HC Deb 02 July 1808 vol 11 cc1131-4
Mr. Sheridan

said he should have felt it to be his duty to address the house at considerable length on this subject, did he not understand that the inquiry which it was his intention to propose, would not meet with any opposition. He should, therefore, abstain from any of those details which if entered into could not fail to disgust the feelings of the house, and might provoke irritation among those who were more immediately the objects of suffering. He was satisfied that an inquiry into the evils complained of would do ministers credit, and he would rather have seen them enter into it voluntarily, than urged on to the investigation. In bringing forward the present question, he declared that he was actuated solely by that feeling which he hoped hitherto had characterized, and should continue to characterize, his parliamentary conduct; a consciousness of the propriety, if not of the necessity, of what he proposed, and an ardent desire to discharge his duty to the public. The right hon. gent. then proceeded to quote the reports of the inspector-genera of prisons in Ireland. He remarked that many of the evils which now existed had been enumerated in the report of 1805, but that no notice had ever been taken of them in that house, although it appeared from that report, that, out of 1500 or 1600 persons imprisoned during 1803, not one in 500 of the committals had been made upon oath, and that fifteen-sixteenths of them had been discharged without trial, or any evidence even of a suspicion of their guilt being produced. From the report of the inspector for the year 1807, numberless heavy grievances appeared to exist. In some, instances, the jails were insecure; in some, the jailors were represented as inhuman fellows; in Cork county and city, the scite of the prison was swampy, and calculated to produce fevers and agues, and jobbing and avarice had no bounds. Throughout the whole, the low salaries of the jailors were pleaded as the excuse for corruption, extortion, and negligence. As to food, in some instances the loaf was scandalously small, to many prisoners not three-fourths of a pound of bread was given a day. He particularly alluded to the state of Kilmainham jail, and to the conduct of Dr. Trevor, superintendant of it. He had abstained from bringing forward this business till he was in possession of evidence under the hands of the parties concerned, as to the conduct of this person, who was represented in the narratives of messrs. Tandy and Mason as of the most inhuman, hardened, and malignant disposition. The right hon. gent, proceeded to read several very serious charges against this person, and concluded with moving, "That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to direct that a Special Commission should be appointed to enquire into and inspect the condition and government of the state prisons and other gaols in the city and county of Dublin, and such other gaols in Ireland as they shall judge it proper to direct their attention to, and to investigate the treatment of the prisoners therein confined since the year 1798, where ground of complaint shall be preferred, and also to examine into the conduct of those entrusted with the rule and government of the said prisons; and to report thereon."

General Mathew seconded the motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

regretted that the motion was deferred until a period when those members could not be present who were the best informed upon the subject. Although he should not oppose the motion, he trusted he should not be supposed to acquiesce in the right hon. gent's statements. He adverted to the inquiry that had been made during lord Hardwicke's administration, which was among the printed papers laid before that house in 1805, and on which it had not been thought necessary by the house to take any steps. He regretted that the right hon. gent. should have made such an ex parte statement against individuals, who would have no means of exculpating themselves until the next session of parliament.

Mr. W. Pole

wished that the right hon. gent. had brought forward his motion when the Irish members were present, convinced as he was (from his own local knowledge) that those members would have declared the futility of the statements that had been made. He examined some of the reports, and detected several misrepresentations that existed in them. He supported the motion, because it could do no harm, and might do much good.

Mr. Beresford

defended the character of Dr. Trevor, who was generally esteemed as a man of great humanity and kindness. He had heard the unfortunate Emmett acknowledge this at the scaffold in the warmest terms.

Mr. Whitbread

thought the public highly indebted to his right hon. friend for the institution of an inquiry, from which, in his opinion, a great deal of good would probably result.

Colonel Vereker

defended the magistrates of the county of Galway, from any share in the imputation attempted to be thrown on the whole country.

Mr. Peter Moore

would only make an observation or two on what had been said on the other side, and particularly by the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer, with respect to an investigation having been made into these alleged grievances, by the authority of lord Hardwicke as lord lieutenant of Ireland, the report of which he stated to have been laid before this house and printed in 1805. Mr. Moore said, that being intent on obtaining all possible information, he regularly watched all the documents laid before this house for that purpose; and that having given the subject of these alleged grievances his earnest attention, it was almost impossible that, such an important document as the report in question could have escaped him, had it ever been before the house; as from the description given by the right hon. gent., it went to preclude all further inquiry into the claims of justice, so forcibly stated in the various petitions before the house, and that under this impression he was very much surprised when his right hon. friend (Mr. Sheridan) informed him a few days ago, that in a conversation with the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer, he was told, that such a report had been made and printed, laying all these grievances at rest; but, in order to remove the doubt which it naturally threw on his own opinion, as coming from such authority, he instantly went to the vote office, where, with all the care and diligence with which it is conducted, the officers assisted him in several searches of their books, and at length they found an entry that pointed to something like a report in 1805, as mentioned by the right hon. gent, opposite. That report, Mr. Moore said, he held in his hand, and the right hon. gent, would see, on inspection, that it was a report stating only the names and number of prisoners, without the least mark of investigation, or appearance of proceeding thereon; and from the minute examinations which had been made in the vote office, Mr. Moore said, he was perfectly satisfied there was no other report. But, continued Mr. Moore, if there ever has been an investigation into these alleged abuses, it must have been very snugly and closely managed, as it must be manifest to the house, that the aggrieved petitioners (without whom such an investigation was a farce), who ought especially to have had notice of it and to have been present, had never heard of it, and were still petitioning this house, imploring such a hearing and such an investigation as that which is said to have taken place and been decided on. But he now hoped, that if such a report did exist, whatever it might be, that report, together with all the petitions which had been presented, and all the documents which had been laid before the house, would be referred to the commissioners to be appointed for making another investigation, who should be instructed to feel and consider the honour and character of our government to be its first and principal, and the justice due to individuals only as its secondary object. And he hoped and trusted, that in this spirit and understanding, the motion of his right hon. friend would meet with the unanimous support of the house.—The motion was then agreed to.