HC Deb 09 July 1834 vol 24 cc1336-42
Lord Althorp

rose and said:—Sir, having been placed in a position which renders it necessary that I should state to the House the reasons which have governed my conduct, I asked for and obtained his Majesty's permission to make that statement to the House. When the renewal of the Coercion Bill was first brought under the consideration of the Cabinet, I felt it my duty to concur in the renewal of it, with the omission only of those clauses of it relating to Courts-martial. I hope I need not say, that I did so with the greatest reluctance, and that nothing would have induced me to do so but my conviction of the absolute necessity of the case. Afterwards private and confidential communications, however, from the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland to individual members of the Government, brought the subject again under the consideration of the Cabinet in the week before last. I may as well say, that it was at this time that my right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, suggested to me the propriety of telling the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, that the question was not yet finally decided, and that the Bill was still under consideration. I saw no harm in this, if it proceeded no further; and I am bound to say, in my own justification, that I begged my right hon. friend to use extreme caution in his communication, and by no means to commit himself in what he said. As I have said, these private and confidential communications from the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland to an individual member of the Cabinet brought the subject again before the Cabinet the week before last. From the nature of these communications I was led to believe, that the three first clauses of the Act—those, I mean, which refer to meetings in the parts of Ireland not proclaimed—were not essentially necessary, and that they might be omitted from the new Bill without endangering the peace of Ireland. Under this impression, I objected to the renewal of those clauses. My right hon. friends, the members for Inverness, for Cambridge, for Edinburgh, and for Coventry, coincided with me in taking that course, and in making that objection. I need not state to the House that we were in a minority in the Cabinet. The Cabinet decided against us, and we had to consider whether we would acquiesce in this decision, or whether we would break up the Government. We decided that it was our duty to acquiesce. Upon the most careful consideration which I have been enabled to give the point since—after considering carefully the course which we then pursued—I am prepared to say now, as then, that I am convinced that, with the imperfect information we then had of what had occurred, we were right in taking that course. I do not mean to disguise from the House that I felt, in coming to that decision, that I might be, under such circumstances, placed in a situation of great difficulty and embarrassment in conducting the measure through this House. But when, on Thursday last, I heard the statement of my right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, and then, for the first time, was made aware of the nature and extent of the communication which he had made to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I certainly thought it most probable, that the difficulties and embarrassments which I should have to encounter would prove to be insuperable. The debate on Monday night on the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman proved to me that they were so, and convinced me that I could no longer conduct that Bill, or the general business of Government in this House, with credit to myself or with advantage to the public. I accordingly wrote that night to Lord Grey, and requested him to tender my resignation to his Majesty, which his Majesty has been graciously pleased to accept. I am authorized by my right hon. friends to whom I have already alluded, to say, that they approve of, and concur in, the step which I have taken. I have stated to the House the reasons which induced my right hon. friends and myself to take that course. I should be extremely sorry if the course which I and my right hon. friends have pursued on this occasion should not be approved by my fellow-countrymen; but I should be still more grieved, if it should not be approved of by that large body of gentlemen in this House who have reposed so much confidence in me, and who, by their handsome and steady support, have enabled me to maintain a position for which my abilities would otherwise have so little qualified me. I should be deeply grieved indeed if those gentlemen did not approve of my conduct. Having made this statement to the House, I have nothing further to add, but that I hold my office until my successor is appointed; and that, until that is the case, I shall feel it my duty to conduct the ordinary business of the Government in this House.

Mr. Littleton

—After the statement which has been just made by my noble friend, I am sure the House will extend its indulgence to me while I address a few observations to it. No individual in this House was ever placed in a more painful situation than I now find myself placed in. I have committed two errors. I have committed, first, the error of having a communication with the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, without the sanction of the head of his Majesty's Government; and I have committed the further and greater error, in placing confidence in one who has proved himself so ill-deserving of it. I must say, however, that nothing is easier, after such a thing has led to an unfortunate result, than to look back and discover the course which it would have been more dignified and wise to follow. I am now perfectly aware that the wisest thing for my own character and interests—perhaps the wisest thing for the interests of my friends in the Government, would have been, that I should have resigned my office the very first moment it was communicated to me that the hopes and sincere belief I had entertained that the clauses in question in the Coercion Bill would have been left out could not possibly be fulfilled. I never in my life shall forget the emotion of regret I experienced on receiving that communication; but having reflected that my resignation upon that point, and at such a time, might have powerfully influenced the conduct of others, and probably might produce a dissolution of the present Government, I confess I did not think that I was an individual of sufficient importance to justify me in taking a step that might lead to such consequences. I will candidly acknowledge that I had not sufficient courage to take a step that might produce that risk. I therefore resolved to do that which I hope was not dishonourable. I resolved to compromise my opinion on this point, albeit that opinion was a strong and decided one, and to abstain from taking a line of conduct that might injure a Government of the principles of which I in the main most cordially approved. My noble friend has observed that it was only on Thursday last he was aware of the full extent to which I had gone in my communication to the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. I admit, that I ought to have communicated to my noble friend what had passed on that occasion. But be it borne in mind that so full and so entire was the conviction in my mind, not merely that the conversation which had taken place between the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself would go no further, but that the clauses in question were sure to be abandoned, that the importance of doing anything more than merely to inform my noble friend that a conversation of the kind had taken place had never once been present to my mind. I shall not detain the House further than to express my desire—my most earnest anxiety—that the House may feel that in the course which I have unfortunately taken I have been actuated by no other desire than to promote the peace of a country which has ever since my earliest entrance into public life, had my warmest and sincerest sympathies, and for which, be it borne in mind, I was at the time in some degree responsible.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the statements which had been just made had been received by the House in the manner that the candid statement of an hon. Gentleman ought, and if any person was to blame for the course which the right hon. Gentleman had taken—a course dictated by his desire to obtain tranquillity for his unfortunate country—if any person, he repeated, was to blame, he would infinitely prefer that a double share of the blame should be thrown upon him, than that any should be cast upon the right hon. Gentleman. He was now convinced, indeed it was impossible that he should not be, that the right hon. Gentleman had acted with the most perfect good faith towards him, and that the right hon. Gentleman entertained at the time an honest and sincere conviction of the truth of every word that dropped from him. Indeed, he considered the right hon. Gentleman utterly incapable of any thing else. He did not rise to vindicate himself on this occasion, but he was sure that every one who heard him would recollect that his unfortunate countrymen had reposed in him the most unlimited confidence for the last thirty years, and that he should be the most abject of human beings if he had one thought that was not absorbed in the wish to promote their liberties and advance their interests. He would ask hon. Gentlemen before they condemned him to recollect that if England or Scotland had been placed in the situation Ireland was, whether their first anxiety would not be to maintain that portion of the empire with which they were connected upon a footing of equality as regarded its rights and privileges with the rest, and if he had one duty greater than another to discharge, it was to see that Ireland should be their coequal in political privileges and constitutional rights. He was deeply convinced that the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord were perfectly right in deeming the renewal of the clauses of the Coercion Bill that had been alluded to as utterly unnecessary for preserving the peace of Ireland. He had acted upon the suggestion then given to him in the course he had pursued. He took no merit to himself for it, but he would have been wrong if he had said a word, or if he had written a line, from which occasion might have been taken, should any agrarian disturbance have taken place, to taunt the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman with excesses which it would be said his conduct had produced. To preserve the country from that danger was the object he had contemplated. He was not to be considered as a private individual in such a case; he did not act as such. When confidence was reposed in him he felt that he was bound not to mention names. He did not mention names, but then the House would recollect that he had to act with others, and to get others to act with him,—that he had to manage others; but that he would state that in that management he did not utter a word, or give a hint to any person of the quarter from which he had received the intimation in question. He had merely stated, in vindication of the conduct he then pursued, that the information he had received might be confidently relied upon. If, finding himself deceived in point of fact (though not intentionally), he had acted as he had done, he conceived he was fully justified. But he did not rise to vindicate himself. If there was blame to be cast upon any individual, he would be content to receive a double share of it. He was as anxious as any man could be for the maintenance of an administration upon liberal principles such as those professed by the four Cabinet Ministers who had been alluded to. They had his entire confidence, and he believed, that they had the confidence of the country. He thought that the strongest Administration that ever was formed in this country could be formed upon the principles which those Ministers entertained, in conjunction with colleagues who would combine with them in the same sentiments, and who would give to the country the full benefit and advantage of that measure of reform with which their names would be eternally associated.

Mr. Hume

said, that he would only address a few words to the House. There was no man in the House that could be more seriously sorry at what had occurred, and at hearing the statement of the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman. He alluded especially to the statement of the noble Lord, that he had withdrawn from the Government of the country. Though he (Mr. Hume) had been as zealous as any man in supporting the Administration of Lord Grey, he must say, that he had been principally actuated in doing so by the confidence which he had in the noble Lord. It was, therefore, with extreme regret that he had heard, that the noble Lord had been placed in a situation in which he was compelled to resign his office rather than to sacrifice his principles. He regretted, he repeated, to find that the noble Lord and others of his colleagues in whom he and the country could place confidence had been obliged to secede from the Administration.

Lord Althorp

said, that in his first address to the House, he had merely referred to his own case, and to the course which his right hon. friends had taken in conjunction with him in regard to the Coercion Bill; but he ought to have stated, what he believed Lord Grey had already stated, or was at that moment stating in the other House that in consequence of his own retirement from office, the Administration was at an end.

Mr. Hume

said, that it was impossible that any Administration could be formed otherwise than on those liberal principles which the noble Lord opposite entertained. Attempts might be made, but he was much mistaken in the feelings, both of this House and of the country, if he did not think it was utterly impossible at the present moment to saddle upon the country a Tory Administration. He could not but again express his regret for the situation in which the country was placed.

All business was postponed.