HC Deb 07 September 1886 vol 308 cc1607-28

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—[Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W., and Sligo, S.)

I wish to say, with reference to the blocks which for some days have stood against the second reading of this Bill, that my hon. Friends in whose names the blocks stood have no desire whatever to delay the progress of the Bill. I may, in fact, remind the House that, on two occasions, we endeavoured to secure the discussion of the Bill at what we considered a reasonable hour. My hon. Friends are as anxious as I am that this inquiry should proceed immediately, and that it should be conducted and concluded under circumstances most favourable to the full effectuation of its purpose. The only object my hon. Friends had in blocking the Bill was to secure the taking of the discussion at a reasonable hour, an object in which it can scarcely be said they have succeeded. I assume this Court of Inquiry is intended to be an open Court. Owing to the nature of the case, and for several obvious reasons, publicity is indispensable; but I do not find in the Bill any declaration that the Court is to be open. I think it would be desirable, for the settling of the public mind in Belfast, that such a declaration should be specifically made. I find from the Bill that a summons to a witness directing him to attend is to— Be equivalent to any form of process capable of being issued at law in any action or suit for enforcing the attendance or compelling the production of documents. I confess I do not quite see why this specific limitation should be made. The Commission is to inquire into a prolonged series of facts of a highly criminal character, and I apprehend that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) will agree with me that the interest of the community in eliciting the truth concerning these lamentable riots, and in arriving at a just conclusion in this case, is greater and more urgent than it could possibly be in the case of any individual trial. I therefore submit that the summons issued by the Commission ought to have whatever legal force belongs to a summons or subpœna to a witness, directing him to give evidence at a criminal trial. I find that the Commission is to be vested with the powers, rights, and privileges vested in Her Majesty's High Court of Justice in Ireland. I understand that the system of the High Court of Justice in Ireland is to issue a summons as a matter of course, directing the attendance of any person to give evidence upon the application of any party to the suit. Now, the question I have to put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is this. Is the House to understand that the Commission in Belfast will, as a matter of course, issue a summons to any person, directing him to attend, upon the application of any counsel or any party in the proceedings before them? Otherwise this provision may turn out to be nugatory. All the Commissioners appointed up to the present are strangers to the town of Belfast and to the local intricacies of political life, and it is evident that the Commissioners will not and cannot be competent to judge of whether or not any person summoned as a witness is or is not likely to give material and valuable evidence. I submit to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, as the Commission will have to inquire into a series of acts of a highly criminal character, the persons who can give the most valuable information are those who were concerned in the fomentation, stimulation, and conduct of the riots; and it is very obvious to a layman, to say nothing of a lawyer, that the persons who can give most valuable infor- mation will be persons who will be most reluctant to attend. The application for a summons in such a case will be made by the counsel on the other side, and may be opposed by the counsel holding the same political views as the witness; and unless any party appearing before the Commission shall have a right, as a matter of course, to secure a summons to a witness to attend, we have no security whatever that the evidence material to the inquiry will be elicited before the Court. I should like from the right hon. and learned Gentleman a frank reply on this point. Again, the Commissioners are to have power to punish for contempt of Court; but contempt of Court is not defined in the Bill. I see the Home Secretary smile. Perhaps he considers it convenient that contempt of Court should be an elastic offence. I can conceive three or four ways in which contempt may be committed in this Belfast Court of Inquiry. It may be committed by refusal to attend the Court, by refusal to take oath, by refusal to produce documents when called upon, or by refusal to answer questions. I wish to learn whether the refusal to do any one of these four things will be punishable? I see the power of the Commission to punish for contempt is limited. The Judge of a Court may send a person to prison for an indefinite period for contempt; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman limits the power of the Commission to a sentence of three months' imprisonment. I can conceive that there are some people in Belfast who, if they told what they knew to the Commission, would have such a story to tell that they would prefer three months' imprisonment rather than toll it. I am not disposed to quarrel with the three months' limit; but I think it essential that the Commissioners should have power to commit persons for shorter periods, for it is obvious that if they have no option but to commit for three months or not at all, the provision will defeat its own purpose. I think the intelligent way of dealing with the matter would be to give the Commission power to send offending witnesses to prison from time to time, bringing them up again and again to inquire as to their disposition. Unless I understand from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Commissioners on this Judicial Commission will have power to com- mit witnesses to prison repeatedly for brief periods, I shall certainly myself bring up a provision intended to effect that purpose. Now, I wish to know whether the Commission have, up to the present time, given any indication to any persons of their intention to call them as witnesses, because I see that one of the most material witnesses—Dr. Kane, the person primarily concerned in the stimulation of the riots and a conspicuous figure in their progress, one of the men whose threats to the magistrates induced the withdrawal of the police from certain districts in Belfast—has started on a political mission to Canada, and has already placed himself outside the jurisdiction of the Court, unless the summons of the Court will run in the Dominion of Canada? I want to know what steps will be taken to prevent persons from going outside the jurisdiction of the Court, and what course will be taken to secure that Dr. Kane shall present himself in Court, and submit himself to examination as to his share in the riots, before the conclusion of the inquiry? I also wish to know what provision will be made to prevent the sitting of the Commission clashing with the Revision Courts? Those Courts will sit next week, and will last for a considerable period, and I am aware that one of the Commissioners is engaged as Revising Barrister, and that several gentlemen who have been engaged to appear before the Commission have also been appointed in similar capacities. It is evident that the Commission will be shorn of a great deal of its energy if the Revision Courts sit at the same time, and I therefore ask whether the Crown has made any provision for meeting this state of things? But there is a question transcending all others. This is a Bill to facilitate the work of a Commission of Inquiry, but neither the provisions of this Bill, nor the provisions of any Bill which can be invented, devised, or formulated to facilitate the work of a Commission, will be of much utility unless the Commission itself is so constituted as to command the confidence of the public. Up to the time of the introduction of this Bill, the Commission attracted little attention, and was considered of no public interest, for, as originally constituted, it had no power either to summon persons to attend or to take evidence on oath. The public knew that a person examined before the Commissioners could tell any lies he pleased, and that, if he preferred absence to lying, he could stay away altogether. It was evident that, under those circumstances, the Commission would not collect an adequate body of evidence, and therefore the Inquiry was looked upon as of no importance, and attracted very little attention. The introduction of this Bill, however, places the Inquiry on an entirely different basis. The Commissioners now will have effectual powers. They can order witnesses to attend, and can punish them for contumaciousness or for falsehood. Therefore the constitution of the Commission becomes of the highest possible importance. When the Commission was appointed in June it consisted of a General Officer as Chairman, and two junior barristers, one of the junior barristers being a Tory, and the other—though his political views are not clearly defined—being believed to be a Liberal. As for the General Officer he was totally unknown in Ireland. The people there knew nothing about him, and knew nothing of the reason of his appointment, except that it appears now to be the vogue to appoint a General Officer to everything. The first word of the present Government on coming into Office as to this Commission was that it was to be a Judicial Commission. I am at a loss to know how the Government could call the Commission a Judicial Commission, when they appoint a General Officer to preside over it. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary also said that the Commission being a Judicial Commission ought to be a small one. I must say I do not see how this Commission could be more judicial in its character, nature, or function than any other Royal Commission. It will not have to try anyone, it will not have to pass sentence on anyone. It will have a set of facts placed before it concerning the outbreak and disturbances in Belfast; it will have to investigate these facts and find out in what manner the recurrence of these disturbances can be prevented. However, suppose we assume that it will be a Judicial Commission, then we come to the Chief Secretary's statement that it shall be a small one. Why, if it is a Judicial Commission, ought it to be a small one? The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the highest Judicial Bodies in the country, on important oc- casions, are constituted of a number of persons—that the highest Courts of the land are often composed of a dozen persons. What is the magic of the number proposed? I think that if the Commission consisted of five or six persons, it would be better, supposing you have them of the right sort. Then the right hon. Gentleman, having said that the Commission ought to be a Judicial Commission, and that as a Judicial Commission it ought to be a small Commission—which is a non sequitur—proceeded to expand it. But how did he expand it? I should have thought by the addition of one of Her Majesty's Judges, or at least of a Queen's Counsel of position, possessing legal attainments of some reputation. But that was not the method. The process of expansion was communicated to the Commission by the appointment of a Chief Constable of Police. This is a Judicial Commission; but what is there about the ordinary character or the highest function of a Chief of Police of a judicial nature? Nothing; he is strictly an Executive officer. I would, therefore, ask from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland an explanation of the extraordinary contradiction in the idea of expanding a Judicial Commission by adding to it a Scotch Chief Constable. But why did they add this particular officer of police? There are many Chief Constables in England and Wales with quite as judicial a tone of character. When Captain Wallis M'Hardy, Chief Constable of Lanarkshire, was selected, the selection should have been made after inquiry into the judicial tone of his character, and the Chief Secretary should have satisfied himself that that judicial tone was such as to specially fit Captain M'Hardy for the work of the Commission. I have received a letter from a place where Captain Wallis M'Hardy has operated for some years as Chief Constable. The writer of the letter is unknown to me, but I have made careful inquiries as to his good faith, and I believe him to be a person entitled to credence. He writes— Three years ago a Catholic Mission was given in this parish, and one evening, as a portion of the congregation which required to pass the Orange portion of the village were going home, they were attacked in the most brutal manner, several hoys and girls badly injured, and one man dangerously wounded. Mr. M'Hardy came upon the scene, and the result of his investigation was that Catholics were arrested right and left, and received from four to six months' imprisonment, and though two Orangemen were also arrested, the police, doubtless acting upon the advice of Mr. M'Hardy, refused to make a case, and they were accordingly acquitted. His whole career here has been one of violent hatred to the Catholic population, and I therefore trust you will be successful in averting what will be a dire calamity to our Catholic brethren in Belfast, if his appointment is ratified. Captain Wallis M'Hardy has been chosen because of the judical character of his mind to assist in the investigation of disturbances in which Catholics and Protestants were the contending parties, and the opinion of my correspondent regarding this appointment is expressed in these words— A more intolerant bigot does not exist, always excepting Dr. Kane. I think I may fairly call upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman to state to the House in what manner the work of this Judicial Commission is likely to be more successfully carried out by the addition of Captain Wallis M'Hardy? I confess I have been somewhat inclined to attribute his appointment to other motives. He has been connected with the police of Glasgow, or has had experience of the police of that town, owing to his connection with the county of Lanark. That is a local force under the control of the Town Council of Glasgow, and to a town like Glasgow such a force is no doubt suitable. But that is not the case in Belfast; and I know there is an underlying design amongst the local authorities there to get rid of the Royal Irish Constabulary, which is an independent force, and to substitute for it such a body as the old civic force which was condemned by the Royal Commission of 1864, who held that the Town Council of Belfast were unfit to control such a force and that such a force was unfit for the peculiar conditions of Belfast. The Town Council of Belfast want to get such a force again, and want to organize a body on whom they can rely to beat the Catholics black and blue whether they are right or wrong. I want to know whether Captain M'Hardy was put upon the Commission in order that he might influence the other Commissioners and induce them to recommend the establishment in Belfast of a similar force to that which formerly ex- isted there? If he was, and if the establishment of such a force is proposed, I have to say this—that by whomsoever it is proposed, and at whatever time it is proposed, I shall offer it a most stern resistance. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider the appointment of this gentleman? I felt it my duty to read the letter I had received bearing upon the qualifications of Captain M'Hardy for a place upon this Commission. [An hon. MEMBER: Name!] The hon. Member opposite is very ingenious. Does he think I am going to give him the name of the correspondent to whom I am indebted for particulars of Captain M'Hardy's history, that correspondent being a gentleman living in Captain M'Hardy's police district? I would not envy that gentleman the life he would have to lead if Captain M'Hardy knew his name. I ask will the appointment of Captain M'Hardy he maintained? I think that, even if I had not read this letter, communication between Lanarkshire and Belfast is so frequent, that the feeling which exists in Lanarkshire regarding the character of Captain M'Hardy, if it is as is declared by my correspondent, would soon have spread to Belfast, and the proceedings of the Commission would at the outset have been attended with doubts and fears occasioned by the proceedings of this gentleman in Lanarkshire. Now, I have a practical suggestion to make. The House will admit that the Commission may be increased to six Members, certainly to five, without detriment to its compactness. There are two classes of persons in whom I am interested as Member for the Western Division of Belfast. The first class is composed of all those persons, always Catholics, whose houses are plundered in time of disturbance in that town. There is no such thing as wrecking the houses of Protestants at any time. [Laughter.] I can reply to that laughter very effectually, because I can point out that, in response to the claims for compensation for malicious injuries presented to the Town Council, awards to the extent of £2,600 were made, and of this amount £2,500 went to Catholics. Could I offer a more conclusive fact than that? I am interested, I say, in those Catholics whose houses suffer wreck and plunder; and the second class of persons in whom I am interested is composed of 3,000 souls who have been driven out of employment, and who are dependent upon collections made at church doors, and upon other charity, for their subsistence. The interests of those classes are represented by a Committee of Catholic gentlemen, with the Bishop at their head; and what I ask is that this Catholic Committee should be allowed to draw up a list of names of gentlemen of legal training and recognized position, and that the Lord Lieutenant should from this list select one gentleman, and add him to the Committee. A representative of the general body of ratepayers might, in the same way, be selected and added to the Committee, making six in all. The Committee would still be workable, and it would possess the advantage of representing every section of the people, whilst the ratepayers, who have to pay for these riots—and pay for them through the nose—would have their interests guarded. As I have said, little or nothing is known of the gentlemen on the Commission. Little is known of the General Officer, little is known of the two legal gentlemen, and what is known of the Scotch police officer is against him. I think it essential that there should be some men on the Commission who will see that the proper persons are examined, and that no aspect of the case is left undealt with. It will be no less a Judicial Commission by the addition of the members I propose, for I have a guarantee that every name in the list of Catholics submitted to the Lord Lieutenant shall be that of a legal gentleman of such character and position that his appointment will be no derogation from the character of the Commission. I hope that any member of the Commission, when the Report is presented to the House, will have the power of adding his views to those of his colleagues. I submit it is not an unreasonable request, because not only is it desirable that the Report of the Commission should be presented, but that all aspects of the case shall be presented, and no special feature of interest shall be left out in consequence of the ignorance of local affairs on the part of the Commissioners.

MR. HOZIER (Lanarkshire, S.)

As one well acquainted with Captain M'Hardy, and also very well acquainted with the county in which he is Chief Constable, I venture to say one or two words. Captain M'Hardy has for a very considerable number of years been Chief Constable in Lanarkshire, which, without any disparagement to other districts, I may justly call the most important county in Scotland. Captain M'Hardy has invariably discharged his duties in the most admirable way possible. I am acquainted with a great many gentlemen who have to do with the police in Lanarkshire, a very near relation of my own being Chairman of the Police Committee, and I can truly say that, from all I have heard of Captain M'Hardy, nothing could possibly exceed the zeal, energy, and discretion with which he has performed his duties. I have ventured to call special attention to the fact that I am acquainted with the members of the Police Committee of Lanarkshire, because before them every complaint against the police, whether brought by Protestant or Catholic, must come; and, moreover, as my relative is the Chairman of the Committee—and we constantly discuss county business together—I should be certain to hear of everything in the nature of a complaint which came before him. I have also a a letter from him bearing the strongest testimony in Captain M'Hardy's favour. Now, in Lanarkshire, in a good many of the larger towns, there is a considerable proportion of both Orangemen and Catholics. Captain M'Hardy has thus had very great experience in dealing with disturbances similar to those at Belfast, which may, perhaps, have been sometimes caused by one side and sometimes by the other. Well, on every single occasion on which he has had to deal with these matters, he has managed with such consummate tact that he has received the approval of both parties. I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast has been making a good many inquiries about Captain M'Hardy; and it is rather curious and significant that the only charge he has been able to bring against him is one contained in an anonymous letter.


No, not anonymous.


Well, at any rate, we are not told the name of the writer.


Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that the only inquiry I have made has been as to the bona fides of the writer of this letter.


There can be no doubt in the world that if Captain M'Hardy had been such an objectionable person as the hon. Gentleman pretends, letters both signed and anonymous would have come showering upon him. He would not have had to rely on this one single solitary instance. It is a singular and striking fact that no accusation has ever been brought against Captain M'Hardy. No; by-the-bye, I am wrong. There was once an accusation brought against him, but it was one of those exceptions that prove the rule. Captain M'Hardy was accused, some years ago—at the time I fancy of the disturbance to which the hon. Gentleman alluded—I know there was a disturbance then—in a certain Scotch newspaper of a very terrible crime. He was accused of the heinous crime of having actually been seen driving in the same carriage with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow. Now, I really do not think that that is the sort of awful accusation—even supposing Captain M'Hardy really did what was charged against him—or the sort of unpardonable offence which should render him particularly obnoxious to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite.


I quite appreciate the assurance given by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sexton) that neither he nor anybody acting with him have any desire whatever to oppose this Bill. I can quite understand that these hon. Members—and let me say the same for hon. Members who represent other parts of Ireland—are desirous that the powers contained in the Bill should be conferred upon that body. I have nothing to object to in the criticism that the hon. Member has given to the various provisions, and I am glad to say that I think I shall be able to give him such assurances as to these provisions as will satisfy him. In the first place, it is the intention of the Irish Government to make this an open Court. I have no doubt it was intended by the late Chief Secretary, when he nominated the Commission, that the inquiry should be public. When the Commission held its first sitting it was in open Court, and it was prepared to hear anyone who had an interest in the matter, by solicitor or counsel. It would be rather out of the scope of this Bill to introduce provisions of the character mentioned by the hon. Member as to publicity; but I can assure the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Irish Government, that the Court will be open and accessible to everyone. As regards the way in which we confer powers on the Commission in the Bill, we do it in the fullest manner possible as to power to compel the attendance of witnesses, to compel them to give evidence, and so forth. It was very rightly said by the Chief Secretary that this was a Judicial Commission, and no one could doubt the fact, seeing that it was proposed to invest it with the powers of the High Court of Justice. It would be impossible to find language which would give more extensive powers than that contained in the Bill. Of course, it is necessary to make some provision defining the nature of the instrument by which persons can be summoned before the Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman asks how and by what means the Commissioners are to enforce the attendance of anyone whom it is supposed can give evidence which will throw light on the matter. Precisely the same power will be conferred upon this Commission, and the power will be used in the same way. Any person can apply for a summons in the ordinary way, and it rests with the Commission to grant the summons. With regard to the punishment of contempt of Court, we have thought it necessary to limit it. In all cases there is limitation as regards time of the power of imprisonment, and in this Bill it is taken from the Act appointing a Commission analogous to that with which we are now dealing. The hon. Member may be certain that the power will be exercised by the Commission, because, although unquestionably that power is only for a week's imprisonment, the Commission can have the individual brought up for each offence, and on his refusing he can be recommitted so long as his imprisonments does not altogether exceed three months. The hon. Member has referred to four matters, and asked whether they would constitute a contempt of Court. I can assure him that each of those matters is a contempt of Court within the meaning of this Bill and within the law. The Bill is intended to take steps to insure persons coming before the Court. Of course, no steps could be taken to bring up persons who were out of the jurisdiction. I am quite sure that the Legislature would not confer on the Commission, power to detain anyone in the country on the ground that his evidence was required. We must trust, then, to circumstances, knowing that this power is not conferred on the Court. With regard to the sittings of the Court clashing with those of the Revision Court, that difficulty, if it should arise, would be met by the Commissioner, if a Revising Barrister, obtaining a substitute. I think I have now dealt with the various questions arising on the structure of the Bill, and I come now to a matter of importance referred to by the hon. Member—namely, the constitution of the Commission. I will inform the hon. Member that, as regards the three Commissioners originally appointed, the Irish Government had nothing to do with their nomination. They were nominated by the late Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and no doubt he was actuated by the same desire as the present Government have of getting men fully qualified to perform the duties, and to bring to them a perfectly impartial mind. I know all the gentlemen in question, and can say that they entirely fulfil those requirements. It has been said that as the functions of the Commission will be judicial it will not be necessary to enlarge it. I am sure hon. Members must admit that the functions of the Commission would be eminently judicial, and that we are dealing with a Commission which will be called on to discharge important functions; but it must be borne in mind also that the Commissioners will also be engaged in taking evidence, perusing documents, &c, and that their duties will be extensive. I do not mean to say that it would be necessary to have a large Commission for that purpose; but, having regard to all the circumstances, it has been thought necessary to increase the Commission. The hon. Member has referred to the fact that one addition has been made to the Commission, and he asks why it is that such addition has been made. It will be observed that one of the most important matters which the Commission will have to take into consideration is the present constitution of the police force in Belfast, the duties they are called upon to discharge, and the mode in which they discharge them; and it occurred to the Irish Government that it was desirable to have some person of experience to deal with these matters upon the Commission. The first suggestion was that we should have someone connected with the Police Service in Dublin; but we were unable to get such a person, and were therefore compelled to look elsewhere. It is necessary that the person so appointed should be one having experience with the constabulary in a large town. Accordingly, Captain M'Hardy was chosen, he having had great experience as Chief of the Police in Glasgow. I have the assurance of everyone competent to speak on the subject that he is perfectly indifferent and perfectly impartial with regard to the matters that will be considered, and, further, that he is a most competent man and of the highest character. The hon. Member made the suggestion that a gentleman representing the Catholics in Belfast, to be chosen by a committee of the ratepayers or the Corporation of Belfast, should be added to the Commission. I must say that I have a strong objection to any such course, and I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government would for a moment entertain the proposal. We are most desirous of getting persons on the Commission who have no bias. I have no doubt whatever that the gentleman proposed to be placed on the Commission would be a person of the highest honour and respectability; but from the circumstance that he was nominated by any particular committee would afford colour to the suggestion that he was in the position of a partizan. I recollect being myself engaged in an arbitration involving many thousands of pounds, on which there was a gentleman who occasionally spoke of "our side" and "the other side." Well, Sir, that is what I think would perhaps result from the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, that one of the Commissioners should be nominated by the Corporation of Belfast. We are merely desirous of extracting evidence in such a way that when it is obtained it shall prove satisfactory in the end and render the Report of the Commission, as I believe it will be, a very valuable document. Finally, the hon. Member said that it occurred to him that the Government intended to bring back the old civil force to Belfast; but I can assure him that so far as Belfast is concerned there is no intention that the police force should be a civil force; and I desire to disabuse him of the idea that there is lurking in the mind of the Government any such intention.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

It must be evident to the Committee that unless the constitution of this Commission is thoroughly satisfactory to both sides, it would be better to have no inquiry at all. It is important that the people of Belfast should be thoroughly convinced of the impartiality of the Commission; and in saying this I do not mean that Captain M'Hardy is not an impartial Commissioner. But there are certain facts connected with him which, to say the least of it, are unfortunate. First of all, it is unfortunate that he should be connected with the police force of a Provincial town where there is a considerable number of Orangemen, and a large section of the population of the town of Belfast regret that the Government should have selected a man who has made himself so prominent in the way my hon. Friend has described. The declaration with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman wound up his speech is a very useful one, and carries satisfaction to our minds; but, at the same time, I point out that it gives us no assurance that Captain M'Hardy may not report in favour of the old system; and the doubt which exists on the subject is one cause of our objection to his appointment. Another cause is this—while two legal members of the Commission might balance each other, one being a Liberal and the other a Conservative, the other two members are men whose political leanings and sympathies were entirely unknown to the Irish Representatives, who have no means of ascertaining that they are not strong partizans. I do not accuse the President of the Commission of partizanship; but we know that he has recently been promoted, a fact which would lead us to believe that he is a friend of the General in command. We know that many officers in the Army are extremely strong in their views with regard to Irish affairs, and have expressed themselves in a manner that shows they are utterly unfit to be appointed to this Commission. The evidence laid before us goes to show that they are against the Catholics and for the Protestants. The Commission, then, is to consist of three Protestants, one of whom sympathizes with the Orange Party, and the other two are persons about whose impartiality we have no information whatever. I do not mean to say that we are not perfectly prepared to leave the whole of this investigation in the hands of English Protestant gentleman. I should, for my own part, rather leave the construction of the Commission in the hands of Gentlemen in this House, provided always that they would select men whom we know to be impartial. If the two Protestants I have referred to are men who sympathize with the Orange Party and are strong Unionists, the probability is that the Report of the Commission will be entirely in favour of the Unionist cause; and we are entitled to urge on the Government the necessity of somewhat modifying this Commission, or else of supplying us with some information which will place the impartiality of the members of the Commission beyond doubt in our minds. I suggest that the relations of Captain M'Hardy with the Commission should be limited in certain respects. Let him give evidence of his experience in dealing with these cases; let him act as an assistant to the Commission; let him act as an expert in suggesting the class of questions to be put to the police, and inform, and advise, and counsel the Commissioners as to the direction of their inquiries. In these respects he might be very useful, although he would not be empowered to take part in the deliberations of the Commission. I cannot see how the Government can expect us to accept this Commision until we know something more about the men who are to compose it. We are asked to plunge into this matter absolutely in the dark, and to commit the interests of Catholics in Belfast to a Commission composed of persons who are as unknown to us as if we only heard their names yesterday. It is impossible that the people of Belfast will have any confidence in the Commission unless they are convinced that these men are impartial men, without prejudice in this political question, and that they are men thoroughly above suspicion.

MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)

The hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) has referred to the fact that this Com- mission appointed to inquire into questions connected with the disturbances arising out of political meetings in Belfast will be composed of three Protestants and one Catholic. The number of the Commissioners being four, I should like to know, if in forming the Report differences should arise and there should be equality of voices, who is to have the casting vote? The President of the Commission, I believe, will be General Bulwer; and the Catholic Party will be at a decided disadvantage, because, as the Attorney General for Ireland has said, it is reasonable to suppose that the Commissioners will to some extent take sides. I think that is an argument in favour of increasing the number of Commissioners to five. In that case there would be more chance of fairness. As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend, it would be easy to select a Protestant to fill the office of Commissioner without going to Scotland for the purpose; and as there have been some doubts thrown upon the bona fides of Captain M'Hardy, I think it would be well to select some person in Ireland to act on the Commission for the purpose of assisting its deliberations. I hope the Chief Secretary for Ireland will succeed in inducing the Irish Government to associate another Commissioner with those named at the present time, in order to give confidence to the people of Belfast, and lead them to believe that the Commission appointed will desire to do impartial justice.


I assure the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. Kenny) that the sole wish I and my Colleagues in the Irish Government have had in this matter has been to endeavour to select for the Commission those who we thought would come to an impartial decision. I need not say anything of the two barristers, Mr. Trench and Mr. Adams, who have been appointed Members of the Commission. Mr. Trench is a gentleman of very considerable experience at the Bar, he is a counsel of standing; and Mr. Adams is also a gentleman of experience and ability. Some doubt has been cast by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) on the propriety of the appointment of General Bulwer. I think that doubt is absolutely undeserved. General Bulwer is, I believe, no politician at all. I have no notion what his political opinions are. I do not think he ever expressed them, or ever devoted his mind to political matters. He is a soldier who has done good service in many capacities, especially as Inspector General of Recruiting. I doubt whether you could find in the British Army a man whose position and past conduct gives greater proof of his capacity for arriving at an impartial decision in this matter. Then as to Captain Wallis M'Hardy, We have heard statements from the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) as to the partiality of Captain Wallis M'Hardy towards the Protestant side; but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) has informed the House we have received very strong remonstrances from what we may call the Orange quarter against the appointment of Captain Wallis M'Hardy. I have made very careful inquiry as to Captain Wallis M'Hardy's capacity, impartiality, and ability in the administration of the Police Force in so important a county as Lanarkshire, and I am satisfied there is no man more qualified to serve on a Commission of this kind than Captain Wallis M'Hardy. As to the insinuation, prompted by the appointment of Captain Wallis M'Hardy, that an attempt may be made to restore the old civic force in Belfast, I may say that the administration of the Police Force in Lanarkshire is the same as that in English counties, and that is far from being of a municipal character. I am anxious to give due consideration to all that may be urged from any quarter of the House as to the composition of this Commission; but I must say I cordially agree with what fell from my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland as to the unwisdom, to say the least of it, of a Commission of this kind being composed of representatives of the Catholic and Protestant population. I have no doubt that the views of the different sections of the population will be represented by very able advocates before the Commission—that is the very way they should be represented—and the Commission will decide on the evidence given before it. I think the only result of there being representatives of the inhabitants of Belfast on the Com- mission would be to spoil its impartiality, to add very greatly to the difficulty of its inquiry, and to raise great doubts as to the wisdom of the decision to which it may come instead of giving that public confidence which the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) desires.

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

I should be very sorry to cast any doubt upon the bona fides of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach). I am, too, very sorry to have to speak as between Catholics and Protestants in this matter; but, unfortunately, we know that on one side these riots were largely the result of religious feeling. Under these circumstances, I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that Catholics have some right to complain that this tribunal should be composed of three Protestants and only one Catholic.


The Secretary, a very important person on the Commission, is a Roman Catholic.


If Captain Wallis M'Hardy were in the same position as the Secretary—namely, a person simply attached to the Commission as an expert and assistant without a vote, a great deal of my objection would be removed; but I submit that the Secretary is in a very different position to a member of the Commission who has a right to call evidence and report upon it. Now, Sir, I think the point remains exactly where I left it in spite of the interruption of the right hon. Gentleman—it is a most unfortunate circumstance that on a Commission which is appointed in a City, distracted and torn by religious dissensions, to inquire into religious riots, there should be three of one creed, and one only of the other. I see no reason to doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has shown a most earnest desire to carry out the policy he stated—namely, that of preserving the peace and order of Belfast. Nothing, as I have said, could be further from my thoughts than to cast the slightest doubt upon his bona fides; but I know that the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly well aware that a Commission should be appointed which should not only be entitled to the confidence of the community, but which should have nothing about it to excite even an illegitimate spirit of suspicion. I think the Catholics of Belfast will not have any degree of confidence in the Commission. The last addition to the Commission will largely decrease that confidence. If the Commission had been left as it was originally there would have been two Protestants and one Catholic upon it. There are some Catholics in Belfast who would have found some objection even then; but they would have said—"The right hon. Gentleman has left the Commission where it stood; this Commission was appointed by the late Chief Secretary who is in sympathy with us, and therefore it has at least some fair claim to our consideration and respect." But the right hon. Gentleman has made a change in the character and personnel of the Commission which was left by his Predecessor; and the change has taken the form of the addition to the Commission of another Protestant, and a Protestant who I may say, without any personal disrespect to him, is very ill fitted for the position. I will say why. Lanarkshire, unfortunately, is one of the districts where we have a repetition of those religious dissensions which exist in Belfast. Unfortunately, some of the Protestants and Catholics have carried into Lanarkshire some of the religious bigotry which I wish to goodness they had left at home, and, consequently, collisions of exactly the same character as those in Belfast are frequent. We have testimony as to the manner in which Captain Wallis M'Hardy has conducted himself in these collisions. Unfortunately the testimony is conflicting. The hon. Gentlemen opposite (Mr. Hozier) spoke, according to his own confession, under the influence of feelings of friendship for persons associated with Captain Wallis M'Hardy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) said he had consulted several Scotchmen with regard to Captain Wallis M'Hardy. I have consulted several Scotchmen, too, and one Scotch Member has assured me that Captain Wallis M'Hardy is a well-known Orange sympathizer. Well, I think that a police officer who has had to do with Orange-Catholic collisions before, and who has earned the reputation of taking a partial part in deciding upon those conflicts, is the last man in the world you should appoint to a Commission of Inquiry at Belfast.

Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

I should like to say I do not think it is possible to consider that a Commission to inquire into the riots at Belfast composed of three Protestants and one Catholic is a fair Commission. I have not the slightest doubt as to the perfect impartiality of the Commission as it stands, but the Government have to see to more than that. I have known Mr. Adams for many years, and I am persuaded there can be no more impartial member of the Commission than he; and I believe the same can be said of Mr. Trench. But I rose mainly to urge the Government to consider the propriety of adding another Catholic to this Commission. Even then there will be a balance in favour of Protestants; and although, as the House knows, I have tried to put the Protestant view of these riots before the House, I think it is important to create a feeling of confidence in the Commission amongst both Catholics and Protestants. I strongly advise the Government, therefore, to add another Catholic to the Commission.


I think it must be conceded by everyone that the people of Ireland should have confidence in the constitution of this Commission. I do not intend to continue the discussion, but to do that which I think is manifestly right—namely, to move the adjournment of the debate, in order to afford the Government an opportunity of reconsidering this matter.

MR. J. NOLAN (Louth, N.)

seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. E. Harrington.)


I hope hon. Members will not insist upon this Motion. We have had a discussion on the general question on which I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) quite satisfied the views of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). Since that time the question of the composition of the Commission has been raised. Of course, as I have already said, the Government are bound in this matter to consider what Commission will give most confidence to the public. We shall take into consideration all that has been said, and we shall do so with the sole desire of constituting a Commission that shall be impartial and that shall receive general approval. That being so, I hope that hon. Members, if they desire, as I believe they desire, that this Bill should proceed, will let it be read a second time to-night. If we are enabled to meet their views, we shall be glad to announce our intention of doing so at a later stage.

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W., and Sligo, S)

Undoubtedly the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) did satisfy many of my views, but he certainly did not meet the objection I took to the constitution of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) has, however, in a few words met us in a reasonable spirit. I certainly give him credit for good faith. I think, when he tells the House that the Government will further consider the question with a view to so constituting the Commission as to command the public confidence, we are entitled to treat such an engagement as meaning more than words. Under the circumstances, I will ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, and allow the Bill to be read a second time, on the understanding that the Committee stage be deferred for a few days. Perhaps on the Motion that you, Sir, do leave the Chair, the Government will be able to make a further statement.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.