HL Deb 03 June 1862 vol 167 cc284-9

Order for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.


said, he did not rise to oppose this measure, which was probably more wanted now in Ireland than it had been at any former period. His purpose in rising was to ask, whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared to communicate to the House despatches from the Lord Lieutenant, or other papers, respecting the numerous assassinations that had been committed in Ireland during the last eight months, and the apparent inefficiency of the police to prevent such crimes; also whether it was intended to alter or relax in any degree the military habits and discipline now enforced in the constabulary; and also to ask, in how many instances the powers granted by the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Bill had been exercised during the last year by the Lord-Lieutenant? The noble Marquess said this was not a Bill which should be considered in the light of a continuance Act, and therefore he thought this a fitting opportunity to ask the questions of which he had given notice, for he should be glad to know whether anything had been done to effectually stop for the present and future the crimes so recently common in that country. The Government ought to communicate from time to time to the House such information as they possessed respecting the state and character of crime in Ireland, the measures taken to check it, and to express their opinion whether more effectual police regulations were not imperatively called for. Their Lordships laboured under a want of statistics of crime in Ireland, which if furnished to them for the past year might serve to guide their legislation. It was not, however, his fault that the House was not in possession of full information, for he had repeatedly asked for judicial statistics, which the Government promised, but did not produce. A Return which he had obtained showed that crime was certainly not on the decrease in that country. As regarded offences or an ordinary and general character, the Irish people would bear favourable comparison with the most civilized nations. The total number of cases of crime reported to the police in April, 1861, was 341; in March, 1862, the number bad increased to 436; but in April they diminished to 327. But, unhappily, the crimes known as agrarian outrages were increasing gradually and steadily. The Return to which he referred proved them to have nearly doubled within the last year or two; and that, too, without including the assassination of Mr. Maguire and Mr. Fitzgerald. The police had been praised in some quarters for arresting the murderers; but it would have been strange if they had not done so, seeing that in those cases the murders had been committed on the high road, and in open day, in the most daring manner. It was much to be regretted also, that the justification or non-justification of these atrocious deeds had been discussed even in newspapers, from which such a thing was least to have been expected. As to "not parleying with assassins," as had been talked of elsewhere, why the acts of these men had been coolly argued as if their character admitted of two opinions. He alluded more particularly to the murder of M. Thiebault; concerning which the brother of the person arrested for the crime had actually written to the Irish newspapers, not to endeavour to prove an alibi, or that the accused was innocent, but rather to show, that if he had not committed the murder, he ought to have done it. In Ireland about one in five offenders—taking grave cases—was brought to justice; in England only about one in nine of those committing similar offences escaped. In the one case the police were well organized for the prevention and detection of crime; in the other, the police were not efficiently organized with a view to either. If they would have a soldiery in Ireland, they should not call them a police. The constabulary were excellent soldiers, but they were not constables, and they did not occupy themselves in the prevention or detection of crime. The expense of the Irish constabulary amounted to £779,000 a year; and if Government chose to pay that price for them, he must again admit they were a most admirable force, and he was very glad to have them in Ireland; but, with their barrack discipline and drill, they could not be expected to preserve the peace, and they were not allowed to act under the orders of the local magistracy, who had no constables at their disposal. In fact, the local magistracy were entirely debarred from control over the police. Since the Union, the great men of all parties had striven to connect the landed proprietors of Ireland with the Government of that country. That policy had now been departed from, and he hoped some member of the Government would favour their Lordships with an explanation on the subject. It was not reasonable to suppose that magistrates could do their duty if they were deprived of the services of the police. Many people believed that there was an organized system of Ribbonism extending through the whole of Ireland. He did not share in that opinion; but, if the fact were so, he wanted to know why the police had hitherto been unable to discover it? Too much was expected from the Roman Catholic clergy. No body of men had a greater horror of the outrages which had recently occurred in Ireland; but they were placed in a peculiar position, and it would not be right to call them to do more than, they had done when they knew that the police would not protect them or any one else from popular vengeance. The whole question was one of great importance. It involved the character and credit of the Government, and he trusted their Lordships would have the pleasure of listening to a satisfactory statement from his noble Friend the President of the Council.


said, he thought that the country owed a deep debt of gratitude to the Roman Catholic clergy, for the honest and sincere course pursued by them to put down Ribbonism, and to cheek the system of agrarian outrage. But he differed from his noble Friend, that Ribbonism did not emanate from one common centre; and he thought that where a magistrate did his duty fearlessly, the existing laws were sufficient to repress crime. He could bear his testimony to the great skill and activity of the police in putting down this crime. Within the last twelve months upwards of thirty Ribbonmen had been arrested in his district; and he felt persuaded, that if the resident magistracy exerted themselves, they would receive the support of the Catholic clergy. He felt there was reason to complain of the manner in which the wishes and desires of the Irish gentry had been disregarded by the Irish Government. Such a course might have been proper fifty or sixty years ago, but certainly, at the present time, it was not calculated to strengthen the hands of the Executive.


said, that it was, of course, a subject of the deepest regret and anxiety to the Government that these frightful murders should have taken place in Ireland; but he could not agree with the noble Marquess in his censures of the Irish constabulary. All the information which the Government received went to show that the Irish constabulary were a very well-conducted body of men, and that they not only possessed what might be called good military qualities, but that they constituted a very efficient police. Ribbonism existed in parts of Ireland, but it had no existence in the south of Ireland, and the outrages which had been committed were more of an individual character than the authorized proceedings of an illegal society. He could assure the noble Marquess that he was quite mistaken in supposing there was any unwillingness on the part of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to communicate and consult with the landed gentry of Ireland. The noble Viceroy was influenced by a feeling quite the reverse. In reply to the first Question of his noble Friend, he had to state, that the Government were not prepared to give those papers, which were documents of a confidential character, and which it would in any case be impossible to produce at the present moment when certain parties were about to stand their trial for those crimes. With regard to the second Question, he had to inform his noble Friend and the House, that the Government had no intention of altering the constitution of the Irish police force. It should be remembered that that force was placed in a very different position from that of the rural constabulary in England. In this country the policeman was certain of the sympathy and assistance of the people of the district in his attempts to prevent or detect crime, but the Irish constabulary had to discharge their duties among a less friendly population, and it was therefore found expedient that they should possess a more military organization. In answer to the last Question, he had no objection to give the information for which his noble Friend asked—namely, that the whole question of the Irish constabulary was under the consideration of the Government, but that there was at present no intention to alter the constitution of that body.


stated, in reference to the complaint which had been made of the want of statistics relative to offences in Ireland, that his experience enabled him to say that there used to be the most extensive amount of information afforded by reports from the constabulary and stipendiary magistrates.


said, he should be glad to know whether the Government had received any information with respect to the probable cause of the recent outbreak of crime in Ireland. He had himself been unable to find any sufficient explanation of that unfortunate state of things. The great mass of the population were not at present placed in any such unfavourable condition as could account for the evil, and the only source he could think of to which it could at all be ascribed was the continuance of the agitation in reference to the land question. He cordially agreed with his noble Friend behind him (Lord Lifford), that the Irish Catholic priesthood discouraged in every way the secret and illegal societies; but he regretted to find that they had not at the same time discountenanced the land agitation. Parliament had already gone as far as it could go for the protection of the rights of the cultivators of the soil in Ireland; and the tenant-right question, if it now meant anything in that country, could only mean that the tenants should continue to hold their land without the payment of any rent. He entirely approved of that portion of the present Bill which enabled the Lord Lieutenant to send down extra police to any disturbed district, and to impose upon the inhabitants the cost of their maintenance. He believed that the enforcement of that provision would have a considerable tendency to prevent the continued perpetration of crime; but he doubted the expediency of keeping in force for an indefinite period that other enactment, by which the Lord Lieutenant was enabled to prohibit the carrying of arms without a licence. That provision, like all other exceptional legislation, would be all the more effective if it were reserved for extreme cases only.


said, it was the Dublin officials who baffled inquiry; but if he were allowed to name the man the necessary information would soon be forthcoming. He hoped the Government would insist upon having these Returns.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed.

THE DUKE of NEWCASTLE presented, A Bill to authorize the Completion, after His Royal Highness Albert Edward Prince of Wales shall attain the Age of Twenty-one Years, of Arrangements commenced during his Minority, under the Provisions of an Act passed in the Session of Parliament held in the Seventh and Eighth Years of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, intituled 'An Act to enable the Council of His Royal Highness Albert Edward Prince of Wales to sell and exchange Lands and enfranchise Copyholds Parcel of the Possessions of the Duchy of Cornwall, to purchase other Lands, and for other Purposes.

Bill read 1a, to be printed; and to be read 2a on Tuesday the 17th instant [No. 97].

House adjourned at half-past Eight o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.