HC Deb 27 June 1831 vol 4 cc367-71
Lord Althorp

moved the Order of the Day that the House do resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.

The Marquis of Chandos

said, the House would probably recollect, that when he formerly had put a question to his Majesty's Ministers respecting their intentions on the subject of the prosecutions against the hon. member for Kerry, he had felt himself perfectly satisfied with the answer which he had received from the Chief Secretary for Ireland; but the course which Ministers had pursued since the dissolution of Parliament had by no means accorded with what the right honourable Secretary had said in reply to his question. It had been given out that the Irish Government had acted as they had done, in consequence of the advice they had received from the Law-officers of the Crown, and he now rose to know, whether his Majesty's Ministers would have any objection to lay on the Table of the House the correspondence which had taken place between them and their legal advisers on the question.

Mr. Stanley

had already stated, fully and clearly, the grounds upon which the hon. member for Kerry had not been brought up for judgment. If he were disposed to enter into a quibble with the noble Marquis, he should say, that the law had been allowed to take its course. With respect to the production of the correspondence, he was not prepared to accede to that request, and if, on any future occasion, the noble Marquis should think proper to bring forward a motion on the subject, he should be prepared to oppose it.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that if such a motion were made, he would be the first man in that House to second it. He wished the House to be put in possession of the whole of the case. The proceedings had taken place upon a statute which no Minister would dare to apply to England —a statute which gave to one man the arbitrary power of deciding what were public meetings and what were not. This had very truly been called an Algerine Act; and yet an English nobleman had thought proper to say, that he would give his sanction to prosecutions under such a law. The statute had expired, and the malignity of certain persons had been disappointed in not seeing brought up for judgment the man who had not, as they knew, committed any offence.

Mr. Lefroy

said, if that statute had not been in existence, and if it had not been carried into effect, no man could have answered for the peace of Ireland. It was impossible to see the assemblages of the people, and their processions with banners, at that time in Dublin, and to hear the speeches that were addressed to them, without being convinced, that some strong and effective measure was imperatively called for. No other measure than that to which the Government resorted would have been sufficient. By bringing that Act into operation, the Government maintained the peace of Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman—the learned Gentleman had made use of language which no lawyer ought to utter, and which no man who considered what he said would utter. He (Mr. Lefroy) had said, that there were assemblages of people, and speeches delivered to them, so dangerous to the peace of the country as to render necessary the operation of that statute justly called the Algerine Act. But he (Mr. O'Connell) would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman why did not the Crown Lawyers— why did not the learned Gentleman himself—volunteer a prosecution, if at those meetings or in those dangerous speeches there were anything contrary to law— anything for which any man could be indicted? But when the Government was about to do an act of justice to that country, there were meetings held, at which speeches were delivered, and by Law-officers of the Crown too, dangerous to the peace of Ireland, and menacing- the Government. [The hon. and learned Gentleman was prevented from proceeding by cries of "Spoke."]

Sir C. Wetherell

said, that the hon. member for Kerry had declared that no lawyer would pronounce his conduct a legal offence, or volunteer a prosecution. Now he (Sir C. Wetherell) was a lawyer, and would—

Mr. O'Connell

.—I said, "independent of that one statute."

Sir C. Wetherell

.—Oh, that then is a drawback on the whole proposition; it was a discount of the proposition to the amount of 100 per cent. Had not the noble Lord at the head of the Government declared, that he would take care that the law was carried into effect, and had not the noble Lord at the head of the Exchequer said, that sooner than the prosecution should be stopped, he would incur even a civil war t [No, no!] Well, then, the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that he would brave a civil war sooner than consent to a Repeal of the Union— was not that the noble Lord's declaration? Well, and was not the Repeal of the Union one of the prominent topics of the public speeches of the hon. member for Kerry? He got up to say, that he applauded the noble Lord for his declaration. They had, to be sure, an aristocracy yet in being, to which the noble head of the Government, the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer, and some few others of his colleagues belonged; but he did not know, and would not take it upon him to say, how long, under the present system of revolution—in which those noble person-ages more or less assisted—how long that aristocracy would be permitted to exist. Why (he would again ask) did the Government abandon prosecutions to which they were in policy, honour, and consistency, pledged? It was no excuse to say, that the statute under which they had proceeded as far as they did, had expired, for, if necessary to their purpose, why not get it renewed, were it only for one year?

Lord Althorp

felt it right to say one word in explanation of what had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman. It was true, that he had made use of strong language in the last Session with reference to the state of Ireland—that he had stated, that he was satisfied in his own mind, that the Repeal of the Union with that country, then much agitated, would lead to the dismemberment of the empire; and that therefore, sooner than that dismemberment should take place, he should prefer the hazard of a civil war. That was what he did say, and would repeat. But he had never said—as the hon. and learned Gentleman would insinuate—that he would prefer civil war to foregoing the prosecutions then pending, or any prosecutions whatever; for he never, for one moment, could harbour such a monstrous proposition.

Sir C. Wetherell

had understood the language of the noble Lord to be applied to the Repeal of the Union, not to the prosecutions, and in that sense he had alluded to it.

Mr. Warre

contended that, as the statute to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred had originated with his own party, and not with the present Government or its supporters, Ministers were not called upon to propose its renewal. It was true that it was a measure which had received the assent of the House at large; but the party now in power only gave it the negative support of not opposing it, because they considered it a part of the price or preliminary conditions of the great measure of Catholic Emancipation.

Sir E. Sugden

was astonished at the observations of the hon. Member who had just sat down, because the members of the present Administration supported the Government which brought forward that statute. He was one of those who had voted for the Act, because he was convinced of its expediency, without reference to any other measure, and was prepared to vindicate the grounds on which he had given his vote. Its odium, if there was any, was fairly imputable to the House at large.

Mr. O'Connell

was again proceeding to address the House, but was called to order, and informed by the Speaker, that he could not again speak upon that motion.

The discussion dropped.