HC Deb 22 March 1831 vol 3 cc707-19

On Mr. Spring Rice presenting a Petition for Reform from Limerick, and from an individual,

Mr. North

begged leave to ask the noble Lord opposite (Lord Althorp) when the Reform Bill for Ireland would be ready to be laid on the Table. He thought it very strange that it had not been before brought forward, so that the Irish Members might be made aware of its provisions.

Lord Althorp

said, that he believed the Bill was now quite prepared, and ready to be submitted to the House. It was delayed in consequence of the length of the Bills for England and Scotland, but he could not see what connection the Bill for Ireland could have with the present discussion.

Mr. G. Dawson

was surprised at the answer given by the noble Lord to the hon. member for Drogheda. Why was it that the Gentlemen of Ireland were to be kept in total ignorance of the portion of this Bill (for it must be considered as a portion of it) which related to Ireland? Were they not to be consulted upon the matter? and, if they were, why was the information requisite to enable them to form a judgment upon it withheld? He had no doubt, if the Bill for Ireland were printed, a very different impression would be made upon the people of that country from that which at present prevailed. A great portion of them regarded the Reform measure with the greatest alarm, and they looked forward with great expectation for that part of it which more immediately related to themselves. They, therefore, were, as they had a right to be, exceedingly offended, and highly indignant, at the whole tenor of the proceedings of the Ministers.

Mr. O'Connell

begged to assure the House that the people of Ireland were neither offended nor indignant at the measure—but, on the contrary, they were exceedingly delighted with it. The very spirit of the wise and liberal measure of the Government would, he had no doubt, if extended to Ireland in the Bill about to be introduced, give very general satisfaction. The right hon. Gentleman might insinuate that he was not perfectly acquainted with the whole of Ireland, but he, at all events, knew three provinces out of the four, and such was the prevailing sentiment in those. In the North, also, he believed, from letters he had seen, that the principle of Reform was fast becoming popular, and public meetings were about to be holden; so that, should the present measure remain a few weeks longer, he should have, he believed, not less than 500 petitions from Ireland to present in its favour.

Mr. G. Moore

denied, that the measure had given satisfaction in Ireland: on the contrary, it had created there the greatest horror and dismay in all classes of society, except, indeed in that class of which the hon. member for Waterford might be considered as the peculiar representative. The system of intimidation adopted in that country, was the principal reason why so few petitions were presented against the Bill.

Mr. Owen O'Connor

had a great many opportunities of knowing the sentiments of the people of Ireland and he could assure the House, that the measure had there given general satisfaction, not disgust.

Colonel Trench

wished to know whether the Bill which the Irish people were said to approve so much of was the Bill the provisions of which had been explained by the noble Lord, or the Bill which the hon. member for Waterford had explained in his speech. He believed that the Irish would not support the Government Bill, but a Bill such as that the member for Waterford had described, and that, when they knew the provisions of the Government measure, they could not be favourably disposed towards it. At any rate, it was time that Bill was laid on the Table.

Mr. Brownlow

wished also that the Bill should be laid on the Table, and printed and circulated through Ireland, and he was sure that it. would be acceptable to the people of that country. The hon. member for Dublin had said, that the people of Ireland were not favourable to the measure, except those who were especially represented by the hon. member for Waterford; whom that hon. Member especially represented he did not know; hut would the hon. member for Dublin say that it was all the inhabitants of the North of Ireland. The people of that part of Ireland were all in favour of Reform. They had been reformers for a long time; they were the Protestants of Ireland, and would the hon. Member say, that they were especially represented by the hon. member for Waterford? He know that the Protestants of the North of Ireland, and he was authorised to state it, did highly approve of the measure of his Majesty's Ministers.

Sir Henry Hardinge

thought, at least the Bill should be immediately laid on the Table, and he trusted that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland would pledge himself whatever might be the result of the Debate that evening, to lay it on the Table in the course of the evening

Sir John Newport

knew that, at least in one part of Ireland, the provisions of the Bill for Ireland had been rightly appreciated, for he had on Saturday presented a petition from the Corporation of Waterford in support of the measure of his Majesty's Ministers. That Corporation prayed that the Bill—the whole Bill—might pass into a law.

Sir George Clerk

complained, that the measure should be so well known in Ireland as to be commented on, while the Members of that House were kept in ignorance of its contents. It had been made known to the people, but not to their Representatives. Even the Irish Members were not acquainted with it. When the Irish people were fully acquainted with it, they might treat it as the Scotch treated the Bill that was to apply to that country, which, when it was known, excited their dissatisfaction. The people of Ross-shire, who were the very first to petition Parliament for Reform, since they had seen the Bill had entirely changed their opinion, because that Bill sacrificed the landed interest. They had written to the Lord Advocate to tell him that his Bill, by giving votes to the householders, would entirely destroy, even in that remote county, the influence of the landed gentlemen, and they meant to call a meeting to petition against the plan of his Majesty's Ministers.

Mr. Stanley

expressed his surprise to hear the observations of the hon. Baronet. The hon. Baronet first complained that the Members of the House did not know, and could not guess at the provisions of the Irish Bill; and then, with extraordinary consistency, asserted that the Irish people would be sure to be displeased with it when they knew it. The Irish people placed, he was happy to say, a just confidence in his Majesty's Ministers; and the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in opposition, complained of them for bestowing that confidence. A complaint was made that the Bill for Ireland had not been brought in; he had intended to do that, but did not think it very necessary, while the House was engaged with the discussion of the main question. His noble friend had brought forward the main question, and explained his plan of Reform. The broad line of principle for Ireland and England, and Scotland had been laid down by his noble friend, and he did not see the necessity of bringing forward the Irish Bill till the principle was disposed of. That Bill, though important, was of minor consideration, compared to the main object, and he saw many good reasons why that should not be encumbered with a discussion on the details of the Irish measure. When that was disposed of, the House might argue the details of the Irish Bill. He must express his surprise, to hear the Members of the Opposition say, that they were ignorant of the principles, and ignorant of the object of that Bill, when his noble friend had distinctly explained that it would be to destroy the rotten boroughs; to throw open, but not disfranchise, all the other boroughs, and generally to extend the elective franchise. The right hon. and gallant officer required him to pledge himself to lay the Irish Bill on the Table, and state the details of the Irish measure, whatever might be the fate of the main question. To do that would, he thought, be treating the House with great disrespect; and it would, in fact, be as absurd to bring the Irish Bill forward after the great question was disposed of, should it be disposed of as the hon. Gentlemen opposite wished—as it would be to discuss the Evesham bill when the great question was disposed of as they did not wish. He should be ready to bring forward that Bill when the House —as he trusted it would—had concurred with the whole of the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland, in giving its assent to the great principle of reforming the representation. When that was done, he should be ready to meet the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the details of the Irish measure.

Sir George Murray

said, that it did appear to him extraordinary that the Bill for Ireland was not laid on the Table if it were ready. He concurred in the observations of his hon. friend (Sir George Clerk), and thought it very likely, that when the Bill was known in Ireland, it would excite as much dislike to its details as the Scotch Bill had excited in Scotland. He should have thought it very unfair to Scotland if the Bill relating to that country had not been laid on the Table.

Sir Henry Hardinge

and several other Members rose at the same time to address the House, but Sir Henry was met with loud cries of "Spoke, spoke," and he sat down, allowing us only to hear the words —"Not to lay the Bill on the Table is very unfair."

Mr. Dominick Brown

was satisfied that the great majority of the people of Ireland approved of the measure of his Majesty's Ministers. It was more than the people of Ireland expected; it was more than he expected; and he was delighted when he heard the details of the noble measure. He was sure that the more it was known in Ireland, the more it would be liked.

Colonel Tyrrell

thought that the Irish Members, who were so sure of the approbation of the Irish people for a measure which was not yet known, must not only see more than other people, but even foresee. He found a good reason why the Irish Bill should be known, in the effect of the last speech which was made last night and which had so successively anatomised the English Bill. If the Irish Bill should be so anatomised, the result would probably be the same, though it would most likely be a post mortem anatomy. The Bill was hurried forward with a degree of precipitancy such as no Government had ever before used. The noble Lord's purge was really a most drastic one, and if it went so rapidly through the English Members, what would be its effect on the Irish he could not imagine.

Lord Francis Leveson Gower

must also express his astonishment that the Bill was not laid before the House. He could not separate the Irish measure from the English measure; and neither could it be properly considered and debated isolated from the other. In fact, the whole measure was the most extensive, the most sweeping, he might call it the most imperial measure, which had been brought forward since the Revolution of 1688. He believed, and he should continue to entertain that opinion, though he was sorry to think any thing discreditable to the Government, but till he saw good reason to alter his opinion, he should continue to believe that the Government never anticipated that the Bill would be allowed to be read a first time, and, therefore, was not prepared for the consequences of that event.

Sir Charles Wetherell

also complained that the Irish Bill was not before the House, and expressed his opinion that the Irish who approved of it must have great prescience. Of course, as the right hon. Secretary for Ireland said he had the Bill ready, he could not doubt his word, but if the right hon. Gentleman had not asserted that, he should have been disposed to believe that the Irish Bill was yet as green as a shamrock—that it was not yet drawn—and lay in some of the unopened drawers of the scrutoire at Derrinane, to be brought forward when the hon. member for Waterford pleased. He could not help adverting to the manner in which that hon. Member had been applauded; and adverting to that, he did not hesitate to say, that these were signs he did not assert of agreement, but of diplomatic approximation of amicable tendencies between the hon. member for Waterford and the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He said tendencies, though he knew that word was not liked; but he certainly saw tendencies of approximation between per-sons who, he did not think could approximate, if the Government acted a fair and independent part. He could not persuade himself when he heard certain cheers from the other side of the House, that they were given to the hon. member for Water-ford, and that the hon. Member was the same person who had been so lately prosecuted by the Government.

The Attorney General

was surprised to hear his hon. and learned friend assert that the Irish Bill was yet in the drawers of some scrutoire at Derrinane, because the Gentlemen on that side of the House had cheered the hon. member for Waterford. Last night his hon. friend (Sir E. Sugden) in a speech, in which he had entered into a long discussion on the details of a Bill on its second reading, and this night again his hon. and learned friend had implied that the Government had compromised with the hon. member for Waterford. He did not rise to repel that charge on the part of that Government, but to ask his hon. and learned friend if it was fair to infer, because Ministers approved of what fell from an individual Member on a political subject, that there must be some approximations and amicable negotiations between him and them. There must, forsooth, be negotiations, and this must be openly stated in the House of Commons, because the Ministers, when a Gentleman of great talents and eloquence had made an able speech, had done him justice by their approbation. When the papers, connected with this subject, were laid on the Table, it would be seen that no such negotiation had ever been entered into by his Majesty's Government, and that there was no ground whatever for the imputation which was made in a manner as irregular as it was unjust. His hon. and learned friend spoke of approximations and amicable tendencies, but had certainly lost sight of his usual candour in making that inference. There were, indeed, approximations among Gentlemen on the other side, though how amicable they were he could not say; but there were such approximations and tendencies on Friday night on the question of the Timber Duties—that question to which the late Government stood pledged, and pledged to carry into effect that alteration which, on friday night, all the adherents of the late Ministers and all their new friends opposed. From those negotiations and amicable approximations, it happened that on Friday night, the Ministers were left in a minority. If Gentlemen exulted in that minority, if they were proud of the approximation and amicable negotiations which led to it, he for one, did not envy them their success, nor wish to imitate the means by which it was obtained. He was reminded by the whole of the present debates, of the debates on the Catholic Question, the decision on which was to leave no second Catholic Question behind it; but which marked out for exclusion, and actually excluded, the single man who, of all others, had contributed to the success of that great and healing measure. He had no wish to undertake the defence of the hon. and learned member for Waterford, who was very well able to defend himself, but he must contend, that it was unfair that the motives of a public officer should be impugned, because he felt it necessary to cheer what fell from an hon. Member, who was in the situation of defendant in a prosecution instituted by Government. It was true that a public officer ought to be fairly watched, but not so closely as to extend to even the cheers which he might give in his place in the House, to the expression of sentiments which he might approve without reference to the quarter from which they came. But, by the way the prosecution was not instituted by him, (the Attorney General)—it was instituted by the Attorney General for Ireland.

Mr. Goulburn

wished not to prolong this discussion, though the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman was very tempting—for he had no reason to wish the postponement of the decision of the great question; he would therefore only say, that his Majesty's late Government was not pledged to make the alteration in the Timber Duties. The statement that it was, was not correct, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Poulet Thomson) would bear him out in his assertion.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

rose to answer the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman had made to him, and said he should be most willing to confirm the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, but he confessed that he was not able to do so by any information he possessed. Although he was not prepared to say, that he possessed any information which convinced him that his Majesty's late Government was prepared to submit any measure for the alteration of the Timber Duties, yet the information he possessed must greatly deceive him—he must be greatly mistaken —if it was not the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Harwich to submit to his colleagues a measure for the alteration of the Timber Duties. The right hon. Gentleman opposite asked ["Question, question!"]—he appealed to the House —he had been publicly appealed to —and was bound to answer. The right hon. Gentleman asked him a question, and he could only say, that he believed that it was in the contemplation of his Majesty's late Government to alter the Timber Duties, though that was coupled with another measure to give relief to the shipowners. At that time he enjoyed a portion of the confidence of that body, and he was one of a deputation which had waited on the right hon. Gentleman on the subject; and though they received no confirmation of their hope of obtaining relief they received an intimation that it was most likely something would be done with those duties—the proposed alteration in which the right hon. Gentleman voted against the other night.

Mr. Herries

felt it necessary to state, that the information of the right hon. Gentleman was totally erroneous. He had never contemplated for one moment the view; mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman —he had never contemplated any measure which would have the effect of destroying the whole shipping, amounting to 200,000 tons, engaged in the Canada trade. He had never contemplated for one moment such an alteration of the Timber Duties as would deprive the British shipowner and the Canada proprietor of the preponderance they now enjoy. He could appeal to his right hon. friend who sat near him (Mr. Courtenay, we believe) for his intention. Had the right hon. Gentleman any Report?— Could he produce any document?—Had he any document to prove his statement, or did he rely on the information supplied by some subordinate person, which was not correct? He claimed distinctly to be believed, and he called on the House to put faith in his assertion, that he never had contemplated such an alteration as would occasion the inconveniences admitted on a former evening by the noble Lord.

Petition laid on the Table.

Lord Althorp

moved the Order of the Day for resuming the adjourned Debate.

Mr. O'Connell

rose; but was met by loud calls of "Order!" and "Question!" He had a right, he said, to oppose the Motion if he pleased, and a right, therefore, to speak on it. He had been several times alluded to and made a topic of remark in the House, and he thought the House would not behave with its usual courtesy if it did not allow him to say a few words. He had heard the ex-Solicitor-general and the ex-Attorney-general, last night and that night, throw out insinuations in relation to him and the Government. Both those Gentlemen belonged to the same profession as he did, but he was glad that they did not belong to the same Bar, for it was a rule of that Bar that no member of it should ever voluntarily engage in a criminal prosecution; but those two learned Gentlemen seemed to volunteer to prosecute him. That was not creditable conduct. The hon. and learned ex-Solicitor-general had sneered at the cheers which had come from the opposite side of the House at some remarks that had been made by him (Mr. O'Connell), and the sarcastic allusion had been taken up and echoed by the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, with a strength of lungs that might have carried the echo to the borough for which he sat. He could not account for the sarcastic allusion. He had been accused, too, by the ex-Solicitor-general, of arrogance, in a tone which he would not call arrogant, but which, not to be arrogant, was the most like arrogance of anything he had ever heard. He had been accused of looking for the Repeal of the Union through the means of Reform, but he had looked at the Repeal of the Union only as a means of obtaining good government; and if he obtained that by other means, was he not bound to support those means? He had accordingly supported the measure of Reform without looking at its origin, though, if he had consulted his feelings, if he had looked at what had passed with regard to himself, he should have taken a very different course, and not have supported the principle of the Bill. If under such a view he had chosen to object to the details, and particularly if he had distorted them, then he might have picked a hole in the measure as well as another. If he were a Member remarkable for his extraordinary gesticulation —for a jumble of unmeaning words, enforced by violent thumps on the box on the Table, as if the rumbling noise of that empty box could supply the place of common sense, he should have had those hon. and learned Gentlemen's sympathy and support. If, instead of defending the Reform Bill on those great principles which it inculcated and supported, he had taken up the questions connected with it on paltry, petty fogging grounds, and dealt with them according to the chicanery of the Equity Courts; if he had declared himself a foe to all improvement, and the friend of every abuse; if he had resisted every innovation —had defended the continuance of every wrong, and maintained the sacredness of every law, however barbarous or ill-adapted to modern times,—if he were one who stood on the shore of improvement, and said to the coming tide of amelioration, "So far thou shalt go, and no farther,"—if he were the defender of every spoliation, supported and cheered by the spoliators,—if he were one of this description, he might have given ground for the sarcastic allusion to the cheers, and then, indeed, he should have been cheered by the hon. and learned Members and their associates; and then, too, he might have hoped to mitigate their hostility, and even to secure their favour. He stood there, however, an independent Member of that House —independent either of the Government, or of the party opposed to them. He had entered into no compromise; he had received no promises of lenity; and he denied that he was influenced in his support of the Bill by any other motives than his conviction of its fitness for the ends it proposed.

Sir C. Wetherell

begged to tell the hon. member for Waterford, that the papers on which he founded his opinions of that hon. Member's conduct were not called for by him. The hon. member for Waterford had himself called for these papers, and read and commented on them to the House. When thus produced, surely it was competent to any other Member to form an opinion on them different from that of the hon. member for Waterford. It was the hon. member for Waterford, therefore, who had introduced the means of forming an opinion on those diplomatic approximations to which he alluded. The member for Waterford had done him the favour to institute some comparisons between the courses they had separately adopted. Comparisons were odious things, particularly personal comparisons; and he begged to retire from the odium of any comparison of that kind with the hon. member for Waterford. He repeated, that he had not charged the diplomatic approximations to the hon. Member, until he himself produced the evidence of them. He begged now, however, to retire from the speculations connected with them. He retired, too, from any further controversy with respect to the spoliations of which he had been said to complain, and to which the hon. Member had adverted; but if he was disposed to continue them, he thought he could bring to the recollection of the House a man who had dealt in spoliations, and made them beneficial to himself, by handing a begging-box round among his friends. What would be said if they were told that the hon. member for Waterford had himself encouraged spoliation, by raising contributions from his countrymen — by taking two-pence from the poor man, and a penny from the ragged man, and a halfpenny from the starving man? He was not disposed to violate the order of the House, but he could not help saying, that observations respecting spoliation came with a very bad grace from those who had in this manner raised contributions from the people.

Mr. O'Connell

wished to make one observation, not on the subject of spoliation, but with respect to the personal charge against himself. He neither was now, nor had ever been at any time, a party to the applications for contributions which the hon. Member referred to. He repeated, he had not been a party to them; and he would add, that he had sacrificed larger sums to his country than the hon. and learned Member had ever gained by his profession. He had a right to speak, and he would speak, in spite of this interruption. [Confusion and cries of "Order."]

The Speaker

said, it was extremely desirable that the hon. Member and others should know to what extent they were to be allowed to continue discussions of this description. When the character and conduct of the hon. Member was alluded to in a pointed manner, by other hon. Members, he was sure that the House would never look with too much strictness of order on the course of proceedings which might be adopted; but it was, at the same time, right it should be known, that observations which would go to the extent of increasing the Debate, or throwing out new matter for discussion, could not be allowed.

Mr. O'Connell

was obliged for this information, and hoped, in the few words he had to say, that the Speaker, if he was out of order, would correct him. He repeated, that he had spent large sums in the service of his country, and abandoned for it a profession which every one connected with the Bar knew to be worth 7,000l. a year. For twenty-five years he had laid out a sum of 2,000l. a year —out of his own pocket —to promote the necessary agitation in Ireland in support of the cause of Catholic Emancipation, and if his countrymen—his poor but generous countrymen—were anxious to make him a remuneration for his losses and his sacrifices, he thought that every reflecting mind would feel that the act placed them high among the nations which boasted of civilization.

Sir R. Peel

did not rise to prolong the discussion, but, on the contrary, to suggest to the House, whether it would not be advisable to put an end to it, so that they might proceed to the discussion of the important question fixed for that evening, with as slight a degree of excitement as was consistent with the nature of the question.