HC Deb 18 May 1886 vol 305 cc1289-99

, in moving— That this day, and on succeeding Tuesdays and Fridays, the Order for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill, when it is set down among the Orders of the Day, have precedence of Notices of Motions and Orders of the Day, was understood to point out to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) that the Amendment of which he had given Notice to that Motion was not quite regular.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this day, and on succeeding Tuesdays and Fridays, the Order for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill, when it is set down among the Orders of the Day, have precedence of Notices of Motions and Orders of the Day."—(Mr. Gladstone.)

MR. LEWIS (Londonderry)

said, that he did not propose to move the Amendment of which he had just given Notice.


I think it would be for the convenience of the House if the right hon. Gentleman is able to give us any information as to the probable date of the termination of the debate on this Bill. ["Oh, oh!"] I think that is not an improper question to address to the right hon. Gentleman, although, of course, I do not wish to press him for a more definite reply than he is now able to give; but, having made inquiry in this quarter of the House, I believe that it would be perfectly compatible with the desire of all those sitting behind me who wish to take part in the debate if it were brought to a conclusion on Friday next. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give us any information as to the views of the Government upon the matter?


As it may be the only opportunity which the House will have of calling the attention of the Government to the serious position in which they are placed with regard to the renewal of the Arms Act—[Cries of "Order!"] I am perfectly in Order. The Arms Act is one of the Orders of the Day—it is upon the day's proceedings, and it will be affected by the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman if it be carried. The Arms Act of 1881 expires within a fortnight of the present time—that is to say, upon Monday week. The Government have been pressed over and over again upon the subject of their intention to renew the Act. I, myself, on the 6th of February, gave Notice—[Cries of "Order!"]


I rise to Order. I wish to point out that the Arms Act (Ireland) Bill is not one of those proposed to be postponed by the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, it being subsequent to the Government of Ireland Bill.


Inasmuch as the Motion proposes to postpone the Notices of Motion and Orders of the Day on Tuesdays and Fridays, and as there is reason to suppose that the Arms Act (Ireland) Bill will be among the Orders of the Day on those days, the hon. Member is in Order in referring to that Bill.


I was drawing the attention of the House to the fact, which should be known to no person better than the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that I have never allowed him a week's rest with regard to this subject. On February 6 I drew the attention of the Government and of the country to the fact that this Act expired on the 31st of May; but I was told upon that and upon every occasion that my action on the subject was premature. I have distinguished authority for my present course of action. Last Session, when I put Questions to the Government with regard to the renewal of the Crimes Act, I was turned, some six times over, from the Prime Minister to the Chief Secretary, and from the Chief Secretary to the Prime Minister, and so backwards and forwards, without being able to obtain a satisfactory reply, with the result that in the middle of June nothing had been done in order to renew that Act. Upon the present occasion I want to deal very frankly with the House. I have pressed the Government over and over again upon this subject without the smallest result until about three weeks ago, when I received a most peculiar answer from the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary then said that the Arms Act had no operation in Ulster, except in Londonderry and Belfast, although the Government found it necessary to keep the Act in operation over nearly the whole of the remainder of Ireland. [Cries of" Order!"]


I rise to Order. I wish to ask whether the hon. Member for Londonderry is entitled to go into the merits of the renewal or the non-renewal of the Arms Act on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman?


The only latitude in that direction which would be allowed would be for the hon. Member to argue the necessity of giving priority to the Arms Act in the event of this Motion being carried.


That is the very subject which I am endeavouring to press upon the House, and much more upon the country. Although the Arms Act is in force everywhere outside Ulster, the Chief Secretary has informed us that it would be useful in preventing large bodies of men in the North of Ireland from carrying arms. Now, what was the answer of the Chief Secretary as to the urgency of renewing the Arms Act?— The Government are informed that this Act is of very little use for the purpose of repressing outrage. Then why was it in force outside Ulster? But they are informed that it is likely to be useful in preventing large bodies in the North of Ireland carrying arms.


And elsewhere.


The right hon. Gentle-has since added the words "and elsewhere."


Not since, but at the time.


I cannot find the words in any reports. I, however, accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and allow that he meant the North principally, and "elsewhere" in a subsidiary point of view. Need I comment upon the extraordinary character of the answer as to the urgency of renewing the Act? We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that in certain events which will probably occur Ireland is likely to be inflamed. In that event are Irishmen upon both sides to be allowed to arm themselves? [Cries of "Order!"]

MR. T. M. HEALY (Londonderry, S.)

I rise to Order. I wish to know whether the hon. Member is in Order in referring to a past debate in this House not upon the same subject?


I do not see that anything that the hon. Gentleman has said in that direction is out of Order. It would, however, be quite out of Order on his part to attempt to initiate a debate on the Arms Bill. The hon. Member must confine himself strictly to giving technical reasons for giving priority to the Arms Bill.


Notwithstanding the repeated interruptions which I have met with, I must continue my endeavour to prove from the words of the Government, from the words especially of the right hon. Gentleman, that there is every need for urgency in this matter. He has told the House that, in certain events which are not very improbable, there is likely to be breaking out of disorder of a most violent character. How did they find the Government heeding this matter? By putting the Bill down day after day, without the slightest hope of opportunity of asking the decision of the House upon it, and now, on the 18th May, with this Act of Parliament, which has been in force for five years with the sanction of the Government over nearly the whole of Ireland, about to expire, the Government are playing with this Bill as they played with the Crimes Act last year, until it will become impossible to pass the measure before the 1st of June. With reference to this question of renewal, I stand in a very peculiar position. I do not agree with some of my hon. Friends who sit near me. I do not agree with some of those hon. Members who, when they were told that it is necessary to renew this Act in order to repress Protestant Ulster, determined to oppose it. I say, in the name of the peace and prosperity and safety of Ireland, let us have this Act renewed. We know from the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the peace of Ireland the necessity that exists for the renewal of this Act. He has himself sounded a note of alarm, and he himself has informed us that, in his opinion, unless this Act is renewed there are likely to be outrages of a most alarming kind in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!" and Home Rule cries of "No!" and "Order!"]


I rise to Order. The hon. Member for Londonderry has distinctly addressed to you an argument in favour of the renewal of the Arms Act, and I wish to know whether he is in Order in doing so?


The Bill referred to is a Continuance Bill, and the hon. Member is endeavouring to give his reason why it should have priority in the Government arrangements. I have already told the hon. Member, and I now repeat the observation, that he would be quite out of Order in discussing the merits of the renewal of the Act.


I am in the recollection of the House whether I have uttered a single sentence which is not pertinent to the question whether the Government have exercised due speed in endeavouring to obtain the renewal of this Act. I wish to read to the House a letter which I have this day received, and which is a perfectly genuine one. I will not, for obvious reasons, mention the writer's name; but the letter will show the urgent necessity that exists for the Government exercising a little more speed with regard to this matter. What do we know as to what may happen? Why, last Sunday night, a poor wretched man named Quighley, while sitting in his own house, had his brains dashed out with shot.


The hon. Member is now going into the merits of the case. The latitude I have allowed him was to state the reasons as to why the Government should give precedence to the Bill; but he is going into the merits of the case and defending the merits of the Arms Act. That should be reserved for the debate on the Bill.


Then, Sir, I must ask the leave of the House to read the letter from a gentleman whom I know in County Derry. I wish to ask whether the letter, which comes from a gentleman of good standing—[Home Rule cries of "Name!"] There are very grave reasons why I should not give the name of the writer. The letter is as follows:— Dear Sir,—Will you kindly give something towards a club which is being formed here for the purpose of arming the Loyalist working men? We wish to form the nucleus of a fund, and we shall be very much obliged if you will give something to it. I have no intention of giving anything. But the Government must know, from their own information, that there are the strongest reasons, in the present state of affairs in Ireland, for not delaying this measure, so that it may not be in the power of every man in Ireland to arm himself on the 1st of June. I am the oldest Representative but one from Ireland in this House, and, in the interests of peace and good order, I thought it incumbent upon me to perform the duty I have endeavoured to discharge.

MR. MITCHELL HENRY (Glasgow, Blackfriars)

Before the right hon. Gentleman answers the question that has been put to him, I wish to say that those who live in Ireland have a right to know whether the Government really intend to renew this Act or not. I will not enter into any merits of the question on one side or the other; but I think it stands to common sense and to common reason that in the present state of Ireland it would not be desirable that arms should be distributed in every part of the country. If the Government do not renew the Arms Act the responsibility will lie at their door for many of the outrages which might otherwise have been prevented.


In reply to the last speaker, all that I can say is that I do not believe that the Arms Act is calculated to prevent a single crime or outrage of this kind committed in Ireland during the last 12 months. I am anxious to do the fullest justice to the consistency of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis); but I submit to him that his remonstrance upon this subject ought not to be addressed to us, but to the two hon. Members who sit beside him. On the first night after the Easter Holidays I announced my intention to bring in the Bill. On the Tuesday night there was, unfortunately, a "count-out." The Bill was read a first time on the Thursday, and I then expressed my earnest desire to take the second reading on the Friday if agreeable to hon. Members from Ireland, both above and below the Gangway. I was informed that the following Monday would be more convenient to them. I put it down on Monday, and I found to my amazement that two hon. Gentlemen, both representing constituencies in Ulster, had put on the Paper a Motion in identical terms to read my Bill a second time "this day six months." The consequence of that action, which must have been intentional and deliberate, is that though the Bill has been put down every day since, excepting Wednesday, and though I was in attendance every night until the arrival of the fatal hour, the Bill has been blocked; and it is owing to their action, and to no action of mine, that the Bill is not at this moment in the House of Lords.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

said, that there was another matter on which he would venture to make an appeal to the Government. While quite feeling the force of the Prime Minister's observation that it was impossible to make any exception in favour of the Motion that stood in his name whilst postponing other Business, yet he thought he was fairly entitled to ask the Government to give him some pledge that no further commutations of pensions should take place until the House had had an opportunity of expressing its opinion on his Motion. The Motion was placed on the Paper in 1881, when there had scarcely been any commutations for the 20 years preceding, certainly not one per year; while between 1882 and 1885, since that Motion appeared on the Paper, nearly 330 commutations had taken place. On one class of these commutations he alleged absolute illegality, though, of course, it was quite impossible he could now say anything in support of that contention or ask the Government to admit it. He also alleged that the rates of commutation for other classes of pensions had been enormously excessive, varying from 10 years to 30 years. As his Motion had been delayed through no fault of his own, he hoped the Government would accede to his request.


said, that he thought he was entitled to say a word by way of explanation. The block put in his name to the second reading of this Bill was the natural consequence of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman in his reply to the hon. Member for Londonderry, when he told him that the use to which the Government looked to put this Act was to prevent large bodies of men assembling in the North of Ireland. Under those circumstances, he thought that the Ulster Members were entitled to secure a hearing for themselves on this subject at an earlier hour than half-past 12 o'clock. This was his object.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Londonderry, S.)

Then why did you take the block oft?


said, that for that purpose only was the block put on. He withdrew it on the previous night because he perceived the urgency of the case for bringing on the Bill; but he did not, therefore, forfeit his right to express his opinion on the language of the right hon. Gentleman in replying to the hon. Member for Londonderry. He thought it right to take that opportunity of expressing those opinions, and he might say to the right hon. Gentleman that he did hear the word "elsewhere." It appeared not to have reached any of the other hon. Gentlemen around him or the Reporters' Gallery. Indeed, it was perhaps not intended to be heard further to the left. He had thus explained his reason for putting the block on the Bill and afterwards withdrawing it. He would have another opportunity of expressing his opinion on the Bill itself.


said, in reply to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) that in consequence of the Notice of Motion placed by him on the Order Book of the House impugning the action of the Treasury with respect to the commutation of pensions and asking for a Select Committee to inquire into the matter, Her Majesty's Government did not think it would be respectful to the House for the Treasury to proceed with any further commutations until the House had had an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the Motion.

MR. MATHER (Salford, S.)

observed that he had been fortunate enough to obtain the first place on the Paper that night for his Motion with respect to technical education. He did not, however, wish to delay the Business of the Government, and he should not bring it on that night. He hoped, however, that an early opportunity of discussing a subject of such importance to the commerce of this country would be afforded, after the Government had secured the second reading of the Bill for the Government of Ireland, which was of such National and Imperial importance.

MR. RAIKES (Cambridge University)

I also have a Notice of Motion on the Paper. It is one which would not take any great time to discuss, and it would probably be possible to bring it on after the debate on the Government of Ireland Bill is adjourned. But as the Motion has reference to the establishment of this House, and the appointment of the Clerks of this House, I feel that, having regard to the great loss which this country and the House has sustained by the premature death of one of whom we so recently took leave in retiring from the service of the House, it would be more respectful to his memory to postpone the Motion to this day week.

SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said, he had a Motion on the Paper with reference to Lowe's Charity, Lichfield, which he was willing to postpone; but he hoped he might be able to proceed with it after the Home Rule debate.

MR. MITCHELL HENRY (Glasgow, Blackfriars)

I beg to point out to you—[Cries of "Spoken!"]—that the Chief Secretary—[Cries of "Order!"]—has not answered my question whether the Government intend to proceed with the Arms Bill?


I will endeavour to give the best answer in my power to the question of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), which I admit he is perfectly entitled to put. At the same time, the best, answer I can give him is an imperfect one. The House will not be surprised at that when I remind them of the peculiar circumstances of the case. I rather think there was a stage of the Corn Law Repeal Bill which was questioned and debated between two opinions and sets of Gentlemen alone, and which debate extended over 10 nights. I am not desirous to see the range of debate in this House enlarged—it is now, I think, quite sufficient—but at the same time I must observe that if there be any occasion on which debate is justifiable it is on an occasion such as this, not only on account of the vast importance of the question—though even on that ground I may notice the importance of it has been in many ways elevated above every other subject—but on account of the special and distinct ground that there are, in point of fact, four Parties in this House engaged in the discussion of this subject, all of them having great interest in it. There is the Party opposite and the Government, who are deeply interested, of course, in defending the proposition, the responsibility of which rests upon them. Then there is a distinguished portion of the Liberal Party, who are most naturally and most justifiably very anxious to explain both to the House and to the constituencies the ground which they feel themselves conscientiously and honourably obliged to take, and the course which in every case I believe has been most repugnant to them personally. It is very natural that they should wish almost individually to have that opportunity. Certainly, tidings have reached me from a Gentleman who belongs to that important section of the House, and who has taken some interest in ascertaining the current of these proceedings, that in their opinion down to the present day they have had very limited opportunities indeed of expressing the sentiments that they entertain. Then, Sir, I need not say that the Members termed Nationalists from Ireland have a very considerable title to ask the attention of the House. Under these circumstances, I cannot think it possible that the debate can do otherwise than extend over a large portion—over a considerable number of days beyond the present week.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That this day, and on succeeding Tuesdays and Fridays, the Order for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill, when it is set down among the Orders of the Day, have precedence of Notices of Motions and Orders of the Day.

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