HC Deb 18 June 1824 vol 11 cc1463-8

On the order of the day for the third reading,

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that if this bill had come to them as an ordinary measure of government, he should have spoken with greater confidence; but seeing that it came from a committee, composed of nearly as large a proportion of independent as of ministerial members, he certainly felt some difficulties in standing up against it, But, even in the fact of such a committee being resorted to, he thought there was something to be objected to. For when so much as four millions a year was paid out of the pockets of the people of England, on account of the mal-government of Ireland, he thought the ministers themselves should take the responsibility of proposing the measures they thought necessary, leaving to parliament its proper office, not of originating, but of examining and investigating. The experience of the fact was strong against the Insurrection act. It had been tried, and had been found worse than useless. It had left the people of Ireland more irritated and discontented than it found them; yet, after the parade of appointing a committee, this was the gift that had been presented by it. The committee, in their report, stated, that the short time they had been appointed had not allowed them to investigate the causes of the disturbances that prevailed in a great part of Ireland. It was true, the time they had for investigating so fruitful a subject was short; but the evils in question were not new, the disturbances were not recent; and if they had not been long ago fully inquired into, the ministers and parliament were chargeable with neglect. It was ridiculous to suppose that the committee could act as a stop-gap of the evils of Ireland. He never would be a party to any compromise, though he knew the government would be too happy to make a cat's paw of the members, as they had before done, He could not conceive what could be the opinions of those gentlemen who had supported the continuance of the Insurrection act. The hon. member for Limerick had said the other night, that the result would soon be, that the act would not be required at all. Now, he (Mr. H.) thought that time had arrived; for it was clear that it produced no good whatever, but created evil to a great extent. Ministers wanted the committee, because they wanted the Insurrection act. From statements which had been made, the Irish people, instead of being the most generous, must be the most ferocious people on the earth; for they were represented as attached to nothing but turbulence and bloodshed. Now, if that were true, it must have arisen from some cause; and, from what more probable cause, than from the mis-government under which they had so long lived, and of which the Insurrection act formed so dreadful a part? There could be no doubt that, if behind every citizen (If Ireland there was placed a sol- dier with a sword, or an executioner with a rope, the country would be tranquil; but that would not be government. Something of this kind had been actually recommended in a Dublin newspaper, which received the patronage of certain clerical persons. In that paper he had seen it recommended, in no very equivocal terms, that the people in the South of Ireland should be extirpated. It was necessary for the House to know the manner in which the Insurrection act had operated. From returns it appeared, that under the act, 1707 persons had been apprehended; of these 271 were convicted, and 78 were punished; so that no fewer than 1,437 innocent men had been placed in confinement, in order to bring home conviction to 271. The hon. member then censured the extraordinary powers conferred upon the Irish magistrates by the act. An instance had occurred of a man being sent to prison for two months, for having been found out after sunset, although it was proved that he had been doing nothing but playing at cards. The hon. member then proceeded to point out the absurdity of complaints against the Catholic association, by men who favoured such associations as those of the Orangemen. If there was any danger, it must be from the Orange societies, which were held in secret, and not from the Catholic association, whose proceedings were carried on in the face of the public. It had been said, that Orange societies had been checked. He could see no proof of it. He found that they still continued to hold their meetings—that warrants were issued from the grand officers, authorising individuals to hold lodges; and the only difference he saw between the new warrants and those heretofore issued was, that the one was on parchment, and the other on common paper. He held two warrants of the new and old system in his hand. The new one had, like the old, the picture of king William on horseback, and it purported to be the appointment of a particular individual to hold a lodge. It was signed "O'Neil grand master" "A. B. King, grand treasurer" and "James Vernon, grand secretary." The hon. member, after stating his opinion, that, while there was a divided cabinet on the subject of Irish affairs, nothing would be done, and nothing was intended to be done, for that country, concluded by moving, that the bill be read a third time that day six months.

Mr. Calcraft

concurred with his hon. friend in thinking this bill odious and unconstitutional, and that it would be a blot and disgrace to our Statute-book, if it remained on it a moment longer than the situation of Ireland required it; but still he would support the measure, because in his conscience he believed, that, from the present temper of the people of Ireland, it would not be safe to let it remain without such an act. He would ask any man, whether he thought that Ireland could at present be left to the ordinary administration of the law; and if not, what measure could be more effectually applied to it than the one then before the House? This was a fair issue to rest the question upon; and he thought it would be most unwise to leave the country, in its present state, without some such protection; and this was the short history of his support of the measure.

General Hart

said, there was a very simple measure by which Ireland might be restored to tranquillity. It was merely, to surround the towns and large villages of that country with walls. He did not mean such walls as those of a regularly fortified place; but walls not much higher than our common park walls in this country. Let them be flanked with a few towers, with two or three guns on each, and by this means such protection would be afforded to the wives and children of the loyal and well-disposed inhabitants of the country, that they would have no hesitation in opposing themselves to the disaffected. Then government would know the strength of those who were disposed to support it, which was much greater than was imagined; but at present they were afraid to act, not having a sufficient protection for their families.

Sir F. Blake

said, he did not put so much trust in stone walls for the pacification of Ireland as the gallant general. He thought there was a much better remedy. He would advise—and he put the matter seriously to the liberal part of his majesty's ministers—that they should make the relief of the people of Ireland the sine qua non of their keeping office. If they did this, Ireland would soon be relieved, and her grievances redressed. He would advise them to press the question of Catholic emancipation session after session, and parliament after parliament, until they carried it by a triumphant majority; and as he could judge from the general tenour of his majesty's conduct, that he did not possess any scruples of conscience [a laugh], he was sure his majesty would not oppose himself to a measure so fraught with benefits to a large portion of his people, on the grounds on which it had been opposed by his predecessor. On the subject of Catholic emancipation, he looked upon the accession to the ministry of the right hon. secretary for foreign affairs as a great advantage. Nobody doubted his liberality, and nobody could doubt the good tendency of such liberal feeling on this question to the general pacification of Ireland: but nobody, also, doubted the sincerity of the opposition to that measure by the right hon. secretary for the home department. He was sincere, but still he was a dangerous opponent: because he so tempered his opposition, that men were often disposed to think him favourable to that cause which he seemed reluctantly to oppose. He was sometimes so moderate and temperate, that he was disposed to apply to him the words of the poet—"Cum talis sis utinam noster esses."

The House then divided; For the amendment 14. Against it 52. Majority 38. The bill was then read a third time.

List of the Minority.
Bennet, J. Scarlett, J.
Bright, H. Smith, W.
Brougham, H. Stewart, W. (Tyrone.)
Burdett, sir. F. Williams, J.
Denman, T. Wood, ald.
Ellice, E.
Grattan, J. TELLERS.
Mostyn, sir T. Hobhouse, J. C.
Palmer, C. Hume, J.
Mr. Denman

proposed the following clause as a rider to the bill:—That all offences under the Insurrection act should be tried by a jury." Mr Goulburn opposed, and Mr. S. Rice supported it. It was negatived without a division; as was also another clause by way of rider, proposed by Mr. S. Rice, giving to the prisoners the liberty of postponing their trials.

Mr. Denman

called the attention of the house to the clause whereby any subject of his majesty, not being a traveller or a resident, found in a licensed public-house between the hours of 9 o'clock in the evening and 6 in the morning, was rendered liable to transportation for seven years. The sting of this clause was, that the words "without lawful excuse" which were inserted in other parts of the bill, were omitted in this. If a man were found absent from his habitation at night, he was absolved from the penalties of this bill, supposing he could show lawful excuse. If he were found drunk in the streets during the prohibited hours, his intoxication was held to be a lawful excuse; but in case he was found sober in a licensed public-house between 9 and 10 o'clock, no matter what cause called him there, he was liable to be separated from his family for seven years. As it appeared from the evidence taken before the committee, that this clause had never been acted on by any magistrate, he begged leave to bring up a clause to repeal such part of this act, as rendered a man liable to transportation, who was found in a licensed public-house after the hours he had mentioned.

The motion was negatived.

Mr. Denman

referred to the 25th clause of the act, whereby it was enacted, that in case any person brought an action against a magistrate or constable for the malicious abuse of the powers of this act, and a jury awarded him damages proportioned to their sense of the injury inflicted, it should be lawful, on the Judge certifying on the record, that the party against whom the action was brought had probable cause for what he had done, to reduce the damages to 6d. and to give no costs of suit. Now, he wished to repeal this clause, and to compel the party to pay the damages awarded by the jury. It was not right that a judge should have the power of thus altering the verdict of a jury.

Mr. Goulburn

contended, that the learned member had given the House an incorrect view of this part of the act, by reading only one half of the clause. He ought to have read the other half, by which it was enacted, that, in case the judge did not certify on the record, that the magistrate had probable cause, the plaintiff obtained not only the damages awarded him by the jury, but also treble costs.

The clause was rejected, and the bill passed.