HL Deb 01 June 1886 vol 306 cc632-59

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


I rise, my Lords, to ask your Lordships to read this Bill a second time. It is merely a Continuance Bill of the measure passed in 1881, with some slight alterations, which I shall refer to shortly. It is not the first time I have had to address your Lordships on a Bill of this kind. At the same time, it will only be right that I should refer shortly to the pro- visions of the Bill, describe the effect of them, and state why the Government consider it necessary to pass such a Bill now. An Arms Bill has never been treated in this House, or in the other, as a measure of first-rate political importance; but such measures are of very considerable importance with reference to the enforcement of law and order and the protection of life and property in Ireland. The object of the Bill is to regulate the importation of arms into Ireland, and to regulate the holding and the carrying of arms by various people in the country; and it is also a Bill for the regulation of the sale of arms and of ammunition in Ireland. In its operation a measure of this sort is a matter of very considerable importance. It prevents the importation of arms for those who have rebellious designs against Her Majesty's Government. It also prevents the promiscuous carrying of arms, and in that way it checks to a great extent any disposition there may be at times to commit outrages and acts of violence. No doubt, it may be said that no premeditated case of murder has been prevented by the Arms Act. If one individual has a spite against another and determines to commit an act of violence he can always obtain weapons whether there is an Arms Act in force or not. But it must be admitted that the existence of an Act requiring persons to have licences for the possession of arms does, to a great extent, impede the evil purposes of such men, and, indeed, to a certain extent, does check the commission of those murderous crimes which from time to time have been a disgrace to Ireland. There is a third reason why this important check should be put upon the carrying of arms in that country, and it is that in times of great excitement there is a tendency, if there is no check on the carrying of arms, on the part of persons in all classes of the population to carry arms. They carry revolvers to fairs and markets, and also to large meetings where there is considerable excitement. If there is excitement in the country the fact that many persons go about carrying arms greatly adds to the danger to life and increases the possibility of serious outrage and disturbance. It is on this account that Her Majesty's Government have thought it necessary to bring in this Bill. They do not consider they would be justified, when there is great uncertainty as to political affairs in Ireland and there may be great excitement in the country, to add a serious danger to life in that country by allowing the promiscuous carriage of arms. I am happy to think that the circumstances are not so grave as they were in 1881, when I had to introduce this measure to your Lordships. Serious crime does not prevail to such an extent in Ireland as it did then, and the general state of that country is quiet, although in some districts there is a considerable amount of disturbance and excitement. That there is some reason for what I say is shown by the statistics of serious offences. In the first four months of 1881 there were 556 serious offences reported by the police; and in the first four months of 1886 the number was only 184. In 1881 there were 75 prosecutions under the Arms Act; in the following year there were 127; and during the portion of the present year which has passed there have been 51 prosecutions and 44 convictions. There are 28 counties which are wholly or partially proclaimed under the expiring Act; and Antrim, Londonderry, Louth, and Wicklow are the only counties where no proclamation is in force. A proclamation may relate to the holding and carrying of arms, or only to the carrying of arms; and in 10 counties the proclamation is against the carrying of arms. There has been since 1882 a considerable diminution in the number of prosecutions and convictions under the Act. The modifications in the Continuance Bill are twofold. By the Act of 1881 two magistrates might grant a licence for the holding of arms to an occupier living in the Petty Sessional district. This provision was first introduced in 1875, when I drew attention to it. Although I did not divide against it, I made certain objections to the proposal. The provision was reintroduced in the Act 1881. The Government think it is better left out, as it throws a heavy responsibility on the magistrates in any district. In some cases it has been found that they have not the courage to refuse licences to persons who had better have been without them. When that is done there is no remedy but that of revoking the licences through the Lord Lieutenant. I need hardly say that is an invidious task, and it can only be done in extreme cases. It has, therefore, been thought advisable to leave the granting of licences entirely to the Resident Magistrates, who are less subject to local and personal influences. Another Amendment which has been introduced in "another place," is that a Court dealing with a prosecution under this Act shall consist, not of ordinary magistrates, but of two or more Resident Magistrates. This Amendment was assented to after some consideration. It was thought better to leave the adjudication of these somewhat difficult cases to the Resident Magistrates rather than to the local Justices. In the uncertainty prevailing with regard to Ireland, Her Majesty's Government could not take the responsibility of allowing the Act to drop; it is necessary to increase the safety of life and property in Ireland. If your Lordships give a second reading to the Bill, I propose to ask you to suspend the Standing Order, in order that the Bill may go through the remaining stages and receive the Royal Assent this week. The Act of 1881 expires on this very day. Her Majesty's Government introduced the Bill in "another place," not expecting there would be any opposition to it; but opposition came from an unexpected quarter, and hence the Bill has been delayed. It is on that account I have to ask your Lordships to allow the Bill to pass its remaining stages, so that there may be no considerable interregnum between the expiry of the Act and the passing of this Bill. There is also another consideration. At the close of the week your Lordships will adjourn for the Holidays. With these brief remarks I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord President of the Council.)


said, he rose to support the second reading of the Bill, believing that this exceptional legislation was necessary. Those who had paid any attention to the affairs of Ireland knew that when these Acts were allowed to expire crime increased. This happened in 1846, and again in 1880. His noble Friend who had just spoken occupied a most extraordinary position. On the one hand, they heard from the Head of the Government that repressive legislation had never fulfilled its object, while, on the other, they had the noble Earl urging forward this Bill as absolutely necessary for the protection of life and property in Ireland. The Bill was to expire on the 31st of December, 1887. When it was introduced the term was longer. Why had the Government consented to an alteration? In his opinion, the Government had assumed a very serious responsibility indeed in naming so early a date for the expiration of this Bill. They all knew what the programme about Ireland for the future was. They had it explained at the meeting of the Liberal Party recently. They knew it was proposed in the autumn to introduce a measure of immense importance affecting Ireland, and their Lordships must be fully aware that that Autumn Session must be taken up with the consideration of that measure in the other House of Parliament. It might come to this House in the Session of 1887. He could not anticipate what would follow; but any sensible man must admit the probability that there would be great political excitement both here and in Ireland just at the time when this Bill would expire, and the Government would add to this excitement the difficulty which always arose in the House of Commons when a measure such as that now before their Lordships was brought forward. 'The Government had assumed, as he had said, a very grave responsibility in this matter; but he did not think that their Lordships would feel inclined to assume a much graver responsibility by endeavouring to alter the Bill and so delay or risk its passing into law. The responsibility must rest with the Government. He should like to ask the Government whether they were satisfied that the provisions of this Bill would give all the necessary protection to Her Majesty's subjects in Ireland? The Prevention of Crime Act of 1882 expired at the end of last Session, and Mr. Gladstone's Government came to the conclusion that they would propose the renewal of some of the clauses of that Act. When the noble Marquess opposite assumed the Government on Mr. Gladstone's resignation he endeavoured to administer the affairs of Ireland without renewing the Act, and it lapsed at the end of the Session of 1885. The noble Marquess subsequently, at the beginning of this Session, indicated that, in the opinion of the Government over which he presided, it was desirable that some measure of the kind should be introduced. But the Government were defeated before any form was given to the noble Marquess's announcement. In the course of the debate on the Address his noble Friend who was now President of the Council made a speech from the other side of the House, in which he expressed the opinion that, so far as he knew, at the beginning of this year the state of affairs in Ireland was such as to render it necessary to consider the propriety of renewing some of the clauses of that Act. On this subject he wished to say that Members of the Government had used an argument which he did not think any of their Lordships would accept. The Prime Minister, in moving the second reading of the Government of Ireland Bill said, that the position of the noble Marquess last year in deciding not to introduce a measure to renew the provisions of the Crimes Act had "immense historic weight, the effect of which never could be effaced." His noble Friend (Earl Spencer) had used similar language. He was bound to say that he thought that the importance attributed to the noble Marquess's conduct had been immensely exaggerated by the Government, and he did not see how the course of action which the noble Marquess marked out for his Government could be considered to have that momentous effect which the present Government had attributed to it. The Government had been curiously oblivious of two remarkable precedents on the matter. In 1846 there was a combination between the Whigs and the Protectionists, the proposal for an Arms Bill, not unlike the one now before their Lordships, made by Sir Robert Peel, was defeated, and Sir Robert Peel was turned out of Office. Lord John Russell succeeded him, and in the year 1847 did not feel himself debarred by what had taken place in the previous year from proposing what he thought was right in the matter. Lord John Russell proposed and carried a measure not very dissimilar to that which was defeated in 1846. But there was a precedent very much more recent. In the year 1880 the circumstances appeared to him to have been precisely the same as in the year 1885. Lord Beaconsfield in the year 1880 resigned his Office without proposing to Parliament to continue the Protection of Life and Property Act, which was about to expire. Mr. Gladstone, in 1885, resigned his Office under exactly the same circumstances; he did not propose to Parliament to continue the Prevention of Crime Act. In 1880, Mr. Gladstone, succeeding Lord Beaconsfield, determined to carry on the government of Ireland without making any proposals to Parliament for fresh legislation, and allowed the Act to lapse. In 1885 the noble Marquess opposite, succeeding Mr. Gladstone, took precisely the same course as Mr. Gladstone had taken in 1880, and decided to go on without proposing to Parliament the renewal of the Act, which therefore lapsed. What took place after? In 1881, Mr. Gladstone, who was then Prime Minister, decided to introduce a measure similar in character to that which in 1880 he had allowed to lapse; and in 1886 the noble Marquess opposite expressed his intention to carry out a policy of the same kind—namely, to propose to Parliament to renew the repressive legislation which had lapsed. But it was now argued by the Prime Minister that this made it quite impossible for him to take the same course which he did in 1881. The argument became still more unintelligible by the speech which his noble Friend the President of the Council had just delivered. What were their Lordships occupied in doing? They were actually occupied in discussing a measure of that very class of special legislation which the Prime Minister had said was rendered altogether impossible by the action of the noble Marquess last year. The Prime Minister stated that during the last 53 years special legislation for the protection of life and property in Ireland had been ineffectual. Upon that point he happened to be in a position to speak with some authority, because his Relative—Sir George Grey—who was Secretary of State for the Home Department for many years after 1846, had left him some important papers upon the subject. During 20 years of this period of 53 years—that was, from 1847 to 1866, except during a short time when the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended in 1848—the special legislation with regard to Ireland was practically very much of the same nature as the Bill now before their Lordships. The Act passed in 1847 bore the name of the Crime and Outrage (Ireland) Act, and in its main and most important provisions was simply an Arms Act. The rest gave power to place additional constabulary in districts, which it now turned out could be done without special legislation. The noble and learned Lord below the Gangway (Lord FitzGerald), who was then Attorney General for Ireland, changed, in 1856, the name, Crime and Outrage Act, to Peace Preservation Act, as better expressing its object, and that Act was continued until 1870. Had it not effected its purpose? He had there a letter written by Sir George Grey to The Times some years ago, when the conduct of Lord John Russell's Government at the time was challenged, and he expressed his opinion as to the manner in which the Crime and Outrage Act succeeded. The passing of the Act, and the manner in which Lord Clarendon carried it out, produced the result intended. It reduced crime and outrage very much at a time of greater danger and difficulty than the present, when revolution broke out in Paris, and when Thrones were tumbling down all over Europe. This special legislation enabled the Lord Lieutenant to proclaim the City of Dublin, and produced such alarm among the disaffected that the men who, by the advice of Mitchell and of Duffy, had purchased pikes and arms, threw a great portion of them into the Liffey. But let their Lordships take a longer term; let them take the 20 years during which that Act, not a very severe one, was what the Lord Lieutenant had to depend upon for the protection of life and property in Ireland. If they compared the number of agrarian outrages for the first 10 years with the number for the last 10 years of that period they would find that they were reduced more than half. Therefore, with respect to the historical argument of the Prime Minister that for 50 years the Acts had failed, for 20 years of that time they had produced the result they were intended to produce. But neither the precedents of former times nor the argument from history on this question ought to decide the matter. He held that it was the bounden duty of the Government if they believed that Her Majesty's subjects in Ireland were not adequately protected from intimidation to propose such mea- sures as would protect them. Lord Grey had said—"Liberty is based upon public order. If public order is destroyed, liberty cannot exist." He hoped before the discussion terminated they should have a distinct expression of opinion from Her Majesty's Government, on whom the responsibility rested, that they considered Her Majesty's subjects in Ireland were sufficiently protected, and that that was the reason why they had not introduced such provisions for their protection as Her Majesty's subjects had a right to expect.


said, no doubt it was the reason which the noble Earl who had just spoken had given which prevented him from taking his seat on the opposite Bench. The noble Earl had presented considerations which must have carried conviction to every one of their Lordships. For his own part, he should be astounded if any Member of Her Majesty's Government could indicate one single flaw in the noble Earl's statements of facts, or challenge one of the inferences which he had deduced. This Bill had been presented at a time when it was absolutely impossible for their Lordships to make a single Amendment in it; because the noble Earl who had introduced it was to ask for the suspension of the Standing Orders, so that every stage of the measure might be taken to-night. Their Lordships, therefore, could but indicate their opinion of the Bill, and of the way in which it ought to be carried out, if there was to be protection for life and property in Ireland. There was no excuse for the neglect of Her Majesty's Government. Over and over again they had been asked whether it was their intention to reintroduce the measure, and replies were given which did not indicate any clear intention. It was not until the House of Commons was engaged in considering what was called a Government of Ireland Bill, when, to a casual observer, it appeared that there was to be a prolonged agony of procrastination, that this Bill was presented at all. A strange commentary on what was going on in the other House was to be found in the cautious and moderate speech of the noble Earl who moved the second reading, who presented the Bill, to use his own words, as a Bill "to increase the safety of life in Ireland," as a Bill that was "necessary to protect life and property in Ireland;" as a Bill essential "to check men of rebellious views;" as a Bill essential "to check the perpetration of outrages by those who would otherwise avail themselves of their power to commit them;" and, finally, as a measure to check those "who might be labouring under a not unnatural excitement" in the present interesting period. These were grave words to use at the present time. It was a strange thing when it was proposed to hand over the government of Ireland to those who had not shown themselves to be advocates of social order that this Bill should have been presented in the terms used by the noble Earl. This was a measure of vital social importance; a Bill that professed to diminish the crime of murder and to increase the safety of life and property. When presented formerly by Sir William Harcourt, then Home Secretary, he stated that it was a Bill for peace preservation in Ireland. It was part of what had been improperly called a Coercion Code. If men kept their hands from the commission of crime and outrage, they would not come under the operation of those Acts? Was he to be told, then, that this Act was to be called by any other name than that by which the Legislature called it—a measure for the prevention of crime and outrage? He was as much an opponent of coercion as anybody; but he must know what coercion meant. He was against coercion that prevented the landlord from exercising his fair and plain rights reasonably, honestly, and justly; he was against coercion that prevented tenants realizing the profits that came honestly from their own hard labour; that prevented those who went to fairs from doing their business without terror to their lives; that stepped into every relation of life, and made it uncertain whether men who rose in the morning, living honestly and working fairly and justly, would be able to lie down in their beds at night safe and peaceable. He ventured to think that not one solitary syllable of qualification of the words he had ventured to use could be uttered by noble Lords opposite. When the Government originally introduced this Bill, thinking it necessary, he supposed, for the great purpose specified by the noble Earl—the protection of life and property in Ireland—they came to the conclusion that it was necessary that it should con- tinue for two years. Two years was not a very long period, but it was long enough to prevent their being called upon in the next Session of Parliament to consider this question and the products of this Bill. If the Bill was originally necessary for two years, why did the Government accept an Amendment limiting the operation of the Bill to the 31st of December of next year? The responsibility for that was with the Government. They presented this Bill on their own responsibility as a Bill they believed to be absolutely necessary now for the government of Ireland. They originally thought it would be required for two years, and they had not lessened their responsibility because at the bidding of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment in the other House they had cut down that two years. The noble Earl opposite had asked a question, which he supposed would receive an answer from some occupant of the Treasury Bench—namely, were the Government satisfied with their present powers? That question had been asked more than once in the course of the present Session. They were told originally to wait till the 1st of April, and shortly after that they were told that a great panacea would be found. That panacea was all but dead. If it was not dead it was upon its death-bed; and if they could not look to that ill-starred measure to supply what was to be a new source of social order in Ireland, the noble Earl was right in now again pressing the question upon Her Majesty's Government of how did they now think that they would be able to maintain social order in Ireland? This Bill must, of course, be to some extent their answer; but still the noble Earl was entitled to press his question. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill gave some statistics. At a period of his life he had had the honour to be one of the secretaries of the Statistical Society of Ireland. He looked back upon that with satisfaction, for though it had given him some respect for statistics, it had made him utterly fearless when they were quoted against him. The noble Earl had contrasted the first four months of 1886 with the first four months of 1881; in other words, he made a contrast with the worst possible year he could find for the last 10 years. That was a circumstance that was certainly to be borne in mind.


explained that the reason he had made a contrast with 1881 was that that was the year in which the Arms Act was brought in.


contended that that did not in any way check his point, for the fact still remained. He would direct the attention of the noble Earl to the fact that on the Order Paper of that very day there were questions which sought to bring under his attention circumstances indicating the necessity for grave anxiety. At the time when the Government were pressing this Bill in their Lordships' House, and were waiting to withdraw the other Bill in the House of Commons, there were Judges in Ireland who were being protected for their lives simply because they had fearlessly performed the duty of administering justice by the laws made by that House. How did the Government propose to deal with social order? Did they consider the present Bill sufficient? Were they so sure of the co-operation of the National League that they could safely and confidently rely upon it? He saw the other day some severe comments made by one of the Judges of the Land Commission upon the audacity of a secretary of a local branch of the National League, who had threatened with death the auctioneer of the Court if he dared to carry out certain sales. The history of that League had been sketched by Sir William Harcourt in the other House when he said the National League was in apostolic succession to the Land League. No one knew the Land League better than the noble Earl opposite. Did he not know that the National League was very powerful and wielded a great sway? Did he know how many branches it had, and did he believe that it was able and willing to do the behests of the Government? He should await with interest the answer that might be given by Her Majesty's Government to the question of the noble Earl opposite. They had been told before that if they waited they would see what was the plan and policy of Her Majesty's Government in reference to this question. They had waited. The Government had made them wait for a long time for their first disclosure and for what was to be the final issue of that disclosure; but he hoped that in a moment they would have some indication of what were the intentions of Her Majesty's Government when the Bill they had introduced should absolutely cease to be.


With reference to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord as to the delay which has occurred in bringing this Bill before the House, I can hardly think that the noble and learned Lord can be so ignorant of what passed in "another place" as not to know what was the cause of the delay. There is such a thing known there as blocking a Bill, and I daresay the noble and learned Lord will be able to call to mind from what very singular quarters the delay came. That was the reason why the Bill could not be proceeded with sooner in the House of Commons. But the complaint that the Government have not been more ready to press forward coercive legislation comes somewhat strangely from one who, during the six months' tenure of Office by the Conservative Ministry, acquiesced in the absence of any exceptional measures for the preservation of law and order in Ireland, when exceptional measures were much more required than they are now. The noble and learned Lord asks what course the Government intend to pursue with reference to Ireland? Surely the noble and learned Lord must know what the policy of the Government is. That policy may not be popular in your Lordships' House, and may even be in danger "elsewhere;" but to ask me to believe that the noble and learned Lord does not know what it is would be too great a demand upon my credulity. The noble Earl behind me (the Earl of Northbrook) is of opinion that the view of the Government that the past policy of coercion for Ireland has been a failure cannot be supported. The noble Earl does not understand the position of the Government. We do not say that these Acts of repression have all of them failed in the ordinary sense, for we know well that some of them have achieved very considerable success, notably the Crimes Act, which was dropped when the late Government came into Office. But we say that, instead of uniting the people of Ireland in bonds of affection with this nation, and increasing the stability of our Government in that country, this legislation, year by year, and decade by decade, has caused the chasm between the two nations to grow wider and wider, and difficulties to arise greater, perhaps, than those which existed at the time of the Union. It is in that sense that the Government consider that this disastrous policy of repression has failed. My noble Friend has mentioned the proceedings of Lord John Russell when, at the head of the Opposition, he turned out the Government of Sir Robert Peel upon an Arms Act, and subsequently himself introduced a measure of the same kind. That incident really presents one of the strongest proofs of the dangers and difficulties of a policy of intermittent coercion. It taught the historical lesson that such are the exigencies of Party in this country that there is no possibility of a steady policy of coercion being pursued towards Ireland. In 1846 the Protectionist Party, for ends which had no connection with Irish policy, and looking only to their own interests, joined with the Liberal Party to oust Sir Robert Peel, and they upset him for reasons which had nothing to do with Ireland, whose interests were sacrificed to the demands of Party in this country. Then followed the usual retribution, and the successful Party had to bring in a measure like that which they had defeated for the purpose of overthrowing Sir Robert Peel. In 1880 the Conservative Government, when about to leave Office, acting, I am afraid, just as any other Party in this country would have acted, declined to renew the Peace Preservation Act, and why? Because it was inconvenient to renew it. Then came the Government of which I was a Member, and they found that the introduction of a measure to supply the want left by their Predecessors would be disagreeable to their own Party, and would be opposed in a manner which would put a stop to all other Parliamentary Business. Very soon, however, we found that, as usual, the state of Ireland was becoming worse, and we were compelled to have recourse to measures of repression. Precisely the same thing has happened in the last 12 months. The Government of Mr. Gladstone was overthrown when about to introduce some repressive legislation. The noble Marquess came into Office in circumstances of difficulty, I admit; but I cannot help thinking that some Members of his Government must have felt considerable misgiving about the course which he pursued. Many of them, I feel confident, would have been glad of some renewal of the Crimes Act; but a General Election was impending, and the whole circumstances of the case were such that the Government of the noble Marquess, to the great injury of Ireland and to the great danger of the peace of that country, suffered the Act to lapse. I say it does not matter which Party has to deal with these questions. It is not the want of political morality and honour in this or that Party, but it is the circumstances of the case which invariably lead one Party after another to pursue the same course. I say, then, that the coercion policy has failed. The noble Marquess said the other day that to give any policy of that kind fair play it must be pursued continuously and with perseverance for 20 years.


I said nothing whatever about coercion. I said 20 years of wise and resolute government would place Ireland in a satisfactory position. I may have said resolute and continuous policy.


I accept that description; but that is precisely the kind of government that has been lacking in Ireland. You have only had since the Union a Government resolute from time to time by fits and starts; irresolute at other times. That state of things is one of the main reasons why I think that the time has come when it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon a policy which I believe to be disastrous, and that we should try the experiment which Mr. Gladstone has put forward. I do not feel justified in discussing a Bill which is now before the other House; but this I will say—I feel sure that the policy spoken of by the noble and learned Lord is a policy which is far more dead than the Bill to which he referred, and that whatever may be the fate of that Bill now there is sufficient life in the policy which it embodies to warrant our hoping that eventually it will become law.


The noble Earl who has just addressed your Lordships used an argument which would have had great weight if he had been impeaching the consistency and political morality of various Governments, his own included. I agree with the noble Earl as to the low order of the political morality of those who combined in 1847 for objects which had nothing to do with Ireland to prevent the renewal of the powers that were thought necessary for the government of that country. I will say nothing about the morality, although I might say something about the courage, of the Government who quitted Office in 1880, and who left their Successors to renew the powers which were deemed to be essential for the preservation of peace in Ireland. I will not deny that the Government which succeeded, of which I was a Member, thought itself justified in not then renewing the special legislation for Ireland, and in waiting to see whether Ireland could be governed without special powers; but when we found that we required additional powers we asked Parliament for them and obtained them. I must admit that I think an unfortunate time was taken to displace the Government that was in power last year, for the effect was to prevent Parliament being asked to renew those powers which the Government thought necessary; and, as a consequence, the noble Marquess opposite found himself in exactly the same position as the Liberal Administration in 1880. The noble Marquess apparently determined to try the experiment of governing without special powers, rather than encounter those difficulties which undoubtedly he might have met with if he had taken the braver and more courageous course. But I cannot see, because the noble Marquess tried the same experiment last year that we tried in 1880, and with the same result that he also failed, why that should make necessary a total reversal of the course of legislation and the abandonment of measures which have been deemed requisite for the preservation of peace and life and liberty and property in Ireland for so many years. That is what I cannot understand. I demur to the word "policy" as used by the noble Earl below. It is not a policy. It is the discharge of the most absolute and most indispensable duty of a Government, and one the abdication of which I should not like to describe by the word that would most aptly suit it. It may be right or wrong to repeal the Union; it may be right or it may be wrong to give up the government to those who have hitherto set all law at defiance, and made government in Ireland so difficult; but that has no- thing to do with the question whether life and liberty and property ought to be protected. Those who, sitting in the places of Government, apply the term "coercive policy" to the discharge of the first duties of government are not fit for the position they hold. It is not coercion to do what is needful to prevent illegal coercion. It is not coercion to prevent one set of men absolutely tyrannizing over another. What is this present Bill? We have persons saying that we must abandon for ever a policy which they call a policy of coercion, and yet they introduce this Bill—a very proper Bill, though it may not be all that is necessary. They know that legislation of this kind is necessary, and yet they denounce the noble Marquess opposite for making speeches in which he says—"I do not want coercion. I want to interfere as little as possible with the liberty of any man in Ireland or anywhere else; but I do think it necessary for the Government to do what it can to repress crime, and, if fresh powers are wanting, to ask Parliament for powers for the repression of crime." Those who talk in this way about abandoning a policy of repressive legislation do not seem to me to speak as if they really knew what they are talking about.


I listened with great curiosity to the speech of my noble Friend below. He pointed out that by the play of Parties, without attaching exclusive blame to any one of them, Ireland had been grossly misgoverned; but he failed to point out that for what he called the policy of coercion he has any substitute whatever. I do not mean to suggest that he should have indicated arguments in favour of another measure under consideration in the other House; but from the beginning to the end of his speech there was not one word of hope held out that life and liberty and property would in future be assured to the people of Ireland. I listened also to the speech of the noble Lord who introduced this Bill, from which it appears that he is inviting the House to take part in what is little better than a farce. He told us that any law for the prohibition of the possession of arms was almost useless for the prevention of murders. A man who wishes to commit a murder can always procure and hide a revolver. This Bill might be of use to prevent insurrection; but it would not prevent the tyranny now exercised over the people of Ireland by means of secret organizations and their agents who threaten the officials of the Land Courts. My noble Friend quoted statistics to show that at the present moment there was no great amount of agrarian crime. But I have heard Minister after Minister quote statistics of Irish crime, and I always found that these always showed just what was wanted. The figures are of no use for proving the conclusion aimed at by my noble Friend. The very absence of agrarian crimes is proof of the completeness of the power of the National League. This power was evidenced a few days ago in the Dublin Bankruptcy Court, where it appeared, to use the words of Judge Boyd.— That the Secretary of the National League had the audacity to write to the auctioneer of the Court threatening him that if he attempted to let certain land that the Court had ordered to be let his life would probably be in danger. We must have come to a pretty pass, indeed, when such a thing as this can occur; and the Government to meet this state of things propose a Bill which is to last 12 months, and which my noble Friend admits is perfectly useless for the purpose of preventing outrage. I heard him condemn the policy of the noble Marquess in allowing the Crimes Act to expire. What has changed the views of my hon. Friend? Is it the return of 85 Nationalist Members to Parliament, and the necessity of catering for their votes? We are invited to take a leap in the dark, of the result of which it is impossible to judge. I confess that I have no belief in a Government of Ireland set up in Ireland not with the consent of the whole people, but with the consent only of a majority made up of some of the elements which are now coercing the people of Ireland. Instead of blaming the noble Marquess for recommending 20 years of steady, resolute government, I say that steady, resolute government in Ireland ought to last not for 20 years, but for ever. I say we should have a Government which will protect liberty, life, and property permanently in Ireland; and until that is secured, by some means or other, we shall have a repetition or a continuance of those miserable rivalries of Parties which lead to the best interests of the Irish people being sacrificed.


My Lords, there are certain matters on which I think all your Lordships will be agreed. There are none of us who will not desire that individual liberty should be protected and the respect of individual rights preserved. But, my Lords, I quite agree, to some extent, with what has been said about the use of the words "coercion" and "coercive legislation." I agree that it may be necessary at times that you should create an exceptional state of the law to meet an exceptional state of crime; but I do not hesitate to say that in my opinion whenever you are compelled to create an exception from that which you believe to be ordinarily the best, the most just, and the wisest law you are driven to a necessity which is an evil one, which is one only to be adopted after it cannot be possibly avoided. I admit that there are occasions on which it cannot be avoided; but I say the thing is evil in itself, and by whatever name you call it, there is a feeling that the legislation is exceptional, and that you are applying to one part of the Kingdom a law which you do not apply to the other portions. I have heard it said—"Why not apply to the whole of the United Kingdom the laws which are found necessary for Ireland?" My answer to that question is that you cannot. It would be utterly impossible for any Government in this country to propose, with the hope of meeting with the sanction of the people, to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom the laws which you apply to the Irish people. Therefore, while I do not deny that exceptional legislation may be necessary—it is admitted by the introduction of this measure—that legislation is mischievous in its results and to be avoided if possible. I think, too, that when you are driven to exceptional legislation the stronger and the more repressive you make it the more bitter is the feeling which you create against your legislation and against your administration. Exceptional legislation of this kind is an evil, because it creates, not friendship to and sympathy with the law, but hostility to it; and however great and well devised your repressive measures may be they will always have an element of failure about them. The result is to create a sympathy among the people with crime and criminals instead of a sympathy with the law and with those who administer it. That is the difficulty we have to deal with in the repressive legislation with regard to Ireland. Can your Lordships regard with satisfaction the result of this legislation and its action on Ireland for the last half-century? During this period the people have had less sympathy with the law and with those who administer it, less hostility to the criminal, and less desire to assist in discovering him. Is this a result which can possibly be regarded with satisfaction, or can it be regarded otherwise than with a feeling of the deepest regret and dismay? I do not understand my noble Friend the Secretary of State for India in the slightest degree to represent that a coercive policy had not, to some extent, at different times diminished the crime of the country. But it has never done more than diminish it. Some noble Lords have spoken as though these Acts had put an end to crime. Pass the most repressive measures you can devise to-morrow and you cannot put an end to crime in Ireland. You never have done so hitherto, and I do not believe you can. Anyone who doubts this should read the account given in this House of the condition of many parts of Ireland at the beginning of 1880, when the Peace Preservation Act was in force, and when it was administered by a resolute Government for six years, and by a Government which seemed likely to continue in Office for many years. Noble Lords will see from that debate that even with such Acts in force you cannot prevent outrage in Ireland. My noble Friend has said that it is inconsistent on the part of the Government to introduce such a measure when Ireland is not in a peaceful condition. What is the great cause of the want of peace in Ireland at the present time? Does it not consist in hostility to those who administer the law because the people have a hostility to the law itself? It is no use shutting our eyes to the fact. We may lament and deplore it, but it is only befooling ourselves if we should shut our eyes to the fact that the great majority of the people of Ireland hate the Parliamentary Union between the two countries, which enables, as they believe, a Parliament which is not in full sympathy with them to make laws for them. They believe that the laws could be made better for them if they had the power of making the laws for themselves. This feeling has shown itself many times. It has never ceased to be manifested, and it is one of the difficulties to be dealt with in Ireland. Is it inconsistent if there are those who think that it would be possible to bring about a state of things in which that sympathy with law and with the administrators of the law should exist, because that law is their own, and that they would feel sympathy with those who administered the law when it did not come to many of them in an alien garb? I submit that there is no inconsistency in that view. While it does not absolve us from the necessity of asking for such powers as are contained in this Bill, we ought not to be prevented from trying to bring about a better state of things. Surely it is a desirable end to gain if the people of Ireland can be brought to love the connection of Ireland with this country and to have a sympathy with the administration of the law. That, surely, is a great gain, and I do not wish to enter into the question how this end is sought to be attained by another measure of the Government. Her Majesty's Government are consistent in doing two things that are incumbent upon them. One is to ask for exceptional legislation in the direction in which they believe exceptional legislation necessary, and the other is to endeavour to get to the root of the evil and to bring about such a state of things as will render this legislation unnecessary in the future. It is impossible to shut one's eyes to the fact that no measure of exceptional legislation introduced was carried through Parliament without first of all intensely embittering the relations of this country with the people of Ireland. If the Government hoped that it would be possible to introduce a measure which would put matters on a better footing in Ireland, surely it would be nothing short of madness on their part as a prelude to the introduction of that measure to introduce legislation which could not be passed in a week or a month, but which would intensify the feeling of hostility to this country by large masses in the Sister Isle. That was a consideration which should not be lost sight of; and I think such a course would be in the highest degree unwise. The noble Earl has referred to the course which the Government took in 1880, and the course taken by the noble Marquess recently. I cannot ad- mit that the two cases are at all parallel. The noble Earl who dissolved Parliament in 1880 chose his own time for the Dissolution. It was his act that dissolved the Parliament, and he did it within about a couple of months fixed for the date when the Peace Preservation Act was to expire. When the Government came in in 1880 it was absolutely impossible to renew the Peace Preservation Act before it expired; but the state of things in the spring of 1881 was absolutely different from what it was in 1880—in degree, in intensity, and in extent. During the three months after the expiration of the Act in 1880 there was no increase of crime; the increase came later than that, not from the expiring of the Peace Preservation Act at all, but from a state of things which had previously existed in a part of Ireland, and which spread by agitation from the West to the East, until it found its way over a great part of Ireland. During the three or four months following the expiration of the Act there was no increase of crime; but in the following autumn and winter there was an enormous increase. How stands the matter now? Are the two cases parallel? Lord Beaconsfield chose his own time for a Dissolution; Mr. Gladstone did not choose his own time. It is said the noble Marquess, at the beginning of this year, did just what the late Government did in 1881; he trusted to the future introduction of a measure. I should like to know what was the change in the state of things between the time when the noble Marquess came in last summer and the beginning of this year—between the time when the speeches were made last autumn with the view of showing that it was unnecessary to renew the Act and the beginning of this year? The records will show that there was no substantial change, and there is none now. Therefore, I have shown that the two cases are not parallel. I admit to the full it is the duty of those who have the reins of Government at any time to do their best to introduce such measures as will secure due regard to law in all parts of Her Majesty's Dominions. Unfortunately, to secure that completely is impossible for any Government. To secure that for Ireland has never been achieved by any Crimes Act. I venture to think that they may ultimately be found the wiser who have tried, while not failing to introduce exceptional measures, to see if they could not go deeper into the matter and remove the causes which not only intensify existing bitterness, but produce hostility to the law instead of respect for it, and sympathy with the criminal instead of the desire to bring him to justice; so that those who administer the law may come to be regarded, not as the enemies of the people, but as their friends and protectors.


The noble and learned Lord has made, as head of the law, the extraordinary statement that the people of Ireland hate the ordinary law quite as much as the exceptional law; and if we are not to pass exceptional laws, because they will not put down crime, it would seem to follow that we are not to make any attempt to put down crime at all, but are to allow larcenies and burglaries to go on unchecked, for no legislation has achieved that result completely. The value and necessity of exceptional law depends upon what it is, and whether it is addressed to exceptional crime. I am quite willing to take my share of censure, which I think is not much deserved, for not attempting to renew part of the Peace Preservation Act in 1885. I believe that it would have been simply impossible to do it in the circumstances, with a Dissolution pending. The time that would have been occupied in the House of Commons would have delayed legislation until it would have been impracticable. In condemning the late Government at the beginning of this Session, the noble Earl opposite, addressing my noble and learned Friend (Lord Ashbourne), said—"Can the Lord Chancellor now rely upon a jury in Ireland convicting a man of agrarian crime?" Has there since then been this great change of which the noble and learned Lord has spoken? Has "Boycotting" gone down? Has intimidation ceased? I should like to know on what the noble and learned Lord founded his statement that the condition of things is the same as it was last year? What was supposed to be the glory of the noble Earl's (Earl Spencer's) administration? It was that he had kept down crime and kept Ireland in a state of order. I have admitted that the noble Earl exercised his power vigilantly, honestly, and fairly. But the question now put is, What is he prepared to do to meet the existing state of things in Ireland? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has evaded that question altogether. He has given us an essay on exceptional legislation and the evils it does, and at the same time has admitted by the Arms Bill now under discussion that Ireland is disturbed, and needs more than ordinary legislation. Does this Arms Bill meet "Boycotting," the maiming of cattle, and the outrages promoted by the League? The provisions of law that it has been suggested should be re-enacted are not exceptional; they exist in England and Scotland. In Scotland you may institute a judicial inquiry into an offence committed without having the culprit before you; and this provision was adopted for England under the Criminal Law Amendment Bill introduced with general assent. Here, too, we can change the venue, which is one of the most important powers that ought to be enforced in Ireland. Are we to be told we make the Irish people hostile by imposing upon them a yoke we bear ourselves? Are men to be allowed to adopt unlawful means to prevent the sale of cattle and the sending of them to market? The Government are challenged to say what they will do to protect life and property in Ireland, which they know to be deeply and injuriously affected by a criminal conspiracy which exists there. I ask the noble Earl what is he going to do? Can he say that law is enforced? Can the people say that the law is properly administered? It is no answer to say that the people are to have a new Government, which will increase their respect for the law. You have to do with the present; you are neglecting the present. The people are suffering tortures; they are losing property through your neglect. Those tenants who are honest men are afraid to pay their rent through your neglect, and the landlords are impoverished. We read in the newspapers the other day that the ladies of Ireland, many of them, are reduced to destitution, because you will not put the law into force. I see the noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) laughs. He probably thinks it a good laughing matter.


I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. I was laughing at an entirely different matter.


I apologize to the noble Earl, but I feel strongly upon this question. It is a question on which we are bound to exercise our jurisdiction as far as we can for the protection of the loyal people who are attached to this country. We are bound, as men of honour and as men interested in the whole United Kingdom, to do all we can in order to vindicate their rights. The responsibility in this matter, it is said, rested upon us at the end of the last Session, and the noble and learned Lord has reproached us because for a long period the Peace Preservation Act was not renewed. The noble and learned Lord knows that after Parliament was up it was impossible to renew that Act; and as to the former period, when the Government went out in 1880 a Bill was already prepared and was left by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowther) in the Irish Office ready for introduction. My right hon. Friend was ready to introduce that Bill if we had had a Parliamentary majority. We did not get a majority; but the Bill was ready for introduction. Again, at the beginning of this Session we announced our intention to take steps to deal with that state of things which made the law in Ireland a mockery, and which made illegality the rule as against the law. We were prepared to deal with the National League. If you are not prepared to deal with the League, at least let those laws which are in force be brought into operation by means which you can use without interfering with the liberty of a single human being. It will only be the criminal who throws himself against the law who will experience anything like coercion. I call upon you as the Government to say, first of all, can you deny the statement made by the noble Earl that Ireland is in this condition, that anarchy prevails; and then say how you can sit in your places when the Arms Act will not meet the case and not tell us what are your intentions in the future?


It is my duty to make some observations in reply to some remarks that have been made. We have been told that we have used this word "coercion" in an improper way. I confess that I have used it in speeches which I have made, but not in any way such has been described this evening. I have used it, perhaps, as a convenient and short word, and the expression, as has been said, has become a nickname. I, for one, most firmly agree with most of the remarks made upon this subject. I do not admit for a moment that, in all times and in all places, coercion is impossible. I say that at times it will be necessary to bring in exceptional measures when the law of the land cannot be enforced. I have always held that language, and shall hold it again. I cannot agree with the noble Lord opposite, nor can I follow my noble and learned Friend behind me (the Earl of Selborne), for whom I have the highest possible respect, and with whom I acted with great pleasure when we were Colleagues in the Government; but I do feel very earnestly upon this subject. I have not altered one jot or tittle of anything that I have said or felt on the subject of law and order. I feel that the maintenance of law and order is essential to the well-being of the country, and that it is the duty of the Government to try and establish law and order. No one has ever said that exceptional legislation has been in-effectual. I have repeatedly said that on nearly every occasion it has succeeded for the moment. I feel strongly, having had a long and bitter experience in Ireland, that we have put down crime from time to time effectually. But I also feel that you have never been able to succeed in winning the confidence of the Irish people to law and order; and until you succeed in that you are not gaining ground, but losing it, in Ireland. It is for that reason, and after very considerable hesitation and doubt, and with the firm conviction that I was right, that I came to the conclusion that we must leave the old paths in which we have travelled in Ireland, because when exceptional legislation terminates we are always left in a worse position than before. The word "momentous" has been used with regard to the action of the late Government. I feel that it was a momentous position which they took up, for it brought conclusively to my mind that the old policy was not continuous in Ireland, and that without continuity of policy we could not expect to do any good for the Irish people. I do not want to refer to the old subject of one Government and another having pursued one policy at one time and adopted another policy at another time. We have had too much of that. I think that the Government of the noble Marquess opposite took upon itself a grave responsibility when it did not renew certain portions of the Act. At the same time, I think he would have been perfectly justified in the course he took if he had had a new policy to recommend for Ireland. When I spoke at the beginning of the Session in the debate to which reference has been made I asked Questions on the subject, and I felt sure at the time that if the Government had no new policy they were embarking on a very dangerous course in not taking some special means to restore law and order. I quite admit what my noble Friend behind me has said, that there is still intimidation in Ireland. I lament it and deplore it. But I do not think that at this present moment there is a sufficient amount of active crime in the country to necessitate special legislation. We are now making an honest endeavour to get at the root of the evil, instead of dealing with those things which are the consequences of the ill-feeling which prevails. It is because I acknowledge the existence of social disorder that I think it is imperative to try and enter upon some new course which will have a permanent and real effect upon the state of feeling in Ireland. I thought it right to make these few observations; and I hope your Lordships will now consent to the second reading of the Bill.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the said Bill."—(Earl Spencer.)


said, he must protest against the manner in which the Bill had been delayed in its introduction into the House and was now pressed forward with unseemly haste—obliging their Lordships, for the sake of the Public Service, to give up the opportunity of discussing even the principles of the Bill more than very briefly, and its details altogether. That course was calculated to place their Lordships in a very invidious aspect before the country, as always eager at the shortest notice and without discussion to pass any Bill of a coercive character. Judging from the past, he could not believe that was accidental. On the contrary, he feared it was intentional on the part of the Prime Minister, and resulted from feelings long cherished and from time to time expressed by him about their Lordships' House. He did not doubt the sincerity of the Colonial Secretary's repeated declarations of his zeal for the honour of the House, and attributed what had happened before and now to the infinitesimal influence exercised by him and his noble Colleagues over their despotic Chief. He did not wonder at the Government's having arranged that there should be only one discussion in connection with the Bill, and that a very short one, considering how miserable a figure they had presented in the debate just closed. He considered this part of a systematic policy on the part of the Prime Minister to discredit their Lordships' House as much as possible, and to hold it up to odium in the country.

Motion negatived: Then Standing Order No. XXXV. considered (according to order), and dispensed with: Bill read 3a, and passed.