HL Deb 22 February 1886 vol 302 cc868-75

, in rising to ask the Lord President of the Council, Whether Her Majesty's Government will lay upon the Table such information as can be given without injury to the Public Service on the present condition of Ireland in respect to "Boycotting" and such outrages? said: My Lords, since I gave Notice of the Question things have happened which have made it even more important to ask it than it was before. The mode in which Questions as to the policy of the Government have been met in this House has relieved me from a difficulty; and I do not intend, after the failure of my noble Friends (Lord Salisbury and Lord Ashbourne), as respects the policy of the Government, to endeavour to extort an answer. It seems to me that the Chief of the Government, the master of the pack, has adopted Sir Edmund Henderson's device of putting muzzles on all the pack in this House, probably from some fear that the rabies with which they are supposed to be infected might be prematurely manifested. The noble Earl (Earl Spencer), when he spoke at the beginning of the Session, addressed himself to the late Government as if they had been guilty of great laches, by which they had produced a state of things in Ireland which he ventured to say was "tenfold, and even a hundredfold," worse than that which existed when he was responsible for the government of Ireland. He said that we had interfered with the progress of law and order. I do not intend to go into a defence of the late Government. For the purpose of my Question I will assume that everything was as stated by the noble Earl, and that, in consequence of our policy, there was such an increase in the force of the National League, which no man can separate from "Boycotting," as to make it tenfold or a hundredfold worse than it was when he left Ireland. Well, my Lords, what follows from that? Why, that there is tenfold or a hundredfold more necessity for action on the part of the Government. I have taken the opportunity of refreshing my memory with a reference to the report of the noble Earl's speech; and I find that the noble Earl said it was absolutely necessary that some part of the Crimes Act should be re-enacted. The noble Earl, addressing himself to my noble and learned Friend (Lord Ashbourne), said— I would ask the Lord Chancellor of Ireland whether he can now rely upon a jury in Ireland for convicting a man committed for agrarian crime, or crime connected with agrarian matters? I ask him, can ho now rely? He afterwards said— I greatly fear that the condition of Ireland, with regard to intimidation and 'Boycotting,' is more serious than it has ever been before …. I maintain that it has increased tenfold or a hundredfold since I had the responsibility of the Irish Government. I want to ask what is going to be done with this intimidation and "Boycotting?" Is it to be stopped, or is it to be left to simmer and get higher, perhaps to boiling point, before anything is done with respect to it? We are told that we are not yet in possession of the policy of the Government even as to the maintenance of social order; but have they a policy? Mr. Chamberlain says—"We cannot give it, because we have not one." But the question of a general policy for Ireland is one thing, and the duty of the Executive is quite another thing. The want of a policy on the part of the Government of Ireland may be a serious matter. This is also a point which has been much altered by what has passed in "another place." Mr. Morley says that the question whether he or any other English Minister shall rule Ireland is approaching solution one way or the other. I should like to ask whether, if the rule of Englishmen is to cease in Ireland, Irishmen will be allowed to take part in the ruling of England? It seems to me that that question must arise. But this becomes a very serious matter, indeed, when you are dealing with the question of what an English Minister will do. First of all, he disparages English rule, and takes upon himself a duty which certainly is quite inconsistent with the duty of the Executive Government, because he says he is going to take the place of the Court of Appeal practically, and revise the decisions of the Courts; he will not execute the decrees of the Courts unless he is satisfied that they are just. I know Mr. Morley has qualified that. He says the question— Whether or not the Forces of the Crown should he used in carrying out every eviction for which the shadow of a legal title or justification can be made out is a question which Executive Ministers must decide upon for themselves on their own responsibility upon each case as it arises. I know he said afterwards that he meant that the Military Forces— Were not to execute decrees—that is, judicial decrees—which, on the ground of public policy as well as that of equity, may seem unadvisable or unnecessary. The Military Forces, however, in Ireland are those who are military armed, and they include the Constabulary. The Constabulary Force are by no means like the police of this country. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is a tolerable thing for a partizan Minister to judge as to what decrees he shall execute, or as to what period the ordinary Civil Authorities will fail to execute the law? The first duty of a Government is to maintain law and order; and no one knows that better than the noble Earl opposite, who recently occupied the position of Lord Lieutenant. Let me do the noble Earl justice. I have never said a word about his tenure of Office except as to the courage and ability with which he carried out his duties, and as to the way he grappled with crime and outrage in Ireland. I now call upon him, in conformity with what he has said, to take the steps which he called upon us to take. The noble Earl has stated that the condition of the country was a hundredfold worse than when he had charge of the Government. "Boycotting" and the National League are inextricably involved with one another in Ireland. It is said that rents in some parts of Ireland are collected; but that is not where the National League exists. The two things are connected in a manner which shows the importance of dealing with one and the other. I do not want to say more at this hour of the evening; but I call upon the noble Earl to see that law and order are enforced without delay, and without waiting for the policy which some time or other is to come forth from Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I think I have some right to complain that the noble Viscount opposite has unnecessarily raised a question of considerable importance without having given any Notice to me or the House on the subject. No doubt the question is one of great importance; but I only came down here prepared to answer the Question placed upon the Paper by the noble Viscount. I am quite prepared to tell your Lordships what Returns the Government are ready to give with respect to intimidation and outrages and the like in Ireland; but I am not prepared to follow the noble Viscount in a matter which really involves the whole question of the policy of the Government in Ireland, and I am certainly not bound to do so on a casual Question. If I followed the noble Viscount it would carry me through the whole policy of the Government, and I am certainly not prepared to go into that to-night. The noble Viscount, after referring to what passed the other night in this House, said he was not going to try to draw out the Members of the Government with regard to their policy. I cannot congratulate him on having carried out his expressed intention; for he did, I think, try very hard to put the case in such a way that I should disclose the policy of the Government with regard to this subject. The statement I made on the first evening of the Session in this House I have not now with me. I did not think that this matter was coming on to-night, and therefore I did not have the opportunity of referring, as the noble Viscount had, to what I said on that occasion; and if I make some mistakes I must throw the blame upon him for not having given me Notice. My recollection is. that I pressed the Government to give information as to the condition of Ireland at the time I was then speaking. I believe I then stated, though the report read by the noble Lord does not bear this out, that if we went by the accounts in the newspapers such and such a state of things had occurred. I therefore pressed the Government to give us reliable information. If the newspaper accounts were true I said the state of intimidation in Ireland was tenfold, perhaps one-hundredfold, worse than what it was when I had the honour and responsibility of government in that country. I believe what I pressed for then was for reliable information as to the state of social order in Ireland, and that was a perfectly legitimate matter upon which to question the Government. I do not at all, therefore, blame the noble Viscount for pressing me and the Government to give this information; and I am quite ready on the part of the Government, if this will satisfy him, to give a Return showing the number of cases of intimidation which have taken place under the ordinary law since the expiration of the Crimes Act last year—distinguishing between the cases disposed of at the Petty Sessions and Assizes and those made the subject of indictment, with the number of convictions. This is the utmost we can do with regard to intimidation. The question of "Boycotting" is rather a new one for official Returns. We are quite ready to give information in the possession of the Irish Government as to the number of persons who are "Boycotted." I believe we have Returns which were made up to the time when I was leaving Office. They were quite new Returns; therefore I am not sure that we should rely upon them in so precise a manner as on those which are actual cases tried before the magistrates and the Law Courts. The Returns of the latter eases, of course, are perfectly reliable. But if the House thinks it desirable that we should give the Returns I refer to I shall be perfectly ready to lay them on the Table. They are submitted by the best officers in the country, and they refer to persons that were "Boycotted" on specified dates—on the 30th of June, 30th of September, and the 31st of December in last year. Then the noble Viscount, referring to the statement in "another place" of aright hon. Colleague of mine, said that the Chief Secretary for Ireland is going to take the place of the Courts of Law, and settle what are proper and what are improper decrees for the military and police to put in force. I do not understand that the Chief Secretary has said anything of the sort. What he did say was that when a request was made for the military to be called in he should carefully consider whether necessity for the use of the military arose or not. He did not say that with regard to the Royal Irish Constabulary, but simply made the statement with reference to the Military Forces. I will read the part of his speech which has reference to this matter. He says— While we shall be very careful to exact respect for law, and very careful to see that every subject of the Queen has all those rights to which he is legally entitled, it will be our duty to look into the cases as they arise, and in no case where it can possibly be avoided shall we be inclined to resort to military force. Now, I do not know whether the noble Viscount will differ from that. Will he say that the military should be used in the defence of the civil power on all occasions? I must confess that during the years I had the honour of being Lord Lieutenant I always thought it a very grave thing indeed when it was necessary to send the military in support of the civil power. It was a most undesirable thing to do. Where it was expected that obstruction would take place, I always preferred to send as large a force of police as possible rather than of military, whether Infantry or Cavalry. That is what I understand my right hon. Friend to mean. He did not say that he would never use the Forces of the Queen. What he did say was that he would look into every case to see whether there was any necessity for bringing these Forces into use. I confess that that seems to me a very different thing from that which the noble Viscount has stated. As far as reluctance to use these Forces is concerned, I entirely concur with the Chief Secretary.


My Lords, there is a remarkable contrast between the anxiety shown by noble Lords opposite at the beginning of the Session not to allow one or two days to intervene before a policy was announced and their demand now that we should abstain from any questions as to a policy even upon matters that affect life and property in Ireland until the magical 1st of April arrives. But if Her Majesty's Government will not announce to us any policy I wish that they would carry that system of silence and reticence out completely. The policy which might convey some comfort and consolation to the Loyal Party in Ireland is scrupulously kept back, while a policy suitable for the consumption of the National League is announced in the other House. A "no-rent manifesto" has been announced by Mr. Morley—at least, that is the way in which it will be interpreted by the tenants of Ireland. It is perfectly true that portions of the speech of Mr. Morley will bear the interpretations put upon them by the noble Earl; but there are other portions which will be abstracted and circulated and sent about to the encouragement of tenants who abstain from fulfilling their legal contracts by conveying to their minds that those legal contracts will not be enforced unless the Chief Secretary, a known sympathizer with Mr. Parnell, considers them to be desirable and equitable. These are the words of Mr. Morley— Decrees which, on the ground of public policy as well as that of equity, may seem inadvisable or unnecessary. Now, there has been a strong effort on the part of the noble Earl to convert this statement of Mr. Morley into a much more innocent statement to the effect that he would be very reluctant, unless it was necessary, to use military force. But that is not what Mr. Morley said. Most of us, nay all of us, are very reluctant to employ military force where it is not necessary for the purpose of compelling fulfilment of contracts. But Mr. Morley claims a totally different liberty, not to consider whether military force is necessary for the fulfilment of contracts, but to consider whether a contract in itself is one which is equitable, or which public policy requires should be fulfilled after the Court of Law had established the legality of the demands, and to withhold military force as unnecessary if the contract should not approve itself to Mr. Morley's judgment. That is going from a state of law to a state of absolute government, and is taking away the decision of contracts from the Courts of Law and giving it into the hands of a Parliamentary officer deeply prejudiced against one of the classes that take part in these contracts. I can very well fancy that Her Majesty's Government are very loth to accept such a doctrine, and deeply regret that it should have been announced by their Chief Secretary. But I must say that I think we require a more clear assurance that the policy which his words appear to sanction will not be in effect carried out. We require an assurance that the military will be employed, if it be necessary, in order to exact the fulfilment of contracts, whether these contracts are in equity or in policy pleasing to Mr. Morley or not. That is the dangerous part of the announcement that has been made. I confess that it seems to me that the Government are accepting a very deep responsibility when they refuse not for a few days, but for six weeks, to announce any policy at all with respect to the maintenance of law and the preservation of life and property in Ireland. At all events, if they do refuse such an enactment, let them repudiate in clear language the most unfortunate invitation which the authorized Representative of the Irish Government has addressed to the Irish tenants not to pay rents wherever those rents do not approve themselves to the policy of Mr. Morley.