HC Deb 08 July 1805 vol 5 cc793-6

On the motion of Mr. Hawthorne, leave was given that Mr. Wickham should, in consequence of indisposition, be permitted to speak sitting.

Mr Wickham

accordingly addressed the house. The hon. member, adverting to a petition on the table from Mr. Todd Jones, (see p 641) expressed his regret that this petition had not been presented at an earlier period of the session, or that the hon. gent. who presented it had not given him notice of his intention to bring the subject before the house; because, in that case, he would have been enabled to have such a case laid before the house as would have fully vindicated his conduct, and that of the Irish government, with respect to the charge which the statement of the petitioner conveyed. But he was now, from the lateness of the session, placed in this dilemma, that he must either make an imperfect defence for himself and the government with which he had been connected, or bring forward circumstances which it would not be fair towards the character of the petitioner to mention, as he had not the immediate opportunity of replying to them. At the time when a right hon. gent. not then in his place, (Mr. Fitzgerald) gave notice of a motion with regard to the several persons arrested, and in custody in Ireland, under the suspension of the habeas corpus act, he did promise himself that such a motion would have afforded him an opportunity to exculpate the government of Ireland from the several charges which had been loosely thrown out against it. He naturally expected and wished that the motion of the right hon. gent. would have led to inquiry because upon such inquiry he had not the least doubt that the result would have been a full acquittal of the accused; nay more, a conclusive evidence of their title to public praise. After some further prefatory remarks the right hon. gent. proceeded to detail the circumstances connected with the attest and detention of Mr. Jones. For some time after his arrest, which the Irish government was induced to order upon information, the particulars of which he could not, for the reason already stated, with any propriety describe, but which were quite satisfactory to their minds as to the necessity of the measure, Mr. Jones remained in prison without any particular inquiry having been instituted into his case. As soon, however, as the trials, which followed the insurrection of 1803, and which so much occupied the attention of the Irish government, had terminated, an inquiry into the case of Mr. Jones took place, The three allegations in the petition which he thought it necessary to notice were, first, the arrest of the petitioner; secondly, his being detained in prison after, as he states, the government had pronounced him innocent; and, thirdly, the harshness with which he was treated. Now, as to the first point, the right hon. gent. said, that he had already stated the impossibility of giving a full explanation to the house without acting unfairly towards the character of the petitioner. But as to the second point, inquiry being made, it was found that, although the conduct of Mr. Jones was such as justified the strongest suspicion, and would have warranted government in arresting any man; still he being a man of warm temper, and likely to use expressions, and indicate designs which he did not deliberately mean, it was the opinion of government that indulgence might be safely extended to him. In consequence of this opinion it was intimated to a gentleman of the highest respectability at the Irish bar (Mr. Saurin), who interested himself for the petitioner, that government was disposed to liberate him, provided he would quit Ireland, and retire to his residence in this country, where he had been for many years previous to his late return to Ireland. This intimation was communicated to the petitioner; and instead of replying directly to it, he immediately applied to the Irish government, asserting, that what proceeded from their disposition to leniency was a direct acknowledgement of his total innocence, and demanding instantaneous and unconditional liberation, with an indemnity; for his imprisonment. With that demand the Irish government would not feel themselves warranted in complying; particularly because, after the trial of the rebels, and the fullest investigation of the charges against Mr. Jones, his case became much more serious than it appeared to be at the out set. Willing, however, to act with every possible consistent mildness, his case was submitted to the crown lawyers, accompanied by this question, "Whether it would be proper to liberate Mr. Jones?" and their unanimous opinion was decidedly in the negative. Still more to ascertain the rectitude of their conduct, the Irish government transmitted the case of Mr. Jones to his majesty's ministers in this country, requiring their advice; and their answer was, that under all the circumstances it would be extremely unadviseable to allow such a person to be at large in Ireland. With this opinion from the law officers in Ireland, and the ministers here, the Irish government felt that they would have incurred a deep responsibility had they complied with the demand Of the petitioner for unconditional freedom. But as to the charge of severity' in prison, he could assure the house that nothing could be farther, from the disposition and the desire of the Irish government than the wanton oppression of any prisoner. On the contrary, immediately on the arrest of the petitioner special directions were sent to the general commanding the district in which he was imprisoned, that the unfortunate man should be treated with every indulgence that was consistent with the safe custody of his person. Indeed it was remarkable that to none of the generals commanding at Cork, who were directed to inquire into the situation of the prisoner, did the petitioner ever make any complaint of harsh treatment; and he was surprised to see such a complaint in the petition on the table. The right hon. gentleman stated that he should have submitted these observations to the house immediately after he had seen the petition, had he not been prevented by ill health, and he was sorry to observe that an hon. officer (general Tarleton) to whom he could refer upon this subject, was not in his place. The right hon. gent. concluded with again expressing his regret that this business should have been brought forward so late in the session, his wish that it should be fully investigated, and his confidence that the result would completely justify the conduct of the Irish government.

Mr. Wilberforce

was about to address the house; when

The Speaker

rose and observed, that there was no question before the house, and therefore the hon. member would excuse him for this interruption. An hon. member had, by permission of the house, been allowed to be heard in exculpation of his own conduct against charges made against the government, of which, for a time, he formed a part; but no other member could, according to the rules of the house, be allowed to speak on the subject, unless he had some motion to ground upon it.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, he had only one observation to make, and that was to congratulate the house upon the circumstance of the right hon. gent. having come forward to make such a statement. The sensibility which the right hon. gent. had manifested upon this occasion, was highly honourable to him, and it must be grateful to the house and the country to perceive that an important public officer was alive to the necessity of replying to a charge so serious as the oppression of a British subject.

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