§ [Order read for resuming Debate on Mr. Clancy's Amendment to Address, 13 February, see page 643.]
§ Debate resumed by—
§ MR. BODKIN (Roscommon, N.),
who said that he proposed to move a short Amendment to the Amendment. It was to add to it the following words:—Having special regard to the extent of the penalties provided by more recent legislation for the specific offences of which these prisoners 761 were convicted; and also to the sentences actually imposed in several cases of a similar kind.He thought that that Amendment embodied the strongest and most unanswerable part of the claim made by the hon. Member for Dublin County, and it was to that part of the claim to which the Home Secretary had given the most insufficient answer. Having justified the heavy sentences passed upon these men, on the ground that they were political prisoners, the Home Secretary could not then turn round and say that they were not political prisoners. His view was that these men were political prisoners, and it was upon that ground that he presented his arguments to the Home Secretary. On that point the right hon. Gentleman had given no answer, and when, the Home Secretary gave no answer to an argument, it might be taken to be the case, that, to give an answer, was impossible. His contention was, that it was the motive, and the motive alone, that made a political offence. He was willing in this case to take the Home Secretary on his own ground. He was willing to assume that these men were not political offenders. If they were not, what else could they be but offenders under the Explosives Act? If they were merely treated as offenders under that Act, then he was entitled to say that they should not have received any heavier sentence than could be given under the Explosives Act, and the Home Secretary was not entitled to say that they should receive the maximum sentence that could be awarded to political offenders. These men had already suffered 12 or l3 years of the maximum penalty, while in the Walsall cases the sentences were only ten or five years' penal servitude. In the majority of the cases, the non-political cases they were discussing, no explosives were found on the persons of the prisoners. This was an unanswerable argument, which had been urged in the absence of the Home Secretary, and one to which no answer had been attempted. If it was admitted that the offences of these men were non-political, the Home Secretary was not entitled to say that they were tried under a political Statute which authorised the passing of higher sentences than the non-political Statute. At any rate, if these non- 762 political offenders had received the maximum penalty, no one could deny that on that account they were entitled to the merciful consideration of the Crown. In one of these cases the clemency of the Crown was actually exercised. In Egan's case the sentence was commuted because it was a political offence. He pressed the Home Secretary to say that these non-political offenders should not be treated with more harshness than other non-political offenders. This was a demand for mere justice, which ought not to be denied by the Home Secretary to the practically unanimous voice of the Irish Members and the almost unanimous opinion of Ireland. He believed his Amendment had the hearty approval of many supporters of the Government, who would be only too glad to be able to vote for it. Already some of the supporters of the Government had raised their voices on behalf of these prisoners, and apparently none desired to say a word against the claim made for them. He did not desire to introduce any irritating topic into the appeal he was making, but for himself he must say he did not endorse the discreditable suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Sir E. Clarke), that the Chief Secretary gave or intended to give any pledge in the matter. In that insinuation he did not join, and he did not believe the words were capable of the interpretation put upon them. No intelligent or honest man could say the Chief Secretary intended to include the men who were in prison in the description he gave of men—''Whose only fault has been that they have used their talents for the benefit of their country, who have done the best they could, and have done much, to raise up the oppressed, miserable, and down-trodden people of their country.He was speaking on behalf of trusted leaders, of whom he might say there was not a word in that description of which they would be ashamed, or need be anxious to repudiate. It was further to be remarked that the Chief Secretary spoke, not only of an Amnesty from England to Ireland, but also of a return Amnesty from Ireland to England. On the plain ground of undeniable justice, he appealed to the Home Secretary, if he insisted that these men were not political prisoners, to treat them no worse than other non-political prisoners con- 763 victed of similar offences. He concluded by moving the Amendment.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EX-CHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT, Derby)
I have nothing to complain of in the tone of the hon. Member who has moved the Amendment. The hon. Member did justice to the Chief Secretary for Ireland in repudiating the charge which the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Sir E. Clarke) endeavoured to fasten upon him of having given a pledge upon this subject; and I will say no more upon that subject. I must, however, protest against his proceeding of moving Amendment upon Amendment, as if we had not enough Amendments already upon the Paper to make almost impossible the conduct of public business in this House. If, when you have had an Amendment placed upon the Paper, and a whole day given to the discussion of the subject, you are to have the matter renewed by another Amendment put down upon that Amendment, all I can say is, being the person unfortunately responsible for the conduct of Public Business in this House, the conduct of Public Business is absolutely impossible under circumstances of that character. Since the topic arose, it has been a prominent one on these occasions; and it has been discussed over and over again. It has been said that these men must either be political prisoners or they are not—that their offences are either ordinary offences, offences against the ordinary law, or else that they are distinctly political offences. We have answered that over and over again. There is no reason whatever, because there is superadded to this crime of treason the crime of murder, that you should make a distinction between the two in these cases. When the celebrated historical character attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament the question was not raised whether it was a political offence or an offence against the ordinary law. It was regarded as an offence against both. The House has heard this matter over and over again, and the Amendment does not introduce any fresh considerations into the Debate. I recognise the strong feeling and profound conviction which gentlemen opposite had on this matter. The responsibility, not of one Government but of all Governments who have had to deal with the question, is a 764 very heavy and painful responsibility. No man who had not himself under gone the burden can understand what is the weight, of the responsibility, which rests on one who has to dispense the prerogative of the mercy of the Crown. It is the heaviest responsibility that could be cast on any human being. I believe that the men who successively have had that burden imposed upon them had endeavoured to discharge it with a deep sense of their responsibility and with the knowledge that they must answer for it. This is no new question. The Government have been obliged to make their decision, and they had made it upon due deliberation and as hon. Gentlemen opposite will believe, with no leanings against mercy. I venture to say that no Home Secretary has any other than an inclination towards mercy whenever he feels his duty allows him to exercise it; but, having made that decision on the responsibility which is cast upon him, the House cannot expect that the Government should shrink from that decision. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say that this Motion was couched in a form which was a vote of censure on the Government. There is no doubt at all about the matter. It is a vote of censure on a decision the Government have taken, not once, but over and over again, and I am afraid that all I am in a position to do is to appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite that, having stated very fully their case, not only this year but in previous years, they will allow the House to come to a decision on a matter which invites their decision and which, in my opinion, has been amply and fully discussed.
§ MR. T. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
said the Chancellor of the Exchequer misapprehended the object of the Amendment. It was not the purpose of the Irish Members to renew the subject of Amnesty or even unduly to prolong this Debate. Their desire was to place on record their view that the sentences of these prisoners should be considered in the sense of the parity that they bore to sentences passed on other persons for similar offences. When he moved the adjournment yesterday, the right lion. Gentleman described the Amendment as a vote of non-confidence of the most decisive kind. Now, he desired to make it clear, in supporting the Amendment, that he regarded it in 765 no such light. He felt much confidence in the present Government in matters of vital and supreme concern to his country. Confidence in politics was rarely absent, but when he compared this Government with the only other Government that could possibly succeed it, his confidence in it was large and comprehensive indeed. In his humble advocacy of the plea put forth in the Amendment he had no thought of want of confidence in the Government. His support of the Amendment was proof of his confidence in them. If he had no confidence in them he would not press the Amendment on their notice; but he pressed it because he felt they were disposed to listen to reasonable argument and to give reasonable argument firm consideration. The Home Secretary admitted that he considered these cases every ten years. He gathered from that that he considered them in 1893. A considerable time had now elapsed, and the principles and motives which should guide a Home Secretary in each future consideration were affected by lapse of time. The function of the Home Secretary was greater and, beyond comparison, higher than that of any jury or Judge. The jury were bound by the evidence; the Judge was limited by the law. The right hon. Gentleman was placed over Judge and Jury, and held his office with all its powers, including the prerogative of mercy, by the confidence of the House, and was not only entitled, but bound, in cases of this kind, to have regard not only to questions of guilt or innocence or the parity of sentences, but also to the lapse of time, the growth of public feeling and opinion, and even, in certain cases, to a course of policy, and especially to the opinion of those from whose confidence he derived his office and all the powers appurtenant to it. (Opposition Laughter.) If the jocular gentleman who laughed got into office and any question of the exercise of the prerogative of mercy should arise, would it be the duty of their Home Secretary to be indifferent to the expression of their opinion? A new situation, as regarded the political prisoners, was created on the previous day. Only one Tory Member took part in the discussion, though the late Home Secretary was present throughout on the front Opposition Bench and said nothing. No less 766 than five Liberal Members spoke in favour of Amnesty, two of them lawyers, and four of the five were in favour of Amnesty without any qualification whatever. Therefore, he contended that, so far from suggesting any idea of no confidence, the Amendment merely put forward a plea that in the time that had elapsed since these cases were last considered circumstances had arisen entitling them to press for a new consideration. The question whether these were political crimes or not had been left more obscure than ever by the speech of the Leader of the House. The Home Secretary said they were not political, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to think they were. It would be more profitable to consider the course of the Liberal Government when these cases arose and their policy since, and to ask whether their policy since did not impose upon them some responsibility. These cases arose in 1883. There was a fever of excitement and deep indignation and apprehension in the country, and under the influence of this the Explosives Act of 1883 was passed. Such was the state of public feeling that the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, without Amendment and Debate, was passed in a single Sitting of the House. The Bill was not even amended in the House of Lords. After the right hon. Gentleman had himself passed a Bill intended to meet these cases, would not any one be justified in assuming, before the trials came on, that they would be conducted in accordance with the Act passed to deal with the case? But the prisoners were tried under the Explosives Act and sentenced under the Treason Felony Act. Why were they sentenced under that Act? Because they were Irishmen, and it was held that their criminal acts or criminal intentions were consequently due to resentment against the Government in Ireland. There had been other cases of having explosives in possession, and of conspiring to use explosives; but no other case had been tried under any other Act than the Explosives Act. The aggravating cause for the Government lay in the fact that the maximum sentence which could have been imposed upon these men under the Explosives Act for anything proved in evidence would have been 20 years' penal servitude for three of the men—a sentence 767 which the prison system would have reduced to 15 years—and 14 years' penal servitude for the rest, which was actually equivalent to 10 years and a half. But the Government of that day put into the indictment under the Explosives Act a clause under the Treason Felony Act, which enabled them to intimate to the Judge, through their prosecuting counsel, that the maximum sentence under the Explosives Act was not sufficient—a suggestion more direct than any which an Executive ought to make to some one in a judicial position.
§ SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
Will the hon. Gentleman state in what case that occurred? I was prosecuting.
§ SIR H. JAMES
The hon. Member stated that application was made to the Judge that the sentence under one Act was not sufficient—that he should impose a higher sentence than the maximum under the Explosives Act. Will he state in which case that occurred?
§ MR. SEXTON
The right hon. Gentleman has misapprehended my words. I did not speak of an application to the Judge. I spoke of an intimation or suggestion. My point is this—that if the Government had been content to proceed under the Explosives Act, the highest sentence which the Judge could have inflicted would have been 20 years in three cases, and 14 years in the rest. But as the Government brought in the Treason Felony Act, they thereby suggested to the Judge that the maximum sentence under the Explosives Act was not sufficient to meet the case; and that the Treason Felony Act was introduced into the indictment to secure a sentence for life. Continuing, the hon. Member said that that was scarcely a straightforward act of the Law. Immediately after the House had passed an Act specifically dealing with such cases, it was severe and rigorous in the extreme to go beyond that Act, and back a generation, to an Act of 1848, passed for the purpose of relieving the British Government of the odium of punishing treasonable acts in Ireland by death, by imposing a penalty just short of death. That Act of 1848 was passed at a time when Ireland had no independent and efficient representation in the House of Commons, and when the Liberal Party 768 was still wedded to the policy of Coercion. All that had happened in the sphere of political policy since these trials were held imposed on the Liberal Party an unquestionable responsibility to review them. It was not unnatural in 1883—it was intelligent and perhaps consistent with the view held at that time, that the only way to rule Ireland was by means of a British Delegate armed with a Coercion Act—that, in order to strike at what the Government believed to be the political acts of felony, they should seize the sharpest weapon in the armoury of the Statute Book. But, in 1886, the Liberal Party adopted the policy of Home Rule for Ireland. In 1892 that policy was ratified by the electors. In 1893 a Bill to establish a Parliament in Ireland was adopted by the House of Commons; and from that moment forward a responsibility fell upon the Liberal Party which they could not ignore. Reference had been made to certain language used by the Chief Secretary before the Election. The right hon. Gentleman meant to convey that an Amnesty of this kind would form a proper part of the grant of Home Rule to Ireland and a settlement of the national question. [Mr. MORLEY nodded assent.] What was the logical consequence? The electors sent the Government to Parliament to grant Home Rule to Ireland; and a Bill for that purpose passed the House of Commons. And why was that Bill not law now? Why had not Ireland a Parliament and an Executive of its own last year? Why was this Amnesty, as a part of Home Rule, not granted last year? Because the House of Lords rejected the Bill. The Government resented the action of the Lords in the legislative sphere, and were about to appeal to the electors of the country to declare that, when the Commons had determined that a Bill should pass, the Lords should not prevent it from passing. But though the Government had to put up with the action of the Lords in the legislative sphere, there was another sphere in which the Government were free—the sphere of executive action; and if they sincerely resented the action of the Lords in the legislative sphere, they were bound to show their resentment by using their power in the executive sphere. As the only reason why this Amnesty had not been granted 769 was, that the Lords rejected the Home Rule Bill, it logically followed that the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary were surrendering into the House of Lords the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. That was a position the Liberal electors, who were to be called upon to condemn the action of the House of Lords, would not aprove. He did not maintain the guilt or innocence of the prisoners, but he did not forget that some of the cases must for ever be tainted with suspicion. There was evidence, amounting to presumption, that some of the prisoners were tempted by agents of the State. That was the opinion of a most experienced officer. It was notorious that the trials were conducted at a time of high excitement, when anger was not unnaturally deep, and that feeling must have operated with prosecuting counsel, witnesses, juries, and Judges to such an extent as to render the impartial administration of justice difficult, if not impossible. It was only necessary to ask now that these men should not, because they were Irishmen, be subjected to a heavier punishment than would be inflicted on men of any other nationality for a similar offence. The Home Secrehad said in general terms, unsupported by argument, that these cases and the Walsall cases were dissimilar in weight of guilt. But the dissimilarity was not in the advantage of the Walsall cases. He was not aware of any evidence that these Irishmen intended to take life, though he would admit that their intentions, if carried out, might have resulted in the taking of life. In the Walsall case there was some intention to take life under circumstances amounting to general and indiscriminate slaughter. How would it be contended, therefore, when the position of these men before the law was precisely the same, that the guilt in the Walsall cases was lighter than in the others? If those cases were sufficiently punished by ten, seven, or five years, how could it be reasonably supposed that those Irishmen ought to be subjected to penal servitude? The Liberal Party, in view of their policy towards Ireland and their alliance with the Irish people, ought to be unwilling to lean any longer upon the effete Act of 1848, which justified the imprisonment of these men. What was the object of the right hon. Gentleman? 770 He could understand him if it was intended to keep them in prison for their lives on the ground that, when once convicted of such an offence, they could not be trusted at liberty. That would be an intelligible, though a condemnable position. But that was not the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman. The prisoners were entitled to release at the end of 20 years; therefore the extreme limit of contention was this, that it was a case as between 12 and 20 years. They had suffered for 12 years; were they to suffer for 20 years? There were only two possible objects in keeping the men in prison; one or other must be the object of the Home Secretary. The one object was Punishment, and the other object was Prevention. Was the object of the right hon. Gentleman further punishment, and had the punishment up to the present been inadequate? It was very strange that the Walsall anarchists were punished by terms of imprisonment of ten, seven, or five years, while the Irish prisoners, for the same offence, were not sufficiently punished by 12 years. Was it not true to say that, because those men were Irishmen and there was a political character attached to their offence, they had suffered more in those 12 years than other men in 20 years? The other object was prevention. Did the right hon. Gentleman contend that they were less likely ever to commit crime again if he kept them in prison to the end of 20 years? Such an argument could not be maintained; and if further punishment was intended to deter those outside who were in sympathy with the prisoners, he asserted with the utmost confidence that there was an operation of grace more powerful than any operation of punitive law. If the Home Secretary released these men at the request of the representatives of Ireland a request founded on no sympathy with crime, and in no forgetfulness of the tragic consequences that might have followed from those acts for which the prisoners were tried, but founded on the interests of the commonwealth in the highest sense—he should say that the greatest good would be effected by a policy of clemency. The prisoners had already suffered a longer imprisonment than the highest sentence, that could be indicted on them under the Explosives Act, and he therefore submitted that a case for reconsideration 771 had arisen. While expressing on matters of general policy confidence in the Government, and as being disposed to regard them in this case also as entitled to confidence, he pressed upon Ministers the consideration that no public interest would be damaged, but, on the contrary, the greatest interest of the community—peace, and order, and respect for law—would be considerably preserved by a release of the prisoners for whom the Irish Members now pleaded.
§ MR. R. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)
said, that he intended to vote with the hon. Members for Ireland and against the Government. This Amendment had been made a subject of confidence by the Government, and he desired to clear up his position in the matter. He thought that the turning of an adverse Vote on this question into a Vote of Censure on the Government was not worthy of them. He could not understand any rational justification for such a position. He supposed the Chancellor of the Exchequer would plead that it was an old tradition that a Vote against the Government on the Address was to be accepted as a Vote of Censure. He ventured to say that this was a piece of antiquated nonsense. He imagined that the practice had come down from the days of Sir Robert Walpole; but the Parliamentary promulgator of graduated taxation at the end of this century might easily have undertaken the not very difficult duty of brushing aside the cobwebs left by Sir Robert Walpole.
§ MR. R. WALLACE
thought, at any rate, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have detached his mind from the traditional formalities connected with this question, and that he might have devoted it to the centre and substance of the matter. Were the expected supporters of the Government to be tied down in the way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by his utterances, proposed that they should be? It came to this—unless the supporters of the Government were on every minute point to come to heel they must run the risk of being dismissed to go before the country. He desired, however, to set the matter in the light of public interests. Was it right and proper that a great Administration should be prepared to 772 throw up its great power for usefulness all over the country, and for a very considerable period of time in prospect, merely on a matter of petty administration? A Government that went out of power in a pet, because its own supporters or the House of Commons offered advice differing from the view which it entertained itself on a point of mere administration, deserved to be censured. Years ago he had voted with his hon. Friends on this question, and he had seen no reason to reverse the opinion then arrived at. The prisoners had certainly expiated whatever crimes they had been guilty of; and, in addition to that, he had since seen a more clear and more full indication of the National sentiment of Ireland on the question. One other important event had happened since that time, and that was the enunciation of certain large principles with regard to Amnesty, both in speech and writing, by the Chief Secretary. The Leinster Hall speech justified the vote he was about to give. The Chief Secretary had no right to limit the application of his principles in any arbitrary way he pleased. The Chief Secretary was master of his own mind, but he was not master of deductive logic. Extracts from the Leinster Hall speech were quoted yesterday, and in that speech the Chief Secretary practically pledged the Government to give an Amnesty to these prisoners whenever Home Rule was granted to Ireland. He drew two inferences; the first was, that these prisoners were political prisoners. If not, why should they be amnestied on a political occasion? Did the Chief Secretary propose to amnesty the murderers, the thieves, and the rogues in Ireland? He drew the further inference that it was not a question of abstract justice. It was simply a principle of political expediency. If not, Government would not make time a part of the contract, If Home Rule had been carried eighteen months ago, these men would have been amnestied. If Home Rule was not passed for 20 years, they would remain in prison. Was there a principle of abstract justice there? If it was a question of expediency, it might be expedient to grant Amnesty now. The Irish people were Ito get not merely the haunch of venison, but the trimmings into the bargain; and I they said, as they could not get the 773 haunch of venison; "Give us the trimmings." They asked for something on account. He said that was a very justifiable request. He thought the Chief Secretary might grant the request of the Irish people, and release the so-called dynamite prisoners. He should call them political prisoners. From what he knew of the nature of the Irish people he was sure they would feel far more grateful for the contingent than for the postponed mercy.
§ *MR. HENRY MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)
said, he should not enter into the domestic quarrels of the Party opposite. He should leave them to settle that themselves. He noticed, however, that the Members opposite who supported the Irish Members had a large Irish element in their constituencies. If the Chief Secretary were understood to have said that the Amnesty of these prisoners depended upon the contingency of the Home Rule Bill passing, all he could say was that, he entered his most solemn protest against such doctrine as that. He should not dwell on the arguments of the hon. Member for Kerry, but he ventured to say that the reasons which guided the Home Secretary in his conduct in this matter deserved the full approval of that House. He thought the right hon. Gentleman laid down the true principle. Of course, the lapse of time must influence the judgment of any man. The physical circumstances of a prisoner must also be taken into account. The Member for Kerry suggested that these men should be released because public opinion in Ireland was in favour of it. He did not wish to say anything harsh, but he could not shut his eyes to this—that the public feeling in Ireland was not altogether sound on this subject. There was a morbid feeling to sympathise with those who fell under the lash of the English law. He could understand the feeling. He did not believe that in reality the Irish people sympathised with the perpetrators of abominable offences; but, on the other hand, there was a national disposition to sympathise with any one sentenced by the English Courts. Many of these prisoners did cause explosions, and the penalty for that offence under the Explosives Act. was penal servitude for life. The blowing up of stations in London, the Tower 774 explosion, and the explosion near the gasworks in Glasgow were cases in which explosions actually occurred. The offences for which penalties of terms of years were provided were much vaguer and lighter than those brought home to these prisoners. Was it possible to doubt that in all these cases explosions were intended? The explosives were in the possession of these persons, and, where explosions did not actually occur, it was the sagacity of the police that prevented them. The offence for which a penalty of 14 years was provided was for having explosives in possession, unless proof of innocent possession were forthcoming. While admitting that the penalties in the Explosives Act were of a somewhat savage character, he thought that the analogy of that Act could not be urged as a sound argument that the sentences in these cases were excessive. He supposed it would be in vain to suggest that no possible good could be done by this discussion. He could not imagine how it could conduce to any good to invite the House to remember all the circumstances that were proved in evidence against many of these men, but he was quite certain that everything that was necessary to the due administration of justice the Home Secretary would take into account.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
remarked, that he did not know that any useful object would be served by prolonging the Debate, but he desired to offer one or two observations before they proceeded to a Division, if the House would permit. On former occasions, when this subject was discussed, he dealt not only with the general arguments, but went into detailed accounts of the circumstances of many of these men. It would, he felt, be out of place to enter into a detailed examination of their cases upon the present occasion. The last speaker had, however, attempted to induce the House to believe that the analogy between the Walsall cases and some of these men told rather against the Irish prisoners than in their favour. But, taking the case of John Daly, for example, he was not tried for having caused an explosion or for connection with any explosion. He was tried for being in possession of explosives, which he could not satisfactorily account for. The Walsall men were tried for 775 exactly the same offence; but, whereas Daly to the last protested his innocence and evidence had since been produced by the Chief Constable of Birmingham that the explosives were planted upon him by an agent of the police, the Walsall men stood up in the dock and stated that in their case they had the explosives in their possession for the purpose of bringing about explosions; and one piece of evidence in their case was, that a document was found upon one of them showing that explosions were intended. Yet in Daly's case the sentence was for life, while the Walsall men only got terms of years. From the remarks of the Home Secretary he gathered that the right hon. Gentleman was of opinion that it would not be altogether unfair if in the case of Daly the sentence were to be treated as a sentence of 20 years' penal servitude under the Explosives Act. That was an enormous advance to have secured, inasmuch as Daly's sentence, would then in the ordinary course he remitted at the end of 15 years from the date of the sentence. Pushing that argument a little further, he would remind the House that all these men in Portland Prison were suffering life sentence. They were not all guilty in the same degree. Some were intelligent men, while others were illiterate and the dupes of others. If Daly, under the Explosives Act, ought only to have received 20 years, it followed as a matter of course that it would be fair to reconsider the sentences on other men. Sentences of 14 years under the Explosives Act would amount to something like 10½ years in prison. The men whose cause was now pleaded had already been in prison over 12 years. He wished to press that point. He congratulated his hon. Friend on having initiated the most useful Debate on the Amnesty question that had yet been heard in the House. It was clear that the movement in favour of Amnesty was advancing rapidly. He regretted that the Leader of the House had, on the previous afternoon, and again, that evening, tried to invest the Amendment with the significance of a Vote of Censure on the Government. The plain meaning of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks was, to try and induce those hon. Members behind him who were convinced of the justice of the demand for Amnesty to vote with the 776 Government, or at least to abstain from voting in favour of the Amendment. He appealed to those hon. Members not to allow themselves to be driven out of the Lobby through fear that they might be imperilling the position of the Government, who were sure of a large majority that evening. In voting for this Amendment hon. Members would be strengthening the appeal for Amnesty, would be showing to the people of Ireland a conviction in the justice of the case, and would be doing a good work for the future peace of Ireland and for the establishment of better relations between that country and Great Britain by advancing still further the plea for Amnesty, and bringing about the ultimate release of these unfortunate men.
§ MR. A. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, it would have been impossible for any Home Secretary, after the passing of a Home Rule measure, to have kept these men in prison, as their offence was a political offence, and their Amnesty would be an inevitable corollary of such a measure. It was not a question of principle, as the Home Secretary had himself intimated that there would come a time when these men might receive a commutation of their sentences. If it were granted that the time these men had been in prison was ample punishment, the only question remaining for consideration was, what, was the state of the public mind? He thought everything pointed to a change amounting to a revolution in the disposition of the Irish people towards the English Government, and of the English people towards the Irish people. That being the case, he saw no reason why an early Amnesty should not be granted, and the fact that they had failed to secure Home Rule to the Irish promptly was an overpowering reason why the Home Secretary should release these men.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
thought that full justice had not been paid in the Debate to the speech of the Home Secretary, which was couched in very different language from that which he had made two years ago. Unfortunately, immediately after the right hon. Gentleman sat down a personal altercation between the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth arose, and 777 this incident had occupied much of their time, and had, he thought, thrown more acidity into the Debate. The Home Secretary had been good enough to say that he would be glad to consult the Judge who had sentenced these, men in regard to certain points that had been raised, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would promise the House that this conference with the Judge should take place on an early occasion, and that he would then take into account the various points points raised in the Debate.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment agreed to.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I am told that the Division bells are out of order, but as no experiment has been tried it is uncertain whether they are so or not. Assuming that they art the Serjeant-at-Arms has given directions to the police and the messengers to convey the information to all parts of the House, and I hope the House will suffer no inconvenience.
The House divided on the Amendment as amended:—Ayes, 111; Noes, 299.—(Division List, No. 5.)