HC Deb 15 February 1805 vol 3 cc522-34

On the motion of sir Evan Nepean, the house resolved itself into a committee on the bill for continuing the supension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland. The right hon. bart. moved, that the blank left for naming the bill, be filled up with the words "six weeks after the commencement of the next session of parliament."

Lord Henry Petty

rose to oppose the motion of the hon. baronet, and to move that "the first of May" be substituted. As ministers had allowed that there was no pressure of time which urged the imme- diate passing of this bill, he confessed himself at a loss to know on what grounds they could rest their opposition to the inquiry which in his opinion was indispensable, before such a measure should be adopted. Nor was this his opinion alone; be was supported in it by the highest authorities, particularly by one of the greatest writers on the laws of this country, who asserts, that an act tending to abrogate the independence and privileges of apart of the people, without any previous examination or enquiry into the necessity for such an act, was unconstitutional. A good deal had been said about the transpiring of secrets in a committee. The right hon. gent. (Mr. Foster) had been frequently instrumental in forming such committees; he called on him to state what was the danger to be apprehended? He would not willingly anticipate a discussion that would most probably take place this session; but he must say, that he did not believe Ireland in the state represented, as so lost to all sense of the advantage of her connection with G. Britain, as to be ready to tike refuge from her, in the arms of a foreign power. If so, we should try to restore in her more favourable sentiments towards us. He particularly called on gentlemen to consider, that by voting for his amendment, they did not hazard any danger. Time would then be given to make the enquiry which was so desirable. If we should then unfortunately find that the flame of rebellion in Ireland was not extinguished, but only smothered, and that other circumstances, equally strong, required the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, we might then agree to it with the satisfaction, at least, of having done so with propriety; but if, on the contrary, we should find the situation of Ireland such as not to demand the further operation of the measure, we might then enjoy the pleasure of restoring to the Irish those liberties, which had for a time been withheld from them. At all events we should have the satisfaction of reflecting that we had not taken any hasty step; but that we had acted with the prudence and circumspection which the importance of the case required.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

felt himself obliged to support the original motion. The merits of the question lay in a very narrow compass. All that could be stated in objection to it, had been stated in the ablest manner possible by the noble lord. Want of time had never been alleged by his majesty's govt. as the cause for passing this bill without inquiry, but that they felt, what parliament in eight instances put of eleven, since the year 1798, had likewise shewn they felt, that evident notoriety superseded all necessity for inquiry. Since that year, only three cases had occurred out of eleven, in which it was deemed expedient to institute committees of inquiry. He would not go over the same ground again which had so frequently been trodden. Gentlemen did not deny that there might be cases in which notoriety would be considered as sufficient ground for the suspension. The hon. baronet opposite (sir J. Newport) had stated that to be his opinion; and as for the right hon. gent. near him (Mr. Windham), it was unnecessary to ask him to state his opinion; his conduct when he had the pleasure of acting with him, was a sufficient proof of that opinion. If the existence of a war with France, if the designs avowed by that power to invade Ireland, if the evident preparations of extensive means for that purpose, if the hopes of success entertained by the enemy are founded on the prospect of co-operation by the disaffected in Ireland, if, as a proof that such are their expectations, regiments of refugees have been formed, and bands of Irish interpreters, guides, &c. collected, all acting under the inspection of an Irish committee at Paris; if all these circumstances did not constitute notoriety, he really did not know what would. The going into an inquiry would lay open secrets that it was material should not be disclosed; as the disclosure would be attended with danger to the lives of individuals. On these grounds he could not consent to the formation of a precedent for instituting an inquiry, when the notoriety was such as to preclude all necessity for it.

Mr. C. Wynne

said, he was willing to allow that there had been many cases in which the notoriety was sufficient, without any particular investigation of the circumstances; such, for instance, as the rebellions in 1715, and 1745, when the king sent down a message to the house, which was considered a sufficient ground. In 1803, likewise, when the rebellion in. Ireland was notorious. It was the duty of parliament, before they agreed to so extraordinary a measure, to make strict inquiry, unless they had very strong grounds indeed, such as he had just mentioned. He did not wish to see unconstitutional power placed in any hands, however small the chance of its being abused. During the administrations of Lord Somers, Lord Coke, and Lord Raymond, a person had been imprisoned 40 years by government in Newgate.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that that person had been confined by different special acts of parliament, and not by a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, which did not at that time take place.

Mr. Windham

conceived the amendment of the noble lord not to have been clearly understood, as the objection he made was not perhaps at all, but certainly not so much to the measure itself, as to its being adopted without a previous parliamentary enquiry. The right hon. chancellor of the exchequer had done him the honour to state Ins conduct on a former occasion, when he certainly adopted the measure upon public notoriety, because the danger was present, and staring them in the face; but the right hon. gent. must recollect, that even then he expressed his opinion that an enquiry should first be instituted, but that he was overruled by that right hon. gent. himself, and others, on the ground that the danger was both pressing and notorious. But on no occasion did he say, that this suspension should continue always; for when he supported it on the spur of the moment, his support was founded both upon necessity and notoriety. He had now no ground or information before him, to shew that this measure was bottomed either in one or the other. He now wanted the notoriety, and had reason to think and believe, that since the passing of the act now in force, a great change had taken place in the minds and dispositions of the people of Ireland. Here there was no information brought forward, no danger was made apparent, no necessity shewn, no notoriety established, and yet the house was called upon to pass this act of suspension of the liberties of the people of Ireland, as it were by acclamation, and with no more than twenty-four hours notice. He admitted, as was done by the noble lord who moved the amendment, that the measure might be necessary, but there was no proof of it. There was some reason for it in the former instance; he thought there was reason for it; but the ministers did not think proper to give them they now. If it should be admitted that the enemy having Irish officers, and Irish general, should be a justification of sus- pending the liberties of the people of Ireland, there never was, nor ever would be a time of war when the same argument would not equally prevail. He defied any one to mention the war in which, all these circumstances did not uniformly happen. Considering the temper of the people of Ireland, he thought that even decorum towards them required that an investigation should take place into the necessity of the measure. If this precipitation should be understood by them, as proceeding from inattention and indifference, it might be productive of the most fatal effects. For all these and other reasons, with which he should not detain the house at present, he should vote for the amendment proposed by the noble lord. An inquiry could not do any harm, it might do much good; and it would at least do this good, that it would prevent the establishment of a precedent in the highest degree exceptionable, and which might ultimately produce the most fatal consequences.

Mr. Martin (of Galway)

said, he should, for one, certainly agree to the noble lord's amendment. If notoriety were sufficient to warrant the suspension, without inquiry, he should say, that notoriety did not exist. He had conversed lately with many gentlemen from Ireland, who concurred in opinion that the measure was not necessary to secure the peace of the country. It had been, indeed, spoken of, as not likely to do harm; but such an infringement of the liberties of a people ought to be proved to be attended with positive good, before it should be adopted. A bill of this description was not to be treated as lightly as a vote of credit. With regard to the secrecy so much contended for, and the danger and inconvenience said to attend enquiry, was there not considerable danger and inconvenience in exposing the affairs of the Bank of England, and yet a committee had been some time ago appointed to investigate and make a report on that subject. Why should the people of Ireland be treated with less ceremony? As to the character of the lord lieutenant and his secretary, it made no legislative ground for so severe a measure as the present. He never knew a lord lieutenant in that country who was not represented as a very amiable man. He never heard of a secretary who was not said to be possessed of the highest talents, and overflowing with humanity and benevolence. But these accounts, coming from a certain description of persons, were not always to be de- pended upon. The flattery towards men in power was carried to such excess, that he could recollect gentlemen having seriously asserted, and mentioned in public companies, that lord Hobart was a much more eloquent man than Mr. Flood had ever been! These panegyrics were easily obtained, but he thought the people of Ireland would indeed be very hardly dealt with, if they had no other security for their liberties than the character of those who may happen to be in power.

Mr. Robert Ward

commented on the arguments made use of by a right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham), at some length, and contrasted them with the sentiments he had expressed on some former occasions, when a measure similar to the present was proposed to the House of Commons. Lord Folkstone here called the hon. and learned gent. to order, on the ground of his allusions being irregular. After some conversation, the hon. member proceeded to observe, that the arguments against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, drawn from the deficiency of glaring instances, as stated by some hon. members, might be met by an illustration of an opposition of the same nature, which illustration was made by a right hon. gent. a few years back (Mr. Windham) who mentioned the case of the captain of a ship who went on a voyage round the world, and had provided himself with certain ventilators, and other machines of a useful description. "I laid out my money," said the captain, "for nothing, for I have not had a sick man during the whole of my voyage." The hon. gent. then alluded to the miseries which Ireland had suffered, and which had left her in a state of trouble; miseries which could not have been overcome, but by that system of vigour which had been adopted by administration. With respect to the measure now opposed by the hon. gentlemen on the other side, he should not wish to go farther back than the period of the revolution, to shew the manner in which such suspensions had been proposed and received in that house. In the first year of King William III. the deliverer of this country from tyranny, the Habeas Corpus was suspended, without any particular case, or any previous examination before parliament. A message was sent down from the throne, and it was stated, that his majesty's government found it necessary to arrest some suspected persons, but that they were met in their way by the Habeas Corpus Act. The king's word was taken for granted, and the motion passed. In 1707, and 1715, it was also suspended without any examination. In 1722, no case was made out; it was stated in the speech from the throne, that a dangerous conspiracy existed in the country; this was answered by parliament by an address, and the bill of suspension passed the next day. The result of all the precedents was, that it was not usual to establish the facts by evidence before the house of commons. It was only necessary, that the house should have a general belief as to their existence. Could any man open his eyes, and not perceive that the measure was necessary? As to the duration of time proposed by the noble lord, he should oppose it, because, if the suspension was only to continue six weeks, it might as well not take place at all. He expected no advantage from the measure, unless considered as a permanent one.

Sir John Newport

observed, that in every instance adduced by the hon. and learned gent. there was either inquiry, or something equivalent to it; there was some message from the king, or some communication in the speech from the throne. Now there was nothing relative to this subject in the speech from the throne, and the speech on the address, which was generally supposed to be the production of his majesty's ministers, stated Ireland to be tranquil. How then could it be said, after so short a lapse of time, that there was so notorious a spirit of rebellion as to preclude inquiry? The Habeas Corpus Act having been restored since the rebellion of 1798, he considered it now as suspended de novo, and that the consideration was a res integra; unless, indeed, it was meant to rely on the affair of 1803, which he was at a loss how to name; the gentlemen on the other side styling it at one time a rebellion, at another time a tumult or insurrection, or a contemptible riot, as it answered their purpose. If the suspension was to be renewed every year without inquiry, it was better to extend it at once to six weeks after the termination of the war. Parliament would not do its duty to the country, if it refused inquiry, and rendered the constitution a mere nullity to the people of Ireland on such light grounds.

Mr. Fox

said, that he did net rise for the purpose of now entering into the merits of this question, but to beg the hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Ward), who dwelt so much upon historical precedents, to reconsider whether he was justified in the assertion, that no parliamentary inquiry took place on the subject of the conspiracy in 1722.

Mr. Macnaghten

said, that the dangers of Ireland had not been mentioned in the speech from the throne, on account of the notoriety of the case, and that the object was to prevent the recurrence of the horrors of 1798 and 1803. If this act had been in force in 1803, lord Kilwarden would not have been murdered. Certainly the loyal subjects had increased in Ireland, but that, he said, was no reason why they should be taken less care of now than formerly; but who was prepared to say, that there were, no jacobins there, ready to help the cause of France? He cautioned the house against the opinions of such as would make such a desperate assertion. The jacobins who destroyed the French monarchy were not very numerous, nor were they in Dublin when they murdered the lord chief justice, and many others of his majesty's subjects. They might still do great mischief, if that house did not pass this bill, which the loyalists of Ireland expected. It was a serious measure, but the loyal part of the people were not safe without it. He saw no necessity for an enquiry.

Mr. Bagwell

argued in favour of the bill, from the notoriety of the necessity, especially in his part of the country, where a gentleman could not let a farm to anew tenant without the chance of his being exposed to death, or some severe calamity. Numerous atrocities were committed, yet people dare not come forward to detect and punish the perpetrators. It was a melancholy consideration, that it became necessary to put a number of persons out of the pale of the constitution; but the only question was, whether it should be the loyal or the disloyal part of the nation?

Lord De Blaquiere

supported the suspension. He said if me notoriety was denied, the country was lost; he did not see how we could get on. He complimented the talents of the noble lord who moved the amendment, and praised his parliamentary management, in avoiding the meeting it on its original grounds. He said that inquiry would defeat the object of the measure. Make out such a case as gentlemen on the other side, desire, and you defeat the object of the bill. Tell a rogue you know his tricks and his haunts, and it is more than possible he may withdraw himself from your reach. The noble lord referred to the resolution of the high sheriff and gentlemen of Waterford to apply to the lord lieutenant, not only f r a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, but also for the establishment of military and free quarters, in case further outrages were committed. The enquiry proposed could not be had without witnesses, or, as they were called in Ireland, approvers. Every one knew that for the last ten years many such persons had been assassinated; half the people executed within that period had been condemned for assassination. He recollected a witness, who underwent a private examination in Dublin, and proved several circumstances of treason against different persons. It was thought necessary to send him and his wife to Liverpool till the trials came on. The man's name was Henley, lie was followed to Liverpool, and from thence to London. The very night he came into London, he was murdered at the end of Piccadilly. Let gentlemen look to the speeches made in the Conservative Senate at Paris on the 4th of this month. See what say M. Talleyrand and St. Jean d'Angely, and see what statements they, boastfully made of the present situation of Ireland, and what they called its oppressions and the refusal of liberty of conscience, and the expectation they entertained of being joined, in case of a descent, by the people of that country, who had likewise their notions heated by the proposed agitation of the Catholic question. Hon gentlemen seemed, little inclined to consider whatever came from the side of the house on which he sat; but, perhaps, they might not be indisposed to attend a little better to what came from that authority. His lordship relied upon the spirit and fortitude of the man who now conducted the business of the empire, that he would not bend before, any opposition offered that night, nor swerve from his purpose of doing his duty to the public.

Mr. Kinnaird

felt it impossible to sit silent and hear the intentions of his noble friend who moved the amendment, misrepresented as they had been. He refuted the charge of parliamentary management conveyed in the shape of a compliment. The intention of his noble friend was not to refuse what govt. had asked, but only to procure good and sufficient reasons for its necessity. It was rather an extraordi- nary argument for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland, that a man was murdered at the end of Piccadilly. He could not see that offences committed under the suspension were good reasons for a continuance of that suspension. The gentlemen who had spoken on the other side had declined to meet the question fairly, which was, whether, granting the suspension, it was not prudent to examine the reasons afterwards?

Lord De Blaquiere

did not consider it as any reproach upon the noble lord to compliment him for his parliamentary management.

Dr. Duigenan

said, the hon. gent. had mistaken the object of the noble lord's story, which was to shew, that Irish witnesses could not come with safety to London to give information before a committee. Assassinations similar to this were very common in Ireland. The suspension of the Habeas Corpus could not prevent such outrages; but it certainly rendered them less frequent. He had resided in Ireland from his youth, and he must of course know its situation better than the hon. gent. opposite; he took leave to say also, that he had a little more regard for it. The county of Waterford was notoriously disturbed, as was evident from the resolutions of the magistrates at a county meeting, at which the sheriff, a respectable member of that house, presided. An adjoining county also (Tipperary), the representative of which was present, was in servants a state, that the houses of all loyal men which had not a number of servants, or a large family to defend them, were broken open and robbed of their arms, and these arms were certainly not intended for shooting snipes. The county of Carlow was the scene of nocturnal meetings, and so was the county of Limerick, the representative of which was also present. The city of Dublin itself was under the necessity of being patrolled every night from the multitude of dangerous conspiracies and assassination plots; centinels were shot dead and maimed on their stands, and it was known that even committees were formed for systematising assassination. On all these grounds he thought the suspension indispensably necessary. We might truly say, incedimus perignes suppositos cineri doloso.

Mr. May

declared his conviction of the general Royalty of the North of Ireland; but in the South and West disaffection certainly existed. The suspension was necessa- ry to satisfy the loyal, who, without this security could not sleep in their beds. It was necessary to keep down the majority of the people of Ireland, consisting of Catholics, dangerously agitated and inspired by the confidence of French aid, with the hope of effecting a change in the establishment in their own favour. He was informed besides, that a strong measure was to be proposed from the other side of the house, to put the Catholics on a state of perfect equality with the protestants; and if it did not pass this house, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act would be necessary to prevent them from breaking out into violent outrages.

Lord Temple

said he had one word to offer in answer to the hon. gent. who had spoke last but one, and a little to the last, both of whom had pronounced a libel on the majority of the people of Ireland, a libel which, came particularly ill from the mouth of any one connected with that country. He protested against the principles they maintained, and against the libel they had thrown out. He protested also against the doctrine, that because he and his hon. friends did not represent Ireland, they could hot feel for that country as warmly as the hon. gent. (Dr. Duigenan). This was a charge of deficiency not only in the duty they owed to all the Empire, but a direct charge that they did not pay the same attention to particular parts of it which was given by the persons representing these parts. He was sure it was not so, and he was happy the hon. gent. was not supported in his insinuations by his brethren on that side of the house. If he and his hon. friends had not a right to interfere in the concerns of Ireland, the hon. gent. must allow the principle a reciprocal force. He would here call to the recollection of the hon. gent. the instance of the Additional Force bill of the last session, which was enacted for England, contrary to the sense of the majority of the English members, and on which the representatives of Ireland, and he believed among them the hon. gent. had claimed and exercised a full right of giving their votes. This by the bye. Now for the hon. gent.'s arguments. The hon. gent. in answer to the alledged want of notoriety, cited a list of atrocities which appeared to astonish those in favour of the measure, as much as those who opposed it. It would be as well, when the hon. gent. should again be disposed to indulge the house with the recital of such a catalogue, if he would take the opportunity of telling us why, at the time the mover of the address, in answer to his majesty's speech, gave a flourishing representation of the tranquillity of Ireland, he did not stop him, and set him right, and prevent the house from carrying a false statement to the foot of the throne. If the hon. gent. was so full to the mouth with outrages and enormities, he should not have sat silent on an occasion like that, and now for the first time, astonish the house with the production of this bead roll of iniquities. If half what the hon. gent. had stated, was true, his majesty's ministers were most negligent in suffering his majesty to take leave of his parliament at the close of the last session, or to meet it at the commencement of this, without saying one word on the subject; and in allowing the parliament to go to the throne, with an address so little apposite. If no evidence could be had, at least a message from his majesty might have laid a parliamentary ground for the discussion.

Mr. May

in explanation said, he allowed the loyalty of the north, but disaffection existed in the south. The lower class of the people were ready to rise at any time the appearance of a French force presented the opportunity, and it was necessary to keep them down with a strong hand; he did not mean to asperse the catholic gentlemen, who were good, loyal, and faithful subjects, but a low multitude, headed by as low and ill educated a clergy.

Dr. Duigenan

said, he had not denied the right of the English gentlemen to interfere in the concerns of Ireland; he had said no such thing. He only contended, that he was better acquainted with the state of Ireland.

Lord Temple

said, that was the obvious deduction from the hon. gent.'s arguments, lie did not wish to give the house so bad an entertainment as a discussion between two gentlemen, as to the fact in what had so recently occurred; but he believed he was in the recollection of the house, when he described the hon. gent. as representing that the English members had not the same regard for Ireland that he had. If he was wrong, the house would correct him; and he was the more particular as to the expression, as he would draw this line of distinction upon it, that if all members, from all parts of the empire, had not the same regard for every part, they were not fit to sit together.

Mr. Hutchinson

lamented that the li- berty of speech, which was the first privilege of the house, had been so much abused and degraded by the utterance of things which every man ought to lament having heard. The mover of the bill must certainly know that the non-renewal of the suspension would have been less mischievous than the language which had been uttered this night. Never was any language more unfounded or unjustifiable, or more inconsistent with a sincere wish for the integrity and unanimity of the empire, which representation could not fail to embitter the minds of a people agitated and divided in consequence of the bad system by which they had been governed for centuries. He voted for the original motion. But he was of opinion that the union would be of little benefit, if it was not followed up with other marks of attention to Ireland than continued suspensions of the Habeas Corpus Act.

Lord H. Petty

begged leave to set himself right from some misunderstandings. He did not say, that notoriety was no ground, but that it should be accompanied with great and imminent danger. Notoriety was too general and vague a term to be in itself sufficient; and if ever there was a doubt how indecisive this term was, the various meanings that had been affixed to it this night afforded the strongest exemplification of it. The representations of Ireland by the gentlemen of that country were completely at variance. It was evident from this, how dangerous it was for parliament to lend itself to mere representations; and, for himself, when the evidence was doubtful, he preferred that which went to maintain the people in the enjoyment of their liberties to that which went to deprive them of them.—The question being now put, there appeared,

For the original motion, 159
For the amendment, 54
Majority, 105

List of the Minority.
Adair, R. Dundas, Hon. G. H. L.
Bagenel, Walter Dundas, Hon. C. L.
Barclay, George Fitzpatrick, Hon R.
Brooke, Charles Folkestone, Viscount
Byng, George Fox, Hon. C. J.
Calcraft, John Francis, Philip
Cavendish, Lord G. Geary, Sir William
Cavendish, W. Grey, Hon. Charles
Coombe, H. C. Hamilton, Lord A.
Cooke, Bryan Hippesley, Sir J. C.
Courtenay, John Jekyll, Joseph
Creevey, Thomas Johnstone, George
Daley, D. Bowes Kinnaird, Hon. C.
Daivson, Richard Latouche, R.
Latouche, John, jun. Paxton, Sir R.
Lawley, Sir R. Proby, Viscount
Lemon, Sir. W. Raine, Jonathan
Haddocks, W. A. St. John, Hon. St A.
Moore, P. Smith, Wm.
Morpeth, Viscount Spencer, Lord. R.
North, Dudley Symonds, T. P.
Newport, Sir John Temple, Earl
Ord, William Ward, Hon. J. W.
Osborne, Lord F. Whitbread, S.
Ossulston, Lord Windham, Rt. H. W.
Pelham, Hon. C. A. Wynne, C. W. W.
Petty, Lord Henry Young, Sir W.