§ Order for the Day for resuming the debate with reference to the continuance of acts of lawlessness in various districts in Ireland, read.
My Lords, I feel that I should not be doing justice to my friends or to the loyal subjects of His Majesty in Ireland if I were not to sup port the appeal of the noble Marquess to His Majesty's Government to prevent the continuance of the terrible state of things which prevails in a number of districts in Ireland. I do not intend to take up your Lordships' time by repeating the arguments of previous speakers, but rather to confine myself to the speech of the noble Lord who replied yesterday for the Irish Office.
But before passing to Lord Denman's speech I should like to refer for a few moments to the condition of the county of Leitrim, which I do not think was mentioned by any noble Lords on this side of the House yesterday and was rather lightly treated by the noble Lord opposite. In doing so I cannot do better than refer to the statement of Mr. Justice Kenny at the Leitrim Quarter Sessions in March last. In his opening remarks Mr. Justice Kenny said—He regretted that the general condition of the county of Leitrim, as appeared from the official statistics laid before him, showed that there was an increase in the number of specially reported cases. He would scarcely think it necessary to observe on the increase but for the fact that it was represented by that very odious form of crime—intimidation, threatening letters, and notices. The county inspector had informed him that a certain district in the country was in a very lawless condition, and that there were three families, represented by twelve people, who were wholly boycotted and received police protection, two other families receiving partial protection. One family existed in such a state of continual danger that there were three policemen quartered in their house.In his concluding remarks, Mr. Justice Kenny stated that—He wished he could say that the county was in a satisfactory condition, but the reports he had received prevented him being able to do so.That was on March 4th of this year. On a later occasion Mr. Justice Kenny, after listening to the evidence and 612 speeches in a case in the county court of Leitrim, said he asked himself whether they were living in a Christian country or a civilised community. The prisoner's counsel, appealing to the jury, had represented that the public looked on with feelings of admiration for what the crowd did on the day in question. Mr Justice Kenny, referring to that statement, said—What does that mean? It means to suggest that the jurors were in sympathy with the lawbreakers, and that they had a feeling of admiration for a mob of 700 men who swept down on a few policemen who were protecting two boys bringing home provisions for their father, mother, and brothers. If the jurors sympathised with that, all he could soy was that they were not fit to be jurors or to fill the most menial office one could conceive.I have a friend who farms in that disturbed district, and he has on several occasions given me interesting information with regard to these disturbances. He happens to be a member of the United Irish League, but he only belongs to it for his own protection. He knows nothing about the rules or regulations and does not want to, except for the purpose of confiding information to the officials, if necessary. He is in close communication with the police. He has many boycotted neighbours in his district, and he tells me that there are many cases which are never reported at all, and that there are others to which the police dare not go on account of their numerical weakness, otherwise they would be severely handled and many of them probably shot. In this district there are several families who are quite unable to provide food for themselves. The noble Lord opposite may contradict that statement, but it is a fact nevertheless. I think I can substantiate that by informing your Lordships that a resolution was passed at a meeting of a branch of the United Irish League held at Sligo in February stating that the committee were informed on good authority that the grabbers were supplied with groceries and provisions at a certain store, describing grabbers as unclean persons, and declaring that respectable persons should keep away from their haunts. I have in my hand many other resolutions of a similar kind, but I will not detain the House by referring to them.
613 I now come to the speech of Lord Denman. In his opening remarks yesterday the noble Lord referred to Ireland as in the main peaceful. Probably it is. Lord Mayo, for instance, stated that he lived in a peaceful part of the country. But a statement of that kind is most misleading, especially to the Loyalists in Ireland. It rather substantiates the remark of the noble Marquess, which was challenged by the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council, as to what those in Ireland feel themselves. They feel that there is no use in reporting disturbances, because the statements of His Majesty's Government lead the people to believe that the Government either do not care about disturbances or are entirely blind to the fact that they exist. I am inclined to think that the statistics which the noble Lord gave us last night are not altogether correct, because I am informed that there are many cases which are not officially reported, and there are other cases which the police know of but dare not approach on account of the weakness of the force behind them. This tends to substantiate the statement made from this side of the House last night and challenged from the Front Bench opposite.
The noble Lord who replied on behalf of the Irish Office told us that the Government were increasing the police force in the disturbed districts; but what in the world is the use of that if the law is not carried out? The police can arrest people and bring them before the courts, but in nine cases out of ten the main object of the jurors is to shield them, and no matter how great the offence is they fine the prisoner Is. and think they have done their duty. Indeed, they dare not do any more. In the early part of this year Mr. Birrell, speaking of the Criminal Law and Procedure Act, said that as far as the administration is concerned the Act is, to all intents and purposes, dead and buried. When these statements are published no wonder disturbances go on.
Another statement which I was very much surprised to hear, and which I think will have been read in the news papers this morning with general astonishment, was the declaration of the noble 614 Lord who represents the Irish Office that—In the opinion of His Majesty's Government, the driving of cattle could not, of itself, be considered a crime of a very serious nature.If driving cattle off a man's farm is not a crime of a very serious nature I do not know what is. The main object is to turn him off his land. He is boycotted, and is unable to obtain food for his family. If that is not sufficient to make him surrender, other injurious proceedings are taken against him, and he is mobbed and probably shot. When such statements on the part of His Majesty's Government are circulated in Ireland how can we expect an improved condition of things? My humble opinion is that if His Majesty's Government intend to increase the police in Ireland they must see that the Crimes Act is carried out. That Act was a terror to law-breakers. Embodied in that Act there was a power to the Lord-Lieutenant to suppress any organisation which encouraged or aided persons to commit crime, acts of violence, or intimidation, or interfered with the administration of the law. Under such a wise Act as that it would be possible at any time for His Majesty's Government to suppress several of the Nationalist organisations engaged in the propagation of lawlessness. Instead of allowing such an excellent Act to be removed from the Statute Book, true wisdom would suggest that there is need for it to be enforced at once.
There was a statement not very long ago in one of the newspapers that the Nationalist Party had an unseen body behind it. We have not been told what that body is, but from information I gather that it includes the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the organisation known as Sinn Fein, and their main object is to do everything contrary to the ruling of the English Government. The Government may say—indeed Lord Denman, in the conclusion of his speech last night, informed us—that it is a very bad policy to bring out these disturbances. That is just what the Nationalists do not want us to do. They tell their people that they must carry on their business in the courts in a rational way, because if they do not, they will be giving 615 their enemies a hold to fight against them in their efforts to obtain Home Rule for Ireland.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I think that my noble friends behind me from Ireland who have listened to this debate have at any rate one cause for congratulation in that the speech of the noble Lord who represents the Irish Office differed considerably in tone from the speeches that we expect and that we get from the Chief Secretary in another place. The Chief Secretary really seems to think that Ireland exists primarily for the purpose of affording him opportunities to make jokes about his opponents, and it was in the course of making one of these jokes that he described my hon. friends in another place as carrion crows. At any rate we can congratulate ourselves on the fact that that sort of wit was absent from the speech of the noble Lord opposite last night. Therefore the task of attacking him this evening can be for us a very much more friendly one than if expressions such as I have quoted had been used.
But if we have this small amount of satisfaction as the result of the debate so far, there is very little else with which we can be satisfied. Though the tone of the noble Lord's speech was perfectly satisfactory, as, if he will allow me to say so, his speeches in this House always are as regards civility to his opponents, we certainly have ground for complaint in the absence of what I may call any tone of disapprobation of the condition of things that has been proved to exist in Ireland. The noble Lord approached the subject it seemed to me, without at all realising— why should he? He does not live in Ireland himself—the seriousness of the condition of things to the people immediately concerned. He began by an elaborate statement of statistics, which I confess he read so fast that I was unable to copy them down, much less fully to grasp their meaning, but which I am sure we would all be glad to inquire into further. I presume they will be laid on the Table, and I trust when they are so laid we shall have full details to enable us to compare them with the statistics of former years.
616 There is, after all, a complete reply to the statistics, as they were quoted yester day, in the speeches of Ministers. The statistics which the noble Lord gave were, in his own words, designed to show that the condition of the country was pretty much the same as it was in the spring of 1905—I suppose he meant the same as it has been off and on during the past two or three years. Now, my Lords, what is the position? The noble Lord has admitted that there are five counties in Ireland in which the state of affairs causes the gravest anxiety to the Government. He admits the accuracy of the quotations we have made from the charges of the judges in four counties. I notice that a special Commissioner sent over to Ireland by one of the great London dailies has published a very interesting book, in which he states that as a result of his observations he believes that law and order are respected in two-thirds of Ireland and that in the remaining third law is maintained, but it is the law of the United Irish League and not the King's law. The position can fairly be summed up in the statement made by the noble Lord yesterday, that the disturbance in these districts is such as to cause the gravest anxiety to the Government of Ireland. Now, was that the condition last year? How did Ministers themselves describe the condition of Ireland last year? In February, 1906, Mr. Bryce said in another place—There is far less boycotting; there is very little intimidation;and later in his speech he said—This is a moment of tranquillity, of peace, and comparatively well-settled order.Comparing that statement with the statement of the noble Lord opposite, how can it be maintained that the condition of Ireland is much the same as during the last two or three years? I myself attach far greater importance to the comparison between these frank statements by Ministers than to any statistics which could be placed on the Table of your Lordships' House. I am not going to weary your Lordships with further quotations as to the state of Ireland. I think a great deal that we claim is admitted by noble Lords opposite, but I wish to refer to one of the most extraordinary statements that I have ever seen 617 when it is read in connection with the debate last night. My noble friend Lord Mayo gave a quotation by which he showed conclusively that though, of course, the Government are not encouraging this campaign, it is said by many of the agitators in Ireland that they have the Government at their back. Yet in the House of Commons yesterday Mr. Birrell, when questioned on the subject, said he had no information that it had been publicly asserted that the Government approved of methods of intimidation. I think this ignorance on Mr. Birrell's part is one of the most remark able things in modern politics.
The Government admit the disturbances. We were told yesterday that they deplore them and are dealing with the situation by sending a few extra police into the disturbed districts. But, my Lords, the Government are showing themselves lukewarm in other ways. My noble friend Lord Clonbrock mentioned an occasion on which the local anti-graziers organised an agitation by which they stopped a sale of land under the Wyndham Act. As far as we know, the Government have acquiesced in this, for the sale has not been further proceeded with. It is not very discouraging to the opponents of the grazing system that they should find that the Government allow this result to attend their efforts. If the Government are really in earnest, as I believe they are since they say so, in their anxiety to put down the present disturbances, they must take far stronger measures than they have taken. The noble Marquess Lord Londonderry suggested changing the venue. That is a well-known expedient, and it is perfectly fair that in times of political passion cases should be transferred to districts where a particular local prejudice does not hold full sway.
What really is necessary is that the root of the matter should be attacked. The root of the matter consists in the attacks on the grazing system, which is a perfectly legal system. By that system the grazing of certain lands is let instead of the land itself. It is, as I say, a perfectly lawful undertaking, and the system is resorted to by large 618 tenants as well as by landlords. Lord Denman suggested that the desire of holders of uneconomic holdings to add these grass lands to their holdings was what lay at the root of this matter. That is not the case at all. I do not believe that there is a single landlord in Ireland who would be unwilling to sell his grass lands in order that they might be added to uneconomic holdings, if he could get a price that would secure to him his present income. The object of this agitation is not to force the sale of the grass lands, but to force the sale of the grass lands at a prairie value. The remedy is clear. It is for the Government to instruct the Estates Commissioners that they are not to recognise sales if they are the result of this intimidation with the object of forcing down the price.
I should like, if I may, to refer very briefly to another matter which has only been touched on in the course of the debate. My noble friend Lord Mayo referred to the position of magistrates and gave us a quotation showing that pressure is being brought to bear on magistrates who do their duty and do not give decisions in accordance with the desires of the United Irish League. It would be interesting to know what the Government intend to do to protect these gentlemen. Personally, I do not believe they will do anything. I wish more particularly to call attention to the case where a magistrate who, being a member of the United Irish League, and probably the engineer of the agitation and one of the leaders of these disturbances, has then to try cases arising out of the disturbances. Any number of such cases are to be found. I will quote four. Mr. P. J. Kelly, J.P., on 24th February last, as reported in the Connaught Leader, was in the chair at a United Irish League meeting at which a gentleman and a lady were called up before the court of the League and forced to give up certain grass holdings. Mr. M. J. Melvin was reported in the Irish Times of April 3 to have said at a board of guardians' meeting that a gentleman, who was applying to fill a temporary post as doctor to the board of guardians, must persuade a relative of his to give 619 up a grass farm before he could be appointed to the post he desired. The rather remarkable expression attributed to him was—He must give up the grasslands, and there will be no child's play about it.Another magistrate, at a meeting of the United Irish League, seconded a resolution to the effect that certain tradesmen were to be reminded that they would get into serious trouble if they supplied food to a man named Brady, who had taken charge of an evicted farm.
I have to-day heard of a remarkable case at Hill street, county Roscommon, where a magistrate declared publicly from the bench that he would be pre pared to take his place in the cells beside the prisoners rather than acquiesce in their punishment. In England magistrates who encouraged the stirring up of disturbances hostile to people carrying on a perfectly legal trade and then went on the bench to try the people who had been arrested on account of the disturbance would not remain on the bench longer than the time necessary for the Lord Chancellor to send a communication to their residences; and in Ireland the Lord Chancellor has more effective powers for the removal of justices than the Lord Chancellor has in England. In one case which I have been told has been brought to the notice of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland no step has been taken. If the Government are really in earnest about putting down these disturbances it is essential that some notice should be taken of the conduct of these gentlemen.
I make no apology for again referring to the most unfortunate remark of the noble Lord opposite about the driving of cattle not being a serious crime. I hoard it with very great regret. That remark, coming from a responsible Minister, will give encouragement to every one of these agitators. We can be quite certain that it has appeared in all the Nationalist newspapers this morning in headings half an inch large. It will spread through the length and breadth of the land. It will be quoted by officials of the United Irish League. It will be quoted in defence of prisoners in the dock. It will be in the minds of the 620 police when they are called upon to carry out the law; and it will be present to the minds of every magistrate and every jury whenever cases come before them as the result of these disturbances. It must be years since a more mischievous statement was made by any responsible Minister in this country.
The noble Lord said that in other parts of Ireland the condition of things was satisfactory. The greater part of the country is contented under the operation of the Wyndham Act, the most discontent being among the landlords, who have to wait five or six years for their purchase money, receiving small interest, less than their rents. Of course, they are disregarded, for they are called the "Protestant garrison" by mob orators, they are sneered at as the "Protestant garrison" by Mr. Birrell, who, in the first speech that he made in the House of Commons as Chief Secretary, could not restrain himself from sneering at his political opponents in Ireland on account of their religious faith.
But though the greater part of Ireland is contented, the remaining part is thoroughly discontented, and the discontent is growing. That well-informed individual—I do not know who he is— The Times Correspondent in Dublin only yesterday sent over a short telegram that shows this growth—The anti-grazing movement in the West of Ireland has now extended to Sir Henry Burke's estate in East Galway, where some days ago a crowd of 200 persons drove of the cattle of a man named Donnelly in the presence of a number of policemen.Here is a statement, published only this morning which shows that even in the last few hours the movement has spread. And it will go on spreading unless, before the end of the debate, His Majesty's Government announce that they intend to take some further and stronger steps to deal with the difficulty.
*THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of Crewe)
My Lords, before I attempt to deal with the various points raised by noble Lords opposite in the course of the discussion, I may perhaps be allowed to allude to the direct occasion of this debate—namely, the expression used by the Prime Minister 621 in reply to a Question in another place. There, my right hon. friend was asked if he would give a day for a discussion upon the state of Ireland, and in his reply, stating his inability to give the time desired, he used the words quoted in the Question of the noble Marquess—the condition of Ireland as a whole is very satisfactory "—He went on to add—Although in certain areas disturbances have recently taken place in consequence of an agitation against the grazing system; proper measures are being taken for the preservation of the peace of those districts.Now, Lord Donoughmore has, I think, admitted that in the main the condition of Ireland is satisfactory—the greater part of Ireland, I think he said. I believe he is the first speaker on that side who has made the admission.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
So far-judging by the rather remarkable canon laid down last week in the course of a debate we had—this discussion has been of a very one-sided character. Noble Lords will remember what happened on Thursday. My noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture produced a return which had been called for on the ground that the Prime Minister had said, not that in no part of England could small holdings be obtained, but that in many parts men could not obtain small holdings. My noble friend produced the return, and we were severely lectured by noble Lords opposite for the one-sided character of the document. We had not stated—though we thought we had proved our case—we had not stated all the cases where people who did not want small holdings could get them. We were accused by the noble Earl opposite, who, if he will allow me to say so, sometimes uses language of a strength in inverse ratio to the strength of his case, of "suppression"; and I, adopting that expression, may say that this debate has been a long course of suppression, for there has been no other admission that any part of Ireland is in a satisfactory condition.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
I beg the noble Earl's pardon for not having noticed it. I will absolve him also. Now surely, in considering this question, you have to consider what are the local conditions. You have in Ulster quiet and contentment; you have Leinster un disturbed, except in those parts to which allusion has been made in the neighbourhood of Roscrea; in Munster, there is considerable disturbance in Clare, and also there is a certain degree of unrest in the county of Cork as described by Lord Barrymore, with whose statement I will deal, if I may, a little later on; then, of course, as we know, in various parts of Connaught there are serious symptoms of disorder. There is another consideration. In speaking of the state of Ireland generally you must compare it, not with England—you must compare Ireland with Ireland, Ireland of the present with Ireland of the past.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
Yes, with last year if you like. Now, as regards Connaught, and in some degrees it may be said of other parts, the unrest or disturbance in some cases has taken a very serious form, I admit, due to agitation over what is known as the grazing question. The noble Earl, Lord Mayo, mentioned the county from which he takes his name and also the county of Sligo as being disturbed.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
And Roscommon, of course. Mayo has been mentioned, and Sligo, as disturbed, but, so far as I know, we have not been furnished with particulars of disturbances there. Now we do not deny the unfortunate condition of unrest in Roscommon and the East Riding of Galway, but it is something, if you find a condition of that kind, to be able to trace its causes, more particularly if you think there is any prospect of those causes being in any way removed. The condition of these great grazing farms is, of course, peculiar. I 623 am not going to say anything disrespectful of these wide pastures of Ire land upon which I have spent many happy days, some of them in company with Lord Mayo; but it is necessary to consider what the condition of these great grazing districts is. They are, in one sense, unique; they are, in many cases, the very best of land: but in respect of their little evidence of human habitation and activity you have to go for purposes of comparison to moors and mountains in other parts of the United Kingdom I think it is evident, in spite of what was said by the noble Lord who spoke last, that whatever may be the economic advantages, from the point of view of those who own them, of these great grazing districts, it must be admitted that they bear a different aspect from the point of view of those who dwell on the uneconomic holdings in the surrounding fringe.
Of course it is perfectly true, in a sense, that the owner has the right to use the land as he sees fit; that is a proposition which in a sense cannot be disputed; but we are bound at the same time to place ourselves in the position of those who, cramped and cribbed on small, poor, uneconomic holdings, see these great stretches of land in their immediate neighbourhood. It is not fair or reason able to think of those who take this view only as covetous of their neighbours' possessions; the whole position of affairs in these districts is unnatural.
It is not for me on an occasion like this to go back to the historical causes which have produced lamentable congestion in the West of Ireland, but we all know of the existence of such congestion— for instance, as formerly on the Dillon estate, with 4,000 tenants at an average of £4 a year. This is not a natural or normal condition of things; it is due to historical causes, into which we need not enter; but it is impossible to suppose that people who live on holdings of this kind can regard the neighbourhood of these great empty farms with approval, or desire otherwise than that there should be some change in the agricultural conditions of their neighbourhood.
We all know that a Commission is now sitting under the most careful and 624 unwearied presidency of my noble friend Lord Dudley; therefore, when we speak of dealing, as far as we possibly can, with this question of grazing lands, it is only reasonable to point out that we are not doing so as the result of pressure or intimidation exercised by anybody, but from a settled policy of attempting, if possible, to remedy this state of affairs in the congested districts. It cannot be denied that a considerable portion of this unrest is due to the delay—I quite admit inevitable—in the presentation of the Report of the Commission; but I have every reason to expect the issue of the report before the close of the year; and if—as is exceedingly likely to be the case, I imagine, from the character of the evidence given—if the Commissioners' Report does state that it is desirable to take steps by which those who live on these uneconomic holdings should be provided with sufficient land to make their holdings a reasonable size, so far as that can be done by administrative action, the Government will lose no time in carrying such recommendations into effect. Neither will the Government tarry in applying legislative action, should that be necessary. In these circumstances, my Lords, I certainly feel that we have the right to appeal to those who are able to influence popular opinion in those parts of Ireland to do everything they can to prevent any exhibition of disorderly conduct, which we deplore quite as much as noble Lords opposite. It must be borne in mind that at present any attempt to improve the conditions of these uneconomic holdings is absolutely limited by the powers of the Congested Districts Board to spend money, and therefore it is impossible for that admirable body to proceed as rapidly in the matter as, no doubt, they themselves would desire.
These exhibitions of disorder have in many cases taken the form of cattle drives. My noble friend, Lord Denman, has been subjected to a degree of criticism which I cannot consider fair for the terms in which he spoke of that practice. Noble Lords opposite must know in their inmost heart that my noble friend had no intention of minimising such criminal and disorderly acts. What he said was that he could not speak of such a crime as one of the most serious crimes, 625 in comparison, for instance, with what took place in what arc called the "bad times," the maiming of cattle, a practice which filled every decent and reputable person not only in this country, but in Ireland, with horror, and which more than anything else tended to alienate popular sympathy from the Nationalist cause. Therefore I think my noble friend, while repudiating the practice, was perfectly within his right in using the language he did use.
I now come to the question of the administration of the law, and the action of the police. I heartily agree with Lord Londonderry that the vindication of the law ought not to be regarded as a Party question. Certainly we have not the slightest intention of so regarding it. I, for one, am entitled, looking back to the years 1892 to 1895, when I had a share in the government of Ireland, to appeal to noble Lords opposite whether Mr. Morley and myself in that time ever faltered in the slightest degree in the proper ad ministration of the law. It is a serious charge that is urged against the present Government. Noble Lords opposite have not gone so far as to say that we are in sympathy with disorder. So far I am obliged to them. But they have de finitely asserted that we have allowed it to be supposed without contradiction that we did not desire to put down these criminal manifestations. I ask any fair-minded person what possible colour is there for an assertion of that kind? I do not wish to dwell upon the observation of Lord Mayo as to the police having been given instructions not to report crime, partly because he did not single out the present Government in making the charge, but, with a credulity for which I should hardly credit him, contended that it was the invariable practice of all Governments, if it suited their case. All I can say is that, so far as the present Government and the Government which I was more intimately connected with in Ireland are concerned, there is not the slightest foundation for any suspicion of the kind. Noble Lords have thrown some discredit upon the figures which were given by my noble friend yesterday. Those figures are the ordinary figures of agrarian crime with which we have all been familiar ever since 626 we have taken an interest in Irish politics. It has lately not been the practice to issue those frequent returns which at one time noble Lords used to receive, and, I sup pose, in some cases to study; but these are the police returns, which are drawn up in precisely the same way. Therefore, so far as figures are of any use in a comparison of this kind—and I quite admit that it is only in a limited sense that figures arc of importance in a matter of this sort —these figures are strictly comparable with those of former years.
The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, spoke of the Government "glossing over" cases of crime in order to con ciliate the Nationalist Members of Parliament. That charge is hardly worthy of the noble Marquess. I do not say he makes it, but I think it is a charge he ought not even to repeat. I defy any noble Lord opposite to prove that a prosecution has not taken place in every case where there was a possibility of obtaining evidence. Of course, in Ireland, as everywhere else, there are cases of undetected crime. There are also cases where the police authorities may not only have a strong suspicion but a moral certainty as to who committed the crimes, and yet have not been able to obtain evidence which would convince a jury. But I say that in every case where evidence was forthcoming a prosecution has taken place. I cannot understand how it has come to be believed that the police would not receive the absolutely loyal support of the Irish Government in every case in which they might take action.
There are two kinds of persons in Ireland, and to some extent in this country, who make the government of Ireland difficult. No words are too strong in condemnation of those who, representing the popular side in Ireland, do anything to encourage or to condone' disorder and crime. Certainly I shall never say a word in excuse of such con duct as that, and whether those who have been guilty of it are men in a high position or low, members of Parliament or magistrates, or whatever their position may be, they deserve, and I trust will receive, not merely the censure that is the due of such conduct, but they will not enjoy, in 627 any case, immunity from the proper consequences of their action. Lord Londonderry quoted a statement that was made that the Chief Secretary had advised people in Ireland to agitate. Of course, my right hon. friend never did anything of the kind. Surely it is an absurd proposition to say that every foolish observation of a disorderly person in Ireland, whether Nationalist or Orange man, should be contradicted by him, either by way of a letter to The Times or from his place in Parliament. Such a statement carries its own refutation, and I am sure my right hon. friend would consider it unworthy of the dignity of a formal and definite contradiction. The noble Earl who spoke last referred to the action of magistrates in Ireland. There is no doubt that in certain cases the conduct of magistrates has been open to severe censure. In some of those cattle-driving cases ex officio magistrates, that is to say chairmen of rural district councils, attended at courts outside their own districts; and in one case an ordinary magistrate attended a trial outside his petty sessions district. The Lord Chancellor has sent these magistrates notice requiring them to give undertakings not to sit outside their districts, and declaring that he proposes to supersede any magistrate who will not obey his injunction. I am quite certain that if any case is brought before him in which it is shown that a magistrate has proved himself unworthy of the great civil trust imposed upon him by his commission, the Lord Chancellor will take steps to suspend him from the commission of the peace, and in doing so he will certainly have the approval and support of His Majesty's Government as a whole.
But there is also, I am sorry to say, another class of people who make the Government of Ireland more difficult, and those are the more bitter and prejudiced supporters of noble Lords opposite. Those people who, by public speech or in pamphlets or in private conversation, inspired by party feeling, endeavour to spread the opinion throughout Ireland that the Government of Ireland is not in earnest in the administration of law and order are doing, in my opinion, quite as much to make the government of Ireland difficult as those whom the 628 noble Lord called agitators. To my mind, such conduct is as directly an encouragement to disorder as anything that is done by those more obvious and noisy people to whom allusion has already been made. If noble Lords opposite allow or encourage people in Ireland to go about saying that this Government sympathises with disorder and crime, it is obvious what the effect must necessarily be. They must encourage those who are disposed to engage in disorder and commit crime.
I am sorry to have to say it, but in an attenuated form something of that kind has even invaded our debates hero. In the debate of yesterday one or two noble Lords made observations which I deeply regretted, because they seemed to encourage that belief. One noble Lord— Lord Barrymore—told a story—whether he believed it I do not know—that the police in a certain case failed to maintain order because they were afraid that if they took strong action they would be thrown over by the Government, or words to that effect. I protest against anything of that kind being told in this House, even as an anecdote. All I can say is that, if there are any con stables in Ireland who believe they will not be supported by the Government in maintaining order, it is not from anything said to them officially or unofficially by anybody associated with the Government, but because they have been told so by some Unionist gentlemen.
Then, again, Lord Dunboyne said that the people knew it was no use complaining, because they could not get protection. Nothing of the kind can be proved. What instance is there in which anybody has applied for protection and has been refused? As a matter of fact, as everybody knows, the police are most sedulous and careful, sometimes indeed, as I know from my own experience when I was in Ireland, to an almost pedantic extent, in surrounding with an adequate system of protection people who had any reason to believe that they were in physical danger. If noble Lords really desire to do what they can to help us to maintain order in Ireland, when they hear anybody saying that the Government desire to encourage disorder it is their obvious duty, if they do not believe 629 it, to contradict such a statement. I hope, after this, that noble Lords will do their utmost to stop these scandalous and most mendacious statements in any part of Ireland with which they are concerned.
Now, my Lords, I pass to consider, very briefly, what has been done to secure the punishment of persons who have been guilty of crime. The spring and summer assizes last year were, on the whole, very satisfactory. At the winter assizes a very large number of cases were brought to trial. Lord Dunboyne mentioned a case, a painful and shocking case it was, of an attempt to murder. The assailant was tried at Limerick and got fifteen years' penal servitude.
The crime was committed in Clare, and my point rather was that it was impossible to get a conviction in Clare. I think you will find that in all the shooting cases that were tried at the last spring assizes in Clare there was not a single conviction. This case, fortunately, was tried at Limerick as there was no winter assize in Clare, with the result that the man was convicted. My point was that you could not obtain a conviction in the county of Clare.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
The county of Clare has always been a difficult county, but I do not think the noble Lord is accurate in saying that there were no convictions at the summer assizes in Clare last year.
I mentioned a case in which the prisoner was well known to the man who was shot in broad day light, from a distance of a few yards, but when he was asked: "Is the prisoner the man who fired at you or no? "The answer was, "I cannot say." The result was that the man was acquitted.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
I do not recognise the case from the noble Lord's statement; but the M'Auliffe case, if that is the one to which the noble Lord alludes, is down for trial again, the jury having disagreed.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
Then I do not know the case to which the noble Lord refers. The noble Viscount, Lord Hill, said that no allusion had been made to Leitrim, but I think that is scarcely accurate. Reference was made pretty fully to the Brady case, one of the most notorious in Leitrim. In that case the jury have twice disagreed, and I under stand it is likely that the case will have to be tried again. Lord Dunboyne mentioned the case of King's County, and I rather think it was he who referred to the charge of Judge Curran at quarter sessions in King's County. I understood the noble Lord to say that the judge had observed that King's County could not be in a worse condition of disorder than at present. The Judge wrote to the Press on seeing that report, and stated that it was a gross fabrication. What he said was that the white gloves which had been given him did not represent the state of the division of King's County in which he was sitting, owing, of course, to the Roscrea case, upon which so much has already been said. Lord Clonbrock mentioned several cases which I am certain aroused sympathy among noble Lords, but I did not understand him to say that there had been a failure to prosecute or a failure to protect in either of those cases.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
I am glad to have that from the noble Lord. As regards the painful case of cattle being taken to a fair and prevented from being sold, I find that steps are being taken to institute prosecutions in that case. Lord Barrymore went into several cases in Cork. The serving of writs, I am afraid, is very often not a very peaceful process in any part of Ireland, but I did not gather what complaint he had to make of the Government in the matter. He went a long way back, to the time when Mr. Long was Chief Secretary, and, of course, we cannot take responsibility for any thing which happened then. He mentioned, however, a case which occurred last autumn, and there several people were prosecuted and received various terms of imprisonment.
631 The Athenry case, of which a great deal—I do not say too much—has been made, leads me to say a word on the whole question of intimidation. I think Lord Mayo referred to the rule that in a case in which an application is made to the Estates Commissioners for the definition of an estate, etc., should it be found that any intimidation has been exercised they shall by order postpone such application until all pending applications of a similar nature in respect of which no intimidation has been exercised shall have been disposed of. Quite apart from the question of the legality or the illegality of that regulation, it seems to me to be faulty. In some cases it prevented the sale of lands which the owner was desirous to dispose of. In such cases, not only the intimidators, but the intimidated suffered. If we are to have a remedy of that kind, I think the proper remedy is not to stop the sale of the estate, but to see that persons guilty of intimidation do not obtain any allotment on that estate; and that is the course which I am led to believe is likely to be pursued.
Several noble Lords have urged upon us the use of the Crimes Act. There is no doubt a very distinct difference of opinion between the two parties in this country as to the desirability of using extraordinary powers. I do not at all accuse noble Lords of this, but there are some persons, if one may judge by what one reads in the newspapers, who take a positive satisfaction in the use of extraordinary powers of that kind. They seem to regard the use of an Act of that sort as having some thing manly and spacious about it, rather in the spirit which induces a certain number of people in this peaceful metropolis of London to go about with revolvers in their pockets. I do not, however, accuse noble Lords of sentiments of that kind. I think it cannot be denied that conditions may arise in any country which make it impossible to rely upon the ordinary law. But we say that every effort ought to be made to rely upon the ordinary law as long as you can. It has been the general experience of Governments that when you employ special provisions it is very difficult to convince a large number of people—not merely criminals, though I think criminals ought to be convinced that the administration of justice is fair, 632 but people who have no sympathy with crime—that your administration of justice is perfectly fair and equitable. To put the same thing in another way; if you succeed here and there in obtaining under the Crimes Act a conviction which you would not otherwise obtain, our contention is that it is possible to buy convictions too dearly. Of course, if you find that the ordinary law breaks down altogether you have to re-consider j the position; but that condition of things I think it is proved by facts and figures has not arrived, and therefore we are determined, so long as we can, to rely upon the ordinary law.
The noble Viscount opposite, Lord Hill, asked why we do not proclaim some of these organisations. I suppose he means the United Irish League. I do not know whether it is contended that when we came into office the United Irish League was a perfectly harmless and praise worthy body. If not, noble Lordson the other side who did not proclaim the United Irish League must bear, I am afraid, a share of this censure. Speaking generally, I do not think it is reasonable to state that there is anything like a general condition of disorder in Ireland. Neither do I think it is reasonable to say that His Majesty's Government have been backward in dealing with such disorder as exists. I confess I was some what astonished at what fell from Lord Clonbrock when he said that in his long experience in Ireland ho had never known a time when the condition of certain districts was as bad as it is at this moment.
I did not quite say that. Excepting 1847–8 and 1879〓82, I said I did not remember a time when the rights of property were less secure and when less effort was made to protect it.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
I am glad the noble lord has somewhat qualified his statement, because those terrible times, at any rate from 1878 to 1890, make a very substantial reduction from the total with which the noble Lord was concerned. I am afraid I must take exception to the statement he has just made as to the absence of effort to protect property, because I do not think that is a reason able charge to bring against us. After 633 all, when you remember that in 1886 there were 1,000 agrarian outrages, and a great many of these outrages were of an infinitely more serious character than any which we have to deal with now, and that last year the number was 234, it does seem to me a bold statement to make as regards Ireland as a whole.
Lord Londonderry alluded to some remarks of Mr. Justice Ross. Mr. Justice Ross specifically said that he was speaking of the West of Ireland, and therefore his remarks do not seem to me to bear the very wide interpretation which was put upon them by the noble Marquess. I am very anxious that no noble Lord in this House should misunderstand me in the way in which my noble friend was, as I think, not very fairly misunderstood, or imagine that I have any wish to minimise the importance of such disorder as exists, or that His Majesty's Government have any intention of doing anything but dealing in the fullest manner with such disorder.
I agree that very considerable watchfulness is necessary. I am at one with noble Lords, from such knowledge of Ireland as I have, in believing that illegal movements of this kind are difficult to con fine to a single district; therefore, it is necessary to exercise great watchfulness. If you offer some kind of excuse or palliation for disorderly action in a particular case, it is likely to be followed as an example by disorderly action in cases in which nobody, however much of a partisan, can invent any excuse what ever. That I freely admit. There fore, I quite agree that severe watchfulness is necessary. But I do not admit that there is a general condition of disorder and illegality in Ireland, and we do assert that such disorder and illegality as exists can be dealt with, and is being dealt with, under the ordinary law of the country.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I think there would be few to question the statement that this debate has been both valuable and useful, and no part of it I am sure is likely to be regarded of more value than the careful and elaborate statement made by the noble Earl who has just sat down. I do not agree with all the inferences and conclusions of the 634 noble Earl, but I would have been very glad if some passages of his speech had been delivered in the House of Commons by the Minister responsible for Ireland and in face of the Members for Ireland.
My noble friend Lord Londonderry, who was followed by other noble friends of mine from Ireland, presented to your Lordships a grave picture of the present state of things in that country. It has never been suggested that the whole of Ireland was in this bad state. That was not necessary in order to make out this case. Everybody knows that a great many counties in Ireland are quite peaceable and quite free from crime. The point is that there is a substantial part of Ireland which is not peaceful, and which is large enough to make people anxious. One is not freed from anxiety with reference to Connaught, and some counties outside, by being told that there are quiet counties in other parts of Ireland.
As to what has been said by the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council in reference to Mr. Justice Ross, I would point out that from his position that able and experienced Judge is certainly able to gauge, to measure, and to express authoritatively an opinion upon the peace and tranquillity of those parts of Ireland which come under his notice, and he has said—and his words remain unchallenged—that a wide-spread and audacious conspiracy is rampant in the west. Could any words uttered by a Judge from the Bench be more grave? I read, too, in the papers this morning that the learned County Court Judge in Roscommon said yesterday in his charge to a grand jury that the present state of that county was deplorable. You can hardly turn to a newspaper without finding similar evidence.
The matter has to be looked plainly and squarely in the face. It is not a general outburst of crime committed for the sake of committing it. There is a special object in view, and that is to cause the breaking up of a system which has been called by the new name "grazierism," to put down grass farms, to terrorise the men who now occupy them into quitting them, and thus bring about a state of things under which the land will be sold greatly under its 635 value. Surely that is a serious thing. It is not the way to work out in the interests of the country an economic revolution. Many of the people affected are poor landlords and poor tenants, but they live by the grass industry, and it is a very grave and serious thing to see this system of terrorism so largely prevailing. It was extremely difficult to understand the noble Earl's reference to the Dudley Commission. I have too much respect for the noble Earl not to think that he had something in his mind in regard to that Report, but he certainly did not clothe it in that logical form which would enable it to be taken in at once at a glance.
What are the weapons with which it is sought to work out this revolution? There is in the front rank the driving off of cattle, which is one of the readiest and most unlawful methods. Then there are boycotting, intimidation, and malicious injury. It is impossible to defend these, and the nature of these weapons shows the extreme peril of the Government's not applying themselves resolutely to coping with the movement. It is impossible to burke discussion. Mr. Birrell has very unwisely, if I may presume to say so, tried to check discussion in another place by abusing Irish Members who had a perfect right to drag before the public eye what was going on in Ireland, by calling them "carrion crows." Such words are indefensible and unbecoming in the highest degree. That is all I will say in reference to them. I have very little doubt that Mr. Birrell now regrets having used them. They have not been forgotten, and it is not easy to see how it is possible to forget them.
There is no one so blind as the person who will not see, and there is no one so dangerous to deal with as the man who will not know. The present condition of things has reached a point when it is impossible to keep one's eyes shut and when everyone must know what is going on. The policy of letting things slide has been applied for many months to the west of Ireland. That policy is easy, it is lazy, and it gives so little offence to those who profit by it; but the result in the west of Ireland is that things have been going 636 from bad to worse, and now a good deal of that part of the country is really out of hand. It is exceedingly hard for any one acquainted with the facts to say that the country is in hand at the present moment and under the grasp of any thing like a firm and reasonable Government.
What has been done? Extra police have been drafted in and protection has been given in cases in which it has been asked for and believed to be needed; but with regard to the taking of grass lands by force, the administration of the country has been nerveless and flabby. The Irish are a clever and intelligent race, and can readily take the measure of a man. I do not know what measure they have applied to Mr. Birrell, but I should think they regard him as a good-natured man of whom they need not be very much afraid. The noble Lord who spoke last night on behalf of the Irish Office used full notes, and those notes must have been prepared by Mr. Birrell. I have great respect for the noble Lord who represents the Irish Office, but I assume that every syllable that was stated to the House yesterday by him was prepared by Mr. Birrell.
It is not right to say that every syllable was prepared. The statistics I made use of were pre pared in the Irish Office, but the rest of my notes I naturally prepared my self.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
I have no doubt that the noble Lord satisfied himself before delivering his speech that he was making a statement which was agreeable to and in accordance with the wishes and the policy of the Chief Secretary. It must be so, because it was an important occasion, and it would be impossible for anyone in the position of the noble Lord to take upon himself any language or words which had not the sanction and approval of the Chief Secretary. Misleading inferences may be drawn from the quotation of Judges' charges without consideration of context and circum stances. If a Judge adds to his remarks on the absence of cases the words —I think it right at the same time to say hat this division is not at all quiet,637 or some equivalent words, the quotation of them would obviate erroneous inferences from the fact that a pair of white gloves had been presented to him. Often there is no trial because the victims of intimidation have yielded to the terrorism.
I understand that police recruiting has been modified. I would like to know if, considering the state of the west of Ireland, the Government are satisfied as to the number and distribution of their police, and are bearing in mind that policemen are not trained in a day. The selection of police takes time, and I sincerely hope that the matter is being examined into with all the care that it needs. I have no doubt that there is every desire on the part of the Government, as was stated by the noble Earl in his speech, to give protection where it is required and to institute prosecutions. I do not say anything in reference to that matter in addition to what has been said. I will watch the result. I think it right, notwithstanding what has been said, to refer to the statement made yesterday by Lord Denman, that—In the opinion of the Government the driving of cattle could not, of itself, be regarded as a crime of a very serious nature.I was in hopes that the noble Earl would have given us an unqualified withdrawal, in the name of the Government, of that statement. But what the noble Earl has said has added to its seriousness, for, speaking with all the weight of his great position, and as a Cabinet Minister, he has, as I understood him, repeated the same thing in slightly different words. Cattle driving is not, as he suggests, so bad as cattle maiming. I admit it. It is not as bad as murder and many other offences; but for a responsible Minister, speaking for the Irish Office, to say that cattle driving is not to be regarded as a crime of a very serious character, is perilous, most mischievous, and likely to lead to crime and disaster in Ireland.
I earnestly hope that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, who, I presume, will speak before the debate closes, will not use any doubtful or halting language which will be open to misconstruction on this matter. Cattle driving is one of the most potent weapons in 638 use in the west of Ireland for the spread of disorder, intimidation, and terrorism. To let it go forth that it is not to be regarded as a very serious crime is indefensible, and the consequences may be very serious. This is disastrous teaching to the people, to the magistrates, and to the police. It is difficult now to get magistrates to try these cases because of the unpopularity which follows, and it will have a serious effect upon them when they reflect that they have tried men and sentenced them to punishment for an offence which the Government have declared is not a very serious one. I could pursue the deadly consequences further.
I make no charge against individual members of the Government, whom I credit with a desire to give every possible protection against crime; but it is widely felt in Ireland that they have not worked with the zeal, resolution, and energy necessary to cope with the state of affairs confronting them. If a Home Secretary allowed a single parish, or half a parish, in England to be in the condition of the west of Ireland for twenty-four hours he would be drummed out of his place as incapable. I venture to think that it is much worse than being incapable to know of disorder and not to apply ability and knowledge to deal with it, and so be exposed to a charge of wanting resolution or being equivocal in courage. This is a very grave question for the country as well as for the Government themselves. I am informed in letters which I receive from Ireland from those capable of judging that if the Government do not rouse themselves to do more than express becoming sentiments, we may drift into agrarian war. It is a grave state of things if there is some thing like a common understanding as to the manner of dealing with these grass lands in Ireland and men are banded together to defy the law. The position, I am informed, is likely to become worse if there is not more resolution and nerve on the part of the Government.
Popularity and unpopularity arc words that should never be used in administration. Popularity may be bought too dear. Lord Denman said that the Government were determined to administer the law with firmness and 639 decision, but a statement not yet dealt with has been made in the debate to the effect that a magistrate's sentence of three months imprisonment in the West of Ireland, where it is hard to get convictions, has been, on the Chief Secretary's recommendation, commuted to fifteen days. I make no comment on this, but it adds to the responsibility of the Government, and I press upon them the stern necessity of maintaining the King's peace in Ireland. I am glad to hear what is being done by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to secure impartial administration of justice without prejudice, passion, or intimidation. The object of this debate is to press upon the Government their responsibility in reference to the present condition of certain districts in Ireland. Up to the present it has not been obvious that there has been any alertness in rising to a sense of that responsibility. As to the future, I can only hope that the statements made by the noble Earl will find fruition and effect, but the Government must expect, knowing the importance of the position and the interest it has to all, to find their actions closely and jealously scanned to see if they rise to the level of their responsibility and primal duty—the maintenance of law and order, the highest need of civilization.
LORD ORANMORE And BROWNE
My Lords, the noble Marquess the Leader of the House and the noble Earl who sits beside him have both had great experience of the difficulties of administration in Ireland under former Liberal Governments. They know that from very small beginnings great consequences often ensue, and though from their official position they may be obliged to adopt an optimistic tone, yet I think that if they spoke from their hearts they would say: "We know that all you have told us is true. We have impressed the fact on our colleague the Chief Secretary, but, after all, you cannot put an old head on young shoulders." I think every noble Lord in this House will agree with me that Mr. Birrell, so far as Ireland is concerned, has certainly shown that he has a very young head. He has not taken to heart the statement attributed to a late distinguished Irishman and a member of your 640 Lordships' House that in every village there you find three or four blackguards who call themselves the people of Ireland, and unless these blackguards are con trolled they become, not only the people of Ireland, but the rulers of the people of Ireland. The people of Ireland have not that independence of character, that self-reliance, which characterises Englishmen and Scotsmen, and when there is a conflict between the United Irish League and the Government of the day they are inclined to choose whichever they think is the stronger party.
I, for one, believe that the whole of this disorder might have been avoided if the regulation as to the purchase of property when intimidation was practised had remained in force. I am sure we all welcome the statement of the noble Earl that the Regulation is to be re-enacted in a modified form. There seems to me to be no difference of opinion as to the desirability of small farmers being given more land. Landlords, whatever they may think of the experiment, are perfectly ready that it should be tried, and there would be no difficulty in obtaining grass land from them if they were sure that their income would not be lessened by the sale of such land. But this would not suit the agitators, who desire to bring down the price of land to such a figure as would ruin not only the landlords but the graziers; and when they succeed in doing this it creates a precedent with regard to the price to be given for grass lands. A landowner treated in this way, suddenly finding land which is largely mortgaged thrown on his hands with no money to stock it and with the knowledge that if he did stock it he would be boycotted, is obliged to sell at whatever price he can get. The graziers are in perhaps a worse position. Their cattle is deteriorated in value through these drives, and they are forced to dump them on a flooded market and with the proceeds search for a new form of livelihood.
I do not wish to say very much with regard to the unfortunate reference of Lord Denman to cattle driving as a not very serious crime; but I ask the noble Lord to imagine such a scene as has been described taking place in Sussex, and what would be his own feeling if he had a tenant fired at and wounded because he 641 would not give up his tenancy at the demand of the agitators. I rather think the views of the noble Lord would then be changed in regard to this matter. The noble Lord mentioned, in connection with the statistics that he gave to the House, that crime had not increased. That subject has been dealt with by the noble and learned Lord who spoke last. It should be remembered that it is not necessary for actual crimes to be committed when the edicts of the United Irish League have the same force as the decrees of the High Court in this country. I was glad to hear from the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council that the statistics which were quoted were based on the same principles as those which have been given before, because I think some of us imagined that the statements came within the same category as those which the President of the Board of Agriculture gave us the other day with regard to another matter and only put forward one side of the question.
The noble Earl said that no reference had been made to crime in Mayo. I will quote two instances for his benefit. In county Mayo on 19th May, near Ballina, about 100 cattle and sheep on a grazing farm were driven during the night, and on the following morning were found roaming about the roads. Some ill-feeling had been caused by the tenant renewing his eleven months take of the farm. The second instance I would refer to is a resolution of the North Mayo Convention of the United Irish League strongly condemning graziers and grabbers, and urging that they should not be allowed to walk the country in safety, or otherwise there would soon be no one left in Mayo but graziers and grabbers.
This matter has not been brought forward in any Party spirit by the noble Marquess. Whatever political views they may hold the first duty of Government is to enforce law and order, and I am delighted to hear from the speech of the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council that His Majesty's Ministers do not intend to fail in this primary duty.
*THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of Ripon)
My Lords, if I had not understood that the noble Lord 642 who has just sat down was anxious to address the House at that particular moment I should certainly have risen when the noble and learned Lord opposite sat down, because, my Lords, I do earnestly protest against the tone and language of the speech delivered by him I think it was my noble friend Lord Donoughmore who told us, speaking of some expression to which he took exception used by my noble friend Lord Denman yesterday, that it would be published in every newspaper in Ireland with a double-leaded heading. I have no doubt that the speech of the noble and learned Lord will be published in every newspaper in Ireland with a still darker heading. That speech was an excellent example of that class of sentiment to which my noble friend behind me took exception.
I adhere absolutely and entirely to the statement of my noble friend the Lord President of the Council. His admirable, speech I had hoped would have convinced your Lordships, as it was undoubtedly entitled to convince you, of the intention of His Majesty's Government to deal as they ought to deal with disorders of the kind which have formed the subject of this discussion, without fear or favour putting into operation all the powers of the ordinary law which they possess. I am not in the least inclined to under-rate the character of the disorders which have been referred to to-night, and I deny that there has been anything said in this debate which can justly be taken as indicating indifference on the part of the Government to these disorders.
I am almost ashamed to detain your Lordships even for a few moments after my noble friend's speech. If I had spoken an hour ago I should have ex pressed my satisfaction at the turn which this debate had taken. I should have acknowledged the advantage which we derived from the course taken by the noble Marquess opposite in having brought this subject before the House, because it seems to me that it has had the very desirable effect of clearing up the doubt which seems to have existed, most unjustly, in my opinion, in the minds of some noble Lords opposite that these disorders would not be dealt 643 with adequately by His Majesty's Government. My Lords, I cannot conceive that there can be any doubt in the mind of anyone who listened to the speech of my noble friend the Lord President of the Council that it is the fixed determination of His Majesty's Government to deal adequately with the matter.
I fail to see how any exception can be taken, after the facts that have been stated, to the words of my right hon. friend the Prime Minister which stand at the bottom of the noble Marquess's Notice on the Paper, that—The condition of Ireland, as a whole, is very satisfactory.If my right hon. friend had said that the condition of Ireland generally is very satisfactory, the statement might have been questioned. I admit—we all admit —that in certain parts of Ireland there are serious disturbances, serious breaches of the law, and serious offences that must be punished. But it cannot be denied—in fact it is admitted by noble Lords opposite—that in the major part of Ireland there is great tranquillity. My noble and learned friend opposite, if he will allow me so to call him, is usually so urbane that I am really quite puzzled at his extreme denunciation of an innocent Government. Of course we have never had any intention whatever of neglecting this matter, or of not putting the law into force. My noble friend Lord Denman, in the remarks which he made, showed you what the Government had done. My noble friend behind me, the Lord President of the Council, completed that evidence by enlarging upon the intentions of the Government in respect to these particular districts. I cannot do more than repeat that which has been said before, and I rest entirely upon the speech of my noble friend behind me, the Lord President, whose experience of Irish affairs and whose general character ought to be sufficient to reassure noble Lords opposite.
I also desire to associate myself entirely with my noble friend in what he said with respect to the application of the ordinary law. There are always people in this country and in Ireland crying out for exceptional measures. In my opinion, resort to exceptional measures, unless it is called for by very special circumstances, 644 is a very serious evil. I know there are plenty of people who think it is the first thing you ought to do. The only com plaint I have to make of my noble friend the noble Marquess opposite is that he said: "You have the Crimes Act at your hand." But, my Lords, we do not want to use the Crimes Act. We want to stand by the ordinary law unless the ordinary law fails.
We do intend to put an end to the proceedings which have formed the subject of this discussion. As the responsibility rests upon us, as we are the persons responsible for the maintenance— for the re-establishment I would rather say - of peace and tranquillity in the disturbed districts, I venture to think your Lordships had better leave to us the responsibility which belongs to us. I do very earnestly and very strongly deprecate the use of language which may be all very well for a Party debate, but which is calculated to give the entirely false impression to the people of these disturbed districts that there is any inclination on the part of His Majesty's Government not to deal firmly with this question.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, this important discussion has had one result upon which we, on this side, may certainly congratulate our selves. It has elicited from His Majesty's Government a very much more distinct statement than any which has to the best of my belief been previously made of their intention to maintain law and order in Ireland. We have been told by the noble Lords who have spoken on behalf of the Government that they regard the present condition of things in a considerable part of that country with grave anxiety, and that they intend to enforce the law with firmness and decision; and the noble Marquess who has just sat down, in the few energetic words he addressed to the House, repeated that promise in even more emphatic language than had been used by his colleagues.
I call your Lordships' attention to the fact that what the noble Marquess committed His Majesty's Government to was the re-establishment of law and order in the disturbed parts of Ireland. 645 We have in that an admission of the whole case made by my noble friend who brought this subject before the House, because if law and order must be re-established, it follows that they are at this moment in abeyance. I would venture to express a hope that language corresponding to the language which has been employed in this House will be used by the colleagues of the noble Marquess in another place. A frank statement of that kind made in the presence of those who are so much interested in the matter, as the representatives of Ireland, could not fail, I think, to have a most important effect upon the condition of that country.
I have been much more reassured by those statements— which I accept with out any reservation— than by the at tempts that have been made to represent to us that the mischief of these proceedings in Ireland was much less far-reaching than we supposed. I am not going to pursue further the question of the somewhat unfortunate remark of the noble Lord who spoke first for the Government in regard to cattle driving. I take a more charitable view of the noble Lord's lapsus linguœ. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, being, perhaps, inexperienced in matters of Irish agriculture, was under the impression that just as it might be good for an elderly gentleman to take a little brisk exercise along the high road, so it might not be a bad thing for a few corpulent bullocks to be driven to the next parish, to the sound of trumpets and drums, on the chance that they might get back to their legitimate pastures again without having fallen in value £2 or £3 per head.
Statistics, again, do not appeal very forcibly to me. There is one reason why you must always discount these statistics, and that is that wherever the despotism of these illegal conspiracies prevails, these outrages, when they do take place, are not reported, and— I am afraid one must say — outrages sometimes do not take place, because they have ceased to be necessary for the purposes of those who take part in these 646 sinister movements. Therefore, when I have to choose between the statistics which have been laid before the House and the experiences of noble Lords who live in Ireland, and of the Judges, who have exceptional opportunities of learning what is happening not only on the surface but below the surface, I attach more importance to evidence of that class than to any amount of figures which Government Departments are able to produce.
There are certain circumstances that are undisputed. It is not denied that there are considerable areas in Ireland within which this system of persecution reigns rampant. We have heard a great deal about what is called in these days grazierism. These grazing farms not only represent a perfectly legitimate industry, but they fill a very useful place in the system of Irish agriculture, because store cattle to be properly finished for market must have some access to richer land. The Lord President of the Council told us that these rich grazing lands arc surrounded by uneconomic holdings, the occupiers of which desire an enlargement of their occupations. That may be a natural view, and it may be a view which the Government are ready to take into account, and if they have proposals for acquiring land for the purpose by ordinary negotiation no one will object. But what we object to is that, as a preliminary to this arrangement, these lands should become derelict owing to these cattle-driving expeditions, and then, being derelict, be sold below their value to the Congested Districts Board for the enlargement of the smaller farms. We know that a very large number of surrenders of these grazing farms has been brought about by this process of intimidation. I am told that in Roscommon alone thirty farms have been so surrendered in the last few weeks. That is a state of things which must be regarded as of the most serious description.
There is another matter of the utmost gravity—I refer to the conduct of the local Benches. Could any scandal be greater than the behaviour of some of these local Benches when dealing with 647 cases of intimidation? Imagine the kind of justice which is likely to be meted out by such magistrates as some of those whose language has been quoted! What makes the matter more serious is that not only do the legitimate Courts of law fail in their duty, but you have side by side with them the operations of the illegitimate courts, created under the auspices of the League—courts which have a quasi-legal form of procedure, which summon people before them, which require acts of sub mission, which impose fines, and which know perfectly well how to impose other penalties of the gravest description.
Another matter that is most alarming, and as to which no contradiction has been given, is the strain which these events put upon the police. You have been driven, because you have shrunk from other measures, to the comparatively clumsy procedure of garrisoning the surrendered farms with large bodies of police. Are you quite sure, if this evil goes on spreading, that you will have police enough to maintain law and order? Have your Lordships read the account of an incident which took place the other day? A body of police urgently required for the purpose of maintaining law and order arrived at Birr station. They found the platform occupied by a howling mob. They were not permitted to leave the train, and were obliged to travel to the next station, from which they marched back across country to Birr. If we were to read of such an occurrence happening in one of the Western States of America, we should thank our stars we did not reside in a country where things had come to such a pass; and yet these are the kind of events which are happening in a country which we are pleased to regard as civilised.
And, my Lords, what makes the matter serious is that the disease is spreading, and, unless it is checked, it cannot fail to contaminate the adjoining regions. We have been told by the Lord President that the attitude of His Majesty's Government is to be one of severe watchfulness. That is a somewhat ambiguous phrase; I trust we are not to understand it as denoting the kind of 648 watchfulness which may be exercised with your hands safe in your pockets. I do not think that up to the present His Majesty's Government can altogether escape responsibility for having neglected some, at any rate, of the measures of precaution which lay ready to their hand. His Majesty's Government have allowed the Peace Preservation Act of 1881 to lapse. Then there is the Crimes Act of 1887. Now, I entirely agree with the noble Earl opposite that it is undesirable to have recourse to extraordinary measures of this kind unless you are obliged to do so; but let me remind your Lordships of what has happened. The whole of the proclamations under the Act of 1887 were, unless I am wrong, simultaneously with drawn, in what seemed to most of us a rather theatrical manner, and this was coupled with the announcement that the Act was dead and buried. That is a phrase which certainly was calculated to create the impression that under no circumstances would advantage ever be taken of that Act. That I do not understand to be what the noble Earl has told us this evening. I understood him to say that, so long as His Majesty's Government could, they would rely on the ordinary law.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
Perhaps I ought to explain that I have no anticipation that the, Crimes Act will be brought into force, but I should certainly guard myself from saying that there is no provision in that Act which under no circumstances could be brought into force either in Ireland or in any part of the United Kingdom.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
At any rate I take it the Government do not intend to go so far as to tell us that, no matter how grave the condition of the country may become, they will not avail themselves of the exceptional powers conferred by the Crimes Act of 1887. At any rate they stop short of that.
I know that the reluctance of His Majesty's Ministers to deal vigorously 649 with this matter arises from their feeling that they should spare no pains to conciliate the people of Ireland. But whom do they expect to conciliate by an exhibition of timidity? You may roughly divide the people with whom you have to deal into two classes. You have the professional politicians, the wire-pullers, and their dupes. If you think you are going to conciliate people of that sort by giving them a freehand to preach disorder throughout the country you are very much mistaken. I believe that your timidity will not be of any avail, and that all you will get for your pains will be ridicule instead of gratitude.
Then, my Lords, there is the great body of the peasantry of Ireland. The peasantry of Ireland never were better off or in a more prosperous condition than at present. You have given the Irish farmer his land at a fair rent, you have given him security of tenure, and now you have given him the power to acquire the fee simple of his land on terms of the most advantageous description. I say without hesitation that in the civilised world there is no cultivator of the soil who occupies his holding upon conditions as favourable, or half as favourable, as the Irish farmer. It is a cruel kindness to these people to allow their thoughts to be turned from the vocation which they are following, to divert their attention from their legitimate aspirations to acquire the ownership of the soil, towards visionary schemes, towards the reopening of questions already settled, towards the idea that if they agitate long enough they will get terms even more favourable than those to which they already have access. I earnestly trust that, after what has been said to-night, the period of hesitation through which I cannot help thinking His Majesty's Government have passed is at an end, and that they will address themselves seriously to checking a movement which has already become so serious, and which, if it goes on unchecked, will bring disaster to all classes of the community in Ireland.
§ House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.