§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
My Lords, the Bill, to which I am about to ask your Lordships to give a second reading, has come up from the Commons. It applies only to Ireland; but it exercises an important bearing indirectly upon the interests of the inhabitants of the rest of the Kingdom. I freely admit that a Bill of this description, affecting only a part of the Kingdom, and promoted in both Houses by unofficial Members, is liable to some suspicion. It is not quite unnatural that an apprehension might arise that the flavour of a job might lurk in its provisions, and that it might be intended to exonerate those who are affected by it from the performance of a disagreeable duty, or to release them 368 from an unpleasant liability. I am happy to be able to assure your Lordships that in recommending you to give this Bill a second reading I am not called upon to justify any such questionable proceedings. This Bill will not enable the people of Ireland to get rid of any duty or any obligation to which they are now subject. The Bill is purely an enabling Bill, and its purpose is to give to the people of Ireland a legal right to qualify themselves, equally with their fellow-citizens in Great Britain, for that which all must allow to be the first duty of loyal subjects—namely, the defence of their Sovereign and their country from foreign invasion. My Lords, the Bill comes up to your Lordships with the unanimous approval of the other House. It emanated in that House from the Opposition, and was assented to by Her Majesty's Government. It is much desired, in Ireland, and there is remarkable unanimity in its support by the Representatives of that country. It is a measure which will be highly appreciated by all classes. I have good reason for saying so, for I have the honour of being the President of a Society in Dublin for promoting the object of this Bill, and that Society embraces persons of all classes, creeds, and political opinions. It is not necessary that I should go minutely through the provisions of the measure, because they are identical with the Act of 1863, by which the organization of the Volunteers of Great Britain is regulated—except in the one particular that, instead of the recommendations for the organization of a Volunteer Corps being transmitted to the Secretary of State, through the Lord Lieutenant of a county, for approval by Her Majesty, they will be transmitted through the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. That, I think, is an important and proper change from the English Act, and I will, by-and-bye, point out why I hold it to be so. If it were not for certain indications which have reached me I might save your Lordships the trouble of listening to any further observations from me, and content myself with moving the second reading, in the conviction that the Bill would meet with the same reception at your Lordships' hands that it experienced in the other House of Parliament. But my noble Friend (Lord Waveney) has thought fit to give Notice that he means to move 369 "the Previous Question," and those who have any experience in Parliamentary life know what that means. I should be the last person to cast any imputation upon either the motives or acts of my noble Friend; but we know that "the Previous Question" is a very handy mode of strangling a subject when, either from Party, personal, or any other special reason, you do not wish to be found voting against the principle of a measure. A certain amount of light has been thrown—at least, to my mind—upon the intentions of my noble Friend, by a circular which reached me by post a few days since, and which I infer has reached others of your Lordships, signed by four Members of the House—all friends of my own, for whom I entertain the highest respect and esteem—asking me to come down and oppose the Volunteer Corps (Ireland) Bill. I do not know whether my noble Friend is acting in concert with these noble Lords; but, if so, I think I am justified in ascribing the meaning I have given to the moving of "the Previous Question". I am only able to guess at the reasons which have induced my noble Friend to take the course he has done and to give the best answer in my power. The first ground of objection that would naturally occur to anyone is that this Bill is to be opposed because the loyalty and fidelity of the Irish people are doubtful. I ask you to consider what that implies in connection with this Bill. It implies not only that the people of Ireland are disloyal, but that they are so depraved that they will take the oath of allegiance with no purpose, so far as I can see, except for the pleasure of breaking it. I will not waste time by arguing the improbability of this à priori. I will appeal at once to the inexorable logic of facts. If the Irish people are disloyal, and not to be trusted with engagements of this nature, what becomes of your Army and Navy, into which the Irish element very largely enters? I may be told that in the Army and Navy the Irish are mingled with the English and Scotch, and that in that way their evil tendencies are counteracted and neutralized; but, if that be so, how about the Militia? The Irish Militia is recruited exclusively in Ireland, and against their fidelity I never heard a shadow of reproach. What, again, about that magnificent Force, to which is specially in- 370 trusted the maintenance of law and order, life and property in Ireland—I mean the Irish Constabulary? The very name of the "Royal" Irish Constabulary suggests that, in a period of great excitement in Ireland, that Force stood the crucial test to which it was then subjected, without, as far as I know, the shadow of reproach resting upon it. During the Fenian times, that Force was recruited exclusively from the Irish people, yet it bore the test without a shadow of doubt being cast upon one single individual composing it. This proves that the Irish people, when trusted, may be expected to afford an example of loyalty and fidelity which any other people might well imitate. Then, there is another lesson to be learnt from the episode to which I have alluded. Assume, for a moment, that the Irish people are possessed with the demon of disloyalty, does not the example of the Irish Constabulary prove to demonstration the effect of trust, of organization, and of esprit de corps in exorcizing and casting out that demon? But that is not all. We have not only the test that there are no disloyal people in the Army, Navy, Militia, and Royal Irish Constabulary, but, in the civil branches of life, we have Irish magistrates, barristers, and Parliamentary electors, who dispose, without let or hindrance, of the lives and property of the people of Ireland. Is it not most ludicrous, when we employ them thus in every portion of our civil, military, and judicial administration, to maintain the wretched rag of distrust in reference to the Volunteers, as if it were one of the great bulwarks of the Constitution and a great protection to our lives and liberties? In the way of protection it can do nothing; and, like all other exhibitions of distrust, it is calculated to create disloyalty, and to perpetuate feelings of soreness in the minds of those who are subject to that distrust. So much for the disloyalty of the Irish. Another argument I have heard raised against the Bill which has more plausibility in it, and that is the state of the country. I have heard it said that such is the state of religious and party feeling in Ireland that, in the interest of the people themselves, it would not be safe to trust them as Volunteers, or to put arms in their hands. Agrarian outrages are also adduced as a reason. 371 why Irish Volunteer Corps should not be allowed; but I would venture to suggest that this state of things prevails only in a very limited portion of the country, and the provision of the Bill, which places in the Lord Lieutenant the power of sanctioning the formation of Volunteer Corps, will enable him to refuse his sanction where the state of the country renders it inexpedient that Volunteer Corps should be allowed. I think that, in addition to the prevention of the organization of a Volunteer Force, the power of disbanding any which may already exist in a disturbed neighbourhood would have a powerful effect in removing the feeling which causes the disturbance. Those who know Ireland know that a great deal of the system of secret societies in Ireland arises from a love for association which exists among the people of that country; and it appears to me that if we turn that love of association into a legitimate channel that would have some effect in keeping the people from dangerous combinations. These are two of the grounds upon which I have heard this Bill disapproved of. There is a third ground which requires attention, but which, I think, can be easily disposed of. I had a great deal to do with the organization of the Volunteer Force when I had the honour of being officially connected with Canada, and on this we always insisted—that there should be a secure place for the keeping of arms in every district where a Volunteer Corps existed, and no Volunteer Corps were ever sanctioned where no such secure receptacle existed. I should like to say a word or two on the subject of religious strife and bigotry in connection with the Volunteers in Canada. I was much struck, when I went to Canada, at the similarity of the burning questions with regard to politics, religion, and education there and the burning questions I had left behind in Ireland; and the Volunteer Force, organized much on the plan it is here, was the only Force at my disposal for the suppression of any civil commotion that arose. The Volunteers were constantly called out; but I never heard of any instance of failure of duty through sympathy with those whose disorder they were called upon to cheek. The Corps were taken indiscriminately from the population, and I never heard of one difference of opinion or dissension be- 372 tween the different Corps. About two years ago very considerable excitement prevailed at Montreal about the burial of a man in unconsecrated ground, which led almost to insurrection. The Governor had no Force to rely upon but the Volunteers. The Volunteers were called out, and, in their military capacity, put down a not in which, if they had not been Volunteers, they would probably have been participants. That is a remarkable example of power of association to counteract personal feeling, and I think it affords a strong argument in favour of the Bill I am now submitting to your Lordships. I think stringent provision ought to be made for the security of the arms; but as the recommendation of the organization of a Corps is left to the responsibility of the Lord Lieutenant I presume he will take care not to sanction the formation of a Corps except where such provision has been made. I am old enough to recollect when a great difference in reference to taxation existed between Great Britain and Ireland—very much in favour of the latter portion of the Empire; but that difference has, very properly, entirely disappeared, and now the Representatives of Ireland seek to free their country from the reproach of not being thought worthy to participate, with their fellow-citizens of Great Britain, in the defence of the Empire to whose resources they, equally with them, contribute.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Viscount Monck.)
§ LORD WAVENEY
said, he was perfectly aware of the disadvantage under which he laboured in asking their Lordships to come to a different conclusion to that of one who had the personal experience of the noble Viscount (Viscount Monck); but he was concerned to observe the suggestion of the noble Viscount that anyone who held a different opinion to his believed in the disloyalty of the Irish people. That he desired to dispose of at once, for it was the part on which he least liked to dwell. He was, indeed, surprised to hear the noble Viscount suggest such an argument as actuating the opponents of the Bill. He (Lord Waveney) did not believe that there was a single noble Lord, or a single reader of a newspaper who would read the observations of the noble Viscount to-morrow morning, who believed 373 in the disloyalty of the Irish people. He thought he had quite enough before him to justify his action in regard to this Bill, excluding altogether the idea which the noble Viscount's argument seemed to impute; and he thought they had ample evidence before them, in the history of the last few years, to make them pause before they adopted the military system of England for Ireland once and for ever. A matter of this national importance must be judged by its effect upon those who wore to be the object of the proposed legislation. True it was that in the great struggle of 1867, when so much depended upon the Irish Constabulary, there was but one member of that noble body upon whom the taint of disaffection rested; and while he did not contemplate that any Volunteer would be unfaithful to the obligation he undertook to the Grown, he believed there were causes existing which rendered it unadvisable at present that Volunteer Corps should be organized in Ireland. With respect to the Bill itself, they had scarcely heard of it during its progress through the House of Commons. He understood that the promoters of the Bill were a body of Members, who were intimately connected, no doubt, with the Irish people; but he could not find that that Body of Members derived their inspiration from any public meeting whatever. There was no assembling of the masses crying for it; there had been no Petition in its favour; they had heard nothing, so far as he was aware, of that; and, therefore, he was justified in saying that there was no public demand for it. He doubted, indeed, if the Irish people generally knew more about the progress of this Bill than their Lordships did. If he understood the noble Viscount rightly, he was familiar with the opinion of the Irish people upon this subject, inasmuch as the noble Viscount had himself been the President of an Association for the very purpose for which this Bill had been brought in. Now, as he understood that Society, it was simply an Association for rifle-firing, and. not for regimental purposes. He thought the noble Viscount had attributed an undue importance to the fact that the recommendation for the establishment of a Volunteer Corps in any particular place was to be made by the Lord Lieutenant, and not through the Lieutenants of the county. 374 He held that to be a mistake, and held that opinion for this reason. What they wanted, to teach in Ireland was that a sense of responsibility, fairly and fearlessly carried out, should rest upon the Lieutenants of the counties. He thought the advantage which the noble Viscount seemed to see with regard to this point was perfectly illusory. He would ask where the knowledge of the Lord Lieutenant was to be got from to enable him to form a Corps in a particular district? If it was obtained from the usual source—namely, the reports of the Constabulary, he thought it would be a mistake. With regard to further observations of the noble Viscount, he would add that he was perfectly aware of the value of "the Previous Question." He had adopted that course because he did not desire to wound the susceptibilities of those to whom he had to refer as lightly as possible. "The Previous Question" gave time for consideration. And here, by the way, he might inquire whether his noble Friend had considered that there was barely time in this Session of Parliament to carry the measure through. Again, if disposed to be hypercritical, he might inquire what provision had been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for paying for the staff, formation, and arms of this Force? He believed the Irish Volunteer would be true to his last breath to his oath of allegiance, and to his duty as he understood it. On that point there could be no doubt. He would ask them, however, to descend from their high position to the daily walks of Irish life. What did they find there? They found, he grieved to say, that there was a greater separation and estrangement between the professors of different religious faiths than he had in 40 years ever known. He was afraid that when Volunteers were distributed throughout the country some spark would ignite a flame, from which a conflagration would ensue which would show itself in a dangerous way. As to the danger to the Crown, the only danger to it would be on the English side of the Channel. They had seen many invasions, and knew how utterly worthless they were. Great as was the knowledge of his noble Friend, he did not know the whole of Ireland, and least of all did he know those parts of Ireland where the tides met. They knew well in the North what the dan- 375 gers were, and he had made it his business to inquire into the matter. A distinguished man, whose name had only to be mentioned to be respected, had eloquently described the state of affairs, and had said that Ireland was now more loyal than it ever was before, that many of the worst symptoms had disappeared, and that the people had been fairly treated. But they had complaints against the repeal of the Party Procession Act, and demands for more stringent legislation. In the streets of Belfast there had been conflicts which the magistrates had been unable to prevent. Unless, therefore, the provisions of this Bill for the establishment of Irish Volunteers were carefully considered, it could not be contemplated without some reasonable apprehension. Much as they might wish to see an Irish Volunteer Force established in the interests of the Crown, they could not but entertain doubts whether the measure before Parliament was a prudent one. There was no necessity for the measure, which was, at the best, of a tentative and a doubtful character. Therefore, at all events, they ought to leave it alone. To play with edged tools was proverbially dangerous. For Ireland, at least, they had had enough of playing with legislation. He begged to move the Previous Question.
said, that he should ask their Lordships to agree to the Amendment. He was quite certain that there was no noble Lord in the House, and certainly no Irishman, who would not, if he could honestly, accept this proposal. He was most anxious to see a Volunteer Force established in Ireland; but up to this time, and for a long period past, it had been thought and felt in this country, and felt throughout the greater part of Ireland, that it would be most dangerous to establish a Force of this kind in Ireland. What they had, therefore, really to consider was this—Had the circumstances of Ireland so altered that the force of the arguments used hitherto was no longer valid? Had the circumstances of Ireland so changed as to leave them without fear with regard to the establishment of a Volunteer Force in Ireland? He had always considered it almost an insult that they had not a Volunteer Force in Ireland—Irishmen like himself regarded it as most annoying that they could not be 376 trusted with such a Force. Nevertheless, when it came to the practical question whether such a Force should be established or not, their Lordships ought to carefully and most seriously consider the step they were asked to take. The main argument he intended to put before them against the Bill was that in Ireland they had at the present moment in force the Peace Preservation Act. That was an Act of the most repressive character, and one which the Government had thought it absolutely necessary to pass; and it did really appear to him most incongruous to pass a measure such as that before them, which was totally opposed to the reason of the Peace Preservation Act. When that Act had expired—which it would do in another year—the Government, if they thought the circumstances of the country justified it, might come forward and say—"We no longer consider it necessary to have a special Act for the preservation of the peace in Ireland, and therefore we think you may safely pass a measure such as this;" and might then propose a Bill on their own responsibility—for, certainly, a measure of this kind ought not to be left in the hands of a private Member. He had another argument against the Bill, and it was this—It appeared to him to be almost an absolute impossibility to have a Volunteer Force without giving the custody of the arms, more or less, into the hands of the Volunteers. He certainly had no wish to be an alarmist; but, living as he did in the West of Ireland, he thought that would be most injudicious. He did not care what oaths were administered unto the men into whose hands the arms were placed—it would be injudicious to leave them in their custody. It was not the individual Volunteer who would do the mischief; but it was certain that his arms would be stolen from him—he could not be responsible for their safe custody if they were carried home at night. If they were not carried home at night, how were they going to make due provision for their custody? In the case of a Volunteer in the country the drill must be in some central place, and every night the men would have to put their arms under sufficient protection. If the arms were left in the hands of the Volunteers individually, it would be tantamount to telling the disloyal and disaffected where they might supply them- 377 selves with rifles—in fact, they would be stolen. As far as the drilling was concerned, he had no objection whatever. So far as his own individual feeling was concerned, he would just as soon be shot at by a good marksman at 500 yards as by a man with a blunderbuss at 10. If the Bill was passed there would be a certain sort of feeling amongst people that the marksmen might practise at the running deer, and, perhaps, shoot the wrong animal. He admitted that in parts of Ireland there was very little crime; but the magistrates of Westmeath were actually asking for increased powers to repress agrarian crime, although they had but just before been relieved from the Peace Preservation Act. He maintained it would be most illogical to propose to put arms into the hands of a population whom they were at the same moment compelled to put under the repressive action of the Peace Preservation Act.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
said, that the noble Lord who spoke last had not given any substantial reason why they should not pass the Bill. The noble Lord had pointed out that it would be inconsistent to place arms in the hands of the Irish people, seeing that some districts of the country were proclaimed. But the noble Lord seemed to forget that the working of the measure would be entirely in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant, and that he would not sanction the formation of a Volunteer Corps in any district that was proclaimed. There would, in his opinion, be no more difficulty in calling in the arms in Ireland than in England, or in Scotland, seeing that they would only be placed in the hands of well-disposed persons; and, for his part, he did not apprehend the least danger that the arms would be used for any improper purpose whatever. Of course, there might be some provision made in the Bill to secure the proper custody of the arms; but that was a mere detail. There might be possibilities of danger; but he thought those possibilities did not outweigh the advantage which would attend on the establishment of the Force. He had intended to explain the reasons why he should vote for the second reading of the Bill; but the noble Viscount who moved the second reading had spoken so much better than he could, and he so entirely agreed with what the noble Viscount 378 had said, that it was necessary to relieve Ireland from the stigma and disgrace of knowing that she was not sufficiently trusted to be allowed to have a Volunteer Corps, that he felt there was no necessity for travelling over the same ground a second time.
THE EARL OF LONGFORD
said, after the best consideration he could give to this Bill he was unable to give it his support. He objected to it, both inform and substance. But he chiefly desired to direct attention to the fact that there seemed very little real desire that the measure should become law. In the first place, it had been allowed to lie for three weeks on the Table of the House before being brought forward for the second reading—and this at a period of the Session when delay was a great inconvenience, and then it fell into the hands of the noble Viscount opposite, who, in this case, seemed to be a refuge for the destitute, for he believed several noble Lords had refused to have anything to do with it. The apparent object of the measure was to increase the Auxiliary Forces of the Crown—of course, with a corresponding increase of the Army Estimates—but, if so, it ought to have been introduced under the direct responsibility of the Government, and not left in the hands of a private Member, however respectable he might be, and however eminent the position he might formerly have held. What authority had they for this measure? Was the Lord Lieutenant there to say that the Bill had his approval? No; he was far better employed, attending agricultural meetings. Were there any Reports from the Government officials—from the Chief of the Constabulary, from the Judges, from the Commander of the Forces in Ireland—in favour of the Bill? The only approval he found was that of the Attorney General for Ireland in "another place," who said that the Bill could scarcely be acted upon. At all events, it would produce very little effect. In 1863, after what was termed "The Volunteer Movement" had been in existence for six years, and the Government were satisfied that it was a useful one, the Government of the day, under Lord Palmerston, introduced a Bill for the regulation of the Force, and it was then proposed to extend its operation to Ireland. But both Lord Palmerston and the Marquess of Hartington refused to 379 include Ireland in the measure, on the Report of the then Commander of the Forces, that the country was not in a fit state to allow arms to be placed in the hands of the people, and that the operation of the Act could not be extended to that country without great danger. He could not help thinking that the same reasons still existed; and, therefore, while not in the least degree wishing to impute the slightest disloyalty to the Irish people at large, he thought the Motion of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Waveney) was the best mode of meeting the Motion for the second reading, for the very reason that it expressed no distrust of the people. At the same time, no one could be ignorant of the fact that there were at elections, and at certain anniversaries, scenes of great disturbance. Even up to a very recent period the Reports of the magistracy to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland were not very encouraging and if Volunteers were allowed in one county and not in another they might depend upon it that there would be a great cry for equality, which it would be extremely difficult to satisfy, and which might tend to serious disturbances. As to the operation of the proclaiming Act, he had lived all his life in a proclaimed county, and very little inconvenience was felt; but he must be allowed to express great doubt as to whether, should Volunteer Corps be formed in districts not now proclaimed, but which might hereafter have to be so, they would be very easily disbanded; while he was quite certain that the Government, under such circumstances, would have the greatest difficulty in getting back their arms.
§ EARL SPENCER
assured their Lordships no one could be more reluctant than he would be to support any measure which was at all likely to endanger the safety of the Empire or to lead to difficulty in Ireland. He knew Ireland too well not to attempt any dangerous experiment; but, notwithstanding all that had been said against this Bill, he must say he thought it his duty to give it his support. The noble Earl who had just sat down had referred to the fact that Ireland had been deliberately excluded from the operation of the English Volunteer Act; but, while he did not question the propriety of the decision of Lord Palmerston and the Marquess of Hartington, he was bound to 380 say that no sufficient reason had been stated, either in 1863, or on the present occasion, why the Volunteer movement should not be extended to Ireland as well as to England and Scotland. He wished to call their Lordships' attention to the present condition of Ireland; and he wanted to know whether there were to be found in the present circumstances of that country any real reason why they should be longer excluded from the operation of the Act of 1863? The Volunteer movement had benefited this country in a political, military, and social point of view. Why should the United Kingdom be deprived of the addition to its military resources which would be given if Ireland were permitted to raise Volunteers; or why should Ireland be deprived of the benefit which the other portions of the United Kingdom derived from the establishment of that body? The Irish were essentially military in their predilections, and he was afraid they too often showed if they could not get military discipline in a regular, they would seek it in an irregular, manner. The Regular Army had most excellent Irish soldiers, and no one would wish to deprive Her Majesty of their services; and he would say, in the presence of so many distinguished Generals, that the Irish regiments compared with any other in the Service. The Militia regiments of Ireland would vie with those of England or Scotland, not only for the precision with which they moved and paraded, but also for good conduct and order. He admitted there were some difficulties in the way; but he thought they could be overcome. He admitted that there were certain districts where the people were easily excited; but as he believed that the respectable body of the population were those who would fill the Volunteer ranks the formation of such a Force would go a long way to check rowdyism. It was said that the raising of Volunteers would give occasion to disturbances in the North of Ireland. During the unfortunate riots which broke out in Belfast in 1873, and which kept part of that town in disorder for several weeks, the conduct of the Antrim Militia was most exemplary. During that time the position of the regiment was necessarily much discussed in Dublin. The regiment, however, maintained the most excellent order, not only under training, 381 but even when they were dismissed to their homes before the riots were concluded, though many of them must have been connected by blood and sympathy with the rioters. In Ireland one of the great difficulties was to get the loyal and order-loving element to come forward, while the rowdy and disorderly portion of the population was only too ready to come to the front. People in this country were too apt to think that the whole population of Ireland were of the latter class. Noble Lords had given testimony to the loyal character of the Irish people, and he was convinced that large numbers of loyal men were to be found in every part of the community. Any movement which would induce the order-loving portion of the people to overshadow the rowdy element ought to be encouraged. He need not refer to that excellent body, the Royal Irish Constabulary; but he would call attention to the fact that that Force was drawn from a class more likely to be disorderly and disloyal than the class from which the Volunteers would come. The Royal Irish Constabulary were placed in circumstances of the greatest temptation; they lived in twos and threes in barracks, and in the midst of the population, and scattered all over the country, and yet no one could speak too highly of the way in which, under all circumstances, they fulfilled their duty. If the argument on the score of disloyalty applied to the Volunteers, it applied with at least equal force to the Constabulary. The Government ought to express an opinion on this Bill. In his opinion, it ought to be a Government measure. The Government could speak with absolute certainty upon all the points to which he had referred; and he (Earl Spencer) wished to subordinate his own views to those of the Government, because no outsider could possibly speak with the same certainty of the state of the country. The Government must be responsible for the working of the Bill if it became law, for the formation of the regiments, the appointment of officers—adjutants, colonels, and staff. He would ask the Government, therefore, whether they had well considered the Bill; and if they declared they saw no difficulty or danger in carrying it out their Lordships ought to give it a second reading. If, on the other hand, the Government declared that they did not see 382 their way to carry out the measure, with due regard to the safety of the Empire and the peace and order of Ireland, though his predilections were in favour of having Volunteers in Ireland, he would vote with them.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
asked what would be the use of having Volunteers if, at the moment any tension arose, they would have to be disbanded? The question of changing the condition of the people of Ireland, as this proposal would do, was a very serious one. If 40,000 or 50,000 persons came forward in Ireland and asked for arms, were they to get them? It would be very easy to distribute arms, but not very easy to get them back if they desired to do so. He had recently been in a country—Roumelia—where arms were being distributed very freely; but he doubted very much whether the authorities would be very successful in recovering them. When the Bill was before the House of Commons the Attorney General for Ireland said it was desirable it should go into Committee, and be examined very thoroughly, with a view to the introduction of Amendments. He supposed since that time some inquiries had been made, and he wished Her Majesty's Government would tell the House now the result of their inquiries. Were the Head of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Commander of the Forces in Ireland in favour of the Bill? Their opinion would have a great effect on his mind. As at present advised, he could not support the Bill, because he did not think the condition of Ireland had changed so much since 1863 as would justify their Lordships in passing the measure.
§ VISCOUNT BURY
said, that as a direct appeal had been made to Her Majesty's Government by the noble Earl who spoke last but one (Earl Spencer), to state their opinion on this Bill, he thought it might be expected that he should address a few observations to their Lordships. Their Lordships, no doubt, were aware that the Bill was by no means a Government Bill. It was not even a Bill under the protection of the Government. The history of the measure was briefly this—It was brought in by a private Member in the other House of Parliament; and it had, during its passage through that House, been so altered, in accordance with the sugges- 383 tion of the Law Officer of the Crown in Ireland, that, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, it was now divested of those objectionable features which it at first appeared to possess. The action under the Bill would be entirely in the hands of the Government. The Lord Lieutenant was to have the first appointment of the officers; he was to have the entire control as to where Volunteer Corps should be formed; he was to have the power of disbanding the Volunteers, if that course was necessary; and also the power of suspending the Corps in any part of Ireland where he might think it expedient to do so. The Bill had been so re-cast that, in its present form, it was almost a literal transcript of the English Act, which had been found to work so well and to provide such complete safeguards for order and the due conduct of Volunteer Corps, that it was felt by Her Majesty's Government that there could be no danger or difficulty in allowing it to be extended to Ireland. It was a very different thing for the Government to bring in a Bill at this time, and to avoid expressing an adverse opinion on a Bill of this kind. In the state of Public Business which existed in "another place," it might not have been altogether convenient for the Government to burden themselves with the passing of a measure which might, in their hands, have provoked some amount of opposition. But, at the same time, it would be a very grave responsibility for the Government to express the opinion that the Irish nation was not fit to be trusted with arms. That, indeed, was not their opinion; nor was it, as far as he gathered, even the opinion of those who had opposed the measure in their Lordships' House. Almost all the noble Lords who had spoken had said that their only fear was that the discussions in regard to religious and political subjects in Ireland were such that the possession of arms would lead to their use in times of excitement; but not one of them had expressed any fear that the persons who, under this Bill, would be intrusted with arms, would use them for disloyal purposes. Then, the only thing they had to do was to be careful that those arms were placed in the hands of the well-affected portion of the population. And it surely could not be wise to keep up a distinction of that kind between Ireland and the rest of the Kingdom, when they had it in their power to select the 384 persons in whose hands arms should be placed, and when they felt perfect confidence that those to whom they would be intrusted would not be the disaffected—who were already surreptitiously armed—but the friends of law and order. There were, no doubt, points in the Bill which, if it went into Committee, would require attention. Probably, it would be advisable to provide that no county which had been proclaimed within a certain time—say two or three years-should have a Volunteer Corps. He also thought that the clause which provided for the due custody of arms ought to be made somewhat more stringent and extended. But they must remember that, whether or not those alterations were made, the Lord Lieutenant would, under the Bill, have the full control of the regulations under which the Volunteer Corps would exist. His noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Donoughmore) said perhaps 20,000 men would be enrolled under the measure. But, from all the information which had reached him, it was not supposed by those who had* brought in the Bill, and who were responsible for it, that anything beyond a small nucleus of a Volunteer Force would be formed.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
explained that what he said was that 30,000 or 40,000 might offer themselves for enrolment.
§ VISCOUNT BURY
regarded that as a very sanguine estimate indeed. A very considerable expense would be incurred by those who enrolled themselves under the Bill; and, therefore, it was reasonable to infer that it was the well-to-do part of the population who would enter those Corps. Noble Lords had adverted in terms of the highest praise to the loyalty exhibited, under all circumstances, by the Irish Militia and the Royal Irish Constabulary. He quite agreed in the praise which had been bestowed upon those admirable Forces; and he begged to point out that the persons who enrolled themselves in the Volunteer Corps would be of higher social standing than those who enlisted in the Militia and the Royal Irish Constabulary. He quite agreed with those noble Lords who had expressed their opinion that the habits of discipline, of good I order, and of obedience to authority, to be acquired by volunteering, might have: a beneficial effect throughout the country. If this measure should pass the 385 second reading, and should a Committee on it be appointed, he should propose such alterations as might, in his opinion, render the measure a valuable one.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, that as he was connected by property with Ireland, and was at one time able to spend more time there than he could now, he wished to make a remark or two. In the first place, he wanted to know why, when Ireland had been excluded for so many years from the operation of the Volunteer Act, a Bill should be introduced to include her at that moment? When, so recently, parts of Ireland had been proclaimed; when, in the present Session, they had had accounts of persecution and outrage, endured by Protestants in the West of Ireland, from members of a Church which, only when it was not the most powerful, talked of liberty of conscience and freedom of worship; and when only in yesterday's paper they read an account of a meeting of the magistrates of the county of Westmeath to consider the subject of the undetected crimes referred to in the charge of the Lord Chief Baron to the Grand Jury, it seemed to him that the advocates of this Bill ought to make out a good case for its adoption and to show that it would not operate mischievously in a country so situated as Ireland was. It had been urged that the power given to the Lord Lieutenant would afford security against any danger resulting from this measure; but he (Earl Fortescue) preferred legislative security to the discretion of any Lords Lieutenant, recent, present, or prospective, or to the discretion of the Cabinets under whom those Lords Lieutenant had to act—especially if any extraordinary electioneering pressure were brought to bear on them. Thoughtful men looked, like himself, with much anxiety to the future, seeing the want of firmness of purpose in the Government, as strikingly evinced with regard to the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill which had so long occupied the other House; while the conduct of the Leaders of the Opposition with regard to that same measure, proved conclusively that the Government enjoyed no monopoly of vacillation. The fact was the Government had lost, but the Opposition had not gained the confidence of the country.
observed, that the Amendment of the noble Lord (Lord Waveney) was not intended to show any 386 distrust of the Irish people, but merely to express the opinion of the House that this proposal to establish Volunteer Corps in Ireland was premature, and he thought that most of their Lordships, and even the Government itself, were agreed that this was not the most happy time to introduce a measure of this kind. They would find that it would be much better to wait a little longer before passing such a measure, although he most earnestly hoped that the association between England and Ireland would grow closer and closer; but, at the present time, he thought their Lordships would do well to pass to the Previous Question, and bring forward this measure on a more favourable occasion.
§ LORD STRATHNAIRN
My Lords, I cannot coincide with my noble Friend (Earl Spencer) in the opinion which he has expressed on this subject, although I admire the frankness with which the opinion was expressed from beginning to end. It is my duty to say that my experience of the Militia of Ireland is different from that of my noble Friend. Neither can I concur in the observations of my noble Friend the Under Secretary of State. Does the Under Secretary of State propose to give us a system of limitation and restriction in Ireland, while professing to put the United Kingdom on an equality? I do not see we can give this privilege to Ireland, and accompany it with limitations; were we to do so, the Irish would charge us with taking back with one hand what we give with the other. That was really the gist of the speech of the noble Viscount. 1 shall give my decided vote against the Bill, which appears to have been thrown like an apple of discord into our ranks. I am the last man to give a vote in this case which would seem to imply a want of confidence in the Irish. I have always considered them my countrymen, and I have always voted for any Liberal measure to put them on equal principles with us; but, to vote that arms should be placed in their hands and then limit them, and so distrust them, is to subject them to all kinds of vexation, and, I think, my Lords, is opposed to all prudence and statesmanship.
Then, a Question being stated thereupon, the Previous Question was put, "Whether the said Question shall be now put?"
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents 16; Not-Contents 39: Majority 23.
|Cairns, E. (L. Chancellor.)||Ashford, L. (V. Bury.)|
|Richmond, D.||Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.) [Teller.]|
|Bradford, E.||Monck, L. (V. Monck.) [Teller.]|
|Stanhope, E.||Norton, L.|
|Cranbrook, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Bedford, D.||Carew, L.|
|Grafton, D.||Clinton, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Colchester, L.|
|Winchester, M.||Colville of Culross, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Forbes, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Gormanston, L. (V. Gormanston.)|
|Dundonald, E.||Grey de Radcliffe, L.(V. Grey de Wilton.)|
|Lucan, E.||Hampton, L.|
|Redesdale, E.||Inchiquin, L.|
|Rosse, E.||Saltoun, L.|
|Silchester, L. (E.Longford.) [Teller.]|
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Somerton, L. (E. Normanton.)|
|Melville, V.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Strathnairn, L.|
|Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Sudeley, L.|
|Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Waveney, L. [Teller.]|
§ Resolved in the Negative.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Eleven o'clock.