HC Deb 08 March 1833 vol 16 cc392-405
Mr. Hume

presented a Petition from the Political Union of Dunfermling, and one from the inhabitants of Forfar, against the Irish Disturbance Bill. The petitioners stated, that they viewed with great jealousy the substitution of military for civil law, and prayed that House so to modify the Bill as to afford protection to life and property in that country, without so far departing from the Constitution.

Mr. Baldwin

presented a petition, signed by 20,000 inhabitants of the county of Cork, against the Bill for Abolishing Trial by Jury, and establishing Martial-law in Ireland. Amongst the petitioners he had to enumerate the names of the first merchants in that county, Catholics and Protestants. It was signed by William Crawford and Francis Bernard Beamish, who were known to every mercantile man in the empire to be merchants of the first respectability, and they were Protestants, Others of the petitioners were men of great respectability; and he hoped, that in bringing forward this petition the House would perceive, that he did so under the sanction of names which ought to give it great weight. It did not come from people of the lower classes, but from men of great commercial and landed property, who had a deep interest in the peace of that country, men who would not oppose the Bill if they thought it was calculated to preserve peace and good order, or to maintain the security of property in Ireland. It could not be denied, that such men were more deeply interested in upholding the authority of the laws in that country than any Member of that House could be, who had no other than an official conexion with Ireland. They would not thus earnestly pray for the suspension of the ruinous and tyrannical bill, if they agreed with the Government in thinking, that it would remedy the evils which had been put forth as an excuse for its enactment. In their petition they respectfully denied the truth of the statements on which the introduction of the measure had been defended. Surely those gentlemen must be better acquainted with the state of Ireland than the persons from whom the noble Lord opposite derived his information. The hon. Member, in presenting a petition from the parish of Hackett's Town, in the county of Carlow, stated, that the petitioners alleged the county in which they resided to be in a state of perfect tranquillity, although a clergyman had recently burnt some produce seized for tithe. If the people would not be provoked to acts of outrage by such occurrences as these, it could not be necessary, the hon. Member remarked, to pass such a measure as that now before the House. The hon. Member in presenting petitions from the inhabitants of Tullagh and Loughlin-bridge, in the county of Carlow, said that the last-men- tioned petition stated, that such was the consternation produced by the announcement of the measure before the House, that a number of the most respectable inhabitants of the place were selling off their property, and preparing to emigrate to America. They declared that they were compelled to take refuge from the tyranny of the British Government, in a country where mild and merciful laws existed.

The petitions laid on the Table.

Mr. Sinclair

considered, that the hon. Member who had presented the petitions, and the other Gentlemen who were opposed to the measure, had entirely misrepresented the state of feeling as to the question in Ireland. They had stated, that the whole of the Irish population were opposed to this measure. Now he would take upon himself to say, that a numerous and influential body were in its favour, by far more respectable than those who opposed it, and he had no hesitation in saying, that those hon. Members who supported the measure would receive the gratitude of their constituents for doing so.

Mr. Blackney

said, that in consequence of his name being so low upon the list, he had requested his hon. friend (Mr. Baldwin) to present some petitions for him. One of them contained the signatures of no less than 1,500 persons. The petitions had been in his possession for the last ten days, but in consequence of the regulations of the House, he had been totally unable to present them. He would not occupy the time of the House, but he trusted they would allow him to state, that he had seen the spot where the burning of corn had taken place at Hackets-town, and he could say, that no outrage had taken place in that parish for the last twelve months. The same observation would hold good with respect to Forres and several other parishes. At another opportunity he would make some statements, in the hope of convincing the noble Lord opposite, that the county of Carlow was not in that disturbed state in which it was generally supposed to be.

Mr. Wilks

trusted, that hon. Members would not enter into discussions like the present, upon the presentation of petitions, otherwise the object of meeting at that hour would be completely lost sight of.

Mr. Emerson Tennant

trusted, that the House would allow him to make a few remarks. He thought it would be as well that petitions should be the sponta- neous effusions of the petitioners. With respect to the present petitions, he did not consider them to be so. He held in his hand the copy of a letter, purporting to be written by Mr. O'Connell, and dated 14, Albemarle-street? Whether that was the residence of the hon. Member he did not know, but the writer expressed a hope that the people would resist the atrocious measures brought in by Earl Grey, for the coercion of Ireland, In another part he had requested that his name might be used to conjure the people to be peaceable, and to commit no outrage or violence. In his opinion the previous part of the letter was rather calculated to increase than allay violence. The letter went on to say—

The Speaker

said, he must interrupt the hon. Member in the course he was pursuing. It might, indeed, be very true, that what was stated in that letter had something to do with the subject before the House; but it did not relate immediately to the contents of the petition. The House was assembled for the purpose of receiving petitions. It had taken a most unusual step, and one that would not be authorised, but for the pressure of business before the House. Language and topics of the description referred to by the hon. Member, would, in common fairness, require to be replied to, and he put it to the House, whether, if the course pursued by the hon. Member was persisted in, the business of the House could be carried on with fairness to every Member.

Lord Althorp

feared, that if such a discussion were pursued, the whole object of the House for the presentation of petitions on the subject of the Irish Disturbances' Bill would be frustrated. What the hon. Member had stated might be very proper matter for discussion on the second reading of the Bill. In that discussion it would be determined what weight should be given to the petitions presented; and he hoped that no such discussion would be persisted in, during the time for presenting petitions, that the intentions of the House might not be frustrated.

Petitions ordered to be laid on the Table.

Mr. Barron

presented a petition against the Bill from the parish of Trinity without, in Dublin. The hon. Member then presented one of a similar nature from the inhabitants of the city of Waterford, agreed to at a public meeting. The meet- ing was convened before the letter alluded to by the hon. member for Belfast was known to the inhabitants of Water ford. He (Mr. Barron) would tell the hon. Member, that the inhabitants of Wafer-ford had sufficient sense and discrimination to enable them to determine when to petition, without the dictation of any man. He would not have said anything which might tend to provoke a discussion, if it had not been for the ill-timed remarks of the hon. Member. The inhabitants of the city of Waterford, in praying that the Bill might not be passed into a law, said, that the petitioners were of opinion it would only increase the feeling of animosity between the two countries. It had already excited considerable animosity between opposite parties in Ireland, and was calculated to lead to a separation between Ireland and England.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he was convinced of the necessity of presenting petitions without any unnecessary discussion, but he wished merely to say a word, as he understood, that in his absence his name had been referred to. He could assure the House, that the people of Ireland felt deeply upon this subject, and his advice had been to petition against it; that was the constitutional means of expressing the people's opinion, and he was convinced the advice he had given was the best. He cared little for the imputations which might be made against him for giving that advice.

Mr. Emerson Tennant

who had alluded to the hon. and learned member for Dublin observed, that he did not wish to throw out any imputations against that hon. and learned Gentleman, but he merely wished to show, that those petitions were not the spontaneous effusions of the persons from whom they came.

Mr. Barron

then presented a petition from the parish of Glandine, in the county of Waterford, also against the measure; and assured the House, that it was the voluntary petition of the persons who signed it. They stated, that that part of the country was in a state of perfect quiet, and that there had not been in their neighbourhood a single outrage within the last twelve months. He also presented a petition from the parish of St. Patrick, in the city of Waterford, against the Bill. The hon. Member begged to be allowed to read a paragraph from a letter which he had received from the agent of the Bank of Ireland, in Water-ford. The writer said:—" I have now to defend myself against a run for gold, which commenced two or three days ago, and self-preservation, as you know, is the first law of nature." That letter was from a most respectable gentleman (Mr. Thomas Scott), who was agent of the Bank of Ireland, at Waterford, so that it appeared, that the Acts of the Government were now producing the very effects which he (Mr. Barron) had anticipated. His next petition was one of rather more importance. It was from the parish of Ferry Bank, in the county of Kilkenny—a part of the country which had been stated to be in such a terrible state of disturbance. The petitioners stated, that that part of the country was now perfectly tranquil, and had been so for some time. They stated, also, that an attempt had been made by some wickedly-disposed persons to introduce the system of Whitefeet, but that the parish priest and his coadjutors had suppressed it in a few days. That was the more remarkable, for there was not in that neighbourhood a single resident Magistrate, nor any police force. He (Mr. Barron) resided on the border of that county, but there was not a Magistrate; nor, as he understood, a police force from Waterford to New Ross, a distance of fifteen miles. That part of the country, therefore, was kept at peace by the exertions of the Roman Catholic priests, was, he thought, quite evident.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

presented a Petition most numerously and respectably signed, from the Inhabitants of Birmingham, praying the House not to pass the Irish Coercive Bill. The petitioners assured the House, that if the Bill received their sanction, they would not support, either directly or indirectly, the civil war that was contemplated by his Majesty's Ministers against Ireland, It was impossible, said the petitioners, that the people of England, in their present distress and destitution, could contribute in any way towards defraying the expenses of carrying on such a war. They had long looked upon the question of the Repeal of the Legislative Union of the two countries with feelings of the greatest anxiety, and in deprecating the proposed measures of coercion towards Ireland, they expressed a hope that Ministers would retrace their steps, and legislate for that country with a strict attention to the wants and wishes of the people; but that if England were to be taxed for the purpose of enabling the Government to oppress the Irish people they (the petitioners) would do all in their power to assist their Irish brethren in their struggles to preserve the little remnant of liberty which had been left them. He had also a petition from the parish of Wednesbury, in the county of Stafford, to the same effect. The Petitioners were of opinion, that if that measure of coercion, should be passed into a law, it would endanger the liberties of the whole of the people of the United Kingdom. They prayed the House, instead of abolishing the Constitution in Ireland, to inquire into the causes of the distress which so long afflicted that misgoverned and oppressed country. After presenting several other petitions with the same prayer the hon. Member said, he would not trouble the House with any observations on the purport and tendency of these petitions: but he would conjure it to pause for a moment while they were still on the verge of that destructive gulph, whose depth no human eye could fathom, and whose fearful contents no human heart could guess. He implored it to pause before it plunged Ireland into an ocean of anarchy, and upon his conscience he believed, England into one far worse. He supported the prayer of these petitions, he had only to add, with pain, but at the same time with fortitude and determination, opposed as they were to those Ministers who had given the country Reform; but he did so, because he believed he might by that, save that country from ruin far greater, far more extensive, than Reform could ever restore.

Petitions laid on the Table.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

presented a Petition, very numerously signed from the inhabitants and landowners of Mitchel-town, and another place in the county of Cork. The petitioners stated, that they heard, with feelings of bitter distress, that Martial-law was to be the first boon offered by a Reformed House of Parliament to a people who had been chiefly instrumental in passing the Reform Bill. They were surprised at the credulity of the Irish Government, and of the British Ministry, in believing the statements which had been foisted upon them. They stated that those statements had chiefly, if not entirely proceeded from the Conservative societies, which had already done their utmost to prove that the late Reform measures of the present Ministry were purely revolutionary; and that it was their aim now to bring his Majesty's Ministers into disrepute. The petitioners further stated that the county (Cork) was in an extremely tranquil state, of which, as the principal inhabitants of the West Riding of that county they were competent to judge and speak. The petition also stated, that at a recent assizes in the county Cork, the perfect tranquillity of that district had been alluded to by the Earl of Bantry, in the presence of many Magistrates and other persons of influence; and that, in the same month (January last), at a very large meeting of Magistrates, Catholic priests, and others, conversant with the real state of the country, held at Skibbereen the same statements as to the peaceful state of the county of Cork were made and confirmed. This, then, was the opinion of the well-informed inhabitants of the baronies of Talmore, Orrery, and Kellock, Protestants as well as Catholics. Another petition to which he had to call the attention of the House was from Duskane, in the same county, and which struck at the root of the evil—namely, the arch-agitator himself. The petitioners, in common with himself, and with the great majority of the inhabitants of Ireland, considered that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland was unfit for the situation which he held—that his political measures were ruinous and destructive. It mattered little whether they proceeded from ignorance of the real state of Ireland or from political causes. It was evident to them and to him, that the right hon. Secretary cherished no sympathy for the grievances of that country; but, on the contrary, by his haughtiness and insolence showed no disposition to relieve it. He joined most emphatically in the prayer of the petitioners, that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland might be immediately removed from the administration of affairs in Ireland. He had now presented several petitions on the subject of the coercive measure now passing through the House. He had presented them all from the county of Cork. This was a circumstance which was very important, especially after the statement which had been made in another place, that the state of that county (Cork) was such as to demand the immediate passing of this Bill into a law. If, therefore, no disturbance existed in that county—and he could bear testimony to the fact that there was none, concurrently with the statements contained in these petitions, and, as he could also prove from various letters he had received from Magistrates in different parts of the county—if, he repeated, Government had failed in proving that disturbances existed in the county of Cork, it was the imperative duty of that House to look minutely, and with much jealousy, into the evidence which his Majesty's Ministers had produced before them. He did assert, without fear of contradiction that that county was never in a more tranquil state than at present; and with regard to an observation made by an hon. Member this morning, he must say, if his constituents had not by their petitions repudiated the imputation which had been thrown upon them by stating the exact situation of the county, he should have immediately delivered up the trust they had confided to him, and would have ceased to be their Representative in that House. He would not enter further into this question, as he should have other opportunities of giving his opinions on the Bill. He would, however, strenuously oppose it in every stage of its progress. He would merely state, in the middle of the day, when not inflamed, that his opinion of the Bill was, that it should be given over into the hands of the common hangman. It established to his mind most completely the melancholy truth of an observation of Lord Chancellor Burleigh, that the people could never be ruined but by Parliaments. The present measure was an instance of it; and he had no hesitation in saying, that the Ministers who had advised his Majesty to propose this measure and had brought it into that House for adoption, deserved impeachment at the Bar of the House, and if found guilty under that impeachment, deserved to suffer the extreme penalties of the law.

Mr. Buckingham

in presenting a petition from the inhabitants of Sheffield, in the county of York, being members of the Political Union in that town, said, the petitioners expressed their knowledge that Ireland had long been afflicted by misrule and numerous grievances, and they, therefore, were glad to learn that measures of relief were contemplated by his Majesty's Government; but they also stated, that they witnessed with much pain and indignation, the introduction of a Bill for the adoption of severe measures towards Ireland, which nothing but imperious neces- sity could justify—a necessity which they could not see at present existed. The petitioners prayed that the remedial measures might speedily be passed into law, and that the coercive measure might be postponed three months, in order that its necessity might be satisfactorily established before it was finally adopted by the House. He concurred heartily in the views and desires of the petitioners. He approved highly of the remedial measures proposed by his Majesty's Ministers, deprecated the speedy progress of the coercive measures, and hoped the latter would be postponed until the effect of the former being passed into a law had been ascertained.

Mr. Parker

craved the indulgence of the House, while he stated shortly the reason which induced him not to support the prayer of this petition. He considered that the circumstances of imperious necessity which the petitioners said would justify the measure, had already arisen. In his judgment, if a bill similar to this had not been brought in by Ministers, very soon one still more severe in its provisions would have become necessary. Government would have deserved the indignation of the country if they had not stepped in and met the necessity of the case by endeavouring to protect the peaceable subjects of the King, from that anarchy, deprivation, and outrage, which he was sorry to see pervaded the Sister Kingdom. This was the sole reason why he could not support the prayer of the petition. He had a perfect right to say, that he did not concur with it, and he protested against the imputations thrown out by Members on the opposition side of the House, as if they were the sole guardians of the Constitution, and monopolized all regard to the liberties, and peace, and happiness of Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell

denied, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had a sincere desire to protect the Constitution. The hon. Gentleman seemed on all occasions to be ready to adopt assertion for proof, and he now set himself up in favour of Courts-martial. That was a part of the Bill, however, but as the hon. Gentleman repudiated it, it was to be hoped that he would give him (Mr. O'Connell) his support. When assertions were to be made evidence, it was too much for those to reproach the Irish Members, who were actually taking away protection from inno- cence under the pretence of punishing the guilty.

Lord Althorp

did not wish to interfere in the discussion of petitions, but he could not sit still and hear an attack made on a Gentleman who had as full a right to state his reasons for supporting a measure as those who had opposed it.

Mr. Richards

, in supporting the prayer of the petition, begged to set himself right as to what he had stated on a former night, which had been denied by the hon. member for Roscommon, on the authority of a private letter. He (Mr. Richards) had since found out the clergyman to whom he then alluded, and he had seen both him and his wife. What he then stated had been grossly misrepresented. That clergyman was now perfectly ready to prove his statement at the Bar of the House. He had no objection to give the name, as he had the authority of the clergyman himself to do so; but if he named him, he must make a few observations to protect the credit of his own statement. There were but three discrepancies between his statement, and that of the clergyman. One was, that the clergyman did not make use of the phrase "town park," which in Ireland denoted pasture land near a town, as he (Mr. Richards) had stated, but that was not material. Another was, that he had stated the clergyman to have a living of 400l. a-year, whereas the fact was, that the living was of that value, but he only got 60l. a-year. The third was, that the clergyman had not established a dispensary in the town as he (Mr. Richards) had stated, but had established one in his own house. The clergyman was, however, willing to prove, that he was shot at while going in to his own house, and that he was afterwards shot at again while walking with another clergyman, and was badly wounded. He could prove, also, that his grounds had been torn up; that he had a small fortune, part of which he dispensed to the poor; and that he was obliged to leave Ireland in consequence of the system which prevailed. Having stated this much, he would now say that it was the reverend Mr. Craig.

Major Beauclerk

said, that while he felt bound to oppose the measure in every stage, he would give the hon. Gentlemen opposite full credit for their honesty of motives.

Petition to lie on the Table,

Mr. Lalor

, in presenting a petition from Ballynachin, in Queen's County said, he had also a great many petitions from town-lands throughout the country to the same effect. The reason of those small petitions having been sent to him—and he believed the House would be inundated, very soon, with similar petitions from other parts—was, that the people had an impression that there was a feeling already that large meetings should not take place for the purpose of petitioning Parliament. He had no doubt that one half of the horrible outrages which had been detailed to the House had never taken place. Of his own knowledge, he knew that many facts which had been deposed to before the Committee last year respecting the state f Ireland had never taken place.

Mr. James Grattan

, from being connected with this part of the county, felt it to be his duty to state that few or no outrages were known in Queen's County, and to the honour of the gentry of that county, they had always been ready to discharge their duty when called upon. For his own part, he was a landed proprietor of the county, and he should be always ready to discharge his duty in support of the established laws; and as the best mode of his discharging his duty on the present occasion, he would repeat to-night the vote he gave a few nights [ago against the measure now proposed as the only way he could conscientiously act in support of the laws of his country.

The Solicitor General

said, that, as the Representative of Dudley, he had been; intrusted withtwo petitions relating to I this Bill—one of them against it, and the other inits favour. The former was adopted at a public meeting numerously attended, and was most numerously signed. He was bound to say, also, that he could vouch for the respectability of the persons signing it. The petitioners thought that the evils of Ireland arose from misgovernment, and that the cure for them was conciliation. They were opposed to the Bill atpresent before the House on account of its unconstitutional nature, and thought that no such Bill ought to pass, except in a case of the greatest necessity. He (the Solicitor General) most heartily concurred in the general principlesrelied upon by the petitioners; I but heshould be unworthy to represent them, if he did not say, that he considered the extraordinary emergency to which they referred had now arrived, and that it was absolutely necessary to pass an unconstitutional measure. The other petition was from the Magistrates, bankers, clergy, and other rate-payers of Dudley, who stated that they saw with deep sorrow it was necessary, on account of the state to which Ireland was reduced, to adopt strong legislative measures to subdue the lawless spirit and dangerous associations now existing in that country. They prayed the House, therefore, whilst they took measures to remove the real grievances of Ireland, they would also take measures to put down the open violations of the law which now disgraced that country, and to restore a secure protection of life and property.

Mr. O'Connell

wished to know how many clergymen had signed that petition, for the last that was presented in favour of the Bill, out of seventy-five signatures, had those of five clergymen? The clergy of England appeared to have a kind of esprit du corps or fellow-feeling with the clergy of Ireland, which it was desirable to note.

The Solicitor General

said, he did not know how many clergymen had signed the petition; he had merely recognised the signature of Dr. Booker.

Mr. Sullivan

, on presenting a Petition from the Members of the Trades' Political Union of Kilkenny, said, that so far from the ends of justice being impeded by the intimidation of Juries, Mr. Justice Torrens had congratulated the Jury on their perseverance and determination in convicting persons who had been guilty of committing outrages, and since that period, he was happy to say no disturbances had taken place in that part of the country. Upon his own authority he could state, that as far as Kilkenny was concerned, there was no necessity whatever for coercive measures. He should take another opportunity of vindicating the county and city of Kilkenny from the aspersions which had been thrown upon it. In making the statement he had done, he did not mean to include those disturbers of the public peace who committed outrages that every body must deprecate and deplore, and to whom the strong arm of the law ought to be applied. If the arm of the law was not sufficiently strong to reach them, he would willingly lend his aid to his Majesty's Government to make such enactments as the urgency of the case required.

Lord Arthur Lennox

felt called on to say, that, so far from the county of Kilkenny being in a tranquil state, a brother-in-law of his (a clergyman) was unable to leave home for the purpose of attending even a place of worship, without leaving" a number of armed men in his house to protect it.

Mr. Henry Grattan

could state, for the satisfaction of the noble Lord, that no occasion now existed in the county of Kilkenny for the reverend Gentleman to employ any force for the protection of his property from outrage.

Mr. Barron

said, this representation was very different from the statement made by an hon. Member, who had but very lately arrived from Ireland. In the course of the debate on the first reading of the Bill, It had been said by a noble Lord, and by another hon. Member, that it was unsafe for Gentlemen to participate in the sports of the field. Now, he was informed, and firmly believed, that at the very moment he was addressing the House, any Gentleman might join in sporting in the county of Kilkenny; and he positively denied, that it was the custom of those Gentlemen to go out armed with pistols.

Mr. O'Dwyer

regretted, that only one unpaid Magistrate in that county had been found to exercise fully the duties of his office; and that other Magistrates had not followed his example, in going about among the farmers and peasantry, and endeavouring to allay discontent by advice and assistance. Fie was convinced, that if a proper feeling was cultivated between the Magistracy and the people, outrages would at least be lessened, and might be expected entirely to cease. The prayer of the petition he most heartily concurred in, and gave it his best support.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that in no instance was any gentleman implicated in the outrages.

Petitions to lie on the Table.