§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising, do adjourn till Thursday, 5th April."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)
§ MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)
asked, whether the House was to adjourn at 7 o'clock, or after the Evening Sitting?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said, that it was usual to adjourn for the Recess after the Morning Sitting.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question with reference to the course of Public Business after the Recess. There was obviously a great deal of work before the House, and much would depend upon the goodness of the arrangements made for the carrying of it on. A great deal of the matter of the Tax Bill would depend upon the judgment given by the House upon the Local Government Bill. With reference to so large and complicated a measure, a considerable number of Members would be desirous of expressing their opinions, and he could not conceive that the former 433 Bill could be prosecuted without progress having been made with the latter, and should therefore suppose it to be for the general interest to expedite the progress of that Bill as far as possible. When it came forward, so far as he and those near him were concerned, they had a very strong desire to expedite as far as possible the second reading of the Bill, which was fixed for the 12th of April, as well as the stage that would carry the Bill into Committee, so that practical judgments on the various points might be begun to be taken. It would not, he imagined, be possible, to go into Committee until some reasonable interval had elapsed from the second reading. So that hon. Members might have every opportunity of placing Amendments on the Paper; but so far as that stage was concerned, he hoped that no step would be taken in a hostile spirit which would be likely to greatly prolong the proceedings at it. After the second reading, he supposed it would be the desire of the Government to make the proceedings in connection with the Bill as continuous as possible, and to apply their whole strength to dealing with its very important propositions. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, if he would be good enough to expedite the Return of the number of Agrarian Outrages for the first quarter of the year, so that it might be ready when the House met again. He also asked for a Return showing a comparison between the state of things during the first six months of the Coercion Act and the first six months of the Crimes Act of 1882. He thought it also desirable to extend the Return, so as to give an account of the state of things for the six months preceding the Act of 1882 and an account of the state of things for the quarter which would have expired before they met again.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
, in reply, said, he would do all he could to expedite the Return first mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. As to the exact period after the quarter had elapsed when the Return would be presented, he was not able to make a statement. But he would take care that there was as little delay as possible. The other request of the right hon. Gentleman would involve a retrospective 434 and a prospective Return. He thought he could at once say that he would give the prospective extension for the periods after the respective Acts came into operation; but he was not sure whether the materials existed for giving the retrospective Returns.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he thought it was understood on the previous evening that the Resolutions in Ways and Means not previously dealt with should be considered on Monday, the 9th of April. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) would see the necessity of proceeding without much further delay, as important changes in taxation would be effected that ought not to be delayed beyond a reasonable period. The second reading of the Local Government Bill was fixed for Thursday the 12th of April, and it was hoped that the debate would conclude on Friday evening. ["Oh, oh!"] He had reason to hope that, notwithstanding the desire of Members to take part in the debate, with the assistance of the Bill itself, which was in the hands of Members, the debate might be continued, and, if he might make an appeal to hon. Members who had Motions for that day to forego their rights, concluded on Friday, April 13. They proposed to go into Committee on the Bill on Monday, April 23, which would allow an interval of at least a week after the second reading. Having regard to the facts that the Bill was already in the hands of Members, and that there could be no alteration in its character before the second reading, it would be in the power of hon. Members, who would have ample time for the purpose, to prepare such Amendments as they might think desirable. No doubt, the time was rather short, but as the House was prepared to consider the measure in a fair spirit, there was not the same necessity for considerable delay as would exist with regard to a measure which was likely to be hotly contested. He was in the hands of the House, but he hoped the House would go on with the Bill from day to day as nearly as possible, taking Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays, so as to enable the Bill to be dealt with in a manner worthy of the subject.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said, he was afraid the natural relief they all felt at the cessation of 435 their labours was, so far as the Irish Members were concerned, largely dashed by the operations of the Government in Ireland. He was sorry to say they always found that there was a great distinction between the action and the policy of the Chief Secretary for Ireland when he had the vigilant eye of Parliament upon him, and his action and policy when Parliament for the moment had disappeared. He did not know whether the habitual self-satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman enabled him to take a survey of the state of Ireland and the results of his policy, but he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) must say that though he had seen many Coercion Acts fail, he did not think there had ever been a failure so profound and abject as that of the present Coercion Act. What was the case of Ireland at present? To a large extent, the right hon. Gentleman had thrown up the sponge. Some of the grossest uses of the Coercion Act had been given up. A short time ago, they had the right hon. Gentleman arresting and imprisoning a number of Members of Parliament on the ground of publishing reports of suppressed branches of the National League. The right hon. Gentleman had ceased to make these prosecutions, and at the present moment the Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien), the Member for the College Green Division of Dublin (Mr. T. D. Sullivan), and the Member for South-East Cork (Mr. Hooper) were, in their three newspapers, publishing reports of the very suppressed branches which consigned them to prison a short time ago. Therefore, the House found that this iron Minister of unbending will had already run away from one of the main planks of his campaign. Addressing a meeting at Stalybridge on Saturday last, the right hon. Gentleman asked what measures the Government had ever taken against the liberty of the Press in Ireland? He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) thought that when they put three editors of newspapers in gaol, because of matter they reported in the columns of their newspapers, the Government were certainly interfering with the liberty of the Press. But the right hon. Gentleman had given up that form of attack, and now ran away from formidable enemies with a want of courage that was worthy of consider- 436 able reprehension—the right hon. Gentleman now ran away from powerful and formidable enemies and satisfied himself by attacking weak and small enemies. At the present moment there was a man in gaol for selling a copy of United Ireland, because that copy happened to contain a report of a meeting of a suppressed branch of the National League. But the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) who published every week of his life United Ireland, and circulated 70,000, or 80,000, or 100,000 copies of it, was walking about a free man. This miserable contrast between the terror of the right hon. Gentleman when he met a formidable opponent and his courage when he met a petty enemy was as grotesque a commentary upon his Irish policy as could be well conceived. The other day, speaking on the Arrears Bill, the right hon. Gentleman gave the House to understand, at least he conveyed the impression to the House, that evictions were not going to take place. But the right hon. Gentleman knew as well as any one in the House, and perhaps better, that if evictions did not take place, if multitudinous evictions were not possible, it was not because notices had not to the number of 4,000 or 5,000 been served on the tenants of Ireland. Why did not evictions take place? Was it because the landlords were merciful? Was it because the right hon. Gentleman had any sympathy with the tenants? In his (Mr. T. P. O'Connor's) experience he never heard of a Minister so callous to the sufferings of the tenantry of Ireland as the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary. If evictions were not to take place, it was because the right hon. Gentleman's heart had failed him, and because he knew that coercion had failed. If the right hon. Gentleman were to carry out the Coercion Act in the "Bombastes Furioso" manner in which he put it in force a few months ago, when Parliament was not sitting, he would require the whole Corps d'Armée to enable him to do so. What had the right hon. Gentleman done with regard to suppressed branches? If any one wanted to find the parts of the country in which the National League was strongest and most vigorous both in spirit and organization they would find that they were the very places where branches had 437 been what was called "suppressed." The right hon. Gentleman amused the House by the statement that meetings did not take place at all. That was very curious if true, but unfortunately "if true" was a proviso applicable to a large number of statements made by the right hon. Gentleman. What happened when branches of the League were suppressed in County Clare? Meetings of the branches took place periodically and they were reported in the newspapers, and yet the right hon. Gentleman came down to the House and explained that the meetings did not take place at all. But at the very moment he was making that statement Colonel Turner was going about threatening the people with police attacks because meetings took place. He left it to Colonel Turner and the right hon. Gentleman to settle the delicate question of veracity between themselves. With regard to the rest of Ireland the right hon. Gentleman had not even made an attempt to deal with the branches of the National League. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had not done so, because his action had a most invigorating effect upon the League. The right hon. Gentleman was a most able and most useful coadjutor of the hon. Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin (Mr. T. Harrington), who was the Secretary of the National League. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman was as much the Chief Secretary of the National League as he was the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. Now, he passed from the general policy of the right hon. Gentleman to one of the particular instances of that policy with which they had been favoured within the last few days. A meeting was called for last Sunday in the town of Youghal. He did not think a meeting was ever called for a more legitimate purpose; he did not think that there was ever a meeting called under circumstances of greater legality. What was the position of the district in the midst of which Youghal lay? The tenants on the Ponsonby estate were in a certain proportion leaseholders, and the right hon. Gentleman having purloined the Bill which the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) produced, brought in a Bill last year, and 438 passed it through Parliament, giving the leaseholders the same rights to go into Court as non-leaseholders. When the Bill was passing through Parliament a certain number of landlords endeavoured to filch from the tenants the rights which even their own friends in Parliament provided for the tenants. He would not go over again the story of the Mitchelstown estate, which was eloquently told them by the hon. Member for North-East Cork. He only mentioned it to note the fact that the lease-holding tenants on the Mitchelstown estate were running a race with the landlord to see whether the eviction or the Land Court would first be reached; the landlord trying to effect an eviction in order to get the tenants out of Court, and the tenants trying to reach the Land Court before evictions were realized. He did not think that anybody would ever forget the impression made on the House of Commons when the hon. Member for North-East Cork said he might in his advice to his tenants have been guilty of a technical illegality, but he felt bound to give the advice just as he would feel bound to stay the hand of an executioner when he knew that a reprieve was at the door. That striking and picturesque figure of speech described the case of the Ponsonby estate as well as the Mitchelstown estate; in fact, that figure of speech did not adequately describe the facts of the Ponsonby estate, for the very reason that the reprieve was not only at the door, but actually in the hands of the unfortunate beings whom the landlords sought to execute. What was the state of the case? The leasehold tenants on the Ponsonby estate had sent in notices to the Land Court, asking to have their rents revised. If the rents of the leasehold tenants on the Ponsonby estate be just and fair rents, why should the landlord have any objection to being brought before the Court? The Land Court would confirm the rents if fair, and would raise them if they were too low. But what occurred! When the tenants sent in notices to the Land Court, asking for a revision of their rents, the landlord then, and then for the first time, sent to the tenants notices of eviction. When the House was discussing the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman last Session, the right hon. Gentle- 439 man in his usual lofty manner, and with the hauteur of his ignorance, ridiculed the idea of men being evicted by the silent agency of registered letters. The right hon. Gentleman assured them that such an agency could not be largely employed, but, as a matter of fact, landlords all over Ireland were making far more use of the section of the Act which admitted of eviction notices being sent by means of registered letters than of any other section of the statute. The landlord on the Ponsonby estate or his representative sent notices of eviction by registered letter. The result was that the tenants lost their status and the Land Court was unable to hoar their case or to revise their rent. He put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he thought it was fair or decent on the part of the landlords thus by a side wind to attempt to filch the tenants of their right to have their rents revised. He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) did not deny that the landlord was within his legal rights in taking this course, but he maintained that the landlord, or any other person who would stand by the strict letter of the law in a country like Ireland, was a disturber of the law and was a disturber of the order of the country. It was true that disputes had been going on between the landlord and the tenant of the Ponsonby estate; but surely, if the landlord were a wise man, he would not say a generous man, but a wise and discreet man, he would have seized eagerly the opportunity of making peace between himself and his tenants which the notices to the Land Court presented. If these cases had been heard by the Land Court, they would have been taken as test cases by the tenantry on other estates. He was sure other tenants would have been willing to pay to Mr. Ponsonby or his representative a rent exactly equal in proportion to the rent fixed by the Land Court, and therefore Mr. Ponsonby or his representative would have best served the interest of the estate by allowing the cases to be heard, and allowing the rest of the estate to be adjudged and tested by them, apart from serving the interest of the tenants and the peace of Ireland. He was not speaking without precedent. What took place on the neighbouring estate at Mitchelstown? A certain number of tenants went into the Court; the judg- 440 ment given in a few cases was accepted by the rest of the tenants, and the result was that the landlord and tenants were on thoroughly amicable terms. Evictions had ceased, disturbances, if disturbances there were, were now avoided, and Mitchelstown was one of the parts of the country which would give less trouble to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and the landlord of the district than many other districts. If the excellent example of Mitchelstown had been followed on the Ponsonby estate, peace and tranquillity and kindly feeling would prevail instead of the bitter relations which now existed. Did anyone suppose that Mr. Ponsonby did not know this? He was sure Mr. Ponsonby was as convinced as he was that the very best course he could have taken would have been to accept the offer of the tenants, to allow the cases to go into Court, and let the remainder of the tenants abide by the result. Unfortunately Mr. Ponsonby was not a free agent. Behind Mr. Ponsonby stood the Cork Property Defence Union. The Union were taking the estate over from Mr. Ponsonby. Mr. Ponsonby, in a letter he wrote, declared very pathetically that he had ceased to be a free agent. Was the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, who was so extremely anxious for the absolute liberty of every individual in Ireland, going to take any steps to relieve Mr. Ponsonby from the duress and coercion put upon him by the Cork Property Defence Union, because it was quite evident from Mr. Ponsonby's own admissions that if it were not for the coercion of this Union, he would have been willing to make terms with the tenants. What was the Cork Property Defence Union? He would not call it a gang of landlords, because that would be disrespectful language; but he would call it a body of landlords who were fighting the tenants not on their own estates, but en estates which did not belong to them. The hon. Member for South Huntingdon (Mr. Smith-Barry) was the head and front of the Cork Property Defence Union, and it was understood he supplied most of the funds of the Union. He would like to put a question to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman supported the Cork Property Defence Union, and the Union 441 compelled or advised Mr. Ponsonby to hold out against the tenants, and not to give fair reductions. Did the hon. Gentleman adopt that course with regard to his own tenants? Did he refuse them fair reductions, or was it not the fact that the hon. Gentleman himself had made large reductions? He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had been told the hon. Gentleman had given as large as 30 per cent reductions. If the hon. Gentleman had made large reductions to his own tenants, two questions arose. The first question was, how was it that large reductions were just in his case and not just in the case of the tenants of other landlords? The second question was, if the hon. Gentleman had not given the abatements on account of their justice, but because of being afraid to fight his tenants, what kind of courage was it on his part to compel other gentlemen to fight their tenants? The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary spoke about every person being allowed to do exactly what he wanted without pressure from anybody else. Why did he allow the hon. Member for South Huntingdonshire to use pressure through the Cork Property Defence Union to prevent landlords coming to terms with their tenants? Was such pressure as the hon. Gentleman exercised calculated to conduce to the peace of Ireland? The hon. Member was the greatest offender against the peace, for the pressure he exercised upon others was a most fruitful source of disturbance. Such being the relations between landlord and tenants on the Ponsonby estate, a meeting was called for last Sunday. That meeting was announced two or three weeks ago. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was aware of that fact or not; but certainly if he was not, he was about the only Gentleman who followed Irish affairs who was not. He put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether, if he was going to proclaim a meeting, it would not be a great deal more decent on his part, as well as much better for the peace of Ireland, that he should give notice of the proclamation in due time. He did not suppose the right hon. Gentleman ever read any of the history of Ireland; but if he would favour the people of that country, over whom, unhappily, he at present exercised some influence, by devoting some 442 little of his large mind to the study of their annals, he would find there was nothing which had caused more exasperation, or had more frequently imperilled the peace of Ireland, than the very policy he was now pursuing—the policy of retarding the proclamation of meetings. He did not suppose the right hon. Gentleman ever heard of the meeting at Clontarf in 1843, a short time before they had the happiness of having the right hon. Gentleman amongst the inhabitants of this earth; but that meeting, although it was known for several weeks before that it was intended to be held, was not proclaimed until the Saturday, the day before the meeting was to be held. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) would tell the right hon. Gentleman that the shortness of the notice very nearly produced a great massacre of people at that meeting. Well, the Chief Secretary, knowing for weeks that the meeting at Youghal was going to be held, did not proclaim it until five o'clock on Saturday evening. That was an invitation to the people to come there; it was an incentive to a collision between the people and the authorities. It was the most skilful preparation that could be made, if the right hon. Gentleman had such a terrible wish in his mind. Were they asking too much of the right hon. Gentleman when they requested that when again he proclaimed a meeting, he would at least proclaim it in time, and not a few hours before the people round the country side started for the place of rendezvous. He (Mr. O'Connor) was, he thought, justified in making this observation, that of all the astounding proclamations that over broke up a meeting, oven in Ireland, there never was a more astounding one than that which broke up the meeting at Youghal. It was not issued until five o'clock on Saturday evening, and the precious Resident Magistrate used in it words to the effect that it had been represented to him, being a Justice of the Peace in the County of Cork, by an information duly sworn, that a number of people would meet or assemble at or near Youghal; and that the object and effect of such meeting would be to lead to dissension or animosity between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects, and consequent breach of the peace. How could they have dissension in Youghal? 443 As a matter of fact, the people there were all of one mind. They could not produce animosity or difference of opinion amongst people who were all of the same opinion. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would not find in Youghal a score of people who disagreed with the rest of the community on the subject of his policy, for they were practically unanimous in its condemnation. The right hon. Gentleman declared that the meeting would have had the effect of leading to dissension and creating animosity. The meeting would have done nothing of the kind. It was the policy of the Government which had led to dissension. The meeting would have had the effect of presenting to the landlord a united tenantry—and he (Mr. O'Connor) believed that to have a united tenantry facing a landlord was the best means of avoiding dissension in Ireland. Well, the meeting was proclaimed, and he could not congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary on his selection of an instrument for carrying out his work, unless his object had been to select the very worst possible instrument. Amongst all the Resident Magistrates in Ireland, whom had the right hon. Gentleman selected to carry out the work? Why, none other than Captain Plunkett. No Chief Secretary who was anxious to preserve the peace of Ireland would have sent to a meeting of this kind, and on an occasion of this kind, so unfitted a person by his personal character and his antecedents, to appease and tranquillize the minds of the people with whom he had to deal. The Chief Secretary selected the man who, above all others, was a torch amongst the inflammatory elements of disturbance in Youghal. What was the history of Captain Plunkett? He was the hero of the telegram—"Don't hesitate to shoot them." A more cold-blooded, a more foul, a more ruffianly telegram was never sent by any official in that part of the world in any crisis of Irish history. What was the first duty of a magistrate, even in the face of peril, to the public peace? Why, not to shoot without hesitation, but to hesitate as long as he could against the shedding of human blood. Any Resident Magistrate who knew his business, in place of telgraphing "Don't hesitate to shoot," would have telegraphed "Hesitate to shoot until such an awful emergency 444 arises as will compel you to resort to that terrible means of preserving the peace." Captain Plunkett was the hero of that famous telegram "Don't hesitate to shoot," a telegram which had certainly done excellent service in defeating Tory candidates at bye-elections in this country. And that telegram had been sent, of all places in the world, to that very town of Youghal; but that was not the only association in the past between Captain Plunkett and the town of Youghal, for some time ago a young man named Hanlon was killed in some disturbances which took place there. He (Mr. O'Connor) would not go into the circumstances in which this young man's life was taken, but everyone knew that the feeling in Youghal was that the young man's life was sacrificed by Captain Plunkett; yet this man who was regarded in the district in that light, and who was the author of the telegram to which he had referred, was of all other men the one selected to preserve the peace of Youghal. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) gave the Chief Secretary and Captain Plunkett an easy opportunity of at once carrying out their proclamation and preserving the peace. His (Mr. O'Connor's) hon. Friend did not say, "We will hold this meeting in spite of you." What he said was, "We will assert our right to got into the place of meeting, but if you use force to prevent us we will submit quietly, and have the question tried in the Courts of Law." That took place in Ireland, but he (Mr. O'Connor) should call this an eminently English way of settling a matter of this kind. It was the course adopted by Mr. Saunders, lately Member for East Hull, in regard to a meeting in Trafalgar Square. Mr. Saunders had gone to the Square, made his speech, allowed himself to be arrested, and then allowed the Government of the day to bring him into Court in order that the matter might be settled in an English, constitutional method in the Courts of the country. The Member for North-East Cork adopted that view, and surely no step could have been taken more calculated to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, if his desire was to follow the English system. The hon. Member for North-East Cork approached the place where the police were; he kept the crowd back, so anxious was he to 445 avoid even the appearance of disturbing the peace. There was a considerable space between the Member for North-East Cork and the crowd, as the hon. Member wanted to avoid giving even the semblance of an excuse to the magistrates for interrupting the meeting. He said, "I am going to hold this meeting—arrest me, commit a technical assault on me, and we will have the case tried in the Law Courts." If that had happened, the hon. Member would have turned round to the crowd and have asked them to disperse. He would have said, "I will try this case not by armed collision between you and the police, but in a Court of Law, and let a Court of Law decide between you and the police." He (Mr. O'Connor) asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to point out a more peaceful and legal method of deciding between him and the people of Youghal. But legal and peaceful methods did not suit the right hon. Gentleman and his Government of "law and order." Of all methods, those which were antagonistic to the right hon. Gentleman were those which were legal and orderly. Well, what took place! Captain Plunkett, in his usual braggadocio style, said—"You must take the consequences," and did not arrest him. He sent detectives around, and before a word of anger had been spoken on one side or the other, or a blow had been struck, one of these detectives struck the horse which was harnessed to the car on which the hon. Member for North-East Cork and Canon Koller were standing. Everybody who was at all well acquainted with an Irish jaunting car must know that at any time a standing position in one of them was an extremely unsafe position to be in, and that if this detective had wished to imperil the lives of the hon. Gentleman the Member for North-East Cork and Canon Keller, he could not have adopted a better course. The man struck the horse—a piece of wanton brutality which ought to have disgusted even Captain Plunkett and the Chief Secretary—and the result was that the crowd got excited, and Captain Plunkett get separated from his men and was assaulted. He (Mr. O'Connor) had seen descriptions of the injuries inflicted, and as a Christian, he must say he was sorry for them; but at the same time it must be evident to all, that Captain Plunkett had brought them on himself by his 446 brutal behaviour. If he had taken the course pointed out by the hon. Member for North-East Cork, the people would have dispersed quietly, and he himself would have been able to go safely to his home, and that course would have been a better one in the interests of law and order, though it might not have so well pleased the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. He (Mr. O'Connor) did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was going to take proceedings against the Member for North-East Cork, but he did not think he would be so bold, since that hon. Member had become bettor known to the House and to the country than he had been. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would rather be inclined to run away from a prosecution, just as he had run away from the hon. Member's speech in that House, now that he knew that behind the Member for North-East Cork there were millions of English hearts who loved him as dearly as his own countrymen. The Chief Secretary had a few broken heads to his credit, and had bludgeoned a few people; but if that was his way of tranquillizing Ireland and making its people hug the idea of the Union, he (Mr. O'Connor) must say that if he and his Friends on that side of the House were Unionists, they would regard the Chief Secretary as the deadliest enemy of their cause, and if they were landlords they would regard him also as their deadliest enemy. They had within the last few days heard several speeches from the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). He would not ask that hon. Member to say all he had in his mind, but he know that if he did say all he had in his mind he would say that, in his opinion, the policy most menacing to the Unionist cause in Ireland, and especially in Ulster, was the policy of the Chief Secretary with regard to the Land Question. [Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.): Hear, hear?] The Chief Secretary was estranging the tenants and ruining the landlords of Ireland, and let thorn look at the picture he had given them of the condition of the landlords. The Chief Secretary had given them a Jeremiad instead of a pæan over the result of his policy upon them. All he had to say was to beseech for mercy on behalf of these landlords for whom he had been using 447 coercion so savagely for months past. He (Mr. O'Connor) was not at all sorry to have the right hon. Gentleman in his present position instead of the Member for West Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks Beach), for the latter would have been a much more dangerous opponent. Such speeches as he made and the general policy of the present Chief Secretary in Ireland was calculated to put an early end to the present unhappy struggle.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, S.)
said, he should not have taken any part in this discussion if it had not been for a remark of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). In speaking of the Ponsonby estate, the hon. Member had made an attack on the Cork landlords, and more especially on himself (Mr. Smith-Barry), as head of an association known as the Cork Defence Union. He would tell the hon. Member—if he did not know it before—that that Defence Union was not an association of landlords at all. It was an association composed of all sorts and different classes of men, merchants, farmers, and landlords, and was in no sense a purely landlords' organization. He would tell the hon. Member, further, that the Cork Defence Union had not, and never had had, control over or management of the Ponsonby estate. That estate had from the beginning been under Mr. Ponsonby's own control. If it were not under Mr. Ponsonby's own control now, it certainly was not under the control of any association in the county of Cork. The hon. Member had made an attack on the landlords of the county of Cork and on himself (Mr. Smith-Barry) for instigating Mr. Ponsonby to exact such terms from his tenants as he himself would not ask, and as other landlords in the county of Cork would not venture to exact. He would like to tell the hon. Member, as he appeared to be somewhat out in his facts, that he noticed last night in a newspaper the hon. Member probably might have seen—an evening newspaper called The Star—an article entitled "Mr. O'Brien Interviewed," in which a good many of the facts stated by the hon. Member just now appeared, and that those facts were entirely out of accord with the true circumstances of the case. In the first place, with regard to Mr. Ponsonby—whom, he might say, was 448 one of the most honourable and kindest-hearted gentlemen that he over had the honour of meeting, a gentleman who was as anxious as anyone possibly could be to do what was right and just to his tenants if they would let him—that gentleman possessed an estate in the county of Cork, the Poor Law valuation of which was about £7,000 a-year, and the rental of which was somewhere under £8,000. The Poor Law valuation in that part of the country, as everyone acquainted with the South of Ireland knew, was a high valuation, and the rental was by no means an excessive one. Mr. Ponsonby had been giving a reduction to his tenants for some years past, and he offered them 18 months ago, when they first put the Plan of Campaign on him, 20 per cent reduction on the old rents—the non-judicial rents—and 10 per cent on the rents judicially fixed. The tenants themselves demanded 35 per cent reduction on the old rents and 20 per cent on the judicial rents. The hon. Member (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) wished to compare those terms with those he (Mr. Smith-Barry) was at that time giving. He certainly was not giving, nor had he at any time given, such reductions as those, nor did he know of any landlords in the South of Cork, or in the South of Ireland, who would have volunteered such terms as Mr. Ponsonby was asked to give. These rents had never been raised in the memory of man. They were old runts, which had been paid regularly by the tenants for generations, and for seven years up to the time when the Plan of Campaign was put on Mr. Ponsonby, 18 months ago, not more than half-a-dozen evictions had taken place. He did not wish to detain the House. This was somewhat in the nature of a personal explanation. He was not prepared to address the House this evening, but he would say this—that the landlords of the County of Cork, and, as far as he knew, the landlords of the whole of Ireland, had been and were only too anxious to meet their tenants in any fair and reasonable manner. The landlords of the county of Cork, some weeks previous to the Plan of Campaign being put on Mr. Ponsonby, held a meeting and declared themselves anxious to do everything they could to meet the fair requirements of the time. The vast majority of them had acted on that principle. 449 Mr. Ponsonby, who, as he had shown, had offered fair terms, had also given his agent instructions, in any special case where the circumstances demanded it, to grant a special reduction beyond that which he had already promised. In making these few remarks he hoped he had vindicated the honour of his friend Mr. Ponsonby and the landlords of the county of Cork. He would say again that Mr. Ponsonby had endeavoured over and over again to get this matter settled if it could possibly be settled, and the reason why it had not been settled was that the demands of the tenants, or, rather, not of the tenants themselves, but of their advisers, Canon Keller and the hon. Member for East Cork, who had been instrumental in getting the Plan of Campaign adopted in the district, had been so exorbitant that it had been impossible to concede them.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I gave way just now to my hon. Friend the Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry), in order that he might reply to the personal attack just made upon him; and I think the House will be pleased with the brief, clear, and manly statement with which he defended not only himself, as an Irish landlord, but all the other landlords that have been aspersed by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool. But the hon. Member has not contented himself with an attack on my hon. Friend and on the Cork Defence Association; but he has gone in his usual style into topics concerning the government of Ireland. As I have no objection to his treating these subjects, neither do I object to the style in which he has chosen to do so; because never, in my wildest moments, did I expect that the hon. Member would show good taste or fairness in criticizing either the Government or myself. But I think that it would have been well if he had, before attacking the Government, and myself in particular, made up his mind as to the exact line which he intended to take. It appeared to me that in his speech he hesitated between two different lines of criticism. In one part of his speech he wished to assert that the Government were too violent, and then he turned round and desired to show that we are not now so violent in our policy in Ireland as we have been, because, as it seems, we are terrified by such 450 speeches as that which he has just delivered. I can assure the hon. Member that so far as we are concerned on this side of the House, against whom those speeches are directed, they have not the slightest effect in inspiring terror. The hon. Member in the course of his speech proceeded to criticize the conduct of the Government in Ireland last winter in interfering, as he declared, with the liberty of the Press. The hon. Member went further, and said that he was very much horrified at my audacity, that in a speech I made elsewhere—at Stalybridge, on Saturday night—I had not refuted that accusation. What I stated on Saturday night with reference to the accusation of interfering with the liberty of the Press was that during the debate on the Address, no responsible Member had got up in his place and asserted that the statement was true; for if such a charge could be made and sustained against a Minister, it was one of the most formidable that could be advanced. How does the hon. Member attempt to fill up the gap left by the Home Rule orators who spoke in the debate on the Address? He stated that certain persons had been put in prison for publishing notices of prohibited meetings. Does the hon. Member know what the freedom of the Press really means? The liberty of the Press in this country is the right which enables a person to publish what opinions he likes, and defend them by such arguments as he hopes may influence the minds of others. That is the liberty of the Press, and that is a liberty which the Government has never interfered with in Ireland. We thought, in order to carry out the action of the Executive with regard to suppressed branches in a proclaimed district, it was necessary to prosecute certain gentlemen connected with Irish newspapers. We did so, and I am sorry if hon. Gentlemen should have been put to any suffering or inconvenience; but I am bound to say that these prosecutions have had the most salutary effect, and have carried out the object for which the Government initiated them. The hon. Gentleman went on to state that the League which was flourishing all over Ireland, was most flourishing in the proclaimed districts, and that meetings were being published in defiance of the law by various newspapers. But the Press prosecutions were instituted for a 451 particular object—the effectual suppression of the League in these districts which we had proclaimed—and so long as that object is attained, we are not concerned with anything else. That object is thoroughly attained. The hon. Gentleman appeared to think there was a division of opinion between me and Colonel Turner on this subject. As a matter of fact, my information on this subject is chiefly derived from correspondence with Colonel Turner. The League may practically be said to be a thing of the past over Clare and those parts of Cork in which the branches have been suppressed. ["Oh, oh!"] I am perfectly aware that we do see bogus reports of imaginary meetings reported in the Nationalist Press; but we know—it is not a question of conjecture, but a question of fact—that those reports are absolutely written out by the ex-secretary of the branch in his own private room, sent to the newspapers, and then published as indicating what is going on. But, considering that the names of the gentlemen taking part in the meeting are known to the police, and that their movements are watched on the day the meetings are said to have taken place, it is not a matter of conjecture, but a matter of demonstration that the report of the meeting has no more foundation in fact than the majority of the statements which appear in the Irish Press. But not only are the reports of these meetings purely imaginary, but even the imaginary reports have altered in their tone. That is a circumstance which should prove interesting to hon. Gentlemen who are curious to watch the development of affairs in Ireland since last August. I do not know whether the House recollects that it was my duty, when certain districts were to be proclaimed, to prove that the National League was a dangerous association, by reading out a large number of reports of meetings of the branches from different parts of the country inserted in different newspapers which were of an intimidatory character, and which mentioned by name obnoxious individuals who were subject to the tyrannical action of the League. The House, or that portion of the House which is interested in the maintenance of law and order, will be glad to learn that that form of report has almost entirely disappeared from the Irish Press. The result of our 452 action has been to enormously improve the character of the reports of those meetings, whether reports of meetings in suppressed districts or real meetings in other districts. It has tended largely to remove from them the stain of being the instruments of intimidation directed against special individuals. That is a satisfactory sign of the improved condition of the country. Then the hon. Gentleman went on to denounce as a peculiarly atrocious example of the action of the Government the proclamation of the meeting at Youghal on Sunday. The hon. Gentleman entered a good deal into the condition of Mr. Ponsonby's property; and, oddly enough, though he dealt at great length with that matter, not a single word fell from him which would have given anyone to understand, who was not already acquainted with the facts, that the Plan of Campaign has been practised on that estate for nearly two years. The hon. Member spoke of the strained relations existing between landlord and tenant; but he did not give any indication that the tenants on the Ponsonby estate—an estate managed with great liberality, judgment, and generosity—had been deliberately engaged in an illegal conspiracy against the landlord for nearly two years, during which time they had not paid 1s. of rent. The meeting was thus called on an estate in which the Plan of Campaign was in force, and by the man who, of all others, had made himself notorious in connection with the Plan of Campaign. Perhaps the House is not aware that the hon. Member for North - East Cork has not been seen for the first time on this occasion on the Ponsonby estate. They are not perhaps aware that the hon. Member, who, I think, told us in a speech that only on one occasion did he counsel resistance on the part of the tenants to the law, did counsel the tenants on the Ponsonby estate to resist by violence the process of the law, and advised them to take as an example for their conduct the notorious instance of Saunders' Fort—one of the most flagrant cases of deliberate and protracted resistance to the Sheriff and his officers which even the recent history of Ireland can furnish. I apprehend, when the House takes these facts into account, it will probably entertain no doubt that the Executive would have been failing in its duty 453 had it omitted to prohibit this meeting from being held, and to disperse it if an attempt had been made to hold it in defiance of the proclamation. What is the avowed excuse given for the meeting? It is to protest, as far as I understand it, against the action of the landlord in preventing his tenants coming into Court to have a fair rent fixed. I wish the hon. Gentleman, when discussing this question, had explained to the House by what legal process it was possible for the landlord to prevent his tenants going into Court. [An IRISH MEMBER: By eviction notice.] If a tenant is turned into a caretaker it is no doubt true that he loses the privileges conferred by the Act of 1881, which are only given to tenants. But there are certain preliminary stages to be gone through before a tenant is turned into a caretaker. The hon. Gentleman led us to believe that the tenants in question had been leaseholders.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think they were not; but it is not material. Whether leaseholders or tenants from year to year, no action that the landlord could possibly take would deprive them of the right of going into Court and having a fair rent fixed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Arrears are not the point in question. The hon. Gentleman has raised a different issue. It is not pretended that on account of accumulation of arrears, the tenants were prevented from going in Court. The accusation is that they were turned into caretakers, and, consequently, precluded from going into Court. With regard to arrears, I will point out that those people, had they thought themselves aggrieved, at any stage of the preliminary proceedings, would have had the power not only of going into Court to have a fair rent fixed, but of asking the County Court Judge to give a stay of execution on the proceedings to evict them until a fair rent had been fixed for them by the action of the Court, and no action of the landlord could deprive them of the power of going into Court. Is there any evidence that this request for stay of execution was made, or that the request was refused? If there is not, does it not show 454 that they had no case? The hon. Gentleman next says that the proclamation of the meeting came too late. But I gather that, however late the proclamation may have been, it gave ample time to the hon. Member for North-East Cork to make a written communication to Captain Plunkett respecting it. If that hon. Member had obeyed the proclamation, he could have prevented a not very creditable scene which, in consequence of his resistance, took place on Sunday. The hon. Gentleman also raked up the incorrect and oft exploded version of the telegram sent by Captain Plunkett with regard to the riots at Youghal. The hon. Member interpolated a sarcasm to the effect that that telegram had done a great deal to cause the Conservative Party to lose so many bye-elections. We have not lost so many bye-elections after all; but I will not go into that point. I would, however, ask the hon. Member, if it be granted that this telegram produced such an effect no constituencies in England, whether it was a true description of what the telegram was and of the circumstances under which it was issued that produced that effect, or was it the utterly incorrect and imaginative version which the hon. Gentleman gave of it in this House, and which I know was repeated in newspapers and on platforms in order to inflame the public mind against one of the most honourable, most distinguished, and most courageous public servants that the Government of the country possesses? ["Oh, oh!"] No man in this world is more anxious than Captain Plunkett to prevent the shedding of blood. ["No, no!" from the Home Rule Members.] But Captain Plunkett is aware, as every other man who has ever been responsible for this kind of transaction is aware, that the first condition of maintaining peace and averting the effusion of blood is to say that in case of absolute necessity violence will be resisted by violence. And I have more than once before pointed out to the House that the result of this telegram was, that a mob which might have become dangerous both to themselves and to the police, were man aged and dispersed without any bloodshed or destruction of life. ["No no!"] Hon. Members interrupt me apparently under the impression that the loss of life at Youghal was due to the telegram. But even in Ireland the effect cannot precede the 455 cause. And unless my memory deceives me, the unfortunate man Hanlon was shot before the telegram was sent by Captain Plunkett; and I think that will not be contradicted now that I have given hon. Gentlemen an opportunity of recollecting the facts of the case. I think I have now dealt at as much length as the case deserves with all the circumstances of the proclamation of the meeting at Youghal. I have shown that we were well advised in proclaiming the meeting. I have shown that the circumstances of the Ponsonby estate made the meeting illegal. I have shown also, in my observations with regard to the influence of the National League generally and to its suppression in the proclaimed districts, that no man either in this country or in Ireland who is really anxious for the maintenance of law and order can be otherwise than satisfied with the course which the Government have taken or the policy which they have found it necessary to pursue.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
said, he did not desire to take part in the debate which had been going on, as he believed the Question Mr. Speaker had put before the House was a much more interesting one—namely. "That this House do on its rising adjourn until April 5th; "but the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had made a statement soon after that Question was proposed, against which he (Sir Joseph Pease) desired to put in a caveat. The right hon. Gentleman was so sanguine as to imagine that the Local Government Bill would be brought up for second reading on Thursday, and that the second reading debate would terminate on Friday. He (Sir Joseph Pease) thought it would be paying a poor compliment to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) if a Bill of such a complicated character, and with which the right hon. Gentleman had taken such great pains, were passed over in such a slighting a manner. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to say whether, on reflection, he really thought that the Bill could be debated on second reading in the course of two nights? It contained questions which would rouse all their temperance Friends in the House and the country Gentlemen, and it would raise questions as to local 456 divisions and local government. Whilst they all desired to get into Committee on the Bill and to make progress with it as fast as they reasonably could, the sentiments of those Members of the House who would be likely to desire to speak could hardly be expressed, even if those Members exorcised the greatest restraint over their loquacity, in two nights. He merely wished, as he had said, on the part of many Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House, to enter a caveat against the too sanguine estimate of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
said, that before the right hon. Gentleman rose, he wished to say that when they suggested that the time proposed by the right hon. Gentleman was too short, they did not mean that the time allowed between the introduction of the Local Government Bill and the second reading was too short, but that the second reading debate would be prolonged beyond the two days he had estimated. No doubt, they would be glad on all sides if two nights were found to suffice. He (Mr. Mundella) rose to ask when the right hon. Gentleman proposed to take the second reading of the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill; because, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, until they had had the discussion on the second reading the Grand Committee could not commence its labours?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
There is no desire on the part of the Government to unduly press forward the Local Government Bill; but, inasmuch as the general principle of the measure has been practically accepted with almost practical unanimity, although there are points and details which may properly be raised for discussion at length in Committee, I should hope that we shall be able to take the second reading in two nights' debate. With regard to the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill, I will endeavour to make some arrangement for getting it read a second time as shortly after Easter as is practicable. The measure, it will be recollected, has passed through the House of Lords; and, therefore, the same pressure does not exist with respect to it as applies to the case of some other Bills. Sir, I think I may now venture to appeal to the House to come to a decision on the question of the Motion I have proposed 457 to the House, as there are several Notices of Motion on the Paper, and hon. Members will be put to great inconvenience. To prevent that inconvenience, I will claim to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member persists in these unseemly interruptions, I shall have to take strong measures.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 145; Noes 51: Majority 94.—(Div. List, No. 54.)
§ Question, "That this House, at its rising, do adjourn till Thursday, 5th April," put, and agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before Seven o'clock till Thursday 5th April.