HC Deb 10 March 1823 vol 8 cc521-32

On the order of the day for bringing up the Report of the Committee on the Army Estimates,

Mr. Hume

said, he wished to offer a few observations before the report was received. It would be remembered, that his majesty, in the late speech from the throne, when speaking of the estimates for the current year, had said, that they were prepared with every attention to economy, and that the total expenditure would be found materially below that for the last year. Experience had taught him to place little confidence in the promises held out in these speeches from the throne; and, upon the present occasion, a comparison of the proposed estimates with those of last year, justified his suspicions. The army estimates for last year amounted to 6,103,068l.; and, for the present, to 6,087,398l.: making a difference of only 15,670l. Surely this could not be the material difference which his majesty said would arise! He was aware, that, in the state of Spain, it might not be advisable to reduce the military establishment; but why were economical expectations held out, which it was not intended to realize? It was not with any intention to take the sense of the House upon it, that he should propose an amendment, but merely with the view of putting upon record the opinion it contained. It was as follows: "That it appears, by the estimates on the table of the House, that 6,103,068l. was voted for the ordinary services of the army in 1822; and that the estimates for the same services for 1823, amount to 6,087,398l., being only 15,670l. less for this year than for the last year; that, therefore, this House is of opinion, that so very small a reduction in the estimates of upwards of six millions sterling, has not realized the expectations raised by the speech from the throne, which stated, that the estimates of the current year have been framed with every attention to economy, and the total expenditure will be found to be materially below that of last year.'"

Colonel Davies

said, that if he did not at present offer any opposition to the amount of an estimate which, under ordinary circumstances, he should think excessive, it was because he feared that war was almost inevitable, not merely between France and Spain, but between France and England.

Lord Palmerston

said, it might be very proper for the House to express an opinion upon this subject, when it should have seen all the estimates; but before it had seen the charges for all the different heads of service, he thought that the expression of such an opinion would be at least premature. Last session he had informed the House, that, should the same establishments be kept up as was then provided for, the charge for the present year would be increased on various accounts, by 50,000l. But, instead of that being the case, the charge was nearly 18,000l. less than last year. Now, in point of fact, he was entitled to assume the 50,000l. in question as saving also, which, added to the 18,000l., would amount to 68,000l. But 18,000l. at any rate was reduced.

The amendment was negatived without a division. The report being brought up,

Mr. Grey Bennet

said, he thought the present establishment totally disproportionate to the state of the country. If affairs on the continent of Europe should experience a favourable change, he would bring forward a motion for the reduction of that establishment.

On the resolution, "That 114,337l. 1s. 2d. be granted for Allowances to the principal Officers of the Public Departs meats,"

Mr. Hume

wished to know whether there was any chance that the business of the arrear department of the noble lord's office would ever be settled? The promise held out in the first instance was, that a very short space of time would suffice for the completion of that business, Cases of peculiar hardship had arisen out of this institution. Officers, whose accounts were disputed, had been obliged to remain for years without pay, and, it; some cases, to refund, after extraordinary lapses of time, sums, of their liability to pay which they could have formed no conception. He thought it was not right to allow the accounts of individuals to run on for five and twenty years, and then to call on them, or their representatives, to make good deficiencies. He entreated the noble lord to put an end to this establishment, which cost the country 15,000l. a year.

Mr. T. Wilson

heartily concurred in the remarks of the hon. gentleman. Cases had occurred, within his own knowledge, of extreme severity.

Lord Palmerston

said, he perfectly concurred in what had been said, as to the hardship of many of the cases, and had felt himself at liberty to relax very considerably that rigour which be would always apply to the examination of recent accounts. When, however, it did appear on the face of an officer's accounts, that he had received a sum of money which he did not account for, he (lord P.) could not think it a hard proceeding to call on such an individual for his balance. From 122 accounts of agents, and 943 accounts of paymasters, there had been struck off the sum of 45,245l. by the researches of the department alluded to. He maintained, that this sum was as much saved to the public, as if it had been paid into the Treasury. Of monies received from the agents, there had also been actually paid into the Bank 15,757l. The whole expense of the department employed to call in these deficiencies had not been more than 8,170l. So that the charge had been amply covered by the produce of the labour.

Agreed to. On the resolution, "That 19,384l. 4s. 2d. be granted for the charge of Volunteer Corps in Ireland,"

Mr. Hume

observed, that the act for keeping up the volunteer corps in Ireland would expire in April. He wished the House to consider how far it might be desirable not to renew it. When originally embodied, they consisted of Catholics and Protestants indiscriminately, and that they had been of great use nobody could deny. But, in the lapse of time, various abuses had crept into those corps, by which they had been rendered no longer equal to the duties which they formerly performed. Instead of being serviceable in maintaining the public peace, they had lately been the cause of more public disturbances than any other set of men. The right hon. secretary (Mr. Peel) had admitted, on a former evening, that the greater part of the yeomanry in the north of Ireland were Orangemen. He had also expressed his disapprobation of secret oaths. Now, if the right hon. secretary brought in his bill to prevent such secret oaths from being administered in Ireland, in what situation would he find himself as to the Orangemen, who formed so large a part of these volunteer corps? Was it possible for him to undo oaths already taken? Was it fitting that they should remain in such corps, after taking those oaths, the terms of which had been stated to the House on a former evening? There were in Ireland 32 counties. The number of yeomanry was 30,786. But how were they apportioned? In the nine counties of Ulster, there were no less than 20,131; while in the 12 counties of Leinster, there were only 5,915; in the six counties of Munster, 2,361; and in the five counties of Connaught, 2,379. If the yeomanry were of use for the preservation of the public peace, why not send larger bodies to those places in which the public peace was most liable to be broken? If it were not so, however—if they were kept up principally for party purposes, then it was the duty of parliament to put them down. It had become the practice not to admit any individual into these corps who was not an Orangeman [No, no!]. He would appeal to the hon. member for Armagh, whether that was not the practice? What was the case in Derry? When the Derry yeomanry were first embodied, they amounted to little more than 200 individuals, Catholics as well as Protestants. But now their number was doubled; but he doubted whether there was one Catholic in it. That corps was an exclusive body, comprised of what was culled the loyal party; and it had often been made the cause of disturbance rather than the means of preserving tranquillity. He would ask the attorney-general for Ireland, whether he had not repeatedly received complaints of the ill conduct of the Orange yeomanry towards their Catholic fellow-subjects? Shortly after the institution of certain legal proceedings in Dublin, had not that right hon. member himself been burnt in effigy, and otherwise publicly condemned for his conduct by the yeomanry and other Orangemen of various parts of the country. Was it not matter of general notoriety, that the public peace had been, in various instances, broken by those who were armed for the express purpose of preserving it? If they wished to discountenance such practices, the most effectual course would be to resist the proposed grant. With this view, he should propose, as an amendment, "That the sum granted should not exceed 9,692l. 2s. 1d. being sufficient to support the corps for six months."

Sir John Brydges

said, he did not know the source whence the hon. member had derived his information, but he would take the liberty of telling him, that it was incorrect. During the whole of the late rebellion he had had the honour to serve in Ireland, and to have several yeomanry corps under his command, and he was bound to declare, that no men could perform their duty with more zeal and energy than those corps had done. The hon. member was quite mistaken in supposing, that the only qualification necessary to obtain admission into a yeomanry corps was to be an Orangeman. He (sir J. B.) knew of no other qualification than loyalty and good conduct. He supposed the hon. member proposed his amendment upon economical grounds. If that were the case, the hon. member would find himself mistaken. There was no species of military force so constitutional, and at the same time so economical, as the yeomanry corps.

Sir George Hill

said, he could not have anticipated that he should have had to express obligation on any subject to the member for Aberdeen, yet he now offered him his thanks for having given him an opportunity of refuting the acrimonious, malignant, and unfounded aspersions which he had cast upon the yeomanry corps of Ireland, and particularly against the Londonderry yeomanry, which the hon. member had ventured to assert were raised for the purposes of disturbance. Now, he desired he would state from what source he had presumed to make such an assertion.

Mr. Bennet

intimated that Mr. Hume had not used the expression.

Sir G. Hill

resumed. He maintained, that when any hon. member aspersed a body of men who had performed such signal services to their country, it was his duty to give up the source of his offensive statements. He suspected he knew the source from whence they came. He utterly denied that such a qualification was required for becoming a member of a yeomanry corps as that he should have previously entered into the Orange association. The oath of allegiance in Ireland, as in England, was the only measure of qualification required; and if such corps were considered essential to the peace of this country, how much more necessary must they be to the preservation of the peace of Ireland. It had been stated, and truly stated, on an important occasion November last, that in three provinces out of four in Ireland, a treasonable association and conspiracy existed, for the purpose of overthrowing the constitution, of upsetting the Protestant religion, and extirpating the Protestants of Ireland—an association which he could prove had existed since the year 1811. On what authority had that statement been made? On no less than that of the attorney-general, during the recent trials of the Ribbonmen in Dublin; where it likewise was stated by him, that these conspirators deprecated these premature bursts of rebellion in the south and west of Ireland, and that they had not waited for a favourable occasion, when one common and successful effort might have been made. Such were the dangers which surrounded the loyal people of Ireland, for whose protection the body of men who were now so grossly calumniated had been raised, yet whom it was proposed at once to annihilate. The hon. member having so pointedly alluded to the Londonderry corps, the House would permit him briefly to state what had been the conduct of that corps. Having offered their services generally to government, for any part of Ireland, an additional military force being required in the south, 300 of this corps were placed on permanent duty in Derry, from the 24th Oct. 1821, until the 24th June, 1822, thereby liberating a regiment of the line to quell the disturbances in the south. The 7th December, being the anniversary of the shutting of the gates of Derry, in 1688, occurred during the permanent duty of this corps—a day which had hitherto been celebrated annually since that glorious event, with cheerfulness and harmony; yet, in Dec. 1821, during the permanent duty of this corps, the usual ceremony was altogether abstained from by them, in deference to the modern offence taken at such exhibitions; and up to the close of their permanent duty in June last, not a complaint of any description was brought against them. But this attempt of the hon. member to asperse this corps, was not the first that had been made. On the 22nd Sept. 1821, his hon. friend, the under secretary of state, one of the members for the county of Londonderry, and himself, arrived at his residence in the neighbourhood of that city. Within an hour after their arrival, a body of about 300 citizens came from the town to welcome their return amongst them His hon. friend and himself received this compliment with all due acknowledgments to these affectionate and loyal friends: they shortly stated to them the object and result of his majesty's then recent visit to Dublin, his admonitory advice, which they were all bound to follow, and which might readily be done without any compromise of their politics. Such was the nature of and substance of what passed on this interview, which did not last more than half an hour. It did not appear on this occasion, that there was one single yeoman in arms or in uniform. That there might have been some few members of the corps in the crowd assembled, he would not pretend to deny; but in the capacity of citizens and constituents alone, they made this visit to his hon. friend and himself. Was there any breach of conciliation in this proceeding? Yet the House would be surprised to learn, that on the following Sunday a representation was made, and a memorial forwarded from the Roman Catholic chapel of Derry, to the government of Ireland, signed, as coming from the Roman Catholics of Derry, by a chairman and a secretary, accusing him and the yeomanry of Derry of an infringement of his majesty's admonitory letter, and of having, on that occasion, in the capacity of armed yeomanry, offered outrage and insult to the Roman Catholics of Derry. Without any explanation required from him, this complaint and memorial were transmitted to the brigade major of the district, with orders to hold an immediate court of inquiry on the subject. The brigade major gave notice of trial, which was held in public; it lasted four days, himself and his corps subjected to a statement made against them of an able lawyer; many witnesses were examined, yet none of the yeomanry were proved to have assembled, as such, upon the occasion alluded to, in uniform or in arms. Party tunes were alleged to have been played; and what were they? "The Protestant Boys," "Croppies lie down," and "God save the King." The whole evidence was reported to the government, which afforded a complete refutation of all the charges that had been made, or that this assemblage was intended other than as a mark of esteem to their representatives. A letter was consequently addressed on the part of government, to himself and to his corps, stating that the charges were considered by the government to be totally un- founded. This had been one of the many modes taken in Ireland, for promoting harmony and conciliation between the Protestants and Roman Catholics!—The Yeomanry of Ireland, not only deserved, but required their confidence, in the present situation of that country. Rebellion in the south was going on at that hour, and treasonable conspiracies in other parts; and it was impossible that human nature could bear to hear, night after night, the aspersions that had been cast upon these valuable corps. He was not, and never had been an Orangeman—he was neither bound by oath or association to those bodies. He had been brought up in what were called Orange principles; he prided himself in them, and would maintain them to the day of his death; but, with secret oaths or secret associations he had nothing to do. Those associations were mostly to be found amongst tradesmen and farmers, who, impelled by the first principles of human nature, those of self-preservation, had originally associated for the sake of protection, and nothing else. With respect to the projected bill for extending the law of England to Ireland, with regard to secret oaths, he was not one of those who would uphold the doctrine, that what was illegal in England, might with impunity be done in Ireland. Therefore he was decidedly for assimilating the law in both countries. Loyalty was peculiarly to be encouraged in the present times. Ultra loyalty was no doubt the leading crime attributed to the Orangemen, but loyalty of every kind was not necessarily or usefully promoted by secret oaths.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, he was as strongly opposed as any man could be to the principles upon which the Orange societies were founded; but he knew that they comprised among their members some of the most honourable men in the country, whose power of utility was only cramped by their party ties. That observation applied both to the sworn Orangemen and to those who, like the right hon. baronet, had taken the infection in the natural way. That right hon. baronet seemed to think, that the oath was the only objectionable circumstance connected with the Orange associations. He disclaimed the oath, but he declared that he would cherish the spirit of Orangeism. The right hon. baronet must know, that it was not the oath alone which rendered those societies bad. The ceremony of taking an oath was used in the Freemasons' society; but no objection was ever made to that. Nor were the Orange societies made the subjects of censure merely on account of the oath which was taken by their members, but because they tended to endanger the peace of the country. The conduct of Orangemen was frequently defended in particular instances; but it could not be denied, that they were generally opposed to the feelings of the majority of the people of Ireland. Supposing the Catholics were the minority, what would be said, if they made an ostentatious display of their superiority by celebrating the triumphs which had procured them that superiority? The Orangemen in Ireland were in the habit of celebrating the battle of the Boyne. Such a proceeding might be very proper in England; but in Ireland it excited feelings of anger in the great mass of the population. That would not appear extraordinary, when it was recollected, that king William, in conquering James, had subdued the legitimate king of the Irish, who professed their religion; and that the consequence of the victory was the forfeiture of land to the extent of upwards of a million acres, and outlawries to the amount of 4,000l. He was of opinion, that the introduction of Orange societies in Ireland was to be attributed to the police establishment at Limerick. The hon. member next referred to an address presented to Geo. 2nd, strongly complaining of the spirit of party in Ireland, and stating, that those who fostered that spirit, however high their titles, their fortune or power, were enemies to their country, to order, and tranquillity. He concluded by calling on all who wished to see Ireland what she ought to be, to inculcate the principles laid down in the king's letter. If remonstrance should be found of no avail, he did not hesitate to say, that other steps ought to be taken—not to put down the Orangemen, but to restore them, the soundest part of the people, to those views that would render them the support and ornament of their country.

Mr. Dawson,

said, his hon. friend was incorrect in stating, that the police establishments introduced Orangeism into the south of Ireland. As a proof of the contrary, the following lines had been, for ages, inscribed on the gates of Bandon:— Turk, Jew, or Atheist May enter here, but not a Papist. Now, Bandon was the centre of Orange- ism, and long had been so. It was unfair for gentlemen who knew nothing of Ireland, to make assertions reflecting upon others, and which must remove every hope of that conciliation which was so anxiously called for. It had been said that the Catholics were not allowed to enter into yeomanry corps. The fact was not so. The Catholics might have become members if they wished. In the north of Ireland, where the yeomanry were in greater numbers, the country was tranquil, and the laws respected; but in the southern parts, where the yeomanry force was small, the laws were violated, and the people so lawless, so radically bad, that they neither feared God nor respected man.

Sir J. Newport

said, he had always been of opinion, that that kind of local force which might be so desirable for the protection of England, was not the best calculated for the preservation of the peace in Ireland; because there would be carried into it all those prejudices and party feelings, the effect of which it ought to be the object of such force to repress.

Mr. Plunkett

regretted that any thing should have passed calculated to disturb that conciliatory spirit in which the House had been left, upon this subject, at the conclusion of a former debate. He had asked, whether certain facts had not come officially before him, showing that the yeomanry corps in Ireland had, in many instances, contributed to disturb the public peace? He distinctly answered, that no such instances had come before him, and he did not believe the fact. He felt it his duty to say, that, generally speaking, no such complaints had been preferred against them; and that they had been found extremely useful in preserving the peace of the country. At the same time, he could not but regret that so few Homan Catholics were enrolled in that body; and he regretted to hear it asserted, that that fact was to be attributed to their own fault. He remembered well the first establishment of those corps in Ireland. He had the honour of being amongst the first by whom their institution had been suggested. The suggestion was made at his house, in the year 1796; and an offer was made to the government by the profession to which he belonged, of their services. But he would state, as a fact, that the rebellion, to put down which this aid had been offered, was hatched and planned and carried on at that time not by the Catholics, but by the Dissenting Protestants of the north, and that from Dublin to Bantry-bay, there was not then a single Catholic an united Irishman. At that period the Catholic peasantry had shown the greatest alacrity in drawing the artillery for the king's forces. He could say, from his own experience, that the Catholics were anxious to enrol themselves in the yeomanry corps; but he was sorry to add, that the Protestants almost invariably refused them admittance. They then endeavoured to form a corps of their own; but were prevented by the interference of the government. They then desired to be admitted into any corps that would receive them. He was happy to state, as a proof of the liberality of the profession, that they were at last admitted into the lawyers' corps, and he could assure the House, that a great number of the individuals with whom he was then associated were Catholics. The Orangemen of that day were undoubtedly loyal men; but it appeared to him, that whilst they were busy in putting down rebellion with one hand, they were no less busy in exciting it with the other. He had, therefore, upon some individuals appearing with Orange symbols in his corps, employed every means in his power, and with success, to prevent their appearing a second time in the same costume. He entertained hopes, that, if the measures for which the Irish government had called, were granted, the evil complained of would be exterminated. He knew of no measure that would be more effectual in putting, it down than the Orange associations being deserted by those who were now at the head of them. He would concur in every thing that might be said in praise of the honourable feelings by which the members of those societies were actuated. But he preferred the policy of giving them the opportunity of quitting those societies of their own accord, to the policy of putting down the societies themselves by measures of force and harshness.

Mr. Goulburn

insisted, that the services of the Irish yeomanry corps had been productive of the greatest benefits. Was it right, then, to disband them in the summary manner that was now proposed?

General Hart

bore testimony to the good conduct of the yeomanry corps, and denied that the Catholics were excluded from them.

Mr. Abercromby

contended, that the amendment did not go the length of dis- banding the yeomanry corps of Ireland, but merely went to limit the supply for them to six months. His hon. friend had done so, because he wished to see the effect of the bills of which the right hon. gentleman opposite had given notice. Had it been his intention to disband these corps entirely, his hon. friend would have moved a negative on the resolution before the House.

Mr. Secretary Peel

objected to the amendment, both on the ground of conciliation and of economy, and regretted that it had been brought forward. The hon. gentleman had been grossly imposed upon. The person who had informed the hon. gentleman, could only have had mischief in view. If the motion were not withdrawn, he trusted it would be rejected by a signal majority.

Mr. Bennet

supported the amendment, as tending to promote union in Ireland, and break down that system of exclusion which was in existence.

Mr. Hume

then withdrew his amendment.