HC Deb 24 April 1815 vol 30 cc800-2

On the order of the day for going into a Committee on the Bill being read,

Mr. Bennet

wished to make ah observation on the hurried manner in which it was attempted to pass this Bill. The Bill was read a second time on Friday last; and the members did not receive their their copies of the Bill till after that stage. Although he lived near the House, he did not get his copy till Saturday morning. During the whole of the last century, in which there had been two civil wars, and a war with our colonies, no measure of the kind had ever been resorted to, till the time of the French Revolution. He was not one of those who thought it even then necessary; but would any man say that there was any resemblance between the present period and the period in question? It was a ridiculous dread that was entertained, or affected to be entertained by his Majesty's Government, of foreigners in this country. More information was derived from our newspapers respecting our affairs, than from all the spies put together. But the measure vested the Government with the power of sending out such foreigners as might render themselves obnoxious to them, or those persons whom, they wished to favour. It was converted into an engine of the most oppressive tyranny. He had heard of a meeting in Suffolk-street, of a few miserable Italians, assembled to celebrate the prospects which they thought were brightening up for their country, that had been lately dispersed by a familiar of the Alien office. What were these unfortunate foreigners guilty of that could warrant their being sent off from the country at a moment's notice? He understood that one of them had held a sort of correspondence with his Majesty's Government as agent of Murat; and it was possible that he might be in possession of some of the correspondence which had lately been published. All sorts of abuses had taken taken place under the Alien Act. Every one had heard of a Lord Chancellor's sending a foreigner out of the country because he conducted himself ill in a lawsuit; foreign clerks had been sent out of the country because they were in love with their masters daughters. It was a system more like the Inquisition of Madrid than any thing else. There were Alien-office familiars going about in every quarter pursuing unfortunate foreigners. Those unfortunate exiles from the Spanish governments of Europe and South America, were in the greatest state of alarm lest they should be hurried out of the country. For these reasons he opposed the Speaker's leaving the chair.

Mr. Bathurst

said, the hon. gentleman had complained that the Bill had not been printed before the second reading. The Bill, as he formerly stated, was almost a copy verbatim et literatim of the former Act; and, therefore, the printing of it had not been so necessary as if it were a new measure. It had, however, in point of fact, been printed before the second reading, though it had not got into what the hon. gentleman might call proper circulation. If the measure were at all proper, be thought it must be felt that it ought to be passed as soon as possible, and it would therefore have been improper to delay the second reading of it till a printed copy could be in the possession of every member. The influx of foreigners into this country was known to have been very great for some time past. Many of these, it was probable, came with hostile views, sent by the present French government. It was for the House to determine whether, under such circumstances, it would be improper to adopt a measure which was first brought forward as applicable to a state of war, the principle of which had been recognized in peace, resorted to a second time when the late war broke out, and again recognized last year in a state of peace. The House would determine, if such an act was not necessary in the present state of things, and if, having called upon the Prince Regent, in their Address, to take measures, for strengthening his forces by land and sea, they ought not to arm the Government with those civil powers which might make such exertions more effective. He hoped, therefore, the House would agree to go into the committee.

Lord Archibald Hamilton

said, there was a great difference between the present period and that of 1792, because we were then at war with almost all Europe, and now we were in alliance with them alt except France. He objected to granting such extensive powers, which had been abused m the case of Mr. De Berenger and others, and therefore should oppose the going into the committee.

Mr. Addington

said, that he imagined the hon. gentlemen opposite were hardly aware of the immense influx of foreigners within the last few months. No less than 1600 had arrived since the landing of Buonaparté in France was known, and most of them with passports signed by Buonaparté's government. Was there no reasonable ground for apprehension, especially when it was known, that many of these persons had commissions to purchase arms for the adherents of the new government of France? He did not pretend to say, that this measure would enable ministers to discriminate between the innocent and the guilty, but it would do the next best thing—it would give power to detain them until inquiries were made into their characters and conduct. He had some apology to make to an hon. gentleman for having come into the House while he was speaking; and there was part of the hon. gentleman's speech respecting some Italians in Suffolk-street, which he was just concluding, and which he would be obliged to him to repeat.

Mr. Bennet

said, he wished to know whether it was true, that about eighteen Italians who met in Suffolk-street, among whom was the Chevalier Stocco, the agent of the king of Naples, a person of the name of Petroni, and others, had been arrested by order of Government?

Mr. Addington

replied, that he was altogether unacquainted with the circumstance.

The House then went into a Committee, the blanks in the Bill were filled up, and it was ordered that the Report should be brought up to-morrow.