compact which had been entered into at Lichfield House. The book he had quoted went on to say that—Rumours quickly reached the Palace that the man whom the King had been advised to denounce from the Throne as an incendiary was about to be proposed to him as Attorney General.He (Lord John Manners) had heard no proposals to confer high Office upon the hon. Member for the City of Cork. But then no one had ever accused O'Connell of having committed the crimes and offences which were alleged to be the reason for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had shut up the hon. Member for the City of Cork in prison. The utmost that he was called was an incendiary; yet the feeling in O'Connell's case was so strong in the then Liberal Party, and so much stronger in the country against them, that the negotiations for reconciling the popular Irish Party with the Liberal Party broke down, and that highly respectable Member of Parliament—the prototype of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glamorganshire, who "sat up aloft to look after the soul of poor Jack"—that highly respectable Member, Sir Edward Ellice, was deputed by the Government to go to Mr. O'Connell and explain to him why it was impossible, in the state of public feeling in England, to give him those considerations which he had undoubtedly been led to expect as the result of the Lich-field House compact. The parallel was 864 not exactly accurate; but there were striking features of similarity between that case and the present. There were the attempted concealment, the negotiations, and now the bickerings and the apparent disappointment on one side and. the other. In the present case, the popular feeling was such that Her Majesty's Government were obliged to postpone these four measures by which they hoped to obtain the support of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, and, owing to that state of public feeling, to substitute for them a measure of a totally different character. He did not think it was necessary to pursue this subject further. One word more. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had said that it was their duty to combine—that it was the duty of every class and every shade of opinion to combine—to rally now at the supreme hour to the cause of peace and good government in Ireland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman even went so far as to welcome by name Mr. Sheridan as a co-operator in the good work. On the other hand, he (Lord John Manners) ventured to say that it was impossible to conceive anything more calculated to dismay the loyal and dishearten the courageous, to alienate and disgust the people of England, than this truckling to men, of whose antecedents there could be no doubt, and of whom there could be no reasonable doubt that they were men from whom every Government that respected itself would shrink, and from whom, he should have thought, judging from the impassioned denunciations of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the Attorney General, every Government would wish to shake itself free. He was convinced that when the report of this debate went forth to the country, the explanations, the apologies, and the statements of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Home Department would be read with unfeigned amazement and with bitter regret and shame.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
Sir, this discussion has been a painful one to me, and I should not have thought it necessary to prolong it by any remark of mine, had it not been for one or two words that fell from the Secretary of State for the Home Department. I 865 think his speech was a moderate one, and was well calculated to bring back the House to the important public considerations which have been rather lost sight of in personal matters. At the beginning of his speech, he certainly was rather strong in his statements; but I do not think he was stronger than the House naturally expected, and he was reasonably justified by the charges made by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour), which I think hereafter that hon. Gentleman will regret. The remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to which I refer are some that rather affect my own personal honour. He said, in the most kind and considerate manner, that he expressed a doubt whether I ought to have read the memorandum of the conversation between myself and the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) without having first submitted it to the hon. Member. Undoubtedly, if I had first introduced the subject of that conversation, if I had been the person who had alluded to it, that remark would have applied. For instance, I imagine that I should have been failing in my duty if, when Her Majesty gave me permission to explain the cause of my resignation, I had alluded in terms to a conversation which I reported to the Government. I did not do so, and never should have thought of doing so, and never should have made the slightest allusion to it, if the hon. Member for Clare had not done so himself; but when he had done so, I felt myself bound, with regard to my own honour, to state what I remembered of that conversation; and I thought it would be much better to read a memorandum, which I made instantly after the hon. Member had left, than to attempt to give my own impression of what the conversation had been after several days had elapsed. The hon. Member said I put a gloss upon the conversation. I do not suppose he thought I did so intentionally. But, to the best of my recollection, it is exactly correct; and certainly I made the memorandum under the strongest possible influence in my own mind to give an accurate and exact account to my Colleagues of what had happened. I do not know that I need allude to the question which I put yesterday to the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Par- 866 nell); but I think it will be admitted that I could take no other course. His letter had been given to me to give to the Cabinet; and if I had allowed, it to become as read a public document, when I knew it was not the letter I gave to my late Colleagues, I think I should have been to blame. I could not allow this private letter to become a public document if it was not the actual letter itself. The hon. Member for Clare said, last night, that a day or two after he had written the letter he had seen some Member of the Cabinet, and that something took place which amounted to a withdrawal of a particular part of the letter. I never heard of that interview. If anything took place between the hon. Member for Clare and any Member of the Cabinet as to the withdrawal of the letter, it must have taken place after I left the Cabinet. I have only one or two other remarks to add. My right hon. and learned Friend was perfectly correct in stating the grounds which I had taken with regard to the release of those who were in prison under the Protection Act, and that was that if I thought they could be released with safety they ought to be released; and, in fact, we should have no justification in retaining them. I stated that one of the conditions which applied specially to the hon. Gentlemen was a promise that they would not break the law. I should be very sorry to say anything offensive to these hon. Gentlemen, and I repeat what I said before, that I was willing to take their word; but there was also reason to think that a promise not to break the law would have taken from them the power to break it. My right hon. and learned Friend says that his Colleagues think they had got that promise. I did not. I must demur to his statement, which I am perfectly sure is the most sincere opinion of himself and the Prime Minister and their other Colleagues, that the terms contained in this letter are anything approaching to a promise that the hon. Members would give any assistance towards maintaining order. It was all conditional upon a certain thing. The real difference between me and my Colleagues was this—I thought a mere conditional statement that if the Government did certain things, certain persons would do a certain thing, was only a promise that, in a certain event, they 867 would do it, and was, in fact, to my mind, an aggravation of their offence. I do not know that I should have held that view so strongly if it had not been for my Irish experience; but I was perfectly certain that it would be so regarded in Ireland. Hon. Members talk about confidential communications. Well, these letters were confidential communications; but there was no reason at all why, as between the hon. Member for Cork City and the hon. Member for Clare, everything should not come out. From the beginning, I thought everything would come out, and I therefore had to consider what would be the effect in Ireland. I must repeat—and I trust my own opinion may turn out to be wrong—that the Government, having kept these persons in prison after having reason to believe they had instigated a law-breaking agitation, that they were still doing so, and that the effect of that law-breaking agitation had been the most serious—intimidation followed by outrages—if the Irish people found we had merely let them out on the terms that they would refrain from such a course on the condition that the Government did something, I was of opinion, and am still, that the Irish people would consider that a very great weakening of the Government. It was, no doubt, an honest difference of opinion between me and my late Colleagues; and I do not think that such a difference of opinion is, in the slightest degree, open to the strong charges made, and which I must be allowed to say are not so much calculated to do good in Ireland as they are to be of some advantage to Party contests here. I have no more to say upon the matter. It was not without much consideration that I alluded to the conversation between myself and the hon. Member for Clare; and I should not have done so had it not been that his previous allusion to it made some allusion to it on my part absolutely necessary.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had, on each occasion on which he had addressed the House, made it more and more clear what were the exact circumstances that guided him in his severance from the Government. But there was one matter which had not yet been explained, but which he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) thought ought to be explained 868 before the debate closed. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), with a forgetfulness not at all usual with him, having read a so-called copy of a letter that had been written by him, had omitted to read a paragraph, the importance of which could not be overrated. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) was not going to abuse the hon. Member for the City of Cork, or charge him with wilfully withholding from the House the contents of the letter; but it was singular that so cool and calculating a man as the hon. Member undoubtedly was should have omitted to read the most important sentence in the letter, and then, when called upon for an explanation, should have said he did not keep a copy of the letter, referring, as it did, to a never-to-be-forgotten transaction. He had in that House left out that paragraph deliberately, and left it out for a purpose. ["Oh!"] There must have been some reason for that omission of the paragraph. Rumour sometimes spoke wildly, and must, therefore, be accepted with some degree of hesitation; but the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) could say whether, in the present instance, she spoke truly, as she sometimes did. Would the hon. Member for Clare, too, say whether there was any truth in the rumour that he had shown the letter to the President of the Board of Trade, and that the President of the Board of Trade carefully read the letter through, and suggested that the last paragraph should be omitted from the letter? The explanation was that the letter contained certain conditions, and went on to say that, if those conditions were fulfilled, the hon. Member for the City of Cork and those acting with him would be released in order that they might give their support to the Liberal Party. That was the sentence which was expunged; and had it not been that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had a copy of the letter, the House would have been in absolute ignorance of the last sentence of that letter. When the hon. Member for Cork City read the letter, and the question was raised as to whether there was not something more in the letter, and which something more had not been read, neither the Prime Minister, nor the President of the Board of Trade, nor any other Member of the 869 Government had the manliness or the courage to get up and say that there was a paragraph in the letter to the effect that if certain concessions were made to those in Kilmainham, they would give their support to the Government. But he would go one step further. There was another provision, one relating to Mr. Sheridan, the very man who had been connected with the hon. Gentlemen now sitting in that House in preaching sedition and outrage. ["No!" from the Irish Members.] It had been openly stated by the late Chief Secretary for Ireland that he (Mr. Sheridan) had done so; and yet he was to be one of the persons to assist in conciliating the people of Ireland and in putting down outrage in Ireland as an ally of the Government. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) repeated, that the late Chief Secretary had openly stated that that gentleman was openly preaching sedition and outrage; and yet he and the hon. Member for the City of Cork and the others released from prison were to be the allies of the Government, and that was the accusation those sitting on that (the Conservative) side of the House now made against the Government. But the Secretary of State for the Home Department had asked what would have happened if the "suspects" had been in prison when the atrocious crime of last Saturday week was committed? He would venture, in reply, to ask the question—What good had the release of the "suspects" done towards finding out the murderers who had committed the recent atrocious outrages in Ireland? ["Oh!" from the Irish Members.] It was all very well to cry "Oh!" but they had said they would express throughout Ireland their horror and detestation of the crime; and he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) and those who agreed with him had a right to ask what had they done in accordance with the promises that had been made? Had any one of them gone to Ireland, and had they denounced at every Land League centre the atrocious crime that had been committed? That was what they had promised to do. That promise had not been fulfilled. He would go a step further. Why had the new Coercion Bill been introduced in such a tremendous hurry? And why should the Government be in such a hurry to press the Bill without delay? If the Government knew the state that 870 Ireland was in, they ought not to have released the "suspects" without taking from them some security that the peace of that country would be kept. In introducing his Bill on Thursday the Secretary of State for the Home Department had told them that since the horrible murders of last Saturday week the whole state of Ireland had changed, and that the country was suffering from a cancerous disease which must be extirpated. He wanted to know whether there was any connection between the Land League, the Home Rule Association, the Ribbon Society, and the Fenians; and if there was any bond of union between these various bodies, what that bond of union was? What did they want? Only the other day, in his letter to The Times, the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), before the foul crime of Saturday week was committed, warned the Government that outrages were likely to occur, and spoke of the people who were evicted on the hillside; but he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) wished to ask that hon. Member what more he knew about what had happened, and on what ground the hon. Member had taken upon himself to warn the Government? They had a right to ask that question.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, that the hon. Member would have ample opportunity of answering when he had sat down. He had made no accusation against the hon. Member. ["Oh!"] What he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had stated, he had read in a letter written by the hon. Member for Dungarvan; and what he wished to know was, how he (Mr. O'Donnell) knew that there was danger in Ireland, when peace and tranquillity had been promised? What were the objects and aims of those Gentlemen who now professed that peace and order in Ireland could be restored by their means? Did they want a Parliament on College Green; or did they want separation from this country? [Cries of "No!"] Well, one of their leaders in America pointed out that the ultimate goal of their movements in Ireland was separation from England. Nothing could have been more mischievous, in the light of the late disastrous events, than the recent speech of 871 the Prime Minister, in which he talked of Home Rule. But the English people were determined that, while prepared to do justice to Ireland, and everything that was reasonable, right, and fair, they would at the same time never agree to separation, and with their last man and their last pound they would fight against it, determined to maintain, at all hazards, that Union which had proved so beneficial to all in the past. It had placed them in the high position they now occupied amongst the nations of the world.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Sir, I shall not detain the House at any great length, as it appears to me the discussion has proceeded to a sufficient length; and, further, because I think the conduct of the Government has been clearly and satisfactorily explained by my right hon. Friends who have preceded me. But there are one or two points on which I should like to say a few words, and one is in the speech of the hon. and gallant Baronet who has just sat down (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), upon which I think I ought to correct him. I am almost sorry to take away from him the satisfaction which he always appears to feel when he thinks he has discovered a new fault on the part of the present Government; but I assure him that the rumour to which he attaches so much importance has not the slightest foundation in fact. I did not suggest to the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) that he should withdraw any sentence whatever in a letter not written by him, but by another person; but it is true, as he stated last evening, that he did, in conversation with me, after he had sent the original letter to my right hon. Friend the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. W. E. Forster), and when he was giving me a copy of that letter, say that he thought there was one sentence which might give rise to misapprehension, and which he would wish to withdraw. I must say that I did not pay very much attention to that statement of my hon. Friend, because I could not see what authority he had to withdraw any part of the letter. No doubt, he was on very intimate terms of friendship with the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and I suppose he considered he had authority to make alterations in a letter written by his hon. Friend; but, as I have said, I did not consider the 872 matter of sufficient importance, and it escaped my memory, the result being that I did not mention it to my Colleagues. So far as my Colleagues were concerned, the letter, when it came to them, was as forwarded to my right hon. Friend the late Chief Secretary for Ireland; and when the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex said we were without courage, and asked why we did not immediately check the hon. Member for the City of Cork when he read the letter without that passage, I say that I have no right to speak for my Colleagues, but I imagine it was quite impossible that they should have at the moment recollected the existence of the sentence in a letter of that kind; and certainly, as I said before, I now again say for myself, in the face of the House, that although that was the sentence about which the hon. Member for Clare had spoken to me as that which he desired to have withdrawn from the letter, yet the circumstance made so little impression on me that when the letter was read by the hon. Member for the City of Cork I had not the slightest idea that it was from that letter that any sentence had been withdrawn. My right hon. Friend the late Chief Secretary for Ireland has made a statement, which, I think, is confirmatory, on the whole, of the statement made to the House by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford has pointed out the difference between himself and his Colleagues with respect to this matter, which was that we thought we had a sufficient assurance of the intentions of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, whereas he thought the assurance given was not sufficient. That is the whole point of the difference. ["No, no!"] Surely it is not to be supposed that hon. Gentlemen opposite know better about that point than the Ministers themselves. But my right hon. Friend went on to say that the reason why he did not think this letter, which is now in the possession of the House, was sufficient, was because the letter was conditional. Now, I must say, to my mind, that was hardly a fair statement of what I understand to be the views of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, as they were conveyed to us in this letter, as they were expressed to us in conver- 873 sation with the hon. Member for Clare, and as they were expressed, also, in other communications which were received. In reference to the matter, take the letter as it stands before the House. The hon. Member for the City of Cork wrote—If the Arrears Question be settled upon the lines indicated by us, I have every confidence—a confidence shared by my Colleagues—that the exertions which we should be able to make, strenuously and unremittingly, would be effective in stopping outrages and intimidations of all kinds.That statement is absolutely consistent with everything said to me by the hon. Member for Clare in the conversations I had with him with regard to the opinions of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. I was told again and again, and I have no reason to doubt it, that the hon. Member for the City of Cork, when he was in London, passing through to Kilmainham, had expressed to several hon. Members of this House, and to everybody who was brought into contact with him, his views that the outrages which were going on in Ireland were to be regretted by every patriotic Irishman; that they were, in a large measure, the result of evictions, which evictions were themselves the result of arrears. If the Arrears Question could be settled, and evictions stopped, then it would be possible for him and his Colleagues effectually to do that which they had always been willing to do, but which, up to that time, they could not do effectually—namely, to urge upon all those over whom they had influence that outrages, for which there could be no possible ground of excuse, should cease. The hon. Member was of opinion that, if the Government brought in a Bill which would deal with Arrears effectually, it would be his duty, and the duty of his Friends, to use every possible exertion to point out to the tenantry of Ireland that a fair settlement of their grievances was now offered to them, and to urge on them, in the strongest possible language, that the disorder and the outrages which they had always regretted should be put down. What is the position of the Government? The hon. Member for Cork City, through the hon. Member for the County of Clare, placed us in possession of his mind on this subject. There was no condition whatever made or suggested by the hon. Member for the City of Cork for his own release. It has been said he must have known that would have followed. It is certainly pos- 874 sible that might have been in his mind; but all I know is, that never, throughout any of these conversations, was there anything said indicating on the part of the hon. Member any anxiety whatever as to his own personal position. The statements he made I have already repeated to the House. The Government had had forced on their consideration—I might say months before—that question of Arrears, and it was in their minds that, as soon as time permitted, it should be dealt with. The only difficulty was the way in which it should be dealt with. What is the complaint against us? Is it that we have dealt with it? That could hardly be the case. No; the complaint against us is—that having looked at this matter with the most serious consideration which we could give to it, and having carefully considered alternative plans, we honestly came to the conclusion that the plan proposed by the hon. Member for "New Ross (Mr. Redmond) was the best plan, and we accepted it. But why were we to refuse to consider or adopt a plan proposed by the hon. Member for New Ross, if we thought it was really the best plan? If the settlement of the Arrears Question was, as we believed, absolutely necessary, we were in this position—that we knew that the condition which the hon. Member for the City of Cork had expressed as being in his opinion necessary to the pacification of Ireland would shortly be fulfilled. We knew also that the hon. Member for the City of Cork was under a distinct promise, conveyed by my hon. Friend the Member for the County Clare, to use his best exertions; and he stated also that his Friends and his Colleagues would use their best exertions to induce the tenantry to accept this as a settlement of their grievances in connection with the Land Question. Under these circumstances, it was absolutely impossible for the Government to conclude that the continued imprisonment of the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his Friends was any longer necessary for the security of Ireland. On the contrary, we believed that the release of those prisoners would contribute to the peace of Ireland. We believed it then, and we believe it still. And I, for one, am quite content to rest on the future, and see whether the future action of the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his Colleagues 875 does not justify the opinion we have formed. The noble Lord who spoke earlier upon this question (Lord John Manners) made a statement, which was an absolute contradiction to the statement made by the Prime Minister, and confirmed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The hon. Member for the City of Cork, the noble Lord said, would never have assented to the proposals of the Government without the knowledge that the Government were previously prepared to concede the four points, which the noble Lord proceeded to describe; and from that he concluded and asserted that the Government had pledged themselves to concede four points. That statement was absolutely without foundation. The Government did not pledge themselves to concede four points. They did not pledge themselves to concede any point. The Government came to a perfectly independent conclusion as regarded the settlement of Arrears, not as a concession to the hon. Member for the City of Cork, but on their own judgment, after consideration of the various proposals which had been made. The other three questions were not included in the conditions named by the hon. Member for the City of Cork, conditions precedent, in his mind, to the re-establishment of order in Ireland. The one point to which he attached supreme importance was the question of Arrears. The other three points he considered of great importance, and so do I; and matters which deserve the fullest Parliamentary discussion, and so do I; but no pledge whatever has been given to the hon. Member for the City of Cork, or anybody else, that the Government will deal with those questions, and when the hon. Member was released from prison, he was absolutely unaware whether the Government would deal with any one of the four, or if they dealt with any of the four in what way they would deal with them. There is one other matter of which I wish to speak, and that is that a great deal of importance has been attached naturally to the memorandum of conversation held between the hon. Member for Clare and my right hon. Friend the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, and especially to the words which appear in my right hon. Friend's memorandum of the conversa- 876 tion, to the effect that the hon. Member for the City of Cork had so arranged matters that the conspiracy or organization—for I do not think it matters much which word was used—which had been used in getting up outrages would now be used in putting them down. It was asked what effect that had produced on Members of the Cabinet? I can only speak for myself, and I can only say that I did not attach much importance to it, and for this reason—it appeared to me on the face of things absolutely impossible to suppose that the hon. Member for the City of Cork, who has been described here as a cool, calculating person, and whom we all know to be a Gentleman of great ability, would have committed the supreme folly of saying to anyone that the organization he had always maintained to be a legal and praiseworthy organization was at any time a conspiracy used for getting up outrages. That any man in his senses, let alone a clever man like the hon. Member for the City of Cork, should make an incriminating confession like that seemed to me so absurd, that I confess that even when it came as a report of a conversation with the hon. Member for Clare, I arrived at the conclusion that these might have been the words of the hon. Member for Clare himself—it which case it would have been a matter of small importance. [Laughter.] I believed they were not the words which were ever used by the hon. Member for the City of Cork, which would have been a matter of great importance. Why do I say that if those words had been used by the hon. Member for Clare it would have been a matter of no importance? Because it is perfectly well known to the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Clare, although a personal friend of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, is no follower of his. He is, on the contrary, his political opponent, so far as a great number of proceedings in which the hon. Member for the City of Cork was engaged are concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Clare might possibly call the Land League a conspiracy or organization for getting up outrages. That may be his view of some of the actions taken by the Land League, because it is well known that he has not approved of all their proceedings; but whether he expressed himself in that manner or not seemed to me of slight importance, be- 877 cause he was not a political follower of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. I repeat that it seemed to me absolutely incredible that the hon. Member for the City of Cork, who has always contended that the Land League was a perfectly legal association, should have used the words attributed to him. The position of the Government is this—if information bearing upon the state of mind and the opinions of the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his Colleagues were tendered to the Government, could they have refused that information? Would they have been right to refuse it, considering that the detention of the hon. Member for the City of Cork was purely and solely because he was reasonably suspected of an intention to commit offences? Could the Government refuse any evidence whatever to the effect that he was no longer in a position in which that suspicion would have been reasonable? Could the consideration of that information have been rejected? Could they refuse to receive any evidence with respect to the state of opinion in Ireland? I say not only with regard to this information which was tendered to us by the Representatives of Irish opinion, but with regard to all other information on political affairs in Ireland, we are not only bound to receive it when offered, but it will be our duty, when it is not offered, to seek wherever we can find it. And I cannot help thinking we should have done better in the past if we had sought it more frequently.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he did not rise with any feelings of exasperation to reply to the very strong language of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), who, on that side of the House, represented views, much the same feelings and ideas, as were represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford on the Government side. There was only this particular difference between them—that the right hon. Gentleman had not yet taken his seat by the side of the hon. and gallant Baronet. A question had been addressed to him as to what made him write that letter of warning, and at a time when the right hon. Gentleman, with his usual knowledge, was assuring the House that temporarily, at least, the Irish horizon was clear. He thought that the mere promise of conciliation was not sufficient to remove the deep 878 seeds of exasperation and ill-feeling sown during the year of Office of the late Chief Secretary; but he would frankly own and admit that he never for one moment thought that the terrible blow could possibly fall upon the successor of the right hon. Gentleman. Never for one instant could he imagine that the Irish police could have exhibited such deplorable disorganization as had been manifested by their action in regard to that terrible catastrophe. The right hon. Gentleman himself was guarded by the most trusty agents of the police, and he could not even address a meeting from his hotel window in Tulla-more without the presence of a magistrate on the one side of him and a sub-inspector of police on the other. If the right hon. Gentleman was so thoroughly conscious of his duties, why did he leave Ireland without taking some precautions to protect the valuable life of his successor? And if the right hon. Gentleman was so prophetic—so gifted with superior intelligence, and his superior understanding, why did he not take measures to prevent this horrible crime? The fact of the matter was that, in consequence of the prejudice naturally created by this catastrophe, the right hon. Gentleman posed as a prophet, and that without an atom of justification for it. He had already described him as a mere channel or funnel through which the information of the Irish police was poured into that House. The right hon. Gentleman, in his residence in Ireland, came into the least possible contact with the people, or with true public opinion. Probably there never was a Chief Secretary so little informed, and this was entirely due to his going about protected with swords and rifles. Why did he give the warning? It was because he believed that the Irish police were trained to suppress public opinion rather than crime, and were, therefore, powerless to prevent outrages. Unfortunately, his conception of the Irish situation proved to be the true one, while the right hon. Member for Bradford had proved to be entirely mistaken. The charges brought by the right hon. Gentleman, and repeated at a critical moment, were done so with the view of injuring the Government. They never expected accuracy of information from him. The charges he had tendered against Mr. Sheridan upon the usual police information were 879 absolutely groundless. Mr. Sheridan was one of the Land League organizers, and he was engaged in the active work of charity practised by the Ladies' Land League, and he defied him to bring forward any case in support of his statement. The character of that gentleman had been lied away by secret informers upon such information as that upon which he had thrown into gaol nine out of ten of the men whom he had placed in prison. Mr. Sheridan had been foully slandered by the right hon. Gentleman, who had shown that he possessed no information with regard to Irish affairs by his utter failure to distinguish between true and false information. In the letter which had been read, it was stated that if the arrears' grievances were settled generously and wisely the Land League would use its influence to put down outrages; and it had, therefore, been contended that the Land League had admitted thereby that it had influence over outrages. No inference could be more false. The true inference was this—that such influence as he possessed—and he was not connected with the Land League, and had no authority over it—would be used if the Arrears Question were settled upon a large and liberal basis, such as appeared to be the intention of the Government by their Bill. The influential Members of the Irish Party practically had no influence in suppressing outrages in Ireland. These were due entirely to the threatened evictions for these arrears, and so long as thousands upon thousands of families were threatened with being deprived of their homes, so long was it likely that outrages would continue. Nor could they expect matters to mend whilst the foolish policy of coercion first, and remedy afterwards, was practised. When, however, they passed their Arrears Bill, and freed the poor people in Ireland from that which was driving them to despair nothing could be more easy than to prevent outrage. Looking at the tone of the debate, it seemed to him that the action of the Opposition and their allies—such allies as the right hon. Member for Bradford and the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen)—was distinctly calculated to stir up an evil spirit in Ireland—it was distinctly calculated to set race against race. He had time after time set himself in opposition to the opinions of the 880 House, and he did not regret this in the least, nor was he ashamed of a single word of exasperation or act that he had done. But the moment that he saw that a helping hand was held out to him by the Liberal Party he thought it his duty to grasp at it. Had that hand been extended by a Conservative Government he would as readily have accepted it. He strongly censured those Privy Councillors of the Crown who, at the moment of a great crisis—at that moment of great and trying difficulty—were doing their utmost to make the task of the Liberal Party harder than it would be, and who were doing their utmost by their calculated efforts to make government of any kind almost impossible by endeavouring to hound on the adherents of the Land League against the powers that be.
§ MR. O'SHEA
wished to say, for the information of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), that he did mention Davitt to the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary for Ireland on the Sunday in question; and the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had not entered the name in his memorandum was only another proof of his inaccuracy.
§ MR. O'SHEA
said, he had no knowledge of the etiquette usual among Cabinet Ministers, and, no doubt, the right hon. Member would defend himself, if he was able to do so; but he (Mr. O'Shea) had considerable experience of the code of conduct common among gentlemen, and had never heard anything so extraordinary as the course pursued by the right hon. Member with respect to the confidential conversation he had with him. The right hon. Member said that in that conversation he had spoken to him of the Land League conspiracy being used for the purpose of putting down outrage in Ireland; but he was perfectly certain that he had never used the word "conspiracy," and had said that he had been assured the Land League "organization" would be used for the maintenance of law and order. He did not think, therefore, that he was quite as clumsy as his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade seemed to imagine. The memorandum might be judged by the light of the animus exhibited by the right hon. Mem- 881 ber ever since. He should say no more on the subject, because he considered there was nothing more to be said about the right hon. Member, who was disloyal to his old friends and malignant to his old enemies.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I rise to make only one remark. I adhere to the statement that the word "conspiracy" was used.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he thought the House was now likely to get a little behind the scenes. They had it on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that he was the principal negotiator with the Irish Party; but whether it was on his own suggestion, or on the suggestion of the other negotiator, it was certain that he was a party to the suppression of the important paragraph in the letter which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford had been the means of making known to the House. He hoped the House had remarked the peculiar tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell). The hon. Member spoke with contempt of the information supplied by the police, on which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford had acted, when Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. The hon. Member said that the right hon. Gentleman knew nothing of Ireland, and that he himself possessed information which was of a far more reliable character, derived from a higher source, than that which the right hon. Gentleman could not reach. He (Mr. Newdegate) believed that the hon. Members from Ireland, who sat on the Benches near him, were not free agents. He did not believe that the hon. Member for the City of Cork was a free agent. He knew, for it had been published, whence the hon. Member derived his authority. He (Mr. Newdegate) had not the document with him, but he believed that it was in June or July last year, Archbishop Croke—[A laugh]—these hon. Members could not answer what they had not heard, but always laughed, as the easiest way of getting out of what they expected not to like when heard. Archbishop Croke formally inaugurated the hon. Member for Cork City as the Leader of the Land League. According to the report in The Times, of either the 13th of June or the 13th of July, the Archbishop told his 882 "faithful people" that he considered the hon. Member for the City of Cork was a person of considerable capacity, and exactly adapted to lead the Land League. He was not quoting the precise words of the Archbishop, though he had several versions of them in his possession; but, on that occasion, the Archbishop assured the hon. Member for the City of Cork that he should have the full co-operation of the priesthood in promoting the Land League. The Archbishop said that, to use a common expression, the hon. Member for the City of Cork had been on his knees to him praying for the co-operation of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the priests. These were nearly the Archbishop's words. Now, it was quite clear that they had only been dealing with the surface of the Land League movement. Archbishop Croke had virtually owned that the strength of the League was in the priesthood; and he (Mr. Newdegate) fully believed it. Indeed, it appeared to him to account for much of the conduct of hon. Members sitting near him, and for the tenour of the speech they had just heard from the hon. Member for Dungarvan. There were only a few Members of the Government then present; but he would invite the attention of those who were present to that fact. There was one lesson which the House had gained—he hoped that the House would never again have to pass such an Act as that which existed for the nominal Protection of Life and Property in Ireland—since that measure was based upon the same principle as the Lettres de Cachet which were issued by Louis XIV. at the suggestion of Père La Chaise, his Jesuit confessor, and upon the principle upon which the Inquisition formerly acted. That was the power of arresting and imprisoning persons without proof of guilt; the power, without proof, to examine persons imprisoned in order to obtain evidence as to matters which might vitally affect their future liberty, and perhaps their lives. The right hon. Member for Bradford, however, when Chief Secretary for Ireland, lacked the power, which the Inquisition possessed, of putting persons to death in prison, and the power of inflicting torture to extort confession. Of course, the measure failed for want of these coercive means; yet now the hon. Member for Dungarvan sought to represent the incapacity of the 883 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford as the cause of its failure. Why, if the hon. Member knew anything about the history of France or Italy, he must have known that the right hon. Gentleman had not the coercive power to bring the "suspects" to their senses, which had been possessed in France and Italy formerly over persons who were thrown into the Bastille or the dungeons of the Inquisition. In his opinion, this tampering with the worst form of arbitrary power was a disgrace to the Liberal Party of the country. True, he himself had voted for the Act, and, as he had recently told the House, he was ashamed of having done so. In fact, he was prepared to apologize to his constituents for having been betrayed into the commission of so gross an error. But when the Bill was passing Her Majesty's Government were wedded to their plan. They had a great majority at their back, and he saw no other course open to him but to vote for an Act, the principle of which he detested, or to vote against the protection of life and property in Ireland. He thanked God that the House were coming back to a more English method of treating Ireland, and that they were to have a Coercion Bill of a different character, and based, he hoped, upon different principles. He thought Her Majesty's Ministers were making a mistake in mixing up the ordinary Judges of the land with that which must be practically a military administration. The course which the English people had for generations pursued with regard to Ireland was this—if Ireland would not submit to the Common Law, that she should be made to submit to military law; the people of England and Scotland understood that alternative. He had seen Coercion Bills, modified Coercion Bills, aggravated Coercion Bills passed by the House; but the worst of all was the last; and he trusted that, however the House might be constituted, whether Liberal or Constitutional, they would never see another measure like it. [Laughter.] He admitted that hon. Members below the Gangway had reason to laugh; for it was they who had brought the House to such a disgraceful pass, that they could scarcely desire to disgrace it more; but if they thought that they had conciliated the people of England by the course they had adopted, some day they 884 would find out their mistake. He promised them that they would find out their mistake. He had now been 39 years a Member of the House for the centre of England, and if he knew the people of the centre of England, he could tell them that they would let Irish Members understand that they had made a mistake. He trusted that they had done with the miserable system of intrigue and secrecy, which had grown up under that wretched measure, nominally for the Protection of Life and Property in Ireland, and that in future they would deal with Ireland as England had dealt with it in the past—tender to Ireland the same liberties that England enjoyed; but if Ireland rejected that offer, that then Ireland should submit to military law.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
considered the House was fortunate in having heard the discussion on the present Motion. Until the previous night there was a remarkable reticence on the part of the Government and their supporters. Verbal refinement had been carried to the very verge of falsehood in concealing the real character of the transaction; but, now that the papers had been wrung from the Government and their new allies, none were so frank as Cabinet Ministers, or so anxious to declare, with all the frankness of which they were capable—and the House would judge what that was—all that they knew about the matter under consideration. The last Cabinet Minister who had spoken had dropped the tone of haughty menace which distinguished the speeches of the other two Cabinet Ministers. The language with which the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary began their speeches was such as could only worthily come from men who had never indulged in vituperation against their political opponents; and they were quite indignant that they should be believed capable of the actions with which they had been charged by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour). A great deal had been said from the opposite Bench with regard to the use of harsh language. But those who sat on that (the Opposition) side had in their minds the memory of an illustrious Leader, whose memory they all revered, who, for the last two years of his life, had been pursued, from the Prime Minister down to the humblest Member of the Government, by the most 885 unrelenting and bitter vituperation. And the Cabinet Minister who had last spoken was the man who said of that noble Lord that he only spoke truth by accident. It was a little too much that those who had employed such vituperation against their opponents should expect to have their own antecedents forgotten. The Cabinet Minister of whom he had spoken had given one or two most remarkable glimpses into the precise state of affairs in the Cabinet which he represented. The hon. Member (Mr. O'Shea) had not only communicated the letter to the late Chief Secretary, but had thought it worth while to submit a copy to the President of the Board of Trade, and then a curious conversation took place with regard to the particular paragraph which would pledge the three imprisoned Members in Kilmainham to Party support, which it was pretty obvious they could not give in Kilmainham Gaol. That sentence naturally attracted the attention of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain), and, curiously enough, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. O'Shea) said he was prepared to withdraw it. It did not rest upon anybody's recollection why it was that that singular thing should be withdrawn. He believed that it struck the President of the Board of Trade, as it struck the Prime Minister, that that was a matter which should not be mentioned at this period. But the curious thing was that this conversation having taken place on the Sunday, and this suggestion having been made by the right hon. Gentleman, when the Cabinet considered this letter the right hon. Gentleman did not think it necessary to mention the conversation with regard to Parliamentary support. It was really desirable that the debate should continue, because, if they had got this information so far, they would probably get a full account by the time the whole of the Members of the Cabinet had spoken. The general defence of the Government was that there was no compact, as the prisoners were never told that they would be released. But the terms of the compact were formulated in Kilmainham, and were sent for acceptance or rejection, and they were accepted by the very fact of the release of the Members. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had told them that when he saw the letter of the hon. Member for the City of Cork he 886 attached no importance to it, as it came through the hands of a private negotiator, who was not a political supporter of that hon. Member; but it had been admitted that the letter contained the requisitions, a compliance with which, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, would secure for the Government the aid of the Land League in maintaining law and order, and in putting down "Boycotting" and outrage, which amounted to a confession that it was to this organization that "Boycotting" and outrage were to be traced. The Home Secretary knew that well, for, in March, 1881, when they were debating the question of the imprisonment of another public leader, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said—I think the time has now come when this debate may be closed. We have heard the doctrine of the Land League expounded by the man (Mr. Dillon) who is an authority to explain it; and to-morrow every subject of the Queen will know that the doctrine so expounded is the doctrine of treason and assassination."—[3 Hansard, cclix. 160.]These were the words used by one who now came down and asked the House why it should—if the good creatures who preached those doctrines were ready to aid and help them in putting down "Boycotting" and outrage in Ireland—why it should refuse their alliance? He was afraid there was not a single village in Ireland in which the impression created by this conduct on the part of the Government would not be that in order to put down lawlessness they had to invoke the assistance of the lawless themselves. He thought it would have been far better to have gone on trying against whatever difficulty to have administered firmly the government of Ireland. It had never been administered firmly. For the last two years it had been administered with alternative panic and indulgence and cruelty. Measures had been brought forward in relation to it, and then retreated from; whereas it was his opinion that if they had acted with calm and steady firmness they might have restored peace in Ireland, and have escaped the deep humiliation they were now suffering. It was an easy thing for a Minister to get up and tell an hon. Member who objected to the conduct of the Government to formulate his complaint and submit it to the House as a Vote of Censure; but, as had been shown by the right hon. 887 and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), in the present Parliament such complaints might be proved again and again without having the effect of defeating the Ministry. Why should they challenge the verdict of a jury when they knew that the jury itself was packed? Here the Government was supported not only by the hon. Members behind them, but also by the Members below the Gangway, and they had now new allies purchased by the Kilmainham compact. With these forces at their back the present Ministry would be able to defeat any Vote of Censure upon them that might be proposed in that House; but let them call a fresh jury, and see what would be the result. Before long the country ought to have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon the conduct of the Government. Until that opinion should be expressed at a General Election, the Government would be quite safe in challenging a Vote of Censure. The hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) had spoken in terms of reproach and invective of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E, Forster) and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), and had taunted the Tory Party with having found in them new allies. He (Mr. Clarke) was, for the sake of the Tory Party, glad if that were true; for the aid of those right hon. Gentlemen would enable them to counterbalance the strength of the alliance which the Government had lately purchased. He felt quite sure they would be compelled to adhere to their bargain, for the terms of it were on paper. With respect to the alleged alliance between the Conservative Party and the two right hon. Gentlemen he had named, he was not so intimately connected with the Party to know if it was true; but certainly he thought that a community of feeling between them and the right hon. Member for Ripon was a thing to be looked upon with complacency; and he did not see how it could be considered a reproach to the Conservatives that their Irish policy met the approval of a man who had a more intimate knowledge of the country than any Gentleman opposite, and only spoken what his convictions had borne in upon him. He should like the catechism of Ministers to have 888 gone a little further. But, taking the matter as it now stood, he was satisfied with the judgment which the country would pronounce upon their conduct.
§ MR. LAING
said, his opinion as an independent Member might be very shortly described. It was that the discussion which had taken place appeared to be what was commonly known as a storm in a teacup. It was quite true that within the last few weeks a new and very important departure had been made in the Irish policy of Her Majesty's Government. The mistake, he thought, was in supposing that it had been made in consequence of any private negotiations, or the writing of this or that letter or memorandum, and had not been made in consequence of great and important events which were patent to the whole world. When he said the Government had made a new departure, had nobody else made a new departure? Was it not a new departure for the Conservative Party to have brought forward the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), backed up by the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords, which adopted the most difficult and radical part of the Land League platform—the abolition of landlord proprietors, and the substitution of peasant proprietors by means of money furnished by the State, and involving an expenditure of £120,000,000 or £200,000,000? He was not going to say whether that was right or wrong; but it was a proposal constituting a new departure on the part of the Conservatives. When the Government were taunted in the way they had been, were the supporters of the Government not to entertain "reasonable suspicion" that with the Conservatives making a bid like that they possibly had an eye to the support of the Irish Party in certain contingencies when the Government might be found in a minority? Suppose the Conservatives, by the aid of the Irish vote, had carried the majority against the Government by adopting the plans in the Land League platform, was it conceivable that they could have retained the three Members of Parliament in Kilmainham Gaol when, by the aid of their supporters, they had thus obtained a majority? There was a still more important new departure than that—the Bill of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Redmond). There 889 they had an overture of conciliation from the extreme Irish Party—a new, moderate, and statesmanlike proposal to assist the Government in working out the Land Act. There were but two courses open, either to accept the overture of conciliation, or fall back upon the attitude of uncompromising resistance, which would have been putting Ireland under something like martial law, and keeping her in that condition for an indefinite time. That was the choice before the Government. The real issue which the country would look at was, whether the decision of the Government was right, or whether it would have been better to accept the decision of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), and work out a policy of uncompromising resistance and coercion? He would say, without hesitation, that when the opportunity occurred of securing the great majority of the Irish Representatives, and engaging them in passing measures for the pacification of Ireland, it would not only have been the greatest of blunders, but a crime on the part of any Government, to reject absolutely overtures of that description, and not to be ready to stretch out the hand. It was a congratulation, and not a reproach, for the Government to try and enlist the support of the extreme Irish Party in the cause of law and order. Was the House prepared to say that any Government, particularly the Liberal Government, was to continue governing Ireland for an indefinite time against the feelings and wishes of the Irish Representatives? If there was the General Election which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Clarke) seemed to consider desirable, the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) would return with some 50 or 60 votes to Parliament—a clear majority, certainly, of the Representatives of Ireland. There was nothing to be ashamed at in accepting offers of conciliation. It was only to be regretted such a course had not been taken before, and that the Government had not put themselves in communication with Irish Members in framing measures for Ireland. What would be the result, if a similar policy had been adopted towards Scotland? The feeling of the Scotch Members on both sides of the House was taken as far as possible, so as to secure their support on purely 890 Scotch measures. Why should not the same be done in the case of Ireland? They would never succeed in tranquillizing Ireland, or meet the question of disintegration, unless they were prepared to treat Ireland as they had done Scotland. So far as he was concerned, it seemed to him that, so far from having anything to apologize for, he thought the Government had taken a course which must commend itself to the common sense of Liberal Members, be they Radical or Moderate Liberals, who desired the tranquillity and pacification of Ireland. It had been brought into its present unhappy condition by the application of principles for which hon. Gentlemen opposite were now contending and endeavouring to perpetuate.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
The speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is, in one respect, remarkable. It is the first speech, I think, that has been delivered by a supporter of the Government who is not personally connected with these transactions on behalf of the Government he supports; and, therefore, we naturally look to it to ascertain the ideas which animate Members of the Liberal Party on this question. Well, now, what has the hon. Gentleman told us? He has done that which the Government, I am sorry to say, has only been too ready to do in the course of their defence. He has endeavoured to turn away the attack made upon the conduct of the Government by something in the nature of a counter-attack upon his opponents—that is, he made an argument which, of course, is perfectly legitimate; but it always produces this effect—that the case which the Government or their supporters have to make is not in itself a very strong one if they can only argue by throwing blame upon their opponents. And I must say the attack which the hon. Gentleman made upon his opponents was a very curious one. He spoke of a new departure by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) in the Notice he gave with regard to the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act of last year. He condemned the scheme of my right hon. Friend, which he never heard. He spoke of it as a new departure, apparently forgetting that my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, last Session, while the Land Bill was 891 under discussion in this House, brought forward the same subject and discussed it in the same tone and temper as that in which he was prepared to discuss it this Session. He obtained the concurrence in his views of the Prime Minister, and some promise that it should be discussed; but it never was. Therefore, my right hon. Friend, instead of making a new departure, only proposed to take up the same line. I could say more on that point; but it is not the main matter we have to consider. The only other remark the hon. Gentleman made which was at all striking was a statement that he regarded all this discussion as something in the nature of a storm in a teacup. What is the storm in the teacup? We are discussing questions of the greatest importance and intimately connected with the administration of law and order in Ireland. We are discussing what everyone admits to be a most exceptional act on the part of the Government, and the hon. Member ventured to tell us it is a storm in a teacup. I do not wish to enter upon anything in the nature of offensive or strong language; but I want just to point out what our relation to this question is. It will be remembered that upon the application of the Government—upon their statement that the condition of Ireland rendered it necessary—we last year passed an Act of a highly exceptional character, arming the Executive Government with very arbitrary and extensive powers. We intrusted those powers to the Government for the sake of maintaining order in Ireland. They exercised these powers in the manner they thought right; but after a certain time had elapsed they found it to be their duty to arrest and cast into prison four Members of this House and other leading persons connected with the Land League Organization. That step was not taken Departmentally; it was not put forward and announced by the late Chief Secretary for Ireland. It was a step taken by the whole Government, announced with great solemnity, and with something in the nature of self-applause by the Prime Minister himself, who drew special attention to the great importance of the arrests the Government thought it their duty to make. That was a step which we were perfectly convinced the Government would never have taken without being under 892 the pressure of great necessity. They took it, and they maintained the position they had assumed for some six months; then, all of a sudden, we hear that the policy of the Government is changed, and that the Gentleman who had been arrested on grounds so strong as those which were mentioned by the Prime Minister at the Guildhall in the course of last autumn—that his release and the release of his fellow Members was determined upon; and we are informed, at the same time that this strong step is taken, that it has cost the Government one of their Colleagues, and that Colleague the one who was more than any other cognizant of the whole business. Under these circumstances, the House has a right to an explanation. The House is not inclined, as a rule, to embarrass a Government in the discharge of its Executive duties by calling upon it for inconvenient explanations. It is perfectly true that many other "suspects" have been released, and no question has been asked; but this is not an ordinary release. We never heard of any other releases causing difficulties, or causing a Cabinet Minister to resign. There was something very peculiar which necessarily challenged the attention of the House in these facts. We had statements made in regard to the reasons for the release, and we had statements in regard to the reason which led to the late Chief Secretary resigning his Office. On the other hand, we had statements by the Prime Minister that there had been no bargain, and we had it pressed upon us by the Prime Minister that there had been nothing in the nature of a negotiation. On the other hand, we are told by the late Chief Secretary of the strong objection which he felt to govern Ireland by means of negotiations with persons who had broken the law. Upon the face of these conflicting statements I feel convinced that there is a good deal that requires explanation. By various questions and several discussions we have now arrived at a considerable amount of interesting information. We know a great deal now that it is important that we should know; but I do not even yet feel sure that we know all. I will not do more than point out to the House that we have been favoured with the contents of a letter written on the 28th of April, and with certain memoranda of a con- 893 versation which took place subsequent to that date. There has been something going on from about the 13th of April; there have been communications going on, and during these last two weeks something that might throw light on the proceedings of the Government was transacted. I think it is very much to be regretted that the Government have not taken us fully into their confidence, and have not enabled us to learn and to picture to ourselves what was the real origin of these proceedings. I say the House of Commons and Parliament has a perfect right to that information. They were entitled to ask for it; and though the Government has succeeded in throwing over and keeping close the veil over these proceedings, I think the House has a right to press for information. But I would still more strongly press upon the House that it is not only important, on the part of the House, that we should ask for information as to the manner in which the Government used the powers confided to them, but that it is also important, for the interests of the government of Ireland, that there should be some clear explanation which should show that it is not proved that on this occasion submission has been made to the powers of disorder. It is impossible from the statements which have fallen from Members of the Government, and from the discussion that has taken place, to avoid a fear that that impression will go abroad, or may have already gone abroad. Ireland requires many things; but one thing she requires certainly—she requires to know she is governed. I do not mean to say that she needs a harsh government, or that there ought to be anything in the nature of restraint on proper and true liberty; but what I say is that no country, certainly not Ireland, can prosper unless there is the conviction in the minds of all her citizens that the Government which professes to be at the head of affairs is qualified and capable and determined to govern. If it is believed that in such important matters as the question of the administration it is to be dependent upon the chance communications between the representatives of an illegal organization, which had been used for purposes entirely deserving of reprobation—if it is believed the chance communications with gentlemen connected with this organization are to 894 take the place of firm and consistent conduct and policy on the part of the Government, then I say the prospect is very bad indeed. No time has been wasted in the discussion, although we have asked for no vote, and although the discussion has been made, to a certain extent, what has been called of an academic character. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] The right hon. and learned Gentleman laughs at that; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman, though he succeeded in keeping a veil drawn over much, has also succeeded in showing a great deal that we should never have known. The question put yesterday, the discussions that took place, and the further discussion to-day, have forced the Government to tell us a good many things which they could not otherwise have stated, and the House and the country are so far in a better position to understand these transactions than they otherwise would have been. I will conclude by asking my hon. Friend to withdraw his Motion.
§ SIR THOMAS ACLAND
, alluding to the references of the Leader of the Opposition to the wants of Ireland, asked how were the Irish people to be convinced that they were governed? It was by both sides of the House above the Gangway making it clear to the Irish people that neither of them were anxious to play into the hands of any Party in the House. [Cheers.] He knew the meaning of that cheer very well. The Irish people should be either shown that the present Government, which was said to be covered with infamy, would be turned out and replaced by men able and willing to govern Ireland, or shown that the great Party opposite was willing to rally round the Government in support of law and order.
SIR HENRY FLETCHER
said, he was one of the few English Members who had been to Ireland within the last few months, and seen the state of misery and wretchedness to which the country had been reduced through the action of the Land League and its supporters. He had been among "Boycotted" farmers and their families, and if time would only permit him he could tell stories which would astonish those who had never been in Ireland. Those farmers amongst whom he had thus been had told him, again and again, that they were glad to see Englishmen to whom 895 they could unfold their tale of woe. He asked them to go over and visit the country, and see for themselves what was its condition. [Cries of "Divide!" and "Order!"] He had never interrupted in Irish matters until that moment; and he felt it to be his duty—as it was the duty of every Conservative Member—aye! and of every Member of that House—to speak out their minds on this most pressing and important subject. He had seen, as he had said, those farmers and their families. He had conversed with men about whom there could be no question that they were real true honest Irishmen; and there could be no question—at least, there did not exist any doubt in his own mind—that the great suffering and distress through which Ireland had now been passing for many a month arose, in a great measure, from the intimidation exercised by the Land League. He was repeatedly told by the people during the time he was in Ireland that their lives and those of their families were not safe. Furthermore, they remarked to him that the miseries and sufferings to which they had been exposed, through the action of the Land League, no Englishman could imagine who did not visit the country and see for himself. That was what was told him in Ireland last autumn, just before the winter came on. The people said they were hoping almost against hope, though, at the same time, trusting that the Government, in taking whatever course they might to cope with the terrible state of affairs then existing, would be firm and determined in their policy. He must say that he did not think the afternoon had been wasted in the discussion that had taken place. That wretched organization—the Land League—would have to be put down; and he believed the country would be delighted and glad to hear that they were endeavouring to uphold the power of the law, and support the authority of the question by taking up the matter in the way they had done. He did not agree with the remark of the hon. Baronet who had just sat down (Sir Thomas Acland) when he said the course they had taken was not calculated to achieve that. At all events, they (the Opposition) had endeavoured to support Her Majesty's Government in carrying out measures which were best calculated to maintain the power and 896 the authority of the Executive in Ireland. There could be no doubt that this was a very grave and important crisis in Irish history; and if the Government were not determined now, at this critical moment, to fulfil all the pledges they had given, and promised, and made in that House during the last few days, Ireland might very well say it would never look with confidence to England again.
§ It being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till this day.