HC Deb 11 March 1833 vol 16 cc466-77
The Speaker

said, that he was about to proceed with the Public List. If he rightly understood the feelings of the House on Friday, no public petitions were to be presented, except those which had reference to the Irish Coercive Bill.

Mr. Robinson

wished, before the question was put, to ask whether that was the understanding or not of the House?

The Speaker

did not know whether the hon. Member was in the House at the time the understanding took place; but he could assure the hon. Member that he was. The hon. member for Dublin, who had a large number of petitions to present, had been stopped short in the presentation of his petitions, upon the understanding that similar petitions only were to be presented this day. He had no doubt that such was the opinion of the House on Friday, but whether it remained of the same opinion to-day was another question.

Mr. Robinson

wished to know when this course would stop, as he felt sure the presentation of Irish petitions would exclude all others for some time to come?

The Speaker

observed, that when it should stop would depend upon the decision of the House. But if that understanding was now to be departed from, many hon. Members who had petitions to present of a different nature, and who were absent on the understanding that petitions against the Irish Coercive Bill only were to be presented, would be unfairly dealt with, and have great reason to complain.

Mr. Robinson

bowed to the suggestions of the Chair.

MR. Cobbett

said, he had had the honour of having committed to his care thirty petitions upon the subject of the Bill before the House, and had had the petitioners, who sent him other petitions, understood that their petitions were to pass through the post office, post-free, he should have had ten or fifteen more petitions, each signed on an average by about 5,000 names. The rolls were large, and he had been compelled to return them to the post office, unless he had chosen to incur an expense of about 15l. in postage during the last week. He would occupy as little of the time of the House as possible, and he would speak, once for all, upon the whole of the petitions. He could have occupied their time with petitions, but he had never presented one until now, and therefore he hoped he might be permitted to state generally the contents of his petitions. The hon. Member after enumerating the thirty petitions, and stating the prayer of them proceeded to say, that as it would be vexatious to read them all through, he should not press for leave to do so. His opinion was, however, that it would be much more gratifying to the petitioners to have no speeches made on the presentation of their petitions, but that their petitions be read, and afterwards printed. What the petitioners wanted was, in the first place, to be heard, and the next thing they wanted was to have their words put on record. As to expense, he would undertake to find a printer who would print them all for less than the sinecure of Lord Grenville himself. Lord Grenville had had 4,000l. a-year for doing nothing, and God knew he had had it long enough. Now, for 4,000l. a-year, he would undertake to find a printer who would print every petition that was presented to the House, and in a manner to be approved of by the Clerk of the House. That would be the way to get rid of the petitions, but if the system was to be continued of reading only the headings of them, and if some days hon. Members might speak about them, and sometimes they might not, the people would get out of temper—they would get dissatisfied with the House—they would consider themselves ill-treated, and it would not be difficult to conjecture what the consequences would be. He was sure he should not be thought out of order, if he made a few observations on the contents of the petitions before him; as he had said, there were thirty of them, and one speech (if it could be called so) for thirty petitions, could not be considered out of the way. If every Gentleman only made one speech on the presentation of thirty petitions, they should get on pretty well. The first upon which he would comment was, the petition from Surrey, from Godalming, and its neighbourhood; and he had presented that petition first, for several reasons, because it occasioned in his mind feelings of pleasure, of pride, of shame, and of sorrow. Of pleasure, because there was a body of Englishmen the most peaceable, the best disposed, and the most industrious in England, who proved that they had a fellow-feeling for the people of Ireland, and had come forward to express their feelings in the most sensible manner—pride, because this petition came from the spot on which he himself was born—shame, because there were circumstances which had prevented the petitioners sending their petitions to their own representative—and sorrow, because he (Mr. Cobbett) himself had been instrumental in causing the return of that representative. The petition from Huddersfield was deserving of great attention. He was sorry he did not see the hon. member for Huddersfield in his place, who had lately spoken respecting the condition of the people of Huddersfield. He said, that the labouring manufacturers there were earning 2s. at least, and in general 3s. a-day. By his re-presentation, therefore, the people there were not a parcel of paupers, and this was a petition signed by 9,300 of them, praying that this Bill might not pass into a law, and expressing the greatest disapproval of it. They prayed, that military law might not be established in Ireland, because, if the House allowed it, they anticipated that the same would be extended to England. They further Said, that they would, by all legal means, resist the Bill, and every other of a similar description. He should now state the general opinion and prayer of the petitioners. They said, they saw no proof produced by the Ministry to show that such a measure was necessary; they said, that all the pretended proof adduced by Ministers, if produced in a Court of Law, would not be sufficient to send a beggar to a whipping-post. It was all hearsay evidence—not only hearsay, but anonymous; and how was the House to know but that it was got from spies, who were paid out of the secret service money? One of the petitions stated—he Huddersfield one—that they were astonished to observe that no clause was introduced to protect Members of that House from the operation of the Bill. He had never seen or heard of an oppressive bill being passed without such a clause being introduced. No such bill as this, without such a clause, was ever introduced even in the times of Sidmouth and Castlereagh—no, not even in the time of the tyrant Pitt. The principle which had formerly been acted upon was, that a Member of that House could not be sent to prison till a complaint had been brought before the House, and it had decided upon the imprisonment of the Member. But this Bill was aimed at the Members. By this Bill he might go to Ireland one day, next day a proclamation might come out in the morning; he might be seized, taken before some of the red-coated gentry in the afternoon, and next day he might be on his way to Botany Bay. The fact was. Ministers had been beat in the elections in Ireland. They saw a small band of patriots returned to that House, who were determined to do the people's work, and that was the reason why that Bill hnd been brought forward. It was not a Bill directed against Whitefeet or Blackfeet, or why put a stop to meetings in the open day? Why should Members of Parliament be subjected to its operation, or why should those accused of libelling be dragged before those military officers? Members of Parliament were not midnight marauders; libellers were not Whitefeet or Blackfeet. The petitioners said the measure was not introduced for the protection of persons and property—no, not even of the parsons, but for the purpose of upholding the odious system of tithes. They were for the abolition of tithes in England, as well as in Ireland, and they considered this Bill as merely a warning—as much as to say—" Take care what you are about—take care of what you say. This Bill is a mere trial of the patience of the people, and the provisions of it may be extended to England." He could assure the House that tithes were far from being popular in England, and would never have been paid so long in England had it not been for the constant presence of soldiers and bayonets among the people. No doubt it was a hopeless sort of resistance when naked breasts were opposed to bayonets, but there might be circumstances to blunt the bayonets before they reached the breast. There was no man in his senses but must see, that his Majesty's servants intended to reduce the whole of the country to military law. No man in his senses—no man who was not born an idiot, or who was not strongly biassed in his opinion, but must see it; but let the people only be convinced that that was the intention, then a struggle would take place such as never had been seen in this country. He had always been the advocate of a Government of King, Lords, and Commons. But if there be a Government of King, Lords, and Commons to give us Courts-martial to be tried by instead of Judges and Juries—if they were to take the Constitution from England, the same as they were about doing from Ireland; then, if it was reduced to a question, whether the Government should be destroyed or the people enslaved, he should do all in his power to prevent the latter.

Mr. Strickland

felt called upon to say a few words, in consequence of two of the petitions which the hon. Member had presented—namely, those from Huddersfield and Keightley. He knew many of those petitioners, who were men of the utmost respectability, and he felt convinced that they had no wish whatever to express their opinions too strongly; but the sentiments of freedom were strongly inherent in them. He could, however, not go to the full extent of supporting all parts of the prayers of these petitions, because he deviated from them upon this point, whether or not it had been proved by his Majesty's Government that there was a case of necessity for the course they had adopted, and he thought that a temporary departure from the Constitution ought to be allowed, for the protection of life and property. He should not support Government in the present measures, if he was not fully convinced that they would carry on every desirable Reform in the institutions of the country, and would without delay, effect that which had been promised, but not performed—he meant the extinction of tithes. It was in the confidence that these measures would be brought forward that he now supported his Majesty's Government. He did not mean to disguise his feelings on the subject, but he must say, that never did the country, at any moment, place such confidence in men as they did in the present Ministers, and if they did not deserve that confidence by acting for the good of the country, he was sure it would be quite impossible for them to carry on the Government. He hoped and trusted. Ministers would immediately bring forward those measures to which he had adverted, redeeming every pledge they had made, and thereby preventing the expectations of the public from being disappointed.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

was surprised, if the hon. Member who spoke last really entertained the opinions he expressed, that he had not recommended the Ministers to abolish the tithes in Ireland, for by no other means could they deserve the confidence of the Irish, or carry on the government of that country successfully. The remedial measures which it had hitherto brought forward for Ireland, were a mockery of its distress and an outrage on its grievances.

Lord Althorp

protested against the hon. Member's remarks. The measures of Government for the relief of Ireland had given general satisfaction.

Petitions laid on the Table.

Mr. James Oswald

presented a Petition from the Glasgow Political Unionists against the Bill. The petitioners considered that that Bill was contrary to the principles of the British Constitution, and they stated, that if it were passed, it would shortly be found convenient to extend its provisions to Scotland and England. They felt indignant that the measure should have been introduced by his Majesty's Ministers, and they besought the House to restore the good opinion entertained of its wisdom and integrity, by throwing out that infamous and tyrannical measure and thereby prove to the world that the House was a protector and upholder of the liberty of the subject. He regretted, that he could not support the whole of the prayer of that petition. He was of opinion that a case had been made out which called for additional powers beyond the existing laws, to be placed at the disposal of the Government with regard to Ireland. He was satisfied that in some parts of Ireland there existed a degree of outrage which called for extraordinary powers, but he concurred with the petitioners in disapproving at least of one part of the Bill, which he held to be totally uncalled for. He alluded to that part appointing Courts-martial. He held Courts-martial to try civil offences to be utterly inconsistent with a free Government. No free Government could with propriety resort to Courts-martial to try civil offences, except in case of open rebellion. To that part of the Bill he should give his decided opposition. There were other parts of it which he decidedly disapproved. One, he believed the 27th clause, respecting signals, in which the parties accused were to be compelled to prove a negative. There were other clauses which he disapproved of, but which he should not now enter into. Domiciliary visits should, he thought, be made less objectionable, for that part of the Bill relating to them was, in its present state, most tyrannical. In all cases of domiciliary visits they should not be made without the presence of a Magistrate. Another part to which he objected, was the making of any place a gaol, at the whim of the party who apprehended a person.

Mr. O'Connell

would not occupy more than one moment. He had received a great number of letters from various petitioners, requesting him to support the prayer of the petitions. Out of respect to those petitioners, and to a great many others who had written to him from Scotland, he begged to state, that in supporting their prayer, the only reason that prevented him from addressing the House on those petitions being presented was, in consequence of the rule to which the House had agreed,

Mr. Roebuck

had a number of petitions to present on the same subject. The first was from the inhabitants of the city of Bath, signed by nearly 4,000 persons. They took the earliest opportunity to state their sorrow, indignation, and alarm at the introduction into that House of coercive measures towards the long-suffering, and and now cruelly-treated people of Ireland, whose grievances they traced to a continued oppression and to national injustice. The hon. Member after presenting several other petitions on the same subject, and one from Kilcoman and another parish in the county of Mayo, observed:—The last petition came to him accompanied by a letter. He mentioned that letter to show how such documents were written. Letters had been received on the other side, declaring the county of Mayo to be dreadfully agitated. This letter described it as in a state of "perfect tranquillity." He must confess, that as an Englishman, having no personal knowledge on the subject, he was startled at the direct contradiction between the two statements. It had been stated, that the barony of Gallen was in a very disturbed state; and the letter stated the facts to be, that two brothers had quarrelled about a house; some policemen were sent to prevent bloodshed; therefore the barony would be proclaimed. The other case was of a young woman, who, it was said, having a secret understanding with her admirer, was carried off, and as the barony did not rise en masse, in order to rescue her, therefore it would be declared in a state of rebellion! The letter further stated, that the people in the barony had offered passive resistance to the collection of tithes, but the real offence that the inhabitants had given was this: There were about 196 freeholders registered in the barony, all of whom had voted for Sir William Brabazon—an offence which could not be forgiven.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Wilks

presented petitions from the members of a club professing the principles of the late Major Cartwright, from Boston and from Derby, signed by upwards of 3,000 persons.

Colonel Henry Cavendish

said, it was true, that the Derby petition was signed by, as he understood, 3,5OO individuals, but as its contents did not accord with his feelings, he regretted to say he could not support the prayer of it.

Mr. Handley

said, that he concurred entirely with part of the statement made in the petition that had just been presented from Boston. The petitioners said there were causes, and indeed individuals of all descriptions, even from Ireland, admitted that there were causes for some extraordinary measure. That the cause of the disturbances was the tithe law, he entirely agreed. He had given his support to the first reading of this Bill, and he proposed to support it through a second reading, considering that lreland was in that state which rendered it impossible for him to refuse his support to this or any other measure that might be propounded to overcome the illegal tyranny that prevailed at present in Ireland. There was, however, in this Bill, that to which he felt an invincible objection. If the Bill should be altered in Committee so as to enable him finally to give his support to it, it would afford him the greatest possible satisfaction. He con- ceived that the best interests of the country were intimately connected with the present members of the Government continuing in office; but he would not consent to give any man or set of men a power to prevent the sacred right of petitioning, or to allow individuals to be imprisoned by irresponsible persons.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that no man could deny there had been committed in Ireland for the last sixty years outrages of the most distressing nature; but wherever the law had been put into active execution, those outrages had been speedily overcome. The Assizes in Ireland were now going on, and he had just received the Report from Waterford, where the Judge declared that the law was strong enough if only put into execution. The law had been found strong enough to punish the horrible murder that had been committed at Wexford; a trial had taken place—three persons had been capitally convicted, and two of them executed; one of them had declared his innocence to the last moment. He acknowledged that for other offences committed by him he ought justly to die, but that of the murder imputed to him he was perfectly innocent. Afterwards one of those who remained unexecuted even thanked the Jury for convicting him, acknowledged that he was the sole actor in the dreadful offence, and that the other two culprits were perfectly innocent. He was executed and the one remaining was to have his Majesty's free pardon. This, then, showed that, if even with all the precautions which the law gave, administered by its most experienced Judges, mistakes, and serious mistakes, were occasionally committed, how important it was that the administration of the law should not be taken out of the hands of these Judges, that the Trial by Jury should not be dispensed with, and that the liberties of the people should not be put into the hands of a few young officers. Let the Bill only linger in the House till the Assizes were over, and every pretext for taking away Trial by Jury, for suppressing the liberty of the Press, and confining men, women, and children in a common dungeon, would be exploded. This readiness on the part of English gentlemen of liberal principles, and honest judgments, to be carried away by anonymous statements, and on their authority to support such a measure as this, showed the necessity for a Repeal of the Union.

Lord Althorp

rose to order. He said, the object of the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be to repeat on the present occasion, all that he had said on the first reading of the Bill.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Gillon

had a great number of petitions from his native county against the Bill. The first was from his own constituents in the borough of Lanark, who stated that they viewed with great alarm the introduction of a measure winch was to set aside the constitutional government of Ireland, and to substitute in Its stead military despotism. They perceived in that measure a strong desire to stifle the opinions of the people—they wanted words to express their abhorrence and detestation of it, and they considered it as waging war against the liberties of the people. They were convinced that if those powers were granted, it would only be a prelude to a similar measure in this country. They, therefore, prayed the House to reject with scorn and indignation any attempt to make the House a party to so gross a measure, and they hoped that measures would speedily be introduced to remove all the grievances that oppressed Ireland. He had also four petitions of a similar nature, all praying for the rejection of the Bill, and declaring the belief of the petitioners that tranquillity would not be restored in Ireland until the Established Church of that country was done away with, and the oppressive tithe system extinguished. In that opinion he most cordially concurred. The first was from 669 of his constituents in the borough of Hamilton. The next was from a place in the county of Fife; from the inhabitants of Cupar, in Fife, praying for the removal of the Church Establishment in Ireland; and from the Political Union of Leslie, in Fife. He had also to present petitions from Aberdeen, and other places not to impose on so many millions of their fellow-subjects a system of military despotism. A most important petition was signed by 3,728 respectable inhabitants of Greenock. The petitioners viewed with horror and alarm the arbitrary and unconstitutional measures now adopting towards Ireland; and they prayed that measures of an ameliorating kind might be speedily introduced. They besought the House at once to reject the Bill now before them, and to pass humane and salutary laws, as a means of promoting peace and good order in Ireland. Having presented so many petitions against that Bill from his native country, he should only say, that it was now proved that Ireland had many friends among a people who had wrought out their own religious freedom by the sword. Those friends were especially among the Dissenters of Scotland, who had a fellow feeling with them, and thought they ought to be relieved from that heavy tax with which they were saddled for the support of an aristocratic priesthood. He was of opinion that the extensive funds that were now appropriated to the church, and which were almost useless, might be most profitably employed in teaching the people, and in feeding them.

Mr. Robert Wallace

supported the prayer of the petitions, particularly those from Renfrew and Greenock. The latter place, it was to be remembered, was the largest seaport in Scotland, and upwards of 4,000 of its inhabitants had signed the petition, who were a religious and moral class of people. He confessed that, when he was returned by his constituents as a Member of that House, they did expect that he would be able to give his support to his Majesty's Ministers, but he had since that period found it to be his duty to oppose them; first, upon the Address, then relative to Sinecures, and lastly, upon the present Bill; and at a meeting which had taken place, his constituents had publicly returned him their thanks for the course he had taken.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Ewart

presented a petition against this Bill, signed by 1,5,000 inhabitants of Liverpool. The petitioners objected to the transfer of the judicial authority into the hands of military officers, and thought such a course would be destructive of the moral influence of the law, and was utterly unjustified by the necessity of the case. They observed also that it would revive feelings of animosity which had now happily subsided, and believed that the majority of the House were unacquainted with the misery under which the inhabitants of Ireland groaned. They felt convinced that any attempt to enforce the payment of the arrear of tithes would only have the effect of causing the expenditure of much money and the shedding of much human blood, besides ultimately leading to the most deplorable consequences. The petitioners concluded by praying that the House would not proceed with the Bill till after further inquiry. He (Mr. Ewart) concurred in almost every statement of the petitioners. He was decidedly against substituting Martial Law for Civil Law, or rather Martial Courts for Civil Courts. No doubt the Government had made out a case which justified the addition of some powers to the law, but they had made out no ease to justify the passing of such a Bill as was now before the House; and with that Bill he could not bring his mind to concur. He did not think the Government had acted in a politic manner in introducing a bill going to this extent, or in introducing it at the present time. He should have wished them to wait till they had tried how far remedial measures would have succeeded. And when they brought in their remedial measures, and, as it were, entered into recognizances to keep the peace with Ireland, they might have called upon the independent Members of this House, anxious to give them their support to protect life and property in Ireland. He should have been happy, for his own part, to have given his support in passing any bill to accomplish that object, but he certainly should not give his assent to the enactments of the measure before them. He could assure his Majesty's Ministers, that it was matter of regret and sorrow to many of their most sincere friends and supporters, that upon this Bill they could not act in conjunction with them.

Mr. O'Dwyer

said, that this petition had been adopted at the public meeting, and thereby disproved an assertion made by an hon. Gentleman as to the feeling of the people upon this subject. An attempt had been made in Liverpool, by handing about papers to obtain signatures to a petition in favour of the Bill, but it had completely failed. These two facts—the one negative, and the other affirmative, might be taken as a true criterion of the state of public opinion in this important town, which he trusted would be thought entitled to weight in that House.

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