HC Deb 14 February 1834 vol 21 cc352-60
Mr. Fielden

presented a Petition from Ashton-under-Line, in favour of the Repeal of the Legislative Union between England and Ireland, signed by more than 4,000 persons.

Mr. Feargus O' Connor

was pleased that so numerous and respectably signed a Petition, had been presented to the House on a subject of such interest to Ireland as that of the Repeal of the Union. He was glad to find that the petitioners ascribed the vices of the Irish to their proper source—namely, the misrule and mismanagement of the affairs of Ireland; justly believing that such vices were not characteristic of Irishmen. The petitioners justly set forth, that Ireland under its present misrule, was a burthen to the people of this country; and, moreover, that the expenses requisite to support this system of abuse and misrule had been ever drawn from the pockets of the English people. Notwithstanding the insolent denunciations and arrogance of his Majesty's Ministers, and their saying, they would resist it to the death, yet the question of Repeal was fast gaining ground in England as well as in Ireland; and the impression in its favour had been confirmed by the conduct of Ministers, during last Session, during the recess, and already even during this Session also. Last year was marked by an Act of the grossest injustice, and this was commenced by insolence and intolerance; aye, notwithstanding the promises of a Reformed Parliament, and the sayings of the Whigs, that it would be better that Ireland should be united to England in the same manner as Sweden was united to Denmark; notwithstanding such language in 1824, they seemed to act differently now, and withheld the only measure that could insure the permanent security of both countries. Was it to be endured that in a country overflowing with plenty, four-fifths of the population should be in a state of starvation? If the country were properly managed, notwithstanding the overgrown population it contained, its own resources would be more than sufficient for the maintenance of double the number, and there would be no petitions day after day brought up to that House, to send Irish vagrants to starve in their own country. It was vain to endeavour to stop the anxiety which was daily growing in the minds of the people on this question in Ireland. He would not go into the details of this question now; but he felt it his duty to express his coincidence with the petition presented by the hon. Member, and to assure that House, that it was the only measure which could redress Ireland's wrongs, or provide for her wants. It was quite in vain to make any endeavour to smother the demand for Repeal; the whole nation was in a flame; and no power could put it out. He had a peculiar interest in this question—though he had other claims on the suffrages of his constituents—yet he stood there the avowedly pledged advocate of this great measure; and, as such, it was his duty to ascertain, whether the people understood the principle of the question, or whether it was merely a clap-trap; and he could say, that, after taking the sense of his constituents, seven out of ten were not only able to give an opinion on its merits, but were inflexibly determined to persevere in their exertions to obtain it. They well knew what it was to toil from morning till night, and yet be starving; what it was to labour for twelve hours, and have nothing to sleep on at night but a truss of straw, and nothing to eat but a dry meal of potatoes. Hon. Members would deceive themselves if they thought that they could suppress a demand, the success of which could alone alleviate such distress and destitution. He would look to nothing else but the essential justice of the question for its success; and though it might be imagined that the hon. and learned member for Dublin was the sole advocate, or promoter of this question, though any question that was deprived of his unequalled talents, suffered much from such loss, yet he was so little the only advocate of this measure, that if his valuable services were lost to-morrow it would only excite the people to redoubled exertions. He regretted that the right hon. the Secretary of the Treasury, the great champion of the Opposition of Repeal, should now leave the question, and dared not come down to the House to argue it without being backed by the Treasury Members. But what did that right hon. Gentleman know of Ireland?—Nothing. Let him take the manufacturers and the people who are engaged in trade in Ireland, and he would find, that the Repeal of the Union was insisted on. He could tell the House, that Ireland free, was as the right arm of England, but Ireland bound to her, was as though heavy chains were on both.

Mr. Macleod

rose, to enter his protest against the Repeal of the Union being considered solely an Irish question. It was a great Imperial question. He deprecated the hard language which had been used against his Majesty's Ministers, who were not present to defend themselves. For himself, he could not perceive that the Repeal of the Union would produce all those beneficial results which were anticipated by the petitioners. The hon. Member who presented the petition had himself said, he could not tell whether the Repeal would be right or wrong to concede, and therefore it did not appear that it was making any very great progress. He begged pardon for troubling the House, having merely risen to protest against the question being considered only an Irish one.

Mr. Cobbett

, like his hon. colleague, last Session, did not know whether the Repeal of the Union would be productive of good or evil; but, since then, he had seen the question so much agitated, and he had seen his Majesty's Ministers so angry upon the subject, that he began to suspect the Repeal would be a good thing. He had attended with the greatest care and attention to all the arguments both for and against the question; and he was now of opinion, that a Repeal of the Legislative Union would be a good thing for England and Ireland. A sort of reproach seemed to be heaped on those who advocated the Repeal, as if there were something monstrous and dangerous in the cry; but they all knew that separate Legislatures did exist only thirty-four years ago; they all knew also by what means the Union was effected, and that it was by more bribery and corruption than under any Government which ever existed. England was even now paying compensation for that measure, and taxes were now levied on the people of England to pay the cost of that bribery and corruption. Bribes were then given, not only instanter, but in futurity, and were allowed to descend from father to son. Well, then, what was the real question? Why, it was simply this—whether the Union existed for good or evil—whether it produced good or evil to their constituents? He was satisfied, that the Repeal of the Union would produce good. He was sure of one thing—that let them do what they liked, they could not, by any means, produce more evil than the Union had done. What had it produced?—were not the people always in a state of half rebellion?—were not 30,000 troops, with a large force of a Bourbon Police, kept up in order to keep them in something like peace?—all of which put the country to an enormous expense. Were not the people of Ireland in a starving condition, while it was perfectly well known, that that country imported into England three times more corn than any other country, or indeed all other countries put together. The people were all starving; and yet he was told, that in the month of June, 1831, 1,000 hogs passed through one turnpike in Berkshire, every one of which came from Ireland. The half of Lancashire, and the half of the West Riding of Yorkshire, were fed by meat brought from Ireland. Then that must be a good country, and the people must be an industrious people; or how could all that meat be obtained?—yet they required all the force to which he had before alluded, to keep the people in order, because they were not allowed to have any of this meat. It must be a bad Government that Ireland had when such scenes occurred, and when this country's labour was taxed to such an enormous extent to keep down such an industrious people, as the statement he had made proved them to be. Then, why should they not discuss the question of the Repeal of the Legislative Union?—at least, why should the Ministers advise his Majesty —much, he was sure, against his Majesty's feelings—to scold his Irish subjects? On a former occasion, he had said, that he remembered the time when the question of Reform was treated in the same way as the Ministry now treated the question of Repeal. He well remembered the time, when a Reformer, a Member of that House, had thought it prudent to go across the sea, in order to escape from Sidmouth's dungeons; and yet that man had lived to see a Ministry, who called themselves a Reform Ministry, and a Parliament, who, every day, almost, boasted that they were a Reformed Parliament. So it would yet be with the question of Repeal, if the Ministry pursued their present course, and refused any discussion on the matter.

Colonel Williams

, although he fully admitted the statements that had been made by the hon. member for Oldham, as to the deplorable state of Ireland, could by no means agree with him in thinking, that the Repeal of the Union would, produce an amended state of society in that country. Notwithstanding the great talents of that hon. Member, all his arguments in favour of a Repeal of the Union might easily be combatted and overthrown. He recollected perfectly well the period when the Union took place; he thought Mr. Pitt was pursuing the wrong course, and that instead of any Union taking place, his proper course would have been to have Reformed the Irish Parliament; but the Union having taken place, he doubted very much, whether any good could be effected by its Repeal.

Mr. Finn

congratulated the Repealers, and the people of Ireland at large, on the speech of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Macleod), which had called forth one from the hon. member for Oldham, for which the people of Ireland were greatly indebted. What he had stated with respect to the people of Ireland was perfectly true. The statement, that the Reformers had been denounced by the Whigs, was equally so; for Mr. Canning himself had called them, a low, and degraded crew. He was convinced that the Repeal of the Union was a measure founded in justice, would be advantageous to both this country and Ireland, and was the only means of producing contentment, peace, and order, in Ireland, and giving security to this country.

Mr. Potter

thought, the vote of last night would have convinced the Irish Members of the determination of the House to do justice to Ireland. He understood, that the present Secretary for Ireland, in the discharge of his duties connected with that country, gave the greatest satisfaction. The hon. member for Oldham had spoken of the great quantity of cattle sent from Ireland to this country; that, in his opinion, showed that Ireland was a great producing country. He was quite convinced, that if time were given, the House would do justice to Ireland by instituting either an absentee tax or a modified system of Poor-laws.

Mr. Hardy

said, he did not mean to put a stop to the present discussion: but the time of this House ought not to be spent on by-battles upon a question which must come in a more solemn shape before the House, and receive that consideration which its great importance demanded. He was sorry that such lengthened discussions should take place upon the mere presentation of a petition. He could get up hundreds of such petitions in different parts of England. In the county of Lancaster thousands upon thousands of signatures could be attached to such petitions, and in all the large towns of the north of England. It was supposed, that such a measure as the present would relieve them from the great influx of Irish labourers, and not because it would effect a dissolution of the Union between this country and Ireland. What many of the persons who signed petitions like the present were told, and believed, was, that if they could only obtain a repeal of the Legislative Union, it would send back all the competitors in the field of labour, who had already so much reduced the wages of the manufacturing and agricultural population. This was the argument which had been held forth to the deluded people. In the town of Leeds there were not less than 8,000 resident Irish; in Lancaster there were more; in Barnsley there were many thousands; and when this impression had been made upon that class, which were now fashionably called "the operatives,"—when they were told, that such a measure as that contemplated by the present petition would prevent the influx of Irish labourers, by which their wages had been considerably lowered, it would not be very difficult to procure thousands of signatures to such petitions, though those who signed them knew nothing of the consequences of such an important measure as the dissolution of the Legislative Union between this country and Ireland. Whenever that question came before the House, he would listen to the arguments brought forward in favour of it with the greatest attention, and give it all the consideration in his power. At the same time he could not see how the dissolution of the Union could have the effect of producing all that prosperity which some members of that House anticipated. There was, in the present Parliament, no indisposition to listen to the just complaints of the Irish people, or adopt whatever measures might conduce to their prosperity. He did not think, that a resident Parliament could have the magic effect which some persons anticipated from it. They had a lamentable instance of the truth of that position in the starving condition of the people of this country, which the Legislature had in vain tried to improve; and how could it be said, that it would do that in Ireland which it had failed to do in the country where it at present existed? He hoped they would continue a united, a free, and a happy people. He did not wish to see the interests of one country advocated in preference to another; the interests of England, Ireland, and Scotland were one and the same, and he trusted that they would be discussed and treated as one common topic.

Mr. Ruthven

could not enter into the sentiment expressed by the hon. Gentleman, who pretended to deplore the waste of the time of the House in receiving Irish petitions. It would be unjust and hypocritical in Irish Members if they did not take up the time of the House on this great and important question. Many opportunities would arise, and, he trusted, would be taken advantage of, to discuss that question, for it was only by perseverance in so great an object as the repeal of the Union, that they could hope to succeed. They had great prejudices and party feelings to contend against, while the power of Ministers and men in office would be directed to oppose them. They found that even the royal name was abused, for the purpose of denouncing that object, and pointing them out as dissatisfied subjects only to be treated with "just indignation." He was glad to hear that expression, for he knew both its use and its absurdity; for, while on the one hand, it did not deter those who had begun, it had made ten new repealers where only one existed before. It made the friends of Ireland, finding that she was not protected in Royal Speeches, stand up in her favour. Such expressions only tended to agitate both the people of England and Treland, until they would, by constitutional means, defeat those who seemed disposed to drive them into rebellion. Indeed, they were not to be diverted from their course, until they obtained the freedom of Ireland. It should be remembered, that the people of Ireland amounted to 8,000,000; they ought to have a Legislature of their own. Bad as the Irish parliament was, it had not been improved by being transplanted to an English soil. The Irish Parliament, at the period of 1782, had an illustrious leader, who made England succumb to them; and England would be obliged again to succumb to Ireland. England dared not to go to war at present with eight millions of discontented subjects. Was he to be told, then, that it was wasting the time of the House to receive the petitions of the Irish people? Let them send the Irish Members home to their own country, where they could do a great deal of good, which they could not do here. The denouncement of the Repeal of the Union, had led to deep thought: but they were told that to petition was a crime in the eyes of the Ministers, and a species of agitation to be put down by the name of the King and a Ministerial mandate. Was it agitation to demand their rights? It might be called so, but he would be one to advise the people to petition, and to continue to petition for that Repeal, and the granting of their petition would be the best act of the Legislature. Ministerial mandates, Royal Speeches, and Proclamations might be sent forth ad infinitum, until the well paid printers grew tired of them, and they would have no effect except that of exciting the people to renew their petitions for their rights. He with other Irish Members, deplored the existence of absenteeism; but the cause of the mischief was, that they were under a species of foreign policy. The Irish Members were in this country as foreigners, and treated as foreigners, and though they stood up to do their duty, they found they were prevented from doing so to a great extent. He thought it was unnecessary for him to make any apology for attempting to support the rights of the Irish people, and the Repeal of the Union.

Lord William Lennox

did not like the expression of foreign Parliament. He could assure hon. Members for Ireland that English Members sympathized with them in every thing that called for their good feeling. He was open to conviction on the topic of Repeal; he had not made up his mind on it; but even the member for Oldham, who possessed twice his (Lord Lennox's) experience, and ten times his talent, acknowledged, that till last year, he had not been satisfied of the necessity of the measure. Though, at present, he did not believe that benefit would result from the carrying of such a measure, yet his mind might attain that conviction.

Petition laid on the table.

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