§ [Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question, 5 February, see page 15.]
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. J. J. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
, in rising to move as an Amendment to add the following words,—And we humbly represent to Your Majesty, that the time has come when the cases of all prisoners convicted under the Treason Felony Act who are, and have been for many years, undergoing punishment for offences arising out of insurrectionary movements connected with Ireland, may be advantageously reconsidered.—said, that he desired, in the first place, to remark, in reference to this and to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. J.Redmond), which was disposed of the other night, that the Chief Secretary, in a manner rather unworthy of his character and reputation, had stated that these two Amendments had been separated because he and the Member for Waterford desired to suit the convenience of the Opposition. There was not the slightest foundation for any statement of that character. More than a week ago, knowing that he would not be in London on the opening day of the Session he wrote to his hon. Friend the Member for South Roscommon asking him to put this Amendment on the Paper in his (the speakers) name. This Amendment was drawn by Mr. Parnell himself, and 644 had been moved more than once in the House of Commons. There never was any intention to attach it to any other Amendment, and he desired to say that all statements to the contrary were malicious inventions. If defeated upon the present occasion, they would continue to press this Amendment upon the attention of the, House. There was a widespread feeling in Ireland upon this subject. It was impossible to exaggerate that feeling; and the House would appreciate how widespread it was from the fact that all the Nationalist Members intended to support the Amendment on the present, as they had supported it on past, occasions. On every hustings where Nationalist candidates appeared at the last Election the Amnesty question was raised, and resolutions in support of it were passed by numerous public bodies throughout Ireland, while the presence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin yesterday at the Bar of the House indicated how deeply concerned the people of Ireland were at the continued imprisonment of the persons whose case he now pleaded. The Irish Nationalist Members would not be doing their duty if they did not seize every opportunity to express, in that House above all other places, the feeling to which he had referred. This question was brought forward year after year, because they believed that the concession of their demand would be a just and most expedient use of Executive Power; and in the course of the few remarks he was about to make he desired to establish that proposition. He did not intend, upon the present occasion, to enter at all into the guilt or innocence of these prisoners, knowing that all he could say on this head had been said in the House more than once. He would only express, in passing, his own profound conviction that in the case of John Daly, and one or two others, there had been a grave miscarriage of justice, and that these men were the victims of an infamous police Plot; while he believed that in other cases grave doubts existed as to the guilt of the prisoners. If the facts since disclosed had been before the jury who tried John Daly, they could not, and they would not upon their oaths, have 645 convicted him. But he did not now wish to discuss whether these men were or were not rightly convicted. What he desired to pressu pon the House was, that for the present Government to grant the Amnesty asked for would be only a bare fulfilment of the pledge, virtually made on their behalf before they came into Office. The attitude of the Home Secretary during the past two years was well known; he had sworn hostility to the policy of Amnesty, and the Chief Secretary, on a recent occasion in Dublin, rather followed in the footsteps of his colleague. But that was not the attitude of Members of the present Government before they came into Office in 1892. Seven years ago the Chief Secretary paid a memorable visit to Dublin in company with the Marquess of Ripon; and he attended a great meeting in the Leinster Hall, where he delivered an able and remarkable speech, in the course of which he said—I want to ask a question. The French amnestied the Communards, who were guilty of the most atrocious crimes against their Government. The Americans amnestied the Secessionist rebels, who were guilty of an atrocious crime against their Government. Are the only people in the world for whom there is to he no Amnesty, no act of oblivion, the Irishmen, whose only fault has been that they have used their talents for the benefit of their countrymen and done the best they could—and much have they done—to raise up the miserable and oppressed and downtrodden people of their own country? It is not so.And the Chief Secretary added—We are here to-night—Lord Ripon and I—to assure you that at least one great party is anxious for an Amnesty, for an act of oblivion, on your side and on ours.He was aware that the Chief Secretary had complained of what he considered the unfair use that had been made of those words; and a few months ago the right hon. Gentleman protested—rather angrily—that, in using those words, he did not intend to include the Amnesty which was now sought. But he (the speaker) had no desire to make an unfair use of the words, and if the Chief Secreretary now said that he had not in his mind the prisoners contemplated by the present Amendment he would readily accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. But surely the plea of the right hon. Gentleman was an inclusive plea. Surely it included, although it did not specify, the Amnesty now asked. 646 What would be the meaning, what would be the value, of an Amnesty on the side of England which did not include a set of Irishmen who sought to win back the freedom of their country, even though the means they used were means that could not be approved? Could the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary have imagined that even a satisfactory Home Rule measure could produce peace and contentment in Ireland, and bring about oblivion of English oppression in the past, while a number of Irishmen were being kept in penal servitude for offences arising out of movements intended to put an end to that oppression? In August 1892, in the Debate which resulted in the defeat of the late Government, the right hon. Member for Midlothian, in answer to a plea for Amnesty, urged by the hon. Member for Longford, spoke as follows:—In regard to the ease of Amnesty, I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me when I say that it is impossible for those who are not responsible Ministers to give any pledge, or understanding, to deal with criminal eases, either in respect of the revision of sentences or the exercise of the Prerogative of mercy, because that duty can only be properly performed by those who have the full knowledge of the facts, and possess full responsibility. At the same time, I have no difficulty in reminding my hon. Friend that, in every case of criminal conviction, it is the duty of the Secretary of State, at any time when cause may appear, to examine allegations of miscarriage of justice, and not only allegations of miscarriage of justice; but to consider all the circumstances which may point either to the mitigation or the omission of any sentences that may have been imposed. In regard to long sentences, I believe I am stating what is generally known when I say that rules are established for the review at stated periods of these long sentences, in order that questions of mitigation or omission may duly and fully be brought under consideration; and a Home Secretary, to whatever Party he belongs, finds it a necessary part of his duty to go through sentences requiring re-examination.The words spoken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian before he assumed Office did not, he admitted, contain an express promise of Amnesty, but they were regarded by the supporters and admirers of the right hon. Gentleman as containing a virtual promise of Amnesty. It was believed that, on the accession to Office of the right hon. Gentleman, Amnesty would follow as a matter of course. To suppose that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend them to be so regarded would be 647 to suppose him guilty of conduct in his public capacity which he did riot like to characterise, but which no man could approve. If he meant what he expressed after he assumed Office implacable hostility to the principle of Amnesty—it would have been only honest and straightforward to have said so. It was not until the Government got into Office that, in the words of the Member for Longford, they shut the prison door with a bang. He claimed an Amnesty on the ground that it was promised virtually and substantially by the Members of the present Government before they came into Office, and they were bound, as honourable men, to fulfil their promise. He urged the acceptance of this Amendment on the House in the second place on the ground that the prisoners to whom ho had referred, even if they were all rightly convicted, had suffered enough. He certainly thought that the sentences were unjustly severe: it was notorious that they were tried under circumstances of panic and anger, which precluded impartiality in the consideration of their cases, and the atmosphere of anti-Irish prejudice which invaded England entered the Courts of Justice. With one exception these men were sentenced to penal servitude for life, and it was worth noting how it was possible to sentence them to such a term of imprisonment. If these men had been tried under the Explosives Act they could not have received such sentences, as that Act set a limit to the, number of years of imprisonment. But in order to punish these men with the utmost severity possible, and to mark, as it were, Englands vengeance upon Ireland—although their crime was the possession of bombs and explosives, they were not tried under the Explosives Acts, but under the Treason Felony Act. That incident, he thought, was a most important one, as indicating the intention with which these prosecutions were conducted. He asked the House, as a further proof of this intention, to contrast the punishment given to men of other nationalities accused of the same crime as that laid to the charge of John Duly and his companions. He referred them to the well-known cases tried at Walsall. Here were a set of men, some of them English, some foreigners, but none of them Irish, who were accused of precisely 648 the same offence—namely, the possession of bombs—and the maximum sentence inflicted was ten years penal servitude, some getting seven and others five years. Could even the Home Secretary get up and defend the disparity of these sentences? If John Daly had been a Walsall anarchist he would have been out of gaol two years ago. Yet the Home Secretary had kept him in gaol two or three years beyond the time at which he would have been released had he been a Walsall anarchist, and he said he would keep him in gaol for the term of his natural life.
§ THE HOME SECRETARY (Mr. ASQUITH, Fife, E.)
I never said so.
§ MR. CLANCY
said, that was the first intimation of hope he had received from the right lion. Gentleman. He united him to state why he was maintaining the disparity between the cases of John Daly and his companions and the case of the Walsall men. He thought the right hon. Gentlemans answer in a previous Debate was, that the Judge who tried these cases considered all these matters on their merits, and that he would not disturb the decision of the Judge. But the right hon. Gentleman was invested with the Royal Prerogative in order to go outside the findings of a jury and the decisions of the Judges, where it was expedient, as it was in this case. He pressed this Amendment in the third place because these men were political prisoners. When a Motion of this kind was first introduced into the House there was, no doubt, a general disposition not to regard these men as political prisoners; but as time went on feeling and opinion changed on the point, and last Session even the Home Secretary himself seemed rather to regard them us political prisoners. England had not hesitated to protect and shelter foreigners charged with conspiracy abroad—even men who had taken part in murderous plots. There was the famous case of Simon Bernard, who, in 1858, was tried in England for being an accessory before the fact to the murder of one of the attendants of the Emperor of the French. 649 The Times of April 19, 1858, described this man as a Republican, a supporter and organiser of revolutionary movements, and a suborner of revolutionary agents; stated that he engaged a needy Italian to enter into his schemes, and that the very implements of death which accomplished the murders of the 14th of January, 1858, were supplied by this man Simon Bernard. And how did The Times describe the finding of the jury? It declared that the resolute stubbornness of the English middle classes sternly refused to look on Bernard as a common murderer; that, though the evidence might be against him, it saw in him only an opponent to a despotic ruler, and that he was not to be classed with the common murderer. When the verdict was returned in Bernards case the audience burst into a cheer, and the newspapers stated that only a feeble effort, was made to suppress the demonstration. After the Judges left the bench. Dr. Bernard addressed the jury, and, after admitting his part in the conspiracy, congratulated them on having vindicated liberty and crushed tyranny. Moreover, the jury who acquitted Bernard in face of the evidence, were afterwards actually banqueted in the City. In face of those faets hedeclared that it was rank hypocrisy for men, whoever they were, to pretend to be shocked by the crimes of the prisoners for whom he pleaded, while they would approve the shelter and protection of foreigners guilty of offences like those with which Bernard was charged. Finally, he pressed for an Amnesty on the ground that it would be an act of the highest expediency. To grant it would be consistent with the policy of the Government to Ireland in particular and with good policy in general. The policy of the Government towards "Ireland was, by their own account, one of conciliation. Did the Home Secretary or the Chief Secretary think that that policy could be served by the infliction of ten years penal servitude, on foreigners and penal servitude for life on Irishmen for precisely the same class of offence? The history of the relations between England and Ireland showed that it would be contrary to good policy in general to keep those Irish prisoners in gaol. He had heard that it was intended this Session to set up a statue of Oliver 650 Cromwell in some part of that building. To Englishmen Cromwell might appear to be a great historical figure, but to Irishmen he appeared to be a monster of cruelty. His name in Ireland was a synonym for robbery and massacre, but he was only one of a thousand agents of the English power in Ireland whose footsteps have been traced in blood to satiate the vengeance of England. And what had England gained by their deeds of rapine and murder? She had gained the Irish difficulty, which had been with her for centuries, and would remain with her until the policy of vengeance was finally abandoned. On the other hand, the policy of conciliation, whenever it had had been pursued, had been productive of good results. It would have a similar effect to an even greater extent if it were applied in the present case. Ireland was now in a state of unexampled peace. The conspiracies for which the men referred to were suffering were things of the past; and he thought the Home Secretary might well look forward a little, take courage, and say that to mark the present satisfactory change in the condition of things in Ireland, he would, on the ground of expediency, free those men from prison. The demand he made was certainly not of an extraordinary character. Amnesties to political offenders of all kinds and degrees had been granted from time to time in every civilised country. The Chief Secretary on one occasion mentioned in a speech at Dublin the case of the French Communards. Now, even if he were to admit that the Irish prisoners were rightly convicted, he could not for a moment admit that their guilt was equal to that of the Communards of Paris, who not only committed murder and set fire to the capital of their country, but did so when the common enemy was at the gates. Nevertheless the Communards were amnested, for the French Government had the sense to see that an act of appeasement was, after a time, the best policy to pursue. Was the Government of Great Britain alone, among the civilised Governments of the world, capable of considering vengeance as true statesmanship? He hoped not, and, confident that his hope was well-founded, he submitted his Amendment to the judgment of the House.
§ MR. ASQUITH
The question raised by this Amendment has been so frequently considered by this House, and the views of the Government upon it have been so recently expressed with such undoubted emphasis by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that I trust I shall not be accused of disparaging the importance of the subject if I content myself with making a brief reply to the speech of the hon. Member. The hon. Member made both an able and temperate speech. I could wish, however, that he had spared us some of his insinuations as to the motives which have actuated the Government in dealing with this question. To represent us as influenced in this matter by considerations of personal dignity or personal ambition—to present the question as viewed by us as one of political expediency, of the loss or gain of so many Votes, is not to act fairly or justly to those who have charge of a very grave and responsible duty. Speaking for myself and my colleagues, I say that we have given long and painful attention to this question, and that we have endeavoured throughout to divest our minds of considerations of that kind. The conclusions we have come to, whether they be right or wrong, have been affected by no other motive than the desire to do strict and impartial justice. The hon. Member has gone over ground with which we are necessarily familiar and over a large part of that ground—as I have on more than one occasion expressed my own views on this subject—I shall not follow him. But there are two points on which I must say a few words. In the first place the hon. Member has alleged that the Government have violated the pledges on the faith of which they obtained the support of many constituencies at the General Election, and in particular the Votes of Irish Members after that election. In as far as the charge of the hon. Member was based upon a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, I have to observe that my right hon. Friends 652 speech was imperfectly, or rather inadequately, quoted by the hon. Member. With respect to this ground of charge I am content to refer to the public answer given recently by my right hon. Friend to a deputation from the Corporation of Dublin. Then the hon. Member thought it politic to refer in support of his charge to a speech made by the most illustrious Member of this House—I refer to the passage which he quoted from the speech delivered by the right hon. Member for Midlothian on August 9, 1892. I will not read that passage again, but I will remind the House that the passage begins with the explicit declaration that it is impossible for those who are not responsible Ministers to give any pledge with regard to the mode of dealing with criminal cases, either in respect of the revision of sentences or in respect of the exercise of the prerogative of mercy, because such duties can only be performed by those who have a full knowledge of the circumstances of such cases. I am at a loss to understand by what process of logic the hon. Member translates that refusal to give any pledge, that clear declaration that people who are not Ministers are incapable of giving a pledge into a promise such as he alleges was given. No; my right lion. Friend laid down the procedure which, if he came into office, his Government would take, procedure which, in the spirit and the letter, has been followed by myself and my colleagues in connection with this question. We have, as my right hon. Friend said we would, carefully examined every allegation of miscarriage of justice. I have given the most careful attention to the cases to which attention has been drawn to-day, and I am satisfied in my own mind that the convictions were just and proper. The hon. Member has referred to the jurors in these cases as having acted under the influence of panic, but I can find myself no indication whatever that the jurors were swayed by any influence of that kind. In the case of Daly I am perfectly satisfied that the verdict was perfectly just. My right hon. friend, the Member for Midlothian, in the speech to which I have referred, alluded to the practice at the Home Office of bringing long sentences under periodical review. Well, this practice has been followed in these cases, and my own view is, that the time has not come, having 653 regard to the gravity of the crime and the nature of the sentences, when it would be possible for any Minister, acting on settled principles, to advise Her Majesty to exercise the prerogative of mercy. The hon. Member has referred to the disparity between these sentences and other sentences passed by English Judges in similar cases. This, I do not hesitate to say, is, in my opinion, a very relevant matter for consideration. It is impossible to equalize sentences—I wish it were possible. Something, however, may be done; and I trust that, as far as the Home Office is concerned, something is done from time to time to reduce the disparity between the treatment of one case and the treatment of another, when there is a similarity between them. But I must point out that when the hon. Member says that if Daly and others had been indicted under the Explosive Substances Act of 1883, they must have received much shorter sentences, he is not stating the case quite correctly, for under the Explosive Substances Act a person found, as Daly was, in possession of explosive substances with intent, may be sentenced to imprisonment for 20 years. The hon. Member has referred to the case of the Walsall Anarchists, who were indicted under the Explosives Substances Act, and has contrasted the sentences passed upon them with Dalys sentence. Well, the Walsall Anarchists were tried by the same Judge who tried and sentenced Daly—namely, Mr. Justice Hawkins. He had in his mind, as I know, when he sentenced the Walsall Anarchists, the proceedings at the trial of, and the, sentence passed upon, Daly, and he came to the conclusion that the difference which he made between the sentences fairly corresponded to the relative guilt of the persons concerned. I have examined the cases of the Walsall Anarchists myself, and I am not prepared to dissent from the opinion of Mr. Justice Hawkins. The circumstances of the, two cases are very dissimilar, and I cannot understand any Judge regarding the same measure of punishment as adequate in the case of Daly and in that of the Walsall prisoners. The hon. Member says that we are lenient in our treatment of foreign Anarchists, and points to the cases of Farnara and polti. Well, the latter, 654 who was only a subordinate agent, was sentenced to ten years' penal servitude, and the former to 20 years' penal servitude, the maximum sentence that could be imposed under the Explosive Substances Act. (Several HOME RULE MEMBERS: "That proves our case.") I feel bound to say that 10 years, either with regard to the practice which prevailed or the particular circumstances of the case, would have been inadequate to the offence. The House is asked to assert that the time has now come to deal with these cases. As the Member for Midlothian said in the Debate in 1892, these cases come up for periodical review at stated intervals. Persons sentenced to long terms have their cases considered at the end of 10 years, and then at the end of 15 years. And I may remind the House that no person is kept in penal servitude in this country for more than 20 years under any circumstances.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I am represented as being strongly and implacably the opponent of Amnesty. I decline to treat these cases as standing on any exceptional footing. I have not treated them with any exceptional leniency, and it is equally untrue to say that I have treated them with exceptional severity. I am treating them in the same way in which other cases are treated which come before the Home Office. I do not believe there is a man more averse to cruelty or unnecessary punishment than I am, and the statement so often quoted or misquoted in this House I make now: So far as I am concerned, so long as I have the honour to exercise this most painful and responsible duty, I shall treat these cases in that spirit. I have said no more, and I say no less now. When they come up for review in the ordinary course of time I shall consider the facts of each particular case, the sentence imposed in each case, and the comparative degrees of severity which ought to be measured out. What I say now is, that that time has not yet come. It is a matter of deep regret to me that it is so; but having regard to the interests of 655 justice and the manner in which the criminal law is administered, the atrocious character of the crime—I say nothing about the motives—which would have inflicted untold misery and suffering on hundreds, and perhaps more, of perfectly harmless and innocent people, I cannot, I deeply regret to say, come to the conclusion that the time has arrived when the clemency of the Crown can be properly and rightly extended to these people.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (MR. J. MORLEY, New-castle-upon-Tyne)
I think this is a convenient moment when I should interpose a personal vindication on one point. I was not in the House, but I have heard that the hon. Member for North Dublin (Mr. Clancy) made a reference to a speech made by me in Dublin. I understand that he did not quote the whole of the extract; but, whether he did or not, I think it fair to the House that it should have the whole of the passage read. I feel more bound to read the passage because I see in front of me the Member for Plymouth (Sir E. Clarke). He went over to Ireland the other day, and in Dublin he made a speech; and in that speech he said that I, in the Leinster Hall, had used language which no sensible man could interpret otherwise than as a reference to the dynamite prisoners.
§ SIR E. CLARKE (Plymouth)
What I said was, that Mr. John Morley had used language which no sensible man who read it could help regarding as a promise that the dynamiters would be amnestied as the Communists had been amnestied.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Exactly. I will ask the House to listen to the passage on which my hon and learned Friend founded that observation. Sir, this was my language at the Leinster Hall:—I know very well that language has sometimes been used by the trusted Leaders of the Irish people of a kind which it would be difficult to defend. I have deplored it. I shall always deplore it. I think that many of these honourable gentlemen themselves amongst friends would regret it too. But I want to ask a question. The French amnestied the Communards, who were guilty of the most atrocious crimes against their Government: the Americans 656 amnestied the Secessionist rebels, who "were guilty of an atrocious crime against their Government—are the only people in the world for whom there is no Amnesty, no Act of Oblivion, to be Irishmen, whose only fault has been that they have used their talents for the benefit of their countrymen and done the best they could, and much have they done, to raise up the miserable and oppressed and down-trodden people of their own country? Gentlemen, it is not so. That is no longer, in spite of what eminent men may say, the mind nor the intention of the people of Great Britain. We are here to-night, Lord Ripon and I, to assure you that sit least one great Party is anxious for an Amnesty and an Act of Oblivion, on your side and on ours both.Sir, there is not one single word which any sensible man, any honest man, can interpret as referring to the dynamiters. I make enormous allowance for Irishmen, who have strong and deep feelings about the Amnesty of these political prisoners, but that allowance cannot be made for an English lawyer of great reputation stating that the only interpretation to be placed on these words is that they referred to the dynamiters, and these were the men of whom I was thinking. In the General Election of 1892 a deputation who sympathise with the Member for Waterford waited on me, and what did I say?—You ask me whether I will aid the movement for the release of the men now undergoing penal servitude for the dynamite conspiracy some ten years ago. I recognise the temperate spirit in which you argue the case, and I note your straightforward declaration that you and your friends have no palliation for dynamite, and that yon regard it as the detestable resort of political lunacy. I regret that I cannot agree with you in thinking it of vital importance that the question should be raised now. The 'detestable resort of political Iunacy, as you truly call it, is a mode of warfare not only barbarous in itself and deserving of severe punishment, but it is also most inimical to the strenuous efforts that we are at this moment making to bring the old system of Irish government completely to an end. When we have succeeded in these efforts, then will be the time to consider whether the British Government would not be well advised, as incident to that momentous settlement of international accounts, to show the same spirit of clemency towards these prisoners as was shown, for example, by the Government of the French Republic towards the exiled Communists. Such, at least, is my judgment, and I beg you to convey it to your friends.I do not say that I am right or wrong, but I do say that, to allege that I uttered one word which could be interpreted as meaning that I was in favour of releasing these men, was a most extraordinary misrepresentation.
§ DR. J. E. KENNY (Dublin, College Green)
said, he was glad the Chief Secretary had intervened in the Debate, though he had, since the right lion. Gentleman made his explanation of the words he used at the Leinster Hall meeting, accepted the explanation that the meaning he now assigned to the words was that which he intended they should bear. But the right him. Gentleman rather made it a point against Irish Members that they did interpret the words in the way they had done. He (Dr. Kenny) was at the Leinster Hall meeting. There were probably 5,000 persons present—certainly over 4,000—and the right hon. Gentlemans words were universally interpreted at that meeting in the sense in winch Irish Members had interpreted them ever since. If he and those with whom he was closely associated had, in putting a certain interpretation upon the words, sinned, they had sinned in what the right hon. Gentleman must consider good company. There was not a single Member of the Irish Party and then there was but one United Irish Party—who did not, until the right hon. Gentlemans interpretation at Newcastle, interpret the words as meaning that, on the return of a Liberal Government to power, the Amnesty of political offenders was assured. He challenged any of the Irish Members Who now supported the Government, to say he had not accurately interpreted the, feeling created in Ireland whether that feeling was justified or not. It was well to bear in mind that the composition of the Leinster Hall meeting was rather heterogeneous. There was a large infusion of the true Nationalist element, but there was also a very large element of expectant lawyers and of neo-Nationalists, whose consciences had beer aroused by what they were given to sup pose were Irish wrongs, and by a sense of favours that were likely to come soon favours that had been enjoyed since by some of the gentlemen who were at the meeting. The gentleman who now so worthily discharged the functions of Attorney General for Ireland, was at the meeting, and probably the Chief Secretarys 658 words were of the character that would suit gentlemen of that type. The Chief Secretary now said that no sensible man could interpret his words as suggested. The right hon. Gentleman must know quite well that every one of the Irish Members (the anti-Parnellites) who sat below him, took the words as meaning that, in the event of the Liberal Party coming to power, there was an Amnesty for political offenders. They never dreamt the right hon. Gentlemen referred to themselves. They did not consider themselves political offenders, but, if they were, regarded as such, they—or at any rate those Members for whom he could speak—gloried in their offence. He, personally, did not want any amnesty, and thought the right hon. Gentleman paid them but a sorry compliment if he imagined they demanded amnesty. His conscience was quite sufficient amnesty for him for anything he had done or should do. He was quite satisfied he and his friends had done no wrong in the interpretation they had put upon the Chief Secretarys words. The right hon. Gentleman and his Government gained some advantage by that interpretation, and in justice he ought to consider the necessity of fulfilling, not what he said he promised in fact, but the expectation he aroused in the Irish mind. He congratulated the Home Secretary on the altered tone of his reply, as compared with the non-possumus attitude he took up on the first occasion the question of Amnesty was debated in the House: and if the Debate had no other result but the admission—the tardy admission—of the right hon. Gentleman, it would still have been important and valuable. The right hon. Gentleman had said that if John Daly had been tried under the Explosives Act, for having explosives in his possession, he could not have received a greater punishment than 20 years penal servitude, and that therefore it was only fair that Dalys sentence should be regarded as one of 20 years, and not as one of penal servitude for life. That, of course, meant that in three years Dalys sentence would come up for consideration. But what about the other eleven men who had got life sentences? Only three of these had explosives in their possession, and they also, like Daly, 659 should be considered as having got only 20 years penal servitude. The other eight, if tried under the Explosives Act, could only have got 14 years; and, as that term had already expired, he called upon the right hon. Gentleman, in view of his own reading of Dalys sentence, to liberate those men now. The right hon. Gentleman had also made another important admission. He admitted that the Walsall anarchists had been dealt with on a totally different and more favourable basis than the Irish prisoners. And yet it could not be asserted that the Walsall prisoners were less guilty than the Irish prisoners. On the Walsall prisoners was found a document showing explicitly how explosions were to be created in theatres, just like the explosion in the theatre at Barcelona by which dozens of innocent people met awful deaths at a moment when they were most enjoying life. Was guilt associated with a desire to free one's country, in which there was nothing of the personal element, comparable—would even the right hon. Gentleman have the audacity to compare it for one moment—with the crime of men who would have caused explosions in theatres? The Irishmen had centuries of wrongs to their country to avenge; and though they took the most reprehensible of methods to avenge those wrongs, the allegations that their acts were to be compared with the acts of anarchists would come badly from a Government that was going to wipe out some of the wrongs which England had done to Ireland. Why, if Ireland tried to wipe out the crimes which England had committed in Ireland she would remain at the task till the crack of doom! He did not dream that it would have been necessary in the course of the Debate to insist that the offences of those Irishmen were political offences. Supposing Daly had escaped to France or to America, and that the English Government had demanded his extradition, would they have got it? They knew very well they would not, even though they sent an army to Paris or to New York. And yet the hon. and learned Member for North Louth called those men dynamitards! He defied the hon. Member to get on a platform in Ireland and call them dynamitards. Those men were not dynamitards in the 660 sense in which the word was used. They had been led away by sentiments which in their origin were noble, but which, under the influence of English injustice to Ireland, had got warped and distorted till they were given criminal expression. The hon. Member for Louth was not present in the House, for he always met an attack by running away from it; but when he said that time had given the lie to every statement made by the late Mr. Parnell, he should have remembered that there was at least one thing that had not got the lie, and that was Mr. Parnells description of the character of the hon. Gentleman. He would refer the hon. Gentleman to his own colleagues. Let him ask them what they thought of his character, and he would find that it tallied in every respect with the character given of him by Mr. Parnell. But to return to Dalys case, he utterly repudiated the idea that the prisoner was guilty of the crime of which he had been convicted. Daly, so far as the charge of having explosives in his possession was concerned, was the victim of an Irish police plot. A man named ONeill was the agent provocateur of the Irish police in that case. He disappeared after the trial; but the Home Secretary must know where he was, and could not the right hon. Gentleman—now that there was no danger to O'Neill—enter into an inquiry in order to ascertain whether the assertion of Mr. Farndale, the chief of the Birmingham police, that Daly was the victim of an Irish police plot was not well founded? No doubt the right hon. Gentleman, in refusing to liberate the prisoners, was only concerned with justice. But the friends of the right hon. Gentlema—his supporters in Ireland—had asserted ever and over again that the Parnellites, by their inopportune action in taking up the question of Amnesty, were really keeping John Daly and his companions in prison. That assertion was not very complimentary to the Home Secretary, ut he asked the right bhon. Gentleman, in justice to the Parnellites, against whom this charge was being constantly made, to give it his denial. He could tell the Home Secretary that, if he were in earnest in supporting a salutary policy or Ireland, he would do an act of justice by releasing those prisoners, which would be accepted in Ireland as an act of 661 conciliation, and would he far more valuable to his Party than all the promises of the Government which they were utterly powerless to fulfil.
§ *MR. C. H. HOPWOOD (Lancashire, S. E., Middleton)
said, that he was not intending to examine into the facts concerning the cases which had been referred to; but he wished in general and broad terms to support the prayer which had been urged upon the Government. For the last 20 years he had had more to do, probably, than any Member of the House with bringing cases before the attention of the Secretary of State; and he was satisfied that each of the successive Ministers of State had applied themselves to those cases according to the recognised system—it was only against the system that he was going to say a word—and that they had feelings of mercy as strong as any of those who had been disposed to arraign their conduct. He had voted for amnesty before; and he felt that he should be wrong if he did not take this opportunity of explaining his vote. The system under which Home Secretaries acted came, down from an older time, poisoned with its severity; and it was, perhaps, impossible for any Minister, suddenly placed in office, to make an improvement of his own. To a very large extent he had to follow the precedents; but he had found one or two Ministers who were out of the way merciful, and who had extended mercy not exactly on the lines he was now reprobating. A great deal was said about having all sentences equal. That was impossible. One crime was as unlike another of the same name as one mans face was unlike anothers. It was necessary to consider the motive and the manner in which the crime was perpetrated. The pressure of want, and a hundred such considerations, must weigh in the mind of the Judge who tried the criminal. Therefore he despised and objected to that uniformity of sentence which was called for; but that desire for uniformity was a part of the system. In the present case there were a number of men suffering long years of penal servitude. Did any Minister realise what a year of penal servitude meant? It was 662 a year of torture, and two years of penal servitude doubled that torture, for there was no such thing as becoming accustomed to the suffering, and wearing the chain more lightly. The convicts were shut almost from the light of day, and had their food administered according to the ideas of some scientist, who prescribed so many ounces of bread and meat each week. They could only hear from their relatives at long intervals, and sometimes the capricious jealousy of a gaoler shut them off altogether. If society had tried to invent some diabolical addition to the torture of penal servitude, it could not have devised anything more cruel than to keep the convict from communication with his friends, when perhaps he was longing to know the fate of wife or child stricken with illness. It was said that by special application to the Home Office leave, could be obtained to receive communications; but that privilege was walled in by official regulations, and while one man might obtain it another could not. Penal servitude was an atrocious punishment, which ought not to be resorted to except for the greatest crimes, and even then the term of it ought to be moderated. The object of punishment was variously regarded as a deterrent, as a requital, and, if it were long enough, as a means of saving society from further mischief by the criminal. Those were merely buzzing about the fringe of this matter who supposed that the effect of severe and savage punishment was to deter. It would not prevent passion, or the exaggerated love of country which led men to regard themselves victims in the cause of their country. As to the theory of requital, would any one in these days stand up for vengeance as a justifiable reason for atrocious punishment? It was so under an older dispensation, but now the administrators of the law had softer hearts. The idea of softening the heart in these questions would cause some people to scoff; but the idea had been steadily gaining ground all through the century. At each point, however, the difficulty was to overcome official and public timidity. The public were ready enough to hear the claims of mercy, until every now and then some crime put them in terror for themselves, and then they raised an, outcry so fierce that the Minister of the day must, take account of it. 663 He was not concerned to defend the brutality of Cromwell or of his time. Deeds of ferocity were done on both sides. In this age he simply claimed that we had advanced, and that mercy, without speaking of it as being laudable in itself, was much more efficacious in the reduction of crime than any other principle. He was quite sure that the Home Secretary was perfectly accurate when he said that he had addressed himself to this question with regret for the suffering involved. Nobody in the House would doubt that statement. What was needed was to create, if they could, a public opinion; and then they would be enabled to argue the question with the public as hon. Members could do among themselves in the House. What was the good of keeping these men in prison? What was the good of daily increasing a form of suffering and misery that was equal to sending a warder into their cells to deal them blows, if such a reproach to humanity were possible? Again, he said that it was the best tactics to observe mercy. A man, say, was placed in gaol for a number of years for having committed a political or semi-political offence. What happened? His friends and compatriots belonging to the country in whose interest the crime was committed—and which he did not wish to minimise in any way—cherished feelings of resentment and revenge as they looked on the sufferings of the man in prison. What good, therefore, were the Government doing by keeping these met in prison? Were there not a hundred or a thousand examples of the good effecter by letting such prisoners free? A chaplain had described penal servitude in terms like these: he said it broke down every fibre of good in a man; it destroyed the will and the power of the mind; it made a man a plastic tool in the hands of others; it was a misery to himself in his social relations and to others by the weakening brought upon him as a moral and responsible agent. He must therefore, with all the force he could command, ask the House to join in the prayer which had been uttered on behalf of these prisoners, and to knock at the door until some of them, at least, were released. If the rigid, stern idea of punishment were departed from, he imagined that there would be an avoid ance of the mischief which was stimulated 664 by a sense of vengeance on behalf of such prisoners. There would be a requital in that direction at least to the Government—a requital which would in point of security fully make up for the miserable advantage of keeping ten or a dozen despairing men in a life of torture.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
wished to ask the Chief Secretary a question with reference to the speech which he delivered in Dublin in 1888. An extract from that speech had been read, and the right hon. Gentleman had disowned, in the most explicit manner, any idea that he had in his mind at the time he made that speech the prisoners now undergoing penal servitude. He accepted the right hon. Gentlemans statement as to the meaning of the speech without demur: but he was bound to say that, being in Dublin at the time, and having carefully read the right hon. Gentlemans speech, he, as well as the whole of Irish opinion, entertained the belief that the speech had reference to the Amnesty prisoners alone. Now they knew that this was a mistaken belief; and he thought the refutation of the right hon. Gentleman would be complete if he would tell the House what were the class of offenders he had in his mind whom he proposed to amnesty.
§ MR. M. AUSTIN (Limerick, W.)
said that a feeling of intense interest existed among the Irish people with reference to the Amnesty question. He thought it was a notable feature of the Home Secretarys speech that the right hon. Gentleman had abandoned the reply of "Never" which he uttered last year. He gathered from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that there was a faint hope in the distant future for the political prisoners; and he imagined that a Government which declared itself to be so anxious to redress the wrongs of Ireland would recognise that the Amnesty question was one with regard to which certainly the Prerogative of mercy should be extended. He asked why it was that the Irish political prisoners were tried under the Treason Felony Act,while other prisoners, for a precisely similar offence, were tried under the Explosives Act? Were the Irish Members to accept the 665 reply of the Home secretary as the final word on the question, and the one which was to be transmitted to the people of Ireland?.
§ *MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N. E.)
did not think the Mover had taken the best means to obtain a favourable consideration of his case, from the Government. The hon. Member laid the greatest stress on the argument that these prisoners were detained in prison in defiance of pledges that they should be released. That argument was demonstrably untrue. The whole tenour of the words of the right lion. Member for Midlothian was to refuse any pledge or understanding on the subject: while those of the Chief Secretary were incompatible with the notion of any pledge having been given. Still, all that did not preclude the Home Secretary from giving an early and favourable consideration to all that could be said in behalf of the prisoners. It had been said that the severity of the sentences must be explained by the fact that they were passed in a panic; but it was by no means uncommon when a particular kind of offence became rife and dangerous, for the offence to be punished for a time with exceptional severity. That was illustrated by the crime of garrotting, which became, a sort of epidemic in 1860, and was therefore punished by very long terms of penal servitude, but being now comparatively rare was not punished with any thing like the same severity. If the state of Ireland were now much more peaceful, that was a fair and strong circumstance to be taken into consideration, now that, the necessity for exceptional severity had passed. The Home Secretary declined to look upon these offences as political, and declared that he must look at the inherent guilt of each case. In that principle he largely agreed, and had repeatedly said so to his constituents. As a sincere friend of Ireland, he might be allowed to say to his Friends on the Irish Benches, that it would be a very dark day for Ireland if it were believed that responsible men in Ireland had any sympathy with the commission of crime. That belief had prevailed. He was bound to say that at times there had been a 666 certain amount of ground for it. The suspicion that there might be some sympathy with the commission of real crime weakened the voice of the Irish Members and weakened the hands of the Ministers when questions of this kind came up. In his opinion the crime of the dynamiter was worse than that of the assassin, because it aimed a blow, not at a single person, but it might have wrought bloody destruction to hundreds and even thousands; and when his hon. Friend (Mr. Hopwood) talked of the sufferings of these prisoners, he must think at the same time of the sufferings of those who were the victims. At the same time he was not prepared to say that the plea that the crimes were political was entirely without foundation. The Authorities of that day elected to try the men for treason-felony; whereas they might have tried them, under the Explosives Act. The very name imprinted a political character upon their offence. They might have been tried at Common Law for attempting to commit murder. But, however that might be, to be tried for treason-felony instead of under the Explosives Act made a material difference in the punishment inflicted. Twelve years was a long time, and when one took into consideration these two points—first, that the sentences were pronounced at a period when this particular kind of crime was epidemic, and, therefore, was not unnaturally visited by severe punishment, and that the men were prosecuted under an Act which imparted a political complexion to their offence—he hoped the hour had nearly arrived when a revision of the sentences might take place and the prerogative of mercy be exercised.
MR. J. F. X. OBRIEN (Mayo, S.)
said that it was not too strong an expression to describe the sufferings these men were undergoing in prison as the torments of the damned. Theirs was a living death. He could speak with some experience on this point, and he knew that the ordinary convicts were treated by the warders as old friends and chums; in fact the ordinary convict looked upon the prison as his home. He knew of a man who had been in penal servitude for seven years, and who was bank in prison 667 within three weeks. He had been out and enjoyed himself for three weeks, and he considered himself well off to have had those three weeks. It was quite a different thing in the case of these Irish political prisoners. Warders were specially selected for them who would be certain to have no sympathy whatever with them, and he knew how they nagged at, persecuted, and worried those poor men, for no reason whatever. It was inevitable that these men, who were undergoing a life sentence, must be broken down in health. It was idle for the Home Secretary to pretend to say that the offences for which these men had been convicted could not be considered political offences. The very fact that they were tried for treason-felony got rid of that contention. It was evident also that they were tried for treason-felony for the purpose of inflicting on them extraordinary sentences. Although the Anarchists had committed acts of a similar kind, the sentences inflicted on them had been, much shorter. In his opinion, so far from it being right to treat these Irish prisoners with greater severity, they were distinctly entitled to very much more leniency than other offenders; for no one could doubt that they had been driven to their desperate courses by the terrible wrongs their unfortunate country had endured. When it was considered that the Government of France had amnestied the Communards, how could the Government of this country continue its terrible severity against these unfortunate men. The crime of the Communards was committed against their mother country, than which he believed no crime could be greater; but the offences charged against these Irishmen were committed against the oppressors of their mother country, and, therefore, should be treated with very much more leniency. In face of the acknowledged and complete failure of coercion in Ireland, surely it was futile for the Home Secretary to believe that he could gain any good end by keeping these men any longer in prison. He could tell from his own experience the utter futility of attempting to strike terror into the minds of men who were convicted of political offences by means of excessive punishment. In his judgment, the proper way to consider the case was, that since the Government of this country had turned 668 over a new leaf, and was bent on carrying out the humane and just ideas of the late Prime Minister, it was now in a position to deal with these men with kindness and leniency.
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Mid Lanark)
said he wished to make a few observations on this case. The first point was that this was a conviction for treason-felony. He had no doubt the Crown were well advised in taking that course, for they had thereby gained the advantage of having the whole history of the connection of these men with the Fenian movement brought into the case, and, in addition, were enabled to get a life sentence which they could not have got under the Explosives Act. What light, then, in fairness, had they now in the question of commutation to turn round and treat these convictions as if they had been obtained under the Explosives Act? He distinctly refused to deal with this case as if it were a question of conviction under the Explosives Act, on the ground that the Government should have taken up the case under the Explosives Act from the first. Suppose this were a case under the Explosives Act, the utmost penalty under that Act was 20 years. That was the maximum, but they were entitled to ask what was the practice of the Courts in administering that Act? In the Walsall case the Judge gave 10 years; in another case 20 years; therefore, taking the average, 15 years would be a fair sentence under the Explosives Act, and if these men had been convicted under that Act, under the practice by which tickets-of-leave were granted, their sentences would now probably have been worked out. Even supposing that these men were to be treated with the utmost severity on the ground that their offences had in them some motive connected with Ireland, they were not detained on that ground. They were detained only on the ground of their use of explosives, and the Home Secretary did not attempt to justify their sentences on that ground. The result of all the admitted facts was 669 that these prisoners were suffering under sentences that were unjustly severe. Taking the case as it had been presented by the Home Secretary, for 12 years these men had been punished under sentences for life, without any hope of revision, when their proper sentence would have been 20 years. Was it not time to consider the commutation of the sentences, seeing that the men had been so long subjected to the torture implied in the hopelessness of a life sentence. Another point was that undoubtedly the sentences were passed at a time of considerable panic. It would be a mistake for the Crown to refuse to exercise clemency in the case of sentences passed under such circumstances. A Judge naturally considered what was going on at the time, and he gave a more severe sentence than he otherwise would for the purpose of deterring others from the commission of the particular crime it was desired to repress. It was an important fact that this class of crime had now ceased, and therefore the clemency of the Crown should come in to recognise the altered condition of things. In the public interest they ought to encourage Judges not to withhold their hand, knowing that if they gave heavy sentences the Crown could step in when, an altered condition of things would justify it in so doing. Within the last year or two Judges had come to the conclusion that, in the past, sentences of penal servitude had been too long, and there had been a growth of feeling in favour of reduced sentences; and why should not that feeling operate, now with regard to these sentences passed 10 or 12 years ago? No one could suppose it was necessary in the public interests to keep these men in prison. Another special reason for exercising clemency was that an amnesty would have been the accompaniment of Home Rule. That had been passed by this House, and there was no reason why amnesty should be delayed by the action of the House of Lords. This House had passed Home Rule as far as it could do so; and why should they allow these men to linger in gaol merely because the question of Home Rule was at issue between this House and the other? Why should these men be the victims of a contention between the two Houses as to which one of the Houses said that the contention might 670 go on for many years? This House had adopted the principle of Home Rule; and there could not be a more fitting occasion than the present, when they were voting an address to a Speech which stated that crime had decreased in Ireland, to decree an amnesty. It would signalise the point reached in the better relation of the two countries to grant an amnesty which was desired by the majority of the people of Ireland. Even the hon. Member for South Tyrone did not attempt to say a word against it.
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
said, that all sections of the Irish nation would thank the last speaker for the kindly speech he had just delivered. It was to be regretted that it had not been heard by the Home Secretary, who, he hoped, would read it and take to heart the sentiments the hon. Member had so nobly endeavoured to impress upon the House. The blot in the Home Secretarys speech was that he ignored the condition of Ireland and the feeling in Ireland upon this subject. Notwithstanding the right hon. Gentlemans admission that these men were tried as political offenders, notwithstanding the sympathy he expressed, he insisted upon adhering to a hard and fast rule, and only considering these cases at some interval laid down by red tape for the cases of ordinary criminals. There was no doubt the sentences were inflicted as cumulative sentences to cover the two offences of the possession of dynamite and taking part in a treasonable conspiracy. No one could doubt that this was done by the Judge with the view of striking terror into the minds of all who were likely to commit these outrages. It was idle to contend that there was not a panic at the time. Why, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer passed the Explosives Bill through three stages in that House in one night. Now, when all that panic was passed, and the outrages had ceased, and the Queen's Speech contained congratulations on the diminution of crime, to refuse to consider these sentences, and the circumstances 671 under which they were passed, was to convert them into sentences of vengeance. When it was a question with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian whether he would or would not be supported by the Irish Members, a question was addressed directly to him by the hon. Member for North Longford (Mr. Justin MCarthy) who commanded 70 votes, and no one could deny that the impression produced by the answer in the mind of every Irish Member was that, if he came into power, he would throw a ray of light into the cells of the prisons The answer was so interpreted by every newspaper; and it was idle to endeavour to go back and to attempt to deny the effect of the language used. By the Chief Secretarys words the hope was conveyed to the Irish people and was entertained by them during all the time they fought for the Liberal Party to get and keep them in power that Amnesty would be extended to these prisoners, and that there would be oblivion and forgetfulness as regarded the past between the two countries. The Chief Secretary quoted the words to his Newcastle constituents:—If the Homo Rule Bill were passed into law, if the Irish people had conferred upon them the right of self-government, he, for one, would he a party to advocating Amnesty to these political prisoners.He submitted that these words amply justified the interpretation that had been put upon them. The Home Secretary persisted in regarding these political prisoners as ordinary criminals. They were not tried as such, and the circumstances of the time showed they were not regarded as such. But, even in the case of ordinary criminals, did he pay no regard to expressions of public—in this case of national—sympathy on their behalf? Interest in these political prisoners was not confined to one section of the Nationalist representatives in the House, or to the Nationalist representatives at all. It was not confined to any one class or political party in Ireland. There was a general consensus of opinion 672 that if the Government was wise and wanted to grapple with the Irish difficulty and consolidate Irish feeling, these miserable men should no longer be kept in bondage as an exhibition of national vengeance on the part of England towards Ireland.
§ SIR E. CLARKE (Plymouth)
The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has made an attack upon me in respect of a sentence contained in a speech which I delivered a little while ago in Dublin, and I am anxious to at once answer that attack. In that speech I was referring to the expectations which had been entertained by the Nationalist Party of changes and measures that were to come to pass in the event of the present Government coming into power. I mentioned, as one, the expectation that the "political prisoners," as I call them, were to be Amnestied.Mr. John Morley," I said, "used language which no sensible man, understanding the meaning of words, ever read or ever could read except as a promise that the dynamite prisoners would be Amnestied as the Comunards had been in France.That observation was not founded on a single speech. I know the course of events with regard to this matter, and that an important statement was made which was principally in my mind when I made that observation. In 1888 the Marquess of Ripon and the right hon. Gentleman took part in a great demonstration in Dublin, which followed, and was intended to counteract, the visit of two Unionist leaders to that city. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman was expounding the policy of the Liberal Party in antagonism and contradiction to the policy then being pursued by the Government. In the course of his speech he used the passage which has been once read this afternoon, and which I may be allowed to read again, for there may be Members here now who were not here when the attack upon me was made. The right hon. Gentleman said:—I know very well that language has sometimes been used by the trusted leaders of the Irish people of a kind which it would be difficult to defend. I have deplored it—I always shall 673 deplore it. I think that many of these hon. Gentlemen themselves amongst friends would regret it too. But I want to ask a question. Tile French amnestied the Communards who were guilty of the most atrocious crimes against their Government. The Americans amnestied the Secessionist rebels who were guilty of an atrocious crime against their Government. Are the only people in the world for whom there is to he no amnesty, no act of oblivion, to be Irishmen:—whose only fault has been that they have used their talents for the benefit of their countrymen and done the best they could—and much has been done—to raise up the miserable and oppressed and down-trodden people of their own country. Gentlemen, it is not so—that is no longer, in spite of what eminent men may say, the mind or the intention of the people of Great Britain. We are here to-night, Lord Ripon and I, to assure you that at last one great Party is anxious for an Amnesty and an act of oblivion on your side and on ours both.Now, the right hon. Gentleman says it may be gathered from that passage which I have now read that he was referring not to the dynamite prisoners, but to those whom he described as the trusted leaders of the Irish people. [Mr. J. MORLEY: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have his acquiescence that he was speaking of those whom he described as the trusted leaders of the Irish people, and inasmuch as he was saying they had used their talents for the benefit of their country, the use of that phrase excludes the idea that he was referring to anyone who had been guilty of crime. [Mr. MORLKY nodded assent.] I accept that as an honest statement. Hut to whom was he referring? Was he referring to the then Leader of the Nationalist Party, the hon. Member for Cork, or was he referring to two, three, or four Gentlemen sitting in this House who have been recognised as prominent men in the Nationalist movement in Ireland? Was it with regard to them he was asking the people to pass an Act of oblivion and amnesty? He scorns the suggestion. Those men, the trusted leaders of the Irish people, as he described them, would never have come to ask for amnesty and oblivion. They were always claiming that the words they had spoken, so far from being blotted out, should ever be kept in remembrance. He was not speaking of them; but if he was, with what conceivable tactlessness was it that he managed to get into the same sentence an allusion to the Communards?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The hon. and learned Member is able to appreciate an a fortiori argument, and I argued that if the French amnestied the Communards and the Americans the Secessionists, a fortiori we might overlook the cases of certain men in Ireland.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
I hope I can appreciate and fairly measure the a fortiori argument which the right hon. Gentleman says he was then using. But to whom was he addressing that speech? It was not addressed to those who understand the niceties of a fortiori arguments. He knew perfectly well that when he spoke of atrocious crimes having been committed by the Communards who had been amnestied by the Government of France, those whom alone he recognised as having been guilty of any crime at all were the persons who had been charged with dynamite conspiracies. If that speech stood alone, I should have accepted at once the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman. But the sequence of events is a curious and interesting one. That speech was made in 1888. I believe from 1888 until 1892 those sentences were quoted largely in Ireland, and were accepted—[Ministerial cries of "No"]—oh yes they were—and accepted, erroneously, if you like, as representing the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman was going to take with regard to the dynamite prisoners. If that was an erroneous acceptation I am not aware that it was ever contradicted. I am not aware that during the four years that followed 1888 the right hon. Gentleman ever spoke in any other sense or explained publicly the distinction he now draws with regard to those words. Time passed on, and we come to June, 1892, when an election was pending, and in the beginning of the month Mr. Laverty, the Secretary of the Newcastle Branch of the Irish National League, wrote to the right hon. Gentleman and asked him specifically what he would do in the case of the dynamite prisoners. The right hon. Gentleman wrote back and said he was coming to Newcastle in a few days, and would take an opportunity, in addressing his constituents, of dealing with 675 the matter. He did not follow that course, but dealt with it in a letter written by him. Instead, however, of dealing with so delicate a matter on a public platform he dealt with it in a letter which he addressed to Mr. Laverty, and which contained specific reference to those dynamite prisoners. Now let us see what the letter said.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I have already read it.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not grudge me the opportunity of reading it again. It was dated June 25th, 1892, and read asfollows:—You ask me whether I will aid the movement for the release of the men now undergoing penal servitude for the dynamite conspiracy some ten years ago. I recognise the temperate spirit in which you argue the ease, and I note your straightforward declaration that you and your friends have no palliation for dynamite, and that you regard it as the detestable resort of political lunacy. I regret that I cannot agree with you in thinking it of vital importance that the question should be raised now. The 'detestable resort of political lunacy. as you truly call it, is a mode of warfare not only barbarous in itself, and deserving of severe punishment, but it is also most sinimical to the trenuous efforts that we are at this moment making to bring the old system of Irish Government to an end. When we have succeeded in these efforts, then will be the time to consider whether the British Government would be well advised, as incident to that momentous settlement of international accounts, to show the same spirit of clemency towards these prisoners as was shown, for example, by the Government of the French Republic towards the exiled Communists.Here is precisely the same illustration that was used at the Leinster Hall in 1888, and is now being used again on the eve of the General Election in 1892, in reference to the case of these dynamite prisoners. What was understood by this letter? "We are making strenuous efforts to bring the whole system of Irish government to an end." What did that mean? It meant we are making strenuous efforts to get into power, and by the use of the authority which will then be ours to alter the old system of Irish government, and then the amnesty question will be considered. The right hon. Gentleman did not say "When we have carried Home Rule we will see to this matter." Has he or has he not altered the system of government in Ireland? I think he claims to have altered it.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I have not been able to produce an Irish Legislature or an Irish Executive.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
Where is the reference to Irish Legislature or Irish Executive in the letter? I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman will tell me that, when he wrote this letter, he only intended that this matter of Amnesty should be discussed when an Irish Parliament should be sitting in Dublin.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
It was clear on the face of that letter, and it was distinctly my intention, that when we had brought to an end the strenuous efforts for Home Rule which were then being made, the Amnesty question might be properly considered by us.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
I would ask, of what value would that letter have been then? The men who read that letter put upon it the interpretation that, when the right hon. Gentleman said "We are making strenuous efforts to bring the old system of Irish government to an end," he was referring to the coming into power of his Party. By the lips of Lord Ripon and himself he had previously—in 1888 that is—made the pronouncement of their policy in regard to Amnesty.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
So far were the Gentlemen who read that letter of mine from putting upon it the construction which the hon. and learned Member suggests, that they passed a resolution deploring the announcement that I had just made and intimated their approval of the conduct of my colleague in the candidature, and expressed regret at the callous tone of my letter.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
If the right hon. Gentleman has by him the words of that Resolution he will find that it contained an intimation that those who passed it would vote for the right hon. Gentleman. A phrase which the right hon. Gentleman has used has removed the impression left upon my mind as to one passage in the letter. But where was this interpretation put upon it, and when was it put upon it? The discussion which brought this matter back into prominence took place only last year, when a deputation waited upon the right hon. 677 Gentleman and when he gave them a long answer, in the course of which he said:—The charge of breaking pledges has been levelled with great particularity and circumstantiality against me. Now, one of the first qualifications for an Irish Secretary, is that he should be patient and long-suffering. I have been two and a half years in Ireland listening to that charge. I have been in no hurry in answering that charge.[Mr. J. MORLEY: "Hear, hear!"] The interpretation which I put forward has been entertained widely, not only in Ireland, but in this country; and is it to be wondered at that there should have been a sense of painful surprise on the part of those who had supported the right hon. Gentleman, when they found that this great act of Amnesty was to be postponed—I suppose until the House of Lords has been overthrown, and Home Rule has once more come back into the region of practical politics? I had no desire to put upon the words of the right hon. Gentleman a meaning which they could not properly bear. I said at Dublin, and I now repeat, that no sensible man would road that speech of 1888, and the letter of the right hon. Gentleman in 1892, except as conveying a promise that the dynamite prisoners would be amnestied, as the Communists had been amnestied in France; and I submit that interpretation with confidence to the judgment of those who hear me, and of those who may read my words outside this House.
§ MR. H. J. WILSON (York, W.R., Holmfirth)
said, he saw no reason why he should change his opinions. They had listened to three speeches from legal Gentlemen capable of explaining and understanding these matters, and pressing on the Government the reconsideration of the question. Were they to go on year after year having this question continually raised without any concession being made? A grave doubt existed as to the guilt or innocence of at least some of these men; but, whether they were guilty or not, the time had come when their case should be reconsidered. He had no hesitation in voting, as he had done before, in favour of the Amendment.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
We lave often been told that the curse if Ireland, and of Irish government, is that it is made the sport of Parties. We lave never had a more forcible illustration of this than we have just seen in he speech of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth. We have been appealed to by some to turn the present Government out because it has refused to release these prisoners, and we have heard from two or three hon. and learned Gentlemen of the Conservative Party that, if they came into Office, this question would not be favourably considered. The taunt of the hon. and earned Member for Plymouth to the Government is, that they, at some time or other—falsely, as is alleged by the Member of the Government charged—did hold out some hope of forgiveness being extended to these prisoners. The Tory Party taunt the Liberal Party with showing the smallest symptom of recognition that their case should be reconsidered and the men released. And yet we are asked to replace the Government, who, at one time or another, has shown some, desire to exhibit mercy towards these men, by those Gentlemen, one word from whom would do much to turn away their torture. Having listened very often to Tory speeches, I must say that I never saw a more miserable exhibition of Tory rancour and Tory folly than in the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth. It does not fall to my lot to defend the language of the Chief Secretary, who is well able to take care of himself; but the Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin has just admitted that in 1888 no question of Amnesty had been raised. [Mr. J. MORLEY: "Hear, hear!"] The first time the case of these men was brought before the House of Commons was during the Leadership of the late Mr. Parnell, in August 1890. Surely, Sir, 1886, when the Liberal Government was in Office, would have been a very 679 proper time to have raised that question, and not after the split in the Irish Party. A few of us raised the question before the split, the only names that occur in "Hansard" as having done so being those of the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Sexton), Mr. John OConnor (who is not now a Member of the House), and myself. What was the question in 1888? The forged letters of the Times had been published the year before, and the question had been raised in this House by Sir Charles Lewis of an inquiry into these forgeries, or rather allegations. Parnellism and Crime was the standing dish of the Tory Party. The Times newspaper was circulating copies of that pamphlet by the hundred thousand; and it was in relation, not to the question of dynamite, but to the Phœnix Park murders that we were being charged, and in relation to the crime and outrage which had existed during the Lane League period. The hon. Member for Plymouth passed us this compliment: he said that the audience which he addressed in the Rotunda—the Orangemen of Dublin—could appreciate a fortiori arguments. What was the audience in the Leinster Hall? It consisted of every member of the professional classes in Dublin that sympathised with Home Rule. It was presided over by the Lord Mayor, and was a thoroughly representative gathering. Irishmen, no doubt-have not that intelligence which Providence has allotted as a peculiar possession to the British people, but there are still some small fragments of understanding left to us; and I would advise the hon. Member for Plymouth, if he wants an intelligent audience in Ireland, not to confine himself solely to the Orange Party, because he will find that an audience even of what are called the most illiterate peasants in Kerry, Donegal, and Mayo are quite as intelligent and quite as keen upon political topics and a fortiori arguments as the fine fleur of the Primrose League of Plymouth. I was sorry to hear some of the remarks which fell 680 from the hon. Member for North-east Lanark, who made a speech different in tone and temper from the speech of the Member for Mid Lanark, which I think deserved the thanks of every Irishman. The hon. Member for North-east Lanark said we ought to be careful, in making motions of this kind, that we do not attract to ourselves the accusation of sympathy with crime. That, to my judgment, is a very feeble argument. Do the people who urge the release of Mrs. Maybrick sympathise with the poisoning of husbands? Let me give another proof of the absence of any kind of sympathy with dynamite crime in Ireland. Yesterday the Corporation of the City of Dublin presented a unanimous Petition in favour of the release of these prisoners; but, when ODonovan Rossa sought to get some small office in the Dublin Corporation, out of 60 members he did not get six votes. A short time ago one of the released prisoners, Mr. Egan, was looking for a small rate-collectorship in the City of Limerick, and he could not get it, though it was his native city, and the Mayor of Limerick, a prominent Parnellite, was the gentleman who was his successful opponent. If that is the view taken with regard to released prisoners by such bodies as the Corporation, of Dublin and the City of Limerick, I can hardly see how it can be said that there is that sympathy with crime in Ireland which has been alleged. The Home Secretary said that it was Mr. Justice Hawkins who had sentenced the Walsall prisoners, Daly and his companions, and Polti and Farnara. I was very curious to see what was Mr. Justice Hawkinss view of a political crime, as it was denied by the Home Secretary that these men were political prisoners, and very happily his views as to what is a political offence are on record. In the Extradition Act of 1870, passed by a Liberal Government, there is this section—A fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offence in respect of which his surrender is demanded is one of a political character.681 Accordingly, if the basest crime be committed, even if it were absolute murder, it could be held to be a political crime. In the case of the murder of State Councillor Rossi in the Ticino Canton of Switzerland by Castioni, who was the person who granted a habeas corpus? Mr. Justice Hawkins, the Judge who sentenced Daly to penal servitude for life for being caught with a bomb, and sentenced Polti, the Italian, to 10 years penal servitude for being caught with a much smaller bomb. Mr. Justice Hawkins adopted the definition of political crime given by Judge Stephen in his "History of the Criminal Law," and, in speaking on the case of Castioni, said—I cannot help thinking that everybody knows there are many acts of a political character done without reason—done against all reason; but at the same time one cannot look too hardly, and weigh in golden scales, the acts of men hot in their political excitement. We know that in hot and heated blood men often do things against and contrary to reason; but none the less, an act of this description may be done for the purpose of furthering; and in furtherance of a political rising, even though the act may be deplored and lamented as cruel and against all reason by those who reflect upon it afterwards.Accordingly Mr. Justice Hawkins discharged Mr. Castioni. If it was the view of this Judge and of the law of England—because the Judges were unanimous on the point—that murder committed in a foreign State acquires a different character when it is political, what is to be said of the crimes for which these men have been sentenced? I pass by altogether the consideration of the doubt which exists as to whether some of the prisoners are actually guilty. I take the circumstances of the case alone, and, in my judgment, what the Home Secretary has entirely failed to take note of, in the many speeches he has made in this House on this subject, is the difference in political temperature between 1895 and 1883. Crimes were possible then which are impossible now, and in consequence a wholly different set of considerations arise, and I venture respectfully to say that in none of his 682 speeches has he taken into account the policy which has been carried out by his own Government and by the illustrious statesman who was at its head when passing the Home Rule Bill. The Home Secretary said that he has not ignored the question of the disparity of these crimes, having regard to the magnitude of the Irishmens offences; but if he will turn to a Report of the Walsall case he will find that one of the prisoners confessed to the Crown that he made the bombs believing they were to be used with a view to operations against the House of Lords, and not long afterwards the terrible explosion in the Barcelona Opera House occurred, in which many people were injured. One of the Walsall prisoners admitted that he believed the bombs were about to be used in a theatre abroad, and we know that within two years a terrible explosion occurred at the Barcelona Opera House, in which 200 people were massacred. And I am bound to admit that it was a remarkable thing that the Home Secretary in his responsible position, and with the international obligations existing between, one Government and another, should declare that, in his judgment, the Walsall Anarchists were not too lightly punished. The Irish prisoners and the Walsall prisoners were sentenced by the same Judge—Mr. Justice Hawkins. The Italian prisoners—Polti and Farnara—got, one ten years and the other 20 years. Nobody who knows the reputation and has read of the popularity of Mr. Justice Hawkins in this country will, for a moment, conclude that he was actuated by any racial antipathy in the sentences that he passed. But this I do say, that by the sentence that he awarded for the first time, in 1883, when this horrible crime was new, it was right that he should seek to restrain it and that he should inflict a greater punishment then than when the crime, owing to foreign operations, had become of a more familiar character. In Ireland we have a practice, when sentences come up for review, of sending to the Judge who convicted and asking him by direct reference whether, having regard to the time that had passed and the circumstances 683 of the district, the moment had not arrived for some modification of the sentence. I understand no such practice prevails at the Home Office, but may I not ask, are not the circumstances of this case of a sufficiently exceptional character, in view of the disparity of sentences between the Englishmen, the Italians, and the Irishmen, in view of the Debates that have taken place in this House, and in view of the feeling expressed on all sides, and having regard also to the condition of affairs that now exists in Ireland—has not a case arisen in which the Home Secretary may very fairly consult the learned Judge who sentenced these prisoners? I am quite sure that if Mr. Justice Hawkins had his attention called to the fact that the Irishmen have already been 12 years in prison, he would be inclined to think that the time has come when the, door of hope might be opened to these men. I have only one more word to say, and it relates to the same point. The right hon. Gentleman said that Farnara had got 20 years, and that the life sentence was only equivalent to 20 years. That is true, but 20 years is not a 20 years sentence. It is only a 15 years sentence; and it seems to me that there is a great deal in the argument that under the Explosives Act the Irish prisoners could only receive 15 years. With regard to many of those prisoners, who have been 12 years in custody, some ray of hope would shine upon the bars of their cells if they knew that even at the end of 15 years they would be released. I do not say that I do not strongly hope that their release will occur before that time, but I say that some ray of hope would be given to those men if those Conservative Statesmen who have, been so alert to pose in Liberal armour on this occasion would drop a hint that even at the end of 15 years they would take the view that this disparity of sentences should be corrected and that the Irishmen should get the same treatment as the Englishmen and Italians have received. I respectfully say that, although in this matter we have not had the reply from the Government that we should have desired, at the same time, I think this Debate has been a useful one. I think that good is done by bringing matters of this kind fearlessly and candidly before the public. I think that a softening influence sets in 684 as the matter comes to be considered by persons who have not thought of it before, and I hope that after this Debate more tender considerations will arise in the public mind. But the fact remains that Ireland, as is stated in the Queens Speech, is at the present moment in a condition more peaceful and less criminal than ever it was before, and I certainly think that no more fitting crown could be placed on the policy of Her Majestys Administration in Ireland than by releasing these Irishmen from prison.
§ MR. W. H. K. REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said that the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken had told the House that this was a useful Debate, from which good results would follow. That was a complete change in the attitude of the hon. and learned Member and his friends in regard to this question, because, some few years ago, when the matter was first brought forward upon the Address, they pointed out that it would not be a service to the political prisoners to discuss their cases in the House. The people of Ireland were told the same thing, but lie was glad to see that the hon. and learned Member, together with his friends, had now changed front. The hon. and learned Member told them that he had been one of the first to debate in that House the question of granting Amnesty to the Irish political prisoners; all he could say was, that it was a great pity that he had not made, some attempt to debate it in the country as well, because the attitude which the Government had adopted in this matter had no doubt been largely brought about by what they had noticed in Ireland, namely, that the friends of the hon. Member had always refrained from taking part in the amnesty demonstrations. The action they had taken must have led the Home Secretary and the Chief Secretary to the conclusion that the feeling which existed in Ireland upon this matter was not as strong as had been represented. That would be the natural result of the Member for Louth and his friends throwing cold 685 water upon the demonstrations that had been held in Ireland. Nothing, however, was to be gained by comparing the case of these prisoners with that of Mrs. Maybrick or any other of a similar kind. These men were, unquestionably, political prisoners, and the best proof of that was the statement the Chief Secretary made in Newcastle—that when Home Rule for Ireland was obtained would be the proper time to consider their cases. But might he not ask, if it would be proper to consider their cases when Home Rule was carried, why it would not be just and proper to consider them at the present moment? The hon. Member for Louth had defended the Chief Secretary against the charge of inconsistency in respect of his speech in the Leinster Hall. That meeting was, undoubtedly, a representative find an intelligent one, and the people who went to the Leinster Hall in Dublin were always well able to appreciate what was said to them, and they generally remembered the advice they received there. But the hon. Member for Louth was mistaken if he thought that the Amnesty question was not raised at the time that Lord Ripon and the Chief Secretary were at the Leinster Hall. The friends of the prisoners, and especially those of John Daly, were keenly interested in the movement at that time, and the agitation was being carried on in all parts of Ireland, There could be no doubt that the people of Ireland regarded what the Chief Secretary said at the meeting in the Leinster Hall as a promise that amnesty should be granted to the prisoners. It was certainly deplorable that the Chief Secretary did not find himself able to carry out now what the people of Ireland took to be a clear promise that, when a Liberal Government came into power an Amnesty would be granted. It was mere moonshine to hope for conciliation, and for the union of hearts between the two countries, whilst the prison doors were shut upon these men. It was only straightforward to tell Liberals and Tories alike, that Home Rule or no Home Rule, there would be agitation and discontent in Ireland until these men were released. The Home Secretary had referred to the great atrocity of these crimes. He did not defend crime of any kind, but when an English Minister spoke about the 686 atrociousness of crime attempted or committed of any section of Irishmen, he could not help feeling indignant, because nothing had been done or could be done by Irishmen which could at all compare with the atrocities perpetrated in Ireland by successive English Governments. It did not become the lips of the Home Secretary nor of any English Minister, to speak of atrocity in connection with Irishmen. Let the right hon. Gentleman read the history of Ireland, and in its pages he would read the records of atrocious crimes committed by English Governments, in comparison with which everything done by the imprisoned men, or any other Irishmen, sank into insignificance. The Chief Secretary had practically told the House that instead of sentences for life the sentences of these prisoners were to run for 20 years. That declaration was not satisfactory. Even if it were said that the men would be released after 15 years imprisonment he should not be satisfied, because he believed that in two or three more years, possibly in six months, these men would be in their graves unless they were released at once. Penal servitude had broken their health. He would not be a party to any shuffling about this matter, and he told the Home Secretary that if the men were not released the conduct of the Government would be regarded in Ireland as a policy of vengeance against men whose crime was that they had attempted to do something to destroy English rule in Ireland. English Governments had never shown any clemency or mercy to men who had opposed English rule. If these men should die in prison they would, in his opinion, have been foully murdered by the Government. The continued incarceration of the men would show an intention on the part of the Government to compass their death, and to prevent them from ever breathing the air of liberty again. He did not wish to use any language that could be construed into a threat, but he declared that if the men should die in prison a feeling of bitterness would be aroused in Ireland, which would not disappear for a generation at least. The Government must not be misled on this subject of Amnesty by the fact that the majority of the Irish Members had not taken part in the agitation. Let them not be deceived; 687 the question had taken deep root in Ireland, and the opinions which he had expressed were the opinions of the great majority of the Irish people.
§ *MR. W. P. BYLES (York, W.R, Shipley)
said, that he had always voted for the Amnesty of these prisoners, arid that he should do so again. He had understood the Home Secretary to say that if these men had been tried under the Explosive Substances Act, their sentences could not have exceeded 20 years imprisonment, even those found with ex-plosives upon them, and that when Dalys sentence came up for review it would be reviewed as if it had been a sentence for 20 years instead of a life sentence. He thought that the reasoning of the Home Secretary ought to lead him to the conclusion that the men, the eleven men, who were found without explosives upon them, and whose maximum sentence under the Explosives Act would have been 14 years, were entitled to be released immediately. Why did the Government keep these men in prison? If for their own sake in order that they might re form, was it likely, if they had not reformed after 12 years imprisonment, that they would reform after any additional period of incarceration? These long sentences were horrible, and cruel, and unintelligible punishments, and it was high time that more humane, and, therefore, probably more effective, methods of punishment were adopted. Did the safety of the State require the continued imprisonment of these men? Was there a man in that House who believed that, if these prisoners were released to-morrow they would ever plot again? He could not think that there was. The times when these things took place had passed away. A better feeling had begun to prevail between England and Ireland. It had been brought about by friendliness and conciliation. He maintained that rebels had been reconciled by the policy which the Liberal Party had espoused towards Ireland, and nothing the Government could do was more likely to extinguish the last sparks of animosity in the breasts of the Irish people, nothing was more likely to quench the dying embers of rebellion, than opening of the prison doors.
§ MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.) moved the adjournment of the Debate.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (SIR W. HABCOURT, Derby)
hoped his hon. Friend would not press this Motion. The subject had been very fully discussed, and the House might now well come to a decision upon it.
§ MR. SEXTON
stated, that speeches of great importance had been made by Members of the Liberal Party, and during the greater part of the time the Home Secretary had been absent. There had been, indeed, a remarkable expression of opinion on the part of the Liberal Party. He could not possibly compress the observations he had to make into 10 minutes, and the importance of the subject itself demanded an adjournment.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, that the Government, of course had a special interest in desiring a decision to be taken. The Amendment clearly amounted to a vote of censure of the most decisive character. The Government therefore wished to know whether or not they possessed the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons.
§ MR. J. REDMOND (Waterford)
, submitted, that the position taken up by the Chancellor for the Exchequer, could not be used as an argument for curtailing the Debate. Some hon. Members from Ireland who were intensely interested in the subject, had refrained from taking part up to the present by reason of the fact that a number of English Members were anxious to speak. It was a most unfortunate thing that whenever any Liberal Member was speaking the Home Secretary happened to be outside the House. He supported the Motion of the hon. Member for Kerry, and hoped he would push it to a Division if necessary. Surely, however, the right hon. Gentleman would not persist in choking off discussion.
The House divided on Mr. Sextons Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate:—Ayes 79: Noes 286.—(Division List No. 4.)
§ It being then past half-past Five oclock, the Debate stood adjourned.