HL Deb 31 March 1870 vol 200 cc970-82

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, "That the House; do now resolve itself itself into Committee."— (The Lord Dufferin.)


said, he wished to call the attention of the House to a matter which he considered of great importance. He had not the least desire to stop the progress of the Bill; but he must express surprise at the numerous Amendments of which the Government had given notice. In his opinion, it would have been far more desirable had the measure been carefully revised before it left the House of Commons, so that their Lordships might have passed it without alteration. That, however, was the business of the Government, not his. There was a point to which he wished to call attention, and which he was astonished had not been noticed in the other House in the debate on the second reading; but which had an important bearing on the objects and the carrying out of the Bill—namely, the machinery, by which it was to act— that was to say, the constabulary and magistracy of Ireland. Nobody Lad a greater respect than himself for the general conduct and bearing of the constabulary; but its fault was that its organization and constitution made it, not a police, but a military force; the consequence was that it was utterly inefficient in preventing or detecting crime. He thought this was a point on which they ought to have some explanation from the Government. The constabulary force in Ireland was commanded by two honourable and gallant officers, than whom there could be no more worthy members of their profession; but they had not that cognizance of crime, or of Ireland, or of the Irish people which would enable them so to direct the operations of the force as to deal with crime. Indeed, the force was the derision rather than the dread of the population where any portion of the people were disposed to violence and misconduct. The Irish people were sharply censured the other night, and a noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) spoke of their lower scale of civilization; but he would remind his noble Friend that the degree of civilization of a people did not depend merely on respect for life, for some nations unquestionably highly civilized retained customs which were justly condemned by us as barbarous. Moreover, protection from the Government was the condition of allegiance; and how could the Irish people be expected to entertain proper respect for the law if the law did not protect them? They refused to come forward and give evidence, because if they did so, they knew they would become the victims of those whom the Government had not proper means of restraining. Everybody in Ireland was aware that the impunity with which crime was committed was mainly due to the inefficient state of the constabulary, whose time was too largely taken up with military drill, and with matters wholly unconnected with the prevention of crime. No doubt, as in the London police, it was an advantage that they should be drilled to understand certain military movements, and be able to act against a considerable force; but there was no need that they should be made to move with the precision of the Guards; and it would be as reasonable to expect the Household troops to protect the metropolis against thieves and rob- bers as to expect the Irish constabulary, when so much occupied with military duties, to keep down crime and combination. He was informed, on good authority, that the code of regulations issued to the constabulary of Ireland consisted of not less than 1,300 sections, in addition to which 240 special orders, some comprising several sections, had of late years been issued. All these, as well as a manual of duties, the constables were examined in, and were expected to have at their fingers' ends; and they were, morever, expected to have a perfect acquaintance with all the particulars of The Hue and Cry, published twice a week. They were not allowed, moreover, except when on special duty collecting statistics, or serving papers, to leave the barracks except in couples; and if sent on special messages, they were obliged to account for every minute of their time, and dared not stop on the road to procure information, no matter whom they might meet, or what suspicious circumstances they might observe. Not being allowed to linger in any shop or place of resort, they were precluded from forming any acquaintance with the population, and, of course, no man or woman, however desirous of giving information, would confide secrets to constables who were strangers to them. They were ordered, moreover, to report only to their superior officers, and did not communicate with magistrates or other persons who might give them assistance. How did that efficient body, the metropolitan police, get information? Why, it was obvious that efficient detectives or constables must frequent the company of very bad characters; and, though he did not say that the whole body of constables should have unlimited freedom of action, experienced and trustworthy members of the Irish force might surely be allowed greater latitude. He was convinced they would not often abuse such liberty; but that, on the contrary, they would employ it with great advantage in the detection or prevention of crime. He regretted, too, to say that men who had been twenty years or more in the force, and whose services had become very valuable, were sometimes dismissed for the most trivial faults of mere discipline. It was said that a new detective department was to be established; but who was to organize it, and of whom was it to consist? It would be absurd to send the members of the present half-military force to act as detectives, for their real character would immediately become known. The Government might hope, perhaps, by such an announcement to frighten the population; but, without a proper police force, Acts of Parliament would have very little effect. He was unfortunately old enough to recollect the existence of an earlier and very differently constituted force, and instead of comparing the number of crimes at present with those which occurred at former periods, it should rather be asked how many persons were then brought to trial, convicted, and, he was sorry to say, executed, through the exertions of constables and of country gentlemen acting as magistrates. There were, at that time, probably, not in Ireland a dozen stipendiary magistrates, yet the police were, in many cases, very efficient. He hoped there would be an assurance from the Government that something would be done to improve the constabulary; and he also wished to know whether the justices would have the same special powers as the stipendiary magistrates—for it would appear invidious to make any distinction between them?


said, he was not prepared, though the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanriearde) had been good enough to give notice to a Member of the Government of the question he intended to raise, to enter into a defence of the present constitution of the Irish constabulary. This was by no means the first time that the suggestion had been offered that if the organization of that force were less of a military character it would be more efficient in the detection, as opposed to the repression, of crime; but the fact that the matter must have come under the consideration of successive Governments, and that they had hitherto refrained from making such a change, was a proof that there was much to be said on the other side. He did not think, however, that on the present occasion it was necessary to address any special remarks to that portion of the subject, every Government, after due consideration of the matter, having hitherto refrained from making any alteration in the formation of the Irish constabulary. With regard to the force being com- manded by officers who had served in the Army, the same qualification attached to the excellent officers in command of the London force, upon whom the noble Marquess had passed a deserved eulogium. Moreover, though undoubtedly crime in Ireland had to a lamentable and perhaps extraordinary degree baffled attempts at detection, the constabulary had shown great activity, and in many cases had succeeded in discovering its authors. For example, the person accused of shooting at Captain Lambert was arrested through the instrumentality of a member of the force. As had been already stated in "another place," great exertions had for some time past been made to establish an efficient detective force. To go into detail on this point would obviously defeat the object which the Government had in view; but he was able to state that such a force, which was the very organization which the noble Marquess appeared to desiderate, had actually been constructed, on whose operations the Government confidently relied in assisting them to repress crime. With regard to the summary powers conferred on magistrates, he believed they would only be exerted when the Lord Lieutenant had specially proclaimed, on account of the existence of additional degree of criminality, a district already proclaimed under a former Act. The presence of a stipendiary magistrate was required; because, as was well known to everyone acquainted with the administration of justice in Ireland, this was a great assistance and relief to ordinary justices of the peace, who might otherwise be disinclined to assume the responsibility of summary powers. The proposal was that under certain conditions, and within a specified area, these powers would be exercised by two or more justices, provided one of them were a stipendiary magistrate.

House in Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 10, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 11 (In proclaimed districts no dealer shall sell gunpowder but to a licensed dealer, or to a person licensed to keep arms).


proposed an Amendment, excepting Justices of the peace, persons in Her Majesty's naval or military service, or in the Coast Guard service, or in the service of the Revenue, or in the police, or Royal Irish Constabulary, or special constables.


asked whether it was necessary that justices of the peace should be authorized to sell gunpowder?


explained that this provision had always been inserted in previous Acts, in order to relieve persons holding office under the Crown from the necessity of applying for licences.

Clause amended and agreed to.

Clauses 12 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 15 (Power to issue warrant to search in proclaimed districts for documents in handwriting of persons suspected of writing threatening letters).


said, he had to move an Amendment, which, having to search for the words of a former statute, he had not been able to place upon the Paper, extending the power of search to the houses of persons at whose instigation or on whose behalf such a letter was believed to have been written. It frequently happened that the actual writer was the least guilty person. Very often it was a child, and, as a general rule, it was the National Schoolmaster who thought it his duty to write threatening letters. Surely the house of the principal rather than that of the mere amanuensis should be searched. He proposed to insert the words "or at the instigation of or on behalf of any person."


said, that having only been able to glance at the noble Lord's Amendment in manuscript as he was entering the House, he had been unable to form any opinion of its real scope. The Amendments which the Government deemed necessary, owing to the somewhat rapid way in which the Bill passed through the other House, had been carefully considered. He thought it very possible that the proposed Amendment would give rise to great inconvenience in carrying out the powers given by the clause.


pointed out that the Amendment would not effect the object desired by the noble Lord (Lord Dunsany), there being in the latter part of the clause, "any document or documents in his handwriting," which would be the handwriting of the instigator, who wrote nothing.


replied that this might be modified in harmony with his Amendment. Numerous cases of writing threatening letters occurred in his district, and he should never trouble his head about the actual writer, but only about the person whom he knew to be the principal.


suggested that the clause as it stood was sufficient. If a person instigated another to write a threatening letter, the act of writing it would be held to be the act of the person instigating it, on the legal maxim—qui facit per alium facit per se.

Amendment withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 16 to 18, inclusive, agreed to.


proposed a new clause, enabling the Lord Lieutenant to recall all existing licences to keep arms. This, he explained, would avoid the invidiousness of revoking the licence of a particular person.

Clause agreed to, and added to the Bill.

Clauses 19 to 22, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 23 (Power to Lord Lieutenant, by order, to close public-houses in districts specially proclaimed.)


desired to urge upon the Government the propriety of extending this power to local magistrates, who might be required to report such orders to the Lord Lieutenant, in order that they might be confirmed or rescinded. At present, the only control over these houses possessed by magistrates was the power once a year of refusing their licences. In his own petty sessional district the Bench gave a unanimous refusal in the case of a house where a Ribbon lodge was held. The occupier, however, appealed to the quarter sessions, and unfortunately, none of the magistrates being present —which he admitted was a fault—the county barrister quashed the decision. In a subsequent correspondence the barrister convinced him that he had acted quite legally, but added that the law was perfectly wrong. He thought the magistrates might also be empowered, under the same safeguard, to suspend the licence of a house habitually resorted to by reputed Ribbonmen or other bad characters; and he knew of no discretion which would be more beneficially exercised. He would propose the Amendment, though he would not press it against the wish of the Government, that the magistrates in special session, in any proclaimed district, might, subject to the sanction of the Lord Lieutenant, order any public-house to be closed at certain hours.


said, he must ask his noble Friend not to press the Amendment. The clause was an extremely severe one; and, unless exercised with the utmost discretion, and by persons of the highest responsibility, would bring great odium on the Government and the magistracy. Closing a whisky shop was, in fact, destroying a man's trade, and eventually, perhaps, compassing his ruin; and local magistrates might not have so deep a sense of responsibility as the Executive.


would not press his proposal, if the Government thought the magistrates were not to be trusted with this power.

Amendment withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 (Power to justices to punish persons charged with certain offences).


expressed an opinion that magistrates, instead of being allowed too little discretion, were, by this clause, allowed too much, for they were authorized to deal summarily with offences little short of treason—such, for instance, as persons assembling for training and military exercises. He had never known Irish magistrates err on the side of severity, though often on that of lenity; and, considering the pressure which, in many parts, might be brought to bear upon them — though he was ashamed to make such an admission— these offences should not be treated so lightly.


said, that this was a very important part of the Bill. Its object was to enable magistrates to convict summarily in cases where it would be difficult to obtain verdicts from juries. It was hoped that the effect of the clause would be to break up roaming bands and assemblages at public-houses. It was to be observed that power was given to the local magistrates to send any case to a jury if they thought it right to do so.


said, his noble Friend (Lord Dunsany) had pointed out the fact that this clause gave magistrates too large a discretion, enabling them to be lenient on the ground of expediency, and he (Lord Denman) might add without conferring on them the power of binding over to keep the peace, even those whom they might think deserving of punishment.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 26 to 28, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 29 (Newspapers containing treasonable or seditious matters, &c. forfeited to Her Majesty).


remarked that, after the unanimity which their Lordships had shown, it was almost distasteful to hint at too great severity; but he thought they would acknowledge that such extreme powers over the whole Press of Ireland should only be granted to the Executive as a dernier ressort, and he wished to know whether this had yet been arrived at. His noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in his speech on moving the second reading of the Bill, said that there was an abundance of seditious articles in the Irish press, but he only quoted two passages—one being copied from an American paper, and the other discussing, partly in joke and partly in earnest, the best use of a man, whether he should be hanged or not. Now, the statement of the noble Lord and general belief on the subject would appear to persons outside Parliament a very weak ground for taking action. He was anxious to know whether any steps had been taken under the present law to deal with seditious articles, and whether the Law Officers of the Crown had been consulted on the question. In short he desired to know what it was that had induced the Government to make these clauses part of the measure. He did not agree with noble Lords who had blamed the Government for not introducing this measure sooner; for even if he had less confidence in them than he actually had, yet their motives being admittedly honest, and their measure being approved, they were surely the best judges of the time for introducing them. On this head he had no quarrel with them. He was aware that their Lordships were not favoured much with information, for many Papers were presented to the other House and sent to the newspapers which were not communicated to their Lordships: but he was not aware of any information before the House, or in the public prints, which showed that it was necessary to put such new and such large powers into the hands of the Executive. He agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Dufferin) that it was humiliating to think that so large a portion of the population was incapable of enjoying those free institutions which were the admiration of the world, and were supposed to be essential to the well-being of the country.


said, he thought his noble Friend (Lord Dufferin) in introducing the measure, had made a very complete statement, though no doub the had abstained from troubling their Lordships with matters already too notorious, and contented himself with narrating a few examples and reading a moderate quantity of extracts from the newspapers. All their Lordships were acquainted with the character of certain portions of the Press in Ireland, and, if necessary, the Government could produce baskets full of extracts showing its seditious character. As to the question of his noble Friend (Lord Lyveden), prosecution under the present law had not been attended with success; mere imprisonment of the reputed publisher or proprietor did not stop the publication, which often became more violent after a prosecution.


said, he could not blame the Government for not having instituted prosecutions against the Press, because he knew the difficulty and uncertainty of such prosecutions. Even after a successful prosecution and imprisonment of the proprietors or writers of a seditious paper, there were frequently no means, except a second prosecution, of putting a stop to equally seditious articles from the same paper. Imprisonment also under such circumstances carried with it a certain prestige of martyrdom. It was quite impossible for anyone who was not acquainted with the facts to understand how the lower classes in Ireland were flooded with seditious articles. The greater portion of the lower classes in the South and West of Ireland read scarcely any other papers but seditious ones; and these papers were often written with great talent, and were calculated to do a great deal of harm. He thought that some such enactment as the present was absolutely necessary, and that without it they could never hope for the future quiet and prosperity of the country.


said, the censures passed upon Irish newspapers ought not to be confined to what was called the national Press; there were other papers quite as bad in their mode of treating the condition of Ireland during the last few years, and they had greater effect and were less excusable, because they professed all the time to be friends and supporters of the Government. He trusted the Government, notwithstanding this affectation of support, would deal impartially in the matter. He had been much amused on reading an article in one of these journals urging the people to defeat the Bill and take care the Press did not suffer, by abstaining from all outrages and keeping the country so quiet that the Lord Lieutenant would have no occasion to proclaim it. That was excellent advice— but why had it not been given during last summer or spring?

Amendments made,


moved the following addition to the clause:— Where after the passing of this Act any newspaper printed elsewhere than in Ireland is published or circulated in Ireland, and contains any such engraving, matter, expressions, or incitements as aforesaid, all copies of such newspaper, wherever found, shall be forfeited to Her Majesty.


asked, if the clause as amended would enable the Government to seize The Times, if it reprinted any extracts from seditious Irish, journals which its correspondents might send over in their letters?


apprehended that nothing would justify the seizure in England under an Act applying only to Ireland.


asked whether the subsequent numbers of a paper, which had once been seized would also be liable to seizure?


replied in the negative. No copies of a paper would be liable to seizure except those in which a seditious article actually appears.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 30 to 37, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 38 (Power to grand jury to present compensation, to be paid in certain cases of murder or maiming).


observed that in small villages difficulty might be experienced in serving the notices mentioned in the clause, and therefore he suggested that in such places the requisite notices should be served upon two justices of the peace in petty sessions.


said, he had no objection to the clause being amended in the manner suggested by the noble Earl.


expressed his regret that Her Majesty's Ministers had not maintained the clause in the form in which it was originally brought into Parliament, under which it would have been the interest of every person to preserve the peace.


said, that as the clause stood it might so happen that the person to whom the injury was done would have to pay the whole or nearly the whole of the compensation, because he might be the owner of the whole or nearly the whole of the hundred or barony. Such a case had actually occurred in the county of Tipperary.


said, that two cases had occurred, in each of which nearly the whole of the compensation would have fallen on one person.


said, the charge was put on the hundred not because it was assumed that all the inhabitants were abettors in the crime, but because it was assumed that they had been negligent in the adoption of precautionary measures. He thought therefore that if nearly the whole of the hundred belonged to one individual it was right he should pay the great bulk of the compensation.


suggested that, perhaps, it might be better to extend the area of the compensation, so as to make it include the whole county.


said, that as the clause was in the nature of a penal enactment, as well as one providing for the payment of compensation, he thought it would not be well to enlarge the area, because if they did so he thought its operation would be rather unfair, especially in large counties.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedules agreed to, with verbal Amendments.

House resumed.

Standing Orders, Nos. 37. and 38. considered (according to Order) and dispensed with.

Amendments reported.

Clause 15 (Power to issue warrants to search in proclaimed districts for documents in handwriting of persons suspected of writing threatening letters).


proposed the omission of the words "in his handwriting" before "documents," as those words would unnecessarily hamper the operation of the clause.


said, the object of the clause was, by finding documents in a man's handwriting in his house, to obtain the means of ascertaining, by a comparison of the handwriting, whether he had written, a particular threatening letter. If, therefore, they omitted the words "in his handwriting," they would drift into the doctrine of general warrants—a very grave matter; for the search would then be a general one, directed to see whether they could not find out evidence of any offence.

After a few words from Earl GRANVILLE, the Earl of COURTOWN, and Lord CHELMSFORD,

Amendment withdrawn.

Further Amendments made; Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and sent to the Commons.