§ [FIRST NIGHT.]
§ MR. WHARTON (York, W. R., Ripon)
(who was attired in the uniform of a Deputy Lieutenant), in rising to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to thank Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Speech, said: Sir, in making this Motion I must ask the House to grant me that indulgence which is usually extended to a new Member; although, perhaps, I hardly come under that category. It is 14 years since I had the honour of addressing this House; therefore I hope that any shortcomings on my part will be pardoned during the few minutes I propose to occupy the time of the House.
59 Sir, the Gracious Speech, which we have just heard speaks, in the first place, of the relations of England with other nations. It will, I am sure, give the greatest possible satisfaction to Her Majesty's subjects, generally, to learn that England is at present at peace with the whole world. I am perfectly certain that the fact that peace prevails all over the world must be a subject of satisfaction not only to Englishmen, but to all those peoples with whom we are brought in contact in any way.
I do not propose to deal, myself, with the next subject in the beginning of Her Majesty's Gracious Speech, which treats of the details of our work in relation to foreign Powers, because I have the pleasure of knowing that I shall be followed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Holborn Division of Finsbury (Colonel Duncan), who has passed a large portion of his useful life in the service of his country, and whose observations on these subjects will be of greater value, and will, I am sure, be listened to with much greater interest by the House than any remarks of mine.
What I mean to deal with to-night, in the few observations which I propose to offer to the House, are what may be called the domestic questions which are referred to in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech—such as the questions of Local or County Government, Railway Rates, the Transfer of Land, and the great and important subject of Agriculture.
First, then, with regard to the question of Local Government. We learn that a Bill is to be introduced into this House by Her Majesty's Government dealing with this great subject. I feel sure the House will understand me when I confess that I approach the subject with somewhat mingled feelings, because I am in the position of a man who is invited to inspect his own death warrant—and that is a document which it is not everyone who is anxious to examine—I feel that possibly the duty hitherto undertaken and, I believe, well carried out by county magistrates may, in future, be carried out by other and quite different persons. As I have been Chairman of Quarter Sessions for something like a period of 17 years, I may, like other hon. Members who vote for the Bill, be excused if I feel, when I pass the right hon. Gentleman the 60 President of the Local Government Board, very much like the Roman gladiator, who exclaimed—"Ave Cœsar, morituri te salutant." I hope, however, that we may still be allowed, under the new Bill, to take our part, as far as possible, in carrying out those duties in reference to county government which have hitherto devolved upon us. I feel strongly that there are two questions which are mainly involved in any Bill introduced for the purpose of local government in order that it may be successful. First, it should simplify the existing complex and confused state of Local Bodies, and remove that confusion which at present exists by simplifying local government; but, at the same time, it is necessary that these objects should be brought about without increasing the expenditure which already presses so heavily upon the ratepayers, and which, I imagine, is the great difficulty which the House has to face.
We have heard that considerable excitement, and, as I think, unnecessary irritation, has been caused in the country by the projected alteration of boundaries. I believe that on this question there has been considerable misapprehension. What is the Boundary Commission, and what are the functions of the Commissioners? To inquire and obtain evidence as to the best boundaries for the future new local areas, and to report to Her Majesty's Government, who will, no doubt, make such use of information thus obtained as they may think fit; but I cannot believe that the Government will refuse to listen to representations from the localities themselves, and to act upon such representations if they should think that the recommendations of the Boundary Commissioners are not the best that can be made. The Government, in fact, I take it, are only anxious, as far as they can, to meet the wishes, the wants, and the interests of the localities, and not to act upon any hard-and-fast line in regard to the boundaries themselves. I read with pleasure that part of Her Majesty's Gracious Speech which says that this measure proposes to bring about an adjustment of the relations between local and Imperial finance, and to mitigate the burdens at present imposed upon the ratepayers. I only hope and trust, Sir, that Her Majesty's Government may be successful 61 on this subject, for I know that the burdens upon the ratepayers are at present sore burdens indeed, and very difficult to be borne. I remember that when I sat in this House before, on the other side, we passed a Resolution, by a majority of 100, binding the House to deal with this very question; but the Resolution has never, to this day, been acted upon, and, therefore, if the question be now satisfactorily dealt with, a great boon will be conferred on the country—a boon which will, indeed, be welcome to every ratepayer in England. There has, I believe, been a great deal of anxiety in connection with this subject as to the mode which may be adopted for the election of the new County Boards. I have heard many speculations and a great many suggestions on the subject. I may inform the House that two years ago I had the honour of being President of a Conference of Delegates from Unions in the four northern counties of England upon this very subject. That conference, after very full, impartial, and careful discussion, came to the conclusion that the best method for the election of County Boards was for the ratepayers first to elect the Guardians of the Poor, and then for the Guardians to elect from their own number the members of the County Boards. By that means there would be this advantage—that the expense of a system of double election would be saved, and the irritation produced in consequence would be avoided, and the best men secured. I only, be it understood, throw this out as a suggestion for what it is worth. I would further add that this is a question which ought never to be made a Party question, and I hope it will never be so regarded. It is a question which affects all Parties in the State, and I hope all Parties will approach it with the sincere object of bringing it to a successful issue.
As to the question of tithes, which I see, from the Royal Speech, is also to be dealt with, I hope that the Bill which is to be introduced will, in some way, succeed in removing the grievances both of the tithepayer and tithe-receiver.
I also hope that Her Majesty's Government may succeed, by their Land Transfer Bill, in simplifying and cheapening the transfer of land; and I may say that if the Bill should accomplish this object, it will be a notable Bill. Wise 62 heads have tried to accomplish this object before now, and have failed; but lot us hope that Her Majesty's Government, who mean to deal earnestly with. The subject, will be more successful, and I would, before leaving this subject, express a hope that the system of registration which will accompany the Land Transfer Bill may be made as simple and as cheap as possible.
I come now to a matter in which I feel considerable personal interest—namely, the question of railway rates. We are told in the words of Her Majesty's Speech that a Bill is to be brought in for preventing undue preference in the railway rates charged on foreign and domestic produce. As a member of the Board of Directors of one of the largest railways in the Kingdom, I believe that railway directors—at any rate those I am conversant with—will welcome the introduction of such a Bill. We feel that a great misapprehension exists with regard to what are called differential rates; but the public are not aware that there are many circumstances which would justify those charges which they now think unjustifiable. On the other hand, I am willing to admit that there are many cases of hardship, and I hope that when this Bill is introduced it will be fully and fairly discussed, and an equitable solution arrived at, which will be fair both to the Companies and to the producers who send from one quarter to another.
All these subjects which I have touched upon bear upon the great question which is also alluded to in the Royal Speech—namely, the depression of agriculture at the present time. Everybody admits that depression exists, and I hope and trust that, in the words of the Royal Speech, in the interests of that great industry, a means may be discovered for enabling it to meet more effectively the difficulties under which it labours, and that in every possible way, compatible with existing questions of economy, arrangements for such relief as can be fairly given to that depressed industry will be made by the House. At the present time, we know that those who live by the land are burdened by rates and charges far higher than those who obtain their income from other sources. I hope that we shall have a fair balance struck between the two, so that those who live by the land 63 and those who live by oilier means may contribute fairly and equitably to the taxation of this country.
I arrive now at the last matter with which I propose to deal—that part of Her Majesty's Speech which comes first in the matter of legislation. This House-is informed that the result of legislation for Ireland, so far as decided by the short experience we have had, has been satisfactory; that agrarian outrages have diminished, and the powers of coercive conspiracies sensibly abated. These are words which will be read with satisfaction and interest by all classes of Her Majesty's subjects. Every loyal subject of Her Majesty will, indeed, rejoice that the power of coercive conspiracies has sensibly abated, and will recognize and know that it is the result of legislation—will recognize that it is the result of the careful exercise of the powers under the Crimes Act of last Session. We have seen, lately, that the legislation, and the exercise of that legislation by the Government, have, as far as we can judge from the action of the people, been approved of by the people of both England and Ireland. The only way we can test that is by the results of the recent elections. Take the election at Winchester, the unopposed election at Liverpool, and lastly, and not least, take the fact that the most educated constituency in Ireland, the University of Dublin—[A laugh.] Do hon. Members say it is not the most educated? There, again, the Party of Home Rule failed to bring forward a candidate. From these three results I think it is only fair to argue that the legislation, and the exercise of legislation by the Government, meet with approval in England, and to a certain extent in Ireland. There is, I believe, an increasing feeling—a feeling growing day by day—in favour of upholding the law, and we are happy to know that day by day the power of the spurious Government in Ireland—the National League—is dwindling away, while that of Her Majesty's Government is being strengthened. The legislation passed for Ireland last Session has been carried out ably and well; and I should not be doing justice either to my own thoughts or to those with whom I have conversed, either at public meetings or in this House, if I did not say that the country owes a deep debt of gratitude to the 64 right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant for the able manner in which he has carried out the Irish legislation. I believe it is owing to his ability, to his courage, and to the strict impartiality of his conduct, that the legislation of last year is now bearing such good fruit. Mr. Speaker, I beg now to move—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to thank Her Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech which Her Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for the information that Her Majesty continues to receive from all other Powers cordial assurances of their friendly sentiments, as well as of their earnest desire to maintain the peace of the world:To assure Her Majesty that we learn with satisfaction that Her Majesty's Officers, in conjunction with those of the Emperor of Russia, have completed the demarcation of the Afghan boundary in conformity with the terms of the Convention of last year. That Her Majesty trusts that the work which has thus been brought to a conclusion may tend to remove the possibility of misunderstanding between the two Powers in regard to their Asiatic possessions:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that, animated by a desire to prevent effusion of blood, Her Majesty despatched a Mission to the King of Abyssinia, with the hope of dissuading him from engaging in a war with Italy, and that Her Majesty deeply regrets that Her Majesty's efforts have not been successful:To thank Her Majesty for informing us that the deliberations of the Conference assembled at Washington to adjust questions which have arisen between the Dominion of Canada and the United States are still in progress:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the negotiations which were commenced in 1885 with respect to the regulation of the Suez Canal have been brought to a conclusion so far as points of difference between Her Majesty and the French Republic are concerned:To assure Her Majesty that we learn with satisfaction that Her Majesty has also entered into an Agreement with the French Republic for the protection of life and property in the group of the New Hebrides by a Joint Naval Commission:65Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that a Conference of Delegates from the Powers interested in the sugar industry was summoned in London in the autumn to consider the possibility of putting an end to the injurious system of bounties; and that they have made considerable progress towards the conclusion of a satisfactory arrangement:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the Estimates for the Services of this year, which will be laid before us, have been framed with due regard to economy. That we shall be asked to make provision for the improvements in the defences of the ports and coaling stations of Her Majesty's Empire which have been rendered urgently necessary by the advance of military science. That we shall also be asked to sanction an arrangement for providing a special squadron for the protection of Australasian commerce, the cost of which will be partially borne by the Colonies themselves:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the measures which, at the cost of great labour, were passed during the last Session for the benefit of Ireland have been carefully carried into effect during the period which has since elapsed:To assure Her Majesty that we learn with satisfaction that the result of this legislation, so far as it has been tested by a short experience, has been satisfactory. That agrarian crime has diminished; and the power of coercive conspiracies has sensibly abated. Also, that measures tending to develop the resources of Ireland, and to facilitate an increase in the number of the proprietors of the soil, will be laid before us:To thank Her Majesty for informing us that our attention will be invited to the subject of Local Government in England; and that measures will be submitted to us for dealing with it, in combination with proposals for adjusting the relations between Local and Imperial finance, and for mitigating the burdens at present imposed upon the ratepayers:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the prospects of commerce are more hopeful than any to which Her Majesty has been able to point for many years past. To assure Her Majesty that we join with Her Majesty in deeply regretting that no corresponding improvement is observable in the condition of agriculture. To thank Her Majesty for commending the interests of that great industry to our attentive care, in the hope that means may be discovered for enabling it to 66 meet more effectively the difficulties under which it labours:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that we shall be invited to consider legislative proposals for cheapening the transfer of land; for modifying the procedure by which tithe rent-charge is collected; for the promotion of Technical Education; for preventing undue preferences in the rates charged by Railway Companies on Foreign and Domestic Produce; for remedying abuses in the formation of Companies under Limited Liability; and for amending the Law as to the Liability of Employers in case of Accidents:To thank Her Majesty for informing us that Measures for improving the position of the Scottish Universities and for regulating the Borough Police in Scotland will be laid before us; and that proposals will be submitted to us for diminishing the cost of Private Bill Legislation:Humbly to assure Her Majesty that our careful consideration shall be given to the subjects which Her Majesty has recommended to our attention, and to the Measures which may be submitted to us; and that we earnestly trust that in these and all other efforts which we may make to promote the well-being of Her Majesty's people we may be guided by the hand of Almighty God."—(Mr. Wharton.)
§ COLONEL DUNCAN (Finsbury, Holborn)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to second, in brief terms, the Motion which has just been made by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Wharton), that a respectful Address be presented to Her Majesty in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne.
I desire, first, to express my entire agreement with my hon. and learned Friend in the joy he feels in ascertaining that the relations of England with foreign countries are peaceful. This, Sir, is a country in which a foreign policy is absolutely necessary. It is not every country which is so happily situated as the United States, possessing, as it were, boundless resources of her own, almost within a ring fence, and enabling her to be indifferent as to the foreign policy of other countries. This country spreads and trails, so to speak, the garment of her Empire all over the world, and there is hardly a part of the world on which its fringe may not be exposed to the tread of a hostile foot. It is, therefore, necessary for her to have a foreign policy by which she may secure 67 the support and co-operation of other nations by conciliatory measures, and, if necessary, by her firmness and self-respect, make her rights respected. I am but a young politician, and a young Member of this House, but I am an old soldier, and, as a soldier, I do not know anything which has given me greater pleasure than the change which has taken place with respect to our foreign policy, and the way in which it is conducted now by Parties in this House. Within the last few years we have seen both great Parties recognize the necessity of continuity in our foreign policy. The policy of the noble Lord who held the Seals of the Foreign Office under the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) in the last Government was supported by the Conservative Party. The right hon. Gentleman himself has approved the manner in which our foreign policy has been conducted by Lord Salisbury, and we on this side of the House acknowledge the generous frankness with which the right hon. Gentleman has recognized the merits of that policy.
"With regard to Afghanistan, which has been the scene of so much trouble and intrigue, and of so much war, it is well to find, at last, that something like a definite boundary has been laid down, and, coupled with that definition of boundary, it is well that we should remember what a wonderful source of strength has been found in the readiness of the Native Princes of India to assist us in case the boundary of our Indian Empire should be exposed to attack. I attribute that result to the justice and firmness of our rule in that country. All anxiety as to troubles in regard to the frontier of Afghanistan may now disappear from our minds, and we may direct our attention to more important and troublesome questions.
We are told in the Speech from the Throne that the negotiations which were commenced in the first instance in 1885 by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with respect to the regulation of the Suez Canal, have been brought to a conclusion so far as points of difference between ourselves and the French Republic are concerned. It may be true that Conventions seem to last only as long, or as short, as it suits Powers not to break them, and when they are broken other Powers do not feel 68 bound to interfere; but they put an end for the time to much political friction, and act as international lubricators. I rejoice that the high road to the East is in a fair way to be neutralized; and, speaking from a personal point of view, I only wish that we could neutralize Egypt as well.
We are also told, in the Gracious Speech of Her Majesty, that our relations with France are satisfactory, and that every cause of uneasiness has been removed in reference to the New Hebrides, and also that in the case of the Commission now sitting at Washington we hope to adjust the questions which have arisen between the Dominion of Canada and the United States. It is thoroughly recognized by Her Majesty's Government that it is our duty not to look only to our own interests here, but also to the interests of our high-spirited Colonial fellow-subjects. If we had failed to take action on the representation of the Australian Government, or if we had failed to take action at the request of the Canadian Government, we should have forfeited our right to this great Empire, which I trust, in the future, is to become greater. We are now receiving, in return for our action, a reward we ought to cherish, for we are seeing in our Colonies a readiness to spend, and be spent, for the Mother Country, which we never saw before. We are told, in one part of Her Majesty's Gracious Speech, that a share of the cost of providing a special squadron for the protection of Australian commerce will be borne by the Colonies themselves; but it must be remembered that, up to the present date, for many years these Australian Colonies have been spending large sums of money for their defence, in fortifying their own harbours—and that is a thing which is useful not only to them, but to us. I think it is well that we should recognize the conduct of our Australian brethren in this matter, for it shows that they appreciate their connection with, this country in a way they hardly appeared to appreciate it before. They are now showing that there are duties, as well as privileges, which they are willing to bear. The Speech from the Throne suggests a further development in the way of protection for our coaling stations. I, as a soldier, am able to appreciate and recognize the full value of these 69 coaling stations. It would be impossible to overrate their value should a war break out. They mean the existence of our country. We cannot feed ourselves. Our population is so great that it has to depend for its food upon the golden grain which is brought from other countries; and if our Mercantile Marine cannot be protected by our Fleet it means national destruction. Whatever Government may be in power, a cry would go up to Heaven against us if we neglect the means by which in time of need the food of our people may be secured. If these coaling stations are to form the basis for the action of our men-of-war, as well as the means of coaling our large Mercantile Marine, it may be said—"Protect these places by men-of-war." But that would be a mad idea. You would lock up your men-of-war instead of making them of use if you were to attempt to carry out such a proposal. What is necessary is that you should make your coaling stations able to protect themselves, and set free your men-of-war for service wherever they may be required. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War and the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty will do, I am sure, what they can to encourage the Volunteer Service. Speaking as a soldier in the Regular Army, I say that you cannot too highly admire or praise the Volunteer spirit. I have recently been in the North of England, and I have witnessed the extraordinary activity and energy displayed by the Torpedo Volunteer Companies there. What I would say is, let these Volunteer Companies for the defence of our own ports be increased over and over again, for the science of war is no longer a secret art. Everyone can discuss it; everyone knows it value—its merits and demerits, owing to the Volunteer movement. The Volunteer Force is a Force which cannot be too highly praised; and, owing to it, this country has gained not merely a physical strength, but an immense moral and social strength as well. By means of the Volunteers a bridge has been built between the Army and the civil population across which mutual and kindly sympathies constantly travel.
In the Gracious Speech from the Throne we are told that the prospects of commerce are more hopeful than any to which we have been able to point for many years past. One thing which we 70 have learnt during the past 10 years is the amount of poverty and distress which prevail in the country. Many earnest but indiscreet men, and many who sought only to advertise themselves, have done much to alienate the charitable from those who need help. But let us not be unjust; let us bare our heads and bow before the majesty of the uncomplaining poor. It is terrible to think that there are children by thousands who, from the day they open their eyes on this world to the day they close them in death, see nothing but misery and tears and pain. Is this our boasted civilization? Personally, we express sympathy for them; but is it not our duty to make the world a little brighter and happier than it is now? Words cannot express the misery that is in our midst. Far better than words would it be if, below the Bar of this House, we could see what can be seen by thousands in the land—the pinched little face of a hungering child. These are to be seen all over the country, and we cannot find a better means of alleviating their condition than that of practically expressing our sympathy for them. I hope we are now going to have a turn of the tide, and to see more prosperity in our trade; and it is at such a time, in performing our duty as legislators, we should remember that unless we raise our eyes higher and higher to the Second Table of the Law—our duty to our neighbour—we shall fail miserably as citizens and legislators. Government means more than administration, and law, and order—it means also sympathy; and it must be a sympathy which blossoms into fruitful action. There are so many of us in the world who think we are sympathetic when we are only emotional. Our sympathy is unworthy of the name of sympathy unless it blossoms into action. Let us look back to what we did last Session. We passed the Mines Regulation Bill, and, having had some experience in the North of England, I rejoice to find how well that measure has been worked, and how cheerfully it has been accepted by all of those who are interested in it. Not only are arrangements being made to secure the safety of the miners, but the men themselves are putting themselves forward to acquire the knowledge necessary to protect them from accident. 71 The lesson I brought back from the North of England is this—that the legislation which always succeeds in a country is not the legislation which is in advance, but the legislation which is a little in the rear of public opinion. Such legislation is like seed sown in a ready soil, and no trouble is found in obtaining for it the complete support and sympathy of all concerned. We are now about to commence another Session. We see before us much to do, and many difficulties to encounter, but we must remember that difficulties have existed in the past and have been overcome. Even the greatest difficulties in Parliament, as in the case of individuals, will disappear if they are fairly grappled with. Let us commence the Session by fully acknowledging the great responsibility under which we, as legislators, lie towards our fellow-countrymen. I trust that as in the past, with God's help, our Predecessors, by the wonderful characteristics of our race, accomplished great objects and conquered greater difficulties than those with which we have to contend, so we, in the future, may conquer the same difficulties by the same characteristics and under the same God.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, &c."—[See page 64.]
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Mr. Speaker, I rise at this early period, not only in conformity with the usage of many years, but likewise because I think that in so doing I shall be pursuing a course most likely to contribute, so far as it depends upon myself, to the expeditious progress of Business. So far, at any rate, as I content myself with general observations upon the Speech upon the Address, apart from great and what might be called burning questions, where great differences of opinion prevail, I think that I may be doing something to promote the direct and even the rapid advance of the discussion which is now before us. Sir, the two hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the Address had the advantage of a reputation already earned in this House, and they have discharged their task—if I may presume to pay them a compliment—in a manner which, I am sure, has completely satisfied the favourable expectations of the House. The hon. and learned Member who 72 moved the Address will not think it invidious if, with regard to the speech of the Seconder of the Address, I venture to say that, spoken from his point of view, as a Member of the Tory, of the Conservative Party, it was at once one of the shortest and one of the very best speeches that I have ever heard delivered in seconding an Address. I thought the hon. and gallant Member did himself, in a manner perfectly unostentatious, great and various credit—as a man when he referred to our duties towards our fellow-men, and when he warned us not so to delight, not so to rejoice in the improving prospects of trade as to forget the misery that still subsists among us, and our duty individually, as well as collectively, to keep the thought of that misery near our hearts. I thought he did himself equal credit as a professional man and as a soldier in the warmth with which he referred to the voluntary efforts of the country with a view to its defence in the hour of danger. And, finally, as a politician, when, in referring to the foreign policy of the country, he expressed the desire, in which I for one, join fervently, that not only to some extent, but to the greatest possible extent, that foreign policy may, both at this time and in the years that are to come, be kept free from the dangers and the difficult associations that attach to it under the influence of the action of political Parties. Sir, this remark leads me to refer to the earlier portions of the Speech, on which I shall make but few remarks, because I am able, happily able, to comprise in a single observation the opinion that I entertain—that so far as the wording of the Speech is concerned, and so far as the measures of the Government to which it points are concerned, we have no reason—I admit with imperfect information, and, therefore, without final judgment—we have no reason to regard these seven paragraphs—the first paragraphs in the Speech—otherwise than with satisfaction as relates to the contents of any one amongst them. As relates, Sir, to the second of these paragraphs—the first which deals with a specific subject—I must express particular satisfaction, because there can be no doubt that the question of the Afghan Frontier has now for many long years been a source of suspicion and of appre- 73 hension, if not of positive danger, to the people of two great Empires. The Speech is just, and, I think, modest, in expressing a hope that the final adjustment of this question, so long sought and desired, may tend to remove the possibility of misunderstanding between the two great Powers in regard to their Asiatic Possessions—may tend, I venture to add, to remove the possibility of a misunderstanding which, if it should occur in a practical form, would be a misunderstanding of the most formidable and dangerous character. By the removal of this possibility of misunderstanding, I venture to add there will remain, so far as I am able to form a judgment, no other subject in respect of which we have any reason, as Englishmen and as subjects of the British Crown, to view with jealousy or suspicion the growth of the great Russian Empire. I am aware that justifiable and necessary conflicts may occur, in the many vicissitudes of human affairs, grounded upon considerations other than the particular and narrower interests of one or both of the parties involved. I do not speak of questions of that class; but I refer to this question of the Afghan Frontier as one in which the direct, what may be termed the selfish interests—though it is a word liable to misapprehension—of the two countries were directly involved; and I rejoice in contemplating, as I think we now may as a matter of fact, the removal of this particular cause of possible misunderstanding—I rejoice in the fact that, so far as I am aware, no other such cause of misunderstanding remains. With regard to the topics touched upon in the other five paragraphs, I will not speak in detail, but only say that I view with sympathy what I understand to be the spirit and intention of the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government in respect to those five important matters. There is one omission in this part of the Speech to which I must refer; but it is not necessary to make the reference in a polemical spirit. It is this—out of the six subjects to which reference has been made, four—namely, the Afghan Frontier and three of the others—are mentioned as subjects in which the transactions have apparently been completed. Now, Sir, these transactions having reached their completion, I should have expected in the Speech—and I think it has been an 74 omission due to the pressure of Business—I should certainly have expected an intimation on the part of the Crown that Papers relating to these matters would be laid on the Table of the House for our information. I have no doubt that some Minister who speaks in the course of this debate, if that expectation of mine is reasonable, will be able to give us the assurance the absence of which I have noticed. Upon the important question alluding to the Estimates, and the expenditure these Estimates propose, I am desirous of following the example set me by the Mover and Seconder of the Address, and will not unnecessarily detain the attention of the House. Then I pass on, and come to the two paragraphs which deal with the case of Ireland; and here, indeed, I am approaching much tenderer ground. We now come to what may be called debatable land, and in connection with that subject I likewise ask myself whether we can do anything, in connection with the Address which has been moved, to expedite the progress of Business. There are some subjects which Her Majesty's Government have not advised the Crown to include in the Speech, with respect to which, at the same time, they, I am sure, will feel no surprise that other Members of the House should be disposed to desire and demand full and reasonable consideration. One hon. Friend of mine (Dr. Cameron) has given Notice of an Amendment to the Address in relation to the case of the crofters, and I do not see that anyone can be either astonished or disappointed at that Notice. For although we are here touching, happily, but a small portion of the surface of the community in relation to the vast population of these Islands, yet unquestionably the nature of the facts, and the sufferings of the people with which they are connected, the action which has taken place at certain points in reference to the maintenance and observance of the law, are of such a character that the subject requires the earnest attention and the earliest consideration of the House. Well, my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General of the late Government (Sir Charles Russell) has given Notice of a Motion by way of Amendment to the Address, in which it is stated that recent occurrences in London—I will not now quote any material part of his words—raising 75 anxieties with respect to the right of open public meeting in the Metropolis, render it desirable that an inquiry should be instituted by this House into the conditions subject to which such meetings should be held. Here, again, I think Her Majesty's Government can feel no surprise at learning that there is an intention of promoting an immediate discussion of this subject. I own it has occurred to me as worthy of consideration, and I hope the Government will give it their consideration, whether a declaration like that of my hon. and learned Friend, which points to an inquiry by this House, will be as conveniently debated upon the Address to the Crown as it would be by a separate Motion. It may be said—Why carry to the Crown the expression of an intention which, after all, when the Notice is given and when the speech is made, is only the intention of a particular Member to ask the House to do something which, without the aid of the Crown, it is competent and able to do? What I would venture to suggest to Her Majesty's Government is that they should consider whether, in order to disembarrass the debate on the Address from the discussion from this subject, they would not engage to grant my hon. and learned Friend—instead of leaving him to the chances of miscellaneous ballots, into which I think this question could not be expected to enter—an early opportunity of a debate on the subject; and if they were so disposed, in consideration of the request which I make on my own behalf and on behalf of the Friends who sit around me, then I own I think there would be considerable advantage in severing that subject from the debate on the Address. If the Government be so disposed, I recommend my hon. and learned Friend that he should avail himself of that opportunity, and that we should, in a manner which I think would be most regular and most Parliamentary, discuss the important questions which have been raised with respect to the right and the usage of public meeting in London. I shall not say a word upon this question which would either prejudice the debate, or would in any degree anticipate the debate. I pass it by without any entering into particulars. I feel sure Her Majesty's Government themselves must be conscious that the position of the case 76 as it stands cannot, from any point of view, be regarded as entirely satisfactory; and where we have assembled together the most vast population ever known to have been so aggregated in any particular city in the whole history of the world, and that population forming part of a free and self-governing country, it is most desirable that we should arrive at some clear and definite understanding with regard to the reasonable exercise of that right of public meeting which undoubtedly lies at the very root of British liberty. But now, Sir, with respect to Ireland, I touch, perhaps, upon the more difficult portion of my task; but, at the same time, I will endeavour, so far as I can, to avoid anticipation by detailed remark of what is to come. This I may say, without reproach, is a challenging portion of the Speech, and, the Address is in some degree a challenging Address, because in the Queen's Speech it is stated that the Act of last Session has been carefully carried into effect, and unless my hearing misled me, the House of Commons is invited to say that it learns with satisfaction that, in consequence of the legislation of last year—I do not mean that such are the terms used, but that is the sense—Agrarian crime has diminished, and the power of coercive conspiracies has sensibly abated.With respect to that careful carrying into effect of the Act, the Government will be prepared to find that many of us sitting on this side of the House are disposed to substitute for the word "carefully" some very different and less laudatory epithet. I should take it for granted, although no formal intimation has yet been given to the House, that the subject of the administration of the Coercion Act in Ireland must form, in the shape of some Amendment or other, a natural and necessary portion of the debate upon the Address. I, therefore, Sir, will not attempt to anticipate that debate; but I will refer very briefly to two allegations in the Speech—thatAgrarian crime has diminished, and the power of coercive conspiracies has sensibly abated.Now, no one would be better pleased than I—and I believe the sentiment will be common to all who sit around me—to know that agrarian crime has dimi- 77 nished. With respect to coercive conspiracies, as I dislike coercion when it appears upon the side of the Government, so I dislike coercion when it comes in the form of the conspiracies which we are told here have been sensibly abated. Sir, there is one assertion which, if Her Majesty's Government could have given it, would indeed have carried joy into every heart, and that is the assertion which lies at the root of the whole Irish case—for when it can be made the whole Irish Question will be solved, and until it can be made no other assertion can supply the lack of it—and that is the assertion that the Irish people, the Irish nation, have become more reconciled to the law, and are ceasing to be estranged from its administration; and that the Irish nation are profiting by and enjoying some extensions, at least, of the powers of self-government, which this House shall have been pleased to grant to them. That is an assertion for which we must look with the greatest interest, and with respect to which, I fear, not only that it cannot be made, but that the very reverse is the case. The conduct of the Irish nation, as a whole, has, it seems to me, been admirable. When I look back upon what happened 50 or 60 years ago, upon the exorbitancy of crime in that country, under the pressure of difficulty and distress, perhaps not less than what now exists, I am amazed at the progress which they have made, at the self-command and self-control which is becoming more and more the habit of that country. Let us distinguish, then, between that self-control and self-command which lead to abstinence from crime, and that process of gradual assimilation in heart and feeling which alone, as I have said, will be the measure of any real progress in the great work we have to perform. The immediate object of my reference, however, to this portion of the Speech is to ask Her Majesty's Government in what manner they propose to supply us with the means of examining these extremely important allegations, that—Agrarian crime has diminished, and the power of coercive conspiracies has sensibly abated,But, apart from material objects, I shall rejoice in the establishment of these propositions; but the simple allegation in the Speech, until it is sustained by credible facts, does not advance us one 78 inch upon the road towards the point we all desire to reach. For instance, "agrarian crime has diminished." Well, Sir, during last year, while we were debating the Coercion Act, agrarian crime, it was admitted, was low. What is agrarian crime? What are the Parliamentary test and measure of agrarian crime? So far as I know, they are to be found in the offences reported specially to the Irish Constabulary. For years, and for scores of years, those Reports have been taken as supplying to the House authentic information and conclusive information, on which you might rely, with respect to the prevalence of agrarian crime. I have seen it stated in the newspapers, apparently after much care to ascertain facts, that a number of persons, approaching 350, have been sentenced, or have been tried, under the recent Coercion Act. I presume that all these offences must have been made the subject of special Report to the Constabulary. Is the House to understand that, after throwing into the table those 350 offences, agrarian crime has still diminished in Ireland when compared with what it was in the corresponding months of the previous year? I do not desire to express any final opinion upon this subject. We absolutely need—and we can make no progress without—full information to be given us, and I hope promptly given us, by the Government. We again hear of the conspiracies—that their force is abated. How is that known? In what way are we in a position to form a candid and conclusive judgment upon the question whether the force of these conspiracies is diminishing or increasing? Now, Sir, as I have said, I am not going to give any final opinion upon it; and as I see the Chief Secretary for Ireland unlocking his box I am bound to say that, though I should be very thankful for any information that he may give us in debate, I am looking for something more than information in debate. These are questions which are capable of being tested by Returns and figures, and for figures I distinctly ask. And in order that it may be seen that, from my point of view at least, there is some cause to ask for these Returns and figures, I may tell you what are the general impressions that I conceive are made by persons who read the Irish newspapers, 79 who examine the details of what has been going on in Ireland, of which, the smallest possible portion comes to the knowledge of the English public through the Press, some portion of which is not disposed—hardly any portion of them is able—to give the facts the amount of space and attention they deserve. But I would state what would appear, I think, to a reader of the intelligence from Ireland, in the absence of these assurances of Her Majesty's Government, and upon forming the best conclusions he can from the reports of journals, which I admit may contain error, and on which I should not wish to place any final reliance, nor any final judgment, until I know what is the information which Her Majesty's Government desires to lay before us. The propositions that have been naturally suggested by such a study of the Irish Returns as is alone possible to independent Members of this House, not having the advantage of official information, I would state as briefly as possible. In the first place, it would appear that while in Ireland the administration of the Criminal Law in general is extremely easy—easier than in England or Scotland—less crime being in proportion to the population, and seldom presenting those horrible cases of human depravity which, I am sorry to say, too frequently occur on this side of the water—while that easy portion of the Criminal Law remains, and very properly remains, where it was, in the hands of Judges and juries, there is, on the other hand, one department of Criminal Law in Ireland that is delicate, morbid, and susceptible, that is also kept alive with almost all that is most painful in the last three centuries of Irish history, that is the Agrarian Criminal Law; that Agrarian Criminal Law, which, of all others, demands in Ireland the application of the ablest and the finest hand. That Agrarian Criminal Law, so far as we are able to discern, has been, as an ordinary rule, transferred from Judges and from juries, taken away from the Superior Courts, hardly finding its place there at all, carried over to men of a lower stamp, in the great majority of instances to men dependent on the Executive Government for the appointment to their places, for their retention in their places, for promotion from their 80 places, so that the Executive Government, with regard to this most delicate, this only delicate and difficult portion of Irish administration—the Irish Government, representing a particular Party in this House, has become, more, perhaps, than in any other period, primum mobile, the mainspring of the action of this Criminal Law, with this further difficulty and defect, which also appear to be suggested by the facts of the case—that those who suffer under the Criminal Law, whether they be Members of Parliament or others, do by that suffering obtain a higher standing and higher place in the affections of the people than they have ever had before. Well, then, Sir, as we are speaking of this Act, and as I am speaking of the suggestions which appear to me on the perhaps superficial, certainly imperfect examination, I would say that I am not aware of any facts tending to show that, as far as crime is concerned, the Coercion Act of last year has in the slightest degree strengthened the hands of the Executive Government; and, therefore, when we are told that Parliament, with a great expenditure of time—and that unquestionably I shall not challenge—has passed an Act, and that the experience of it is satisfactory, and that that is attested by the decrease of agrarian crime, I want to know what are the provisions in the Act, and what are the points in the Act, that have been provided as a means to putting down crime, and what are the crimes that have been prevented or detected by means of the passing of the Coercion Act? I am sorry to say the first suggestion is that our assertions of last year are verified; that the Act was not an Act aimed at crime; it was an Act aimed at combination as apart from crime—combination which did not, to use the expression of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, fatally blossom into crime—which did not develop itself in crime; and even that allegation of ours, which was so much contested and which was treated as almost ridiculous, is verified; that not even combination was the sole object of the Act; but that exclusive dealing by Irish Nationalists was to be made a punishable offence. I am bound to say that it appears to me that, as far as I have read the accounts of some of these convictions, the simple act of exclusive 81 dealing by an individual has been made a crime. But observe, not irrespective of persons—only if the exclusive dealing was the exclusive dealing of a Nationalist, and, commonly, of some very poor Nationalist in some humble station. The rector in Dublin, whom I mentioned last year, who deprived his curate of his bread because he was a Home Ruler, remains totally untouched by the Act. The rector in London, who himself having delivered two speeches in the name of sermons from the pulpit against Home Rule, brought upon his curate the moral necessity of abandoning his curacy and seeking his bread where he could—these gentlemen they do not prosecute for their exclusive dealing. It rests with Her Majesty's Government to show—and to show in detail and by particulars and figures—that they are not prosecuting people in Ireland for that which appears to be the practice of some of their clerical friends; and that this practice, objectionable under all circumstances, is not punished in one class and allowed to be freely resorted to by another class. Well, Sir, these things being so, I want to know what has become of the doctrine of equal rights? The justification of the Legislative Union was to be found in the enjoyment by Irishmen of equal rights with Englishmen, with Scotchmen, and with Welshmen. This is beyond all question, that the Act of last year took away from Irishmen certain rights possessed by Englishmen. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) gave Notice of a most important Motion which was intended to secure to the people of Ireland the rights enjoyed by the people of England. This was not connected with the payment or refusal to pay rent, for that involves other considerations and doubtful arguments, and therefore the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend was completely disembarrassed from that question. It was limited to exclusive dealing, and it provided that, so far as exclusive dealing was concerned, the Irishman and the Englishman should stand on equal footing. He was not permitted to discuss that. The Rules of Procedure closed the Committee without my hon. and learned Friend being able to raise the question that Englishmen and Irishmen should have equal rights. I put a 82 Question, in concert with my hon. and learned Friend, to Her Majesty's Government, whether they would accept an Amendment establishing that equality; and, after most properly taking time for consideration, the answer was that they would not. If that be so—it is so, and it admits of no question—the time seems to have come when it would really be little less than a mockery to speak of equality between Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotchmen, and Welshmen. Still, Sir, I reserve myself for that information which I ask the Government to give us. I admit that all these inferences, so far as they are drawn from what has taken place in Ireland in the last six months, are drawn from imperfect sources. As in the case of Mitchelstown, as far as I know, we have no absolute and official Report upon which we can absolutely rely as a full and entire exhibition of the case, still less in other cases have we the necessary information; and the question I address to Her Majesty's Government is, when and in what form they propose to give us the information? I wish to limit my question to this, Sir—What form, what particulars they propose to give us; and I wish to limit what I say to probable inferences and conclusions until I know what the case of the Government really is—not in the shape of Parliamentary allegations tossed across this Table, the futility and worthlessness of which, in many previous instances, I have too well known, and of which I may have future and prospective experience—but in some definite shape. Now I have done with the sorest portion of the case, and I come to what I may term the fourth part of the subject—namely, that which relates to the subject of legislation; and in regard to that I wish to say that I desire to do what little may be in my power to bring about a more satisfactory and efficient Session in the year that is now before us than that of which we have had recent experience. I certainly think that Ireland might have expected a wider promise of legislation. When I consider the declarations of all kinds which, have been made by Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, and Gentlemen on this side who concur with Gentlemen on that side, I think we were entitled to expect that there should have been an approximate promise of mea- 83 sures intended—I do not say to meet our views, or to give us satisfaction—but relating to the Parliamentary engagements given by Gentlemen opposite with respect to the extension of local government in Ireland. One of the most distinguished of these Gentlemen has told us that the existing system of local government in Ireland ought to be reconstructed, and that the death-blow ought to be administered to the system of what is known as Dublin Castle. I do not understand that to mean that Home Rule should be granted; but it was understood at the General Election that those who invited us to refuse Irish autonomy said that they were the friends of the extension of local government in Ireland, and they made one specific point in particular—that the Irish administrative system ought to be re-constructed. Well, it has been re-constructed. It has been made more intensely Dublin Castle than it was before. The question whether, in a given place or on a given day, the Irish people are to be allowed to meet under an English association depends now, not as such things do in this country, upon the Local Authority, but upon the political Executive. With regard to the increase of Irish proprietors, all I can say is if that increase is to be formed by the extension of the already objectionable and dangerous relations between the Treasury of England on this side of the water and individual cultivators of Ireland on the other side of the water, with no responsible body standing between one and the other, then that extension of proprietors in Ireland ought not to be founded on so false a basis. Now, there are in the Speech eight or more questions upon which we are invited to legislate. We are to have a Bill dealing with the procedure by which tithe rent-charge is collected. That is a subject of great importance and difficulty, and one in respect to which, if we approach the proposal of the Government in a captious spirit, anything like a satisfactory settlement would be impossible. But, it appears to me, the whole House ought to be prepared to approach any rational proposal in a spirit the reverse of captious, and for this reason. The House is divided into two opinions on the subject of Church property. There are those who think that the tithe is the sacred and indefea- 84 sible patrimony of the Church. They would be bound to study the integrity of the property in any measure they passed, while mitigating and improving, as they best can, the conditions under which from time to time the property is realized. But there is another body—much more largely represented on this side of the House—who hold a directly reverse opinion, and who are disposed to hold to the doctrine that the tithe is the property of the nation. I am not going to debate either one or the other of those opinions; but whether we hold it to be the property of the Church or the property of the nation, it is a property of which we are the stewards, for the custody of which we are responsible, and for the preservation and maintenance of which we are also responsible. I hope it will be in that spirit, and not in the spirit of simple condescension to the difficulties of the moment, that we shall approach the consideration of the proposal of the Government. Then I see that our old friend the transfer of land again does duty on this occasion. Frequent intercourse, as we know, tends to beget kindly feeling; and I have so often met this transfer of land, and have been so often introduced to him, and have had so kindly a greeting from him, that I do not like to be rude; but I am bound to say that I am extremely sceptical, and not at all sanguine that these Government proposals for the transfer of land will completely meet the case, unless you combine them with a measure touching the descent of land, and providing for its real freedom. The great question is undoubtedly that of local government. It is one of the most complex which has ever been before Parliament, and one of the largest. I remember very well the magnitude—the magnitude and complexity—of the task when an attempt was made, 15 or 20 years ago, to deal with the subject. The question of the boundaries of counties is only part, and what we once called the fringe, of the question; yet the discussion and settlement of those matters may take considerable time and lead to danger and difficulty. There is another difficulty attending this question of local government. Our failures with respect to it have been innumerable and grievous. Happily, we have no Party divisions on the subject, yet it 85 involves many questions on which opposing interests may be numerous and strong—questions on which the propulsive power is, unfortunately, weak. I wish, earnestly to impress upon the Government that they will find on this side of the House, so far as I know, the most earnest desire to advance legislation on this subject. I, for one, feel ashamed to stand before a constituency and offer apologies for not dealing with it. But if the Government are going to deal with it, let them recollect there is one thing worse than not dealing with it at all, and that is dealing with it in a manner which is sure to secure defeat. If there is a serious intention of dealing with local government—we are told the Bill is prepared, and from the activity of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) I am disposed to believe it—let the measure be introduced at the earliest possible moment, in order that the whole of the Session may be available for the discussion of the details, which, undoubtedly, must be very considerable. What is to be the course of the Session?—and that is the last question I will put. Is the Session to be necessarily employed in painful discussions, such as those of last year, exhausting time, and exhausting strength, not favourable to the growth of Christian charity, and leaving everybody at the end in a worse humour than they were before? As far as this side of the House is concerned, I think I may venture to say, not, indeed, as the result of positive communications at this early date, but still from communications with my hon. Friends near me, and from a general knowledge, at all events, of the sentiments which prevail, there is no disposition on this side of the House to renew the constant agitations and combats of the last Session. What we want is a legislative Session. I admit that I have expressed in the country the strongest apprehension that until the Irish Question is settled you will hardly be able to make any sensible impression upon the vast arrears of your legislation. But although I have said this, we on this side of the House will do our best to fulfil our own prophecy—[laughter]—Imean to disappoint our own prophecy—provided that we receive reasonable assistance from a majority of the House; for it is quite evident we cannot do it as a minority. 86 Gentlemen opposite are well aware that although nothing can exceed the depth of the convictions we entertain as to the vast importance of the question of Irish autonomy, yet it was not by the discussion of Irish autonomy that the time of the last Session was occupied. I will not undertake to say—and I cannot form an opinion at this moment—whether it will be possible to go through this Session without debating the subject; but even if it be not found possible, I feel persuaded that the debate will be confined within reasonable limits, and I feel assured that any debate on Irish administration will also be confined within reasonable limits. We have had Notice of an important subject which, although it could not enter into the Speech, yet is in the minds and mouths of men—I mean the question of Procedure. Last year, before the Session commenced, Notice was given on the part of the Government that the plans of Procedure were in contemplation, and the nature of those plans was explained. That communication made to us was not arbitrary or novel; on the contrary, it was in conformity with what I may call the usual, established, and useful practice of this House. When the right hon. Gentleman who now sits for a Division of Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach)— and in whose recovery to health I rejoice—was Leader of the House, although he contemplated no measure more drastic than the appointment of a Select Committee, yet before the House met, and before the Speech of the Queen from the Throne, he was pleased to make known to me, as Leader of the Opposition, the intention of the Government upon that subject in full detail. I, myself, when Prime Minister, had pursued a similar course in communication with Sir Stafford Northcote. We have not yet had—and I am glad we have not yet had—any like communication from the right hon. Gentleman opposite; but I would venture to speak respectfully on that subject, and to express the hope that if proposals upon Procedure are made, they will be most carefully considered by the Government beforehand, and will not be of a nature to lead to protracted debates and vehement differences of opinion among large sections in this House; but that they will aim rather at giving effect to general principles of good government, and to the general sense and good feeling of 87 the House, than at attempting to establish domination by mere triumphs of one Party over another. That I mention because it is of great importance with regard to the Business of the Session. As to foreign policy, we have, happily, no occasion to anticipate serious interruption of Business in connection with it. With reference to Procedure, if that matter be prudently handled, and we are not compelled to enter at great length into discussion in relation to its details, if the bulk and substance of the Session is left to promote the important legislation of which the Government have given Notice, then I am sanguine—if the Government make that contribution towards the just progress of Public Business—that there will be no reason in the world why this should not be a useful, and even a distinguished, Session. Your legislation begins well in the selection of subjects, as far as they go; and though I cannot recede from the complaint I made with regard to Ireland, I may say that in the selection you have made you have contemplated wider interests than those of Party. We shall desire to second your efforts in that direction. That will apply, I believe, to all the subjects that you have mentioned; it will apply most of all to that great and most important subject in which not only the general interests of the country are involved, but after such long delays, for which we must all, perhaps, bear our share of responsibility, the character and honour of Parliament also. I do trust that the course which the Government take with regard to the introduction and prosecution of that great Bill will be such, as to show that, now you have the intention formed and the opportunity in your hands, you mean to make it the main object of your legislative attention, to strain every muscle for the purpose of carrying your measure into law, and at once putting an end to what has become a public scandal, and fulfilling the reasonable and just expectations of the people.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
In following the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), I must first of all pay my tribute of admiration to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Address. The observations of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to 88 those speeches will, I am sure, be echoed by every Member of this House, especially in reference to the eloquent terms in which my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Duncan) referred to our duties in caring for the sick and suffering. I can fully confirm the view which my hon. and learned Friend the Mover of the Address (Mr. Wharton) took of the position of the Boundary Commissioners, and of their action under the Act of last year. Their duty was simply to recommend for the consideration of the Government and of Parliament measures which they thought to be expedient, but which in no respect whatever bound the Government, nor are the Government in any way committed to the adoption of a scheme which the Commissioners approve, and which may be laid on the Table of the House. I now proceed to the questions raised by the right hon. Gentleman. As was to be expected from him, he has again repeated his confidence in the administration of foreign affairs by the Prime Minister, and has expressed satisfaction at the course that has been followed during the last Session and during the Recess. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the frank expression of his opinion upon those topics; and I cordially agree with him in the principle which he laid down, that the conduct of foreign affairs, and our relations with foreign States, ought to be kept free from the influence of Party politics. The interests of the country are immensely superior to those of Party in this House or in the country itself; and we as a Government, and the Opposition as an Opposition, have first of all to consult the interests of the country as a whole, and not by any of the means which may be found ready to the hand seek, at the cost of the country's interests, to advance those of mere Party. I may, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman, state that Papers have already been laid on the Table with regard to the New Hebrides Convention; with regard to the negotiations respecting the Suez Canal; and also with regard to Afghanistan. There will be no delay in furnishing the House with such information as we can properly supply on those topics, I cordially concur in the observations which fell from the right hon. Gentleman as to the great advantage to this 89 country and to Russia in the removal of possibilities of misunderstanding. There is only one aim and one object of Her Majesty's Government, and that is to be at peace with all the world, while we maintain the rights and interests of the people of this country. We have a great trust to discharge, and we can, we believe, discharge that trust with proper regard to the susceptibilities and to the interests and rights of other peoples, while we maintain the rights and interests of our own. I will now refer to the omissions which the right hon. Gentleman detected in the Speech from the Throne. With regard to the crofters in Scotland, I think the House will agree that the course of legislation on that subject has not been so satisfactory, so complete in its results, or so beneficial to all parties concerned, that the Government could rashly undertake to promote the measures, or extend relief under conditions of extreme difficulty, and under conditions which seem to imperil the social existence of a considerable portion of the community. We are engaged in considering in what way we can extend relief to people who are suffering under conditions which appear to make it almost impossible to maintain existence with due regard to the decencies of life. We are engaged in considering in what way we can do so without thoroughly demoralizing these people, and leading them to the belief and conviction, which unfortunately has prevailed in the past and which may be renewed in the future, that they are certain to obtain eleemosynary aid and be protected from the consequences of the condition of things in which they find themselves, without any exertion of their own to gain a livelihood, which every other subject of the Queen is expected to gain for himself. I speak with the greatest sense of pity for these poor people, placed as they are in this great Metropolis. But the consideration of a question like this must be conducted with extreme care and prudence, lest the evil we seek to remedy may not be followed by consequences much more serious even than the sufferings of those poor people. The Government are engaged in a careful study of the question, but we were not justified in putting a paragraph into the Speech from the Throne on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Notice of 90 Amendment to the Address which stands in the name of the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell). I agree that the form in which it is proposed to raise the very important question to which the Notice refers is open to very considerable objection, inasmuch as it deals with a matter with which the House has full power to deal without approaching Her Majesty by way of the Address. The suggestion of the course now proposed did not reach me before the speech of the right hon. Gentleman a few minutes ago. I am not, therefore, in a position to state the course the Government will take in regard to this matter; but I will undertake that they will consider the subject within the next few hours, and I hope to be able to make a statement on it without any unnecessary delay. If the course proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman be persisted in, the result maybe that we shall have two debates instead of one on the same question. It is obvious, therefore, that the Government naturally desire to avoid entering into an arrangement which would make such a result possible. I do not want to enter into any long defence of the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I own we had enough of the Irish Question in the last Session of Parliament; but we cannot hope to escape from discussions on that question in the present Session. If the course indicated by the right hon. Gentleman is taken, and some hon. Gentleman below the Gangway proposes an Amendment on the Address in regard to the state of Ireland, we shall be perfectly prepared to enter into the subject in the sense and spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has offered to meet us. The right hon. Gentleman says the paragraph in the Queen's Speech with regard to Ireland is a challenging paragraph. If, however, we had refrained from expressing our confident opinion as to the results of our Irish legislation during the past Session and as to the policy pursued during the Recess, the right hon. Gentleman himself would have been the first person to challenge us for the omission, which he would have described as a most remarkable omission. He would have said—"You are afraid of calling attention to the course you have yourselves pursued; you are unwilling or unable to defend the results of your 91 own policy." Sir, it is nothing of the kind. The paragraph we have put into the Speech we can defend by facts as well as by arguments, and we shall furnish to the House such information as was furnished by the right hon. Gentleman's Government in 1882, when similar legislation had been proposed and carried, as to the results of our legislation and the criminal statistics of Ireland. We are asked whether agrarian crime has diminished. The right hon. Gentleman has entered into an elaborate argument to prove that agrarian crime has not diminished. We are prepared to show that it has diminished, and that the coercive conspiracies of which we speak have sensibly abated in power and influence throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman has again referred to what he calls "Boycotting" and exclusive dealing. "Boycotting" is an instrument which has been aptly described by the right hon. Gentleman himself—that it was injurious to the best interests of the country. We say that what was injurious to the best interests of the country in 1882, 1883, 1884, and 1885 is injurious to those interests in 1888. That which was a crime and was sustained by crime in those years is, in our view, a crime, and sustained by crime now. We draw no distinction between the fact that we were out of Office then and that we are in Office now; and we adjure hon. Gentlemen to look at facts as facts, if it be possible to do so, without having regard to which particular Party is in power. Exclusive dealing unaccompanied by crime is not interfered with by the Act of last year, either in Ireland or England. The right hon. Gentleman made a great point of the fact that we are obliged to entrust the administration of the Criminal Law to magistrates rather than to juries and Judges. Well, Sir, this is not, unfortunately, the first time in the history of Ireland that that course has been rendered necessary—the right hon. Gentleman himself has found it necessary. I believe there is no one who more deeply deplores the necessity—the absolute necessity—for the course which has been taken than every Colleague of mine on this Bench—on whom rests the responsibility for the government of the country and the responsibility for the safety of life and property—the responsibility of securing for the humblest 92 person in Ireland, as well as in England, a complete liberty for the discharge of every social duty and perfect freedom in their work and occupation. Some observations were made by the right hon. Gentleman with which I have great sympathy. The right hon. Gentleman said that if we could show that the Irish people were becoming more reconciled to the law, then we should have shown that we have accomplished a great work—then we should have made some approach, to winning the hearts of the people of Ireland. Sir, I believe that the steady course which has been pursued, apart from passion, apart from Party feeling, by the Government during the last year and during the present winter has tended—I admit we have not made a great advance—has tended to reconcile the Irish people to the law of the land, because they have felt that the law is being enforced, and that it will be enforced for their protection against wrong-doers, as well as against them if they, on their part, do wrong against others. Who are they who set the Criminal Law in action in England as well as in Ireland and every other country? It is the duty of the Government to set the law in action; and it would be most inefficient, in the interests of the people at large, if they failed to use the measures which Parliament has provided for them and the law which has been placed in their hands for the security of the people at large and for the punishment of those who do wrong. We had to take measures to secure that justice shall be brought home to every person in Ireland; we have taken the measures which we believe are best calculated to attain that end; we have taken them in the full light of day, and we are prepared to answer to Parliament and the country for every act for which we are responsible. I fully admit that the people of Ireland have equal rights with the people of England, and it was to secure that those rights should be retained by the people of Ireland that the legislation of last year was passed, that the legislation of last year has been steadily, fairly, and justly administered by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour). The right hon. Gentleman opposite expressed the hope that this would be a 93 more satisfactory Session than the last. He entered into an engagement on the part of his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench opposite, and of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, as well as above the Gangway, that there should be a desire to forward measures without anything like factious opposition, and, in fact, to co-operate with the Government in passing those useful measures which we have described. But he said that Ireland ought to have had a larger share in the proposals of Her Majesty's Government; and at least the pledges we have repeatedly made in Parliament and out of Parliament ought to have been respected, and that we should have endeavoured to reconstruct the Irish Government. The right hon. Gentleman admits that the measures which we propose to lay upon the Table of the House—and which, I am happy to say, are ready to be laid upon the Table—are useful and necessary. Further, the right hon. Gentleman admits that if the Government are able to secure for these measures proper consideration, a useful Session will have been passed. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he was not really laughing at his Friends and at the House when he urged Her Majesty's Government to take steps to reconstruct the Irish Government? At a time like the present, when passion is inflamed and an Irish National League is struggling for existence, I ask him whether, if the Government had made proposals of this kind, he would not have said that these proposals were mere mockery on the part of the Government, and were intended to delude the House? To introduce such proposals at such a time would be to expose them to violence of treatment that ought to be avoided. I admit as fully as the right hon. Gentleman that there is room—great room—for improvement in the machinery of Irish government. When the people of Ireland are, as I hope they will be, reconciled to the law of the land—not to laws passed merely with reference to some particular agrarian differences, but to fundamental laws, that protect and respect the rights and the property of every subject—when the people of Ireland give evidence that they are at last in harmony with the system of law that prevails throughout the civilized world, then I undertake to say that no 94 difficulty will be raised, and no loss of time will be incurred in making proposals for such a reconstruction of the Irish Government as might hold out some prospect of success. The Government are not, however, going to hold out a delusive expectation to Ireland or to the people of this country. We know that no satisfactory progress could be made with the question at the present time, and on that account we, therefore, do not dream of bringing it before Parliament. I may part for the moment with the question of Ireland. The Government are prepared to meet any charges that may be made against the conduct of the Irish administrators. We accept the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that he and his Friends have no desire to protract debates beyond the necessities of bringing the issue to a conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to some other legislative proposals, which we intend to lay before Parliament. He referred—I think in sympathetic terms—to proposals which we contemplate with regard to the collection of tithe-rent, and with reference to the maintenance of that charge as ecclesiastical or national property. We wish to approach the consideration of this question thoroughly in the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman did so. It is not to be dealt with in a captious spirit; it is not to be dealt with from the point of view that this is a charge upon land which the occupier of the land has a right to divest himself of. It is to be approached from the point of view of those who desire to remove all unnecessary friction in the maintenance of a charge upon property to which owner and occupier are alike subject. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of many proposals that had been frequently placed before the House with regard to the transfer of land, and said that no measure for dealing with the question would be satisfactory that did not deal with that descent of land. The right hon. Gentleman is under the impression that he has read the highly-technical Bill of last Session; and it is, perhaps, not unnatural that he should have forgotten that that Bill did deal with the descent of land in a manner which went very far indeed to satisfy land reformers, if it did not satisfy the right hon. Gentleman. That question is certainly included in the proposals we intend to 95 submit to Parliament. In reference to local government, the right hon. Gentleman did not in any way exaggerate the complexities and the difficulties of the question. The boundary question involves enormous difficulties, but I am sanguine that we shall be able to approach the question in a spirit and a manner that will commend themselves, and will gain the approval not only of the House, but of the country at large. We have no hard-and-fast line to impose upon Local Authorities. We desire, as far as possible, to consult and to meet local feeling, and the public sentiment of districts. We think that we shall be able to make proposals which will satisfy all the necessities of the case, and accord at the same time with the prevailing desire to maintain ancient landmarks, which is a peculiarity of Englishmen, and which I should be very sorry to oppose. We intend to press this Local Government Bill upon the consideration of the House. It has been the work of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie)—with the assistance of his Colleagues—for many months past. It has received most careful attention, and we hope that it will be received in the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) has proposed to accept it—as a useful measure of local government for the benefit of the country, without interfering in the least degree with any Party interest or prejudice. Considerable improvement may be made in local government from a popular point of view, and we shall do our best to obtain from the House consent to our proposals. I need not go through the other matters in detail, but the right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of Procedure, and he referred especially to the fact that no communication had been made to the right hon. Gentleman himself as to the proposals which the Government intend to make. There is no great change proposed which would have rendered it necessary, in my judgment, to have communicated the intentions of Her Majesty's Government to the right hon. Gentleman, and, more than that, he has not himself been easily accessible for the last few weeks, so as to have rendered it possible for me to have had communication with him. But I can assure him that we shall not delay to 96 take the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends into our confidence. Our aim is precisely that which the right hon. Gentleman himself has indicated. We do not desire to achieve by new methods of Procedure any Party success or triumph. But we have the honour and credit of the House of Commons at heart, and we desire to secure to both sides of the House full liberty of discussion within reasonable limits, divesting ourselves as far as we may of the power to interfere arbitrarily with that liberty. At the same time we feel that it is essential to the character and reputation of the House that there should be an end of proceedings that do not tend to raise the House in the estimation of the world—proceedings that are not creditable to this Assembly as a body of business men capable of transacting business in a reasonable and an intelligent manner and at reasonable hours. It is essential that the House should have power to put an end to a condition of affairs which was exciting unreasonable comment, and which I may describe as not creditable to such an Assembly. It is essential that the House should have better command over its time, and should be able to end disorder, which, unfortunately, has arisen from time to time in preceding Sessions. In the observations of the right hon. Gentleman we have, I think, obtained one great advantage, and that is a direct assurance that, so far as he is concerned—as Leader of the Opposition—he will do his best to answer for his Friends that the Business of the House shall be conducted with reasonable speed and with reasonable discussion. This would make the Session remarkable for its Business achievements and for the legislation that might be placed upon the Statute Book.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
said, the fact was that the right hon. Gentleman and his followers were only in the second degree responsible for the government of the country. The real responsibility for the present situation rested with the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), who, if he were to resume his proper position, would completely change the aspect of the Government majority. He (Colonel Nolan) did not intend to enter into the whole of the speech of the right hon. Gentle- 97 man the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith). He remembered Mr. Disraeli saying in that House that he did not believe that any arrangement they could make would shorten the natural length of a Session of Parliament; and so, in the same manner, he (Colonel Nolan) believed that even with greater powers of closure than were already possessed by the House they would be able to get through more real work. He would only speak on a single subject, and that was the reference made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite to Ireland, and the manner in which that country was treated in the Queen's Speech. He (Colonel Nolan) and his hon. Friends had three grounds of complaint with regard to the conduct of the Government during the Recess and in the last Session of Parliament. First, they complained as to the manner in which the Government had administered the law in Ireland; secondly, that they had not done anything for the country in return for the £7,750,000 which they extracted from it by taxation—that, as a matter of fact, the whole of the money had been absorbed without any benefit being conferred upon Ireland; and, thirdly, they complained that nothing had been done to settle the Land Question in a way that would really benefit the peasantry. The first point had in connection with it the way in which the Resident Magistrates were promoted in Ireland and as to their removability, and he said that while the present system remained in existence no satisfactory result could possibly be expected. Lord Macaulay had said so long as the Judges were removable in England—which was up to the time of James II.—so long no politician was safe. It was a matter of life and death in those days to public men, for as soon as one political Party got into power it was their aim to murder their opponents by course of law. The same noble Lord further said that no better or greater reform had ever been made in this country than that by which the Judges were made irremovable. Now, the state of things which existed in England before that reform took place was precisely similar to that which at the present moment existed in Ireland in regard to the Resident Magistrates, and although their powers did not extend to life and death, yet it 98 did extend to the very next thing—the liberty of the subject, and it rested entirely with them to say whether a politician was to remain a free man or to spend a period of six months, or even more, under accumulated sentences in prison. Although he had listened attentively to the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury, he had heard no reference to the principal part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), which dealt with the removability at the pleasure of the Executive of the Resident Magistrates. These gentlemen were, amongst other things, not the very best of lawyers, but probably men of ordinary ability, and competent, no doubt, to get through the usual work at Quarter Sessions. They could not afford to be fair; and he maintained that men in the position which they occupied must do what the Government wished, because they knew that otherwise they could be dismissed. It was a dreadful position in which to place a Resident Magistrate for the Government to say—" If you do not please us we will remove you. You will have no pension, or only a small one, or at the best you may wait till your five years are up, and then you will not be re-appointed."
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
said, that he did not suppose that the majority of the Resident Magistrates would vote against their consciences, and give two or three months' imprisonment to a man whom they believed to be undeserving of it; but, taking an average, he would say it was much easier to got them to declare a man guilty when they knew that otherwise they might lose their position. At first, under the Crimes Act, they gave sentences of two months, which admitted of appeal; but the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour), in a speech at Birmingham, threw out a strong hint that appeals were inconvenient, and that justice would be satisfied with shorter sentences of one month's imprisonment; and then it was that the sentences of which they complained were given. That practice had continued during the Recess; but now that Parliament was assembled, and the subject could be brought before the 99 House, the Resident Magistrates had gone back to the longer sentences of two, three, and four months. As he had said, the Resident Magistrates were removable; but that was not the case with the Police Magistrates and the County Court Judges, who could only be dismissed for a crime, or the mal-administration of justice. Now, the Resident Magistrates declared that they were obliged to give sentence of imprisonment with or without hard labour, and they never sentenced anyone under the Act as a first-class misdemeanant; but the late Lord Mayor of Dublin was sentenced by a Police Magistrate in Dublin, who was irremovable. The latter said that he saw no reason to push things to an extreme, and accordingly he made the prisoner a first-class misdemeanant. There was another case in which a Member of Parliament was brought before an irremovable County Court Judge in Ireland on appeal, and that Judge held that he could make the prisoner a first-class misdemeanant, and, to his credit be it said, he did so. Then there was a third case in which a County Court Judge took a different view from that of the Resident Magistrates, and that gentleman was the Recorder of Galway, who had given it as his personal opinion, and had said he (Colonel Nolan) might state it in the House of Commons, that Mr. Blunt, whom that gentleman had convicted, ought to be treated as a first-class misdemeanant; so that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had now the pleasure of keeping Mr. Blunt undergoing the hardships of imprisonment in opposition to the view of the very Judge who had sentenced him, and had said he ought to be treated as a first-class misdemeanant. It had been said that the Act had been very carefully carried into effect in Ireland; but he (Colonel Nolan) maintained that it had been carried out in the harshest possible manner and for Party purposes. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, not on his administration in Ireland, but as a Party manager, and on the effective manner in which he had acted as Whip. For the last 200 years a majority had not been made up in that House by any Government on the principle of locking up their opponents; but at that moment the right hon. Gentleman had 12 Mem- 100 bers of the Opposition in prison undergoing various sentences. That might not be a matter of great consequence to the Government so long as the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale supported the Conservative Party; but, were he to turn aside and become neutral, their majority would be at once reduced to 40; whereas, if the 12 Members were free to attend in the House, it would be brought down to the very moderate and what would be hardly a working majority of 28. It was by the means he had referred to that the right hon. Gentleman had converted his weak majority into a working majority, and that, no doubt, accounted for the cheers which greeted him on entering the House, which were greater than those bestowed on the First Lord of the Treasury. Although the majority of independent Conservatives would, no doubt, vote "Aye" or "No" as they were told to do at the doors, yet he believed there were some of them sufficiently independent to support his view, that in all cases where Members of Parliament were imprisoned they should be made first-class misdemeanants, and if that were done one great source of irritation would be removed. It was often said that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor man; but the punishment of imprisonment was harder in the case of an educated man, because not only was the change of diet greater, but there was also the deprivation of books and writing materials. In his opinion it was positive and unnecessary cruelty to keep educated men in prison without books, for the only book they could have under the existing system was a Bible, with so small a print as to make it hardly legible. He would point out to independent Members that they had undertaken quite enough Parliamentary responsibility without supporting the Government in their present mode of treating Irish political prisoners. There was one especially bad case of which he and his hon. Friends complained—namely, that of the hon. Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin (Mr. T. C. Harrington). That hon. Member was the Secretary of the National League. If the Chief Secretary for Ireland had imprisoned him as the chief officer of the League, it would have been, at all events, open and honest; but the Government could 101 not prove that the National League in Dublin was an illegal body, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland had imprisoned the hon. Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin by taking advantage of a mere technicality. The hon. Member had been connected some years before with a newspaper which published an account of some meetings that had been suppressed by law; by a mere accident the name of the hon. Member had been registered last year as being connected with the newspaper, and, that technicality being fastened upon by the Government, the hon. Member had been imprisoned for two months—simply because he had allowed his name to appear on a newspaper with which he was totally unconnected. But the hon. Member was really put into prison because he was the head of the National League, and for nothing else. On his second point, that nothing had been done to develop the resources of the country, he did not believe that the Government had honestly accounted for the money raised from Ireland. It had been announced that £50,000 would be given in aid of the roads in Ireland; but he did not think that sum had been expended. He asked what had the Government done with the £7,750,000 received from Irish taxation since they came into Office? They had told the House that they were going to appoint Commissioners to inquire into the question as to how far the resources of Ireland could be developed; but there had been but one Report from the Commissioners, and that had borne no fruit. The greater part of the money derived from Irish taxation was simply wasted in Ireland, and that for no good purpose; so that the money which came from that country did not even relieve the British taxpayer, while the people there were left without harbours, railways, and many similar works of which they stood greatly in need. He did not wish that the Irish Judges should be underpaid; but the expenses of the Courts in Ireland were, in his opinion, extravagant. He should be very brief in dealing with his third point, desiring, as he did, to save the time of the House. The Government in the Queen's Speech held out no promise of further land legislation which would be likely to do much to settle the condition of the country. He (Colonel Nolan) had for a long time 102 said that they should make all the tenants of under £6 a-year small proprietors; but it would be necessary also to divide the grass farms amongst the smaller tenants. If that were done by the Government, they would satisfy the tenantry; but nothing short of it would do so, at any rate in his own county. He hoped the Government would do something towards making the smaller tenantry owners of the farms in question, at the same time giving proper compensation to those who now held them. Having pointed out what he considered to be the shortcomings of the Government, and the deficiencies of the Queen's Speech, he would not detain the House further than to remark that although the Government might shut the mouths of a large number of Irish Members by imprisonment, they could not fairly say that Ireland was prosperous or contented, nor could they in the present circumstances, having regard to the enormous amount of emigration going on, be justified in taking any credit for their administration in Ireland.
§ MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
said, he thought the Government ought to be congratulated on the peaceful prospects of the Session so far. The opening paragraph of Her Majesty's Gracious Speech which referred to our relations with Foreign Powers was, in his opinion, a subject for favourable comment in that House when they considered the large Armies which were now kept up by those Powers. He trusted that the assurance which within the last few days had been offered by Prince Bismarck would have an effect upon the Powers which had possibly contemplated a disturbance of the European peace, and that next Session Her Majesty's Government would be able to say that they remained at peace with them. He thought also that the House would agree that Her Majesty's Speech contained what was a just recognition of the patriotic spirit shown by the Australian Colonies, and that they should be assisted in protecting that great portion of the British Empire. But there was no portion of Her Majesty's Gracious Speech which would afford greater satisfaction to the peaceable subjects of Her Majesty than that which referred to the government of Ireland during the past autumn and winter. The hon. and gallant Member for North Galway 103 (Colonel Nolan) had bitterly complained of a so-called conspiracy on the part of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to deprive the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) of the co-operation of the most energetic of his Colleagues. But as well might all those who broke the law in this country complain when they were taken up and imprisoned. The truth, of the matter was that the hon. Members in question had in several cases ostentatiously committed breaches of the law in order to court imprisonment; others had, however, been very careful to avoid being captured; and he was sure many people had been greatly amused by reading the accounts of the dexterity displayed by them in avoiding imprisonment, and the great surprise manifested by them on coming across the Channel to find that the law was strong enough to take them back in order that they might answer before the judicial tribunals in Ireland for the offences which they had committed. The Government were at least entitled to the warmest thanks of the people of Ulster for the manner in which they had endeavoured impartially to administer the law during the last few months. All the prognostications to the contrary had proved to be utterly false, and the Government had not only administered the law with impartiality, but with success. He could assure the House that the people of Ulster, as well as the loyal and peaceable people in other parts of the country, found no inconvenience from what had been unfairly called the Coercion Act; nor was there any desire shown by the Executive to interfere in any way with the rights and privileges of the peace-loving subjects of Her Majesty. While the hon. and gallant Gentleman had dilated on the alleged wrongs suffered by a half-dozen or a dozen of his Colleagues, the House had not heard from him a single word of condemnation of those outrages and murders which, during the Recess, had stained the soil of Ireland—as, for example, the case where a father had been murdered in sight of his daughter under circumstances discreditable in the highest degree to the National League, from which, unquestionably, the instigation came. On behalf of those for whom he was entitled to speak, he ventured to say that they had no desire to press Her Majesty's Government for any 104 settlement of the Local Government Question in Ireland. They were quite ready to wait for that until Ireland was in a satisfactory condition, and ready to obey the law, as well as administer in a bonâ fide way the powers then to be entrusted to them. They did not wish to see any Local Government Bill for Ireland introduced at present which would be used for furthering those Home Rule tactics which were advocated by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite. He felt sure the House and the country would be pleased to learn that the development of the resources of Ireland was in contemplation by Her Majesty's Government, and that the endeavour of the Government in this direction would not be allowed to be interfered with by any Party considerations. If hon. Members below the Gangway opposite would co-operate with the Government in the work, they would be doing more to promote the welfare of Ireland than by indulging in tall talk on the Home Rule Question. In offering these few words of congratulation to Her Majesty's Government on the subject of Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech, he might be allowed to express his opinion that it would be a source of the greatest gratification throughout the country and Empire that Her Majesty asked the Divine assistance, commending the country and the House to the care of Almighty God, in the deliberations upon which they were entering. He trusted the day was far distant when the Sovereign of this country would forget that she reigned by the grace of God; or the people, that it was by Divine Providence that she reigned over them. Finally, he felt sure that the country would continue to give the Government increasing support in maintaining the integrity of the Empire, and in upholding throughout that Empire the honour of the Crown.
THE EARL OF CAVAN (Somerset, S.)
said, it had been his misfortune since last year to have been attacked by a variety of persons, including the Chief Secretary for Ireland himself, on account of the position which he had taken up, and now occupied, with regard to Irish politics. He had been first attacked for sending a deputation of working men from England to Ireland, and upon that subject he wished to say a few words. He was responsible, no doubt, for send- 105 ing some of these men; but he wished to say that in sending them he was desirous above all things that they should go with a perfectly clean sheet, with feelings perfectly unprejudiced; that they should on their return give a clear and explicit statement of what they saw in Ireland, both with regard to the payment of rent and the question of Home Rule; and that from the opinions formed by them, and the experience gained in various parts of Ireland, the minds of his constituents might be made up on these important and burning questions. He carefully guarded the conditions on which the members of the deputation should go to Ireland; he desired them to go as free agents; that they should visit Bodyke, Glenbeigh, and other places, and see for themselves the persons who had been evicted, and the processes of eviction which had been going on; that they should converse with them, and gain all the information they could on the spot. He desired them also especially to see the landlords themselves or their agents, so as to hear what could be said on both sides of the question, and then to return to this country and state the result of the inquiries they had made; he desired them further to converse with persons of all classes—those favourable to Home Rule, and those who were unfavourable to it, and that they should ascertain whether they had any concealed or unconcealed views with regard to separation. They were to state on their return exactly what they had seen and heard, and what their impressions were; and he conceived that a fairer programme could not be placed before honest and impartial men. Four of his constituents who were members of the deputation were distinctly of the artizan class and Home Rulers. Two of them had not made up their minds, and were of a superior class. How had these persons been treated? They went to Ireland simply as inquirers, and yet, during the whole of their stay, they were treated there as spies. They were never left by the detectives for a single moment. He asked, what crime had those honest, fair-minded Englishmen committed? The only crime that could be alleged against them was that they were going to inquire into the state of Ireland. They were men who paid their rent in 106 England, who were in favour of the payment of rent, and were honest persons who earned their broad by the sweat of their brow, and would be looked up to in England as in the front rank of artizans; but when they arrived in Ireland their luggage was searched, and they were followed about as if they were the lowest and basest of criminals. It was not astonishing, therefore, that when they returned to England they had a very definite idea of the government of Ireland, and brought with them a very distinct impression, both with regard to coercion and Home Rule. It had been said that they went to Ireland for the purpose of encouraging crime. He denied that utterly. There was not a single word uttered by them during their stay in Ireland which could by any method be turned into an encouragement to crime in any shape; all they did was to encourage the Irish people whom they met to persevere in their struggle in an honest way. Again, it was said that they went to Ireland with preconceived convictions. But he utterly denied that they had any preconceived convictions when they went there. Although these men were unprejudiced when they went to Ireland—and he could tell the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whom he was glad now to see in the House, that two of the six men who went from his (the Earl of Cavan's) constituency were persons whose minds were not made up on the subject of Home Rule—they not only had some doubts with regard to Home Rule as a whole, but also on certain particulars in reference to the Bill of his right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian. He would, however, distinctly admit that four of the number were Home Rulers. Of course, they were all Home Rulers now. It would be rather an astonishing thing if, after the treatment they had received, they had not been converted. It was stated in Her Majesty's Speech that in consequence of the operation of the Coercion Act agrarian crime in Ireland had decreased; but he ventured to think that was not the case. The decrease of crime was due to a greater cause—namely, that it had been proved by these deputations to the people of Ireland that there was now in the minds of Englishmen an appreciation of what was really wanted by them. 107 They had shown the Irish that there was a gleam of hope, and that there was in that gleam a brightness in Ireland which they had never known before, and that they were thus encouraged to persevere in honest ways, because there was no necessity for crime. Such disgraceful transactions as the murder in the Phœnix Park could now no longer be justified on any ground whatsoever, because the Irish could look forward with hope to a greater and a growing sympathy in England between that country and the Irish nation. There was hope, and in that hope lay the cause of the absence of crime and the better behaviour even of the lowest classes. Such disgraceful acts as the Phœnix Park murders were no longer possible, because now the people of Ireland looked forward to greater sympathy from the people of England; and upon that ground rested the hope of a better state of things for Ireland. He had on a former occasion quoted some statistics of Mr. Mulhall, which, at the time, he believed to be accurate, but which had been challenged. He had stated that Mr. Mulhall was, at the time he wrote to him, absent from England, and could not give an answer to his letter; but he had asked his constituents and the country to understand that the figures had been questioned, and to suspend their judgment. Mr. Mulhall had since answered his letter; and if the reply had not reached the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour), it had, at any rate, reached The Times and other newspapers. Speaking roundly, the statistics quoted were under three headings—first, the number of evictions; secondly, the number of deaths; and, thirdly, the number of persons emigrated from Ireland. With regard to the first heading, Mr. Mulhall pointed out that the number of evictions given by Her Majesty's Government was not the whole number, because the evictions of cottiers was not included in it, and this was a very important point. With regard to the number of deaths, Mr. Mulhall said that the Government statistics could not be relied upon. The figures before him went largely into detail, and he would not, therefore, trouble the House by reading them on that occasion; but if 108 the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland wished to refer to them he would be happy to place them at his disposal. He would pass now to another subject of greater interest to hon. Members on that side of the House. It was an accusation constantly made against them that they were either directly or indirectly participating in or encouraging crime; but he wished to say, in the first place, that hon. Gentlemen on those Benches had a very distinct notion of what constituted crime. Crime, as understood in England, was not justified by any Member of that House, no matter on which side he sat; but as to what was called crime under the Coercion Act he had a word to say. With regard to the contravention of the provisions of the Coercion Act, it should be remembered that they were not permitted to discuss the 30 clauses of that measure. Certainly those clauses were before them, but only in the same way that the hangman's rope was before the culprit. He saw it, but he could not then discuss the merits of his sentence. They were obliged to pass 24 clauses. Were they to consider those 24 clauses of the Coercion Act as law in the same sense that they regarded every other Act on the Statute Book? Distinctly not; for what happened with the first six clauses? There were no three consecutive lines of those clauses that were not altered, not by the force of their numerical majority, but by the force of their argument. Was it possible they could regard the other 24 clauses—not a single line of which they were allowed to argue—as of the same moral weight as the first six clauses which were binding on them as loyal citizens? It was a very delicate question as to how far the persons who had been convicted and imprisoned under the Coercion Act came under the last clauses of the Act, which hon. Members were not allowed to discuss, or under the first six clauses, which they were permitted to discuss. But, apart from that argument, he maintained that the offences under the Coercion Act were, to an enormous extent, strictly of a political character. It was impossible for him and his hon. Friends to treat as criminals, in the sight of the law, those guilty of political offences. Lord Spencer, and his right hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan), 109 when administering the law of Ireland, made a very great distinction between persons convicted of political offences and persons convicted of crime, and those who sat upon the Opposition Benches could not forget the precedent. The Opposition were accused of consorting with criminals, and of paying honour to criminals. If his hon. Friend the late Lord Mayor of Dublin (Mr. T. D. Sullivan) was to be considered a criminal, and he (the Earl of Cavan) was to be condemned for consorting with him as a criminal and for assisting to do honour to a criminal, all he could say was that he rejoiced and glorified in the condemnation. He was not prepared to regard as a criminal a man who sold a newspaper that had been proscribed, except in the light that he was a political criminal. If there was doubt as to the distinction which they on the Opposition side of the House drew between one set of criminals and the other, let him draw the attention of hon. Members to a very remarkable passage in a recent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. John Morley). Speaking the other day in Dublin, and referring to a disgraceful murder which had just taken place in Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman said that murder had done more against the cause of Home Rule than all the actions of Lord Salisbury and the Chief Secretary put together. There were no two views with regard to crime as it was understood in England. Crime was condemned by hon. Members below the Gangway as distinctly as it ever had been by those sitting upon the Opposition or upon the Ministerial Benches; but when they came to the consideration of political offences, he feared it was necessary for the two sides of the House to part. Some comments had been made with reference to Gentlemen who were Privy Councillors upholding transactions which were contrary to law. Were there no Privy Councillors sitting on the Government Benches at that moment who were not formerly distinctly on the side of criminals—the criminals who refused to pay church rates some years ago? Of course, there were Members of the Privy Council—hon. Members of that House—by the score, who openly sympathized with those who went to prison rather than pay church rates. Did they not sympathize with crime— 110 with such crime as the non-payment of church rates amounted to? Members of the Opposition at the present day were in precisely the same position with regard to the political offences of which their Friends were accused. He did not propose to enter now into the vexed question of Home Rule or of coercion. His task had been of a more prosaic character. It had been to show that the sympathies of himself and Friends could never be given to those guilty of crime as crime was understood in England. It would be necessary for them to urge that the criminals with whom they associated were criminals coming under the category of political criminals, and not criminals such as criminals were understood to be in England. In that effort they would go forward steadily and perseveringly, long as the day might seem, until a brighter and more glorious day dawned, a day of reconciliation for Ireland, a day when the government of Ireland should be carried on by warm and affectionate hearts which had been reconciled to each other by means other than the power of the bayonet—by the triumph of their great cause.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
said, that as he listened to the speech of the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), he thought the hon. Gentleman must be very easily satisfied with the government of his country. The hon. Gentleman repeatedly claimed to speak in the name of the people of Ulster. However unpleasant it might be for the hon. Gentleman opposite to be reminded of it, the fact remained that Ulster sent a majority of its Representatives to support the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). Taking that as a standpoint, they could discount a little the encomiums which the hon. Member for South Belfast heaped upon the present government of Ireland. Judging from the Speech from the Throne, the Government, too, seemed perfectly satisfied with the result of their work. They spoke of the decrease of agrarian crime in Ireland. No doubt they based the statement upon the result of their action during the last six months in regard to those whom they chose to call criminals. If his (Mr. Rowlands') memory served him, the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) said, in introducing the Crimes Bill, that the case for the measure was not based on 111 statistics of agrarian crime in Ireland. And the operation of the Crimes Bill bad not reduced agrarian crime in Ireland. What was it that had reduced agrarian crime in Ireland? Was it the fact that in some cases landowners had begun to see that they had been trying to extort the impossible from their tenants? Was it the fact that at Gweedore the landlords had come to terms with their tenants? Was it the fact that at Bodyke the landlord, after having evicted his tenants, had come to terms with them? Was not that the reason why there had been a decrease in agrarian crime? Then why had the Crimes Act been put in force in the way it had? Why was it so many people were now in prison? Because they had dared to speak to their fellows. The Government said they thought a better result would accrue in Ireland. Could they point to a single instance in which one of the men they had cast into prison had left the gaol impressed with the policy he had previously condemned? Within the last month he (Mr. Rowlands) had conversed with many respectable men in Ireland who had been thrown into prison; and they had assured him that, while they did not like the suffering which the imprisonment and the plank bed entailed, they were prepared to endure it again, if by so doing they could add to the welfare of their countrymen. It had only made them more determined than ever. It was well, therefore, right hon. Gentlemen opposite should hesitate before expressing confidence that their system of government had been so beneficial to the people of Ireland. He now desired to deal with matters closely connected with his own visit to Ireland. When in Ireland, he found himself watched at every turn with the same attention by the authorities as the deputation to which the noble Earl (the Earl of Cavan) had referred. At Loughrea he and his friends went to see the places of interest, and he should think there were a dozen members of the Royal Irish Constabulary busily engaged in watching to see that they did not do anything wrong. He thought at the time it was a great pity the taxpayers of England could not see to what they were required to contribute. During the debate on the Crimes Bill, the House was told there was no intention of putting down meetings of political 112 opponents—that political opponents would have every facility of advocating their views. He tested the point, and his Friend, Mr. Wilfrid Blunt, was now in prison because he tested it with him. They went over to Ireland as members of the Home Rule Union; they called a distinctly English meeting, and they gave to the authorities their guarantee that no one but Englishmen should speak at the meeting. What was the object they had in view? To stir the people of Ireland up to crime? No. Far be it from him to have such an object in view. Was it to the interest, even politically, of the Liberal Party that crime should take place in Ireland? They had seen what had taken place on the Clanricarde Estate. They were aware of the misery that Lord Clanricarde had cast over that part of the West of Ireland where he reigned. They called the meeting, and they were served just as others. Let him read to the House the resolution which it was his intention to have proposed at the meeting at Wood-ford, on Sunday, the 23rd of October, so that they might see how violent it was—how wild the ideas contained in it were. The people had been pounced upon early in the morning by military and police and turned out of their homes, and at the Woodford meeting he wished to move—That this meeting expresses its heartfelt sympathy with the tenants on the estate of Lord Clanricarde in the severe sufferings they have undergone, and trusts that the action of the English people will enable them shortly to obtain that justice to which they are duly entitled.They asked the people to wait until they constitutionally carried England with them; because when he addressed a big meeting at Galway the chief question the people asked him was—" Can we expect Constitutional reform from England? "He told them he firmly believed the House of Commons would give it them. At the Galway meeting there was not the slightest disturbance. The police were conspicuous by their absence; the meeting was orderly; the people followed him to his hotel and then dispersed. The Government chose to suppress the meeting at Woodford by physical force. They chose to arrest Mr. Blunt and to cast him into prison; but he was persuaded that there was no 113 person in England who thought Mr. Blunt was any more criminal now than he was before he was arrested on the 23rd of October last. The Government had certainly not advanced the cause of good government one iota by their policy. On the contrary, they would have made the estrangement between the two people more bitter than it was previously had it not been for the action of the Opposition. When he went to Ireland he was a Home Ruler; but he was only a theoretical Home Ruler. But now he stood up in his place to advocate Home Rule, because he had seen the evils of the Government of Ireland. Had he not witnessed the treatment to which the Irish people were subjected, he could not have conceived that their present treatment was possible. When the trial was proceeding at Portumna, at the beginning of last month, such was the conduct of the police towards the people outside the Court House, that an English solicitor felt bound to make a protest from the middle of the Court. The result was that better treatment was served out to the people. He did hope the Government would perceive that if they wanted to win the respect of the Irish people, if they wanted to make the difficulties between the two countries less, they must stay their wild career of punishment in Ireland. They might inflict punishment upon many men; but they would not break the spirit of the people, because the people had suffered too much in the past. What England had to do was to meet the Irish people in a spirit of conciliation. He was told that many things had been done to stir up passions amongst the Irish people. Neither Mr. Blunt, nor himself, nor any of the English Gentlemen who were in Ireland about the time of the Woodford meeting, made any strong speeches to stir up passions amongst the people. If he wanted to find an incitement to rebellion, he would turn to the speeches of a right hon. Gentleman opposite. It was a right hon. Gentleman opposite who went to Ulster and said—"Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right." he had not yet heard that the right hon. Gentleman's Colleagues, who were now so strong in the condemnation of the language of others, had condemned the language of their right hon. Colleague. He (Mr. Rowlands) and his 114 Friends were not responsible for any such language during their stay in Ireland. It was not necessary to say more upon the point. He was quite satisfied to let the two peoples meet as they were meeting. He was only too delighted to find Irish people coming amongst us, and that more Englishmen were spending their holidays in Ireland, because the result must be good. The present system of government in Ireland was a failure and a fraud, and before many years were over those who now supported it would have to admit it was one of the most ghastly failures ever inflicted upon a people.
§ MR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)
, speaking of the Queen's Speech from an Irish point of view, said, "Blessed is he that expected naught, for he shall not be disappointed." No one reading that Speech would guess from the contents that in Ireland all law was practically suspended; that any man might for political reasons be sent to gaol after the formality of a mock trial; and that every political meeting held there by the people was liable to a charge of police, with soldiers in the background to assist the latter if necessary. No one reading the Speech would guess that the population of Ireland was being decimated. Such things as these did not seem to give the smallest anxiety to Her Majesty's Government. They were told by the Government that the Crimes Act, as far as it had been tested by a short experience, worked satisfactorily. Now, it had been the object of successive British Governments to make war upon the public opinions of the Irish people and against the sentiments of Irish nationality; but that war had always been waged in vain. And what success, he asked, had been achieved in that respect by the last Coercion Act? Criminals were first being made by the Government for the purpose of punishing them afterwards, and even Englishmen who went over to Ireland on a mission of peace and a work of charity were sent to prison for holding or attending public meetings. But though the Government had thrown into gaol some 10 or 12 Members of that House and a large number of other persons—about 300 individuals—they had failed to suppress public opinion in Ireland. In fact, they had only caused the Irish people to regard the men thus incarcerated as heroes 115 and martyrs, and had made the victims themselves only more resolute than ever in their Nationalist principles. Whether or not this was satisfactory to the Government he did not know, but certainly to his side of the House it was eminently satisfactory; and if it were not for the suffering that the men imprisoned underwent he would gladly advise the Government to go on with these Pyrrhic victories of theirs. Not one accused man among them, when told that he would be discharged if he would promise not to attend a meeting again, had accepted that offer, or had promised not to repeat his so-called offence. It was said that under the Coercion Act agrarian crime had diminished; but he held that if the Irish police, instead of hunting men like the hon. Member for East Finsbury and other English sympathizers of oppressed Irish tenants, had devoted their attention to the detection of real criminals, probably the murdered man Fitzmaurice would have been still living. Then it was next alleged in Her Majesty's Speech that "the power of coercive conspiracies had sensibly abated." If, in that statement, the Plan of Campaign was referred to, he maintained that all the rigours of the Coercion Act had not enabled one single rack-renting landlord to get his rent without granting a reasonable reduction. What other kinds of conspiracies had been abated? No doubt hon. Gentlemen who looked at the case from the standpoint of the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) considered the National League a coercive conspiracy. Hon. Gentlemen who themselves were liable to the direst imputation both as to their loyalty and as to their former desire to obey the law—hon. Gentlemen who talked about lining the ditches of Ulster for the purpose of shooting down Her Majesty's troops, and of kicking Her Majesty's Crown into the Boyne—did not think it at all unworthy to stand up and talk about the National League as a conbination to disintegrate the Empire and to incite to agrarian crime. As a member of that League, he (Mr. Commins) flung the imputation back in the hon. Gentlemen's faces. The members of the National League incited no one to crime, and, so far from desiring the disintegration of the Empire, they endeavoured to secure a union of the sentiments and feelings of the people. He would like to know 116 whether, if that was one of the coercive conspiracies alluded to, the National League had sensibly abated in its power? Why, the National League, as everyone knew, was stronger to-day than ever it was. The National League got accessions day by day, for there was not a person imprisoned, there was not an act of high-handed violence done in the name of law, that did not bring accessions to the ranks of the League. The other day, after the arrest of Mr. Blunt, a meeting of the League in Dublin was crowded by the Professors of Trinity College and by Protestants, men who loved their country more than their Party. Had the power of the League abated? So far from abating, it got stronger every day. They were told that measures tending to the development of the resources of Ireland would be laid before them. He would welcome any measure tending to develop the resources of Ireland and to increase the prosperity of the soil in any way; but he certainly would not welcome any measure that was merely intended as a bribe. In short, Her Majesty's Speech gave them very little encouragement. The Government, or those who were the spokesmen of the Government, not long ago told them that for the future a different policy would be used towards Ireland; that there would be similarity, equality, and simultaneity in all matters of legislation. He saw no trace of anything of the kind in the programme now laid before Parliament. They in Ireland relied upon the fact that the barrier which separated the people of the two countries was being broken down. They who represented the people of Ireland could promise here, as they promised outside the House, that the feelings of goodwill towards Ireland entertained by Englishmen would be thoroughly reciprocated; that not an act of goodwill would pass unrecognized; and that they would persevere to spread harmony between the two peoples until that harmony realized itself in a state of law which allowed Irishmen to manage their own affairs.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD (York)
said, he had the advantage of hearing the very excellent speech which was made by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Wharton) who moved the Address, and he must say there appeared to be great fitness in the choice displayed by the Government in 117 nominating his hon. and learned Friend to perform the very delicate and difficult task. His hon. and learned Friend referred to the promised reforms, and when lie spoke of the Railway Rates Bill he was understood to say he had the advantage of being a railway director. And when it became necessary for him to direct his attention to the promised legislation with regard to local government, he informed the House that he had the pleasure of being a Chairman of Quarter Sessions. He also, in the course of his admirable speech, alluded to the question of tithes, which, he (Mr. Lockwood) gathered, was in some sense to be dealt with by Her Majesty's Government. Had the hon. and learned Gentleman vouchsafed to inform the House of his opinions upon the question no doubt he would have gone further, and have informed the House that he was a lay rector. It struck him (Mr. Lockwood) as being an extremely happy combination, with a view to these promised reforms, that with regard to railway reform they would have the advantage of the experience and interest of railway directors; that local government was to be looked at through the spectacles of a Chairman of Quarter Sessions; and that tithes were to be dealt with in consonance with the personal feelings of lay rectors. His hon. and learned Friend informed the House that a pathetic moment was about to arrive when he would pass before the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie), and would declare to him that he was prepared to die in the cause. He hoped that he might be so, and he hoped also that the Members of the Government and others connected with the Government were prepared to sacrifice their official lives—because he trusted their social lives might long be preserved—he hoped many of them were prepared to sacrifice their official lives in acting contrary to all the traditions of the Party to which they belonged, and in really conscientiously carrying out the programme they had placed before the House in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech. Of course, hon. Members would be very much better able to judge of the worth of these promises when it became their pleasurable duty to deal with those reforms; but he was bound to say for his own part—and 118 he believed that when he said this he expressed an opinion which was shared by many of those who sat upon the Opposition side of the House—he had very little faith and extremely little hope the reforms promised to them were going to be carried out in that spirit which alone would make them acceptable to the people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) called upon the House to withhold its approval or disapproval on these social questions until some intelligible information was put before it, and he also expressed the hope that from all quarters of the House there would come to Her Majesty's Government the amplest opportunity for putting before the House their measures. He (Mr. Lockwood) assured hon. Members who sat upon the Opposition side of the House that they would be doing but slight good to their own constituencies, and to those whom they represented, if they, to the slightest extent, lent themselves to anything which might even bear a colour of Obstruction. He hoped that every opportunity would be given to the Government to place their measures before the House, and to show to the House and the country whether they were really in earnest in the promised measures of reform. With respect to the Local Government Bill, they had no information save that which was vouchsafed to them by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Wharton). But he made what appeared to be a somewhat important statement with regard to that Bill. No doubt, it was an inspired statement. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) laughed. The Mover of the Address told them there was to be some such method of representation as this—the Guardians of the Poor were to be elected in the ordinary way, and they were then, as delegates, to elect men to represent the people on the Local Government Board. If the President of the Local Government Board did not adhere to that statement, he (Mr. Lockwood) did not know why the right hon. Gentleman did not express dissent when it was made by the hon. and learned Member for Ripon. Let them take a charitable view of the situation, and suppose the right hon. Gentleman had not made up his mind 119 on the point, and then it would, be advantageous to give the right hon. Gentleman some advice. The advice he (Mr. Lock wood) would give the right hon. Gentleman was that no representation would satisfy the people of this country that was not a direct representation, and that the people of this country would not be content to elect Guardians to administer the Poor Law, and to delegate to them powers which they were perfectly capable of exercising and discharging themselves. That was, no doubt, a matter which would receive the very earliest attention of his right hon. Friend. He did not intend to trespass upon the time of the House by making any lengthened observations upon that part of Her Majesty's Speech which dealt with the affairs of Ireland. He gathered from the Speech, however, that the result of the coercive legislation of last Session—So far as it has been tested by short experience, has been satisfactory.Did the Government mean to allege for a single moment that that legislation had been satisfactory? Did they mean to suggest that it had been satisfactory to the majority of the people of Ireland? They said—Agrarian crime has diminished, and the power of coercive conspiracies has sensibly abated.Let him deal with the first allegation—namely, that the coercive legislation had been tested by short experience, and had been satisfactory. How had the legislation been tested? Why, in this way. Up to the time of the passing of the present coercive measure, there were large numbers of traders in Ireland who, on account of their being in accord with the great national feeling, were Boycotted by the landowners. But what had occurred since the passing of the Coercion Act? Why, he had had cases brought to his notice in which, since the measure became law, persons in the landowning interest, who never dealt with the tradesmen whom they then never visited, at once became visitors to the shops which up to that time they had shunned—sought to be served in the shops which up to that time they had persistently avoided—and then, because they were retaliated upon by the traders who up to that time had been Boycotted by themselves, they 120 caused the authorities to lay hands on those traders. This was done under the Act of which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were so proud. People were clapped into gaol for refusing to supply persons who, up to the time of that refusal, had refused to deal with them. Whilst hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were congratulating themselves on the condition of Ireland, there was one matter in connection with that subject on which he did not say they might congratulate themselves, but on which he thought the House and the country might congratulate themselves. He believed that at this moment there existed throughout the length and breadth of Ireland a more kindly feeling amongst the population of that country towards the people of Great Britain—he meant a more kindly feeling on the part of the working classes of Ireland towards the working classes of this country—than had existed for centuries. On that feeling, in the Speech which had been presented to the House on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had not congratulated themselves, and there they had shown a truly becoming modesty, because they had neither part nor lot in the congratulation which must follow on that state of things. There was a more kindly feeling existing in Ireland now towards the people of this country than had existed for many years past; but that had not been brought about by any act of those now representing Her Majesty's Government. He believed it had been brought about by the promised legislation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), and he found that Ireland now appreciated that throughout the length and breadth of this country there was a strong feeling in favour of that legislation, a feeling which, he ventured to think, would find vent whenever this country had an opportunity of declaring its feelings at a General Election. That was a matter for congratulation, no doubt. It was a matter for congratulation which had in no sense been brought about by Her Majesty's Government, but it was a state of things which they, sitting on that (the Opposition) side of the House, might congratulate themselves upon; and he hoped the day was not far distant when they would be able to carry 121 out the promises which they had given to the country in the matter.
§ MR. FORREST FULTON (West Ham, N.)
said, he thought that the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Lockwood) was premature in adopting the rather imaginative sketch presented to the House by the hon. and learned Mover of the Address of the future Local Government Bill, about which the hon. and learned Member could not possibly know anything. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Lockwood) had twitted the Mover of the Address with being a lay rector, which proved that he was entirely ignorant of the agitation going on in the country against the tithes. The hon. and learned Member did not appear to be aware of the fact that the agitation was directed against ecclesiastical tithes, and not against lay tithes. Wherever the tithe was payable to a layman, it was paid with great readiness. Though the agitation was undertaken in the interests of agriculture, it would be interesting if anyone representing the Principality of Wales would show them how lay tithes weighed less on the agricultural interest than ecclesiastical tithes. In no way could the suggestion be made good, therefore the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he spoke of "lay rectors," was extremely unfortunate in his reference. He (Mr. Fulton) did not know if the hon. and learned Gentleman was connected with lay tithes; but certainly the agitation was exclusively directed against tithes ecclesiastical. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman declared that he had a special knowledge and acquaintance of the views of the working classes of this country on the question of the affairs of Ireland, and he would have them believe that the working classes were amazingly in favour of the views which he held, in conjunction with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, in regard to Ireland. However that might be, he (Mr. Fulton) was glad to think that the hon. and learned Gentleman agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in deprecating Obstruction. They were all glad to hear that in the course of this Session they were not to be favoured with those long and discursive addresses that they had listened to in the course of tiresome and tedious Sittings last Session. They were glad 122 to think that they had had an authoritative declaration on the point from so high an authority as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, supported by so high an authority on the views of the working classes as the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Lockwood). No doubt, since they had last met his hon. and learned Friend had been amongst his constituents, and no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman had heard from the working men for whom he spoke that they did not approve of Obstruction. Well, he (Mr. Fulton) had also been visiting his constituents during the last few months, and they were almost exclusively composed of the working classes—at any rate, there were 8,000 or 9,000 working men in the constituency. He knew these were all very much opposed to Obstruction, and it was difficult to make them understand the tactics which hon. Gentlemen opposite pursued so much last Session. They were glad to think that at any rate from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for York there would be no obstruction. [Mr. LOCKWOOD: There never was.] They were also glad to think that there would be no long and discursive speeches during the Session, and that any assistance which could be legitimately given by the Opposition to the occupants of the Front Ministerial Benches to assist them in making progress with the measures set forth in the Queen's Speech would be tendered. With regard to that part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech referring to Ireland, he (Mr. Fulton) did not desire to detract in the slightest degree from the high eulogium passed upon the Chief Secretary by the Mover of the Address, as to the way in which he had administered the law in Ireland. He thought, however, it was sometimes forgotten in the House and the country that they owed a deep debt of gratitude to the Chief Secretary, not only for the firmness and courage with which he had administered the Crimes Act since it had passed into law, but for the singular acuteness and readiness with which he had at once seen and defeated the object of that very invidious attempt on the part of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway to destroy the effect of the Bill that was brought before Parliament. A few general questions had been asked last Session as to whether it was proposed to give a 123 right of appeal, and the right hon. Gentleman, who did not happen to be a lawyer, did not understand the object of the questions. These questions were repeated very frequently, and those who put them at length obtained some promise with regard to having an appeal in every case. He (Mr. Fulton) was not particularly fond of hon. Members from Ireland; but, at the same time, he had always entertained great respect for the legal acumen of the Representatives of that Island, and he must say that the way they had endeavoured to obtain an appeal on the facts in in every case did them credit, though he was glad they were defeated. He did not think the House appreciated the extraordinary position they would have been in had the Irish Members obtained the object they had in view. If the Irish Members had obtained their object, they would have had an appeal on the facts in all cases, and the result would have been that after the first day of October no single person could have been punished until the first week in January of this year. The effect of that would have been that the Act would have been a dead letter until January, the Quarter Sessions then would have been crowded with appeals, and an absolute block of the administration of justice would have resulted. Hon. Members from Ireland did not desire an appeal on questions of law, but on questions of fact, for the purpose simply of destroying the usefulness of the Crimes Act altogether; and the House owed a deep debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for having appreciated the motives of hon. Members from Ireland, and for having deprived them of the privilege of so destroying the usefulness of the measure. They had heard a great deal during the Recess about the tyrannical conduct of Her Majesty's Government and the monstrous way in which they had administered the Act. One of the facts to which attention was particularly drawn was the outrageous conduct of Captain Stokes in retaining the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) in custody after his appeal was dismissed and his conviction affirmed by the Judge of the County Court. People could get up amongst ignorant audiences who did not understand the legal bearings of such matters as this and claim their sympathies; but 124 he should like to know if anyone would get up in that House and affirm that the conduct of Captain Stokes was not in accordance with law? The terms of the recognizance of persons appealing from a Court of Summary Jurisdiction were that they should prosecute their appeals at the next ensuing Court of Quarter Sessions; and, secondly, that they should abide by the decision of the Court. No lawyer would get up and say that there was any difference in its legal effect between the judgment of a Court of Quarter Sessions affirming a conviction and a verdict of guilty upon an indictment by a jury. It could not be contended that merely because a warrant of commitment had not been drawn up, a criminal was entitled to open the door of his prison and walk away until such time as his warrant had been made out. What was a warrant of commitment for? It was made out for the protection of the gaoler only; it was his defence in the event of an action for false imprisonment; and it was idle and ridiculous to contend that Captain Stokes was not acting strictly in accordance with the law in ordering the detention of the hon. Member for North-East Cork. Nor was there anything whatever illegal in the arrest of hon. Members in this country for summary offences committed in Ireland. Since 1848 arrests could be legally made in either England, Ireland, or Scotland by backed warrants for summary offences committed in either of the three countries. It was idle to say that the offences for which men had suffered in Ireland were political offences. In no country in Europe would it be considered a political offence for a man to incite persons to take part in an unlawful assembly. It was a plain breach of the ordinary law. From information which he had received from Ireland, he desired to express his perfect satisfaction with that portion of the Speech which referred to the improved condition of Ireland.
§ MR. TUITE (Westmeath, N.)
said, he thought that if the Government could not produce upon the Front Ministerial Bench a better defence for their policy in Ireland than had been given so far, the country would not entertain a very high opinion of that policy. They had been told that the National League was, at the present moment, struggling for 125 an existence. Why, the fact was that the National League was never so strong in the country before as it was at present. The Government had endeavoured to suppress certain branches of the National League, but they had only succeeded in suppressing them in name. Those branches had in many cases doubled their numbers since the Proclamations were issued suppressing them; and it was, therefore, the height of folly on the part of the Chief Secretary for him to think that the policy of torturing the political opponents of the Tory Party in Ireland was a success. It was nothing of the kind. The Government had for the last six months pursued that policy of torturing political opponents with a vengeance certainly equal to the treatment of Poland by Russia. The administration of the Crimes Act was entrusted to persons who were unfit for the task. If the Government stated to the House that the gentlemen who were administering the measure possessed the legal qualifications necessary to enable them to do it effectually and with justice, they would be stating a thing which, at any rate, the majority of the people of this country would disagree with entirely. Who had they been using the Crimes Act against in Ireland? Had it been against the Moonlighter and the criminal? Not at all; it had been used against the men who had been endeavouring to keep the peace in the country—in fact, if there were disturbers of the public order they were to be found in this country and on the Front Government Bench. Now, in Ireland, they had had experience of Coercion Acts, but never such an experience as that of the past few months. What had they done in the case of Father M'Fadden, of Gweedore? That gentleman was one who was known to have saved the people from starvation in his district in Donegal. They had arrested him, and had refused, in the first instance, to admit him to bail; and, he believed, it had originally been the intention of some of the Executive to cause bloodshed in the streets of Belfast by marching this gentleman through that town, on foot, in the custody of the police. That was the original intention, and if it had been carried out there could be no doubt that the streets of Belfast would have reeked with blood that day. No doubt many of 126 the administrators of the law in Ireland desired a collision between the armed forces of the Crown and the people; but they would not succeed in bringing that collision about. The Irish people knew that the happy time was not far distant when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian would be back in power; and it was the knowledge of that fact which had been sufficient to keep them quiet. They were living in hope. They were no longer despairing of just legislation for the honest-minded people of this country, and they only waited the time when they would be able to send a majority to the House to carry out that just legislation. As to the administration of the Crimes Act, he should like to know how many secret inquiries had been held under the provisions of the measure? The House had been told that the Act was to meet Moonlighting and all kinds of crime in Ireland; but was the country ever so peaceful as it was at the time the Act was passed? The Government hoped, no doubt, that when they met Parliament again Ireland would be deluged with crime—that they might have been able to goad them into crime—but they had not succeeded, and who had the country to thank for that? Why, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House, who had gone over to Ireland to inspire the people with hope. A reception was given the other day in Ireland to the Marquess of Ripon and the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley), and what had it proved but the fitness of the Irish people to govern themselves? Never in the history of demonstrations was there anything more orderly and respectable. Compare it with the Unionist meeting in Dublin. What happened there? Why, the greatest amount of rowdyism, as shown by the expenses the Committee had to pay for the breakages in the hall. That was, no doubt, a very trifling thing; but it made the meeting contrast strangely with the demonstration in honour of the Gentlemen he had named, in connection with which not one penny had to be paid for breakages. The real criminals connected with that condition of affairs in Ireland were the Unionists. They were the people who did not want to see peace in the country. They knew very well that so long as Ireland was disturbed, 127 so long would they remain in power. He would remind the House of a remarkable circumstance which occurred in one of the Crimes Act Courts in Ireland, where a Resident Magistrate was refusing to adjourn a case, he believed. The counsel for the prisoner stated that if the Crown were represented there, they could succeed in having an adjournment; whereupon Colonel Carew, the Resident Magistrate, candidly stated that he represented the Crown. That seemed to him to be a remarkable admission, because it showed that in all these cases the Resident Magistrates represented the Government and not the majesty of the law. The present policy of torture in Ireland had not subdued, but had only succeeded in making the people more determined to obtain their right. Look at the action of the Government in regard to the release of Mr. O'Brien. Why had they released that Gentleman three days before his time was up, but for the reason that they did not wish to see a demonstration made in his honour? That intention on the part of the Government was defeated, and Mr. O'Brien met with the reception he merited. Then there was the stealing of Mr. O'Brien's clothes—was that worthy of a "strong" Government; was that the act of a "strong" Government; was that the act of a Government that expected to rule Ireland according to the wishes of the British people? He would also point out that after the hon. Member for South Galway's (Mr. Sheehy's) term as an ordinary prisoner expired, he was not treated at once as a first-class misdemeanant. That method of persecuting political opponents was a disgrace to a free country. The recent decision in the Court of Exchequer was a fine slap at the Coercion Party, and as they wont along one blow would succeed another until eventually the Government would fall, as much stronger Governments had done. The Government did not represent the British people. They had ceased to represent the majority of the British people, and he believed that if an Election took place at present they would find themselves in a miserable minority. Their career was marked by blunders throughout—blunders were succeeding each other in such rapid succession that ere long they were bound to lead to the destruction of the Ad- 128 ministration. The Irish people and their Representatives had defeated stronger Irish Governments than the present. They had defeated that of Mr. Forster, for instance, and as surely as they had defeated that, so would they defeat the present Government. The policy of coercion was doomed to failure. The people of Great Britain were becoming so educated against it, that no doubt they would soon hurl Her Majesty's present Advisers from power and bring back the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. It was time there should be some clear statement from the Government Benches with regard to their policy. Up to now only the lamest defence of their action had been given; and he hoped that before the House adjourned to-night, without waiting for a specific Amendment, they would candidly say all they had to say for a policy which had done more to discredit the administration of the law in Ireland than anything which had occurred in that country in recent years.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
said, that the Land Bill of the Government had proved far from satisfactory, owing chiefly, possibly entirely, to the fact that the Government refused to take advice from the Representatives of the Irish people, but insisted on following a policy which, they were told, could by no means satisfy the legitimate demands of the Irish tenants. He himself asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, instead of making the reductions of rent depend upon comparison of prices of various years with 1887, to make them depend upon a comparison of the prices of 1886, and he did so for two reasons. He pointed out that it would be impossible for the decisions of the Land Commissioners to be made known until the close of the year 1887, and that would cause a great deal of uncertainty among the Irish tenants. He was told by the then Solicitor General that the Land Commissioners were already preparing the scheduled prices, and that there was no necessity to wait till the close of the year 1887, because a sufficient number of months had elapsed for them to arrive at the prices for the year 1887. What was the result? The Land Commissioners, when they examined the Act of Parliament which they had to administer, decided that they were bound by the provisions of that 129 Act to wait till the year 1887 was completed, consequently it was close on Christmas before their decisions became known. He must also call attention to the fact that the three Chief Commissioners did not agree on their recent schedule of reduction. Judge O'Hagan did not agree with his colleagues, because he believed that under the Act the Commissioners had a certain amount of discretion; but the other two Commissioners held otherwise, and contended that the reductions in rent were to be identical with the fall in prices. He found in a large number of cases that the result of that hard-and-fast rule was that as regarded rents fixed in 1885 they gave no reductions at all, which meant that the Commissioners considered there had been in these districts no differences in the prices in 1885 and 1887. He was bound to say he did not believe that. More than that, he believed that in some of these districts the prices in 1887 were higher than in 1885; and if the Commissioners had the courage of their opinions they were bound, if they did anything according to the hard-and-fast line, to actually raise the rent in certain districts; and as they did not do that, he believed that the schedule was not an honest one. He maintained by the Land Act of last year it was impossible to do justice to the tenants, because that Act gave the landlord £90 out of the £100. Of the boasted success of the Coercion Act the result had been to intensify the national feeling in Ireland, and English sympathy with that country. Even though a Resident Magistrate might not be dismissed, if failing to do the bidding of the Lord Lieutenant, there were other ways of punishing him, such as removing him and his family to another part of the country at his own expense, as occurred in the case of Mr. Kilkelly, because he had the independence at a Crimes Court in Clare to decline, contrary to the opinion of Mr. Roche, to sentence a man to more than a month's imprisonment. With reference to the difference in treatment while in prison of his hon. Friends (Mr. T. D. Sullivan and Mr. T. C. Harrington) together with Mr. Alderman Hooper, he defied the Chief Secretary to give one particle of reason for that difference, except the one fact that they were tried by different tribunals. The Lord Mayor of Dublin 130 had been tried by a gentleman who held his appointment for life. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] The Chief Divisional Police Magistrate of Dublin was in that position. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR again dissented.] He would be glad to have a definite statement on the subject from the right hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Mahony) still believed that the Chief Police Magistrate held his office on a perfectly different tenure from that of the Resident Magistrates, and that accounted for his ordering the Lord Mayor to be treated with a certain amount of decency. If their positions were not different, he would like to know how it was that it required only one Police Magistrate to deal with such cases whereas it needed two Resident Magistrates? They were accused of misrepresentation, yet in a leaflet of the National Union, a Tory organization whose office was near the House, words had been inserted into a letter of the parish priest of Glenbeigh which made him state that the tenants were slaves of the Land League, whereas he intended to convey that they were slaves of the landlord. He (Mr. Mahony) characterized that as the most base and the lowest and vilest act of misrepresentation that he had ever come across. He thought it was a pretty clear case of the kind of misrepresentation which they had to meet with in going about England. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed inclined to congratulate themselves on the effect of the Coercion Act in Ireland. What had that effect been? Could the Government point to one single instance in which the tenants, when they had combined together as they had been forced to do by the fact that Parliament had refused to pass laws to remedy their grievances, had had their combination broken up by the Coercion Act? They could not. Many Members of the House were horrified last Session by the cruelties which were perpetrated at Bodyke in the name of the law. Vast sums of money had been spent in protecting the landlords, and what had been the consequence of it all? What had oven the landlord gained by this policy? He had gained this—he had obtained worse terms now than he would have got six months ago. The tenants were all reinstated in their homes. What had the Marquess of Ely gained by his policy when he set 131 foot in Ireland for the first time in 10 years? Why, he had given his tenants a larger reduction than they asked for under the Plan of Campaign. What was gained by this policy in Gweedore, where those evictions were carried out last autumn? The landlord had given way and the men were back in their homes—the landlord had agreed to their demands. He (Mr. Mahony) knew something about this district of Gweedore. It had been brought again prominently before the public in a very painful manner. In the whole of Ireland he did not believe there was a man of nobler mind—a man who was more truly devoted to the interests of his people than Father M'Fadden. He lived in one of the poorest districts of Donegal; not one of the men he lived amongst could have taken advantage of the Land Act of 1881 had not Father M'Fadden undertaken to make all the arrangements for the applications and served all the notices himself. What was thereward he had got for trying to induce these people to look to the law for their protection? He had been sentenced to be imprisoned in one of the gaols of the country as a common criminal. He (Mr. Mahony) did not know whether the letter which had been written to The Pall Mall Gazette, signed by Mr. Harper Nixon, had anything to do with that. He knew Mr. Harper Nixon's property, and what was it?—a few patches of bog scattered amongst the rocks of the seashore. These patches of bog had been reclaimed by the unfortunate tenantry. The tenantry asked for a reduction of rent owing to the terrible fall in prices and their utter inability to pay. He had refused to accede to their demand, and they had told him that unless he gave them a reduction they would not pay him, and then he had written that letter to the papers. He (Mr. Mahony) could not give correctly the words of the letter, but the effect of it was that Mr. Harper Nixon declared his determination to clear the district of its inhabitants. He declared that he would not accept 99 per cent and costs. It was not because he wanted money. He said he had ample means, and intended to lay by a certain sum of money each year in order to get the land back—the land that he had let in a state of barrenness, and that the tenantry had made worth a certain amount of money by 132 their own industry and labour. This gentleman was going to turn these wretched people adrift on the world, not because he wanted money, but because he wanted to gratify his vengeance. Was it to enable him to gratify his vengeance that the Government were sending up troops to Gweedore? Were they desirous of supporting an infamous deed like that? If that was the work the British Government were going to send British troops to do, he thought the country would scarcely support their action. The Government might be satisfied with the result of their Coercion Act in Ireland. The Irish people were abundantly satisfied with it. They were more than satisfied, because, although there was a dark side of the picture, there was also a very bright one. They had the bright side the other day. A Member of the House of Lords and the late Chief Secretary for Ireland were received with enthusiasm by the Irish people. These Gentlemen came to Ireland bringing a message of peace and good-will to the Irish people, and the Irish people showed how thoroughly and heartily and truly they reciprocated those feelings. Yes; no matter how vigorously, no matter with what "bravery" the Chief Secretary for Ireland might carry out his policy, he could not stop the current of the noble and glorious work that was going on at the present time. It was beyond his power. They might as well try to stop the waves of the ocean. The people had been brought face to face; they had met one other, and the Nationalist and Liberal Parties were doing what the Government never could do, even if they continued their present policy for 10,000 years. They were forming a real union between the English and the Irish people. Suppose the present Government did remain in power for a few short years, and carry out their policy to the uttermost, and crush Ireland under the iron heel of coercion, what then? Could their policy extend a yard beyond the shores of Ireland? No; it was limited by a hard-and-fast line, which the Government could never go beyond. But the policy of the Liberal Party, appealing to the hearts of the Irish people, appealing to them with deep human sympathy, was a thing which was bounded by no ocean and bounded by no shores. It could 133 speed its way oven across the wide Atlantic, and reach, the Greater Ireland on the Continent of America—it would not only give them a peaceful Ireland to look towards, but a friendly Greater Ireland on the vast Continent of America.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Mundella,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.