§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid.)
I beg to ask for permission to move the Adjournment of the House, in order to call attention to a matter of definite public importance,—namely, the danger to public peace, security, and property in Ireland caused by the condonation of serious crime by the Executive Government.
§ MR. SEXTON
I rise to Order, Sir. I wish to ask you, as the interpreter of the Standing Orders of the House, a question of Order arising out of the proposal of the hon. and learned Member. You have now occupied the Chair during nearly the whole of the period in which this Rule has been in operation, and you have reasonably claimed to exercise a discretion when you should or should not 915 put the Question. You have sometimes barred the way. [Cries of "Order!"] I am quite in Order. You have sometimes, Sir, barred the way on the ground that the matter was not a definite one, and at other times that the matter was not one of urgent public importance. Now, Sir, I submit to you that the only matter raised to-day to justify a Motion of this kind is the question of the exercise of the clemency of the Crown in an individual case, as between two years' imprisonment which the Crown thinks enough, and 3¾ years to which he was sentenced by the Judge. If that be not the ground of the Motion, I should like to ask whether the Motion in its original terms declares such a matter of urgent public importance—I submit that it is wholly indefinite—as to justify the hon. Member in interrupting the ordinary course of business.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman admits that it is in my discretion to permit or refuse a question, but, at the same time, he seems rather to impose upon me a particular course. I am not complaining of that. If I held that the question was wanting either in definiteness or public importance, I should have taken the extreme course which, as the hon. Gentleman says, I have taken on other occasions. But I do not think that in this case I can do otherwise than leave it to the judgment of the House whether the matter is really of sufficient urgency and importance to justify a Motion for Adjournment. The hon. and learned Member proposes to move the Adjournment for the purpose of calling attention to a definite matter of urgent pubilc importance, namely—The release, by the Executive Government in Ireland, of John Foley, a convict, sentenced to seven years' penal servitude under the 'Explosives Act, 1883.'
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, Order! The hon. Gentleman has altered the Motion which he read, as it is competent for him to do. The House will recollect that the late Mr. Parnell did the same thing.
*The pleasure of the House not having been signified, MR. SPEAKER called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less 916 than 40 Members having accordingly risen:—
§ MR. BARTON
said if any apology were necessary for the Motion he was about to make it would be furnished by a reference to the conversation which took place across the Table a few minutes ago. Many Members believed that there was a desire on the part of the Government to escape from criticism on these urgent Irish questions, and this belief had been confirmed by the promptitude with which the challenge given by the Prime Minister had been accepted by the Leader of the Opposition.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
rising to Order, asked whether the hon. Gentleman was entitled to discuss the question—whether time for the discussion of a Vote of Censure should have been granted by the Government?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Gentleman has obtained leave to move the Adjournment of the House on the understanding that he confines himself strictly to the question.
§ MR. BARTON
said the release of John Foley had been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary, to be exceptional. He (Mr. Barton) ventured to say that it was almost unprecedented. He would not say it was quite unprecedented, because the Government themselves had supplied a precedent in the release of the Gweedore prisoners. [Loud Cries of " Order!" from the Nationalist Members.]
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
rising to Order, asked Mr. Speaker whether free discussion was not one of the principles of Parliament?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will leave it to me to see that the Rules are not broken. Of course it is allowable to make allusions, but the hon. Gentleman, as I have already said, must keep himself strictly to the terms of his Notice.
§ MR. BARTON
went on to say that except for the precedents created by the Government themselves, there were, he believed, no precedents whatever for the proceedings which were the subject of his Motion. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, had accepted the humane reasons given by the Judge for the conclusion at which he had arrived, but had objected to the advice and the decision of the Judge. 917 The decision of the Government was a political decision. This was not the first time, however, that the Executive Government had tried to shelter themselves behind the ermine of the Judge. The right hon. Gentleman had said the prisoner had hitherto conducted himself well in prison, and if his good conduct had continued, he would have been entitled to have his sentence shortened. Surely such a reason had never before been given for the release of a prisoner. The right hon. Gentleman in giving that reason, had assumed that the prisoner's good conduct would be continued for two years. What were the circumstances of the case? He (Mr. Barton) had obtained them from a report published in The Cork Daily Herald, which was the newspaper of the Majority of the Irish Nationalist Members. The prosecution was conducted in the first instance by Mr. Wright, one of the most distinguished members of the Irish Bar, and the prisoner was defended by Mr. Redmond Barry, one of the ablest members at the Bar. The Judge who tried the case, Chief Justice O'Brien, most fairly reminded the jury, in summing up the case, that they ought to put aside every consideration in regard to the serious state of affairs that prevailed in Tipperary, and the prejudice that the state of affairs might arouse in their minds, and to remember that the only question for them to consider was the guilt or innocence of the prisoner. There could not, therefore, be any suggestion against the fair conduct of the trial, and this was further confirmed by the fact that the prisoner did not use all the challenges of the jury which he had at his disposal. He had 20, but used only 17. What better indication could there be that the prisoner was satisfied with the jury, when he did not avail himself of his full right of challenge. He did not think there could be any question of the guilt of the prisoner, though it had sometimes happened when such matters were discussed in the House that some hon. Member had raised doubts on the point, simply, he ventured to think, in order to draw away attention from the true nature of the case. Moreover, the nature of the defence was rather an appeal to the jury on account of the youth of the prisoner than a really 918 serious contest as to his guilt. The jury took only a quarter of an hour to come to a conclusion, and the Judge, in passing sentence said, that no man could doubt the guilt of the prisoner. Now, as to the nature of the offence with which the prisoner was charged. He was indicted under the Explosives Act, 1883,—a Statute of which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was the parent—for having an explosive in his possession. The evidence of the police, who had been long watching him, showed that the prisoner had been for months in the neighbourhood, that he attended every market there, and that during this time he took a very active part in the work of boycotting. He was described by the police as a member of the Vigilance Committee in Tipperary, and was seen frequently in the company of two men, one of whom afterwards pleaded guilty to a charge of printing and publishing a boycotting notice of a a serious kind, and the other was convicted of a similar offence connected with boycotting in Tipperary. On the day of his arrest the prisoner was watching a boycotted shop, and when asked to explain his conduct he could not do so. He was accordingly arrested by Sergeant Stacy on the charge of boycotting, and taken on the way to the police barracks. Fortunately in the interest of Justice they were followed by another constable at some distance. The first thing the prisoner was observed to do by the constable behind was to take from his pocket a large number of papers which he threw upon the ground. He then took a dark substance from his pocket and threw it on the ground when it made a loud noise. The constable at once ran up and shouted to Sergeant Stacey to stop, and they both examined the object to see what it was. While they were doing so the prisoner, in a derisive way said, "I'll give you a match," showing how completely and absolutely he was aware of the nature of the object, and how little he was ashamed of his guilt. The explosive consisted of a pipe made of lead and loaded with gunpowder. It might be said that this after all was not a very serious form of explosive, and he admitted that it was of rude charater, and that it lacked the artistic finish of the dynamite machine constructed in 919 America on modern principles. But it was proved at the trial that it was by means of such explosives that the various explosions in Tipperary had been committed. The constables swore that one man was laid up for three weeks through injuries caused to him by such an explosive; that a servant of Mr. Smith-Barry was injured by another such explosive and laid up for six weeks, and that Mr. Smith-Barry's rent-office was nearly burnt down by another such explosive.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
said that might be so, but it would have very much to do with the explanation which he asked from the Chief Secretary. Why were those explosives used? When boycotting failed to do its purpose, the explosive was resorted to as the ultimate form of pressure. It was proved, for instance, in the case of a man named Duggan, that after he had courageously resisted boycotting for a long time, and this form of pressure had failed, an explosive was thrown into his shop, and the man joined the Plan of Campaign the following day. That incident explained the object of the explosions; and, if anyone desired to minimise their seriousness he would reply, that it had often been said in extenuation of the dynamite outrages in London that they were more calculated to injure property than persons; but in this case injury was actually done to both persons and property, and therefore the outrages, though perpetrated with gunpowder and not dynamite, were of a serious character. What were the reasons why clemency was exercised in the case? He thought it was very unfortunate that the Chief Secretary should himself have gone to Tipperary when this disorderly state of things existed. It was a matter which he thought the right hon. Gentleman must now view with considerable regret. The right hon. Gentleman, with his full knowledge of the present condition of Ireland and his free knowledge of some of the effects of the visit, must have regretted ever having made it.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I rise to Order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to know whether the Chief Secretary's visit to 920 Tipperary has anything to do with the question of the reduction of the sentence on Foley to two years' imprisonment?
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
said he regretted to say there were persons who thought they had grounds for believing that the visit of the Chief Secretary to Tipperary might have had something to do with the mitigation of the sentence on the prisoner. And, for his own part, he did not think that the view was altogether unworthy of belief; because the fact of the right hon. Gentleman going there, and, in a manner, identifying himself with the conspiracy, must at least have rendered his task very difficult, when afterwards he had to discharge the important duty of advising Her Majesty with reference to the prerogative of mercy in the cases of men who were mixed up in the lower phases of that conspiracy with the chief leaders of which he had identified himself. Shortly after this time there was held in Tipperary a meeting of the local branch of the Federation which was the organization of that part of the Nationalist Party which was more closely associated with the Party of the Chief Secretary, at which the Rev. Mr. Humphreys, who was in the chair, referred to the sentence on Foley.
§ MR. SEXTON (Kerry N.)
I rise to Order. I wish to know whether what Father Humphreys said has any bearing on the condonation of crime by the right hon. Gentleman?
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
said he had omitted to explain that if it were not for the circumstances that surrounded this case he would never have thought of rising to call attention to the matter; if this were an ordinary exercise of clemency in the ordinary way the business of the House would never have been interrupted, but it was in consequence of the surrounding circumstances that led up to it that made them think it was a matter deserving the attention of the House and the country, and he felt bound to say the continuous interruptions of hon. Gentlemen near him induced him to believe that his observations had, in the eyes of those hon. Gentlemen, only too much bearing on the question, and he would therefore proceed as he had 921 intended. ["Oh."] He thought hon. Gentlemen would do well if they did not emphasise the serious points of the case by those interruptions. The chairman at that meeting, in the course of his speech, which was mainly taken up with attacks upon two hon. Members, said:—If you want further proof of the strength of our position, look to the savage sentences inflicted upon three young men by ' Peter the Packer.'Of the Judge he would only say the reason why he had incurred the anger and brought down upon himself the abuse of hon. Members near him was that in a difficult moment in the history of his country he faithfully discharged his duty. And as he had previously pointed out, it was directly relevant to this charge because "Peter the Packer" was the name used by a supporter of Her Majesty's Government in connection with these trials. As he had pointed out, before the very same course was pursued in regard to juries by Mr. Justice O'Brien and by the Solicitor General since the Government had come into office.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
said his excuse must be that in defending other cases the question of jury packing was used by the Government as a reason for departing from the general rule. But now he would ask what reasons were the Government to give for the course they had pursued—would they follow the reasons which were given in the former case of the Gweedore prisoners? He did not know what the reason would be, but he thought the matter called for serious explanation. Nobody could deny the seriousness of the offence or the fairness of the trial. Nobody could say that the prisoner was innocent. The right hon. Gentleman would therefore have to explain his departure from the invariable rule in such cases.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
The ordinary rules for exercising the prerogative mercy. He was not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should ask him what they were, as he had 922 shown himself singularly wanting in his appreciation of them.
MR. J. MORLET
The hon. and learned Gentleman charges me with departing from rules. I want to know what rules he charges me with departing from?
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
said the right hon. Gentleman was departing from the practice which he believed had always been followed in these cases, of exercising the prerogative of mercy on the advice of the Judge upon principles of public justice, and not for, as he believed, political and Party reasons. He would not further pursue the subject which called for explanation from the right hon. Gentleman, and he ventured to think the right hon. Gentleman would find it difficult to prove that he had not used the law in Ireland in the manner suggested. He was not at liberty in discussing this Motion to refer to the way in which the right hon. Gentleman had relaxed some of the rules; but in this case he did suggest that the right hon. Gentleman had seriously injured the character of the administration of the law in Ireland and in the country at largo. Had the right hon. Gentleman in this case gone to the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain for advice, or to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland? From whom had he obtained the advice upon which he acted? The right hon. Gentleman had certainly not followed the advice of the learned Judge who presided at the trial. [Interruption, and cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. ARNOLD FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
I rise to Order, Sir, and ask that my hon. and learned Friend be protected from the constant and unmannerly interruptions he has been subjected to.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
said this case merely illustrated how the right hon. Gentleman had used the opinions of Judges when it suited him, and departed from them when it served some political purpose, and in that and other respects he had not merely in the immediate present injured the cause of order in that country, but had done what was worse—left a permanent stain upon the character of the Judicial Bench, and perverted, for Party purposes, the prerogative of mercy.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Dunbar Barton.)
§ MR. ARNOLD FORSTER, on a point of Order, said the observations to which he had referred had not been, and were not intended to be, brought to the attention of the Speaker; but he had heard them, and it was impossible for hon. Members to do their duty properly when subjected to remarks made for the purpose and object of interrupting Members in the course of their speeches. When he rose to Order the Speaker told him that he was not aware of the interruptions to which reference had been made. The hon. Member and his friend near him, however, were aware of them, and it was difficult, if not impossible, for hon. Members belonging to the minority of the Irish Representatives to address the House properly if they were to be subjected to constant interruptions of the character he referred to.
§ MR. DIAMOND
After the hon. and learned Gentleman's last remark, I said, "Fancy an hon. Member who has made an untrue statement about the Chief Secretary, and declining to apologise for it, speaking in this way."
§ MR. SPEAKER
Of course interruptions do not always reach my ear, but I trust that hon. Members will abstain from interruptions, and allow the Debate to be continued.
§ MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I really do not think I need detain the House for more than two or three minutes in answering the case the hon. and learned Member attempted to make. In my ten years' experience in this House I have seen a good many Motions for Adjournment moved, but I have never heard such Motions moved, without offence to the hon. and learned Gentleman, upon such a beggarly ground. The hon. Gentleman has not gone for a moment into the merits of the only matter before the House, viz., the decision of the Irish Government. He has travelled over an enormous number of questions, but into the merits of the Motion he has not attempted to go. He laboured through a long account of what happened at Tipperary, but that has not the least to do with the particular question which he interrupted 924 the business of the House in order to put before the House, which was whether this man ought to have had one year and nine months' imprisonment or not. That is the whole question, and when the hon. and learned Member begs the House to excuse him for his irrelevance, I think that the House knew very well why his speech was irrelevant. It was because he had nothing whatever to say in support of his case—that he talked of the surrounding circumstances of his Motion. We knew very well what the surrounding circumstances of his Motion are. They have the same surrounding circumstances that attended a previous Motion for the adjournment of the House, and which marked the proceedings of hon. Gentlemen opposite on matters far more important than the case they are now feigning to discuss; the surrounding circumstances are the fear lest the business of the House should progress. The hon. and learned Member implied, I do not believe that he could really have meant it, that my action and advice that I gave to the Lord Lieutenant in this case was in some way connected with a visit I paid to Tipperary—a visit I am very glad of. What did the hon. Gentleman mean by that; did he suppose I went to Tipperary with a gas-pipe and gunpowder in my pocket? If not, what did he mean? Did he suppose I should sit down and judge a case of this kind, serious as it is, with a view only of obtaining some political or Party advantage? What political or Party object could be gained by taking this man out 18 months earlier than otherwise would be the ease? The hon. and learned Gentleman said his Motion was justified by the fact that my conduct was unprecedented. In what sense unprecedented? Does he mean there is no precedent for the Executive Government advising the Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, that there is no precedent for the Chief Secretary advising the Lord Lieutenant to mitigate a sentence? If so, a more absurd proposition could not be made. I should like to bring a figure before him. The late Government were in Office six years; in those six years there were 170 prisoners released on early licence and 31 prisoners absolutely discharged—that is at the rate of 33 a year. We 925 have been in Office seven months, and 13 convicts only have had their sentences mitigated; therefore if we proceed at the same unprecedented rate our figures at the end of the year will he 28, or a third nearly less than the figures of his own Government. What can he mean then by the word "unprecedented." The hon. Gentleman showed how little fit he was to make a Motion of this kind, and how entirely ignorant he is both of the principle and the practice of the exercise of the clemency of the Crown. He said this clemency was due to the action of the Executive, not of the Judge. That is the very object of the prerogative of mercy; it is the very function of the Executive Government, in order that you should have an independent judgment outside the opinion of the Judge. I am next to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was Home Secretary for six years, and I am next to another Home Secretary, and I appeal to both whether it is not constantly done to ignore the Report of the Judge. I appeal to both and to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, though he has fewer cases of clemency than my right hon. Friends. But it is perfectly clear, there is not a shadow of doubt about it, that the very object of an Executive officer advising the Lord Lieutenant of the Crown, the very object is to take into account temporary circumstances of all kinds. The power of the Secretary of State and the power of the Chief Secretary in advising that clemency should be exercised, is a discretionary power bound by no rules except justice, common sense, and policy. [Opposition Cheers.] Gentlemen opposite seem to think that policy can mean nothing but a petty and low-minded policy. I allude to a policy in its highest sense. I mean all the objects for which Governments exist; that is what I call policy, and the Chief Secretary, or the Home Secretary advising the Crown, are bound by no rules but those ascribed to him by justice, by common sense, of policy and mercy. I repeat now what I said over the Gweedore prisoners, clemency is one of the ends of good government, and if one thing more than another has alienated the feelings of the Irish people from the administration of the law, it has been what I will not hesitate to say are the 926 barbarous sentences that have been inflicted upon persons in Ireland during the last 90 years, and which have not been tempered, unfortunately, by mercy. The object of the use of this prerogative of the Crown is that the Executive Government should take into account the considerations which the Judge might fairly exclude. Now in this case the dominating consideration, in my mind, of the three reasons given by the learned Judge for partial mitigation of the sentence, was the fact that complete peace and tranquility reigned in Tipperary. I can quite imagine that in circumstances of great turbulence and alarm a Judge might think it his duty to pass a severe sentence, and if the hon. Member will refer to the proceedings of this very day he would see there were three cases in which the prisoners were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. With the sentence of seven years on this man Foley the House is already familiar, but to show the sense of danger and alarm which the Judge had in his mind—and as to whom I am offering no criticism—on that day he sentenced one man, for posting a boycotting notice, to 18 mouths' imprisonment with hard labour, and another man to 12 mouths' imprisonment with hard labour for another offence. It is not my object to discuss those sentences, or to say that they were not justified, but I am saying these severe sentences were only justified, and it was plain from the Judge's Report that they could only be justified, on the ground of the greatly perturbed condition of Tipperary. That was the predominating consideration in his mind when he passed the sentence. Now it is for the Executive Government to decide when, taking everything into their consideration, the circumstances have ceased to require these strong penal measures, and in my judgment there was such a complete restoration of order in Tipperary, the offence itself, apart from the condition of society, was so amply punished by two years and three months imprisonment, that I considered that I was absolutely justified in regard to the circumstances of Tipperary and the particular nature of the offence in doing as I did. I have not said a word to minimise the offence, I have lessened none of the circumstances the hon. and learned Member (Mr. 927 Dunbar Barton) dwelt upon, I have simply stated to the House the considerations working on my mind when I decided that the Judge's sentence should, for the very reasons given for a partial mitigation, be carried somewhat further, and that the prisoner should be let out after completing his two years. I do not believe on either side of the House is it sincerely felt that one word more of explanation, or apology, or defence, is required.
§ MR. CARSON (Dublin University)
said he did not intend—[Cries of "Divide."] He hoped at the outset that hon. Gentleman below the Gangway would not think he was to be silenced by interruptions during the few observations he had to make. He did not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman into many of the matters he had introduced with some heat into this important question. The right hon. Gentleman had, as usual, accused them on that side of the House, of want of sincerity in raising this question. That was an accusation to which they were becoming so accustomed that he should think it would have very little effect either on the House or the country. He could conceive no more important matter to bring before the House than what he conceived to be the prostitution of the prerogative of mercy for purposes that were suitable to the right hon. Gentleman in his present position as Chief Secretary for Ireland. Upon the Debate on the Address they were anxious to know whether the fact of certain other prisoners having been released was to be taken as an indication of policy on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, or whether they were to assume that the Gweedore cases were to be taken simply as isolated cases, and that question the right hon. Gentleman never answered. This case he felt could not be regarded as a purely isolated one, and he and his Friends were determined to prevent, if possible, the policy of amnesty being fed by quietly letting prisoners detained for heinous offences out one after the other to take their places amongst the public, and thereby to endanger the security of life and property in Ireland. What was the difference between the case of this particular prisoner and those about whom the Home Secretary spoke in such elo- 928 quent language, and with the approval of all parties in the House in the Debate on the Address? It was all very well to say that the condition of Tipperary at the time was not to be considered. What were the facts? The facts were that day after day in Tipperary by means of explosives, one house after another was blown up. ["No, no!"] Was not the rent office of the hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry) blown up? ["No!"] It was. ["No!"] Every single stick and stone might not have been blown up, but a considerable portion of the interior of the house was. The same thing happened in the case of an unfortunate man of the name of Godfrey, who attempted to hold out against the intimidation of boycotting to compel him to join the Plan of Campaign. The same thing happened again in the case of a man named Duggan, who attempted to hold out and was brought to his knees, or as hon. members from Ireland preferred to put it, "brought into line," by having another explosive thrown into his house and having his house partly blown up. He wished to know when Foley was arrested by the police with the machine found upon him, was the crime to be considered as a heinous crime or not? He would also like to know who was to be the judge as to what was the proper sentence to be inflicted upon the prisoner when convicted. Would any one say that the sentence passed by the learned Judge, having regard to the fact that all the evidence was proved before him, was excessive? Would any one say that a sentence of seven years' penal servitude was excessive in the case of a man dealing with such terrible articles of death and destruction? He was not surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman talk about barbarous sentences in Ireland. ["Hear, hear"!] The right hon. Gentleman cheered his observations. He had adopted a system, since he became Chief Secretary, of trying in every way he could to detract from the dignity and position of Irish Judges who, he ventured to think, performed more arduous duties than any other judicial officers in any part of the United Kingdom, and whose only crime, in the eyes of certain hon. Members below the Gangway, was that they had not been "brought into line." But what, after 929 all, were now the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman had given for the exercise of the clemency, of the prerogative of mercy? He failed to see any. The right hon. Gentleman no doubt said that Tipperary was now in a peaceful condition. Was that to be a reason why five years out of seven were to be taken off the sentence inflicted by the Judge who tried the case, after careful investigation before a jury? If this was to be taken into consideration he should like to know what ground the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) had for keeping Daly and the other prisoners in prison. The arguments put forward about the peace of the district, and the general matters the right hon. Gentleman had referred to, were matters that could be put forward in relation to every serious crime and would enable every prisoner convicted of serious crime to be released a short time afterwards. The right hon. Gentleman said he was hound by no rules except justice, common sense, mercy and policy. Yes, but these were general terms applicable to every case, and he wanted to know what was the justice—which was the very thing the right hon. Gentleman had not explained—what was the common sense, and what was the policy? The right hon. Gentlemen asked what reasons could he have for releasing this man, save and except in the exercise of the judicial functions which he took upon himself. He had just the same reasons as he had for releasing the Gweedore prisoners—namely, that his policy was in pursuance of the "plan of campaign" of which he over and over again availed himself while in Opposition, to excite the people of the country and bring himself into power. When the right hon. Gentleman said they had only exercised that prerogative in 13 cases since they came into power, as against the much larger numbers during the regime of the late Government, it was a very curious fact that both cases they had challenged—and the right hon. Gentleman had been unable to give any substantial reason for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy—were connected with that organisation, the Plan of Campaign, which was started wholly and carried on by hon. Members below the gangway who were now the allies of the right hon. Gentleman. The 930 right hon. Gentleman had given no reason for his conduct in this case, and certainly it was difficult to say this was not a matter that should be brought before the House and fully discussed; unless that were done they would be giving to the right hon. Gentleman as an Executive officer in Ireland a power the House had never conceded to him,, and which Unionist Members from Ireland would do their best to have withheld from him. The attempted explanation here was no explanation at all, and so far as he (Mr. Carson) was concerned, he should certainly press upon his hon. and learned Friend the advisability of taking the sense of the House, by a Division on this question, as to whether the prerogative of mercy was to be exercised in cases where the commission of outrageous crimes tended entirely to the advancement of the Government.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (MR. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
I am glad to hear the concluding observation of the right hon. Gentleman that he intends to take the judgment of the House on this question, and I trust he will allow us to take the judgment without further delay. I cannot help thinking that the House will consider that this "definite matter of urgent public importance" has been sufficiently threshed out. The hon. Gentleman resents the imputation, most properly made by my right hon. Friend, upon the sincerity of this proceeding, but it is curious to note with what opportuneness these Motions for Adjournment of the House follow the outward and visible evidence of dissatisfaction with the vigour and vigilance of the Opposition by their own supporters. What did I read in their own leading organ only this morning? The Standard newspaper says—The Opposition are getting a little lax in their watchfulness. They scored a distinct success in compelling the postponement of the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill, but since then they have permitted Ministers to recover much lost: ground. They have been resting on their laurels too soon, and, in view of the tactics of the Government, it is time they bestirred themselves again.and in another organ of equal respectability and similar views I find the statementIt is not improbable that Mr. Carson931 the hon. and learned Gentleman to whose exuberant zeal for the maintenance unimpaired of the prerogative of mercy we have been listening just now—will precede the motion for the Second Reading of the Registration Bill to-day with an important Irish discussion.Well, Sir, I ask the House, is it really worth while to waste any more time over this when, from the best possible quarter, we know the reason for this Motion? So far as the merits are concerned, I will content myself with expressing my opinion in two or three sentences. I say a Minister is not bound to give any reason for the exercise of the clemency of the Crown; that is a duty of a most confidential and most solemn character, which he is bound to discharge upon his conscience, which, from the very nature of the case, it is in many instances impossible for him consistently with the public interest to explain publicly to this House and the country. My right hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to say, "I acted in this case as I have always acted, and," as every Member knows perfectly well, "from nothing but conscientious motives in the discharge of my duties." If you are not satisfied with the manner in which the clemency of the Crown is exercised, the constitutional way of questioning it is not to try and drag out of the Minister the reasons that influenced his judgment, but to come down here and move a Vote of Censure upon him. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to do that, I have no doubt the Leader of the House will be very glad to give him a day on some fitting occasion. I will only make one other observation, and I do so because it is one that it is incumbent upon us to place on record. It has been suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved this Motion that in some way or other it is the duty of the Minister responsible for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy to be bound by the opinion of the Judge.
§ MR. ASQUITH
Then what were the rules, the departure from which he cast against my right hon. Friend, if not that the opinion of the Judge was always acted upon in the matter? ["No, no!"] Then perhaps he or some 932 other hon. Member will inform the House what rules he referred to. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, in 99 out of every 100 cases in which the Minister has to exercise the prerogative of the Crown, he is compelled, if not to differ from the Judge, at any rate to introduce into the consideration of the case reasons, it may be of policy, it may be of humanity, reasons that are necessarily excluded from the narrow and restricted scope of a purely judicial investigation. For my part, I, and everyone who has held the office I hold, have to differ every day from the opinions given by Judges. But still the question for the House to consider in this case is this: Has the prerogative in this particular case been exercised in such a way as is inconsistent with a right-minded, conscientious, and fair discharge of a responsible duty? The hon. and learned Gentleman has deliberately charged my right hon. Friend with prostituting the clemency of the Crown for party and for political purposes. I think we are entitled, in the interests of the decency of debate, and of the settled usages and traditional amenities of Parliamentary life, to demand that imputations of that, kind should not be freely and recklessly hurled across the Table without one shadow or tittle of foundation, but simply for the purpose of the prolongation for a few moments longer of a Debate initiated under the circumstances I have mentioned.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down does not appear to me to have taken the best course to bring this discussion to a close. I cannot myself conceive language more calculated to inflame, or more calculated to prolong the discussion and to provoke heated speeches in answer, or language more calculated to produce the results which the right hon. Gentleman pretends to regret. Sir, he accuses the Opposition, or Members on this Bench, of making personal charges against the Government, but the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland accused the Opposition of being unable to understand any political motives except one that is mean, low, and petty. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Those were the words, and if charges of that 933 nature are to be flung across the floor are we to sit perfectly silent? To quote the celebrated expression of a French romance writer, "Let the other party commence." Let them refrain from violent charges which have no basis in truth. I will draw the Homo Secretary's attention to the fact, and ask him to give some explanation of it, that his attitude on questions of English justice and his attitude on questions of the administration of justice in Ireland appears to differ widely. If I wanted to impute motives it would be easy for me to show that Parliamentary considerations which are raised by English votes are not so important as Parliamentary considerations raised by Irish votes; and it would be difficult for any hon. Member to say that for that statement I should not have a strong foundation. Now, I do not see how it can be argued, with any probability of convincing a reasonable mind, that there is any sense of difference between the use of explosives in Ireland and the use of explosives in England, and that I understand to be entirely the practical position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman. Well, Sir, it is a mere question of very refined dialectics to draw a distinction between the men convicted of the possession of explosive instruments with the view to using them, not caring how life and property might be destroyed—what is the difference between those men and the men whom the right hon. Gentleman has under his supervision in Portland Gaol? You cannot found any practical argument upon the difference; and you cannot reconcile the very rigid line the right hon. Gentleman adopts with regard to dynamite prisoners in England with the very lax and opportunist line he has taken up with regard to dynamite prisoners in Ireland. What did he say in the House of Commons? He said——
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether the noble Lord is in Order in referring to a previous Debate of this Session?
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL
The description which the right hon. Gentleman then used, and which I am about to quote, will apply to the case with which we are dealing. He describes the men who made use of dynamite explosives as 934 men who for mouths had occupied themselves in devising machines by means of which property should be destroyed and life would, in all probability, be taken without any regard whatever to the innocence or guilt, the responsibility or absence of responsibility, of those who had been the victims of their proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman said—I say these men, in my opinion, are guilty of one of the worst and most criminal offences against the State.Now, the right hon. Gentleman used stronger language still, which shows the irreconcilable inconsistency between the attitude of the Home Secretary to-night, when, certainly, other considerations come in, and his attitude on a former occasion, when no such considerations came in. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say—So long as I hold the position I do.It is less than a month since he made this statement, and certainly the tenacity of opinion he displayed has not been very long, and he still holds the position—So long as I hold the position I do; so long as I am responsible for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy, there is not one of them who shall receive any different treatment or whose sentence shall be any sooner interfered with than that of any other criminal now lying in Her Majesty's jails. For my part, and this is the last word I will say to the House on the subject, I say it both in reference to the past and, if need be, in reference to the future, persons who resort to this mode of warfare against society, who use terror as their instrument, who proceed in their methods with reckless disregard of the life and safety of the weak, the innocent and the helpless, are persons who have deserved and will receive no consideration or indulgence from any British Government.How can it be argued that the Opposition are not justified in bringing before Parliament without delay a different course of procedure towards a prisoner convicted of using dynamite ["No, no!"]—of the possession of dynamite with a view to using it ["No, no!"]—well, then, an explosive, if you like it better, and are to be charged with low, mean, and petty motives, and with a desire to obstruct the business of Parliament? Are these the only motives which animate a responsible representative of the late Irish Government in criticising this act of clemency exercised by the Chief 935 Secretary? Are we to be absolutely debarred from any claim whatever to a sense of public duty and responsibility in asking that such a matter shall be brought under the consideration of Parliament without delay? The Prime Minister challenged us to move a Vote of Censure. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE: Nothing of the sort.] I have heard many challenges to Votes of Censure thrown out in this House, and I state, in spite of the difference of opinion the right hon. gentleman has, that I never knew a more direct challenge thrown out by the Leader of any Party than that which emanated from the right hon. Gentleman. But, Sir, it is quite possible, either after the Easter holidays or before them, to raise the question of the Irish administration of the Chief Secretary, and to discuss it generally and in great detail on a Vote of Censure; and that would be nothing new to the right hon. Gentleman, because from 1882 to 1885 the House was continually occupied with criticism of Irish administration. I strongly hold the opinion, which I find widely shared, that a series of acts of what the right hon. Gentleman calls clemency, exercised from motives of justice, policy, and mercy, and the method in which that clemency has been exercised—in the case of the dynamite prisoners, in the cases of the rioters at Gweedore, and in this case—indicates a tendency to go in the direction of a general amnesty to all crimes which have been committed, and the committal of which not only dishonours Great Britain, but inflicts an indelible stain on the honour of Ireland. What we are apprehensive of is this: the right hon. Gentleman has indicated rather clearly a tendency to act on very large and wide and insufficiently-examined grounds. We are about to separate for the Easter Recess, and we do not know who will have been released when we come back; we do not know how many of these men coming under the description of dynamiters may have been again let loose upon society. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that Tipperary is peaceful, but does he think that he will be taking a step calculated to keep the peace by letting loose such people? Why should the right hon. Gentleman, by adopting the course he has done, run the risk of giving the Opposition reasonable grounds 936 for thinking that there is to be any further release of these criminals? I hold with him that sentences should be reviewed from time to time, but such review ought to be exercised with great care and with the assent of the Judicial Authorities. In my opinion the right hon. Gentleman has not exercised that care in this instance, and he has ignored altogether the opinion of the learned Judge who sentenced this man to seven pears' penal servitude. The right hon. Gentleman has shown a determination in all these matters to disregard the opinion of the Judicial Authorities and to make an entirely new departure with regard to them. With regard to what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, all I can say is, by all means let the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House give us facilities for discussing the course which the Government are taking in the matter of the government of Ireland, because I do not think that the time of the House could be more profitably spent than in discussing that subject, in view of the fact that there has been a terrible relaxation of the safeguards which were established during the last six years for life and property in Ireland during the few months that the present Government have held office. I do not think that the action of Her Majesty's Government is calculated to bring about tranquility and permanent peace in that country, and I deny that it is consistent with either justice, common sense, or good policy. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was perfectly justified in bringing this subject before the House as a matter of urgent public importance, and I think that we were fully justified in supporting him in taking that course. We shall not be deterred from doing our duty in matters of this kind either by sarcastic speeches from Ministers or by ironical interruptions from hon. Members below the Gangway when we think it incumbent upon us to bring under the notice of Parliament matters which, in our opinion, may amount to scandalous maladministration in the government of Ireland.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 222; Noes 262.—(Division List, No. 35.)