HC Deb 09 September 1886 vol 308 cc1774-87
MR. TUITE (Westmeath, N.)

said, he rose to call attention to the administration of justice in Ireland, and to the fact that successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland, in the face of new facts which had come to light in connection with the Barbavilla prisoners, had neglected their administrative duties. His Friends and himself were ready now to offer evidence strong enough to have those unfortunate men released and restored to their homes. They had the evidence of a constable who himself was engaged in these trials, and who would prove that the very sources of justice in Ireland were polluted. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to refer to the Barbavilla murder.


I must call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that I have already ruled, at an earlier period of the evening, that the question of the Barbavilla murder has no reference whatever to the Estimates now before the House. The Standing Order states that distinctly—that no question shall be raised or Motion made that is not strictly relevant to the Estimates to be taken in Supply. I have already allowed two subjects to be brought before the House, because in my opinion they were pertinent to the Estimates—namely, the Motion proposed by the hon. Member for North Leitrim (MR. Conway), and the question of the Truck Act, raised by the hon. Member for Northampton (MR. Bradlaugh). Those two subjects are clearly connected with grants contained in the present Estimates. But the subject which the hon. Member for Westmeath (MR. Tuite) now seeks to bring before the House is, in my opinion, not relevant to the Estimates, and cannot, therefore, be discussed.

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

said, he wished to point out the enormous expense which was incurred in Ireland by employing the Constabulary to assist the landlords in carrying out evictions. He did not think it fair that the ratepayers should be burdened by the cost of the evictions of Irish tenants. He had a strong opinion that it was not the Government's duty to assist landlords at enormous public expense, more especially in cases of ejectment, where there was no movable property on the premises for distraint. He believed the Government would be justified in aiding a fair levy of personalty; but when they went so far as to expend a monstrous sum of money on an almost pauperized peasant, he thought the public ratepayers had a right to enforce a claim of consideration for their interests, and not be punished in addition to the evicted people, who would become immediately chargeable to the rates as well.


Order, order! I do not understand how the hon. Member can connect the question of evictions in Ireland with these Estimates.


I am perfectly aware that there is nothing in the Estimates; but that is another argument in favour of my contention; but, from a public point of view, the Government, in lending their aid to these evictions, have displayed very bad judgment.


The hon. Member is quite out of Order in the observations he is making.


Shall I not be in Order in giving my view of the evictions which from time to time have been carried out in Ireland, and of the experience which we have gained of the action of the Government in connection with them? Not long ago a gun-boat was wrecked off the coast of Donegal while engaged in assisting the landlords to levy rents to a small amount in Tory Island. The Constabulary Vote appears in these Estimates, and I want to know why the Government should expend the public money in the employment of the police to assist the landlords in enforcing executions and evictions?


There is nothing in the Estimates which refers to the subject, and the hon. Member is altogether out of Order.


resumed his seat.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

There is a subject in connection with the Irish Constabulary which has been a long-standing grievance in Ireland, and I hope I shall not be ruled out of Order in calling attention to it. The Standing Order provides that any subject may be discussed on first going into Supply upon the particular class of Estimates to which it relates. I see that in Class III. the Vote for the Irish Constabulary is to be taken; and, therefore, I think I am entitled to call attention to the character of the expenditure under that head. It is a notorious fact that the cost of the Irish Constabulary has long been greatly in excess, having regard to the number of population, to that of any other country on the face of the earth; and, instead of showing any sign of diminution, it has gone on steadily increasing year by year. If attention is not directed to it, in all probability it will still continue to increase. The whole Vote his been augmented in nearly every single item. There is one particular item bearing on this point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Committee—tin item for the Transport Service. This year it has increased from £1,500 to £5,000, which I cannot help regarding as a monstrous state of things. The increase itself is no less than 200 per cent, or £3,500 upon a Vote of £1,500. The cause of this increase is not difficult to understand by those who have watched the course of events in Ireland. It is all owing to the unreasonable action of certain landlords. A considerable portion of it will go, no doubt, to pay the expenses of the large body of police which has been concentrated at Gweedore in order to assist in the evictions which have been carried out there, and in the course of which the amount of money collected for the landlord did not exceed £20, although the expense of that campaign to the country will at the very least amount to £500. I think this is a very strong case to justify the dissatisfaction which is expressed in Ireland against the conduct of the Executive. Then, again, there has been a continual campaign carried on by Lord Kenmare against his tenantry—carried on at enormous expense, and leading also to other contingent expenses owing to the large number of police it is necessary to provide for the protection of his property, and which costs several hundreds of pounds annually. The other day a body of no less than 700 or 800 police was concentrated in the town of Woodford. The traders of Portumna refused to supply them with provisions, and transports had to be employed at an enormous expense to carry them, in their own carts, a distance of 30 or 40 miles. After the campaign had lasted for some days three or four men were evicted, and the amount of rent collected certainly fell short of £100. Altogether the campaign, which has excited the public mind and created a great deal of annoyance, will have cost the country £400 or £500 at the very least. And this is not all; because if hon. Members will look into the details of the case they will find that when the campaign was over it was found that the tenants against whom it was undertaken were altogether destitute, and it would never have been undertaken if the landlords would have consented to meet the tenants in a reasonable spirit. Because the landlord would not meet his tenants the whole Forces of the Crown have been put into operation at an enormous expense to the country, contrasted with the result. It is said that the Government had no discretion in the matter, but that they are obliged to place the Forces of the Crown at the disposal of the Sheriff whenever he requires their aid. I know that perfectly well; but I contend that it is the business of the Irish Government to ask and insist upon obtaining some measure from Parliament to relieve them of this odious duty until some better settlement of the Land Question can be arrived at. I raised the question in this House last week; but I am sorry to say that I got no satisfaction. Since then the evil has gone on unchecked, and therefore I feel it my duty to raise it again. Upon every opportunity I shall continue to protest against the waste of public money in carrying out unreasonable evictions in Ireland. It is ridiculous to tell me that the Irish Executive have no choice in the matter. My answer is that they ought to come to this House and ask for powers that will give them a discretion so far as lending the assistance of the police is concerned. Any sensible man must see that the entire population of Woodford were in unanimity. It became necessary to supply the police with provisions drawn from a distance of 30 or 40 miles, and that fact alone must convince every man of common sense that there is something radically wrong in the state of the law. During the campaign something like £400 or £500 were spent in bringing in provisions—which sum would have been a God-send to the poor shopkeepers in the West of Galway, and yet so intense was their feeling that none of them would consent to take a single farthing of the money. The feeling must not only have been unanimous, but exceedingly strong; and I think the time has come when it is absolutely necessary to introduce a measure to give the Executive Government discretionary powers. I think I am perfectly entitled to draw the attention of the Government to this matter, and to make an appeal to the House for sympathy towards these poor people during the coming winter, in view of the destitution which is likely to exist. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will be able to give us some hope that this expectation will not be disappointed, and that the Government will refuse to send out large bodies of the police upon similar expeditions as that to Woodford, and that before Parliament is prorogued they will be able to provide some measure of relief.

MR. CHARLES GRAY (Essex, Maldon)

said, he rose to call attention to the hardship to farmers caused by their having to go long distances at inconvenient times in order to appeal against assessments of taxes under Schedules A and B, when, he contended, the amount at which they had been assessed was manifestly absurdly high.

MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

I rise to Order. I beg to submit to you, Sir, that the hon. Gentleman is out of Order in raising a question as to the Income Tax appeals against the assessment under Schedules A and B. There is no Vote in the Estimates about to be brought on which relates to Income Tax appeals, and the matter is altogether in the hands of local Commissioners, whose services are rendered voluntarily. There is no charge whatever for their services in the Estimates.


As far as the local Commissioners are concerned, the remarks of the hon. Member have no reference to anything that appears in the Estimates; but I understand that he was advocating a policy of appeal to the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue, and, as far as they are concerned, his remarks would be pertinent.


said, the farmers thought so much of the hardship that they often preferred not to appeal, and then it was said of them that times could not be so bad as they represented them to be because they paid taxes on so high an income. He hoped the Government would try and make the procedure of appeals in such cases more simple and less inconvenient than they were.

MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)

said, he rose to complain of the very large sum of money spent on the Royal Irish Constabulary, which had lately been increasing. For the reason of that increase he contended they had not far to seek, and if they took the trouble to inquire they would find it to be owing to the forces of the Crown being lent to Irish landlords for the purpose of enabling them to extract extravagant rents from poor Irish tenants. Hon. Members from Ireland maintained that it was necessary that a suspension of evictions should now take place, otherwise they believed that it would be the duty of the Government, considering the social state of the country and the inability of the tenants to pay rent, to bring in a Bill to temporarily suspend evictions. If evictions were suspended the great cost of which he complained would be largely curtailed, because much of the expense was incurred in looking after derelict farms, which were of no value to those who lived on them, as their property was the landlords, or creditors, and were merely curses in the district, causing crime, and arousing the spirit of retaliation. He urged the House to insist on lessening this criminal expense by checking evictions. He was sure such a course would be advantageous to the tenant and landlord alike, and would largely restore peace and tranquillity to Ireland. The hon. Member was proceeding to enlarge on this point, when—


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is speaking more particularly of evictions than of the employment of the police, and the policy of evictions has nothing to do with the Constabulary Vote.


I was endeavouring to point out that the increased cost of the police was due to their employment at evictions, and that is a work which we consider to be not only unnecessary, but ill-advised.


said, it was rather difficult to understand the precise object of the discussion which had been going on for some time. The House could not on that occasion enter into the question of the law with regard to evictions. That had been discussed at great length during the debate on the Address, and the House would have before long another debate on the same subject raised on the Bill which he understood the hon. Member for Cork (MR. Parnell) intended shortly to introduce. For these reasons, therefore, he could not understand why the question should be raised now, or what profit, even if it were in Order, would result from the discussion. The hon. Member for Mayo (MR. Dillon) had raised a point in reference to the expenses of the Constabulary and their transport. He was quite aware that those expenses were large, and that they had increased materially; but the hon. Member and his Friends did not charge the Government with any improper or illegal action in the matter. They admitted that, as the law now stood, expenses had to be incurred, and their arguments only went to show that the law which existed at present ought to be altered. But that was a question which it was impossible for the House to discuss at that stage. So far as the expenses were concerned, he could assure the House that no one regretted charges of that kind more than Her Majesty's Government. Why were these charges so large? Not from any desire on the part of the Government, or, he was quite sure, on the part of the late Government, to use the Constabulary to assist landlords to evict tenants, but because the Government, by reason of their position, were compelled to respond to the demands which were made upon them, not by landlords, but by Sheriffs and Sub-Sheriffs, for the protection of themselves and their officers in the execution of a duty which the law imposed upon them. Hon. Members had referred to the large expenditure which undoubtedly bad been incurred the other day in carrying out certain evictions at Woodford. But any hon. Member who had seen the accounts of what occurred on that occasion would admit that, but for the presence of a large force of Constabulary, not only would the Sheriffs and their officers have been subjected to the grave and serious assaults which were committed upon them, but it would have been impossible for them to carry out a duty which the law imposed upon them. The Government, therefore, were obliged, in response to the request of the Sheriffs, to send Constabulary into the district for the preservation of peace and the protection of the officers of the law. Indeed, the whole history of that event showed, not an inability on the part of the evicted tenants to pay their rents, but a determined and desperate combination of the whole of the inhabitants of that district against the execution of the law. He did not wish to enter now into the reasons of that combination. It might be, as the hon. Member who spoke last considered, that the law was not in accordance with the wishes of the population. In that case let the hon. Member and his Friends apply to Parliament to alter the law. That was not a matter to be discussed on the Constabulary Vote. But if hon. Members desired to question the mode in which that Vote was expended, and the details of that expenditure, it would be much easier to do so on the Vote itself, on which his noble Friend had promised a good opportunity for discussion. He hoped that hon. Members would not think it necessary to continue the debate on this occasion, but that they would permit the House to proceed with the Business of Supply, and then hon. Members would come in due course to the discussion of the particular Vote in which they took so proper and great an interest.


said, he recognized the conciliatory manner in which the right hon. Gentleman made his appeal; and he could assure him, on the part of his hon. Friends, that it was not intended to have a long discussion on this particular subject at the present stage. But they felt that it was incumbent upon them to protest against the system of misusing the Constabulary of Ireland, as was done at the present time. They had a right to raise the question, and they were impelled by a sense of public duty to do so. Every increase which was made to the Constabulary Force, abnormally and preposterously numerous as that Force already was, might be traced to the attempts of this country to bolster up the landlords of Ireland in their rack-renting efforts. In the county of Kerry, which he had the honour to represent, there was an extra force of 300 constables. The contrast with the state of affairs in England had struck him very forcibly. He was not a person who was particularly attached to the society of constables, since on two or three occasions he had enjoyed more of their attentions than he desired. But it happened recently that in New market, in Cambridgeshire, he did desire the assistance of the police, and he learned to his surprise that in that town of 6,000 inhabitants the whole police force consisted of four individuals; while in the town of Castleisland, in Kerry, they had the services of 97 policemen to keep the peace for 1,200 people. He stated without fear of contradiction that these extra constables were peace-breakers rather than peace-makers, or peace conservators. The noble Marquess at the head of the Government had called attention the other day to the number of men who were kept employed in protecting the Earl of Kenmare and a lady who resided near Tralee. Some of these constables who were in charge of the estates of this lady had been seen fetching band-boxes and bonnets from the lady's house to the nearest railway station. There were now eight or nine constables on special protection duty on account of this lady, and the calculation was that this special service cost £900 a-year. It was a serious matter that this charge should come upon the public, and be paid for out of the pockets of the ratepayers. He did not pretend for a moment to say that the protection which Kerry landlords had asked for was needless. As a Representative of the County Kerry he confessed with humiliation that in some cases protection was necessary. But he said also that the claim for protection had been abused. He instanced the case of Herbert in North Kerry, who the other day obtained protection on the ground that he had been shot in the nail of his forefinger. No doubt Mr. Herbert was unpopular and desired protection. But Mr. Herbert had recently got a side-car for his own accommodation, Since he had got police protection the police rode about the country on the side-car, for the use of which he was paid, while he himself went about in his common cart. He thought the Government might with advantage give some supervision to these matters, to see that those who sought the protection of the police were not exposed to the temptation of mating a good thing of the arrangement. He mentioned the case of another Kerry landlord who was well known in Tralee, who made sport of his protectors, dodging them in the market place so that he might be able to make a report against them. In another case, in the village of Currans, the constable who ought to be on protection duty outside the house of a farmer named Murphy was seated before the kitchen fire in the company of Miss Murphy, when, perhaps, in the course of demonstrating to her some scientific experiment or other his gun exploded, and the charge entered the arm of her brother. The constable and his companion in arms immediately began skirmishing round the premises outside, and made it appear that the brother had been shot through the window by a "Moonlighter." Thus the story was repeated in the English newspapers, the English public were horrified to read of another disgraceful and cowardly outrage in County Kerry. But although he had watched the newspapers carefully since he had found no contradiction or true explanation of the preposterous story. He mentioned the matter for the purpose of showing the exceptionally friendly relations on which the Constabulary entered with the people whom they were employed to protect, and asked how the people of the country could be expected to have confidence in the Constabulary under such circumstances as he had narrated? It was extremely hard that the people of the country should obtain a bad character on accouut of incidents like these. He did not say that crime and outrage did not occur. He had himself denounced crime and outrage at the risk of his life. But what he said was that the country was over-policed in a ridiculous manner. He had himself been driving back to Tralee a few nights ago from a place in County Kerry which he had been visiting, when he saw a figure rise out of a hedge by the wayside. It looked like a man dressed in a woman's petticoat. His first impulse was to throw a stone at him, as he suspected him of mischief; but it was fortunate that he restrained himself, since it turned out that the man was a sergeant of police, who had with him two armed policemen hiding behind the hedge. He ventured to say that if he had obeyed his first impulse and had cast the stone, he would not now have been present to trouble the House with his observations. The system under which the Constabulary warped their minds filled them with suspicions about everything and about everybody. The police were managed by the landlords. In the County Kerry the present High Sheriff, Mr. Meredith, was a landlord. His father-in-law was Clerk of the Peace and Assessor for the County. The Assessor's son—that was to say, the brother-in-law of the High Sheriff—was the Sub-Sheriff. Mr. Goodman, another relative of the family, was Vice Deputy or Deputy's Deputy of the High Sheriff. It was absurd to tell him after that that there was no connection between landlordism and the extra number of police employed in Kerry. The whole reason why so many extra police were employed in the County Kerry was that the whole administration of the county was in the hands of the landlords. The hon. Member proceeded to comment on the fact that General Buller, who had been sent down as a Special Commissioner to Kerry, stabled his horses with the Earl of Kenmare, whom the police were protecting, and lodged at the hotel where his Lordship's agent boarded. He objected to the maintenance of an inordinate police at the expense of the ratepayers in order to bolster up an oppressive landlordism. ["Oh!"] If the hon. Gentleman opposite had any fault to find with his statements let him reply in fair argument. An "Oh!" or an "Ah!" a grunt or a "Bah!" proved nothing. Something more logical was requisite in the House of Commons. He felt that if he much further detained the House he might not raise himself in its esteem. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen who cheered that statement no doubt meant to imply that he was doing something disreputable. Since that was the case, and he had no character left to lose in their estimation, he might continue his remarks. He proceeded to quote a case from the practice of the Land Court, in which a tenant had had his rent reduced from £145 10s. to £100. The meaning of this was that the tenant in this case had been unduly rack-rented to the amount of £45 10s. a-year. He objected to the imposition of an extra police upon a county to exact these rack-rents.


The hon. Gentleman is going into the whole subject of the Land Question in Ireland, and the only colourable justification he puts forward is the employment of the Constabulary, the pay of whom is included in the Estimates. The hon. Member is altogether out of Order.


I feel that I have already received considerable indulgence from the Chair; and I will not, therefore, persevere further than to reiterate my contention that the need and occasion of this expenditure is the disturbed state of Ireland, and that if you will remove the irritating causes which have led to the necessity for increasing the Constabulary you will do something in the interests of humanity and towards securing the integrity of the Empire.

MR. HAYDEN (Leitrim, S.)

said, that the Constabulary were employed in some cases in large numbers where their services were perfectly useless, and an undue tax for their maintenance was cast upon the ratepayers. He hoped the Government we would remedy that state of things, and also desist from so extensively using the police during the coming winter in enforcing evictions. He was surprised to hear the Chief Secretary make the statement that the non-payment of seed rate and rent, for the recovery of which the police were employed at vast expense, was not due to inability, but to unwillingness to pay. Why, there never was a debt so satisfactorily paid under such circumstances as had been the seed rate, the value received by the people under it being very much under what it would have been were it not for the delay of the Tory Government of the day to recognize in time the distress which prevailed. The absurdity of branches of the League, as alleged, encouraging people not to pay seed rate would be evident when it was recollected that every default in the payment of the rate increased the burden on the landholders in the division, who themselves constituted the greater proportion of the members of the League.


said, it would be easy for him to quote a number of instances to show that the services of the police were abused. In one case in his own district a girl 10 years of age, who was suffering from fever, was one of a family whom the police assisted in evicting. The poor girl died next day. In another case the wife of one James Phelan, to whom a clergyman had administered the last rites of the Church, had been put out upon the ditch side, although the doctor in attendance certified that she was dying. In the district which he had the honour to represent the people were very poor, and in numbers of cases where the police attended evictions no benefit could be derived to the landlords, because the cost of the policemen was infinitely more than the chattels of these poor people would make when seized for the expenses of evictions. He contended that it was the duty of Irish Members to use every legitimate means in their power to bring forward these cases, and show how the English taxpayers were burdened for aiding the landlords in their acts of injustice and cruelty.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,

MR. B. KELLY (Donegal, S.)

said, he cordially endorsed the observations of his hon. Friends who had preceded him. He came from a division of Donegal, and he could speak from personal painful familiarity with the facts that in that division evictions had taken place with painful frequency, and had been attended with those appalling circumstances that invariably distinguished evictions. Landlordism asserted its power in the most grinding way—


reminded the hon. Member that the Question before the House had reference to the Constabulary.


said, that as the Constabulary had been chiefly used for maintaining evictions in Ireland during recent years, he trusted he would not be out of Order if he referred to the painful circumstances with which evic- tions were attended. The police had been principally used in maintaining eviction in Ireland. He could speak from his own personal knowledge that in the district which he had the honour of representing a whole country side at the present time had been swept from their homes. The people had been cleared from their dwellings, and the police had been posted in those dwellings. Their presence there was an object of social discontent, for it was the direct cause of those social inconveniences and social disturbances that were much too frequently illustrated in Ireland. There was one landlord who had bought an estate in his district, and who had swept the poor people from their houses for arrears which they had believed had been wiped out. The Constabulary had there been enlisted to carry out the fell purposes of the landlord. He had been pointed out a most fruitful district in his division of five miles in extent where not the slightest vestige of human existence was to be found. He had been pointed out a bleak hillside where a poor widow and her children had been ruthlessly evicted. The police were there. At one eviction the authorities took the heartless course of engaging a drumming party to deaden the cries of the helpless children who were being driven from their homes. The Government lent all, and furnished all the powers at their command. He believed it was a proper and suitable thing for them to utter a protest against the voting away of money to uphold a force which had been identified in latter days with such heartless and cruel injustice.