HC Deb 10 August 1832 vol 14 cc1305-11
Mr. Leader

presented a Petition from the Inhabitants of Clonfert, in the county of Cork, complaining of the conduct of one of the police, who, at a public meeting, was detected in the crowd endeavouring to excite disturbance, by throwing stones at the military. Such conduct ought to have been visited with immediate dismissal, but he was informed that no inquiry had been made into it, and that the policeman was still employed. The hon. Member said, he would take that opportunity of stating, that he had that day read, with the deepest regret and surprise, the observations alleged to have been made by the highest legal authority in the country, in another place. In these remarks, it appeared to be insinuated that meetings held in Ireland for the purpose of redressing the many grievances under which Ireland was suffering, were of a rebellious description. It was, unfortunately, true that Irishmen were not by law entitled to the same protection or privileges as Englishmen, and that the Habeas Corpus Act, which could be suspended in England only by Parliament, was not in this, its most important feature, yet extended to Ireland. It was a melancholy truth, that this distinction still existed on the statute books, and that by a clause of an act of the Irish Parliament (21st and 22nd of George 3rd) the Lord Lieutenant had the power, in cases of actual rebellion in either country, to suspend that Act by an order in council and by proclamation. Though this was the law, yet the spirit of the times, and the less severe policy of late Governments, had rendered that clause of the Act obsolete and effete. In the Act to which he referred, it was enacted that the Lord Lieutenant should have that power in cases of invasion or actual rebellion in either country, but when those very cases had occurred, the Government of those days did not feel themselves justified in resorting to the powers vested in the Lord Lieutenant, but to resort to the power of Parliament itself: thus, in the year 1796, when Ireland was invaded, a necessity for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act was declared, and it was suspended by Parliament. In the same way, during the rebellion of 1798, Parliament again suspended the Habeas Corpus Act but without any recourse to the power given to the Lord-Lieutenant by the Act of the 21st and 22nd George 3rd. Indeed, he could not find any instance in which the Act had been suspended by proclamation; and if a necessity existed, it was the duty of Parliament not to leave the responsibility on any Lord Lieutenant, but to follow the course which had been pursued by all the Parliaments of Ireland—when a necessity existed, to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act itself. He regretted to find some of the high authorities of the country looking out for a summary mode of suspending this Act, which was the palladium of our liberty, and he still more regretted to find too wide a construction given to what constituted rebellious acts. This enlarged construction of what was to be considered rebellion, would prevent the poor tithe payer of Ireland, and the starving manufacturers of that country, from meeting to complain of the grievances which they suffered, without at the same time subjecting the country to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. And this, too, was to be done at the will of a Lord Lieutenant, whilst the King of England himself possessed no such power in England, He was apprehensive that the re- vival of this power, which did not exist in England, would be the cause of fresh jealousy in Ireland; and if Parliament was awake to the interests of this country, they would take care that all the real grievances of Ireland should be speedily removed. It could not be denied that there were grievances under which that country suffered, and whilst those grievances existed, there would be complaints, and there would be meetings and petitions against tithes and church cess; and those complaints would be loud and numerous; and the measures lately adopted by the House at the suggestion of the Government would not tend to allay the dissatisfaction and discontent which prevailed. Having said thus much on what he thought a no very ambiguous intimation of the intention of Government to resort to this obsolete Act—a course which every friend of England as well as of Ireland ought to deprecate—he again adverted to the petition which he held in his hand, and expressed a hope that an inquiry might be instituted into the circumstances to which it referred.

Mr. Hume

thought that the petition presented by his hon. friend, the member for Kilkenny, was one into the matter of which the Government were bound to make inquiry. He did not rise, however, to enter into that subject, but to express his surprise at the statement made by his hon. friend (Mr. Leader), that such a power should exist as that which authorized the Lord Lieutenant, with the advice and consent of six members of the Privy Council in Ireland, to do what the King could not in England—to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act in cases of invasion or rebellion in either country. He was anxious to hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, the Solicitor-General for Ireland, whether there really existed any law which placed the operation of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland on a footing so different from that upon which that great protection of the liberty of the people rested in England; and also, whether meetings, such as had been described by the noble member for Kilkenny were considered by the Government to be rebellious. He hoped it was not so; but if it were, he hoped that the people of Ireland might be placed under the same law as those of England, and that it should not be left to this or that individual to state what was or was not rebellion, or that the assembling of large bodies of men should be so considered. This was a most important question for England and Ireland; for if such a marked difference in the law between the two countries were allowed to exist, it would raise another ground of jealousy on the part of Ireland, which would tend to increase the excitement already existing in that country. He did hope that Government would see the wisdom and sound policy of placing the liberty of the two countries on the same ground; and that if they could not, as he knew there was not now time to repeal this obnoxious Act, that they would do what would be the same thing in effect—allow it to remain in the same obsolete state in which it had been suffered to remain since it was passed. At all events, he hoped that Parliament would not be allowed to separate without some explanation being given on the subject.

Mr. Crampton

would confine himself to two points of the observations which had fallen from the hon. member for Middlesex, and from his hon. friend who presented the petition; and he should abstain from saying anything which now, at the close of the Session, could lead to a discussion of the important topics to which the petition referred. He had been asked whether he had received information of improper conduct on the part of a policeman, who mixed with the crowd at a peaceable meeting, and threw stones at the military for the purpose of provoking them to fire upon the people. He was not aware of any such occurrence, and, so far as he knew, no complaint had been made upon the subject elsewhere than in the House of Commons. If the occurrence had actually taken place, he thought the complaint would have been made in the proper quarter, and an immediate inquiry would have been instituted. It was manifest, that if a tithe of the allegations of the petition were well founded, there must have been gross misconduct on the part of the Magistrates; but he felt it his duty to say that a certain "poetic taste" prevailed amongst the persons who "get up," as it is called, Irish petitions, which induced them to exaggerate, and he therefore trusted, that Gentlemen would not make up their minds upon the unsupported assertions of Irish, petition-makers or subscribers. As to the Habeas Corpus Act, he would reply to the question of the hon. Member for Middlesex, that the Act was the same in Eng- land and in Ireland, but by the Act of the 21st and 22nd George 3rd, the Lord Lieutenant and the Privy Council of Ireland were empowered to suspend the Act, in the event of an invasion or a rebellion. That was a power which had seldom been resorted to; and if it was meant to say, that there was now an intention to make use of meetings for constitutional purposes, as a pretext for enforcing that law, he would reply that it was impossible that the noble and learned Lord alluded to could have meant any such thing. In the event of a rebellion in Ireland, the Lord Lieutenant had the power of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act; and it was, of course, to be borne in mind, that a rebellion might be confined to a single county, or to a small number of persons. To constitute rebellion, it was not necessary that the whole country, or a whole province, or even a whole county should be actually in arms against the Government. It was rebellion, when any number of the King's subjects united to compel, by force, any change in the laws of the country, to set the lawful authorities at defiance, to control the Legislature, or to supersede the executive. He should not, then, say any thing which might provoke a discussion of the subject; and he thought that nothing could be more dangerous, than that the House should take the statement of petitions from Ireland for real facts. What conduced most to the peace of Ireland was the due and impartial administration of the laws, and the confidence which that inspired in the minds of the people. Nothing, therefore, could be more dangerous, more malicious, malignant, or mischievous, than to diminish the respect of the people of Ireland for the law of the land, and for public functionaries. If gentlemen, either in that House or elsewhere, would persevere in indulging in eloquent invective against the state of the law, and the conduct of the authorities in Ireland, their course was calculated, as much as any thing could be so, to lead to that state of rebellion which would render necessary the application of the Act alluded to by the hon. Member for Kilkenny.

Mr. Callaghan

said, that, at the meetings held in Cork, there was nothing done by the people which was in any degree illegal. They assembled, not as was said of them, to enter into any combination against English manufactures, but to give all the encouragement in their power to those of their own country—a course with which he presumed no man would find fault. It should not be a matter of surprise, that the petitioners in the present case should have come to Parliament in the first instance with their complaint, rather than to the Irish government, for they saw the Government lending the aid of the military and police to prevent meetings for most constitutional purposes. It was quite absurd to talk of rebellion, or a tendency to rebellion, in Ireland at this moment. There was nothing of the kind. He could say generally of the whole country, that it was disposed to be tranquil; but of that part of it with which he was more immediately connected, he could state that no part of the kingdom was more tranquil. He had received a letter that, morning from a gentleman who was not a party man, and who, alluding to the arrival of the Lord Lieutenant and Sir Hussey Vivian in the Cove of Cork, expressed his satisfaction at that event; as he added, that if they came to see the state of that part of the country, they would find that the statements which had been made of the disturbed condition of the country were wholly without foundation. In fact, he added, "the country is perfectly tranquil—the harvest is abundant, and potatoes are in great plenty." He would repeat, that there was nothing in any of the meetings in Cork, which the most ingenious lawyer could torture into rebellion, or to a tendency to rebellion.

Mr. Leader

said, he had not quarrelled with the expressions attributed to the noble and learned Lord in another place. What he complained of was, that such an inequality of law should be allowed to exist between the two countries. The knowledge that a power was given to a Lord Lieutenant over the liberty of the subject in Ireland, which was denied to the King of England, would only serve to increase the jealousy which already existed in that country.

Sir Richard Musgrave

said, that he must protest against the reflections cast by the learned Solicitor-General for Ire-laud (Mr. Crampton) on petitions from that country, when he intimated that statements of facts in those petitions ought always to be received with doubt, as they were generally exaggerated. During the time that he (Sir Richard Musgrave) had the honour of a seat in that House, many such petitions had been presented, and he defied the learned Gentleman to mention any petitions containing assertions that had been controverted. He had lately been in the south of Ireland where many tithe meetings had been held, and although many of these meetings had been numerously attended, no disturbance of the peace had taken place. The meetings had uniformly been conducted in a peaceful and legal manner.

Petition to be printed.

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