HC Deb 14 March 1887 vol 312 cc188-91

The following Notice of a Question stood on the Paper:—

MR. J. E. REDMOND (Wexford, N.)

—To ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether the attention of the Government has been called to the proceedings which took place at certain evictions in the town of Enniscorthy on 15th February; whether the following account of some of the proceedings, taken from a local paper, is correct:— ''The police, of which there were about 40, with some horsemen, and who were under the command of District Inspector Mulock, were told off in twos to enter the houses and demand possession. They were told to take possession. It may here be mentioned that with such aversion are those evictions regarded that no bailiff could be got to undertake the work, and therefore the police were ordered in the name of the law to act as bailiffs. The tenants and the members of their families having almost without exception refused to stir from the houses until every article of furniture was removed, the police set about their work. Four or five police together entered each house, and proceeded to carry out the effects which the tenants had left in the houses. A scene of indescribable commotion was caused when a policeman was observed carrying out the cradle from which the infant child of three weeks old had just immediately before been taken out; and, whether it is legal for the police to act as bailiffs at evictions?


Before asking this Question, I will ask permission to submit a Question to you, Sir, on a point of Order. It is with reference to the practice, which is becoming common, of altering the terms and substance of Questions handed in by Members at the Table. The Question I have to put is this—If the Question handed in is irregular, should not the Member be communicated with? That used to be the course adopted, but that is not the course now; and, with reference to this particular Question on the Paper, the last inquiry I put was whether the practice of the police acting as bailiffs at evictions was approved of by the Government? That was entirely struck out, and an entirely different Question, which I have no desire to ask, substituted. The Question I have to ask is, whether it is by your authority that my Question was struck off the Paper, and an entirely different Question substituted?


The reason why the Question was partly struck out was that the hon. Member asked the Government a Question on a matter of opinion, which was entirely without the scope of a Question. The hon. Member is not entitled to ask a Question as to a matter of opinion. With regard to the other point the hon. Member has raised, I may say that, as a general rule, hon. Members consult with the Clerk at the Table as to whether their Questions are in Order or not; and, as a rule, everything is done in an amicable manner. The Questions, however, are now so numerous that it is almost impossible for the Clerk at the Table to communicate with hon. Members by letter. I assure the House that no Question is struck off which is not palpably against the Rules of the House.


I would ask permission to ask you whether in your recollection almost the identical Question was asked of the late Chief Secretary and answered by him—whether he approved of police acting as bailiffs at evictions? He said he did not approve of it. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary if he holds the opinion his Predecessor held; and unless you rule me out of Order in putting that Question I will put it to him.


said, that the only Questions which hon. Members were entitled to ask wore Questions of fact, not of opinion. the Question to which the hon. Member said the late Chief Secretary had replied ought not to have been asked, and he regretted that it had escaped the usual ordeal.


Then I will add to the Question as it stands on the Paper—whether it is a fact that the present Chief Secretary approved or sanctioned the action of the police acting as bailiffs at evictions?—if that will make it more in Order.


With regard to the rider to the Question which the hon. Gentleman has just asked me, I may point out that as the incident occurred on the 15th of February, and as I became Chief Secretary rather less than a week ago, it has never come under my personal cognizance; but I entirely endorse every word that fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who spoke in the name of the Government and in the name of his Colleagues. As to the details stated in the Question, I understand that the goods had to be removed from the house, and in one instance a cradle was included; but I may point out that this case was not an agrarian case. The eviction was from a town house.


Does the right hon. Gentleman intend in future to sanction the employment of constables as bailiffs at evictions?


In the case to which the hon. Member refers the magistrates were acting under statutory powers; and, in such circumstances, it would be impossible for me to interfere legally.