§ MR. MOORE
said, he would beg to put one or two Questions to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, and he trusted that in put- 77 ting them the House would, as they related to matters of some complication and great public interest, grant him such indulgence as its rules would permit. There were two Motions on the Notice Paper for to-morrow, having reference to the health and general treatment of the prisoners who were now confined for political offences in this country. One of these Motions stood in the name of the hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. Callan), the other in his own. I The Motion of the hon. Member for Dundalk was of a very large and extensive character; but that of which he (Mr. Moore) had given notice touched only on individual cases. It was possible those Motions might give rise to very considerable discussion, and he was aware it was the wish of the House to renew to-morrow the debate on the Education Bill without further interruption. Under these circumstances, it appeared to him that it would greatly facilitate the discharge of Public Business if the right hon. Gentleman could give him such an answer to the inquiry which he was about to address to him as would render it unnecessary to proceed with the Motions to which he referred. It would be in the recollection of the House that various statements with regard to the treatment of the political prisoners had from time to time been made in that House and out of it. Official inquiries had been instituted into those statements, and official Reports had been made on them, of which the accuracy and justice were denied. Of course, he did not mean to express any opinion as to the relative value of these Reports or contradictions. But the Motions which stood on the Paper for tomorrow clearly intimated—in the opinion of those who were to move them, at all events—that the result had not been satisfactory, and that a full and free inquiry into the health and treatment of the political prisoners in this country would be a public advantage. He would, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, Whether he was prepared to grant such a full and free inquiry on which both sides of the question might be represented, and which would be sufficient to relieve the public mind from all further doubts or suspicions on the subject? There was, however, another question of still greater importance, which he 78 felt it to be his duty to put to the right hon. Gentleman. Rather more than twelve months ago an amnesty was granted to a certain number of political prisoners who were then in confinement. He would make no allusion to the character of that amnesty or its effect. It was a fact that it had been granted; it was a fact that it was partial; and it was a fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), under whose Administration very many of the political prisoners had been tried and convicted, had recently stated in that House that an amnesty, if granted at all, should have been complete. It was also a fact, as he had teen informed, that General Burke, one of the political prisoners, had recently become insane, and by the Report of the Medical Officer of Mountjoy Prison it appeared that previously four political prisoners, untried, had lost their senses under the infliction of imprisonment. It was also stated, on authority which no one in that House would, he thought, question, that at least one other of the political prisoners was threatened with a similar calamity. He had, therefore, to ask the First Minister of the Crown, Whether it would tend to the credit or the honour of the administration of justice to retain in durance the shattered bodies of unfortunate men whose minds had wandered away from the control of human jurisdiction? ["Order!"] He considered he was strictly within the limits of the rules of the House. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had received lately a proposition made on behalf of her husband from the wife of one of the political prisoners; and he (Mr. Moore) was bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman had answered her with a chivalrous respect and a courteous forbearance which did him honour, and for which he begged to thank him in her name. It would be unnecessary to say more than to ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, Whether, under all the circumstances which he (Mr. Moore) had stated, and many more which he had refrained from stating, the time had not come in which the amnesty of last year might be made complete without endangering the public safety or the ends of public justice?
think, Sir, I shall best consult the convenience of the 79 House and of the hon. Member who has made these inquiries, if divide the answer into three parts. In the first place, with respect to the Question as to the condition of the political prisoners, I stated on a former occasion that their allegations of ill-treatment had been categorically denied by the only persons to whom we could refer—namely, the persons in authority who have the charge of the prisoners, and in whose reports it is our duty to place confidence. But the hon. Gentleman has said very truly that the Notice of Motion given by a Member of Parliament for an inquiry, with which other Members of Parliament appear to sympathize, raises a question beyond the mere satisfaction of the minds of the Government, or the trustworthiness of the officers of the prison, and it is our opinion that, under these circumstances, it will be politic and just to allow an inquiry into the truth of these allegations, which shall be of a perfectly impartial character, conducted by impartial persons. Of course, we shall be responsible for the manner in which the inquiry is conducted, and the hands in which it will be placed; but to the principle of that inquiry we think it, under the circumstances of the case, wise and proper to accede. Then, with respect to the health of certain political prisoners, the information supplied to me by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bruce) does not entirely tally with what has been given to the hon. Member. But thus far we are agreed—that two of the prisoners, as understand, have passed into a state of unsound mind, and in consequence of that unsoundness of mind they have been released. There is also a third prisoner with regard to whom a question may arise; but as to the fourth mentioned by the hon. Member—
Besides the two prisoners who have been released, there is the case of Richard Burke, who was accessory to the Clerkenwell explosion of 1868. He was afterwards confined in the Chatham Convict Prison, and, up to the 9th of December, 1869, he was reported to be in good health both of mind and body, and also well-behaved in prison. On that day, however, he was reported to be suffering from depression of spirits and loss of appetite, 80 so that his removal to another place was recommended, and, on the 10th of December, he was transferred to the invalid prison at Woking. Shortly after his arrival at Woking, signs of further mental disturbance appeared, and the chief medical officer of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dr. Meyer, has visited him more than once, and has reported that, after careful examination, he has come to the conclusion that Burke is of unsound mind. At the same time, Dr. Meyer reports:—"I am further of opinion that he is not unlikely to recover from his present state of dementia." Under these circumstances, it was quite right to relieve him from the ordinary treatment of political prisoners; but I do not think the hon. Member himself will be of opinion that the case ought to be treated as one of permanently unsound mind to the extent of entitling such a person to an absolute release. In our judgment there would be no sufficient warrant for such a step at the present time and under present circumstances. Having disposed of these two points, I have now to answer the third and more general Question put by the hon. Gentleman. He asks whether we think the time has now come when the amnesty which was partially conceded, not by an arbitrary choice, but upon particular grounds of selection, somewhat more than twelve months ago, may be extended to the whole of the political prisoners taken up in Ireland? I am sorry to say that my answer must be most repugnant to my inclination; but, at the same time, most imperatively imposed by duty. I must point to the state of Ireland, where we are engaged in what I hope is, materially and morally, important remedial legislation, but are compelled to interrupt this beneficent and, at all events, well-intended process, by a Motion which will presently be submitted by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) for special powers with a view to the security of life and property in Ireland. I do not think it would be possible for us to announce in this House, or to hold out elsewhere, any hope whatever that it would be consistent with our duty to open the doors of the prison on behalf of those prisoners until we can see a different and a better state of things in Ireland—a better state of things which may be due in part to the legislation of repression we are about 81 to ask for, but which, I hope, will also be due to that which will have a deeper and a more permanent operation— namely, the effect of remedial legislation. To anyone who is in authority in a free country, if he enters into the spirit of the institutions of his country, the whole subject of political punishments is, perhaps, the most painful of all the subjects that come before him; and no persons can so much long for the arrival of a period when it may be possible to give a different answer to the hon. Gentleman as those who are responsible for the detention of these prisoners. But, whatever our sentiments of pain and repugnance, do not let there be any ambiguity as to the nature of the answer that we give. It would be cruel to encourage the friends of these prisoners to cherish any hopes whatever with regard to their release, until we are able to see a state of things in Ireland when Her Majesty's peaceable and well-conducted subjects may be enabled to pursue the ordinary avocations of life with that degree of comfort and confidence which is the best test and criterion of a civilized and a Christian country.