§ "And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that, in our opinion, the explanation given by the Government to justify the release of the dynamitards is inadequate, and is calculated to encourage a recrudescence of that form of crime."—(Sir Henry Howorth.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there added:—"Debate resumed—
§ MR. MICHAEL DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
, who expressed his surprise and regret that an hon. Member who was animated by so many humane sentiments and was free from so many of the prejudices of his political Party should have taken up an attitude on the exercise of the clemency of the Crown more in keeping with the spirit of an academic Judge Jeffreys than of an enlightened politician representing a great Lancashire constituency. It attacking the exercise of the clemency of the Crown by the Home Office, the hon. Member attacked what had become by custom a part of the Constitution. He protested emphatically against the Amendment and the Speech by which it was supported, because England alone among civilised nations did not differentiate between political prisoners and ordinary malefactors. But he would take a wider ground and refer to a wider feeling on this question. He asserted that there was in the popular mind of Great Britain and Ireland a conviction that the sentences inflicted in Courts of Justice invariably erred on the side of severity 412 rather than on the side of leniency. He went also so far as to say there was a belief in the popular mind that the power vested in the Home Secretary of mitigating the too great severity of the law was a wise, just, and humane power, and he was convinced that until there was a Criminal Court of Revision and Appeal, the conviction would remain in the public mind that it would be wrong to interfere with the exercise of this humane power by the Home Secretary. ["Hear, hear!"] They had now in Ireland what was called an interesting new movement, and they found noble Members of another place following the practice of some of their ancestors and leading the Irish people in the direction of revolt against some phases of English rule. They had been told that it might be possible to have the episode of Boston repeated in Irish history—[laughter]—and that a no-tax agitation was possible in Ireland. If those principles were advocated and carried to their logical conclusion some of those noble lords might make the acquaintance of penal servitude. He would ask the hon. Member for Salford whether he could imagine, with peace to his mind, Lord Castletown condemned to be yoked to a cart in Dartmoor, drawing manure and coals and stones about, as he himself was when in that prison. Could he imagine Lord Mayo being condemned for six years to live in a semi-darkened cell, 7ft. long by 4½ft. wide, and not allowed to exchange a word with his fellow-prisoners? ["Hear, hear!"] He appealed to the hon. Member whether it was not wise even from a Unionist point of view to allow this dispensing power to remain intact in the hands of the Home Secretary, because it was possible that in future Tory Prime Ministers might arise more wise and more patriotic than Lord Salisbury, who might look in the direction of Salford for an ideal Home Secretary, and he was sure that in such a contingency the hon. Member would only be to too glad to mitigate the rigours of penal servitude in the instances to which he had referred. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"] One could imagine, on hearing the speech of the hon. Member on Friday night, that such a thing as the curtailment of sentences by a Home Secretary was scarcely ever known until the right hon. Gentleman opposite was placed in that responsible 413 position. But they knew that it was of almost constant occurrence, and that the Home Office had again and again to interfere, in response to popular feeling, by way of tempering justice with mercy. He believed he was right in saying that whilst the right hon. Member for Fife was Home Secretary he released two or three alleged dynamitards—and he hoped he released a large number of ordinary prisoners—on the ground that they had been sufficiently punished by the sentences already undergone. ["Hear, hear!"] Lord Llandaff, who, as Mr. Matthews, was a former Home Secretary, went so far as to reverse inside of a few hours—wisely and humanely—in the case of Mrs. Maybrick, the sentence passed by one of the highest Judges of the land, and he believed he also liberated several alleged dynamitards and political prisoners even before they had undergone more than half the terms served by the men who were released a short time ago by the present Home Secretary. ["Hear, hear!"] But worse than that remained to be told, for even amongst the elect there had been clemency agreed to in matters of this kind. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet was a member of Lord Beaconsfield's Administration in 1877. He was Chief Secretary in that Government, and he was bound to say the opinion prevailed in Ireland that the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to the best of his ability to do what he could for a country which he understood no more about than any other ordinary Englishman. [Laughter.] During that model Ministry six Fenian prisoners were released. Three of them had been tried by court-martial in the Army, one of whom had been sentenced to be shot and two to penal servitude for life. The civilians were dealt with by two of them being sentenced to penal servitude for life and one of them to 15 years'. These six men were all young men when they went to prison. There were only two of them now alive, and one of them was he who was then trespassing upon the indulgence and kindness of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] The Tory Party was not the only offender in this respect. He was, however, bound to say that, speaking for himself, he owed a debt of gratitude to the Tory Party, for he had been imprisoned three times by the Liberals and released twice by the Tories. [Laughter.] In 1870 414 Mr. Gladstone released some 20 or 25 political prisoners who had only undergone an average of about three-and-half years of their sentences, and yet juries had gone on convicting prisoners ever since, Judges had passed sentences, and the law had been administered without any infringement upon justice. ["Hear, hear!"] In fact, during the last thirty years he did not think there had been a Home Secretary who had made less use of the prerogative of the Crown in this respect than the Home Secretary who was now impeached by one of his colleagues below the gangway. ["Hear, hear!"] On this vital matter of the exercise of the power by the Home Office, he would quote some words that he was sure would be received with great respect by the House—words spoken on the 1st August, 1876, on a matter submitted to the House in his own behalf and others then in prison by Mr. O'Connor Power, who was then an ornament of debate in that House. The late Mr. John Bright, speaking on the occasion, used these memorable words, directly applicable to the issue raised by the hon. Member opposite in his Amendment:—He regretted" (The Times report of the speech said) "that he had not on the previous occasion said what he had long thought with regard to what was called the Manchester outrage. There was one man shot dead and three persons were hanged for that murder. It had always appeared to him that the course taken by the Home Office on that occasion was a very unwise one. In a case of this kind to have hanged three men for one fatal shot was a mistake—a mistake according to the ordinary practice of our law, and a great mistake when looked at in its political aspect. He knew that it had been denied that this was strictly a political case or that the severity was resorted to because it was a political case. But he had always held the opinion that it was solely because it was a political case that three men were hanged for the murder of one man. The other day a trade outrage was committed near Bolton. A man was killed and three men were convicted, but they were convicted of manslaughter and not of murder, and unless the Manchester outrage was not viewed as a political offence, he could not see that it was different from the Bolton case he had described.No one would assert that any statesman of our age had a greater regard for the integrity of justice and for the character of the Courts of Law than the orator who shed lustre on that House for so many years—John Bright. The hon. Member opposite, not content with trying to double-lock the door upon the Irish 415 political prisoners still in goal, had attacked, in very bitter terms, those who had been released. The hon. Member said that reports were made by four doctors on four different occasions, that reports were also received from the regular medical officer of the gaol and the regular inspector, and that all these gentlemen testified that the prisoners were shamming madness. He would tell the hon. Member that "shamming" was invariably charged against prisoners who showed symptoms of insanity. He admitted that there were many among the baser criminal class who did pretend to be mad in the hope of obtaining release, but it was nevertheless true that there was no condition of life more calculated to engender mental disease than imprisonment. It could be shown from statistics how unfair and unjust the hon. Member had been in his strictures on the unfortunate men who had been liberated. The Protestant chaplain of Wandsworth Prison had recently published an article proving that whilst the annual ratio of insanity among the general population for 15 years was eight per 10,000, the ratio of insanity among prisoners was 226 per 10,000. Could it be thought singular that out of the 15 or 16 Irish political prisoners two or three should have shown symptoms of madness? When men had been subject to the rigours of penal servitude for 13 years it would be almost a miracle if none of them were to show signs of mental aberration. The hon. Member had commented upon the way in which one or two of the released men were received in Ireland, and he seemed to think that the presence of one of these gentlemen at a public meeting which he addressed pointed to demoralisation among the Irish people. Here was an example of the "unctuous rectitude"—[cheers]—to which reference had lately been made. Of course they had not all enjoyed the great advantage of being brought up under the moral influence of Salford and Manchester. [Laughter.] He would tell the hon. Member why the release of these political prisoners was acclaimed by the Irish people. Being a Celtic race the Irish had long memories, and they recollected that one of England's favourite practices in Ireland in the past was to employ the spy and the informer. The reason why Irish 416 political prisoners were occasionally sent into that House was because Irishmen wished to protest against their country being ruled by gentlemen having the prejudiced views of the hon. Member for Salford. This alleged demoralisation in Ireland might be compared by the hon. Member with profit with something that occurred not many years ago in this centre of civilisation, and of moral, benevolent, and Christian progress in London itself. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] There was the trial, in 1857, of Dr. Bernard, who was accused of being an accomplice of Orsini's, and of making the bombs which were thrown in Paris and blew several innocent people into pieces. Although his guilt was manifest to everybody, Dr. Bernard was at once acquitted by a London jury, and The Times of the following morning declared that even if Bernard had been proved guilty, it was not the duty of Englishmen to judge French conspirators according to the rigid laws of English morality. ["Hear, hear!"] The jury were actually banqueted for their verdict by the citizens of London. The hon. Member had alluded to the courageous conduct of the late Home Secretary, describing it as "doubly courageous considering the pressure behind him." That being the statement of the hon. Member, he wished to ask the right hon. Member for East Fife whether the Irish Members had ever made any unfair proposal to him or suggested a deal or done anything of that kind.—[Mr. ASQUITH: "No, never!"]—If then in the case of the Home Secretary of a Government which the Nationalist Members held in power there was nothing of the sort it was monstrously absurd for the hon. Member to suggest that something of the kind might have occurred under a Unionist Government. ["Hear, hear!"] Then the hon. Member had called attention to abuse of the late Home Secretary in American papers, saying that in the last few years "Bloody Asquith" and "Ruffian Asquith" had been prominent headlines. But the attacks upon the right hon. Member had not been confined to American writers or Irish-American writers. Englishmen went to America occasionally and dabbled in journalism, and even in conspiracy—["hear, hear!"]—and whilst the late Home Secretary was in office an Englishman was attacking him openly 417 in America, and suggesting at meetings of Irishmen that the right hon. Gentleman should be assassinated, and that the British Embassy in Washington should be broken up with dynamite. He warned the hon. Member for Salford to bear in mind in future that all that was written in American newspapers did not come from the honest enemies of the country. The right hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet on Friday made a very serious statement. He said that the Government were now apparently going to rely for support on the representatives of those who were called the bulk of the Irish people.—[Mr. JAMES LOWTHER: "I referred to things published in the recess. The statement was not mine."]—He understood the right hon. Member to say that the failure of justice at the Old Bailey in Ivory's case was associated with a general tendency of that kind. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean? Did he mean to insinuate that the Nationalist Members had entered into any compact with the Home Secretary with the object of defeating the ends of justice at the Old Bailey? He regretted that he could not discuss the question of the recent trial on that occasion, and trusted that before many days they would have an opportunity to throw some light upon it. ["Hear, hear!"] He asked the House to consider the spectacle presented to the world by what occurred in that Chamber on Friday last. The hon. Member for Salford's Amendment practically amounted to a vote of censure on the Government for releasing four or five men convicted of a political crime; yet on the same afternoon the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs answered a question put to him by an hon. Member of the Opposition, the reply being headed in The Times as "Political Prisoners in Turkey." From that reply one gathered that all prisoners in the Sultan's capital were being released; yet not many months ago a band of desperate men entered a bank in the middle of the day and flung down dynamite bombs among women and children in the streets of Constantinople. He held that the life of a woman or a child, be they Turks or Matabele, English or Irish, were of the same value. ["Hear, hear!"] They had here a Government, generally supported by the hon. Member opposite, compelling the Sultan to release these 418 bomb-throwers at once, while the world saw the same Government doubling the bars of its prison doors against the release of four or five Irish political prisoners. [Cheers.]
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY,) Lancashire, Blackpool
whose rising was received with cheers, said: The hon. Member who has just sat down has made a very interesting speech to the House, but I trust he will not expect me to follow him into all the questions he has raised, and which I venture to think are not very germane to the immediate Amendment now before the House. I hope, however, it will be some satisfaction to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet, who spoke on Friday night, that he has succeeded at last in securing some compliments from an Irish representative. [Laughter.] The hon. Member has spoken about the general dispensing powers of the Home Office and the responsibility of the Secretary of State in advising the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. I apprehend that if I were to go into that subject in detail you, Sir, would rule me out of order; but I do desire to say—although, perhaps, it ought not to be said by one holding my position—that, delicate and difficult as are the duties of the office which I hold, I believe that the general exercise of that power, has in its results afforded satisfaction to the public sentiment. [Cheers.] I assure the House that in this matter there never has been from the beginning any compact between the Irish Member and myself or any member of the Government, any more than there was a compact with the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me in the Home Office. [Cheers.] I should have thought it hardly necessary to deny this [cheers] had it not been for the underlying feeling—I will not say for the express argument—of my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment, and for the observations of the right hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet, who had some leaning apparently that way. My right hon. Friend quoted certain words of mine, which he was perfectly justified in using, having a tendency to prove that I thought these particular prisoners were political prisoners. ["Hear, 419 hear!"] I have admitted, as those who have gone before me have admitted, that these men might be described as political prisoners in the sense that they were tried under the Treason Felony Act. This cannot be denied, and in a sense it is fair to believe that there were political motives which guided them towards the disastrous crimes which they unfortunately sought to commit. I have admitted it, but I expressly added in the same speeches that you must go beyond such motives. I said, as my predecessor said, that when you find men dealing with dynamite in the way in which these men were found guilty of dealing with it, they were guilty of crimes which, in the opinion of the civilised world, were atrocious, and against which society required the strongest protection of penal laws. But I strongly repudiate any special treatment of these prisoners. On the other hand, I would have no worse treatment. I have seen it inferred that because these prisoners had been guilty of these crimes, and because it was generally felt they ought to receive severe punishment, they were to be exempt from the ordinary rules of mercy with regard to health. I state most emphatically, without the slightest qualification or reserve, that in advising the exercise of the prerogative of mercy in the case of these four men last August I acted solely and entirely on medical grounds. [Cheers.] I have no arrière pensée whatever in the matter; I felt myself absolutely forced to come to the conclusion to which I came. I only regret that other circumstances, for which I blame no one, did not allow me to make this explanation more expressly before the country. As regards the question of there having been any special treatment, I have followed the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman opposite with regard to men who had been found guilty of these crimes—that they ought to be, and would be, subject to exactly the same rules as other prisoners sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. That is the rule on which I have proceeded, and that is the rule followed by those who have been my predecessors in office. There has been no idea whatever of taking into account the supposed existence of political motive or of dealing with these men either better or worse than we deal with other 420 prisoners. My hon. Friend who proposed the Amendment quoted certain figures. He said that out of an average of 4,500 convicts in our prisons, five were released in 1894, and five in 1895, while last year, out of nine dynamite prisoners four were released. My hon. Friend drew an inference from those figures which was scarcely to be expected from a gentleman of his capacity. In the first place I should like to tell my hon. Friend that these Prison Department figures are not quite complete. The total number of men who have on medical grounds been released from convict prisons during the last four or five years was 16 in 1893, nine in 1894, 13 in 1895, and 20 in 1896 which includes the four men whose release is now under consideration. Secondly if you want to make a fair comparison as regards these releases between one year and another, I submit that my hon. Friend should make his comparison either between the one year's set of long sentence prisoners and the others, or between all the prisoners in the one year and all in the other, and he should not take out a certain number of prisoners who have been sentenced to long terms of penal servitude and whose cases may naturally call for the exercise of the special powers of the Crown, and compare the figures for those prisoners with the figures in another year for all prisoners indiscriminately. I come now to what I have substantially said before. In dealing with these prisoners I have pursued the general practice of the Home Office, a practice which has been in existence for many years, and in which I am sure I shall be corroborated by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have held this office. Shortly stated, that practice is this. When the Secretary of State is satisfied upon a medical certificate that continued imprisonment will endanger life or reason, he is justified, nay, he is called upon to exercise the prerogative of mercy. I do not speak of other conditions which must of course attach to the question of release, because they are not absolutely necessary for the purpose of my argument; but I say that this is a perfectly sound proposition, and I am surprised to hear that a contrary belief should be entertained. I am confident it is the general belief of the 421 country and of this House that when a long sentence of penal servitude is inflicted it is not intended to be a sentence of death, or a sentence which should commit a man to the lunatic asylum. [Cheers.] What is the duty of the Home Office? I submit it is the duty of the Home Office to satisfy itself by the best means it can command—which of course are its own medical officers, and when necessary medical men of great position who are not connected with the Home Office or with the prison service—if prisoners are reported to be in a dangerous condition that such is indeed the case, and when it is so certified, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to act. I think my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment questioned me as to the practice with regard to approaching insanity. I assert what is very well known to my predecessors, that although under the law as affecting our convict prisons special precautions are not required to be taken by means of medical reports as to insanity that may come on, yet in the Local Prisons Acts this point is specially mentioned. It has been for years past the practice of the Home Office—and I believe the humane and proper practice—to satisfy itself as to the probable effects of continued imprisonment, and to take care that if reason or life are likely to be endangered, steps should be taken to restore the prisoner to his friends. If that proposition be established—and I venture to think it is not an unduly merciful view of the administration of our prison system—then I say that the action I took with regard to these four men is amply justified. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me at the Home Office, in speaking of this matter in Scotland in the autumn, was good enough to acknowledge that be fully accepted my assertion that I had been guided solely by medical considerations. I thank him for accepting that statement from me, and I wish that others in this House had accepted it with equal frankness. My right hon. Friend said in the same speech that when he left Office in June, 1895, the condition of these particular men was not such as to call for any intervention on the part of the Home Office. I have had, of course, opportunity of seeing all the information which reached my right hon. 422 Friend, and I say most unhesitatingly that it amply proves he was perfectly right in the action he took. [Cheers.] What took place subsequently? About December of the same year, having had, as was most natural, representations from the friends of the men, and being anxious to obtain the highest and best medical authority as to their health in view of further Parliamentary inquiries and discussion, I ordered a special inquiry. I secured the services of Dr. Maudsley and Dr. Nicholson, and when we met Parliament in the spring of 1896 I was able to say that all the facts before me amply endorsed what had been represented previously to my right hon. Friend, and that on medical grounds there was no case whatever for advising the clemency of the Crown. In the course of last summer, as a consequence of representations which I received from the friends of one of these prisoners—Daly—and in consequence of a report which I immediately called for from the prison doctor, I thought it necessary to order a fresh inquiry. I was able then to get a report from Dr. Gover, who was the medical inspector under the Prison Commission, a gentleman of 40 years' experience, who knows more of prisoners in our gaols and their habits and customs than any medical man in England, and who has had the greatest experience of malingering and shamming. I received a report from him in the month of July, and in that report he strongly recommended the release within a month of Daly and the other prisoners, but I speak now especially of Daly. Dr. Gover said Daly was unable to bear further imprisonment. He expressed the strongest opinion that he ought to be released within a month. I do not hesitate to say that if I had been dealing with the case of an ordinary long sentence prisoner who had been 13 or 14 years in penal servivitude, upon that report I should have asked for no further advice. [Cheers.] But such has been the public notice called to these cases, and such has been the strong advocacy on the one side and the strong feeling on the other, that I thought myself justified—nay obliged to ask for an opinion independent of the Home Office. I accordingly immediately sent down two doctors, one of whom had seen 423 Daly and the other prisoners in the previous December, Drs. Maudsley and Buzzard, and they, with the opinion of Dr. Gover before them, corroborated it. That corroboration extended not only to the case of Daly, about whom I imagine there has been some feeling of doubt, but it extended to the case of the other three prisoners. What, therefore, was my position? About August 1, when this question was raised upon the Estimates, I stated that I had just received a Report—the Report to which I have just alluded—and that it called for my very serious consideration, and I hinted that in all probability I should feel obliged, in accordance with the practice of the Home Office, to advise the clemency of the Crown with reference to certain prisoners whose names were contained in that Report. Of course, I was aware—nobody in my position could help being aware—of what would be said. It would be said, as it has been said "Oh, this is part of some arrangement." Even at the risk of such an imputation as that, I deemed it my duty to act. [Cheers.] Of course, I might have delayed my action and kept these men longer in prison, gradually letting them out, the worst cases first, in order that it might be done quietly and without public notice. I thought the most straightforward course was to inform the House of Commons. [Cheers.] Accordingly, on the earliest day after I had formed my opinion, I came down and stated it to the House of Commons. [Cheers.] My only regret is that, owing to the shortness of the period during which Parliament sat, there was not time for questions to be put or further explanations to be made. That is really the whole case. As regards these particular prisoners, my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet said that I had no business to turn dangerous lunatics out into the world—["hear, hear!"]—and he quoted the unfortunate cases of Gallagher and Whitehead. I wish to state most emphatically that, according to the opinions I had before me, these men at the time of their release were not mad. The opinion of Dr. Gover, corroborated by Drs. Buzzard and Maudsley, was that they feared continued imprisonment upon men of that excitable temperament and somewhat weak intellect would produce insanity, and therefore I arranged that the men should be 424 discharged and taken away to their friends in the hope of recovery. Discharge, unfortunately, acted upon them in a contrary direction. Gallagher and Whitehead both went out of their mind, and I regret to say are at present in a lunatic asylum. But at the time of their release they were not fit subjects for Broadmoor, and could not have been sent there. I believe there is no one in this House, not even the hon. Gentleman who has attacked the clemency of the Home Office, who wishes that long-continued imprisonment should end in lunacy. [Cheers.] Unfortunately, all penal discipline has to be arranged to meet the cases of the worst characters, but there are differences of temperament and constitution, both physical and mental, and it must occasionally happen that the course of a sentence of long imprisonment operates in one way upon one prisoner and more disastrously upon another. It is for that reason that anybody in my position has to do his best to act upon the best medical opinions he can procure. It is a very delicate and difficult duty for any medical gentleman to undertake. It is very difficult indeed for him to ascertain what will really be the effect of imprisonment if continued. It is very difficult for him to say whether a certain condition of mind or body may not arise from constitution and be contained within the man and not be due to his punishment. While I do not for a moment mean to say that any of my medical advisers have been at fault in this matter, I do say that, if there has been any mistake, it is only natural that in circumstances of such great difficulty there should be from time to time the apparent result of one man being let out too late and another too soon. I go back to what I began with. The only thing that has been special in the treatment of these prisoners is that in consequence of the frequent attention which has been called to them in Parliament, in consequence of the great feeling in Ireland, and in consequence of the general desire on the part of every Member of the House to know whether the allegations made were true or not, more care was taken in getting special medical opinions with regard to them than is the case with ordinary convicts. I do not think I am 425 to be blamed for that. [Cheers.] I shall be very much surprised if even my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment thinks after my explanation that I had any other course open to me last August—[cheers]—than to follow the general practice of the Home Office—I believe a thoroughly sound, useful, and valuable practice in the interests of common justice even more than of mercy—that practice being to see that continued imprisonment does not permanently endanger life or reason. [Cheers.] Notwithstanding the somewhat personal observations of the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment I will say no more, for those observations have been answered sufficiently by my right hon. Friend. [Cheers and laughter.] I am glad to have had an opportunity of explaining my position to the House fully and frankly. [Cheers.]
§ MR. H. H. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
Although I think it will be almost universally regretted that the hon. Member for Salford should have seen fit to intro-duce an Amendment worded like this, on grounds so slender—[cheers]—yet I cannot think that the Home Secretary will look upon it altogether as a matter for regret, seeing that it has afforded him, in the speech which he has just delivered, an opportunity of vindicating his conduct in a manner so plain, straightforward, and unanswerable that it is unlikely we shall hear any more of the injurious and, I must say, the reckless suspicion—[cheers]—which from time to time during the past few months have been bruited abroad. For my part—and in this particular matter I think I speak the sense of every man on this side of the House—I never for a moment believed that there was, or that there could conceivably be, any of those suggested compacts or secret arrangements between the Government and a section of their political opponents which the imagination, not of Liberal speakers, but of too-zealous supporters of Her Majesty's Government, has conjured into existence. [Cheers.] It is a suspicion dishonouring to the manliness of our public men; and it is a suspicion which, in this particular case, was transparently ridiculous, because, in the present condition of parties, I do not know that my hon. Friends below the gangway have anything to offer which, even if the 426 Government had had the disposition to enter into a corrupt bargain, it would have been worth the while of the Government to accept. [Laughter and cheers.] That aspect of the case may be once and for all left out of view; and all I wish to say now is with reference to the general question and the application to this particular case of the rules which ought to govern the action of the Home Office in the dispensation of the prerogative of mercy. As regards these particular prisoners, there has been, as the right hon. Gentleman said, an absolute continuity of treatment in the Home Office from the time they were first imprisoned to the present moment. ["Hear, hear!"] It has been suggested that during the time we held office some exceptional severity of treatment was shown to them by myself or by those for whom I was responsible. There is not a shadow of foundation for that statement. [Cheers.] These prisoners were treated while I was at the Home Office exactly in the same way—neither better nor worse—as all the other inmates of our convict prisons. I myself released six of them during my term of office, and four of those six upon precisely the same grounds as those on which the right hon. Gentleman has acted in the present case—namely, having medical reports submitted to me which showed that continued imprisonment would be dangerous to the prisoners. ["Hear, hear!"] I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making out so clearly—and I accept his statement of the matter—that not only at the time I left office, but for nearly six months afterwards, the most careful medical inquiry from absolutely impartial and independent sources confirmed the conclusions of the medical advisers whom I consulted—that it was not possible, consistently with the rules which govern the Home Office in these matters, however strongly I might have been and was inclined to do it if I could, to advise the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. [Cheers.] I must say that in matters of this kind, and I do not care who holds the office, as regards the exercise of this prerogative of mercy, a more responsible and thankless task cannot possibly be cast on the shoulders of any man. ["Hear, hear!"] Whoever he is, he is bound to be governed by the best medical opinion he can obtain. If he can be 427 shown not to have directed an adequate medical inquiry into cases even of suspected illness, and much more of suspected insanity, then he is shown to have been guilty of a gross dereliction of a primary duty. ["Hear, hear!"] But so long as he does what we have always done, not periodically but constantly—kept these prisoners under the supervision of the most competent medical men—and so long as these advisers have reported that there is no sufficient ground for letting the prisoners free, then he is bound to keep them where they are. But directly the medical advisers report that continued imprisonment would be dangerous to life or reason, the Home Secretary is equally bound not to delay a moment in setting the particular prisoners free. ["Hear, hear!"] Those are the rules, not of policy, but of humanity and common sense, which have guided and which continue to guide the Home Office. [Cheers.] The hon. Member for Salford, in his general attack upon the exercise of the prerogative of mercy by which he prefaced his speech, compared the secret procedure of the Home Office in these matters to the operations of the Star Chamber. The Star Chamber proceeded by secret and tortuous methods to punish people who had been guilty of no legal offence. But in the dispensation of the prerogative of mercy, as governed by rule, the Home Office proceeds in the opposite direction, and proceeds to deal with persons found guilty of a legal offence in such a spirit of humanity and mercy as will reduce excessive punishments and liberate men who have unfortunately been reduced by imprisonment to a condition of body or mind where continued detention would be inhuman. [Cheers.] Those are the principles on which the Home Office has always proceeded, and I am certain that they will meet with the unanimous approval of the House. [Cheers.]
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said that both the right hon. Gentleman and the Home Secretary seemed to accept the principle that in regard to all political prisoners the prerogative of mercy must only be exercised on medical grounds. That was a principle to which he could not for a moment agree—[Nationalist cheers]—and it was not the principle on which the Home Office 428 had acted. So recently as the case of Egan a prisoner was released by the right hon. Member for Fife, not on medical grounds, but because it was thought that there were doubts as to the prisoner's guilt.
§ MR. DILLON
said that, at any rate, it was not on medical grounds. On more than one occasion the Home Office had released large numbers of Irish political prisoners from motives of public policy, and it would be a monstrous thing that the Home Secretary should regard the suggestion that he might release political prisoners on grounds of public policy as a slur on his honour.
§ SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
I never said anything about my personal honour. I simply stated the true reasons which had induced me to release these men.
§ MR. DILLON
contended that if it should appear to the Government that the release of prisoners would allay public irritation and conciliate large sections of public opinion, without encouraging crime, the Government were amply justified in releasing those prisoners on that ground alone.
§ MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Walsall)
, who was received with cries of "Divide," said he was sure the House had listened with pleasure to the Home Secretary's complete vindication of his conduct. But that pleasure would be mingled with regret that that explanation had not been given on Friday instead of being delayed till Monday. After hearing the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury, he did not expect to hear such a complete vindication from the Home Secretary; because the speech of the First Lord seemed to be east on the old rule, "When you have no case, abuse the plaintiff." [Loud cries of "The attorney," and laughter.] He had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Salford and had read it three or four times; but he had failed to find any of the attacks or insinuations for which his hon. Friend was so severely trounced by the Leader of the House. [Laughter.] Some phrases, perhaps, were not happy, but his hon. Friend had had to speak amid the continual interruptions of a 429 certain section of the House. But his hon. Friend had carefully guarded himself over and over again from any imputation against the Home Secretary's personal honour. His hon. Friend distinctly declared that it was only the right hon. Gentleman's judgment and discretion which he called in question. A more straightforward speech he had never read. [Ironical cheers and cries of "Divide!"] The Home Secretary would surely admit that any Member had a right to call his discretion in question, especially when it had previously been done all over the country. The affair did look ugly, though the right hon. Gentleman had shown that he had acted in the most admirable manner. As to any bargain with the Irish Members, such a thought ought not to have entered anyone's head. Not only had the Irish Members nothing to sell, but, as the question had been raised in connection with the Land Bill, the Government had every inducement to keep the prisoners in gaol, for it was their own supporters, and not the Irish Members, whom they had an interest in conciliating over the Land Bill. He wished to vindicate the position of the hon. Member for Salford. [Laughter.] Disagreeable as it must be to question the discretion of one's leaders—[ironical cheers and laughter]—private Members had a right to do so, without being trounced in the very severe way in which the Leader of the House had trounced the hon. Member for Sal-ford. [Ironical cheers and laughter.] The supporters of the right hon. Gentleman followed his lead with great pleasure; but he did not call the manner of the right hon. Gentleman leading; he called it driving. [Ironical cheers and laughter.] He protested against any attempt to limit the private Members' liberty of criticism.
§ SIR HENRY HOWORTH (Salford, S.)
said that he had given notice in the proper quarters that he should not press this Amendment to a Division. [Nationalist cries of "Oh!"] His object had been to state on the floor of the House what he had stated elsewhere in the autumn. He thought it was his duty to do that; and he thought that he had done it without imputing dishonourable motives to anybody. He thought he had stated his 430 case with some temperateness, and he thought it a case of sufficient gravity to bring before the House in the form of an Amendment to the Address. His desire was to afford an opportunity to the Home Secretary to make a statement such as the right hon. Gentleman made that day, which he had had no opportunity of making during the last Session of Parliament; and which he had not made anywhere until now. Having attained that object he begged leave to withdraw the Amendment. [Irish cries of "No."]
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is the pleasure of the House that the Amendment should be withdrawn? [Loud cries of "No, no!" from the Irish Benches.]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
, who was received with cheers, said they should not have opposed the withdrawal of the Amendment if there had fallen from the hon. Member for Salford one single word of regret for having moved it. That Amendment was not merely an offence to the Government, but it was an offence to the 80 Irish Nationalist Members of the House. [Irish cheers.] He should like to point out that the hon. Member, who now stated he only wished to give the Government an opportunity for explanation, began his speech on Friday night by sneering at the Maamtrasna Alliance. Why did the hon. Member resurrect the Maamtrasna Alliance? Why did he suggest that there was some complacency on the part of the Nationalist Members because of the Land Act of last Session. If there was one section of the Conservative Party which more than another had reason to be disaffected to the Government because of that Land Act it was the Irish landlord and Orange Party. But to the credit of those Gentlemen be it said that, smarting though they were under the passage of a Measure which had further reduced their rents, there had not fallen from any one of them a single word of condemnation of this act of clemency and mercy. [Cheers.] The complaint had come entirely from men of English race, English feeling, and English thought—men who had received more favours, in honours and emoluments, from the Government than the whole Irish Unionist Party put together. [Renewed cheers.] He had always 431 been proud of being an Irishman; but he felt prouder than ever of the distinction that night when he found that the Irish landlords and the Irish Orangemen on the benches opposite, although smarting tinder the Land Act of last year and although the policy of dynamite would have had a serious effect on their fortunes, had not joined in the miserable opposition to this bare act of justice to a handful of unfortunate men who for many a long and weary year had been pining out their lives in the agony of penal servitude. [Cheers.] The opposition had come instead from that distinguished geologist—[cries of "Order" and Irish cheers]—who had already received many favours from the Government, and who, perhaps, had good light to feel annoyance now that there was no longer any hope of expecting more. [Laughter and cheers.]
§ Question put, and negatived.