HC Deb 09 July 1807 vol 9 cc751-2
Sir A. Wellesley

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill, for the suppression of Insurrection in Ireland, and to prevent the disturbance of the peace in that country. The house would remember, that the circumstances which preceded and attended the suppression of the rebellion in Ireland, had rendered stronger measures than the established laws afforded necessary in that country. An act was therefore passed by the Irish parliament, in 1796, to prevent unlawful assemblies, and to authorise the lord lieutenant on a report of the magistrates to proclaim any county where disturbances existed. That law required all persons in such counties to keep within their dwellings between the hours of sun set and sun rise, and gave to the magistrates the power of sending persons who should be found to offend against it on board his majesty's navy. The act had proved effectual for the suppression of the insurrection, as appeared from the acknowledgement of the leaders of that insurrection before a committee of the Irish parliament. But, though such a law might be necessary, it was the duty of that house to guard against the abuse of the powers which it gave. The bill he proposed to bring in contained the same provisions as the Insurrection act, with respect to the power of the lord lieutenant to proclaim disturbed counties, and the authority of the magistrates to arrest persons who should be found out of their dwellings between sun setting and sun rising; but, in order to prevent hardships to the subjects, the bill required that persons so arrested should be tried at the quarter sessions, by the magistrates and assistant barrister, assisted by a king's counsel, a serjeant specially sent down for that purpose. Besides this bill, he meant to move for leave to bring in another to prevent improper persons from keeping arms, by obliging all persons to register their arms, and authorising the magistrates to search for arms. These bills had been prepared by his predecessor, and the only difference was, that the bill of his predecessor gave a negative to the king's counsel or serjeant, which he proposed to take from him, as it appeared to him that such a negative would render the measure nugatory. He meant, however, to substitute a clause, which should, in case of any difference between the serjeant and the bench, suspend the execution of the decision of the magistrates, till the serjeant should have reported the matter to the lord lieutenant.

Sir J. Newport

wished to know what was to be the duration of the bill?

Sir A. Wellesley

proposed 7 years, but his mind was not yet made up on that head.

Sir J. Newport

had asked the question, because he thought that the shortest possible duration should be given to bills which created such extraordinary powers.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

agreed with the hon. bart. that 7 years would be too long a period, for which to enact the bill.

Mr. Grattan

was concerned that a bill of that nature should be necessary. But this and every other such bill was a violent measure, and against the principles of the constitution. The period of such measures ought to be short, in order to shew to the people that they had at least a reversionary interest in the constitution. These measures could only be justified by an imperious necessity.

Mr. Sheridan

viewed this question in a very different light from his friends on the bench near him. His right hon. friend had said, that the measure could only be justified by an imperious necessity; now, it was that necessity which he wished to have clearly made out to exist before the measure was resorted to. It was no answer to him that the measure had been prepared by his friends. If it had, the Threshers were then engaged in their disturbances and administering unlawful oaths. Ireland was now on the contrary as loyally tranquil as any part of the empire.

Mr. Whitbread

thought that the measure had never been, and ought not to be, enacted for so long a period as 7 years. He found himself in different circumstances from his right hon. friend as to the measure; for he must look upon it as necessary, inasmuch as the committee of both lords and commons on both sides had agreed upon that point.—Leave was then given to bring in the bill, as also a bill to prevent improper persons from having arms in Ireland.