HC Deb 20 April 1826 vol 15 cc498-502
Mr. Secretary Peel,

on rising pursuant to notice, to introduce a bill for the Registration of Aliens, observed, that when the Alien Act was last under discussion in 1824, a hope was expressed by his right hon. friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and by himself, that at the period to which the duration of that act was limitted, it might be possible to dispense with the powers of compelling aliens to leave the country, given by that measure to the executive government. The period had now arrived when those powers would cease, unless by the intervention of the House they were prolonged; as the act of 1824 would expire in November next. He was extremely happy to have it now in his power to fulfil the expectation which he had just alluded to, and to inform the House, that it was not the intention of his majesty's government to call for the prolongation of this law. In proposing the Registration bill on the present occasion, it was merely wished that the government should have that to which he thought there could be no possible objection; namely, a Registration of the names of such aliens as thought proper to take up their residence in this country. He did not mean to propose any further measure as affecting aliens, nor to take any steps whatever for compelling them to leave this country, under any other circumstances than those which would be operative upon the natural-born subjects of his majesty. He could sincerely assure the House that no man could be more willing to part than he was with the authority which this bill had officially in-trusted to his execution; and, in relieving himself from such a burthen, he had the satisfaction to reflect that, during the five years in which he had exercised it, not a single instance of abuse had been laid to his charge. It was true, that the mere circumstance of an abuse of the power would not have been conclusive against the propriety of the measure itself; but it still would have naturally enough indisposed the House to afford a too great facility for its re-enactment. He repeated, however, that he had the satisfaction of knowing that no abuse of the provisions of this act had been imputed to him, and, indeed, he had only in a single instance applied them. It was also due to his predecessor to state, that he had only resorted to the measure five or six times, so that altogether its extraordinay powers had been but rarely brought into operation. The single case in which he had been under the necessity of applying it was not at all of a political character. It was where an individual had threatened to resort to personal violence against a foreign ambassador, in such a manner as to induce a rationally-grounded expectation that he would, if left unrestrained, have carried his threat into execution; and he really believed that it afterwards proved of great advantage to the individual himself, that it was not left in his power to offer the violence he had premeditated against a high public functionary, who was undoubtedly entitled to all the protection which the laws furnished, while he resided officially in this country. From what he had stated, the House would see, that not only had no abuse been committed through the means of this bill, but that in this single instance, and one quite unconnected with politics, had it been used at all. And he could further state, that he had taken the utmost pains to prevent any use from being made of this measure against foreigners, by any of the subordinate agents who were placed under his control. The act which he meant, on the present occasion, to propose in the place of the Alien act, was intended not as a temporary, but a permanent law; and it merely required that every alien should upon his landing in England, under a certain penalty for omission, be compelled to give a true designation of his name and place of intended residence in this country, and that the Secretary of State should also have the power of requiring a renewal of this registration of names, at certain intervals, while the same parties remained in England. He certainly should not consent to part with this power, if he had not observed the conduct of the aliens who were exposed to the operation of the act, and of them he could say, that he had not the smallest idea that they would abuse the new privileges (for such they might be called) which were about to be conferred upon them. Many of the foreigners who were now in this country had been compelled to seek its shores, in consequence of the intestine troubles and dissensions which unfortunately raged in their native land. They had here, he was glad to say, found an asylum, and received the generous and humane sympathy and assistance of all parties. It would, therefore, be a bad return for British generosity, were they to make this land, where, under their misfortunes, they had sought and found a resting place, the scene of cabals or conspiracies against their own governments, while Great Britain was in alliance with them. If, however, (which he had no reason to anticipate) these foreigners should hereafter by their conduct defeat his sanguine expectations, then he should feel no hesitation in calling upon parliament for a renewal of the Alien bill. He did, however, hope that such a step would be unnecessary, and it was therefore with the greater cheerfulness he consented to relinquish a power, which he had the consolation of feeling had passed through his hands without abuse. The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving, for leave to bring in a bill to provide for the Registration of Aliens.

Lord Althorp

congratulated the right hon. gentleman on the liberal course which he had just taken, and expressed his perfect confidence that no inconvenience whatever would arise from the expiration of the Alien bill, but that, on the contrary, the relaxation of such a; system of uncongenial policy would operate beneficially for the country.

Mr. Hobhouse

begged to express his entire concurrence in the opinion which had just been delivered by his noble friend. He was quite sure that the proposal of the right hon. gentleman would be hailed with gratitude, not only by those in that House, who were, upon constitutional grounds, the opponents of the Alien bill, but by the friends of just and liberal principles in every quarter of Europe. Indeed, he believed the government were hardly aware of the extent of benefit they were conferring by the abandonment of this measure. The Alien bill, whether in actual or threatened operation, was always reckoned by enlightened foreigners as one of those measures by which England had suffered herself to become connected with the arbitrary system of the continent. He could assure the right hon. gentleman that every intelligent traveller was impressed with the prevalence of this belief. The abandonment, therefore, of a system so abhorrent to the principles of the British constitution would be hailed all over Europe as the principal step—(in conjunction with those other liberal measures which had been lately taken by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs)—on the part of Great Britain to a return to that policy which had so long made her, through a bright succession of years of triumph, also the protectress of the oppressed, and the great patroness of public liberty all over the world. He was quite confident that his majesty's government would have no reason to repent the confidence they were disposed to place in the foreigners who had sought an asylum in this country, and that they would find themselves quite safe in reverting to the old policy and laws under which England had so long flourished. Before he sat down, he must say, that he could hardly find adequate terms in which to express his gratitude to the right hon. gentleman for the course he was about to pursue on the present occasion.

Sir R. Wilson

did not rise to detain the House while he paid a tribute of justice to the right hon. gentleman. But it was due from him to say, that not only had the powers of this bill not been abused during the administration of the right hon. gentleman, but he could, from his own personal communications, bear testimony, that he had, upon various opportunities, found him most anxious to do justice to the claims of foreigners, and correct most rigidly any tendency to abuse on the part of the subordinate agents, who had to execute some of the provisions of this bill. He had always found the right hon. gentleman most desirous of respecting the rights and interests of these proscribed individuals. There was one point which he wished to notice respecting the proposed registration of the names, a measure to which he had in itself no objection; in times of political troubles abroad, when individuals were more likely to seek shelter here, they were often compelled to use wrong names, to escape the vigilance of their persecutors. He trusted that no delay would, on that account, be interposed with regard to their passage into the interior.

Mr. Peel

said, that the difficulty might be obviated by the alien telling the officer, confidentially, what his name really was. The regulation he considered necessary as it might be desirable, on some occasions, to know the number of aliens in the country, and the particular points to which they were resorting.

Mr. Denman

entirely concurred in the praise which had been bestowed upon the right hon. gentleman on the present occasion. He was glad of the abandonment of this measure, for he knew that it was a modern innovation of only thirty three years standing, and that it was a most unnecessary measure; for this country had, through all previous times, maintained her policy towards strangers without the infliction of such oppression. Still he was glad of the change, and congratulated the House upon the termination which it would put to a system in itself unjust and oppressive, and which no existing circumstances could make longer necessary.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.