HC Deb 22 February 1889 vol 333 cc212-24
MR. C. S. PARNELL (Cork)

I wish, Sir, to interpose for a few minutes in this debate to bring a matter of very considerable and pressing importance under the attention of the head of the Government. I regret that the Chief Secretary is not in his place. I do not attach any blame to the right hon. Gentleman, and I regret I have not been able to give him sufficient notice to enable him to be in his place; but this is a matter which will not brook delay, and I therefore feel myself bound to proceed with it in his absence in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take such notice of the matter as will remove the trouble. I have just received, Sir, a telegram—or rather one of my hon. Friends has just received a telegram from the Mayor of Kilkenny in the following terms:—"After Mr. Carew's arrival at Kilkenny Prison last night he was forcibly deprived of his clothes, even of his flannel shirt. His hair and moustache were cut off. He is all day lying on a plank bed. He refuses to wear the prison garments." I have also received a telegram from the Lord Mayor of Dublin to the same effect. Now, Sir, opinions may differ, and rightly differ, as to the course pursued by some Members of this House, and others who have decided to resist the wearing of prison clothes as a question of principle; but you are face to face with the fact that they have refused; and it comes to this—do the Irish Executive intend to enforce this rule at the risk of the health, and possibly of the lives, of the prisoners in gaol? This question of clothes is an old question in the treatment of Irish political prisoners, and I would refer the House to the treatment of the treason-felony prisoners in 1865, and following years, which was inquired into by the Devon Commission of 1871. The clothes of those prisoners were taken from them in the depth of winter, and they were even deprived of their flannels. Some of them contracted maladies which subsequently brought them to their graves. This is the paragraph in which the Devon Commission refer to the matter (Vol. 53, page 12). "We are of opinion that as they (the prisoners) arrived at the prison in mid winter, and as some of them appear to have been men of delicate constitution, and one was deformed and of weakly frame, flannels should have been given to them without waiting for the intervention of the medical officer." Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has explained on a former occasion that if any prisoner who is able to plead a weak heart or delicate lungs refuses to attire himself in the prescribed dress, force will not be applied to him. But the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that he has put it out of the power of any prisoner to plead a weak heart or delicate lungs, however weak his heart or delicate his lungs may be; and I say it is for the right hon. Gentleman, when he is dealing with such notorious facts as I have brought before him, to take his precautions and to give his orders before, so that he may be sure that what is practically murder may not take place. The public opinion of this country was horrified by the accounts of the scenes which took place in the prison where Mr. W. O'Brien was recently confined. Mr. O'Brien had the good fortune to be a man in a prominent position, and he was not permitted to suffer beyond a limited space, and the right hon. Gentleman was compelled to intervene in behalf of that distinguished prisoner. But what is to become of the obscurer men? Are they to be left naked for days and weeks in the winter, deprived of the flannels that they are accustomed to wear? The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to draw no distinction between one prisoner and another, but a distinction has been drawn in Mr. Carew's case. Mr. Carew is not a prominent Member of this House; he has not spoken often, and, I suppose, the prison officials therefore think it safe to make this attack on him. As it is, great mischief may have been done in his case. Even now Mr. Carew may be lying in his cell without, perhaps, even bedclothes to cover him. We do not know what the history of Mr. Carew has been since these telegrams were despatched. I have brought forward this matter, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider how far he is going to press this rigid adherence to red tape in prison rules. Is he going to insist that Mr. Carew shall remain in his present position? Is the right hon. Gentleman going to leave Mr. Carew stripped, without even his flannel shirt? If he determines to go on with his policy—I do not wish to use hasty words, I do not wish to use passionate words, words any of us may hereafter regret, but with this warning before him, and with the knowledge of what happened in the case of Mr. Mandeville, and what may happen in other cases, if he persists in this course of rigid adherence to the law which he himself has been mainly instrumental in passing, and under which no distinction is made in the treatment of political prisoners and the treatment of ordinary prisoners—all I can say is that I believe that the judgment of this country hereafter will not hold the right hon. Gentleman guiltless of the consequences that may result.


I have only been in this building for about three minutes, and was not fortunate enough to arrive in time to hear the opening words of the hon. Gentleman's speech; but I understand that he had read to the House a telegram from the Mayor of Kilkenny to the effect that the Member for North Kildare had arrived in Kilkenny prison last night, had been forcibly deprived of his clothes and flannel shirt, and had been lying all the day long on a plank bed, refusing to wear the prison garb. No, Sir, I have no knowledge of the facts enumerated in this telegram. I have received other telegrams from other Mayors which in no sense were accurate, and it is extremely possible that this telegram from this Mayor might be as inaccurate as the telegrams of other Mayors have been. But on the broad question, if the hon. Gentleman asks me, I can return him a perfectly distinct, clear, and explicit reply. Every man, so far as I am concerned, imprisoned in Ireland under the law obtaining in Ireland should be treated as an ordinary prisoner. The rules regulating the treatment of ordinary prisoners are well known, and are to be found by any gentleman who searches for them. Any relaxation of these rules must be made, in my opinion, upon the authority of the Medical Officer of the prison. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says, in his opinion, that the Member for North Kildare is likely to suffer in health for a misfortune which at this moment he is bringing upon himself by refusing to put on prison clothes, which are provided for him according to the prison rules. To say that a man is kept naked in his cell because, being provided with adequate clothing, he refused to put it on, is a gross misuse of the English language. Such a man ought not to be described as a man deprived of his clothing. He is a man who deprives himself of his clothing, and it is as a man who deprives himself of his clothing that he ought to be judged. If, however, this peculiar mania reaches a point which injures his health, it is the business of the prison doctor to make such relaxations in the rules as he may think will adequately preserve the health of the prisoner. Any recommendation of the doctor of that kind is, of course, instantly attended to, and I have not the slightest doubt that in the case of the Member for North Kildare, like every other prisoner, be he Member of Parliament or not Member of Parliament, committed under this Act or that Act—I have not the slightest doubt that the doctor of the prison at Kilkenny will do his duty by Mr. Carew, and if his health be suffering that he will take such steps as are necessary to preserve it. The hon. Gentleman says that a phrase in a letter which I wrote about 14 months ago, on the subject of the first imprisonment of the Member for North-East Cork, was couched in such terms that no prisoner under the Crimes Act could again plead ill-health or any bodily defect as a ground for receiving special relaxations of the rules. The House and the hon. Member and the hon. Gentlemen who sit beside him will perhaps be surprised to learn that at this moment I have obtained statistics of the relaxations given in Irish prisons to all classes of prisoners, and I find that the relaxations of prison rules given under medical authority to Crimes Act prisoners are enormously in excess of the relaxations of the rules given to any other class of prisoners. In fact, the doctors of the Irish prisons have given more relaxations of prison discipline to prisoners under the Crimes Act than to any other class of prisoners. Now there are only three conclusions to be drawn from that fact, and you must choose one of the three. Either the prison doctors in Ireland have been intimidated—

MR. J. G. S. MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)

By whom?


By methods perfectly familiar to hon. Gentlemen opposite and their Friends—that is a question on which I shall have more to say on another occasion—or else Crimes Act prisoners are in the habit of malingering, or else there is some connection between physical weakness and Irish Nationalism. I will defy human ingenuity to come to any further alternative. The proportion of medical relaxation in the case of Crimes Act prisoners is enormously in excess, and has been for the last 12 months, of the relaxation given in the case of other prisoners, and what bearing has that upon the statement of the hon. Gentleman? So far from the prisoners under the Act feeling themselves prevented from taking any advantage of the relaxation of the prison rules on account of ill-health, they have taken more advantage of them than any other class of prisoners. So much for the contention of the hon. Member. The hon. Member has stated that the country has been horrified at the accounts given of the sufferings of the hon. Member for East Cork in prison. It is possible that some persons in the country have been horrified at some accounts which have been given of them, but unfortunately all those accounts have not only been inaccurate, but they have been grossly and scandalously mendacious. The sufferings on which hon. Gentlemen have dilated have been purely and absolutely imaginary. There have been sufferings of many persons in Ireland which might, indeed, have horrified the country, but I will undertake to say that anyone really acquainted with what went on in Clonmel Gaol in connection with the hon. Member for North-East Cork would be absolutely incapable of being horrified even in the smallest degree; and probably if he took into account the whole circumstances of the case—second-class carriage and all the rest of it—he would probably consider many of the incidents more calculated to excite smiles than tears. But in any case I can assure the House and the country that the medical precautions taken in Ireland at this moment exceed, I believe, the medical precautions taken either in Ireland, England, or Scotland at any period with regard to any class of prisoners whatever. I do not, of course, pretend that there is anything in an Irish prison which secures immunity from disease, but I do assert positively that if medical care can prevent any prisoner from suffering from his imprisonment, those medical precautions are now taken in Ireland. But I distinctly repeat the principle I have before laid down, that I will not, so long as I am Irish Secretary, admit that any man has earned special privileges in an Irish prison because he has been engaged in what I think the shocking crimes for which Members of this House and others have been imprisoned under the Crimes Act. I do not suppose the House will expect me to follow the example of the hon. Member for Cork, and unnecessarily to violate the understanding which was come to, that the question of Ireland should be reserved for the debate next week; but, however that may be, if it is any consolation to the hon. Gentleman, I absolutely adhere to the principle I have laid down. So far as I can, so far as I have any influence in the matter, and so long as I can have control over the question, I will not draw a distinction in practice which I believe has no justification, either in law or in morality, between a man who shoots a land-grabber or the man who engages in a conspiracy to make the life of a man who takes an evicted farm absolutely miserable to himself, or, on the other hand, the man who deliberately makes speeches having distinct reference to taking an evicted farm in the neighbourhood where he speaks. Such a man is, in my opinion, as responsible for all the crimes that are committed in connection with the agrarian agitation in Ireland as the man who held the pistol which he put to the head of his victim and with which he shoots him.

SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I will, I hope, in the few words I have to say, follow the example of the hon. Member for Cork, and I certainly shall not follow any other example, and attempt to indulge in sarcasm. I should like first to take up an observation which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland made at the close of his speech, and I take it up as a Member of Parliament speaking for Members of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman said in substance that the man who shot a land-grabber or who boycotted a land-grabber out of his happiness and enjoyment of life is not worse than the man who deliberately makes speeches inciting to those crimes. Whose case are we now considering? Who is the Member of Parliament at this moment who is suffering the very heaviest sentence of any Member of Parliament? It is an hon. Member who has been condemned to six months' hard labour. Has he delivered any speeches inciting to crime? What was his crime as placed before the Court? He was charged—I am speaking of Mr. Edward Harrington—practically on two counts, one of having made a speech inciting persons to join the Plan of Campaign; the other count was that he made this speech to a proclaimed branch of the National League, and having so made it published it in his own newspaper. The Court—two Resident Magistrates—took evidence as to whether he had incited to the Plan of Campaign, and they acquitted him. A brother Member of our House is at this moment in prison for six months, with hard labour, not for having incited to crime, but because, under a recent Act, a new crime was invented which had never been on the Statute Book before—the crime of taking part in the proceedings of an illegal association, which illegal association was so defined as to include the National League. The right hon. Gentleman endeavours to excuse the policy which I will now proceed to condemn on general grounds, by trying to make out that he is acting up to the theory of the old fable, and punishing the trumpeter who is inciting men to deeds of blood. What is the case brought forward by the hon. Member for Cork? A young Member of Parliament, a man most courteous, who belongs to the best style of the young Member of Parliament, arrested in the house of a candidate at a by-election, a man who, three days ago, was one of us, respected by all of us, has now been subjected to indignities which I shall not comment upon out of respect for the credit of the House of Commons, because I am certain that if I did name them they would raise a laugh in certain quarters. The right hon. Gentle- man thinks this is right; we think it is wrong. Now, I will take the two arguments that were put forward by the right hon. Gentleman in defence of this proceeding. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman appears to conceive that it is not in his power to interfere.


No, I do not.


Then the right hon. Gentleman has altered his mind.


I never touched upon my relations to the Prison Board at all: I never said anything at all about my powers.


At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman spoke in a manner that implied that to take any special course of action with regard to men on account of their position, or on account of the nature of their crime, would be an extreme stretch of his authority, the same right hon. Gentleman, with no more reason, has exerted that authority—and I am glad of it—in the case of priests. But the principal argument of the right hon. Gentleman was one which I am very glad to meet on the floor of the House of Commons. It is that we on this side of the House—and I am inclined to think a good many people who do not support us in the country are beginning to feel the same thing—that we on this side of the House are respecters of persons, that we have a great feeling for the educated, the powerful man of official and Parliamentary position, and that we draw a distinction between those men and the great run of persons. This is an attempt to give to an odious tyranny a sort of veneering of popular and Radical sentiment which the great mass of the people are beginning to see through. Our objection is not so much to the punishment of Members of Parliament as Members of Parliament, but because all the Members of Parliament, speaking broadly, who have been sent to gaol under this Act have been sent to gaol for offences which in their nature ought not to be punished by these indignities. We say that about Members of Parliament, and we say it about people who are not Members of Parliament. There was a time in the history of Ireland when serious crime was very rife, and when the Government honestly believed—[Ministerial ironical cheers]—you have not heard yet what I am going to say—and when the Government honestly believed that everybody whom they were punishing were being punished for actual crime. There were certain exceptions, and when those exceptions were brought to the notice of the Government, the Government altered their treatment. The hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. T. Healy), speaking below the Gangway last Session, put the case in a nutshell. He said, "Under Lord Spencer one Member of Parliament was sent to prison, and that was myself, and I was sent to prison as a first-class misdemeanant." I do not know how many Members of Parliament have been sent to prison lately—I suppose that four or five and twenty have been there or are on their way there. [Irish MEMBERS: Twenty-six.] Well, our reason for resenting the manner in which our Colleagues have been punished with indignity for offences for which, if they are offences, the proper punishment is detention without indignity, is summed up in a sentence—I do not know whether I can quote it exactly—which was spoken about the autocratic Government of Lord Eldon and Mr. Pitt at the beginning of this or at the end of the last century. It was: "The gauge of the severity of an arbitrary Government is the amount of humiliation and severity which it inflicts on men of education." And why? Because men of education are specially formidable, and if great indignities and severities are inflicted upon men of education, men whose names come before the world, who have powerful friends, one may have some conception of the indignities and the cruelties which are being inflicted on the humble and the poor. I very well remember the story of two days in Ireland. Ten or 12 men were taken off at once in a batch and sent to prison for long terms of hard labour for being concerned in a sort of popular expression of disapprobation when Mr. Blunt was taken to prison. On the next day I think as many as 12 men were sent to prison for an average of about a month apiece, for showing anger and emotion on account of their parish priest being arrested and sent to prison. On the same day 24 publicans were charged with having refused to sell drink to policemen who went about to catch the men, and out of the 24, 11 or 14 were sent to prison. There are two days' work in Ireland. These droves of Hottentots went off to prison, every one of them having an Irishman's sensitiveness, an Irishman's patriotism, an Irishman's native delicacy of feeling. We knew nothing of the treatment of these men, who belong to the common people. It is only in such cases as that of Mr. Edward Harrington, and this young man, who was a friend of many of us, and is our friend still, and will be our friend when he is once again among us, that we know anything. All these men, poor and rich, are punished in the manner I have described for faults which partook of the political sufficiently to make a wise Government draw a distinction between them and gaol birds. Does the right hon. Gentleman himself believe that the punishment of hard labour, with all these indignities, is the same when inflicted upon a man like the Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien), an extremely overworked literary man, or on such a man as the hon. Gentleman whose case we are now discussing, as it is when inflicted upon a real, genuine, hardened, professional criminal? It is not the same to them, it is not the same to a respectable farmer or labourer, who would never have got into prison if he wore not a politician. This is, after all, what the Liberal Party have been accustomed to say about other nations. As far as we have ourselves erred against the principle in the past, we were in the wrong, and ought to admit it now. We do admit it, and we admit that a clearer case than that of this young Member of Parliament has never occurred. When the Government with which I was connected was in office, whenever a case of the kind was brought to our notice, and as soon as it was brought to our notice, the treatment was altered. It was not only in the case of Mr. T. Harrington but in others also that the treatment was altered. This case having been brought to the notice of the House of Commons, we ought as clearly as possible to express our opinion that a great mistake has been made in the Government of Ireland, and that that mistake is only increased by the matter which so deeply concerns the feelings of Irishmen being treated with something very like levity.

MR. W. A. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

I should not have intervened in this debate if it had not been owing to the exceptional circumstance that only a few days ago I had the distinguished honour of accompanying the latest criminal of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary on his passage from the north to the south of Scotland, and I had the opportunity of witnessing the manner in which the hon. Member, who is now in prison, was treated, and of comparing it in my own mind with the reception which would have been given to the right hon. Gentleman if he had been in the same place. Four Members of Parliament and the Chief Constable of Perthshire, who, I may remark, was taken away from his daily duties and put on a wholly unnecessary mission, occupied one carriage, the Irish sergeant who had effected the arrest having the delicacy or good taste to occupy another compartment, leaving us entirely alone The news of the arrest was flashed by telegraph along the route we took, and at every station through which we passed crowds of people assembled. My hon. Friend, who is now in prison, was received at every place with loud cheers. Why, if the right hon. Gentleman had been there he would have been hooted out of the stations. As a Scotch, man, I felt humiliated. I remembered that Scotland was once an independent nation, once proud of its national honour, and I felt humiliated that Scotchmen should have a political refugee, so to speak, dragged from their midst by the right hon. Gentleman's minions. Moreover, I could not help feeling a deep sense of shame that there could be found in Scotland any Justice of the Peace who could so forget the national dignity and national honour as to countersign a lettre de cachet of the Chief Secretary's. I am happy to think, however, that the man who countersigned the document, if I may judge by his name, for he is known by the name of Isles, is not a Scotchman. I hope he is not, and I hope there is no Scotchman who would so demean himself as to be guilty of abandoning any person enjoying our hospitality to the tender mercies, or rather cruelties, of the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot help contrasting what is going on in the prison in Ireland with the manner in which the hon. Member was received and treated by the Scotch people, and I say that the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman in trampling upon the national self-respect is outraging the sense of the people of Scotland. If the right hon. Gentleman is determined to enjoy a cynical brutality and cruelty, let him confine himself to Ireland: let him not pollute a country which was honoured by the citizenship of John Knox, and which has hitherto been the habitation of a free and independent people.


moved the adjournment of the debate.


gave notice that as the Amendment of which he had given notice could not be moved before the Amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley), he would move it at a later stage of the Address.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Halley Stewart,) put,—and agreed to.

Debate further adjourned till Monday next.

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