§ MR. NEWNES (Cambridge, E., Newmarket)
Mr. Speaker, as the Government have brought in a measure dealing with Boycotting and intimidation in Ireland, this is a fitting occasion to call attention to the prevalence of these two evils in England. When I asked the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) the other evening, whether he intended to take any steps to put down these evils he said he was not aware that they existed in England at all. If he were in his place to-night, I could assure him that there is scarcely a County Member sitting upon this side of the House who could not give to him instances, almost without number, of Boycotting and intimidation in the rural districts of this country. It is true it is carried on here differently from what it is in Ireland. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes; it is carried on in Ireland openly, and in a declared manner; it is carried on in England, secretly and underhand. ["Hear, hear!"] I may inform hon. Gentlemen opposite who cheer that the effects of Boycotting and intimidation in this country are none the less illegal, none the less immoral, and none the less disastrous to the victims than they are in Ireland. It seems, Sir, as though the art of intimidation in the rural districts of England has, by dint of long practice, been brought to the level of a science. In Ireland, it is clumsily done; it is like the act, easily detected, of a man driven to desperation to commit a crime; but, in England, it is like the adroit, the skilful and secret crime of a practised criminal. [An hon. MEMBER: Bosh!]
§ MR. NEWNES
When I put a Question the other evening on this subject to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, I had ample evidence of the existence of this village tyranny; but since the Question and the answer of the right hon. Gentleman were made public, I have received what I must describe as shoals of letters from all parts of the country pointing out that 1688 Boycotting and intimidation exist. It is done in four manners, and is invariably used for the purpose of carrying into effect the political convictions of hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite Benches. The first way in which it is done is to threaten the labouring people with a reduction of wages; the second way, is to threaten loss of employment; the third way, is, in case of shopkeepers, to threaten loss of custom; and the fourth way is to threaten loss of charity at Christmas and other seasons of the year. [Laughter.] Yes; I will give the evidence, first of all, of a gentleman who has a large practice in the centre of an agricultural district in England. This is what he writes to me, and I am willing to show the letters I have received to any Member of Her Majesty's Government who may desire to see them—Boycotting and intimidation is most extensively prevalent in the rural districts of this and neighbouring counties. I say this of my own knowledge, and I have very good authority for saying that the same practices exist throughout the entire district. If an inquiry were made, I am sure an abundant evidence could be produced of the truth of what I am stating. As to Boycotting, I consider it a very serious evil in the rural districts. The village grocers are, in the great majority of cases, Liberal, but since the county franchise was carried they have been severely Boycotted by the local clergymen and landlords and farmers. In some cases, the supplying of blankets, &c, for the local clothing club has been taken away from the village shopkeepers, which is a very great hardship indeed.The report goes on to say—That in many parts there are Liberal voters who dare not avow themselves Liberals, and that many men are threatened with loss of employment.[Cries of "Where?"] Everywhere! I am not speaking now of individual instances. What I have read represents the state of things right throughout the rural districts of England. [Renewed cries of "Where?"] I have already said "Everywhere in the rural districts." Farmers let it be understood by their men that if they vote Liberal they will not be kept on at work through the winter. ["Where?"] I will give you the evidence. I cannot show the letters that I have, for the simple reason that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) refused to show the letters he had received—for the reason that the letters 1689 are in most cases from the poor victims who have been ground down by this relentless tyranny.In one case a farmer was charged with intimidation. The evidence was perfectly clear and conclusive, but the jury would not convict.I wonder whether the Chief Secretary for Ireland will recommend that we should change the venue to Dublin. The Voters' Protection Society, formed some time ago, examined into a large number of cases of the very kind I am describing to the House. Though they had 44 good cases, most of them of a very clear character, they only brought five of them before the magistrates; but out of the five cases brought forward, they were only able to obtain punishment in one case. The evidence was ample enough in the other cases; and in the case in which they did obtain punishment, the magistrates censured the accused for having come to an arrangement by which he had to pay a fine. And this is what is added to the report—Could this case have been tried without any political or class prejudice a conviction would, in the opinion of all who heard it, have been assured.Now, Sir, I will read an account of something which has taken place in a village in Somersetshire, and which, I believe, has been published in some of the newspapers—The working men voted for the Liberal candidate. Since then the most persistent efforts have been made to break up the working men's club, and because the members would not elect the squire's nominee as secretary, they have been turned out of their premises.Another report says that—Many Liberals dare not attend meetings in their own villages, but walk five or six miles to Liberal meetings in another village, where there is no chance of their masters seeing them.This is the evidence given by the editor of an influential paper—We will undertake to maintain that for every landlord or agent who suffers by the combination of the tenants and inhabitants of Ireland, there are at least 100 poor people in England who endure cruel hardships from the relentless tyranny of their masters and landlords.Now, Sir, many of the charges that have reached me have been brought against members of a society which takes its name from a very favourite flower. It is sad to think that the beautiful primrose, which grows in our woods and hedgerows—an emblem of purity and 1690 innocence—is fast becoming a synonym of all that is underhand and oppressive. In conjunction with the modern Tory, it cannot be said—A primrose by the river's brimA yellow primrose was to him,And it was nothing more.It is a great deal more than that. It is a name under which to cajole, and, if that fails, to threaten and to punish. It is a name under which to use pernicious, tyrannical, illegal, and immoral political pressure. We have no objection to the Tories' Habitations and their ruling counsellors, and the rest of their flummery. If they find that the policy embodied in the Tory programme is not sufficiently attractive in itself, there can be no objection to their adding a farce to the play-bill; but, Sir, that farce is rapidly becoming a licence under which to break the law. The flagrant way in which the ladies of the Primrose League broke the law during the recent political contest was most amusing. In some cases, probably, they did not know the extent of their wrong-doing; but in other cases it seemed as though they were put up to fight the battle of the Tory Party against the provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act, on the ground that their supposed ignorance of its provisions would excuse them. There has been a great gallantry on the part of the Liberal Party with regard to these ladies; but it is quite certain that if the lady members of the Primrose League had been proceeded against under the Corrupt Practices Act, many of them would now be working out sentences of imprisonment. Although there has been great forbearance in the past, there is, I contend, a very angry feeling springing up which will, in course of time, recoil not only on the dames of the Primrose League, but on the Conservative Party. I will only give one or two instances of the way in which the dames of the Primrose League do their political work. Here is one letter I have received—On going past a dairyman's I saw Liberal bills displayed. On passing again, later in the day, I saw the bills had been removed, although portions still adhered. I asked why they had been removed. He said that shortly after he put them up he was waited on by a member of the Primrose League, who was a customer of his, and told that unless he took the Bills down within two hours he need not call again with his milk.That is not to be taken merely for what 1691 in itself it is worth; but it is to be taken as representing the action of the dames of the Primrose League throughout the entire country. Here is another letter—Will you be good enough, in consequence of the system of Boycotting and intimidation practised by the Tories on Liberal tradesmen, to withhold my name as I am one of the victims.Well, Sir, large numbers of the poor people in the rural districts are honest and earnest men, strong in their political convictions, but they have been driven in many cases, for the sake of themselves and their families, to sacrifice their political freedom. Some surprise has been expressed at the difference between the Liberal vote in the counties at the Election in 1885 and at that in 1886. That difference has been attributed to the unpopularity of Home Rule; but I assure the House that a large amount of it was due not to the people in the agricultural districts being unwilling to give the Irish people the management of their own affairs, not to an unwillingness on their part to support the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), but to the fact that between the two Elections the people had to pass through a long and a hard winter, during which they were subjected to an amount of paltry tyranny and oppression which was a disgrace to the Tory Party and a scandal to the country. When the franchise was extended to the rural districts it was intended that the poor man should give his vote as freely as the rich man; but it seems to be the opinion of many employers of labour in rural districts that when they buy a man's labour they also buy his vote, and if he refuse to give it to them it is an act of impertinence and insubordination. Well, Sir, I have brought this question before the House in order that these practices may be exposed, in order that public opinion may be brought to condemn them, and in order that persons may know that if they use their positions for the purpose of trampling upon the political freedom of England they are guilty of an act which every honest man will treat with disgust and contempt.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I am not surprised, Sir, that hon. Members on the other side of the 1692 House should receive with cheers and laughter, and other well-known signs of incredulity, the strange but true facts that have been placed before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for the New market Division of Cambridge (Mr. Newnes). The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), in his sublime ignorance of everything that tells against his own side, assured us the other day that he knew nothing of these practices. Well, perhaps that might arise from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman represents the Strand, and not a County Division. We, who do represent County Divisions, do know something of the tyranny—[Laughter.] I do not know what there is to laugh at. I represent a County Division, and I have suffered from the effects of this tyranny and intimidation, and I have long wanted an opportunity of placing some of these facts before the House. I am glad that such an opportunity is afforded me this evening. I can conceive no better occasion when a matter of this sort should be brought before the attention of the House of Commons than the eve of the great struggle—which I suppose will commence next week—on the question of putting down Boycotting in Ireland. It is not for us now to argue the question whether Boycotting can be put down by legislation or not; I am content to rely upon the opinion expressed by the Leader of the Tory Party. But I do say that, considering the evidence we have of what is going on to-day in England, it will be a scandalous thing if, when you are bringing in a most drastic measure to put down Boycotting in Ireland, you refuse to take notice of what is being done at your own doors by Members of your own Party. Boycotting in this country is an engine of oppression. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) stated the other day it was used in wantonness in this country. It is a weapon of oppression in this country used by the powerful and the rich, and the people who call themselves religious persons, and autocratic squires, for the purpose of crushing down, and ruining, and driving into starvation and misery the poor creatures dependent upon them; and that is an infinitely greater crime in the opinion of every honest man, I am sure, than the Boycotting in Ireland, 1693 which is used not out of wantonness, not for the purpose of oppression, but in self-defence, for the purpose of defending those who have been suffering from a great tyranny at the hands of their landlords for generations past. That is the distinction between Boycotting in this country and Boycotting in Ireland. Here it is a fashionable expedient for carrying Primrose Knights into Parliament; in Ireland it is the expedient of men driven to desperation by misery and ruin which the rack-renting landlords have brought upon them. Now, I can give one or two instances which have come under my own notice—and I am perfectly willing to show the letters and documents relating to these matters to anyone who desires to see them. I have received letters, and not a few of them—just as the hon. Member who introduced this Motion has received—referring to and describing the miserable tactics resorted to by gentlemanly Tories, who are not too proud to sail into power and place by means of the votes they have extorted from poor people. One letter which I received the other day was from an agricultural labourer in the County of Kent, and I am willing, as I have already said, to show that letter to any hon. Gentleman. The letter was sent to me simply in order to bring to my attention what the humble writer no doubt thought was a grievance in connection with the administration of the school in his own parish, and yet he had to wind up his letter—I dare not give you my name, because if it should transpire I should be turned out of my employment immediately.I have a letter from a gentleman resident at Bournemouth, where I attended a public meeting not long ago. My informant tells me I am perfectly at liberty to mention the facts, which are simply these—that he has been turned out of a public office, of which he has been in the enjoyment for a number of years, simply and avowedly because he happened to be a Liberal instead of a Tory. Again, I have received information of a case of another unfortunate man. This is certainly not a case of a political complexion; but it is not impertinent to the question, because it shows how miserably dependent upon their employers many thousands of honest working men are. A working man at Bedminster, Somersetshire, was not 1694 only turned out of employment, because he was summoned to give evidence in connection with a colliery accident, but he was practically Boycotted throughout the county in which he sought his livelihood. Word was passed round the ring of employers that this man should not be employed at any of the collieries.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to give mo the name of the man? I will communicate with the hon. Member privately. I have reason to believe I know the circumstances of the case, and I think I shall be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman in regard to it.
I will speak to the hon. Gentleman about the case subsequently. I shall be happy to show him the letter I have received. It is the letter which I used the other day in my own constituency; I read a portion of it, and, so far as I am aware, there is nothing to conceal about it. Now, I may refer to a case, which was mentioned to me the other evening, at Sunningdale, in Berkshire. I am bound to say, however, that the only evidence which has come to me is the combined testimony of a large number of persons at a public meeting—I do not state the facts of my own absolute knowledge. But I will mention the names, because my view is that it is only by holding up to the unpopularity which public opinion can bring to bear on these people that you can cause them to desist from indulging in this detestable system of tyranny and oppression. I am told that Captain Walter, of Wokingham, who, I fancy, is connected with the Mr. Walter who has a large interest in The Times newspaper, Boycotted a tradesman at Wokingham, and deliberately wont, or sent, about requesting or persuading others not to have any dealings with this tradesman simply because he was on the Liberal instead of on the Tory side. I give the statement as it was given to me and corroborated at a public meeting at which I was speaking a few nights ago. In regard to tradesmen, I wish every tradesman who is Boycotted would adopt the course I have urged my own constituents to follow, and which I urge every tradesman who is Boycotted to follow—the advice I give to a tradesman is, that whether he is Boycotted by Mrs. So-and-so or Lady This or the Duchess of That, no matter how 1695 high in degree the tyrants are, he should place a largo placard over his shop or place of business stating—"I am Boycotted by Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so, because I have the courage of my opinions, and am a Radical." I believe that if the people had the sense to do that, and expose, as it were, in the pillory of the opinion of every passer-by the contemptible meanness of the aristocratic swells who resorted to these dodges—dodges which make one's blood tingle with indignation—I believe we should very soon find that Boycotting would come to an end. Now, with respect to another form of Boycotting mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for the New market Division of Cambridge—namely, Boycotting in connection with charities—I could give instances occurring in my own constituency. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend, and many other hon. Gentlemen, could give instances of assistance at Christmas time in the way of doles, or of blankets and soup, and the various other necessaries which are distributed to the poor at that season of the year, being denied by squires, and even by parsons, to some of the usual recipients, simply and solely because they have had the courage to vote for either the Radical or the Liberal candidate. The other day I attended a meeting with Mr. Whiteley, a gentleman who contested the Ashford Division of Kent at the General Election in 1885. I am sorry the hon. Member for that Division (Mr. Pomfret) is not present, because I think he would be able to throw some light on the subject. Now, I am assured by Mr. Whiteley that Boycotting was rife in every part of the Ashford Division, and was pursued to an extraordinary and cruel extent. The hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject mentioned the Voters' Protection Committee, which took up some of the cases which occurred in the Election of 1885; and he mentioned that only five cases had been brought before the Courts, and that out of these five in only one had a conviction been obtained. He gave the true reason why no conviction could be obtained. You cannot get magistrates, who, in this country are supposed to be above all these petty considerations, to do their duty. You cannot get them to behave more honestly in this country than they are sometimes said to do in Ireland, and you cannot 1696 get juries in this country to respect their oaths when the juries are composed of farmers and employers, and a charge is brought against one of themselves. I make that charge deliberately, and it is capable of proof. You are so shocked with the demoralization of the jury system in Ireland, that, forsooth, you must do away with it altogether, and bring Irish prisoners over here to be tried; but I maintain you had better look to what is happening in your own neighbourhoods. It would be as well to pluck the beam out of your own eye before you try to extract the mote out of the Irish eye. If it is necessary to bring Irish prisoners over here to secure a fair trial, I certainly think it is necessary to send our poor, unfortunate agricultural labourers out of this country if they are to meet with anything like justice when their cases are brought to the front. But I was pointing out to the House that only five cases were brought to the test of trial out of some 44 mentioned by my hon. Friend. The reason of this was the same which we have heard so much of on the other side of the House in respect to those cases which, we are told, cannot be made amenable to the law in Ireland. You cannot get evidence. The poor people over here are so intimidated that they dare not come forward to give evidence. It is not the Moonlighter here, it is not the Nationalist, but it is the parson, and the squire, and the Primrose Dame, these noble lords and ladies, these people who are supposed to be the advisers, the instructors, and the friends of the poor, who are guilty of the detestable system of Boycotting and intimidation. There is not only intimidation, but there is corruption as well. I will not, however, trouble the House with any specimens of the corruption which takes place, I will reserve them for some other occasion. Sir, it is not only, as we know, because people happen unfortunately to hold Radical or Liberal opinions that they are Boycotted; but it does frequently happen that people are Boycotted in this country on account of their religious persuasion. It is a notorious fact that the most noble the Marquess of Salisbury himself Boycotted the Dissenters of Hatfield, and prevented them getting a convenient spot on which to build a chapel. That is only one instance I can give you more instances of the tyranny practised 1697 upon the Dissenters. In my own constituency the hardest terms have been exacted when they have wanted a bit of land on which to build a chapel. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for the Newmarket Division has stated, that Liberals in country districts dare not attend meetings in their own neighbourhoods. If they want to listen to Liberals they have frequently to go miles away. In Berkshire I was told of many instances of this kind, and also of instances were men refrained from exercising their rights of citizenship from fear of being found out, and of being dismissed from their employment. Another case in the same district came under my notice of the peculiar tactics employed by the Primrose dames; these ladies who are so anxious to see their husbands Members of the House of Commons could not let poor agricultural labourers alone even on Sunday; could not leave them to eat their Sunday's dinner undisturbed; but must, between the Divine Services in the morning and afternoon, when they knew they would catch the labouring men and their families at dinner, go to their houses and solicit their votes. Now, I think, if they had no respect for men, at any rate, they might have some little respect for the Sabbath. ["Hear, hear!"] I am glad hon. Members opposite agree with me, and I only ask them when they attend their own meetings of the Primrose Habitations to enforce the lesson which they believe in here upon those with whom they consort out of doors. These are not the only specimens of tyranny of the same kind. There has been a vast amount of tyranny in connection with this Jubilee business. Hon. Members may not think so, but many pennies have been wrung from the poor people under threats of coercion. [Cries of "Where?"] Well, I have letters which I shall be happy to show any Member who likes to see them. I have a letter from an unfortunate seaman complaining—[Cries of "Read!" and Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR: Give us a Committee of Inquiry.] I have letters from soldiers and sailors, and when I brought this matter before the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton) and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope), they, of course, were able to give very emphatic 1698 denials to the statements. [Cheers.] Yes, we all know the value of official denials. The noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman have always been able to assume a great air of incredulity concerning these things, and it is not easy for an hon. Member to bring out all the evidence he possesses in the form of a question to Ministers. I support the appeal of my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). Give us a Committee of Inquiry into these allegations; give us a Royal Commission, and we will give you evidence; and I challenge hon. Members opposite—I challenge every upright and honourable Englishman—and I believe some of the Tories are upright and honourable—I challenge Members of Her Majesty's Government, if they believe in their case, if they believe that our complaints are unfounded, to meet the charge like men, and be willing to have the matter sifted to the bottom. What do we find? Detestable charges have been brought against hon. Members sitting here, and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) has had the bad taste to suggest that the indictments and depositions used in prosecutions long since disposed of either by their having been withdrawn or by the acquittal of the prisoners, should be worked up and published as a Parliamentary Paper, and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) is quite willing to assent to such an infamous piece of partizanship as that. If you are so anxious to probe that matter to the bottom, if you are so willing to go to any expense in the endeavour to bolster up the detestable charges which have been made against the Irish Members, why should you not be prepared to accept our challenge, and to agree to an inquiry into the specific charges which we have brought against yourselves? [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yes, I have given specific instances, and my hon. Friend has also given specific instances, and we say that if you believe that you are perfectly safe against charges of this kind you have nothing to fear. If you believe that what we assert does not exist, if you are not afraid to meet the charges, then let us have a searching inquiry to show how utterly prejudiced we on this side of the House are to believe these old wives' 1699 tales which every post brings to us from one part of the country or another. We shall see whether Her Majesty's Government will accept the challenge. All I can say is that I am not afraid of the test of inquiry by a Committee or a Commission; we can bring evidence to prove what we have stated, and we have no reason to fear the result. Then there is one other case of intimidation which is, I believe, a direct infringement of the Acts relating to Parliamentary Elections, and that is—and here, again, I have evidence of the fact which I state—that on many occasions, on some occasions, at any rate, in the last Election you had Tories going to the polling booths and distinctly informing the ignorant voters that the Ballot was not secret, and that, however they voted their employers would know how they voted. This occurred in my own district. [Cries of"Name!"] I am prepared to give the names of the persons if Her Majesty's Government will give me a Committee before whom I can bring the facts.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
Allow me to point out that the hon. Gentleman has the remedy in his own hands. What he states is distinctly illegal.
I am aware it is distinctly illegal. I am aware that Members of the Tory Party are frequently guilty of illegal acts, and I have already explained the reason why we cannot bring things home, and that is because of the tyranny and intimidation which has existed and which is equal to what you allege is existing in Ireland. We maintain that in every County of England the intimidation is such as to prevent the unfortunate victims of Tory oppression giving evidence. We have taken up 44 cases, and we have only been able to bring five cases to the test of a trial, and out of these five cases we could only get a conviction in one. [Cheers.] Well, you should wait before you cheer, and know what was the evidence placed before the tribunals. I did not know that this Motion was likely to come on to-night or I should have taken care to have in my pockets documents which I could have quoted to the House. I will add that I did not intend to refer to these matters on this occasion, because I had intended, and I had hoped, to have had 1700 an opportunity of mentioning these things in connection with the Coercion Bill when it next comes on. Now, Sir, I have, at any rate, made a strong case. [Cries of"No, no!"] Oh, I do not for one moment suppose that what we have said has had the slightest impression on the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not think it would be worth while to try and make any impression upon them, but I am glad we have had this opportunity of placing it on record that we have evidence of malpractices which the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stepney Division of the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Isaacson) admits to be illegal, and that we have challenged you to receive the evidence which we pledge ourselves to place before a suitable tribunal, such as a Select Committee of this House. I say again, and I say before the whole country—and I hope we shall be able to reach the country—I say that, if you do not choose to accept the challenge which we have given to you, if you do not choose to clear yourselves of the charges which we bring against you as Members of the Tory Party and as Members of the Primrose League, I have not the slightest doubt as to what the verdict of the country will be, and that if we are driven to the necessity of doing it, I do not despair of being able to form such an Anti-Boycotting Association as will make very short work of the Primrose League.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
Mr. Speaker, I must confess it is a matter of surprise to me that no Member of the Tory Party, and especially no Member of the Government, has thought it right to get up to answer the speeches that have been made upon this subject. I am the more surprised at this conduct on the part of the Tory Party in view of the canons of political criticism which the Leaders of that Party have recently laid down. Very serious charges have been made against the Tory Party—[Laughter]—very grave charges have been made against the Tory Party, and the modern canon of Tory political criticism is, that when a charge is made, it is not for the accuser to substantiate the charge, but for the accused to prove its falsehood. Now, Mr. Speaker, I do not accept that canon of political criticism, but I think the Tory Party ought to be logical and consistent. If they think that the mere 1701 statement of a charge necessitates a defence, I want to know why they have skulked and remained silent to-night while grave charges of intimidation and Boycotting and illegality have been brought against them by hon. Members of this House? I may say J was astonished at the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite—astonished and edified. They began by trying to drown the charges with shouts of derision, and then, when the charges became grave and serious, they became silent and ashamed. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Well, I correct the expression—partly silent and partially ashamed, which is about as far as I can expect Members of the Tory Party to go. Now, I have had the opportunity of going up and down the country, and of hearing a good deal about Boycotting. I said, in the course of a debate last Session, that there was more Boycotting in one county in England by the Primrose League than there is in all the 32 counties of Ireland put together. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] That is a statement of the truth of which I am firmly convinced. It is a statement which you doubt. Well, bring my statement and your doubt to the test of investigation by a Committee of this House. It is all nonsense for you to shout denial of these charges across the floor of the House. You are afraid of investigation. The country will judge that you have allowed judgment to go against you by default, because you have no answer to the charges, of the truth of which you are convinced. Now, Mr. Speaker, this intimidation takes very many forms. The artizan is Boycotted. The agricultural labourer is Boycotted. The shopkeeper is Boycotted. The Dissenting clergyman is Boycotted. During the Election of 1866 there were several counties in this country in which the agricultural voters were canvassed by the squire and his agent. I see an hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for South Northants (Sir Rainald Knightley), who, I was told, canvassed some of the labourers in his constituency—some of the labourers in his own employ—and I maintain that the canvassing of a labourer by his squire is simply a euphemistic term for intimidation. In other constituencies labourers were kept by their employers in the fields until after 8 o'clock on the day of election in order that they could 1702 not have an opportunity of recording their votes. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Am I not to mention these facts? I am intimately acquainted with them. I am ready to prove, if the Government have the courage to bring these charges to the test of examination, another form of Boycotting as regards artizans. I have been told of cases where colliers have been dismissed from their employment because they were supposed to be Liberals, and then when they have gone from colliery to colliery to find work they have been refused it, and all because the word "Boycott them" had been sent round by a Tory employer. Why, in some constituencies in this country where there are large numbers of workmen under Tory employers, Liberal candidates and their friends are earnestly begged not to come near the streets in which the labourers live, lest the labourers should be suspected of an intention to vote Liberal, and should thus run the risk of being Boycotted. I know of several cases of this kind. In one constituency I drove up to the door of a poor voter. I went into the first room in the house I came to. I could not find the man there, and, with that freedom which people allow themselves at election times, I searched the house through, but could not find him. When the election was over I got a letter from him, in which he told me he heard a car driving up, that he had voted for justice to Ireland, but that he was afraid when he heard the car driving up the street that one of his employers was coining to visit him, and that because he did not want to be betrayed either into a lie or into a statement which might endanger his employment, he left the house by the back door. These are things going on all over England; going on wherever an election takes place, and the hon. Gentlemen opposite know that this is so as well as I do. There is the Boycotting of Dissenting clergymen. I have here a letter received by a Member of this House. This hon. Gentleman bought a certain estate, and thereupon a member of the Primitive Methodist Body wrote to him, asking him if he would allow a Methodist chapel and school to be erected on the estate. Why was this letter written? Because the gentleman who formerly owned the estate was a 1703 Tory who refused the people the privilege of erecting a place in which they might worship God as they liked. And as my hon. Friend the Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall (Mr. Conybeare) stated, the fact is undeniable—it has been published the world over—that the present Prime Minister (The Marquess of Salisbury) has over and over again, in the narrowest and meanest spirit of intolerance, refused to allow the Dissenters of his district to have any land on which to build a place of worship. [Cries of "No, no!"] You say "No!" Will you allow us to bring the matter before a Committee of this House? Well, then there is another form of intolerance—there is Boycotting in the shape of bribery, and this is mainly carried on by clergymen of the Established Church. How does this Boycotting take place? There are in every parish certain poor and dependent persons, and charitable people, many of them Tories, many of them members of the Church of England, get up subscriptions for the purpose of relieving these poor and dependent persons. Tory clergymen are often intrusted with the disbursement of these subscriptions; and does not everybody know that the amount of charity to poor voters is altogether dependent upon whether they vote Tory? [Cries of "No, no!"] I have been told on high authority that denials across the floor of the House of Commons are not disproof. I know this statement to be true. Well, Sir, I am asked for cases. My hon. Friend the Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall has mentioned the case of Captain Walter, of Wokingham. I will give another case. A friend of mine stood as a Liberal Home Ruler for a constituency at the last Election. His father was a shopkeeper, and a man who had kept accounts with him for 30 years closed them because he happened to take up the cry of Home Rule and Justice to Ireland. Well, now, there is another form of Boycotting—Boycotting by refusal of the use of halls and schools for meetings. That subject has already been dealt with, and I will not refer to it further. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) is not in his place, because I wish to point out that one of the most important Boycotting 1704 institutions in this country are the bookstalls of Messrs. W. H. Smith and Sons. I have often said in this House that I would take an opportunity of calling attention to the monopoly thus enjoyed on the railways of this country by that firm. I hold that as railways are monopolies, sanctioned by the Legislature, we have a right of control over all their proceedings, over all their contracts, and even their bookstalls, and I say that if that question is ever raised in this House I shall be able to prove that the firm of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury Boycotts all the Liberal literature of this country. [Cries of "No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen cry "No, no!" They will excuse me if I say I know a little more about literature than they do. It has been my unfortunate lot to contribute a little to literature, and I happen to know a little about the subject. I repeat my statement that the firm of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury Boycotts all the Liberal literature of this country, whether it takes the shape of newspapers, periodicals, or books; and, on the other hand, it advertises, promulgates, encourages in every form it can, the Tory literature of this country.
§ MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
Allow me to say that I purchased a copy of The Pall Mall Gazette to-day at one of the bookstalls.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I cannot congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his interruption. His interruptions usually help his opponents, and are damaging to his own case. I hope his perusal of the solitary copy of The Pall Mall Gazette is the beginning of that process of enlightenment of which he has been largely in need. It is no part of my case against W. H. Smith and Sons that they do not allow a single copy of Liberal papers to be sold upon their bookstalls. My case is this—that they push Tory literature in every form they can; and I think those who are acquainted with the sale of literature know how much the trade is responsible for its success or failure. If hon. Gentlemen had to make their living by literature they would know a little more about the subject, and would not be so bland in their treatment of the question. I say that Liberal literature is, so far as possible, suppressed and Boycotted on, 1705 Smith's bookstalls, and Tory literature pushed in every way. If you go down to the bookstalls now you find that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury is not ashamed to allow to be exposed, and to be sold as largely as possible on his bookstalls, a facsimile of a letter which an hon. Member of this House has declared publicly to be a vile forgery. Have we not come to a pretty pass in British politics when political opponents endeavour in every way they can to promulgate and sell in face of statements in this House facsimiles of letters which are forged! We have given a challenge to the Government and to the Party opposite. Will they accept it? Will they consent to a Select Committee, or to a Royal Commission, or to any form of public inquiry by which our charges can be brought to the test of investigation? There is silence on those Benches; hon. Gentlemen opposite are too discreet. Now, Sir, there is Boycotting of colliers, shopkeepers, and labourers. In several constituencies in which I have addressed meetings during the last six months, I have asked this question publicly—"Is it true of your constituency, as of others, that shopkeepers have been told that if they vote Liberal their business will be withdrawn?" And cries of affirmation have come from all parts of the room. Are these statements not true? [Cries of "Yes!"] Then, will you not submit them to the test of inquiry, supposing these statements to be true? And hon. Gentlemen opposite know that they are true. I ask, is there no necessity for a clause like this, that any person may be prosecuted before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction "who shall take part in any criminal conspiracy to compel or induce any person not to deal with, work for, or hire any person or persons in the ordinary course of trade, business, or occupation?" Why, Sir, in every county of England, in almost every constituency of England, there are members of the Tory Party and Primrose League who are endeavouring to induce persons not to deal with, or to work for, or to hire certain persons in the ordinary course of trade, business, or occupation, because these persons have had the courage of their political opinions. Is there no necessity in this country for a clause against dangerous associations? I maintain that the Primrose League is 1706 one vast, strictly organized, and highly developed system of Boycotting. Hon. Gentlemen are mistaken if they think they are going to get rid of this question by laughing it out of court. We shall recur to this question, we shall bring it before the notice of the country, we shall press it home against the Party opposite; and I am sure that by whatever cajolery and the use of the noble art of political profligacy the Party opposite may endeavour to maintain their position, the people of this country will eventually take strong action against the efforts to prevent men exercising those rights of citizenship which have been given to them by Parliament.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
The hon. Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall (Mr. Conybeare) has preferred several charges of intimidation and Boycotting against Members of the Conservative Party. He mentioned one case the facts of which I think I know very well. It was a case where some miners lost their employment for a time owing to their taking part in an inquiry following an accident. All but one of these men have now returned to their employment, and are in full work, some at the pit in question, and others at another place. The hon. Member for Camborne has not been able to give me the name of the employer, but I think he is a gentleman I know. He is a most generous and kind-hearted man; he has taken all the men who applied back into employment; he is a Liberal in politics, and I have every reason to believe voted against me in the 1885 Election.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I only referred to one man who had been discharged because he had given evidence at an inquiry relating to an accident. I did not know the employer was a Liberal, though if I had it would have made no difference. I was only showing what intimidation is practised in the country.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
I am not aware that the men were refused employment. I certainly know that those who live in my Division were taken back into employment immediately they applied to be so.
MR. HANDEL COSSIIAM (Bristol, E.)
I wish to intervene, for a few moments, in this debate, which is one of great importance, and one to which I hope the House will be willing to listen. 1707 Quite sure I am of this, that having given the labouring classes the franchise it is our duty to protect them in the exercise of it. The Ballot Act was passed with that object, and anything like intimidation, or anything like a threat to influence people by unrighteous means, is a violation of the principle of the Ballot Act. In that we all agree. I have spent a long life amongst the working classes of this country, and I am here to say that the amount of intimidation, the number of threats to turn men out of work, in order to prevent them exercising their privileges of citizenship in a right way, is such that it is time for this House to take notice of it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will not get rid of this question by attempting to laugh it out of court. We are determined to bring the matter before the country, and to bring it forward in such a way as to prevent a recurrence of these improper practices. My hon. Friends have not overstated the gravity of these evils. I know cases of farmers who have not been allowed to retain possession of their farms because they are Liberals. I know Nonconformists who have been prevented erecting places of worship by Tory squires. My hon. Friend the Member for the Newmarket Division of Cambridge (Mr. Newnes) has done great service to the country by bringing this question before the House. I did not expect that the debate on this subject would have been reached to-night, or I should have taken the trouble to have brought specific cases, which I can cite by the dozen, of intimidation. But sufficient cases have already been cited to cause the House of Commons to take action. I have been watching this evening to see whether hon. Gentlemen who wax eloquent in reference to the evils of Boycotting in Ireland will do so in reference to the same evil in England. The great principles of right have no geographical boundaries. What is wrong in Ireland is wrong in England; and I am persuaded that while there is one case of Boycotting in Ireland, there are 10 or 20 in England. The time has come when this matter must be dealt with. We have given the masses of the country the franchise, and they must be protected in its exercise. I hope the Tory Party will consent to a Committee of Inquiry. If they will, I pledge myself to bring forward such cases as will make 1708 the Committee feel that we have not brought the matter up too soon.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I have not the slightest wish to prolong this debate; but, in last winter's Session, I had myself a Motion on the Paper on the subject of intimidation in English counties. The case has been stated with great force by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, though his remarks have been received with derision by hon. Members opposite. We have been repeatedly challenged during this debate to produce specific instances. It is not difficult to produce a great many instances to show that undue influence has been exercised, and that the provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act have been virtually set at naught. It may be familiar to Ministers and to hon. Gentlemen opposite, that, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James)—who now co-operates with them politically, and whose advice they ought to be ready to take—introduced his first Bill dealing with corrupt practices in 1882, he felt so strongly the danger of cases of undue influence being dealt with unfairly by benches of magistrates, that he proposed that cases of this kind should be referred to the Superior Court. This proposal, we ought to remember, was made before the franchise was extended to the humbler classes in the counties. Well, Sir, as we have been challenged to produce specific instances, I think I am justified in mentioning a case which occurred in the county I have the honour to represent; it shows very clearly how cases of undue influence are dealt with when they come before magistrates. Now, in South Northamptonshire three men were distinctly threatened with being turned out of their employment if they voted for the Liberal candidate. After the Election, it was supposed that these men had voted for the Liberal candidate, and they were turned out of their employment. The Committee to which reference has been made, the Committee for the Protection of Voters, took up the case, and it was brought before the magistrates. Now, what occurred with regard to that case? The very day before the case was brought before the Bench there was a great Conservative banquet, and at that banquet there were present—I believe I am correct in saying—three of the magistrates who sat on 1709 the Bench the next day to try the case. There was also present at the banquet the agent or representative of the owner of the farm from which the men were turned away, and there was also present the clerk to the magistrates. The case was brought before the Bench and dismissed, although eight credible witnesses, including the three men turned out of employment, swore that the intimidation alleged had been practised. Owing to the action of the Committee for the Protection of Voters, the case was brought before the Grand Jury of the county. It is notorious—it has been stated over and over again in the Press, and one or other of the Tory Members for Northamptonshire will contradict me if I am wrong—the noble Lord the Member for North Northamptonshire is, I am glad to say, in his place, and can point out if these statements are not correct—it has been stated that the evidence of the witnesses was given in the same form before the Grand Jury, and was unshaken by the cross-examination to which the men were subjected; and yet the case was dismissed by the Grand Jury, in the same way that it was dismissed by the magistrates—namely, by a strict Party vote.
§ MR. KING (Hull, Central,)
Mr. Speaker, I beg to call your attention to the fact that there are not 40 Members present.
§ House counted; and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. CHANNING
resumed: I am glad, Sir, that the attempt to Boycott this debate has not succeeded. Now, Mr. Speaker, with regard to my own Division of Northamptonshire, I was credibly informed that at the first Election at which I was a candidate—the Election of 1885—one firm, who employ a large number of men, required their men to pass through the office before the day of election, and that each man was warned not to vote for me. Whether they did or not, I suppose my majority of upwards of 2,000 votes gives some indication, Then, Sir, I may mention a distinct case of threatening in another county Division, and it seemed to me, when I heard the facts from the people who were subject to the threat, to be a case which certainly came very nearly, if not quite, within the provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act. The man was a rate collector, who was a Liberal and 1710 had the courage of his convictions, and had put Liberal bills in his windows. The Conservative candidate for the Division, who was a landowner within that Division, and a magistrate for the county, paid him a visit, and drew attention to the exhibition of the bills. To this man he, being a magistrate for the county, said—"I will throw difficulties in the way of your being appointed rate collector again." Perhaps I may refer to a case of what may be called local government intimidation, which was placed in my hands only a few days ago. A quarrel occurred in a parish of Northamptonshire between the vicar and the schoolmaster. Into the merits of the quarrel I do not care to enter. But I may mention that, some time ago, the schoolmaster received a present from some of the children in the school. When it became known in the village that he was to be dismissed, a Memorial in favour of his retention was signed by 89 householders, amongst whom were the parents of 100 of the 114 children in attendance at the school. At the meeting of the managers, before whom this Memorial was brought by some of the friends of the schoolmaster, they positively refused to have it read, and, by a majority of one, they dismissed the schoolmaster. Into the merits of the dismissal I do not enter at all; but I wish to draw the attention of the House, as we have been challenged to give specific instances, to what has followed on the dismissal of the schoolmaster. As I have stated, a largo number of the householders in the parish expressed their approval of the schoolmaster, and wished him to be retained. The decision having been arrived at, there was a general expression of opinion that it would be better for the parish to have a school board. I may quote from a letter which has been placed in my hands. It states that it was thought better that a school board should be formed for the parish, and several landlords threatened their tenants that, should a school board be formed, their rents would be raised, and that threat seems to have forced some of the parishioners to keep silence, contrary to their conscientious convictions. In one case, a landlord went to one of his tenants and said, "John I understand there is"—[Laughter.] I do not think this is a laughing matter. 1711 I do not consider that attempting to deprive humble men of their means of livelihood is a matter which should evoke laughter from anybody on the other side of the House. At any rate, this is what the landlord said—"John, I understand there is to be a meeting for the purpose of getting a school board. I have come to tell you that, if you vote for the adoption of a school board, I shall give you notice to leave your house." [Interruption.]
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order! The hon. Gentleman has used an expression that he knows to be out of Order. [Several hon. MEMBERS: Who?]
§ MR. CHANNING
Two-thirds of the cottagers have already received notice to quit or pay higher rent, and most of these are Liberals. Well, Sir, we have been challenged to produce specific instances, and, I venture to say, I have laid one or two before the House. I will only add this one further point, that I was recently in Dorsetshire, a county which is peculiarly subject to landlord influences, and I was there informed by credible witnesses that the labourers are so intimidated, that they do not dare to purchase Liberal papers openly or to have them seen in their houses. I am credibly informed that Liberal papers are placed for them in holes and corners of the hedges, and behind trees. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh at that fact, but I do not see why they should do so, or why the evidence that I, as a fairly impartial man, submit should not be received. I have not declaimed against the Primrose League, nor have I denounced the Tory-Party in impatient or extravagant terms. I have endeavoured to lay facts before the House, in answer to distinct challenges from the opposite side. Reference has been made to meetings at which labourers are afraid to show their opinions, or display any party feeling. I can distinctly testify to cases in a village in Northamptonshire—to meetings. At one of these, representatives of the landlords were not present, but at the other there were a number of servants from the "big house" in attendance, or standing round. I can testify myself to the fact, that, in the first case, where no representatives of the landlords were present, the labourers who attended displayed their Liberal sentiments, whilst, in the other case, they obviously 1712 concealed their sentiments and views. I thank the House for having allowed me to make this statement, and I hope hon. Members on the other side, instead of meeting with contemptuous ridicule and equally contemptuous silence, these replies to their challenges, will make some endeavour to answer and refute the charges I have brought against them.
§ MR. JACOBY (Derbyshire, Mid)
We have heard a great deal during recent debates of hon. Members having a special mandate from their constituencies. If I have had a special mandate from my constituency it certainly is with regard to this Boycotting system known as the Primrose League. I wish to approach the question with moderation, believing that our cause is good enough not to require the use of any violent phrases. I know several specific cases of Boycotting by the League in my Division, Here is one. A man who was employed in a foundry for 40 years expressed political views in favour of myself. He was a very active partizan; but very shortly after the Election he was sent about his business. That is one specific case. Another case to which I would refer occurred shortly after the last Election. A number of colliers were going up in the cage, and when they had just started from the bottom of the pit one of them cried out, "Three cheers for Jacoby!" One of the managers happened to hear of it, and immediately ordered the cage to be lowered. The cage was lowered, and the unfortunate victim of this system—who was good enough to cheer me as the Representative of the Constituency—was asked to give his name. The man who had cheered refused to acknowledge himself, and thereupon the manager said that unless the name of the transgressor was announced, he should discharge all the colliers in the cage. Upon this the collier in question gave his name, and he was discharged then and there. But perhaps one of the most ingenious cases of the working of the Primrose League occurred in the case of the schoolmaster in one of the villages in my Division. There were a few Radicals there, but it was very difficult, owing to the tyranny of the League, to know who were Radicals and who were Tories; so the national schoolmaster in that village made each child write a 1713 political essay, and by those means endeavoured to find what were the politics of the parents. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen cry "Oh, oh!" but I can assure the House that this specific charge can be proved before a Committee, if a Committe of Inquiry is appointed. I do not wish to take up the time of the House any further. I am thankful to hon. Members for having, on the very first occasion on which I have had the honour to address the House, received me with such great kindness. I only hope in all seriousness—I believe hon. Gentlemen on the other side are in their heart of hearts in favour of fair play—and I venture to hope that they will not hesitate to cause a searching inquiry into these grave questions of intimidation which have been stated to the House. I trust they will not hesitate to enable this stigma to be removed if the charges are not true, to enable those who are at fault to prove the emptiness of the allegations if they are not correct.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.