HL Deb 25 January 1886 vol 302 cc297-302

, in moving— That the Ministerial plan for government of Ireland be introduced forthwith, and take precedence of all public business up to report, said, he must complain of the prolonged silence of the Government, and declared that the debate on Thursday evening had satisfied no one. This he knew from private communications he had received from Ireland. He had no desire whatever to interfere with the discretion of the Government, nor did he desire to promote a discussion upon this point by any remarks which he might make; but they had now, as it were, come into a new world, and they had a very altered state of affairs to face. It might be asked why he had brought the matter before their Lordships? It was, first, because he desired that in all Constitutional matters the House should reserve, exercise, and vindicate its rights in these Constitutional matters; and, in the second place, because he thought the matter could be dealt with in a calmer tone than "else where." He wished to put the matter plainly in a few sentences; and he assured the Government that people were waiting with great anxiety for their answer, and for the policy which it was intended to introduce. People in England had no conception of the excitable and exasperated state of the people of Ireland. The public mind there was in a condition he never know before. Day by day the tide was rising, which he feared would saturate the country with even greater-dangers than these which even now existed. He said in no exaggerated terms that even in the peaceable districts he knew, where they were desirous of carrying on quietly their homo industries, a sensible alteration had taken place of late. The people were determined to have a reply which would satisfy them that peace and security would be theirs. He hoped the mission of Mr. W. H. Smith would be productive of good results; but he feared otherwise. Mr. Smith had been brought up in the English school of politicians, and he doubted if he would be able to obtain all the information necessary to form a sound judgment. Parliament had already neglected too much, and thought too little of their responsibilities with regard to Ireland. They forgot how great a difference there was not only in the character, but in the free way in which matters were looked at, and in fact had not the same political effect in both countries. For instance, the election to all offices of trust were dependent on public taxes in England. He remembered some years ago how a very powerfully constituted Committee of the House of Commons, sitting on the question of Elective Boards for Counties and its success, had so little evidence that no further proceedings were to be taken. There must be a combination which would mutually aim at the adjustment of the body politic; and he held that an experiment to he a success must be carried through all the adverse circumstances which might arise. The position which the Irish Members of the House of Commons hoped to attain was inconsistent with the maintenance of Imperial power; and he therefore cordially approved the firm words which were read from the Throne when Parliament was opened by Her Majesty. But these words were not enough by themselves. In the fevered and disturbed state of public opinion in Ireland at the present time it was of vital importance that the Government should give the country, without delay, a clear indication of their intended policy. It was the wish of many people in Ireland to subject the classes possessing most intellectual power to the rule of uneducated men, and the strange spectacle was there seen of the persecution of its own members by a particular class. He alluded, of course, to "Boycotting," which had wrought such evil as was difficult to conceive. To show how greatly this form of intimidation had spread it would be sufficient to tell the House that the heads of some of the most powerful banks in the country had hesitated to support resolutions of loyalty because they feared to imperil the money of their shareholders, having the example of the run upon the Bank of Ireland before their eyes. No one could have any conception of the state of things unless it came home to him. The matter was not confined to the banks, for they could not place their cattle on board ship, they could not drive them to market or perform any of the functions of honest industry without running the risk of being ruined or of bringing ruin to these with whom they were dealing. No time should be lost by the Government in putting down such a state of things. They could defy the world in arms; but it was impossible for them to defy the murder and burning which went on throughout the country. Never was there a time more favourable for bringing back the people to a condition in which they would respect the law. He had been perfectly astounded at the rapidity with which the corruption had spread. This was no time for tampering with the solid resistance to law which existed in Ireland. Where an example could be made without harshness let it be made. If a municipality showed that it was determined in its resistance to authority then take from it the charge which it did not deserve to have. With regard to one question which had been brought up—namely, that of a Royal residence in Ireland—he warned them that it would become a centre for all intrigues; but let the Constitutional Sovereign pass through her territories freely, unbidden, and spontaneously, and he was prepared to assert that Her Majesty would meet with a reception as warm and as hearty as any she had ever received in any part of her dominions. He stood by the side of their Royal Highnesses when they visited Ireland, and was able to speak of the absolute sincerity of the reception they received. It appeared to him that the Office of Lord Lieutenant, above all others, should be outside Party politics. No doubt he should be a man in whom both Parties had confidence; but they had no difficulty in this particular in other directions, and would find none with regard to Ireland. In conclusion, he begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Moved, "That the Ministerial plan for government of Ireland he introduced forthwith, and take precedence of all public business up to report."— (The Lord Waveney.)


My Lords, I suppose that the noble Lord does not propose to take the sense of the House upon the Motion which he has made, but rather regards it as the text of the interesting speech to which we have just listened, because the Motion itself is hardly applicable to the state of Business in this House. It asks— That the Ministerial plan for government of Ireland be introduced forthwith, and take precedence of all public business up to report. If the Ministerial plan, as the noble Lord says, is introduced into this House, I do not imagine that there will be anything in the way of our ordinary Business which would make it impossible to go on with it. I think that this Motion rather looks like as if it were intended for the other House, and I am afraid that a Constitutional objection might be taken to it from that point of view. But the matter to which the noble Lord has referred is undoubtedly one of the gravest that can occupy us at any time, and I do not differ very much from many of the criticisms which have fallen from him. It is undoubtedly true that in addition to the positive and actual evils with which we have to deal—and they are very great indeed—we have also to deal with an excited state of public opinion in Ireland, and, perhaps, to some degree in this country, which I hardly need say enormously aggravates the task of these charged with the maintenance of public order and the preservation of peace, and increases tenfold the difficulties that lie before us. If it had not been for the excited state of public feeling I cannot imagine how such an interpretation of, and commentary upon, our intentions, as appears to have affected the minds of the noble Lord and many others, could have come into circulation. We are unfortunately in the condition which was spoken of by a great American President—"We are changing horses at the moment of crossing the stream." We thought it essential that the Minister who would have the conduct of any propositions which we might make to Parliament should satisfy us and himself thoroughly on certain points by conference with the authorities in Ireland before we submitted to Parliament steps which we proposed to take for remedying the great evils upon which the noble Lord has dwelt. But to found upon that necessary act of circumspection the imputation that we had the intention of indefinitely delaying any explanation of our policy, or any action of the kind, is so exaggerated an interpretation that I can only attribute it to this very excited state of public opinion which conjures up dangers greater than these by which the community is actually surrounded. I imagine that there is no necessity for such a hasty Motion as this. I apprehend that we shall be very shortly in a position to make an announcement to Parliament; and I hope we shall be able to explain—it may be in a day or two—the steps which we think, at all events, will do much to remedy this terrible and scandalous state of things. I hope it will not be delayed more than 24 or 48 hours; and I hope, at all events, the noble Lord will acknowledge that in taking steps to perfect what we proposed, and to be fully armed—which, in dealing with Parliament, whore everything is carefully questioned, is not least necessary—with all the facts by which our opinion is supported, we have not out stepped that Constitutional prudence which it behoves every Government to observe in a conjuncture so grave as this, and which is in no way inconsistent with the resolution firmly and promptly to meet the evils which we are responsible for meeting.


My Lords, I think the noble Marquess has somewhat misunderstood the criticisms which have been passed on the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government. It is not that the proceedings of the Government have been somewhat vague, or that they are to be blamed for the appointment of a new Chief Secretary; but the fault we find with them is that they, having been in Office for some six months, and having had all the opportunities of forming opinions as to the policy which should be pursued, have suffered Parliament to come together, and have informed us that they have not made up their minds as to the course they would pursue. And whilst I am glad to learn from the noble Marquess that a very short time is likely to elapse before they make known their policy, I own I am lost in astonishment at the mode in which that resolution as to policy is approached by the Government; because it appears now that after we have been informed that they have thought it necessary to wait until the Chief Secretary had time fully to examine the state of affairs in Ireland, in point of fact, after 48 hours, or even 24 hours' residence in Ireland, he is to be suddenly endued, by a kind of second sight I suppose, with the moans of giving to the Government that advice which they have not yet been able to obtain, and enable them to announce a policy in what, I agree with the noble Marquess, is one of the gravest conjunctures which this country has found itself in for many years. When that policy is produced, I am sure, such is the keen sense on all sides of the difficulties of the situation, it will be fairly and I hope justly judged; but I cannot say that we shall come to it with an anticipation of a satisfactory policy being announced, so far as we can judge from the singular and most unsatisfactory mode of preparation for that policy which the noble Marquess has just announced.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.