HC Deb 17 May 1898 vol 57 cc1662-76

Amendment proposed— Page 21, line 23, leave out sub-section (a)."—(Mr. Clancy.)


The next Amendment that stands in my name is one of a series that I propose to move, and I think that, of all the charges that are not to be taken into account under this clause this particular item has about the least justification for its exclusion. As I understand the present law as to the constabulary in Ireland, it is this: each county has what is called a free force of police; and the curious—I might almost say the extraordinary—thing is this: that although each county is supposed to have this free force of police, I do not think there is a single county in Ireland that has it. And the strangest thing is that, although a county has no free force of police, there is an additional or extra force of police, for which the county is called upon to pay. This is a matter which has been brought up in previous Sessions of Parliament, and returns furnished on the authority of the Government have been referred to in the course of discussion, and the Government, in my hearing, and in the hearing of every Irish Member every Session, have been challenged on the basis of those returns to justify the existence of those extra forces of police in counties which have not had a free force of police, and I never, in the course of all those years, have heard any answer whatever given to the challenge upon that subject. What justification can there possibly be for the state of things that has existed in the past? This is a matter, by the way, in which I think the landlord party, who are simply rated as landowners and not as occupiers in the towns, are as much interested as the tenants, and I hope on this occasion we shall have their support in trying to exclude this item. I ask what justification can there be for the state of things that has existed in the past? You profess to give a certain quota of police paid for out of Imperial funds. I am not speaking from the last returns, but I imagine they do not differ materially from the previous returns. You profess to give a free force of police in every county in Ireland. You do not do so. There is scarcely a county that has a free force of police. Nevertheless, whether the county be in a disturbed condition or not, whether it needs a free force of police or not, you run into the county from time to time, under the most extraordinary pretences, an addition of an extra force of police under this name. You run it into these counties and you charge the expenses on the cesspayers of those counties, although you hold out to those cesspayers by law the right to have those police for nothing. I cannot understand what justification there can be for that state of things, and, if there be no justification for it, why should we seek to perpetuate it by putting a provision into this Bill which will have the most serious consequences? If this clause is carried, what is there to prevent the Government from year by year decreasing the free force of police and supplying their place with additional constabulary for which the cesspayers will have to pay? If that process be gone on with there is no reason why the agricultural grant should not eventually disappear, and why this £700,000 should not in time go altogether towards the support of the constabulary in Ireland, for which the Imperial Exchequer is supposed to pay. I have heard a great many comments in the course of the last couple of days upon the benefits conferred upon Ireland by the large grant that is made for the police, and in the course of the Debate one of my honourable Friends beside me made the pertinent remark that we did not want the force. But, Sir, there is another answer. When the famous Sir Robert Peel took off the constabulary charge from the counties of Ireland he did so in express recognition of Ireland's right to that concession. He took into account the state of the country after the famine. He took into account the special charges that had been imposed on the country, and he thought it fair and just that the Imperial Government should bear the expense of the constabulary in Ireland. Of course, if no such case could be made for it, a sufficient ground would exist in the minds of every Irish Member, in the fact that the Irish people have no control over their police. If you in England pay for your police—if you have to pay anything for an increased force of police—you also control the force. We in Ire land have nothing whatever to do with the police. But it seems to me that in addition to having no control over our police, in a short time we shall be paying the whole cost of having them. As I said before, this is not a matter in which the tenants alone are interested. I say that every resident landlord in the country is interested in keeping down this expense and in preventing this addition to the rates. I am sorry that I have come into the House to-night leaving behind me some statistics which go to show that the expense of this extra force of police has actually been increasing during the peaceful years, which is a most extraordinary thing, and really, to my mind, deserves some explanation from the Government. We have again and again asked the Government to explain why the counties which are entitled to a free force of police, and do not get it, are really saddled with an additional force of police for which the ratepayers have to pay. I do not think the subject requires much elucidation, and I simply content myself with moving the Amendment.


The honourable Member appears to imagine that the Government, of their own free will, can increase or diminish the free force of police. That is absolutely at variance with the facts. The amount of the free quota is, I believe, something over £10,000—I have not got the precise figures here, but it is something of that kind. Of course, that force has to be distributed according to certain general principles. A redistribution takes place every fifth year, and as long as that force is sufficient there is no extra force to pay for at all. Where there is necessity for an extra force a charge of this kind must be regarded as a kind of penal charge on the county, and I think the Committee will agree that it would not be right that the Imperial Exchequer should bear that charge. Then the honourable Member maintains—on the faith of some statistics he has left behind—that the charge for extra police has actually increased instead of diminished during these latter peaceful years. The contrary is the case. The charge in the standard year for extra police amounted to £16,077 altogether, of which about £11,700 is estimated to have been levied off the land. That was very considerably reduced last year, and if we continue during the next few years to make the same progress that we have made during the past few years there will very shortly be no charge for extra police in any part of Ireland.

MR. DAVITT (Mayo, S.)

I have no sympathy whatever with this Amendment. The Irish police are maintained for the sole purpose of protecting the property and the interests of the landlords. They are the body-guard of the rack-renters of Ireland, and therefore the Irish landlords should pay the whole cost of the maintenance of this anti-Irish and anti-national force. For my part, I should be very glad to see every policeman and every landlord leave Ireland tomorrow. If that emigration only took place, we should then have a peaceful, prosperous, and contented Ireland.


I think we must look at this as a practical matter. I am a transactionalist, if I may say so. I cannot take up the splendid position of my honourable Friend. I desire to get as many concessions as I can out of the condition of things that we have to face. At the same time, if the Government will make some statement as regards these charges, and will mitigate the severity of them, I think that will facilitate the passage of the clause. The right honourable Gentleman shakes his head; I beg he will not do so so soon. There are a very large number of these charges with which we might have to deal at great length, but of course, the night is late, and I do think that some statement by the right honourable Gentleman might assuage the position, and I trust he may see his way to making some general statement. I would like to point out to the Committee one disadvantage that really is most unfortunate, namely, the making of these police charges poor rate. I protest against that. It is unconstitutional. These charges have nothing to do with the poor rate, and yet their non-payment will operate to narrow down the franchise. It this to be tolerated? Sub-section 2 of this clause reads thus— The amount required to meet any charge in connection with such expenses or compensation shall be separately estimated, and raised by means of the poor rate, but as a separate item thereof, and the provisions of this Act with respect to raising expenses, and to the poor rate, shall apply with the necessary modifications. Now, is not it a monstrous thing if a man in County Clare has not paid his police rate, that that should be counted against him as regards his Parliamentary franchise, and as regards his Local Government franchise. I do protest that this is most unreasonable, and whatever may be said by my honourable Friend the Member for East Mayo, surely the right honourable Gentleman has some consideration for those of us who have supported this Bill up to the present moment, and he might concede that these questions should be regarded as not affecting the franchise. On the whole I do think that the Government might make us some concession. We have restricted ourselves in many cases in regard to this Bill. I am voting as I think in favour of local liberty. I am prepared to pay the price. I do not say that it is dirt cheap, but whatever it is I am prepared to pay it. I go no further than that. I do say that the Government might make some further concession regarding the minor details of this clause.


The difficulty with regard to these extra policemen is that it is not the landlords under the present system who pay for them, but the people. If I thought the landlords paid for them I should support the view of my honourable Friend and colleague the Member for South Mayo, but it is not the landlords that pay for them. There was one expression used by the right honourable Gentleman opposite in his speech in opposing this Amendment, which struck me very forcibly. He said that this must be regarded as a penal charge. It is undoubtedly a penal charge. You have these police constables poured into your county without any reference to local wishes at all. In England if there were a disturbance in a particular district, until the local authorities demanded assistance the central Government of the country would not think of sending in extra police, but in our country, without asking "by your leave" from any local authority at all, we have a couple of hundred constables marched in like a military force, to take possession of the county. I say that that is monstrous and unjust, that we should have these extra police coming and batoning innocent and unoffending people, just to show that they are doing something for their money. That is bad enough, but it is infinitely worse when we are told that we must pay for this constabulary whom we have not asked for. It frequently happens that the main cause of the disturbance is the very fact of the presence of these extra police who are sent in against the wishes of the orderly and respected inhabitants of the district. I say it is intolerable that we should have to put up with the divergations, and the pranks of hordes of police, tramping about the country and brandishing their batons where they are not wanted. I wish to Heaven some of them would hit the right honourable Gentleman over the head. Well, they might just as well serve the right honourable Gentleman as they served me on one occasion.


I do not think the expression the honourable Member has used is a proper expression.


I gladly withdraw the expression and apologise, but I was somewhat irritated by the jeers of the right honourable Gentleman when I remembered the fact which came out and was admitted at Question time to-day, that at a recent Orange celebration in the north of Ireland there was a lot of drunken rioting, but that no extra police were considered necessary there. The "loyal" population of that place will not be saddled with this penal charge; but in West Mayo, where the people are starving, if they dare to come together to try to call the attention of the right honourable Gentleman to their starving condition, instantly a couple of hundred constables are launched at them, and this "penal charge" is placed on the unfortunate ratepayers. That was the expression which aroused me to take part in this discussion. This is a "penal charge," which is generally inflicted on the most distressed, and very often starving, districts in the whole country. Sir, I regret to find myself at variance with the view of the honourable Member for South Mayo, but I maintain that this charge is thrown upon the occupiers, whereas this charge for extra police being the direct result of the mismanagement of the unpopular and corrupt Government under which we live, I say that, if the Government insist on the luxury of thrusting extra police on the country at their own sweet will, they ought to bear the cost, and it is a monstrous injustice to tell the ratepayers of Ireland, who have no voice in the matter, that they are to pay this penal charge whenever it pleases any of the gentlemen who are sent over from Scotland or England to practise statesmanship on the unfortunate corpus vile of the Irish people, to employ an extra body of constabulary. If the right honourable Gentleman would give us the control of the police, there would, no doubt, be a very strong case for imposing this charge; that is to say, if the extra police were only brought into the county on the requisition of the county council; but so long as Dublin Castle insists on retaining the right of sending extra police, whether the representatives of the people demand them or not, and in face even of the protest of the county council, then I say that, on all principles of justice, the Castle ought to pay the extra cost, or a portion of it.


I venture also to join in the expression of surprise at the phrase used by the right honourable Gentleman—"a penal charge." I drew his attention the other day to the fact that the city of Dublin and the city of Belfast are both subject to a large charge for extra police.


Dublin and Belfast are not normally in a disturbed condition.


It is some satisfaction to know that; but, if that is so, I fail to see why they should have to pay for extra police.


The extra police force in Dublin and Belfast has nothing whatever to do with the extra police referred to in this clause. In those cities the local authorities have their own arrangements with the central authorities.


Will the right honourable Gentleman explain on what principle counties which have, in fact, no free police force should be charged for an extra police force?


I do not know that there are such cases.


Some years ago I examined the returns, and I found there was scarcely a county in Ireland in which there was a free force of police, and there were about half a dozen in which there were extra police.

Amendment put and negatived.

Amendment proposed— Page 21, line 25, leave out sub-section (b)."—(Mr. Flynn.)


I hope the Amendment which I now rise to move will meet with somewhat better luck from the Government than the last Amendment. The right honourable Gentleman stated that the charge for extra police was in the nature of a penal charge. Now, the charge referred to in sub-section (b), "compensation for criminal injuries," is certainly in the nature of a penal charge, and one of a most unjust character, a charge in which the innocent and the guilty are indiscriminately involved. Take the case of a locality in which the landlords set out upon a campaign of evictions. We know that evictions bring all sorts of consequences in their train, and often malicious injuries, or alleged malicious injuries. But it is absurd to say that the whole people of the locality are implicated in those injuries, and to impose this class of charge upon innocent and guilty alike violates all the canons and principles of justice. It is a charge which very often falls in a very small and trifling degree on the real transgressor, and to a very large extent on those who are quite innocent and have no complicity whatever in the transactions complained of. During the discussion on this Bill a great many arguments have been used with regard to the large ratepayers. This is a class of charge which falls with particular hardship on the large ratepayers. Take the case of the eviction of a small tenant from his holding, resulting in malicious injury. Is it on the small tenant, or the sympathisers of the tenant, that the burden of payment falls? Not at all; it is on the cesspayers, and the larger cesspayers have to bear the larger share, although they are utterly blameless in the matter. It would be quite as fair to penalise, or put a money charge upon a farmer in Essex for an outrage committed in Wiltshire. I think this is really one of the matters which the Government might well reconsider, and I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.


I agree with the honourable Gentleman opposite, that the burden of compensation for malicious injuries does not fall upon those who are really responsible. The real perpetrators of these outrages are the politicians who come down to recommend the Irish tenants to "make a man's life unhappy"—that is the phrase—and that method of political pressure in Ireland means that the luckless individual will find his cows with their tails cut off, his cattle hocked, and so forth. I am sorry that these fines, or "penal charges," do not find out the real culprits. If the Irish people were left to themselves these disgraceful and barbarous acts would never be committed. At the same time, as this is the way in which on former occasions political crusades have been carried on in Ireland, there is no indication in the future that any change will take place, but the "landgrabbers" are to be visited in the same way as of old. I must say I think it would be an act of madness on the part of the Government to alter their Bill by removing the only practical means of punishing those who adopt methods which have brought disgrace both on themselves and on the country to which they belong.


If the burden of compensation for these outrages is to fall on the shoulders of those who are really responsible, it will be a hard day for the landlords of Ireland. They are the sole original and only cause of all this trouble, and they ought to be made to pay for it. That is exactly the basis of my Amendment. Instead of inflicting on them, as we ought to do, if justice is to be done—which is the last thing one can expect from this wise House of Commons—a proper punishment for their long series of misdeeds, we are now actually voting them a grant-in-aid. If the honourable and gallant Member really desires to see those who are responsible for all these outrages brought to book, he would so alter the law as to inflict a fine on the landlords in every county where malicious injury is inflicted. I do not go so far as that, but I say that the British Government ought to bear their share of payment for these criminal injuries, if they persist in maintaining this iniquitous system of levying compensation, a system which has been condemned over and over again by three-fourths of the Irish representatives.


There is no doubt, unfortunately, that under the system of giving compensation for malicious injury in Ireland, it must often happen that a charge is thrown on the cesspayers who are perfectly innocent; but the system is adopted because we find in Ireland what does not occur in England or Scotland—popular sympathy with various forms of agrarian crime, and unwillingness to aid in bringing the real offenders to justice. The only means by which we can punish the real, but frequently unknown, culprits, and at the same time quicken the public sense in regard to these outrages, is to levy this general charge. I fail to see that the honourable Member has made out any sufficient case for his Amendment.

Question put— That sub-section (b) stand part of the clause.

Committee divided:—Ayes 159; Noes 69.—(Division List No. 107.)

And it being after midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.

House adjourned at 12.10.