HC Deb 14 February 1805 vol 3 cc473-8

Sir Evan Nepean moved the order of the day for the 2d reading of the bill for further suspending the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland, for a time to be limited. On the question being put from the chair,

Lead Henry Petty

rose and observed that this was the second time, during the short period he had had the honour of a seat in parliament, that the house had been called on to pass a measure of this sort, in respect to Ireland. He could not but lament that the house should be called on the present occasion, to adopt a measure of this nature upon such extraordinary grounds, or rather upon the absence of all ground whatsoever; for all enquiry as to the necessity of passing such a law, had been peremptorily refused. He would not pretend to say there was no possible case that could exist in which the house could be warranted to adopt such a bill without enquiry, as certainly a case might occur in which the notoriety of public danger was so palpable to every man as to supercede all necessity for enquiry: but did such a case exist at this moment? If it did exist, it must exist in the dark; and if there was sedition in the country, it must be secret; and before the house was called upon to pass a bill for suspending so important a branch of the constitutional law towards the people of Ireland, it was incumbent upon those who brought it forward, to prove that necessity, and upon the house to go into enquiry, before it was induced to adopt the measure. If danger or sedition did lurk in any part of Ireland, it did not follow, that a measure of so much severity ought, therefore, to attach upon the whole country. But his maj.'s ministers had adduced no proof that the mischief had existence in any part of that country. Without due proof of such evil existing, the house was called upon to refuse the measure; and if any ill consequence should occur from such refusal, the blame ought not to attach upon parliament, but upon his maj.'s ministers, who shall not have brought forward the proofs necessary to justify parliament in passing such a law. But in the present case, at a notice of 24 hours, the house was called on to adopt the measure; and when his maj.'s ministers are asked to bring forward the proofs of the necessity, they answer, "proofs are not necessary. Depend upon it the danger exists. Depend upon it the powers conveyed by this bill will not he abused in the lenient hands of the present Chief Governor of Ireland." But was this, he would ask, the language for ministers to hold to parliament, or upon which that house would feel itself warranted to act, for the suspension of, the constitutional liberties of the people of Ireland? He trusted such a species of unproved representation would never be admitted by that house as a justification for placing the liberties of his maj.'s subjects at the arbitrary disposal of any individual, however respectable; and no man entertained higher personal respect for, or a more exalted opinion of the lenient character of the noble lord at the head of the Irish govt. than he did. But it was not in the power of one or two individuals at the head of affairs to attend to every particular case throughout the whole extent of Ireland, especially when all the passions of individuals were alive, and personal animosity was seeking to wreak its private revenge by means of aggravated and frequently unfounded crimination. Could these one or two upright individuals in the situation in which they were placed, apply to every case the same impartial justice, and the same fair examination which would be given by a jury of 12 men deciding on all the circumstances? It was impossible they could, and yet this was the sort of substitution which the house was called upon to sanction without any inquiry whatsoever. It was matter of notoriety, that, even under the mild and moderate administration of the Marquis Cornwallis, characterised as it so eminently was by caution, by deliberation, and by lenity, yet many persons suffered punishment under existing prejudices, misrepresentation, or false proofs, whose innocence was afterwards fully demonstrated; as was instanced in the case of the Rev. Mr. O'Neil, of Youghall, the mention of whose very severe sufferings did so much honour, on a former occasion, to the feelings of a right hon. member who noticed the subject. Numbers of cases were also extant, even in the history of this country, to shew that arbitrary power had rarely been placed in the hands of individuals without being abused; and even going no farther than the administration of the Alien Bill, how many hundreds of innocent individuals have suffered, even with the best intentions of his maj.'s ministers, through the false or malicious misrepresentation of enemies. And if such abuses could occur in dispensing a law to a few aliens, how much greater was the liability of such abuses under a law attaching upon the millions that compose the population of Ireland. The noble lord did not mean to deny the possibility that sufficient cause for such a bill might exist; all he meant to insist on was, that there was wanting the notoriety and publicity of any existing cause that could warrant the legislature in passing such a bill. He should, therfore, whenever the bill came into a committee, move that its operation be limited to two months, unless satisfactory proofs should be adduced to shew the necessity of its longer duration.

Mr. Ker

said, that no man more seriously deplored than he did the necessity for calling on parliament to pass such a bill; but he was still convinced, that necessity was imperious and pressing. The house would recollect, that when a similar bill was brought forward, in the year 1802, arguments precisely similar to those offered this night by the noble lord, were opposed to it by those who could not be induced to believe in the lurking sedition then brooding in Ireland: but, unhappily, the dreadful rebellion which burst forth in the Irish capital, in the summer of 1803, but too strongly verified the apprehensions of those who were advocates for the bill, of which number he was one. It was for the want of such power in the hands of the magistrates that year, that sedition had gone such lengths, and that sedition would again gather new strength, if not timely prevented, by renewing those powers' which were not likely to be abused in such hands as those of the nobleman now at the head of the Irish govt. the moderation and lenity of whose measures had shone so eminently conspicuous. In that part of the country with which he was more immediately connected, he was happy to know that the utmost loyalty and tranquillity prevailed; but he had lately heard that some resolutions of the magistrates of the county of Waterford had been published, in which they state their determination to apply to govt. to revive martial law, if the seditious did not desist from their daring conduct. He had thought it his duty to make some enquiry on this subject, and several gent. assured him the advertisement he alluded to did exist, and was called for by the sense of the magistrates as to the state of the county. He appealed for the truth of this statement to an hon. bart. opposite (sir John Newport), who had delivered his sentiments on the subject on a former evening. Such, he was convinced, was the existing necessity which called for this bill, in many parts of Ireland, that numbers of those who had been formerly most clamorous against it, were now most earnestly anxious for its adoption; and so far from being deemed a grievance by the loyal inhabitants of the country, nothing more acceptable to them could be done than to pass this bill.

Sir John Newport

said, that being called on by the last speaker, he should offer a few remarks in support of the consistency of the opinion he had formerly thought it his duty to deliver. He did not deny that there were appearances of disaffection in some parts of Ireland, but he never could admit the principle, that because one part of a kingdom was deficient in the duty they owed to their king and country, the whole kingdom was to be placed beyond the pale of the common law of the land. He was aware of the proceedings to which the hon. member alluded, but he thought that they afforded no reason whatever for the measure now before the house. The fact was, that the principal offenders in the county of Waterford were now actually in gaol and liable to be tried by the judges of assize. It was not therefore to be argued, that the proceedings referred to offered even an excuse for a bill which had a tendency to place the whole people of Ireland beyond the protection of the common law. On a former day he had not argued that the measure in question was unnecessary, but what he called for was an inquiry to demonstrate its necessity. Nothing short of a notoriety extreme and uncontradicted, could, in his opinion, justify this measure, and conceiving that this necessity had not been made out, he had moved an amendment, the object of which was to institute that inquiry, by which only a fair decision of the house could be formed. He wished the business to be probed to the bottom, and he never would submit to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, unless on the clearest grounds.

Mr. Pytches

opposed the bill. It was, he said, highly improper to pass a measure of this sort without a previous inquiry. He would ask any dispassionate man, whether it was fair to the people of Ireland to treat them with less respect than the people of G. Britain? This bill was sown in suspicion and reared in jealousy, and might be attended with the greatest miseries to the people of Ireland. The only reason for all this was the traitorous committee at Paris. By the total omission of any mention of Ireland in his maj.'s speech at the opening of the session, he was inevitably led to conclude, that no doubt whatever was entertained by his maj.'s ministers, of the settled loyalty and tranquillity of Ireland; but an act like this was more likely to produce tumult, than prevent it. It was time to put an end to the gestation of imaginary conspiracies, generated in the fancy of bed-ridden dotage. It was no time now to play the fool with Ireland, or to treat her inhabitants like froward children. The consequence must be, that instead of cementing the union, we should only open a gash between the two countries, which no plaisters, nostrums, or medicaments of any sort could possibly heal. The best policy would be to encourage in the minds of the people a manly, natural, and independent spirit; otherwise the Union, which was designed to unite their affection and energies with our own, must prove not only inefficient, but afford a constant source of jealousy and dissention.—The question that the bill be read a second time was then put and carried without a division, and ordered to be committed for to-morrow.—Adjourned.

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