HC Deb 20 February 1833 vol 15 cc996-1004
Mr. Sheil

presented a Petition from Maidstone, in Kent, praying that Martial-law might not be adopted in Ireland to enforce the payment of Tithes. The honourable Gentleman observed, that he would not then enter into the general subject, but would call the attention of his Majesty's Ministers to the wisdom of omitting such parts of the Acts embodied in their coercive measures, as related to the punishment of whipping; or, perhaps, the scenes, which the lapse of above thirty years had not effaced from the memory of Irishmen, might be renewed. He would also take the opportunity of making a single observation on the recent statement of the noble Lord, with respect to the amount of Church property in Ireland. The noble Lord described that property as amounting to between 700,000l. and 800,000l., leaving Out of his calculation the glebe land, and the forty-eight parishes which paid their Ministers the surplice fees.

Sir Francis Burdett

said, that it was a mistake on the part of the petitioners to suppose that the measures proposed to be adopted with regard to Ireland, were intended to enforce the payment of tithes. With respect to the punishment of whipping, he did not understand that it was one of those in contemplation; but if it were, it should be remembered that the hon. and learned Gentleman who pressed its discontinuance, did not want any punishment at all to be inflicted on the disturbers of the peace of Ireland. The House ought not to discuss the measure while in ignorance of its provisions.

Mr. Warburton

gave his Majesty's Ministers full credit for their good intentions; but he could not help thinking that the effect of their measures would be such as the petitioners apprehended. The hon. Baronet opposite said, that those measures were not intended to enforce the payment of tithes; but all the witnesses had told them, that there could be no peace in Ireland unless tithes, as far as their appropriation was concerned, were abrogated; and the House must recollect, that the measure of reconciliation proposed by his Majesty's Government did not, like the Duke of Wellington's Emancipation Bill, meet the whole subject of complaint, but went only partially to work. He thought that the complaints of the petitioners were perfectly just, and he hoped that they would be followed by similar complaints from the whole body of the electors of the kingdom. The measure was perfectly uncalled for. Ministers' own servants had told them that it would never quiet Ireland. If such were the ease, it was high time for the people of England to call on his Majesty's Government to make a final settlement of the question of tithes

Mr. O'Connell

considered this petition as a consolatory omen. He was glad to find Englishmen coming forward to afford protection to the people of Ireland against measures of unmerited severity. The want of that sympathy had been severely felt, and he, therefore, hailed its appearance with the highest delight and pleasure. He had heard, with surprise, the statements that had just been made by the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster. That hon. Baronet had said, that the House was ignorant of the plan proposed by his Majesty's Ministers. How could that be so, when the plan had been made notorious through all the newspapers? As to the punishment of whipping, no one could doubt but that Courts-martial were invested, by the measure, with the power of inflicting it. He well remembered what Courts-martial were. He well remembered the case of Sir Edward Crosby, a man totally innocent of (he charge brought against him, who had been dragged before a Court-martial, of which a Major of Dragoons was President. Among other questions he was asked, why he, who was an officer of rank, had never entertained any of the officers of the garrison? He was tried, convicted, and, though totally innocent, executed. It was gross ignorance on the part of the hon. Baronet to say that the measure was not calculated or intended to enforce the payment of tithes. Courts-martial were to be appointed in all proclaimed districts, and then woe to those who did not punctually pay their tithes. Any pertinacious refusal to pay tithes would bring the person refusing under the Whiteboy Act. For his own part, he felt no hesitation in saying, that the measure was intended to put Ireland under the horrors of Martial-law, for the purpose of enforcing tithes.

Mr. Beaumont

was persuaded that, however powerful the influence of the hon. and learned member for Dublin might be among the Irish people, he would meet with but little success in his attempt to excite the people of England. They were a people less likely to be carried away by the dictates of feeling, and had good sense enough to examine into matters before they decided upon them. If the proposed measure were really an act of despotism, then, to say the worst of it, it would only be a substitution of the despotism of the Legislature, for the despotism of the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Richards

regretted that Ministers had not brought forward measures founded upon a large, comprehensive, and statesmanlike view of the case, for which Parliament was called upon to legislate. He could not but consider that a vast deal too much importance was attached to the agitation of the hon. and learned member for Dublin. That learned individual would seek in vain to attach the people of Ire-land to a system of agitation, if Ministers would, in earnest, apply themselves to the question of a redress of grievances, and endeavour to allay the growing discontent, by giving those substantial reforms which were required by reason, justice, and humanity, by doing away with that most abominable system which enforced the payment of tithe to support a Church in which the people were not interested. Though a young Member of that House, he hoped he should not be considered as taking too much upon himself in proposing a Bill (as at an early opportunity he should do) for investing the tithes of Ireland in Trustees for the benefit of the poor of that country. He was no enemy to the Established Church—he was not an enemy to the Protestant religion—by no means; but he thought the system required alteration; though it should be managed in such a way as not to permit the tithes to pass into the pockets of the Irish landlord, but to contribute to the comfort of the industrious poor. He would lay a tax on capital for the support of the Clergy of the established Church.

Mr. Maxwell

said, that he was as cordially attached to the real principles of liberty, and as much opposed to arbitrary measures, as the hon. and learned member for Dublin, or any other Member of that House could be. With respect to the measures of coercion, which were to be brought forward by his Majesty's Government, he considered them as absolutely necessary for saving Ireland from utter misery and destruction; and he should therefore give them every support in his power. He sincerely hoped that those measures would pass into a law; but unless they were vigorously, and to the fullest extent, acted upon in Ireland, it was his firm conviction, that there would be no security for life or property. He could assure the House that in the county which he had the honour to represent, they would give the greatest satisfaction, not only to the whole body of Protestants, but to every respectable Roman Catholic who valued the protection of life and property—and he would venture to extend this remark to the whole of Ireland. At the same time that he approved of the measures of coercion, and was determined to give them his support, he deeply regretted that they were to be accompanied by another—which he viewed with sentiments of the greatest alarm, that of Church Reform. To this, as involving avowedly the spoliation of the Established Church in Ireland, he should give the most decided opposition. He felt that it was the intention of Government to aim a deadly blow at the Protestant Church Establishment of the country; that this would be a breach of national faith, solemnly pledged and directly at variance with the articles of Union, and that Parliament would be guilty of the grossest dereliction of duty by sanctioning the proposed measure. As to himself his course was plain. He felt himself called upon by every feeling both of duty and of inclination, and by every sentiment of veneration and attachment to the Protestant religion, and to the Established Church of the United Empire, to resist, as far as he was able, a measure which would involve in ruin and desolation all that he considered as most value-able, and which would always be with him of paramount importance. He should always be ready to give his support to any measures which would tend to promote peace, happiness and good order in Ireland, and which would be calculated to bring back matters into such a state as would conduce to the real happiness of all classes of its people.

Mr. Grattan

said, the question in dispute had not yet been answered, and it really was a very important one. A statement had gone abroad, of which Ministers were the best judges, and he called upon them to state whether—

Lord Mahon

rose to Order. The nature of the Petition seemed to have been altogether mistaken; it did not relate to a measure now in preparation, but to an act of the last Session.

Mr. Grattan

wished to know whether it was the intention of Ministers to invest these Courts with the summary powers alluded to?

Lord Althorp

said, there was nothing more inconvenient than for him to be called upon to discuss the details of a measure which he should hereafter have to introduce to the House. He would, however, state, that there was no authority to be given to these Courts martial, which was not already exercised by the Civil Power of the country. Respecting the point—whether the whole power of the Civil tribunals was to be invested in them, he should only state, that that was a question which could be best decided when the Bill came before them.

Mr. Sheil

rose to put the House right. Let him not be blamed. The moment he found there was a misconception upon the subject, he had advised the Speaker of it. The Petition had been sent to him at the close of last Session, If, in adverting to measures then in contemplation, the petitioners had thus expessed themselves, what would their feelings be on hearing of the extraordinary measures which were now contemplated by his Majesty's Minsters?

Major Beauclerk

was satisfied that the English people would look upon the proposed measure with the greatest indignation and disgust. It would lead to increased taxation—to undeserved oppression—and he would, therefore, give to it every opposition in his power. He believed that Ministers had no intention of acting wrongfully by Ireland—that they had no evil feelings towards her; but he was sure they were ill-advised in their present proceedings. He could tell Ministers from long experience—for, for two years he had acted as Deputy-Adjutant-General—that one of the worst courts they could possibly devise was a Court-martial. Party prejudice could not but have considerable sway in courts so constituted. In his humble opinion, nothing could be worse. He had repeatedly seen young officers surrender their opinions and judgments to the Colonel, who frequently was greatly prejudiced. He had himself been under arrest for two days for merely giving a judgment to the best of his ability, and Captain Brook of the 62nd had been similarly treated for the same offence. He knew well he could have retaliated—that he could have broken the Colonel for his conduct; but being a kind and well-meaning officer, and having erred only in judgment, and not from intention, the matter was passed over. He only mentioned it to show that Courts-martial were, of all courts, the worst constituted for cases of this kind. For his own part, he would rather be tried by any court that could be thought of than by such a court. Not that such courts were desirous of doing injustice, but surely courts constituted of boys just come from school, or from college, could not be proper courts for the trial of serious offences in an irritated country. When Ministers were backed by such men as the hon. member for Cavan (Mr. Maxwell) and seemed disposed to side with an Orange faction, which had always done its utmost to ruin the country, he would admonish them, before they went too far, to consider who were their best friends. He believed Ministers had no ill feeling towards the people of Ireland, but if it were true that they were about to bring into that House such a measure as it was reported they were, they would be doing that which would lead to ruin, to bloodshed, and to anarchy. Under such circumstances, should such a measure be brought forward, Ministers might depend upon his giving it his most determined opposition. In doing so he was certain he should only be acting as a man and a Christian ought to act; and he felt he should be speaking the great public opinion of that county which he had the honour to represent, and of the people of England generally.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

expressed his opinion, that the hon. member for Westminster and the hon. member for Dublin were each partially correct; the one in asserting that the measures of Government were intended to compel the payment of tithes, and the other in denying that assertion; but his (Mr. Attwood's) belief was, that a tremendous measure, was behind. English blood would flow in torrents for the purpose of compelling the people of Ireland to pay tithes. If the House of Commons should agree to the measure which the Government proposed, he feared that the same measure must speedily be directed against the heart of England. He felt it to be his duty, at this early hour, to sound the note of alarm upon English ears. It was now proposed to send the English militia to Ireland, but the time would come when the Irish militia would be brought over here to bayonet the people. This would happen, when the people, goaded to madness, as he feared they soon would be by the neglect of that House, should adopt legal and constitutional measures for their own protection. The people of England might depend upon it, that the measures now proposed to be directed against Ireland would be applied to themselves. Let English gentlemen lay this consideration closely to their souls—that, in supporting the measures proposed by Government, they would be forging chains for themselves.

Colonel Perceval

said, that a most uncalled-for and unjustifiable attack had been made by an hon. and gallant Officer (Major Beauclerk) on the Orangemen of that House, merely because they desired to rescue Ireland from the state of anarchy, nightly burnings, bloodshed, desolation, and disgrace in which that unfortunate country was involved. He had himself the honour to be an Orangeman, but that was not the first occasion on which he had avowed that; and, as a circumstance in favour of the Orangemen, he would, without the fear of contradiction, assert that in the counties in which orangeism prevailed, most of the people were obedient to the laws, and tranquillity prevailed. [No, no.]. He repeated, that the fact was so, and he begged to assure hon. Members that he would not be put down by such interruptions. He spoke only of facts that were within his own knowledge, and further, he challenged an investigation into the truth of the statement he had made. He must confess, that he regretted exceedingly what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Officer (Major Beauelerk), who held the rank of an Adjutant-general on the subject of Courts-martial. He had frequently had the honour of sitting on Courts-martial, and on no one occasion had he ever found the members forming these courts disposed to depart from the great principle of mercy, so far as was consistent with the oaths they had taken, and the duties imposed upon them. No tribunals could have acted with more independence or greater impartiality; and he, therefore, thought the reflections that had been cast upon them were perfectly unfounded. None but officers who had attained the age of legal capacity were eligible to sit on Courts-martial; and, for his part, he considered that men of twenty-one years of age were as capable of forming a right judgment as persons of more mature age; and further, he thought that the younger a man was the more lively would be his feelings in favour of clemency. He should not certainly oppose the measures proposed by the Government, for he was fully convinced that measures of coercion were absolutely indispensable for the protection of life and property in Ireland. It was lamentable to hear of the frequency of murders and brutal outrages in that country; and he was quite persuaded that if they did not go the whole length proposed they might just as well not attempt to legislate at all. There was, however, another measure brought forward by Ministers with which he could not agree, and which should not have his support, and that was the measure introduced for the spoliation of Church property. He deprecated that measure, and he did so because he was satisfied it was not reconcileable with justice.

The Petition to lie on the Table.