HC Deb 12 July 1820 vol 2 cc405-17

On the order of the day for the third reading of this bill,

Mr. Hobhouse

said:—Sir; I feel more than usual reluctance in offering myself to the attention of the House on this occasion. I observe that this great question is treated with a neglect and indifference for which I am at a loss to account, Even the noble lord, the father of this measure, seems to have left it to its fate—[here lord Castlereagh entered] I am glad to see that the noble secretary has thought it worth his while just to comedown and attend upon his own offspring, although he will not deign to protect it. No, Sir, he will offer no excuses, no pretexts, for prolonging this odious, this unconstitutional enactment. Thrice has he been called upon by some of the most distinguished members of this House, to give some reasons for continuing this bill; but he has been called upon in vain; and like another considerable character, not in real but dramatic life, he will give no reasons "on compulsion"—no, "not if reasons were as plenty as blackberries." Sir; I have not the vanity to hope that I shall extort from him that which he has refused to others much more likely to make his lordship speak; but although lam well aware of my own incompetency, and although I know the almost proverbial folly of "arguing with the master of twenty legions," still a sense of duty induces me not to withhold from the House my sentiments upon a question so materially affecting the rights, and, what is more, the character of the English nation. Sir, it seems resolved, on the other side of the House, that we shall accept this proposition, as if it were self evident. Let me beg the House to remark how entirely the friends of the measure have abstained from any thing like a new argument, although there is nothing which assimilates present circumstances to those which] formed the excuse of former alien bills. We have had just three speeches on this bead—one from the noble secretary of state for foreign affairs, one from the solicitor general, and another from the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Now, Sir. let me ask, to what did the excuses offered by these gentlemen amount? The noble lord merely told us that we had to contend not with foreign but with internal enemies, which made all precautionary measures peculiarly advisable; and that we were not to "compromise our character with our allies." These are the assertions of the noble lord—we have his word for them—but I see not how he comes to the conclusion respecting the expediency of peace alien bills, even admitting us to be in that state of internal warfare on which he and his friends are so unceasingly declaiming in this House. As to the solicitor general, he treated us only with a thrice refuted blunder from Blackstone, and with those truly national authorities for an English House of Commons, Vattel and Puffendorf. It is not worth while to consume the time of the House in repeating the law argument on this question. It is not in the power of all the law officers of the Crown to deny the notorious fact, that the policy of this bill is of no older date than the year 1793; that in all the former times of our history we have lived and flourished without any such barbarous regulations against those whom interest or curiosity might draw to cur once hospitable shores. The hon. solicitor's quotation from Blackstone has already received the merited reply from the learned member for Knaresborough (sir J. Mackintosh). Let it sleep for ever—for the honour of the commentator on the English laws—let it be heard of no more.—But the chancellor for the duchy of Lancaster has, indeed, shown the poverty of the land; he has actually gone back to the French revolution for an excuse for an Alien bill in 1820. He has recurred to the old rhetorical drawer from which he and his friend have been drawing forth their topics so long, that the country and the House must by this time be heartily sick of such stale, such unprofitable arguments. Good Heavens! is this country, is the English House of Commons, are the people of England always to be governed by their fears? Is every argument to be directed to the basest, the meanest, of all the passions that agitate the human mind? It is time to have done talking of the French revolution, as if that event were to be a sufficing reason for altering the laws and manners and the very nature of all other nations. If the right hon. gentleman could find no other excuse for continuing the Alien bill now, except that the French monarchy was subverted thirty years ago, much as I complain of the silence of his noble friend, I must say that it would not have much injured his view of the question if he had altogether refrained from joining in the debate.

Sir, the truth is, and it is ridiculous to attempt to conceal it by any contrary assertions, that this Alien bill is nothing but a measure connected with our foreign policy. It is absurd to regard it in any other light. The true character of it was forcibly drawn by that distinguished individual whose seat I now so unworthily occupy—I mean sir Samuel Romilly—who said of it in 1816, that it was "in furtherance of the design of establishing governments throughout Europe in opposition to the will of the people." I care not how it is denied on the other side. I know that this is a measure of congress. It is part of the new European system of general police—it is part of that system which is to make Great Britain an accomplice in the conspiracy against the liberties of mankind, and is to degrade our English minister for the home department into a mere runner for the continental cabinets. The hon. member for Bossiney (Mr. Ward), very well portrayed the extreme folly of pretending that our domestic tranquillity could be affected by the machinations of foreigners, even supposing them to be ill disposed towards us. To his speech I would add a great authority, that of Mr. Fox, who in 1793, held up to the scorn of this House the supposition that sedition could be spread and treason taught in broken English.

Sir, you might as well legislate against Punch, as against such imaginary mischief makers. The argument used by the friends of this measure has always applied to foreign and not to domestic policy. I am not talking of the first introduction of this sort of bill in 1793. I admit that at that period the danger was thought to be at home, and every sort of terrific topic was conjured up to engage the House of Commons to innovate upon the ancient practice of the constitution—amongst other assertions, perhaps the noble lord may recollect that it was said that 400 foreigners, all armed, had entered London in one day. Mr. Burke was inclined to admit the fact, but he denied the inference. He did not think these men either with or without arms were to be dreaded.—No,—they were his beloved royalists—the expelled partisans of the ancient system in France. He, however, was terrified by, and terrified the House with, the prospect of the thousands of Jacobins that might inundate our shores, and thus, as usual, the parliament was frightened into the resignation of one right, for the sake, as the constant excuse is, of securing all the rest.

Since 1793, however, the language used by ministers in recommending their Alien bills, has always referred to the governments of other countries rather than to our own. In 1802, when the peace Alien bill was passed, we were told, that the government of the consuls was unstable, and that we were to adhere to war regulations. In 1814, not being able to complain of the instability of Buonaparte, we complained of the instability of the Bourbons—it would not do to permit the enemies of that dynasty to carry on their plots against it in this country. So the peace Alien bill was to protect the recovered crown of France. In 1816, the pretext was still more openly confined to foreign policy. The noble lord opposite distinctly said;—"that the Alien bill would not be displeasing to foreign powers."—He said "that every vicious principle was not cradicated in France." He stated that the English army being in France, the Alien bill was a measure calculated to act in unison, as it were, with the temporary occupation of the French territory.—Every argument used had a direct reference to the preservation of the Bourbons, not of the House of Brunswick. Amongst others it was alleged, that eight and thirty exiled regicides and Napo-leonists were trying to fix upon some spot where to direct their shafts against the restored princes, and that we should not suffer them to fix here.—In 1818, the same tenor was observed in all the arguments of the noble lord and his friends. the noble lord directly confessed that "at all events, until we saw the result of withdrawing the army from France, we should take every precautionary measure." It was also added by the noble lord, that plots had been formed in the Netherlands.—Plots against whom?—against England? No. Against France—against the Bourbons—against the duke of Wellington, the commander-in-chief of the armies that supported the Bourbons.—The danger was never said to be directed against us then; nor would it be said to be directed against us now; were it not that all foreign excuses are out of the question; and now the noble lord must look for an excuse, where he never can find one, at home.

Sir, there is not a shadow of a pretext for continuing this bill.—-The allied armies have been withdrawn from France.—Nothing has occurred to show that measure to have been imprudent: if the withdrawing 150,000 men from France has not endangered the dynasty; will it be endangered by withdrawing this Alien bill from England? The measures were co-temporary, and confessed to be of the same kind. We have almost a promise of the noble lord that they should expire together; but he can give up the array; he can restore the French fortresses; he will not give up the Alien bill; he will not restore to us our free constitution, or our hospitable character, such as we enjoyed them in our happier and more glorious days.—The excuse of commotion in France exists no longer;—the uneasy spirit which was once believed to stalk abroad from that country, seeking whom it might devour in this and other nations, seems laid for ever; or at least is now at rest.—The revolutionary Archimedes who terrified the imagination of the right honourable the president of the board of control in 1818, can hardly haunt him now—There is no such phantom seeking for some place where to put his foot and only wanting such a place, such a it was in order to unhinge and subvert the moral universe.

What object then do ministers propose to themselves by passing this law? The pretext of intestine danger is too idle to engage a moment's inquiry.—If our own laws, with all their increased severities, are sufficient to keep down seventeen millions of our own fellow subjects, with their facilities for treasonable operations, will they not be sufficient to keep down 25,000 foreigners who must necessarily be in comparison altogether powerless for such an object? We have done without this law before, through many an eventful period, when the throne was really beset by the emissaries of foreign potentates, and when a party in this country looked for foreign aid in order to accomplish their traitorous designs. But, Sir, as I before said, it would be a waste of words to attempt to show what was the former policy of this great nation respecting foreigners.—We may go back to Magna Charta;—we may go to still earlier times;—for in the laws of Ethelred we recognize the first trace of that liberal disposition which distinguished us for so many subsequent ages; and which it was reserved for the noble lord opposite to discourage for a season; or, perhaps to crush for ever. These are the days in which all our Gothic virtues are to receive their final dismissal.—Already they have placed their last footsteps upon English ground, and are about to take their leave of the degenerate offspring of parents, famous for their unshaken attachment to their free and generous institutions.

Again, I ask the noble lord what advantage does he propose to himself or to the nation by continuing this odious measure? Doubtless his lordship would be too patriotic to care for any sacrifice of fame or character which he might endure for the public benefit; but he may still not object to retain as much of private esteem as is compatible with his situation as minister. I may, therefore, be excused for telling him, that by continuing this bill he suffers no little loss of personal reputation in the eyes of the continental nations. Sir, it was my fate to witness the reception given to that noble lord, when he first appeared amongst the allies in 1813. Europe was then bursting those bonds which had so long enchained all her children and the noble lord. The representative of that nation which had so long maintained a single-handed struggle against tyranny, was hailed as the harbinger of universal freedom and of perpetual peace. Never shall I forget the enthusiasm, the delight, the transport, which preceded his approach. The lines of Dryden were not so truly applied to his favourite Absalom, as they might have been used to portray the reception given to the noble lord by the nations of the continent at that auspicious period:— Thee, Saviour, thee, a nation's vows confess And, never satisfied with seeing, bless. Swift, unbespoken pomps thy steps proclaim, And stammering babes are taught to bless thy name. I recollect, and I trust without being guilty of the impertinence of praise I may be allowed to record the pleasure and the pride which I myself felt at being one of the nation so represented. I contrasted the modest yet manly demeanor, the simple yet decisive address of that noble person, with the less natural manners of foreign diplomatists. I thought I saw in the noble lord a fit representative of the strength and the honesty and the courage of my own mighty nation. Although as far as I had presumed to form a political opinion, that opinion had always been at variance with the measures of the noble lord. I could not help flattering myself that under his auspices Great Britain would seize the favourable moment, and having subverted tyranny, would establish freedom, and become the first, the greatest, the most lasting benefactress of mankind. But how was I deceived! how were the hopes of all Europe blighted almost in the bud! how changed was the aspect under which the noble lord was beheld in a very few years, I may almost say a few months, after the time I have before alluded to! In 1816 and in 1817 I had again an opportunity of surveying the same scenes and the same people. It is true that I saw only the surface of those things of which his lordship may have fathomed the depths; but it was the surface which I had before seen, and I may venture to assert, that the surface was not partially but totally changed. The opinion of cabinets may have been different, but only one sentiment prevailed amongst all classes of society, respecting the policy or the character of the noble lord. It is true that the ministers of foreign potentates did regard his lordship with the eye of affection. They saw in him an accomplice of their own schemes against public liberty. I recollect very well in 1817. that a secretary of state for one of those potentates, not of the first rank, but still much above the class of princes, who, as the right hon. the president of the board of control said, the other evening, furnish three soldiers, and the fraction of a corporal, to the armies of congress—this secretary, talking of the suspension of our Habeas Corpus act, and of the Alien bill, said, that he was glad that at last Great Britain pursued a policy gimilar to that of the continental cabinets, and became thus a member of the great European system. Such praise was sufficiently intelligible to me; but had I not understood it, I should have been assisted by the comment afforded by the voice of the people, when speaking of the same system and of the same personage. With the people, indeed, of every state, the noble lord was regarded with far different feelings. In him they saw the betrayer of Genoa; in him they saw the chief instrument, and the efficient organ, of that confederacy which had transferred the Lombards to their ancient tyrants; which had handed over the Belgians to an odious do- mination; which had partitioned Saxony, which, from the Alps of Norway to the Straits of Messina, had crushed the hopes of liberty, and had violated the rights and the very feelings of mankind. Such is the character under which the noble lord then and now presents himself to our continental brethren. And wherefore, and for what, has he sacrificed the fair reputation which he once enjoyed? Perhaps he fancies, that, at the ambulatory congresses, he is better received and holds a higher place amongst the Hardenberghs and Mettenichs when trading, if I may use the expression, as the master of a nation of slaves, than as a minister of a people, governed by free and generous institutions, I fear that is the real fact; I fear that the noble lord imagines he is a more important member of congress, when he can boast that he can deliver up any unfortunate object of foreign persecution, than when he is not fortified with his Alien bill, and is only one amongst a nation of freemen, bound to protect foreigners by the glorious usage of many ages. But the noble lord surely deceives himself; he maybe received with hollow smiles and pretended deference, but would he not be in reality a thousand times more important with the ministers of foreign states, if he still continued to represent a people true to their ancient character, jealous of their ancient institutions, the uncompromising protectors of the oppressed of all nations, and the resolute patrons of liberty in every quarter of the globe? In the more glorious days of our history, when a Milton wrote what a Cromwell dictated, we asserted our right to protect the oppressed even in the domains of foreign tyrants. Behold the unhappy contrast! we now drive the wretched objects of persecution even from our ownshores, and are ourselves the accomplices of cruelty and despotism. This is a new feature in the face of tyranny; even those, not famous for mercy, have distinguished themselves by affording a refuge to the persecuted. The duke of Alva himself protected the Flemish refugees. The sanguinary master of Louis 13th received the Moors of Spain. Even Alexander 6th, a monster to his own subjects, was the protector of a Mahometan exile, the brother of Bajazet, who would have purchased his surrender at a price higher than the noble lord will receive for any of our foreign refugees. The practice and the principles of the once flourishing states of Holland have been already quoted in former debates on this subject. The fact is, that this bill is contrary to all the soundest maxims of policy, as well as to the genuine interests of liberty. The fact is, that if these measures are to be the fruit of long civilization, all the ties by which the society of nations has long been knit together, will be gradually dissolved; and we shall return to that wild and savage character which it seems belonged to us when Horace described the inhabitants of this island as— ——Britannos hospitibus feros. In those days, however, this trait was one of the features of a rude, suspicious liberty—now, it will be only one of the many signs of degradation and slavery. The existence of such a law has already made us despicable abroad. I have myself lived to see that commanding superiority of air and manner which distinguished an Englishman erect amongst all the nations of the continent, not only much lowered, but almost lost, and sunk into insignificance by the consciousness of partaking in the loss of national character, which this bill and similar traits of policy have caused. A few years ago there was no one of our countrymen so mean as not to feel himself protected, as it were, by the genius of liberty. But at this day there is no respect from others, there is no self-satisfaction, which makes us glory in the name of Britons. The measure which we give to foreigners here is meted out to us abroad—our gentry, our nobles, are made the objects of suspicion—are beset with spies—are watched and hunted from place to place—nay, there have been instances of a spot being as it were fixed upon for the abode of an Englishman of bad, that is, of liberal principles, as being the only place in which the jealousy of the sovereigns of Europe would allow so dangerous an incendiary to live and move and have his being. Thus it is that the continent and England are one vast prison, pervaded in every quarter by the eye of tyranny, without a corner of escape or refuge for the victims of oppression. We are, however, confidently told, that the power thus given to ministers has never been abused; that only nine foreigners have been deported under this act. If nine hundred had been sent away we should then have been told that experience had proved the measure to be most serviceable and requisite. Now, that almost none have been the objects of the act, we are desired to observe how fit our ministers are to be trusted with exorbitant power The truth, however, is, that the power has been abused, and must be, from the nature of it, abused. What was the case of Mr. Deboffe, who was threatened with transportation if he sold a certain book? what was the case of Mr. Befort detailed by sir Samual Romilly in 1816, who was sent out of the country for corresponding with the miserable monks of La Trappe? What was the case of Madame Monthoton, mentioned the other day by the gallant general, the member for Southward? If used at all, there must be an ill use made of such powers. Allow me to state that we have a whole department which may make a most pernicious use of this act—I mean the colonial department. We heard it laid down the other night by the president of the board of control, as a notorious truth, that the colonies of states governed by popular assemblies, are worse administered than those of other forms of government. If so, many must be the abuses, and I need not say that many are the abuses, of our colonial administration. Suppose, then, a native of our colonies should come over here to complain of any grievance—suppose he should make himself rather troublesome to the secretaries for the colonial department—how simple a process to return for answer, that the Alien bill is in force; and if he still continues pressing, how easy to give him a discharge in full by a warrant ordering him out of the kingdom. I am not quite clear that the natives of Parga, who have been in this capital to reclaim some portion of that property which we had guaranteed and failed to procure for them, I am not sure that they have not received an intimation somewhat to this effect. At any rate, such a proceeding might be resorted to, and I see nothing in his majesty's government to convince me that it would not be resorted to if thought convenient. And here I must say, that I think the Westminster householders who petitioned the other day against this bill on account of the probability that it might operate to the prejudice of the queen, were quite correct in their view of this measure. I say that the manner in which the queen has been treated makes it probable that very unfair advantage will be taken of her—[Here a loud cry of Order from the benches below the Treasury bench. Mr. Hobhouse sat down—a loud cry of Hear! from the opposition benches—Mr. H. continued]. I see not how I am out of order, but I clearly see the truth of the observation made by the Roman historian, that in the decline of a free state, there are many men more ready to rush into servitude than their masters are willing to require their submission. But, Sir, I was about to observe, that this bill must put into the hands of ministers the power of sending out of the country the witnesses whom the queen may summon from abroad. And who shall say that they will not exercise this power? When this was first hinted the other night, the suspicion was thought almost monstrous; it was said to be as bad as suspecting a primitive Roman of parricide. These mild, these moderate, these innocent ministers—these gentlemen whose whole life has been a sacrifice of their power and of their passions on the altar of public freedom—who have suspended none of our liberal laws—who have never come to this House for acts of indemnity—who have suffered the reins of government to float idly in their hands—who have added neither to our armies nor to our penal statutes—who have encouraged no prosecutions—who have abetted no massacres—in short, under whose sway the old Saturnian times seem to have been restored;—these disinterested statesmen are surprised, are shocked, that there is any one so hardy as to libel them with the suspicion that there is any power too great to be entrusted to their considerate hands. But, Sir, in spite of their notorious virtues—in spite of the forbearance which may be the characteristic of ministers, I confess I would not trust them, or any men with ten times their good qualities, with an excess of power. On this account, Sir, I think the Westminster petitioners, and the learned member for Knaresborough were quite right in asking for some guarantee against the possibility of this bill's being directed against the interests of the queen. The ministers, and perhaps the two Houses of Parliament, may satisfy themselves of the rectitude of their intentions, but the people of England are more than afraid; they feel assured, that all the proceedings against her majesty are stained with injustice of the deepest dye, and this persuasion has made them fear still further infractions of the principles of justice against that unfortunate woman.

Sir; this bill is merely a part of that fatal system by which the gentlemen opposite have thought it easiest to govern this country, and to coincide with the views of foreign tyrants.—I do not accuse the noble lord of a settled plan to establish a despotism upon the ruins of English liberty;—but I do accuse him of resolving to rule by such expedients as appear to him most easy and at hand;—and of adopting such expedients, however at variance they may be with the principles of our free constitution.—Hence our gagging bills—hence our standing armies—hence the avowed infringement on the ancient institutions of this once-happy country.—This Alien bill bears the same impression;—and is apart of the same plan of suppressing popular opinions in every country, and amongst all nations cursed by subjection to the holy alliance.—Yet if the noble lord would but look around him;—if he would recur to the experience of past times, he would be forced to acknowledge that such a system cannot finally be triumphant. Already has one nation shaken oft the yoke; and who shall say that the example of Spain may not be followed by all the people of Europe, impatient of bondage, and only waiting for the fortunate moment which may enable them to throw oft' their detested chains.—I would pray the noble lord to pause in his career. If he thinks that the people of England cannot live with their ancient laws and rights, he may be assured that the people of England are convinced that they cannot live without them. They call upon the noble lord and his colleagues to restore to them the full enjoyment of those privileges which they inherited from their forefathers, and which they have done nothing to forfeit. Amongst those privileges they claim their ancient right of protecting all the children of misfortune—all the victims of despotism—they would still be able to say of their country as was once said of Rome, Hᔣcest in gremio victos quae sola recepit.' Sir; I conclude by moving as an amendment that this bill be read a third time this day six months.

Mr. C. Smith

supported the bill.

Mr. Monck

strongly condemned the bill. He considered it to grow out of a mysterious and undefined attempt to hunt down the liberal minded men—the whigs of the continent—who were deserving of an asylum in this country. He was sorry to see a conspiracy formed against liberty, against all free and popular institutions; it was not for Great Britain, herself so long the seat of freedom, to check the spirit of the age, and to oppose the progress of public opinion. He looked on the bill as inhospitable to strangers, and as disgraceful to the name and character of England.

Sir R. Wilson

said, he had heard no arguments to make him view the bill in a more favourable light than he formerly did. He was glad the clauses which had been proposed had been rejected, as he thought it better the bill should pass with all its obnoxiousness about it. Of one thing he was certain, that whilst it continued to be the law of the land, the millions of the continent would consider this country as at war with their liberties.

The question being put, that the bill be now read the third time, the House divided: Ayes, 69; Noes, 23. The bill was then read a third time and passed.

List of the Minority.
Barrett, S. M. La Touche, Robt.
Barham, Jos. F. Monck, J. B.
Benett, John Newport, Sir John.
Colburne, N. R. Palmer, C. F.
Duncannon, viscount Prittie, Hon. F. A.
Fitzgerald, Lord W. Rice,T. S.
Fitzgerald, Rt. Hon. M. Smith, Robert
Graham, J. R. G. Smith, Wm.
Grant, J. P. Western, C. C.
Hill, Lord A. Williams, Wm.
Hume, Jos. TELLERS.
Hutchinson, Hon. C. H. Hobhouse, J. C.
Lennard, T. B. Wilson, Sir R.