HL Deb 25 February 1867 vol 185 cc908-19

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the second reading of this Bill I do not feel it necessary to enter at any very considerable length into the reasons which make it necessary for Her Majesty's Government to apply to Parliament for a continuance of the extraordinary powers with which the Executive is now invested. The state of affairs in Ireland is so well known, and the circumstances have been so plainly brought before us by recent events, that I feel I ought rather to make an apology to your Lordships for the Government having held out in the Speech from the Throne the delusive hope that we should have been able at an early period during the present Session to return to the ordinary course of the law. In asking your Lordships to renew the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act in Ireland, we ask to continue a policy which was adopted by the late Government, which was accepted unanimously by Parliament, which has been continued now for nearly a year, and of which, under recent events, we feel it an imperative duty to propose the continuance for the shortest possible period, during which you will be able to judge whether it will be necessary to continue it for a further period. I am sure your Lordships will agree with the Motion I have to make, and not refuse the Government a power which in the present state of Ireland they believe to be necessary. Indeed, it is hardly necessary to apologize for the Bill, inasmuch as the House of Commons unanimously—without a single dissentient voice—have agreed to the continuance of the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. It is, no doubt, my duty to show to your Lordships that the powers given to us under the Bill of last year have not been exercised in an arbitrary or oppressive manner. On the contrary, it has I been the object of the Government to relax as much as possible the severity of these powers; and I may add that, so far from the measure being regarded as arbitrary and oppressive by well-disposed persons they look upon it as one which affords them a protection, of which they stand in the greatest need, and a relief from very serious difficulties. If we had to deal with the native resident population of Ireland, a measure of this kind would be absolutely unnecessary; for, although they are easily prejudiced—although they will listen to anything that holds out a prospect of excitement—I believe that in the main they are thoroughly and entirely loyal. I will take the opportunity of quoting a very remarkable charge addressed a few days ago to the Grand Jury of the county of Limerick by Mr. Justice Fitzgerald. The learned Judge said— I may congratulate you on the fact that this county, with its quarter of a million of inhabitants, may compare advantageously as regards crime with any other in Her Majesty's dominions. None of the cases which are to be submitted to you call for any special observations from me. It seems, therefore, that the county is in a most peaceful state, life is secure, property is respected, and the law is enforced against offenders. Under ordinary circumstances it would be my pleasing duty to dismiss you with the congratulation I have addressed to you on the peaceful state of the county. It is, however, my duty further to observe that it has been found necessary by the Government to propose a further extension of the extraordinary powers with which Parliament has in its wisdom invested the Executive. You may agree with me in thinking that there is no cause for real apprehension for the safety of the country; but it is difficult to exaggerate the evils that the state of insecurity which has been produced by the acts of foreign incendiaries has brought upon the country. The great mass of the population is loyal at heart, but there is a feeling of insecurity—property is impaired in value, industry of all kinds is discouraged, and people are flying from the country, we may think without any just cause. I hope, gentlemen, that I am not exceeding the duties of my position when I say that, though the Government may employ repressive measures, yet the preventive and curative remedies are in your hands. The law which with its ordinary powers is administered by you as magistrates can do a great deal towards curing the ills of the country. You can do much by your magic presence. There should be no panic; each magistrate should stay at his post, and do his duty in his own neighbourhood. The clergy of all denominations are with us. The hierarchy of all Churches have denounced this insane and wretched movement. Every owner of property, every man of education or intelligence, every representative of industry, and even every small farmer is opposed to it. I failed to perceive, when I was judicially engaged in those matters, that anyone belonging to any of those classes was engaged in the conspiracy—none but men who have nothing to lose, aided by foreign incendiaries. Of course, when I alluded to the extraordinary powers which have been conferred upon the Government, I referred to the Suspension of the Habeas Corups Act, which I, for one, regard with approval, while I sincerely regret the circumstances which have rendered necessary a measure so at variance with the principles on which our Constitution is founded. All classes in the country are deeply interested in the preservation of peace and order, and in the removal of the circumstances which have made us a byword in Europe, and I have endeavoured to show that this result must be attained by our own exertions. I may conclude by saying that I believe that this Fenian conspiracy is really as abortive and unsubstantial as the ridiculous attempt at an insurrection which has recently taken place in an adjoining county. Now, my Lords, there is not a single word of that address, coming as it docs from so impartial a quarter, to which I do not give my hearty and entire concurrence. It has been asked how is it, if the people of Ireland are so loyal as they are represented to he—if they have so little sympathy with the parties to this miserable insurrection—that none of the persons engaged in this rising have been arrested and brought to justice by the peasantry? I think the answer is very simple. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley) and other noble Lords who are listening to me know that if there be one feeling in the Irish mind stronger than another it is hatred of the name of informer, and however atrocious the crime, however great the delinquency may be, the notion of the people is that if they came forward, brought the guilty to justice, and gave evidence in support of the law, they would be taunted with the name of "informer." They confound the two opposite characters—that of a person who comes forward to give evidence against those with whom he has been associated, and that of a person who appears as one of the public to bear testimony against a criminal in a court of justice. That is a singular feeling no doubt; but it is an universal one throughout Ireland; and therefore the fact that the people do not assist in bringing disaffected persons to justice does not prove they are themselves disloyal. Now with regard to the expectations held out in the Queen's Speech, as to our being able to dispense with these extraordinary powers. I will quote a few figures to show that the course of proceedings had been tending to a general restoration of tranquillity. When Her Majesty's Government came into office the number of prisoners in confinement under the Suspension Act was 330; by the 1st of September the number was reduced to 286, and subsequently it fell to seventy-three. The warrants issued for arrests were in September one, in October one, and in November five. But at the end of November fresh excitement was manifested. There was a collapse of Fenianism in the United States, and I presume it was apprehended that the imposture would soon come to an end, that the dupes were beginning to be disabused, and that it was necessary for the lenders to take some active steps to replenish the Fenian exchequer by drawing more money out of the ignorant and credulous Irish people. Every day there were reports of the landing of Stephens and the setting out of an invading army which was to come from America, and it was held out that before Christmas arrived Ireland would be in a state of general insurrection. These mendacious assertions had their effect upon the minds of excitable and credulous persons; so that in December it was found necessary to issue ninety-seven warrants; which were followed by seventeen in January, and nine in February, making a total of 130 from the month of September. The renewal of excitement led to an universal outburst of loyalty throughout the country, Magistrates, gentlemen, farmers, and persons of all opinions came forward, expressing their readiness and determination to assist the Government in putting down any outbreak in case persons were insane enough to attempt it. The Lord Lieutenant, of course, accepted with thanks those offers of assistance in case the Government were unable to maintain their own; but, at the same time, expressed, on the part of the Government, his conviction that the powers with which the law armed them would prove sufficient, without the active co-operation of the loyal inhabitants. Fortified by these strongly-expressed sentiments of disapproval and disgust of the attempts made to disturb the tranquillity of the country, Lord Naas, on returning to town before Christmas, did express a strong opinion that we should be able to do what we all unanimously regarded as desirable—namely, to allow the Suspension Act to expire, and to rely upon the ordinary law for preserving the peace in Ireland. Whether, owing to the expectations created by the announcement of the speedy expiring of the Act, or to a belief that the Act had actually expired, certain it is that immediately after that declaration there was a renewal of excitement. Your Lordships need not be reminded of what took place at Chester—an absurd attempt, but it undoubtedly did give a certain stimulus to the disaffected in Ireland. Then came that most ridiculous rising at Cahirciveen; which was, nevertheless, sufficient to throw the whole country into confusion, to disturb its tranquillity, and to render necessary movements of troops and constabulary. But the moment that the movement showed such a front as the Government could deal with, it collapsed into the absurd and ridiculous position from which it never ought to have emerged. There is not the smallest doubt that the Government have ample powers under the ordinary law to deal with any attempt at an outbreak; but, at the same time, there are, as we know, a number of persons from foreign countries—and I am sorry to say a number of persons from this country also—who are endeavouring by every means to stimulate their dupes in Ireland, and who occasionally go over to that country and venture their own persons in furtherance of that object. It is to protect the Irish people against the inroads and assaults of these persons that we propose what in ordinary cases would be considered an arbitary measure; but which, on the present occasion, is regarded by all the well-disposed as a necessary precaution against the attempts of persona who really have no interest in the country, and whose only object is to create disturbance for the sake of disturbance, or are actuated by still baser motives. I believe that the late outbreak, inconsiderable and trivial as it was, might have been more serious but for the information we had previously received, and for the means which we possessed under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of arresting at once the leaders of the intended outbreak. It is in the power which it confers of arresting these leaders, and thus of checking a movement before it can produce any effect upon the population, that the benefits of the Habeas Corpus Suspension principally exists. Under the noble Marquess now at the head of the Irish Government (the Marquess of Abercorn), I am confident that this power will be administered—as it was administered by the noble Earl lately at the head of that Government—with discretion and firmness, and, at the same time, with temper and moderation. I believe the proposed renewal for a short time of this Act will be hailed in Ireland with all but unanimous approval, as it has been already received in the House of Commons. I hope your Lordships will confirm the decision at which that House has arrived, by assenting unanimously to the second reading of this measure.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Early of Derby.)


My Lords, I am quite ready to give my cordial concurrence to the proposal of the noble Earl. That Her Majesty's Government were reluctant to propose the renewal of these powers is evident from the passage in the Queen's Speech upon the subject. But the facts which have lately occurred are not only sufficient to justify, they have made it incumbent on Her Majesty's Government to take this course. Whatever may be the present state of the law, and whatever may be the future improvements made in that law, the first duty of the Government is to give security to life and property; and without this security neither the present nor improved laws can promote the prosperity of Ireland. The noble Earl has stated, and it is quite true, that speculation has been practised on the credulity of the people of Ireland; that this is not a spontaneous outbreak, but has been excited by those who came from abroad. I must say I have arrived at the conclusion that there never were baser motives on the part of any persons undertaking to be rebels and insurgents than those which impelled the instigators of the late outbreak. In the United States of America, more especially, great sums have been collected on the pretence that Ireland was about to be freed, and that the Irish Republic was about to be established; and advantage is taken of the panic created, at one time in Ireland, at another time in Canada, to make fresh demands upon the unfortunate dupes who have given their money, hoping that this great revolution is about to be accomplished, but in reality only for the purpose of filling the pockets of those who practise on their credulity. It would appear, from a passage in the Message of the President of the United States, that the Government of that country have gone even beyond what international duty prompts, and have endeavoured to interfere with the course of justice in the case of persons participating in these insurrectionary movements. For I find the President using this language— Some of our citizens who, it was alleged, were engaged in the expedition, were captured, and have been brought to trial, as for a capital offence, in the province of Canada. Judgment and sentence of death have been pronounced against some, while others have been acquitted. Fully believing the maxim of Government, that severity of civil punishment for misguided persons who have engaged in revolutionary attempts which have disastrously failed is unsound and unwise, such representations have been made to the British Government, in behalf of the convicted persons, as, being sustained by an enlightened and humane judgment, will, it is hoped, induce in their cases an exercise of clemency and a judicious amnesty of all who were engaged in the movement. Counsel has been employed by the Government to defend the citizens of the United States on trial for capital offences in Canada; and a discontinuance of the prosecutions which were instituted in the courts of the United States against those who took part in the expedition has been directed. My Lord, it will be quite right to show mercy and to exercise clemency whenever those qualities can properly and wisely be exhibited. But I do not think that any foreign Government should put forward appeals for mercy and clemency on behalf of those who have made it evident that a mercenary expedition was their only object in venturing to Ireland with a view of exciting the subjects of Her Majesty, who are loyal, to rise in rebellion against her throne, to disturb all the rela- tions of society, and to break out into open rebellion. Her Majesty's Government, in awarding punishment, will, no doubt, take into consideration the degrees of guilt on the part of those who may be convicted, and in applying to each case its measure of punishment will extend such mercy as they feel can safely be done. But I must say that there never was more misplaced sympathy, there never was a more unjustifiable demand upon the Government of one country by another than to extend a complete amnesty to men who, having left their native land, and obtained a settlement and a means of succeeding by their industry in another country, returned with these detestable notions to invade Her Majesty's dominions. The noble Earl opposite touched on one subject which was rather painful—namely, the disposition which exists, and has existed for a very long time, among the people of Ireland always to give their sympathies against the law, and not in favour of the law—not, as in this country, to confide in the just administration of the law by those charged with that duty, but rather to sympathize with those placed at the bar as defendants, and to refuse to give evidence to convict those persons of the crimes of which they have been guilty. This is a very painful consideration. I do not wish to discuss the matter now; but whenever the time comes that the Government think it wise that this Act should expire, the consideration, of course, is one that will not be overlooked by them. In the present instance, as I have said, the first duty of the Government is to give security to life and property, and I do not doubt they will exercise the powers now asked for with discretion, and will consent to dispense with them as soon as possible. I therefore support the Motion of the noble Earl.


My Lords, before the Bill is read a second time I wish to make one or two observations. I fully agree with what the noble Earl (Earl Russell) has just stated, that, however painful the necessity may be, it is absolutely necessary to continue the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland. I should possibly not have troubled your Lordships with any remarks but that, allusion having been made to the advice which was given to the Queen as to the non-renewal of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, I desire to call the noble Earl's attention to a statement made by the Irish Attorney General on the occasion of his election for Galway, which I confess somewhat diminishes my confidence in the advice which was tendered upon that question. It is quite possible that the right hon. and learned Gentleman may have been misrepresented, and, if so, I desire that my remarks may be considered as inapplicable to him. But in the report, which I take from The Freeman's Journal, I find these words— He came before them as Her Majesty's Attorney General in this kingdom, and he was proud to announce that upon his advice and responsibility the Executive of this country had come to the conclusion it was safe—that it was more than safe—that the people of Ireland should live under a free Constitution; and that measures which he supposed were necessary for the public welfare, although personally he might have had his doubt even of that—were no longer needed—that the time had now come when it could go forth that the loyalty and conduct of the preponderating majority of the people of Ireland were such that they were not to be kept at the mercy of a suspended Constitution. The point to which I wish to call attention is that the Irish Attorney General, holding a position of peculiar responsibility with regard to matters of this kind, should have stated—if he did so state—in public that he had his doubts as to the advisability of previous suspensions of the Habeas Corpus Act. I venture to think that whatever difference of opinion there may be now upon the subject, at the time the suspension of the Act was resolved upon Parliament was almost, if not quite, unanimous in that resolution. A gentleman, holding the position of Attorney General for Ireland, must necessarily be held more strictly responsible for the words he uses than if he were merely an independent Member of Parliament; and, knowing something of the Irish people, I must say that I think the observations which I have quoted would have anything but a good effect. The Attorney General went on to speak of the number of persons arrested and released; but without wishing to detract from the credit due to the present Irish Government in having been able to release a number of prisoners, I must say that many of those originally arrested were released before the late Government left office. 756 persons had been arrested up to the time that I left Ireland, and 330 or 339 were in custody when the present Government came into office; so that no less than 417 had been released under my direction. Therefore, though the present Government have acted very wisely in continuing the process of release initiated by us, I think it right to state that the Attorney General has not stated the case quite accurately. With respect to the recent most ridiculous outbreaks, I wish to say that I rejoice exceedingly that my anticipations of widespread sympathy with the leaders of any outbreak have been falsified. I trust that the total break-down of the scheme will open the eyes of the infatuated people who have recklessly spent their money and endangered their liberty in a perfectly futile attempt to upset the Queen's Government in Ireland. Before quitting this subject it would be unjust not to give due credit to the present Irish Government and the local authorities for the promptness and vigour which they showed upon the first signs of a disturbance; their conduct will, no doubt, have a marked effect upon the disaffected, and clearly show them the fruitlessness of attempting to carry out their designs. I am glad to find that a clause has been inserted in the present Bill providing that those apprehended on the warrant of the Lord Lieutenant shall be treated as untried prisoners. This is an extremely just and necessary provision; but it must not be supposed that cither the late or present Government, as far as I know, have neglected their duty in this respect. It is true that when the Act was first suspended a large number of apprehensions immediately took place, and for a short time prisoners were not all treated in certain local prisons in the way we approved; but as soon as any fact of the kind came to my knowledge, I took immediate steps to remedy the evil of removing these prisoners, and in Mountjoy Prison, which is under the direct control of the Government, their treatment was quite satisfactory.


The noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) was good enough to give me notice of his intention to ask the question he has put with reference to the Attorney General for Ireland, and I felt it my duty to ascertain from him how far the report of his address was correct. The learned Gentleman, in reply, states that the report in The Freeman's Journal was written in the third person, and therefore naturally conveyed a less perfect report of what was actually said than if it had been given in the first person. The Attorney General informs me that the language reported in the Irish Times or some other paper was more accurate, and he states that in congratulating the country upon the probability of being able to dispense with the operation of this Act, he certainly said, "Personally, I may have had my doubts as to the necessity of that measure." The learned Gentleman says that this observation referred to a conversation he had with the noble Earl opposite at the time of the first introduction of the measure, when he sat in the other House as a private Member for Galway, The noble Earl having consulted him with regard to the state of the country, he said that, as far as he knew, no disloyalty existed in the district with which he was connected, and that he did not think at that time the measure was needed. I believe he expressed this opinion very freely to the noble Earl; and he thinks that opinion, so far as the western districts of Ireland were concerned, was perfectly just, for out of the 752 persons arrested, only twenty of them were farmers and thirty-five of them farmers' sons, while 441 were tradesmen, shopkeepers, clerks, and commercial assistants; and his opinion he considers to be confirmed by the charge of Mr. Justice Fitzgerald at Limerick. It is evident from this that the Attorney General wished to convey that at that time the general character of the county of Galway was not such as to need the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland, whatever the rest of the country might require. Of course, he did not wish it to be inferred that, in his opinion, the Act had not proved beneficial; he simply desired to express his great satisfaction at the probability of being able to dispense with it on an early day. Unfortunately, that speech was delivered a few days before the outbreaks at Chester and Kells had taken place; otherwise I think his remarks would not have been mistaken for anything more important than the record of an opinion he had previously expressed to the noble Earl who had done him the honour to consult him. With regard to the remarks made upon the Message of the President of the United States, I regret that I am obliged to discuss the subject. The Correspondence on that subject will, as soon as it is printed, be laid upon the table of the House, and noble Lords will see that while we have not disputed what can fairly be claimed by the Government of the United States, we at the same time have not admitted the right of any foreign Government to interfere with the principles which guide us in the administra- tion of justice; and that while, on the one hand, the just wishes of the United States have not been neglected, the independence and the honour of the tribunals of this country have not been in the slightest degree sacrificed.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly: Committee negatived;Standing Orders Nos. 37. and 38. considered(according to Order), and dispensed with; Bill read 3aa, and passed.