HC Deb 21 February 1888 vol 322 cc1122-33
MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)

said, he should have thought—and he did hope—that the nature of the Return he moved for would have commended itself to the approbation of Her Majesty's Government. The particulars it would include were, as it appeared from the recent debate, those upon which there was a strong desire for authentic information; but this, it would seem, was to be disappointed, for in communications he had had with the Chief Secretary, it appeared the right hon. Gentleman objected to give the Return, though his grounds for refusing it were not sufficient. So far as he understood them, they were that he thought the Return would have been of no great use, also that such a Return had never been given before, and that it would take a great deal of trouble to prepare. The question of expense it was hardly necessary to take into account if the information were useful; and upon that point he ventured to differ from the right hon. Gentleman. It was a new form of Return; but then the procedure was new under the Act, and the policy of the Government, strongly objected to on that side of the House, was new altogether. He would not say it was illegal; but it was an unconstitutional course that had been pursued, and had been attended with great injustice. The hour was late, and he would not take up time in supporting what really appeared to him to be a self-evident proposition. He hoped the Government, on reflection, would not refuse the Motion, or that the House would support him in it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That there be laid before this House Return of Cases tried under 'The Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act, 1887,' up to the 18th day of February, under the following heads:— Date of Trial; Place of Trial; Names of Magistrates presiding; Name and ago of accused; Date when offence was committed; Place where offence was committed; Nature of offence; Result of Trial; Sentence (if convicted); whether appealed against; Date when Appeal heard; Place where Appeal heard; Name of Judge by whom Appeal heard; Result of Appeal."—(Mr. Dillwyn.)


said, he had had some communication with the hon. Member, and had told him that he could not agree to giving the Return. He allowed that the House had a perfect right to information as to the working of the Criminal Law and Procedure Act. He felt, as his Predecessors had felt, that it was perfectly right that information should be given, and he had given everything that they gave under similar circumstances; everything that Earl Spencer laid before Parliament under similar circumstances in 1882; and he had even given additional information, so that it could not be said that he was unduly reticent or more reticent than his Predecessors. He had given the additional Return in reference to Boycotting— [Laughter]—he did not observe that it was received with gratitude—[Laughter] —he had the Return prepared upon the best information he could obtain, and regretted if it was inadequate. He had no better source of information in detail or Return, and if hon. Members disliked it he did not see that he could give any Return at all. Let it be understood that what the hon. Member for Swansea asked for was not a statistical statement of cases. As a matter of fact, he had given that, and he would give more. He was perfectly ready to state the number of cases, the crimes for which prisoners were tried, and the county in which they were tried, the nature of the offences, the result of the trial, sentence, and appeal. But he was not prepared—that he wished to state distinctly to the House—he was not prepared to give the names of the magistrates who tried the cases. Of course, hon. Gentlemen who chose to make the investigation could find out all the information asked for in the Return; but if he were to give the names of the Judges, he would practically be giving a list of a certain number of gentlemen in order that they might be attacked not merely by Members below the Gangway but above. In his opinion, nothing had been more lamentable in the course of the debates than the attacks upon Resident Magistrates, and neither directly or indirectly would he do a single thing to forward such attacks. He had told the hon. Member for Swansea that he was perfectly prepared to give the statistical information to almost the whole extent he required, but the hon. Member wanted specific cases. Why did he want specific cases? Was it in order to judge of the merits of each case? Then this information would not be such upon which any human being could form a fair judgment on the cases. Such a Return had never before been given; it would serve no useful purpose, and he could not consent to it.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

said, he regretted the right hon. Gentleman's opposition to the Return, and did not quite follow his reasons for refusing it. First, he objected that it would be work of enormous labour; but they had not heard that other Returns of the operation of the Crimes Act had been attended by any specially enormous labour. Secondly, he objected to giving the names of magistrates, because it might leave those gentlemen open to attack. But the names of those gentlemen had already been given in newspaper reports, and Members of the House might, if they chose, collect those reports. But this was hardly a duty that ought to be imposed on Members. It was important to have the names of the magistrates, because there was a stipulation as to the legal qualification of Resident Magistrates, and he had read in the newspapers of a magistrate who gave a very strange account of his qualifications. The objection that the Return was not wide enough came with a bad grace from a Government which also objected that it was too wide. Parliament had given exceptional powers to the Executive, and had a right to all reasonable knowledge as to the working of those powers.


said, if any Member could make out the information for himself surely a Government clerk could readily make out the Return, send it to the printer, and have it circulated. It would not cost £5 besides the time of the Government official. But really the Chief Secretary desired to work in the dark as much as possible. He refused on the ground that these magistrates might possibly be subject to attacks not only from Irish Members but from the Front Opposition Bench. Well, if Resident Magistrates were not to be open to the criticism of the Leaders of the Opposition, what were their Parliamentary institutions worth? It was not for the people of the localities that this information was required; the names and actions of the magistrates were well known for 30 or 40 miles around the place of trial; what was wanted was information in an authentic form, so that electors in this country might form their judgment, and he was sorry the Chief Secretary refused official data for this purpose.

MR. T. D. SULLIVAN (Dublin, College Green)

said he should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman meant by having the conduct of the magistrates attacked? What he really did mean was probably that he objected to having their conduct criticized. Was it come to this—that the conduct of Irish magistrates could not be criticized by the House of Commons? He thought that was a very fair subject for criticism, and, indeed, it was the business of the House to criticize such conduct where it seemed open to censure. If the conduct were such as the Chief Secretary knew would bear criticism, why should he fear to give the House the names and qualifications of those gentlemen? With the Speaker in the Chair, surely there need be no fear of any unfair or un-Parliamentary attack? It was not to the credit of the Government that they tried to shield those gentlemen from the light of day and the investigation into their conduct that would, perhaps, result from the laying of this Return before the House. It spoke very badly for those gentlemen and their conduct. Probably they were afraid, and the Chief Secretary was afraid, and they had good right to be afraid to have their conduct subjected to discussion. As for the people of Ireland, they knew all about it only too well, how those gentlemen had been discharging their duty, those gentlemen as to whose legal qualifications the Lord Lieutenant was to satisfy himself. On other points the Lord Lieutenant had certainly satisfied himself; he had assured himself how those gentlemen would act under particular circumstances, and he had not been disappointed—they had certainly fulfilled his expectations. It was not to the credit of the Government to refuse this information; it could have no good effect on opinion of their history in the House or throughout the country.


said, the grounds of the objection put forward by the Chief Secretary were wholly insufficient for refusing the Return. The right hon. Gentleman would not deny that it was the right of the House to have placed before it all the information that could be derived from official sources, which could be put in a compendious form, that the House might judge how the Coercion Act was working. The Return asked for would supply valuable material to that end. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] With great deference, he (Sir Charles Russell) entertained a different view to the right hon. Gentleman. He confessed he was a little at a loss to know what it was the Chief Secretary was conceding and what he was refusing, because he gathered from his statement there were two points in the Return to which he took exception, giving the names of the magistrates and giving the names and ages of the accused. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR again dissented.] Well, the right hon. Gentleman certainly expressed objection to giving the names of the magistrates. But the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had given a specific reason why the House should have the names, that the House might judge of the legal attainments of those gentlemen as to which the Lord Chancellor had satisfied himself. [An hon. MEMBER: No; the Lord Lieutenant.] Well, if it was the Lord Lieutenant, the more necessity to have these data. The House should know the names in conjunction with the particular cases with which the magistrates had to deal. Those gentlemen had not been exercising the ordinary functions of magistrates; their jurisdic- tion had in a majority of cases superseded the action of juries altogether. He must enter a serious protest against the suggestion that the conduct of magistrates and even of Judges was not a fit subject for criticism and discussion in the House. He fully admitted the necessity—he had observed the rule himself —of being exceedingly cautious in criticizing any judicial utterance or decision, but he denied that these were not proper subjects for the House to entertain. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary had taken credit to himself forgiving the Return of Boycotting, but under this head the House had reason to be grateful for very small mercies, for the right hon. Gentleman knew very well that prosecutions for Boycotting never had before assumed the dimensions they promised to assume, if they had not already assumed, under the Coercion Act of last year. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the trouble of compiling such a Return as was asked for by the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), but towards the middle of January he saw a very clear and what appeared to be a correct statement of the kind in the columns of The Freeman's Journal. It was no answer to say that hon. Members could collect the information for themselves. Of course they could do so, with the expenditure of time and labour, but what was wanted was the information in a compendious form that would be received as authentic. He hoped the hon. Member would go to a Division, for no substantial reason had been given for refusing the Return

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

said, the Chief Secretary, in giving his reasons for refusing the Return, had made an extraordinary statement. He said he objected very much to affording the Leaders of the Opposition the opportunity of criticizing his own conduct, for it was that which was involved with the action of the magistrates. It was the policy of the Executive quite as much as the conduct of the Resident Magistrates on which the information was needed. One of the most important bearings of the Return would be upon the principle that had guided the Executive in their selection of magistrates. He maintained—and it was a most serious charge to level against the Executive—that they had selected men to discharge those exceptional functions who were utterly unsuited, by their past history, their present circumstances, and their terms of appointment, for the just discharge of their duty. That was a charge under which no Executive Government should lie without an attempt to clear itself. The charge against the Executive was that they had selected men to act as magistrates under the Act who were notorious partizans, and who had made political orations showing that they were not impartial administrators of justice; and those men had been kept on the run from week to week, going from one county to another, each doing the work of two or three magistrates, because they could be relied upon for convictions. If that were true—if it should appear on the Return that certain magistrates tried an outrageous number of oases—then that would demand an explanation, and it was more for criticism of the conduct of the Executive than of the magistrates that the Return was required. The plea of expense was absolutely absurd. It would be a matter of ease for a single clerk to compile the Return in a day. The information was probably to hand in the Castle; if it was not, it was only another instance of the incompetency of the system. Another objection urged was that the Opposition might attack the conduct of the magistrates; but did the right hon. Gentleman shut his eyes to the fact that the names of the magistrates were published in the newspapers, and it was perfectly competent for anyone to use the scissors and collect the information? There must be something damaging in the information that the Government put a difficulty in the way of collecting it. The object of the Return was to give the information the value of Parliamentary authenticity; and consequently, both in that House and in the country, Parliamentary Returns, stamped with the authority of official preparation, had greater weight than a Return obtained from other sources. And that being so, he ventured to say that the refusal of the Government conveyed to his mind, and would convey to people outside the House, a conviction that with the details which were refused there were some details which the Government would have great difficulty in explaining. The excuses set up by the Government as to the expense and the difficulty of preparing the Return was nothing but a pretence to avoid the issue of inconvenient details.


said, that while he had no desire to continue the debate, he wished to urge on the Government the advantage which would, as he thought, accrue to thorn in publishing a Return of that kind. He presumed that the object of the Government was to reconcile the people of Ireland to the law. Did the right hon. Gentleman think his refusal to grant this Return would have a pacifying and conciliating effect, either in this country or in Ireland? He did not think that any Government which actually refused to furnish Parliament with so simple a thing as a Return showing the way in which it had exercised the powers vested in it last Session could hope to satisfy the people. The right hon. Gentleman had told them he would not give the names of the magistrates, or the ages of the accused—


I did not say anything about giving the ages of the accused.


said, that that denial then disposed of one of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman. He had told them that the Return would involve great labour and expense; but surely it would not add very much to the labour or cost simply to include the names of the magistrates in the Return he was willing to grant. The right hon. Gentleman had said that no such Return had ever been granted before; but was one ever asked for? He had quoted Earl Spencer, and the House were constantly being told that Earl Spencer did not do one thing or another. Well, he knew a good deal about Earl Spencer, and he ventured to assert that he would have been ready to join with them that night in urging the Government to give this Return, especially in face of the fact already alluded to, that when the Act was passed the House insisted on obtaining from the Government assurances that the magistrates employed in these cases should have certain qualifications. The House was entitled to know if the Government had carried out those assurances; and they could best discover that by having the names of the Resident Magistrates who had dealt with the cases. Did the right hon. Gen- tleman think it would conduce either to the satisfaction of public feeling in that country or to the conciliation of the people of Ireland to the present law if, on the ground of unwillingness to supply one particular, he refused a Return which, as a whole, was so reasonable?

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

said, he thought the speech of the Chief Secretary did equal credit to his head and his heart, and they certainly had not had a more valuable one for a long time. It could only give rise to the suggestion that in the future he should answer the Questions, and allow his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Colonel King-Harman) to make his speeches. Now, the right hon. Gentleman had refused to give the Return solely because it was to include the names of the magistrates. But would such a Return expose information which was not already known to the country? It would show one thing certainly, and that was that there had been certain magistrates told off in Ireland for that particular work, that those gentlemen had been chasséed to distant counties for that purpose. What, he would like to know, had become of Captain Butler, Mr. Crotty, and a number of other gentlemen, who had disagreed with gentlemen like Mr. Cecil Roche? Why, they had been sent to the Irish Botany Bay —to some distant quarter in Connaught, while the true and tried and trusty members of the right hon. Gentleman's Irish administration were set to do their work. The Return would show the House that it was Mr. Cecil Roche who had been sent here, there, and everywhere to impose sentences of a month's imprisonment; and that was the real objection to granting the information asked for. He would be told that Earl Spencer appointed many of the Resident Magistrates. So he did; but where were they now? They were in Ulster and other parts of Ireland, where they were not likely to deal with cases under the Coercion Act. Captain Butler was considered so good an officer by Earl Spencer that he was placed in charge of the police arrangements when the Prince of Wales visited Ireland; but neither he nor any of the type of men in whom the public and the Irish people had some reason to feel confidence was operating under the Crimes Act. Instead, Captain Keogh was brought down to hunt in the same covers as Mr. Cecil Roche, and those two gentlemen were working continually together, like the blades of a pair of scissors. The Irish Members had the best of reasons for knowing how Earl Spencer worked his Crimes Act; but it was never administered in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was working his Act. In Earl Spencer's days the Act was worked fairly, and in only two or three cases had they reason to allege that it was improperly applied, while the magistrates were not moved from one place to another in order to obtain convictions; but under this Act the Resident Magistrates were like movable gallows, these gentlemen were constituted Judge, jury and all, and they went about from one county to another, sending people to gaol. He was amused to hear the Chief Secretary urge that those gentlemen's actions should not be criticized; surely they had developed into very sensitive plants. They knew of cases where sentences had been imposed and the Court of Exchequer had subsequently found that there was no evidence to justify the conviction by a man of whose legal knowledge the Lord Lieutenant had had to satisfy himself. Was his Lordship still satisfied with that particular magistrate's legal knowledge? As to the point of expense, that could not be pleaded, for it would not be so very expensive to insert Mr. Cecil Roche's name at the top of the column and below it put "ditto" all down the list. The only real objection then was that of criticism, and he would ask were the Resident Magistrates to be shielded from that more than anybody else? Were they ashamed of the men they had appointed? Were they ashamed of Captain Segrave, the dismissed Army man from South Africa; were they ashamed of the fact that the magistrate who sentenced Mr. Blunt had had judgment signed against him by tradesmen for several thousands of pounds? Let the Chief Secretary remember that he must have dirty instruments to do his dirty work. If the Government insisted in their refusal let the country take notice of the fact. It was not only they insisted on working the Act, but they wanted to stab in the dark, and he believed that the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman would produce consternation even in the ranks of his faithful followers, who would see how men's liberty and lives were being taken by an irresponsible set of administrators. ["Order, order!"] He was referring, of course, to the Resident Magistrates, and not to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, of whose value he was fully aware. Under these circumstances, would the Chief Secretary declare in the face of the House of Commons that he refused information which could be obtained from the newspapers? If he did, the country would know that the refusal was due to the fact that he feared to give it because his own Party would be ashamed of what it disclosed.


said, he did not intend to inflict a speech upon the House of any length, but he wished to point out that the objection to publishing the names of the Resident Magistrates was a bad one, because those names were already notorious. A few nights previously he ventured in that House to charge the right hon. Gentleman with having used the most odious magistrates in the administration of the Crimes Act, and he could now assert that the majority of the convictions were made by two particular magistrates. This being a notorious fact, what reason was there for the Government to refuse the Return? The House wanted the information in a succinct and tabulated form for the purposes of argument. Had the magistrates of the different districts been allowed to deal with cases under the Crimes Act, there would not have been so much cause for complaint, but what had been done was that magistrates most offensively unpopular in Ireland had been used to work the Act. Let him explain the policy which had been pursued. Captain Butler and Mr. Considine sat together on a case under the Crimes Act; they had some of the Glenbeigh tenants before them. They differed in opinion. Mr. Considine was for a conviction and Captain Butler was in favour of an acquittal. He had already alleged, and it had not been contradicted, that Mr. Butler, as a punishment for that, was transferred to the district of Cahariciveen, and he had never since been allowed to deal with cases under the Crimes Act. He was prepared to allege, further, that the magistrates employed under the Act found it a very remunerative employment indeed, or out of the salaries they received they could not keep up the great establishments they did. Mr. Cecil Roche had in Tralee a mansion which it cost his predecessor £10,000 a-year to maintain, yet Mr. Roche had only a salary of £300 per annum. How did he keep up the establishment except that he made a large amount out of his allowance for travelling expenses? The fact was, that by means of those allowances he doubled and tripled his salary—aye, he even quadrupled his income, and thus the National Exchequer maintained his largo establishment. Captain Butler had only been employed in one case under the Crimes Act—the temperate men, the even-minded men, the men who, in the worst phases of Liberal Coercion Acts, gave the Irish people no cause for complaint, those men had not been used in the administration of this Act—it was only new, fiery-brained men who would make most villainous accusations against the prisoners they were trying, who would convict and chuck them into gaol, who would baton the people who accompanied prisoners to the gaol, those were the only men who had been used by the Chief Secretary. He should be sorry to give expression to the theory that a day of reckoning would come when those men would be brought to account for their deeds; he hoped there would be no lingering sense of revenge remaining in the minds of any of the Irish people; but he warned the Government that by refusing this Return they would increase the dissatisfaction of the people. Were they afraid of the truth? Were they afraid of the consequences of an exposure of their own acts? He would say no more.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 134: Majority 42.—(Div. List, No. 70.)