§ Lord Althorp
I rise to bring under the consideration of the House the propriety of renewing in part the Bill for the Suppression of Disturbances in Ireland which passed in the course of the last Session. In the first place, it will be necessary for me to state the grounds on which I recommend to the house to renew those parts of the Bill which I propose to retain; and I shall have also to give some reasons (though I do not think that, to a House of Commons, it will be necessary for me to go a very great length into those reasons) why I do not, on the present occasion, call for more power than I am about to ask the House to confer. The state of Ireland last year, as appeared when the matter was then brought under the consideration of the House, was such (outrages of the most grievous description existing through different parts of the country), that his Majesty's Ministers felt they could not be answerable for the peace of the country, unless Parliament invested them with powers beyond the ordinary powers of the Constitution, with a view to the suppression of those outrages. I need not recapitulate what took place on that occasion. I believe the House knows that even those hon. Gentlemen who opposed with the utmost eagerness, the Bill then introduced, did admit, that the outrages existing in different parts of Ireland required extraordinary powers to put them down. That Bill having been passed, almost immediately afterwards the provisions of its enactments were applied to the county of Kilkenny. This was one of those counties in which it appeared, when the question was under discussion in the House, outrages were most frequent. The effect in Kilkenny of applying the provisions of the Bill to that county has been, that whereas the number of outrages, from the beginning of the month of April, 1832, to the beginning of April, 1833, were 1,590; from the beginning of April, 1833, to the beginning of April, 1834, they were only 331. This is the statement of the effect which the application of the Bill to the most disturbed district in Ireland produced, as ascertained by the experience of the last year. Some time elapsed after this before the provisions of the Bill were tried in any other part of 138 Ireland. On the 14th of April, 1834 (one twelvemonth after the Bill had passed), it was applied to some parts of the King's County. On the 5th of May, 1834, it was applied to some parts of the county of Westmeath; and, on the 9th of June, 1834, it was extended to some parts of the county of Galway. Such, then, has been the result of the application of the principle recognized by Parliament in the course of last Session. Parliament then recognized the principle that, in cases where outrages existed, it was right to apply extraordinary powers to prevent their extension and continuance; and we now know, from the experience of last year, that the application of those powers has been attended with the most beneficial consequences. There are also three other districts in Ireland to which the provisions of this Bill have been lately applied; and, though I am not so able to speak positively of its effects, yet there it has also been beneficial. The question, therefore, which the House is now called on to decide, is, whether it would be desirable to let the present Act expire, or whether hon. Gentlemen will not rather think themselves called on, in order to protect the peaceable inhabitants of Ireland, to renew the Bill? The proposition I have to make is, that we re-enact those parts of the Bill which refer to the proclaimed districts, with the, addition of two clauses—one, for the protection of witnesses; and another, to prevent signals for the collection of tumultuous assemblies. The powers which the Bill will place at the disposal of his Majesty's Government will be these:— The Lord-lieutenant of Ireland will have the power to proclaim such districts as are disturbed; and, after such proclamation of a district, all assemblies held in them will be unlawful assemblies, unless held with the leave of the Lord-lieutenant of the county, the Sheriff of the county, or the chief Magistrates. The Bill will prevent persons from being out of their houses, in proclaimed districts, from sunset till sunrise, unless on a lawful occasion. Lists of the inmates are to be placed in the hands of the chief constable, and those lists are also to be attached to the doors of the houses. Power is to be given to require persons to show themselves, being called on at night to do so. It is to be a misdemeanour for persons to have arms in their possession, except lawfully, in proclaimed districts. In addition to these 139 enactments, the Bill will contain the clauses to which I have before alluded, for the protection of witnesses; and the making of signals with a view to the collection of tumultuous assemblies, which is to be deemed a misdemeanour. I am aware, that such a measure as this goes far beyond what the Constitution of the country ought to allow; and I will add, that it most certainly ought not to be passed, unless the case be one in which the necessity is admitted and apparent. Still less ought it to be passed for any long period. I propose to renew the Act, therefore, only till the first of August in next year. I must state, that I think that it would be well worthy the consideration of Parliament, whether some permanent alteration in the law ought not to take place, to prevent the recurrence, if possible, of such outrages as have compelled his Majesty's Government to come down to this House to ask for extraordinary powers: that is a question, however, of such great difficulty and involving so much serious consideration, that I think it impossible any gentleman can conceive we could entertain it at this period of the Session. It may be taken into consideration before another Session; but at this time what is wished is present protection against the outrages to which the peaceable part of the population of Ireland are subject. I do not think it necessary to take up the time of the House by going into the details contained in the Papers that are lying on the Table of the House, because I do not expect to find it urged, that in the present state of Ireland it would be safe to allow this Act to expire, as far as the proposed provisions go. I do not believe that any gentleman acquainted with that country would say, that the effect would be otherwise than most disastrous in those parts which are now under proclamation. To let the Act expire would, indeed, be most disastrous to those districts which have been proclaimed: but I am also afraid that we cannot suppose that it may not be necessary to apply the Bill to other parts of the country which may be kept in check, for fear of being proclaimed. On these grounds I shall submit to the House the proposition with which I shall have the honour to conclude. I now consider it necessary to allude shortly to the grounds on which I do not propose to renew the whole of the Act of last Session; and the 140 first ground that I shall state is one which I am sure will be considered a sufficient argument in this House. I will say, then, that if his Majesty's Government are prepared to be responsible for the government of Ireland, without demanding powers beyond those they now call for, I cannot suppose any individual will contend that additional powers ought to be forced on us. I cannot think it necessary for me to say more on that part of the subject. But it is necessary, I admit, to state to the House why it is, that his Majesty's Government are not prepared to bring forward their proposition in a different form from that which I have brought before the House. I need not tell hon. Gentlemen that, in the Papers laid on the Table of the House, it appears that the recommendation of the Irish government in April last, was for the renewal of this Act, without the omission of the parts which I propose to omit. Up to the latter end of June, I think to the 23rd of June, his Majesty's Ministers had no reason to believe—nor any portion of his Majesty's Ministers—that they would feel themselves bound to object to the renewal of any part, except the court-martial clauses, of the act of last year; but at that time, in consequence of a communication of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, in answer to a communication made to him by my right hon. friend (Mr. Littleton), as has been before explained by him, a different view was entertained. The ground on which my right hon. friend made that communication, I believe, was this. Though there had been considerable agitation during the winter, a long cessation—a cessation of several weeks—occurred, during which no such agitation had taken place. To that fact the Papers laid on the Table of the House, in justification of the renewal of those portions of the Act which I propose to renew, bear ample testimony. Under these circumstances, my right hon. friend applied to the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, to ask him whether he continued of opinion, that such parts of the Act as related to public meetings were necessary. The Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, in a confidential letter to the noble Earl then at the head of his Majesty's Government (Earl Grey), stated, that if it should be for the convenience of the progress of business—if it should be for the convenience of the Government in this country—he should be prepared to go on without the addi- 141 tional powers. On these grounds, as the House is aware, I thought that if the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, under any circumstances, was prepared to go on without such powers, it was not proper that such powers should be called for. As I stated on a former occasion, this letter was liable to be interpreted according to the opinions of individuals. The Lord-lieutenant of Ireland having stated, that the grounds on which he was ready to undertake the Government without all the powers of the former Bill, were, that it might be for the convenience of the Government at home, it did not necessarily follow, that the noble Lord had altogether changed the opinions he formerly held on this subject. It can hardly be necessary for me to go further into this part of the question: of what took place—of the consequences of these communications the House is well aware. The question comes before us again; and after what has transpired, I think there is no Gentleman in this House, whatever his opinions may be, who can believe it possible, that any Government, I care not of whom composed, could hope to pass through this House a Bill for the renewal of the clauses relating to public meetings in Ireland. The question, then, for those members of his Majesty's Government to consider, who had the misfortune to differ on this point with their colleagues, was, whether it was right and prudent to propose such a measure as would certainly have been rejected by this House? or whether it was not their duty to alter it to the extent of adopting only those parts of the Bill which I now propose to renew for the protection of the peaceably disposed against the perpetrators of outrages? But, suppose it should be found that myself, and those who agree with me, are mistaken as to the necessity of the clauses being renewed—if we find that when those clauses have expired, an occasion of necessity should arise, as we before proved ourselves ready in a case of necessity to support such clauses, we shall again be ready to give them the same support. This is not a question of a difference of principles; because, as my right hon. and noble friends say, they would not propose this or any other measures going beyond the limits of the Constitution, unless they were convinced that a case of extreme necessity was made out. So I repeat, if the case of necessity should again arise, I shall be ready to concur in 142 the renewal of the clauses. The question is now one as to whether, at the present time, the necessity exists for these clauses or not? And when I find the Irish Government ready to go on without the clauses,—when, also, I see nothing in these Papers to justify us in renewing them,—I am borne to the conclusion, that the case of necessity is not made out. I know it may be said, as regards the deficiency of proof, that the reason why proof is not forthcoming, is, because outrages have been prevented by the Act being in force; and I am not prepared to say, that such an argument may not be well-founded,—but I should be sorry to act on it,—because I do not see any limit to its operation. In conclusion, I have only to declare that these are the grounds on which I have taken the liberty of submitting a statement to the House of the course proposed by his Majesty's Government. The noble Lord then moved for leave to bring in a Bill to renew and amend the 3rd of Will. 4th, c. 4, an Act for the Suppression of Local Disturbances in Ireland.
begged to know, whether it was the intention of his Majesty's Ministers to lay before the House the evidence which induced them to change their minds with respect to the Bill; and, after it had been passed through several stages in the House of Lords in an efficient form, to present it now to that House with the omission of certain clauses which heretofore were represented as the most essential for the peace and security of Ireland? The noble Lord said, that the Bill was altered in consequence of confidential communications having been made on the subject by the head of the Irish Government; and yet, with a full knowledge of those communications, Earl Grey introduced into the House of Lords, a measure totally different from that which the noble Lord was now about to introduce into that House. He did not rise to advocate the renewal of the measure proposed, nor to offer any judgment of his own upon that point, but he did rise as an Irish Member, bound peculiarly to look after the peace of Ireland, to ask why it was, that, after the majority of the Cabinet had pledged themselves that a more ample Bill was necessary, Parliament and the country, and, above all, the peaceable inhabitants of Ireland had a right to know why it was, that the measure now proposed fell materially short 143 of that originally introduced, and which was then represented as essentially necessary for securing the peace of Ireland? When the House recollected the nature of the Bill which had passed, in its full extent, to its last stage in the House of Lords; when they recollected that, it had the sanction of the Irish Government, and of his Majesty's then Cabinet, ay, and of his now Cabinet, with the exception of four or five—when it was borne in mind that it was introduced with the apparent sanction of a united Cabinet—for it was not till a subsequent disclosure, made in that House, that the division in the Cabinet was known—was it, he would ask, too much to require that Parliament and the country should be furnished with the grounds upon which the Cabinet now unanimously introduced a totally different measure? The Bill, too, as originally introduced, had the sanction of his Majesty's Chief Law Adviser, the keeper of his Majesty's conscience. That noble and learned Lord stated, that if these very clauses were omitted, the Bill would be impaired in its strength, and equal justice would not be administered between different classes of delinquents. The Bill had the sanction of the Secretary for Ireland—and, above all, it had the sanction of the then head of the Government, who was in possession of those confidential communications now made the pretext for altering the character of the Bill. He must remind the House of the interpretation which the noble Lord himself had put upon these communications when they were adverted to upon a former occasion. His words were, that "in his judgment they did not warrant the interpretation that the Lord-lieutenant had changed his mind, although a person very anxious on the subject might possibly give them that construction." When the House was now told, that the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland had changed his mind with respect to the measure, and that he stated he could carry on the government of Ireland without the first clauses of the Bill, let it be recollected with what that statement was accompanied. That statement was not made in reference to the condition of Ireland, but with reference to the state of parties in England, and he was drawn into it by solicitations and representations from this side of the water. If, then, the ground 144 upon which Lord Wellesley was ready to conduct the Government was not so much with reference to the condition of Ireland, as to the condition of parties in England, was it not manifest, he would ask, that Ministers were bartering the peace and security of Ireland for the security of their own places? When calling for the letter of Lord Wellesley, he should like to see the letter which was written to that noble Lord, to which it was an answer; and he should also like to know who was the writer of that letter. He (Mr. Lefroy) admitted, that the House ought not to pass a measure of unnecessary severity towards Ireland; but when the peace of that country was to be maintained, when the property and security of the well-disposed were to be protected, they ought not to withhold a necessary measure of coercion. Let it be remembered, that the House did sanction, by a very great majority, the Bill of last Session; and the state of Ireland now was not materially different from what it was then. The result of the whole evidence before the House went to show, that the amount of crime throughout the whole country had increased. He admitted, that parts of Ireland were now more tranquil than they were when the Bill of last Session was introduced, but they were those parts to which the Bill had been applied. His Majesty's Ministers owed it to Ireland; they owed it to their own characters, to lay before the House and the country, the evidence upon which they had changed their minds. Public confidence was of the greatest importance, and if it could justly be suspected that his Majesty's Government had changed their minds, not upon the foundation of any evidence before them—not in reference to the merits of the case—but with a view of propping up a fallen cause, and keeping together a tottering Cabinet; then would they have justly forfeited the confidence of the nation over whose destinies they were unfortunately called to preside. He spoke not of the confidence of a party, nor of the confidence of those who were to be seen on a late occasion running about the town to procure signatures to an address; but he spoke of the confidence of the nation, without which no government could long carry on the business of the country. He thought, therefore, that his Majesty's Ministers, from regard for their own characters, were bound to protect themselves 145 from a suspicion of selfish motives, or a charge of levity—were bound to lay before the House the grounds upon which it was alleged that they had changed their minds. It had been attempted to justify the conduct pursued by his Majesty's Ministers in the present instance, by referring to the sudden change of mind which had been effected in other politicians in respect to the Catholic question. But, how different, were the circumstances? Whatever opinion might be entertained of the policy of the change of mind which took place on that occasion—and the result certainly was not favourable to the doctrine of sudden changes of mind on great political questions—human ingenuity could not suggest any bye-motives for the change of mind on that occasion; they could not have been actuated in their conduct by fear of losing place. Their change of mind took place in the plenitude of their power—their only motive could have been a sense of public duty; but motives had been imputed to his Majesty's present advisers for the sudden and extraordinary change of their opinions, which were quite discreditable. He would not take so ungenerous a line as to impute that change to a love of place; but that had been, and was, daily imputed to them by those vehicles which influenced, and frequently represented the public mind; and he was sure, the only way effectually to repel all such imputations, would be, to produce the evidence (if any they possessed) which went to justify the alteration now proposed in this Bill.
would only implore the House for one moment to consider the wretched state of Ireland. They had just heard the Representative of the Protestant Clergy of Ireland, the Representative of a Protestant University in Ireland, strenuously urging his complaints; and was it that the liberties of his countrymen had been taken away? Was it that their constitution had been violated? Was it that they were to be enslaved? Oh, no!—it was because they had too much of liberty;—it was because they had not been enslaved enough! That country which, besides supporting its own clergy, paid millions for the support of the Protestant Church in Ireland, and those whom the hon. and learned Gentleman represented, were the very individuals who fed and fattened on the spoil. He never felt indignation yet, equal to the indigua- 146 tion which he felt now, at seeing the hon. and learned Gentleman presuming to come forward to slander the people of Ireland.—[Cries of "Order!"]
§ Lord Stormont
rose to order. He said, it appeared to him, that the hon. and learned Gentleman was about to use language which was contrary to the rules of that House.
said, the noble Lord appeared to be invested with the spirit of prophecy. The complaint was not that he was disorderly, but that he was about to become disorderly; the fact was, the noble Lord was himself disorderly in anticipating and interrupting him. He was expressing what he trusted was honest indignation, that any man representing such a class as the Protestant clergy of Ireland, should express his regret that there was not tyranny enough. Was it not sufficient to excite indignation to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman, who was a Doctor of Civil Law, and a Doctor of Common Law,—he need not go to Oxford, where there were such select doings, and where they exercised so much discretion in giving degrees,—he was dubbed doctor already—was it not enough to excite his indignation, to hear that hon. and learned Gentleman call on his Majesty's Ministers—for what? Why, to limit the Constitution. Every man stood on the Constitution of his country, as he stood on his innocence. He who would make a case against it, must be prepared with proof. The course of the hon. and learned Gentleman was false in theory, and bad in feeling. He threw himself on the House, and begged them to consider the case of his unfortunate country,—its centuries of confusion, discord, and discontent,—its centuries of blood,—and all to maintain a Church over a people, with which the people held no sympathy. He regretted, that the noble Lord had not brought forward this measure quite in the spirit in which he thought he ought. But he would not now renew any portion of the controversy which the measure occasioned last year. He was content to let the past be buried in oblivion, and to look to the future. He saw a new Cabinet before him, and he hoped and trusted, though the present was not a very decided step, that he might take it as an indication of an intention to do something for the improvement of Ireland—he hoped and trusted he might consider it a symptom of 147 better days approaching. The very party who sent the hon. and learned Gentleman here, were those who had an interest in perpetuating the old abuses. All the instruments of the Government were composed of the same materials. Even the principal law-adviser of the Crown, if he were here, would no doubt second, with extraordinary zeal, the views of the hon. and learned Gentleman, whatever the anxiety of that hon. and learned Gentleman to abridge the liberties of the Irish people. They had had some promising changes of Government, but the system was bad. All the official personages in Ireland had belonged to the ancient party, whence it followed that those who were at the head of affairs here were kept in the dark; they were strangers to the feeling really existing in Ireland; they had, in fact, been practically led, and practically misled. It was evident, that the measure of last year had not been successful in putting down predial disturbances; whilst it was equally evident that Special Commissions and Insurrection Acts had, when tried, been found fully sufficient for the purpose. As to Special Commissions, they had the authority of Chief Justice Bustle as to their efficacy for putting down disturbances in the Queen's County. The Coercion Bill failed of producing this effect; and why had it failed? Because it was unconstitutional. When the disturbances in Ireland were spoken of, why were they not considered in reference to the circumstances which created them? Was there no predisposing cause? Was it to be supposed, was it to be believed, that the Irish loved outrage for its own sake; that they were so insane as to rush wantonly into mischief that proved most injurious in its consequences to themselves? Before a Government proceeded to coerce, should it not first endeavour to ascertain what it was which produced the state of society which rendered coercion necessary? Should it not endeavour to remove those causes, endeavour to stimulate the trade of the country, add to its industry, and ameliorate its institutions? Was it not by promises of some such improvement—of some such measures, encouragement, and amelioration, that Government obtained the votes of many Members in passing this measure in a former Session? And with this expectation did these Members justify their votes. Now, he should ask, what had 148 been done towards the fulfilment of those promises? Absolutely nothing: on the contrary, the instruments of evil were continued in power in Ireland, and the disgust of the people was aggravated—they felt it doubly galling that those instruments were continued by a Government which had held out so many promises. Who were those who called out for this Bill? The holders of landed property; and their acts seemed to render such a call necessary. The Earl of Limerick turned off his land seventy poor families in the depth of winter. To such as him the Act would be useful. Fifty or sixty of these were helpless females without shelter, or a morsel of food, and they would have been compelled to endure the inclemency of the season, had there not been an unused chapel in the neighbourhood, to which they were allowed to resort for shelter. This statement had appeared in the public newspapers, with the name of a Catholic Clergyman attached to it. Such conduct as that was calculated to create crimes which would call for a Coercion Bill. The Earl of Westmeath, who possessed a small property in Ireland, made similar clearings out. But, of course, they had the right: "the law allows it." Mr. Young and Lord Mount-Sandford (as we understood the hon. and learned Gentleman) had, in the county of Roscommon, availed themselves of the fifteen per cent on the tithes; but had they allowed it to their tenants? Not they, truly. He admitted that, with the control of private property, the Government could not interfere, nor did he propose that it should; but then, it should not encourage harsh landlords, by investing them with office; it should not make Lieutenants, Sheriffs, and Magistrates, of those whose cruelty ground the people, until it drove them into madness. If Ireland were prosperous and at the same time turbulent, then there would be ground for such harsh proceedings; but it was well known, that Ireland, rich in all natural resources, and equal in productiveness to the maintenance of three times her present population, increased as it had been, was, notwithstanding all these advantages, in a state of unparalleled distress. The measure proposed by the noble Lord went to the extent of stifling the voice of petition in the disturbed districts. The noble Lord (Lord Althorp) mistook him, if he thought it was his intention to oppose the 149 measure. Such was not his intention; and he would shortly state why; but he would first ask why it should be necessary to prevent public meetings in those districts where predial outrages existed? Why not, as was the practice under similar circumstances in England, be satisfied with having a notice of the intended meeting given to two Magistrates? Nay, he would not object, in disturbed districts, to have the purpose of the meeting distinctly stated. No one was more anxious than he to give effect to any law which had for its object the putting down of predial excesses; but the persons guilty of these were not of the class who frequented public meetings. The persons guilty of predial outrage were of the very lowest classes of the community. They were generally composed of farm-servants and labourers, and their victims were generally those of their own class. Amongst seven murders committed at one period in Clare, only one was perpetrated on a person not belonging to the humbler class. He was willing to enact, that all persons found out of their houses at night in it proclaimed district, without being able to give a rational excuse, should be liable to be tried for a misdemeanor. This would at once operate as a protection to those who desired to remain peaceable, and a check on those who wished to commit outrages. It was truly painful to contemplate the misery of the country, which drove the people into the commission of crime. The people of Ireland had obtained a character for reckless cruelty, but yet, take out of the calendar the predial outrages, which belonged rather to a state of warfare than a social state, and there was no country in the world in which there were fewer moral crimes committed. In the city of Dublin, with a population of 300,000 persons, there were not two capital offences committed in the year. He would venture to assert that, at the present moment, there were more criminals in gaol in the smallest county in England than in the three most disturbed Irish counties;—namely, Clare, Louth, and Tipperary. Need he remind hon. Gentlemen who were acquainted with Ireland, how highly the moral feelings in the social state were cultivated by her wretched peasantry? Woe to the young man there who should abandon his father in his old age! The daughter who deserted her mother would find no one to hold communication with her. 150 He could not be accused of undue partiality to his country, when he said, that fidelity to the marriage vow was proverbial amongst the Irish, and that for affectionate tenderness to their children they were not exceeded, if, indeed, they were equalled, by the people of any country in Europe. Why, then, were such a people stained with crime? He would answer that question. For 700 years England had governed them, and, up to this time, she had governed them by a faction and for a faction. Before the distinctions of religion were known, others were acted on. There was the English party within the pale, the English party without the pale, and the Irish enemy. There succeeded to those another distinction, the Protestant Aristocrat and the Papist Paria. Was it not time to put an end to this? Even in 1782, it was the faction and not the people who carried the independence of Ireland and the independence which they then won they were unwilling to share. At the period of the Union, Ireland was promised better treatment, and hopes were held out, that she would be placed on an equality with Scotland and England; but successive Administrations had gone on acting on the principle of maintaining the Church Establishment in that country, which was the cause of all the heart burnings and disturbances. Was it not notorious that the present Administration had up to the present moment governed Ireland, if not with the same intentions—and he admitted, that their intentions were not similar—yet in the same spirit and with the same instruments as their predecessors? Were not the Lords-lieutenant, the Sheriffs, the Magistrates, even the Police Constables, with few exceptions, selected from the faction which had so long lorded it over the people of Ireland? Out of upwards of 4,500 policemen, only 329 were Catholics, although the Catholic population bore an inverse ratio to those numbers. Was this the result of accident? No, it was the old mode of governing Ireland. To return, however, to the question immediately before the House: he was willing to assist the Government in affording protection to the peaceably disposed part of the population of Ireland—to prevent them from being dragged from their beds to join in crimes which they abhorred. Indeed it was necessary, that, under the sanction of the night, they should enjoy a temporary oblivion of their misfortunes, 151 He was glad to perceive, that Government had at length discovered what must be sufficiently obvious to those who would take the trouble to examine the matter, that, as he had always contended, political agitation was a practical advantage to Ireland. He had often been traduced for agitation, but he gloried in the fact, and instead of agitation stimulating the people to acts of outrage, so help him God he believed it had a directly contrary effect. He could refer to facts in proof of his statement. In 1824, after an insurrection had actually occurred, and when the southern counties were ready to burst out into open rebellion, no fewer than 36,000 copies of an address to the people, written by him, were circulated by sir James Lambert, who then commanded 37,000 troops. Even during the existence of Earl Grey's Government, Sir John Harvey made use of an address prepared by him (Mr. O'Connell) in a similar manner, until Sir John Harvey received an intimation that he must desist. It was the most anxious desire of those who with him wished well to Ireland, that agrarian disturbances should cease. Their existence strengthened the hands of her enemies, and gave power to the faction which domineered over her. Each petty village despot throughout the country contemplated the disturbances with delight. A burning or the assassination of a whole family would call the whole body of yeomanry and police into play. The hon. Gentleman concluded by again stating, that he would aid the Government in any attempt to put down agrarian disturbances, and that he was anxious that the law for that purpose should be as efficacious as possible.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that the question at present under the consideration of the House was, whether the Bill which was last Session passed by a large majority, and was then considered essential for the protection of life and property in Ireland, should be renewed with certain modifications, the effect of which would be to leave the law in force which was directed against the inferior instruments of agitation, and to omit that part of it which was directed against those who were supposed to be the chief causes of the disorders which prevailed in Ireland—namely, those who encouraged systematic agitation? Be should rejoice as much as any man could, at any opportunity of restoring the 152 operation of the ordinary law in Ireland. He thought, that any departure from the ordinary law, by the application of coercion, was a great evil in itself, and he could refer with confidence to his uniform course in Ireland when the Insurrection Act was in force, to prove, that no man ever opposed more strenuously the practical application of that Act, however called for by local authorities, than he did, from a conviction that the Administration of such stimulants had a tendency to paralyze the operation of the ordinary law. The question was, whether the disturbances which prevailed in Ireland, the system of nocturnal outrage, were or were not connected with the system of political agitation? If no such connexion existed, that doubtless was a good reason for omitting the clauses in the Coercion Bill which were directed against political agitation; but if, on the contrary, agitation and disturbance stood in the relation of cause and effect—if the system of nocturnal outrage were connected with political agitation, then there could be no honest justification for that House tying the knot round the neck of the inferior instruments, and permitting the abettors and advocates of political agitation to escape untouched. His own opinion, formed on experience and reasoning, was, that there existed an intimate connexion between political agitation and disturbance. The hon. and learned member for Dublin said, that those persons were wrong who supposed that political agitation was the cause of—he would not call them predial disturbances, but—the atrocious crimes which were perpetrated in Ireland. The hon. Member contended, that the more political agitation prevailed, the greater was the security against local disturbances. He stood forward as the defender of political agitation on that ground. What were to be the subjects of political agitation? The hon. Member referred to the effect of agitation on the Repeal of the Roman Catholic Disabilities, and alluded to a letter which he wrote in 1824, and which had a tendency to repress local disturbances. He would admit, that the hon. Member's interference might produce a temporary effect of that description, but was a permanent system of political agitation to be introduced into Ireland as part of the ordinary Government, for the purpose of enabling those who presided over the agitation to control it? He did not 153 mean to deny the influence which the hon. Member and others possessed, who wielded mighty masses of physical power in Ireland to repress local disturbances. Look, however, to the consequences to which such a system must lead. He had himself heard the hon. Member boast a hundred times, that it was owing to his power of inculcating obedience to his wishes, that the measure for the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities was brought about. Might he not when his system should be fully established, apply his power to effect another object, which he still avowed— namely, the Repeal of the Union? Should they purchase temporary peace—should they purchase temporary forbearance— from local agitation and individual crime, at the expense of giving to the hon. Member the power of ultimately being able by working on the physical force of his countrymen to effect the separation of the empire? This, he must say, without wishing to hurt the feelings of any individual, was the conclusion which he had drawn from his experience and knowledge of Ireland, and he found that conclusion fortified by every document which the executive Government had produced upon the present occasion. The Government asked the House to pass a Bill founded upon documents. He referred to the documents, and he found every one of them conclusive in favour of the retention of the clauses which it was proposed to omit. All authority, from the lowest to the highest —from the constable whom Ministers had consulted, to the King upon the Throne, all authority, without exception, concurred in this one opinion, that the system of political agitation and local outrage were inseparable. Under these circumstances, it was a mockery and an act of injustice to strike at the one without aiming at the nobler and more powerful object. On this occasion, he would rely neon no declamation. All he asked for was, that the House would grant him its patient attention for a few minutes, and he would undertake to establish to the conviction of every impartial man, that as far as evidence could be relied upon—as far as the opinion of the individuals who were responsible for the Government of Ireland could be relied on—the renewal of the Coercion Act was necessary for the double purpose of suppressing political agitation and agrarian disturbances. He would not quote the opinion of the Gentlemen who 154 had been consulted by the Lord-lieutenant; it must be admitted, that their opinion was concurrent and conclusive in favour of the extension of the Bill to political offences. He came first to the opinion of his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland. He was asked on the first day of the Session, when he had just returned from Ireland, this emphatic question—"Do you think that political agitation is connected with nocturnal outrages?" His right hon. friend's answer was as follows:—"The hon. Member has asked, whether political agitation has tended to increase outrage and crime in Ireland. I think the language held at many public meetings in Ireland has tended very much to encourage feelings of disobedience to the laws, and to endanger the well-being of society itself. Having been asked for my opinion, I do not hesitate to avow it." ["Hear," from Mr. Littleton.] He was glad to hear his right hon. friend acknowledge the correctness of the quotation which he had read. That was the second step in his argument. He now came to the opinion of the Lord-lieutenant, and in order that these things might be matter of record in a corrected form, he must trouble the House by reading the opinion of that high authority, who was mainly responsible for the tranquillity of Ireland. The Lord-lieutenant stated that, "These disturbances have been in every instance excited and inflamed by the agitation of the combined projects for the abolition of tithes, and the destruction of the Union with Great Britain. I cannot employ words of sufficient strength to express my solicitude that his Majesty's Government should fix the deepest attention on the intimate connexion marked by the strongest characters in all these transactions between the system of agitation and its inevitable consequence, the system of combination, leading to violence and outrage; they are, inseparably, cause and effect; nor can I, after the most attentive consideration of the dreadful scenes passing under my view, by any effort of my understanding, separate one from the other in that unbroken chain of indissoluble connexion." That was the third stage. The fourth stage would be the opinions of members of the Government; and here he was entitled to claim the authority of eight out of thirteen Gentlemen in favour of the opinion, that it was most expedient to enact a law directed 155 against political agitation. He called for no disclosure of individual sentiments on the part of his Majesty's responsible advisers; but the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer had voluntarily stated, that out of a Cabinet consisting of thirteen persons, five thought the clauses against political agitation were unnecessary. The remaining eight, therefore, were of opinion that the law ought to be renewed in all its integrity. Thus to the authority of the Lord-lieutenant was to be added that of the responsible advisers of the Crown. He had now arrived at the top of the pyramid, with the exception of one step?—the highest authority in the State—that of his Majesty. On the first day of the Session, by the advice of his Ministers, these words were inserted in the speech which his Majesty delivered to Parliament:—"To the practices which have been used to produce disaffection to the State and mutual distrust and animosity between the people of the two countries is chiefly to be attributed the spirit of insubordination, which, though for the present in a great degree controlled by the power of the law, has been but too perceptible in many instances. To none more than to the deluded instruments of the agitation thus perniciously excited is the continuance of such a spirit productive of the most ruinous consequences; and the united and vigorous exertions of the loyal and well-affected in aid of the Government are imperiously required to put an end to a system of excitement and violence which, while it continues, is destructive of the peace of society, and, if successful, must inevitably prove fatal to the power and safety of the United Kingdom." The King, in that passage, not only in the capacity of the highest executive authority, claimed the support and protection of the law, but in the milder and more benign character of the dispenser of mercy, called on Parliament to interfere, in order to protect the deluded instruments of agitation from the consequences which must result from it. Now, he asked the House whether, as far as authority could be relied on, he had not shown, that the opinion of the subordinate officers of the Secretary for Ireland, of the Lord-lieutenant, and of the King himself, as far as his opinion could be inferred from a Speech from the Throne, was in favour of the extension of the Bill to 156 objects which it now appeared would not come within its scope? The course pursued by Ministers with reference to the affair was, in his opinion, calculated to shake the confidence of the people in the Executive Government. It was calculated to shake their confidence in all official documents which might hereafter be laid before Parliament. How could the Marquess Wellesley, whose acute understanding was unable to separate the two species of agitation, administer a law which would, in point of fact, practically establish that separation? And to what circumstances were the political agitators of Ireland indebted for the indulgence which they were about to receive? Was it to the predilection of the Government for liberty? Was it to their horror of coercion? No; but to the accidental circumstance of a disclosure being made, that the Lord-lieutenant was content, in consequence of representations received from this side of the water, to try and administer the law with less power than he considered to be necessary. Ministers had conciliated their differences in the Cabinet; they would not press them to a division, and now on that evening the noble Lord founded his objection to the renewal of the clauses on the ground, that after the disclosures which had taken place—after the knowledge which Parliament possessed that the Lord-lieutenant was willing to administer the law with diminished authority, he could not ask the House to agree to the Bill as it originally stood. Parliament and the country had a right to know what was the nature of the representations which induced the Lord-lieutenant to change his opinion. He did not mean to say, that the House had a right to require the production of evidence upon that point as their justification for passing the Bill now proposed, but he thought that for the sake of the character of the Government and of that mutual confidence which ought to exist between its members—he spoke now on behalf of all Governments—the House had an equitable and a moral right to demand explanation. He had on a former occasion stated his opinion, that the letter written by the Lord-lieutenant ought to be produced; and he thought that it would have been impossible to carry the Bill in all its integrity, after having been informed that on the 20th of June, the Marquess Wellesley was ready to administer the Government of Ireland without the clauses 157 which on the 18th of April he considered to be absolutely necessary, unless Ministers were to give the House a full explanation of the causes which had led to the noble Marquess's change of opinion. He had been charged in another place with having deviated from the uniform course of Parliamentary practice by calling for the disclosure of confidential communications. If anything was said upon that occasion relative to the course which he had pursued in a tone of asperity, it was the last thing which he wished to imitate. For twenty years there had, perhaps, been no person more opposed in politics to Earl Grey than himself. His acquaintance with the noble Earl was exceedingly slight; but he ventured to assert, with perfect confidence, that in the course of twenty years, not a word had fallen from him implying anything like disrespect for his character. Whatever, therefore, was the nature of the observations which were made upon him, he should infinitely prefer confining himself strictly to a vindication of the opinion he had uttered, to making use of any expressions which would be inconsistent with the uniform tenour of the course which he had always observed with respect to the distinguished individual to whom he alluded, particularly at the close of his official career. That there must be private and confidential communications in conducting the affairs of every Government he would at once admit; but it was extremely difficult to draw the line, and to determine when communications ought to be enveloped in secrecy, and when they ought to be the subject of review and animadversion. That a line must be drawn somewhere was obvious, because it would be impossible to allow one public officer in communication with another to give advice and direction upon public questions, and then to shield himself under the allegation, that they were given confidentially, and therefore he would not be responsible for them. He held precisely the same language which he was now employing, when he was in office, with respect to a letter of Lord Ellenborough. He then said, that he could not protect that letter from animadversion; that, as it was written by a public servant, and referred to public matters, the writer must be responsible for the advice which he gave in it. It was a general rule, that private and confidential communications should be ex- 158 cepted from remark; but, if such communications were made the ground work of any public Act, they became publici juris, and Parliament had a right to call for explanation respecting them. If, by any accident, the fact had come to his knowledge, he would not have mentioned it; but, the moment an hon. Member rose in his place, and declared that he had heard from a member of the Government, who had told him that the Lord-lieutenant held a different opinion with respect to the Coercion Bill on the 20th of June from that which he entertained on the 18th of April, he thought it impossible for Parliament not to demand explanation on the subject. The noble Earl (Grey) was wrong in supposing that he (Sir Robert Peel) had declared, that he would not vote for the Bill unless the Marquess Wellesley's letter were produced, and the noble Earl was also wrong in supposing, that upon the occasion alluded to, he had allied himself with the hon. and learned member for Dublin. The fact was, that he voted against the Motion of the hon. and learned Member, the success of which would have had the effect of at once negativing the Bill. He had also heard a surmise from another quarter, that he had entered into a connexion with those to whom he was usually opposed on the subject of the Lord-lieutenant's letter. The hon. and learned Member knew that there was no concert between them on that subject, except that which arose out of his public declaration. When that declaration was made and corroborated by members of the Government, he certainly thought it necessary that the House should know the circumstances under which the Lord-lieutenant's change of opinion had taken place. He thought that the majority of the House would be of opinion, that he correctly expounded the principle which ought to apply to confidential communications. He did not call upon Ministers to produce the Marquess Wellesley's letter; but he thought that Parliament had a right to receive from them an explanation of the circumstances under which it was written. At all events, if he were a member of the Government, he should feel himself bound, in justice to the noble Marquess, and in justice to the high personal honour of the distinguished individual who no longer held a place in his Majesty's Councils, to enter into a full explanation of the circumstances which 159 induced the Marquess Wellesley to take a different view of the subject on two different occasions. He knew nothing of the circumstances, but this he knew, that if the common report were true, which stated, that a member of the Government wrote a letter to the Marquess Wellesley without the cognizance of the Prime Minister, advising his Lordship to address a letter to the Premier of a different purport from that which he had previously written to the Government, he was not surprised at Earl Grey's retirement from office. Why was the answer sent to Earl Grey? Why was it not addressed to the person who made the application? Was it possible that the public business could be conducted with that degree of mutual confidence which was necessary amongst the members of the Government, when such conduct as this was pursued? He was bound in justice to his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, to say, that be did not believe he had made the communication to the Marquess Wellesley. He thought, that the right hon. Secretary had acquitted himself from the suspicion of having any connexion with the transaction. Next came the question, what course was he to pursue under existing circumstances? It was his opinion, that nocturnal outrage was intimately connected with political agitation. It was undoubtedly true, that amongst a people in a state of suffering like the Irish, there would be occasionally instances of disturbances, whether there existed political agitation or not, but not to the extent which the Lord-lieutenant had described. The noble Marquess said, in his despatch to Viscount Melbourne, 'The cases of crime are so numerous, and marked by so many circumstances of aggravation, that I must request your Lordships most minute attention to the detailed Reports of the Inspector-General, wherein a full account is given of these barbarous outrages, and of their sys-tematic origin. Lawless combinations, secret councils, and nightly outrages, are here exhibited in full force. A com-plete system of legislation, with the most prompt, vigorous, and severe executive power, sworn, equipped, and armed for all the excesses of savage punishment, is established in almost every district.' The noble Marquesss opinion was confirmed by all the authorities connected with the Government, and yet without 160 any information except that which justified the passing of the whole Bill, they were called upon to omit the most important part of it. Whatever he might think of the whole transaction, whatever might be his opinion of the conduct of the Government, however calculated he might suppose it to be to lower the dignity and authority of the executive Government, he would vote for the Bill as now brought forward, because he would not force upon reluctant instruments, powers which they did not want. If Ministers were content to remain in office, and to undertake the government of Ireland without the clauses directed against political agitation, he would not move the insertion of those clauses in the Bill. He still, however, retained his opinion as to the injustice of visiting the deluded instruments of agitation with severe laws whilst their instigators were allowed to pass unnoticed. In conclusion, the right hon. Baronet thanked the House for the attention with which they had favoured him, and repeated the deep regret which he felt at the course which the Ministers had thought proper to pursue on the present occasion, because its inevitable effect must be to lower the character of all executive Governments, and diminish that confidence which ought ever to be reposed in those documents, which from time to time might be submitted to Parliament as the groundwork of their legislative enactments.
§ Mr. Littleton
trusted he should not be thought presumptuous in attempting to follow the right hon. Baronet, because deeply implicated as he felt himself to be in all the transactions which had been alluded to, he was naturally impelled to offer that vindication of his conduct and opinions, which he as honestly believed as he earnestly hoped, would be satisfactory to the House. Before adverting to what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, he should briefly address himself to some of those arguments which had been advanced by the hon. and learned member for the University of Dublin. He trusted that the whole course of his conduct on this occasion would serve to satisfy everybody who heard him, that he was not an individual at all ambitious, from the situation which he held in the Government, of being armed with extraordinary powers, holding, as he did, in abhorrence everything like unconstitutional authority; but he must take the liberty 161 of stating, that never in the course of his experience in that House, had he given a vote upon any question with more entire satisfaction than he should be able to give on the present occasion, in favour of the Motion which had been submitted by his noble friend. Much as they had heard during the course of last Session against the provisions of the Coercion Bill, he owned, it was to him most singular that during his visit to Dublin, where he had spent the greater part of the last autumn and winter, throughout the intercourse which he had with many individuals of all classes, and of every shade of political opinions in that country, he never once heard a single opinion expressed unfavourable to the principal provisions of that Act. Again and again had he heard those provisions discussed; but always in terms of unqualified approbation; while, from every quarter, especially from parties connected with the districts proclaimed, those opinions were accompanied with expressions of a hearty desire that the principal provisions of the measure should be renewed. It was also singular, that in only one instance, from the period of the passing of that Act down to the present hour, as far as his knowledge extended, had complaint been made of the manner in which the powers conferred by the Act had been exercised.
§ Mr. Littleton
was quite aware of the circumstance alluded to by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he repeated that, with one solitary exception, he had never heard of any complaint as to the manner in which the law had been carried into execution. In the case to which he alluded a laity who had been travelling was stopped in the middle of the night, somewhere in the county of Kilkenny, but the complaint had been made through another individual, without her authority, and on a reference to her, which he had felt bound to make, she expressed great indignation that any notice had been taken of it, as she was enabled, without further inconvenience, to pursue her journey on the following day. It was undoubtedly true, as the learned Gentleman had stated, that when a proposal was made to proclaim a barony in Galway, Lord Clanricarde, the Lieutenant, expressed his individual opin- 162 ion that it was unnecessary to resort to that measure; but at the same time he had judiciously observed, whenever the proclaiming a district was recommended by the resident Magistrates, the Lord-lieutenant would be extremely wrong not to overlook his own opinion, which had been formed on insufficient evidence, having been absent from the barony for seven months, and at once to put the Act into operation. Feeling that it would be necessary, before the conclusion of the Session, to appeal to the House for a renewal of this Act, he had thought he could not do better than supply hon. Members with the information which had been printed in the shape of certain returns as to the effects which the Bill had produced in the county of Kilkenny and in the baronies of the King's County, of Westmeath, and Galway, which had been proclaimed. His noble friend had already adverted to its operation in Kilkenny, from which it appeared, taking a year from the time when it was proclaimed, and comparing it with a corresponding period immediately preceding, that whereas in the latter, namely, the year previous to its proclamation, 1,590 outrages had been committed, in the subsequent year only 331 had occurred, showing a diminution in that county of 1,259. In the case of the King's County, which had only recently been proclaimed, it was not possible to take so considerable a period; but in the three months before its proclamation, there had been 113 outrages, and in the same period since its proclamation, only 40; while in Westmeath, in the month preceding the proclamation, twenty-one outrages had been committed, and in the corresponding month afterwards only three. This he thought would afford sufficient evidence to satisfy the House, that the measure had been as effectual as could have been well anticipated, in the disturbed and most unhappy condition of Ireland, wherever it had been carried into effect. In order to show the real condition of those districts which had been proclaimed, he would read an extract from a letter which he had received in April last, from Lord Oxmantown, relative to the state of King's County, of which his Lordship was Lord-lieutenant; but it equally described the condition of all those districts to which it had been found necessary to apply the provisions of the Coercion Act, His Lordship said: 163 'That the ordinary laws of the country, administered by a Magistracy zealous and upright, are unable to withstand an organized combination, both reason and experience have fully proved. Why it should have been so is very obvious. The combination is directly opposed to the law; and it is stronger than the law, because it punishes the violation of its mandates with more severity, and in-finitely more certainty than the law does. If a peasant resist the combination, it is scarcely possible that he can escape punishment; but if he violate the law, his chance of escape is at least fifty to one in his favour. You will find that I am warranted in what I say, by a comparison of the convictions in a disturbed district with the outrages—recollecting that several persons are usually engaged in committing such outrages, probably on an average not less than five; so that if five be a fair average, the outrages should be multiplied by the number, to give you the convictions which should have been had under law, were the law effective in every instance. His Lordship added: Although an attentive perusal of the reports of the chief constables will exhibit to you a picture of society perhaps without parallel in any civilized country not in open insurrection, still it will convey but an inadequate idea of the suffering peasantry in this state of anarchy. To be enabled to judge of it, you must make your inquiries on the spot—you must hear the tale from themselves. Living in a state of perpetual anxiety, their lives are wretched indeed. Under such circumstances, can we wonder at the statement of the Magistrates assembled at Belmount Sessions, which was forwarded by them to Government, about six weeks ago, to the effect that numbers of the respectable peasantry were seeking refuge from this state of things in America? With these facts, and with the means of information necessarily arising from a residence for the last six months in the immediate vicinity of the disturbed district, I feel I should be shrinking in a manner quite unpardonable from the discharge of my duty, if I did not strongly recommend Government to take some decisive step.' This description was given by Lord Oxmantown, at the time when he forwarded the application for the Proclamation, and 164 it was a painfully accurate description of the state of society in every district in which the Coercion Act had been applied. He must express his regret, that he had not had time to do that which he thought would have been most interesting to the House, and at the same time extremely instructive, as illustrative of the condition of society in Ireland, compared to that of England,—he alluded to the preparation of a list, of committals in the two countries, which he contemplated, but which he was sorry he had not been able to accomplish. In England the calendars comprehended, no doubt, some few cases of murder, forgery, and the other heavy descriptions of offences; but it was ordinarily made up of cases of larceny, robbery, and other crimes of a less atrocious character; but in Ireland those offences formed a very small minority of the calendar. There the greater part of the offences were of an insurrectionary character, which in their features were utterly unknown in this country. That fact, in itself, would be enough to prove, that the law which sufficed to maintain order in this country would entirely fail in its application where a very different sort of offences were found to prevail. He would now call the attention of the House to another branch of the subject—the expenses entailed on counties by the prevalence of disunion and outrage, and the great economy which had actually resulted from the application of this law. In the county of Wexford, great objection had been entertained at one period to the measure, in consequence of an apprehension that it would give rise to additional expense; but to show how utterly destitute of foundation such an objection was, he would merely state, that in Kilkenny such had been the result of the promptitude and efficacy of the powers of the Act, that in the course of this spring, and early in the summer, a reduction had actually taken place to a considerable extent in the constabulary force, and, even in the magistracy, no fewer than two constables, sixty policemen, and one chief magistrate, having been struck off the list, effecting a saving to the county of 1,350l. The hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. O'Connell), had adverted to the great advantage which had resulted from the employment of the special commission in the county of Clare, and the still greater advantages which would probably arise from adopting the recommendation of what was 165 generally known under the designation of the Queen's County Report. He was not disposed to question the beneficial results which might attend some permanent legislative measure founded on that Report. Nor was he prepared to deny, that in the case of the county of Clare the sending of the commission at the particular time it was required, had been productive of the greatest possible advantages; but it was the decided opinion of the principal Irish law officers, who were best acquainted with all the facts of the case, and in that opinion he certainly concurred,—that in those instances in which the Coercion Bill had been applied, special commissions would have been wholly ineffectual. Neither did they think that the adoption of the recommendations contained in the Queen's County Report, would have been sufficient. Although the three clauses of the Act which it was now proposed to relinquish had been very much complained of, from being directed against political meetings, yet they had not prevented the expression of public opinion, as an hon. Member had taken occasion to boast; and, in an early part of the Session, when presenting petitions which he then stated had nevertheless been very numerously and respectably signed. The hon. and learned member for Dublin had adverted, in strictures of great severity, to the political character and conduct of Mr. Blackburn, the present Attorney-General for Ireland. He knew that a strong feeling existed in relation to this subject among some who were connected with Ireland; but he should be acting a most unworthy part towards his hon. and learned friend, the Attorney-General (Mr. Blackburn), if he did not declare, that in the whole course of his political life he had never found a gentleman of greater integrity and firmness of character, or one who was more ready, when the circumstances of the case justified it, to adopt measures of conciliation, and that not from any spirit of base compliance or servility; for in all his (Mr. Littleton's) communications with him, that hon, and learned Gentleman had been equally characterised by firmness, energy, liberality, and independence. Such might not be the opinion of the hon. and learned member for Dublin; but entertaining that opinion himself, he (Mr. Littleton) should have acted a most unworthy part if he did not give his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Blackburn) the 166 benefit of its avowal on the present occasion. The hon. and learned member for Dublin had also complained of the exclusive patronage given to Protestants in Ireland. It appeared, that out of 5,000 places under Government in the constabulary, police, and magistracy in that country, 350 were enjoyed by Catholics; and he was ready to admit, that Government could not better consult the interests of the Irish population than by adding to their number. He now approached that part of the subject to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had principally confined his attention—he meant the clauses directed against meetings of a certain character, and which it was proposed now to abandon. And here he must be permitted to advert to the deep feelings of pain and regret which he (Mr. Littleton) must ever feel when he reflected, that by the indiscreet course which he had permitted himself to pursue in disclosing the opinions of the Irish Government, he had been the means of inflicting on the country the great and irreparable loss of the services of Earl Grey. He must be permitted to say, that no one had ever in the whole course of his political life, so much attracted him as that noble Earl—not merely by similarity of views—not merely by that open and courageous deportment which uniformly characterised that noble Lord on all occasions in public; but he felt especially bound to him by the ties of gratitude,—the result of that unvarying frankness and generous kindness which he had ever displayed, and the confidence which he had reposed in him. The individual did not live for whom he would have made greater sacrifices; the individual did not live from whom he would have borne a rebuke with more entire respect; and as long as he lived he should never fail to reflect with the deepest pain on the unfortunate situation in which he was placed with reference to that distinguished individual. So very strong had been his feelings on that subject, that when the present Government was being constructed by Lord Melbourne, he (Mr. Littleton) had taken the liberty of expressing to him the strong sense he entertained of the unnatural position which he should occupy if he remained in office; Lord Grey having, by an act of indiscretion on his (Mr. Littleton's) part, felt himself under the necessity of retiring. Why he did remain, was not for him to explain; all he could 167 say was, it had not been of his own seeking, God knew. Whether there were any prudence in requesting him to remain, he left for others to say; but he should not have done what he conceived was due to his own character if he did not declare that under the circumstances of the case he had felt the strongest possible reluctance to continue in office. But having said thus much, he hoped he should not offend that noble Lord's feelings, or those of any other party, if on the present occasion he spoke boldly and uncompromisingly the opinions which, as an humble individual, he entertained with respect to the three clauses in question. His right hon. friend (Sir Robert Peel), with that accuracy of memory for which he was so much distinguished, had adverted to a declaration which, in answer to the hon. member for Kilkenny, he (Mr. Littleton) had made in an early period of the Session, as to the connexion which was supposed to exist between political agitation and the agrarian outrages which had prevailed in Ireland. He had undoubtedly stated, on that occasion what he was still prepared to repeat, that the moral effects which had resulted from that system of agitation which had been pursued had been most pernicious in that country, and tended to—he did not like to say sanction, but certainly not at all to discountenance—predial outrage, and had generally been considered in connexion with those baneful effects. But while he entertained that opinion, it by no means followed, that the powers which had been originally directed against meetings of a certain description, were, therefore, necessary in the present state of Ireland. He did not entertain that opinion. There was a description of meetings in Ireland which it was never contemplated to put down. The Bill was to be directed against meetings illegally convened—convened for an illegal object—and where there were dangerous combinations, threatening existing institutions, or menacing the peace and good order of society. At the time the Bill was passed there were two descriptions of assemblies in existence—the one the Irish Volunteers, and the other the National Trades' Union—both of which possessed an extremely general character, and having each a central meeting in Dublin, acquired great power over the country, which enabled them to direct the whole energies of a discontented popula- 168 tion in order to effect their own flagrantly wicked designs. Those meetings had been immediately put an end to by the application of this law, and from that time to the present, nothing of the same sort had presented itself. He was quite aware what the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) meant by cheering him, namely, that this law had rendered their existence impossible; but if that argument were good for anything, it would go too far. If it were good in 1834, it might also be urged in 1835 and 1836; whereas he (Mr. Littleton) held that fifteen months experience of the quiescence of those meetings afforded a sufficient warrant for the Legislature to relax somewhat the severity of the law, more especially as Parliament might, if the necessity did unfortunately arise, immediately be summoned in order to meet by fresh powers the new exigencies of the case. He did not at all mean to deny, that the opinions expressed by the illustrious individual at the head of the Irish Government, on the 18th of April, recommended the unqualified renewal of the whole Bill; but then the additional interval of two months did justify him in calling that noble Lord's attention again to the subject, and inquiring whether his opinion respecting it remained unchanged. He had submitted to him in brief and general terms very nearly those arguments which he had stated on the present occasion; and he went further, and told the noble Marquess that if he still held the same opinions unaltered, considerable difficulty might be felt in that House in transacting the remaining business of the Session. He stated this fairly and candidly, and he confessed that, considering the intimate and confidential relation in which he stood to that illustrious individual, he did not think he had acted in that respect unworthy of the character which he sustained. He deeply regretted that he had not previously consulted the more prudent judgment of the noble Lord then at the head of his Majesty's Government, as it was, undoubtedly, his duty to do; but believing, as he did, that those clauses were likely to be abandoned, he had not in the circumstances felt, as he should, all the importance of taking that step. The right hon. Gentleman referred to some of the opinions which had been given by Sir J. Harvey and various other officers in favour of the Bill, and contended that 169 they related not so much to the renewal of the three clauses in question, as principally, if not exclusively, to those parts of the Bill which were intended to prevent agrarian disturbances.
§ Viscount Howick
said, it was with extreme reluctance that he rose to address the House. On a former evening, after the explanation which had been given by his right hon. friend (Mr. Littleton), it had been with very considerable difficulty that he restrained his feelings; but now that there had been more time to consider the effect of what had been said, he hoped he should be able to avoid anything which would create any difficulty in the way of his noble friend (Lord Althorp), who sat below, and whose Government he was not now less anxious to support than when he had the honour of being officially connected with it. But still he felt, that in what had just passed there were some points which required further elucidation. If he committed any error, he hoped the House would excuse him. He stood in a most difficult situation. He had not been able to consult any individual. Some of his friends remained still connected with Government, and he could not with common delicacy have asked their advice. Still less could he have asked that advice which of all others he should have been most glad to receive, because that individual with whom he was so nearly connected, and whose reputation, if anything could throw a cloud over it, which he did not think was the case, if anything were necessary to set what had passed in a clear light, out of regard to others, that individual would, he knew, have advised him not to speak at all, and would himself not have spoken of anything which might affect others. He thought, however, that in such matters delicacy might be pushed too far; and he must say, although there was much force in the arguments of his right hon. friend (Mr. Littleton) against the three particular clauses in question, and although he too was ready to admit, that in a constitutional point of view, it was most advisable, if possible, to dispense with them, what he wanted to know now was, why those objections had not been brought under the consideration of the late head of the Government before June 23rd. It was stated by Lord Grey in the House of Lords, and that statement had never been denied, that very shortly antecedent to the 23rd of June the question 170 of the renewal of the Coercion Bill was formally brought before the Cabinet—his right hon. friend from his official situation knew that it had been brought forward, no objections were stated by any individual, and the Cabinet came to the unanimous vote that the Bill should be renewed in the shape in which it now lay on the Table of the House of Lords. On that decision Lord Grey had given instructions to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, and the Bill was prepared accordingly. What happened next? On the 23rd of June Lord Grey received a letter from Marquess Wellesley diametrically at variance with the whole tenour of the communication which had up to that moment been received from the noble Marquess; and till Lord Grey broke the seal of that letter he had not even the most distant guess or suspicion that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Littleton) was of opinion that the clauses in question could be dispensed with. He should, in conclusion, ask, did not his right hon. friend, in taking credit to himself for the course which he had adopted, do that which, in effect, cast censure upon those from whom he differed? He should not then go further than to observe, that in the present conversation there had been an attempt made by some Members to throw discredit upon the conduct of one, his feelings towards whom he had not language to describe. Of course he did not mean to say, that his right hon. friends near him participated in such attempts—quite the contrary. But he asked, was not a call for three cheers for those members of the Cabinet who had stood up for the people, an attempt to cast censure upon the other portion of the responsible advisers of the Crown, as if they consisted of men who were disposed to trample on the people. He wished, in conclusion, to put to his right hon. friend one simple question; and, in asking it, he should state that he had studiously abstained from seeking any confidence from Lord Grey which might fetter him in any observations he might think it right to make, and that he knew nothing under the seal of secrecy which he should violate by asking this question. He would ask his right hon. friend if, when this communication took place which induced Lord Wellesley to change his opinion, he made the communication simply by himself? Was he the only person who sug- 171 gested that alteration of opinion, or did the suggestion take place in concert with others, and unknown to the person at the head of the Government? He thought that, for the honour of all public men, that question ought to be distinctly answered.
§ Mr. Littleton
said, he should feel great reluctance in refusing to answer any question relating to such subjects coming from his noble friend who had just sat down, but he begged to say, that no man could be morally entitled to receive an answer to such an interrogatory. He really felt bound on principle to decline answering. He might, however, go the length of saying, that within a short time of the preparation of the papers laid before Parliament, the Cabinet had made up their minds to a certain portion of the Coercion Bill; but he confessed, that after making up those papers—a duty which devolved more particularly upon him—the necessity for renewing the Bill in its full extent appeared greatly to diminish. He was ready to admit, that the other duties of his office had prevented his paying that attention to the facts bearing upon the question which he otherwise might, until the time for coming to a decision on it had arrived. A communication relating to the matter was made to the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and most certainly had his answer to that been unfavourable, the public would have heard nothing more upon the subject.
§ Mr. Feargus O'Connor
said, that the whole of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman went to prove that the House ought not to allow the introduction of this measure. As to the question which had been put to the right hon. Secretary for Ireland by the noble Lord opposite—if there were not some matters kept behind, why should he hesitate to answer the noble Lord fairly. He thought, indeed, that the confidence which was placed in the present Ministry was a rebuke to Earl Grey. What, however, had Ministers done for Ireland during their Administration, that they should now demand the confidence of the Irish people? "Actions spoke the mind," and what had been the actions or the acts of Ministers towards that country? They proposed the Coercion Bill in another place, and now they proposed to introduce it in that House with so slight an alteration as to render the distinction almost laughable. The 172 people of Ireland would derive no benefit from the measure; on the contrary, it would be found equally oppressive to the labourer and farmer. He knew not exactly upon what principles the present Administration was constructed, but he feared that there was little to be hoped from them in favour of Ireland. He hoped that his anticipations might be disappointed, but much he feared that in the confusion of a new Cabinet the interests of Ireland would be neglected. That Cabinet had already been deprived of its head, but he trusted that the headless trunk of the Administration would not go further in their endeavours to coerce Ireland and keep her in subjection. But the Bill before the House was calculated to produce that effect. It was to be held out as a rod of terror to the people of that country. It was a power given to the landlord over his tenant. He well remembered the celebrated speech made by the Duke of York against the admission of Roman Catholics to the privileges of the Constitution in 1825. That speech had been received, had been cherished in Ireland; it was printed in letters of gold, and hung over the mantle-pieces of every Orange family in that country. Were they, he would ask, to carry this Bill in the same spirit? were they to enact its provisions in every case where the Irish Government were told that it was required? He sat there as one of the Representatives for the largest county in Ireland, and he would say, that he never could consent to such a destruction of the Constitution as this Bill would lead to, particularly with regard to the unfortunate peasantry of that country. He wished distinctly to have it understood, that he did not know the course which the hon. and learned member for Dublin intended taking, but he hoped that whatever clauses that hon. and learned Gentleman might agree to, he would permit none to remain which could be made an instrument in the hands of the domestic aristocracy convertible to the purposes of their despotism. He repeated, that he knew not what course that hon. and learned Gentleman meant to take, but if he went out alone, he should most assuredly vote against the measure at every stage. How could Ministers attempt thus to coerce a population already in a starving condition? Where was the ground for such a measure? Was it that they were to be governed by the 173 timidity of an Irish Lord-lieutenant, who consented to certain terms merely from a fear that the English Government should become unpopular? The whole transaction was unworthy of a wise and liberal Government, and he had no hesitation in saying, that the present Ministry had no portion of his confidence, nor would he rely upon any Ministry until he found it remodelled, he had almost said re-principled.
§ Mr. Barron
considered the proposed Bill to be a protective measure against those lawless ruffians who, having neither character nor property of their own to lose, attacked the lives and property of all the respectable classes of society in Ireland. Such being his opinion of the measure, it was unnecessary for him to add that lie thought it was one which every honest man ought to support. He could easily understand why the measure was not palatable to the right hon. Gentleman near him, who had once been chief Secretary for Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman wished for something more arbitrary. His disposition had been evinced by the mad acts which had nearly produced rebellion in Ireland; and it was not unnatural that his disappointed ambition should not relish such a measure as the present. He (Mr. Barron), however, was confident that the measure would give great satisfaction to the people of Ireland. At the same time he must declare, that he would have given the Bill his strongest opposition, if it had been brought forward in that House in the shape in which it had been introduced into the House of Lords. The conduct of his Majesty's present Government with respect to the measure had been perfectly justifiable and laudable. Indeed it was impossible that they could think of bringing the measure forward in that House in the same shape as it had been introduced to the House of Lords; for it was evident that as soon as it became known in Ireland that the Lord-lieutenant and five members of the Cabinet were opposed to the severer provisions of the Bill, it would have been impracticable to carry those provisions into effect. He trusted, that from the present time a milder and a better mode of governing Ireland would be resorted to than that which had been hitherto practised. All measures of severity had totally failed in governing that country. Was it not time to have re- 174 course to a new system—to a system founded upon affection, honesty, and common sense? Was it not time to try to govern Ireland like England? That he was persuaded would be the only way to render the people of Ireland attached to the Government. The Irish were a high-minded, intelligent, and brave people, they were determined to be free, and God forbid that they should ever show themselves unworthy of the freedom which they sought. He repeated, that he should give his support to the present Bill, but only as a temporary measure, passed for the purpose of putting down temporary disturbances. He hoped that before the next Session of Parliament his Majesty's Government would be prepared, not with one, two, or three, but with a long series of measures, for the improvement of the condition of Ireland; for it would be found that a long series of measures would be indispensably necessary to remove the existing and varied causes of discontent. He agreed to the Bill because he wished to protect life and property, now in danger; but he did not agree to it for the purpose of supporting a system in Ireland which must be totally eradicated before that country could be placed in a condition in which it ought to be.
§ Mr. Clay
thought that the papers on the Table afforded ample justification for the Bill, deprived of the clauses formerly annexed to it; but he could not see in those papers the slightest justification for those clauses. Those papers afforded no proof of political disaffection, but they afforded ample proof of the distress of the population. He had sought in vain in them for evidence of any connexion between agrarian disturbance and political disaffection. He congratulated the House on the return to power of a Government which, professing liberal feelings and opinions, was entitled to their support. As to the changes that had taken place in a few of the individuals of that Government, he did not think that that House or the public had much to do with them. They ought to look only at the measures which were pursued. Indeed, the day had almost gone by when individuals could add to the strength of Government. That was now a weak Government which attacked the popular will and intelligence; that was now a strong Government which accorded with the popular will and intelligence. He trusted that the present 175 Government would avail themselves of all the advantages which Parliamentary Reform afforded them for carrying a temper-rate and conciliatory, but a firm spirit of Reform into all the various departments of the public service.
§ Mr. Denis O'Conor
trusted that he should not incur the imputation of dishonesty, if he assured his hon. friend, the member for Waterford, that he could not vote for the present Bill, at all events in its present extent, notwithstanding the assertion that no honest man could vote against it. If the Bill were not exceedingly modified—if it did not omit all that had been objected to in it by his hon. and learned friend the member for Dublin, he should feel it incumbent on him, in the discharge of the duty he owed his constituents, to oppose the progress of the Bill, and most certainly to vote against its third reading. He was strongly impressed with the conviction of the adequacy of the ordinary law of the land for the vindication of justice and the repression of crime; and he was confirmed in that assurance, not only by the assertions to that effect by the Chief Justice and the Crown Solicitor for Ireland, which had already been quoted, but also by his own experience. He saw the law tried, and its efficiency proved, in the county which he had the honour to represent. His hon. and learned friend the member for Dublin had stated the effect of a Special Commission in the county of Clare. He would call the attention of the House to the effects of a Special Commission in the county of Roscommon. But few years had elapsed since that county was in a state of frightful disturbance; the law of the land was entirely superseded by agrarian confederacies; a meeting of Magistrates took place, when disturbances rose to as alarming a height as they had done in any part of Ireland; at that meeting almost every Magistrate who was present considered that nothing short of the Insurrection Act would restore tranquillity; there were but few dissentients—he believed but two or three: the majority, however, yielded to the opinion of the minority, that a Special Commission ought first to be tried. That Commission was tried; Jurors, and witnesses, and prosecutors were had in abundance; convictions were had wherever they were justified; punishments were summary; and the county was restored from the worst state of disturbance to perfect tranquillity. 176 The county, he maintained, still continued in a state of general tranquillity, although it was asserted in the papers laid upon the Table of the House, that it was disturbed to such an extent, that it was one of the counties alluded to, to prove the necessity of renewing the Coercion Bill. Now, he fearlessly contradicted the representations made in those papers of the state of that county. He was astonished when he read them—he made inquiries as to their accuracy, and he was assured they were not borne out by fact. He would take leave to read an extract from a most respectable' gentleman from the Assizes of Roscommon. It was as follows: 'The best proof that I can give you of the peace of this county, is a report of a trial of a soldier of the garrison of Athlone, who went with a brother soldier, and attempted to break into the house of a woman two miles from that town. On being refused admittance, two shots were fired into the House—she effected her escape from the rear of the House, applied to the police, and had the soldiers apprehended—they were identified, one turned approver—he proved at the trial that both shots were fired by his comrade. The counsel for the Crown had them indicted under the Whiteboy Act; but the sergeant of the police who commanded the party, having admitted, on being questioned by Judge Torrens, that the county was then, and is now in a state of peace, the Judge told the Jury that the indictment would not lie against the prisoner—as, to constitute an offence under the Whiteboy Act, the county must be in a state of disturbance.' Did not this prove how unwarrantable the representation that the county of Roscommon was disturbed? He would call their attention to this fact, that the barony of Athlone, where this circumstance took place, was that part of the county which was always the least peaceable in times of disturbance; and when it was proved to Judge Torrens that it was now in a state of tranquillity, he was astonished how the Lord-lieutenant could be led to believe, that it was disturbed. His hon. friend, the member for Dublin, had alluded to the mode in which tithes were collected in Ireland, and had introduced the name of Mr. Young, the agent to Lord Mountsandford, in the county of Roscommon. In justice to Mr. Young, whom he was happy to call his friend, he must say that Mr. Young was a 177 most upright Magistrate, and an excellent country gentleman. The hon. and learned Member might manifest surprise at the assertion; but if he were personally acquainted with Mr. Young, he would admit the justice of it. He did, however, believe that the fact stated of that Gentleman was true. He believed, that that Gentleman acted upon the principle of the Bill of the late right hon. Secretary for the Colonies for the recovery of tithes. He believed, that Mr. Young did arrange with the clergyman for the bonus of fifteen per cent, to pay him the tithe, and that he compelled the tenants to pay it to himself, without allowing them the abatement. He requested hon. Members who cheered him to recollect that Mr. Young acted under their own Bill—under the Bi11 passed in that House. Let them condemn the Bill—he condemned it, and he called upon the House to condemn that Tithe Bill, and to give them a good one. He felt, that the best Peace Preservation Act they could pass, would be a measure of justice to Ireland, which would supersede not only the necessity but the excuse for a Coercion Bill in that country. He would not sit down without congratulating the House on the altered tone with which the present Bill was introduced, totally changed from the tone in which the former Coercion Bill was presented to the House. It was then asserted, that the greater was its deviation from the principles of the Constitution, the more it should be supported. This monstrous doctrine was now repudiated, and an attempt was professed at least to be made to depart as little as possible from the principles of the Constitution. If justice were done to the country, there would be no necessity for the slightest deviation from them.
§ Mr. Henry Lytton Bulwer
said, that he would give his support to the greater part of the Bill. He congratulated the House on having a Cabinet which had consented to give up the very objectionable parts of the Bill. An hon. and learned Member had laid great stress on the wretched condition of the Irish peasantry. He (Mr. Bulwer) would apply every possible remedy to better their condition, but that would not prevent him from supporting a measure to give due protection to property.
could not sanction the principle of the Bill, as it went to interfere in certain cases with the rights of 178 petition to the Legislature or to the King. He was surprised to hear from the right hon. Secretary (Mr. Littleton) that this measure was approved of by the gentry in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman must have kept strange company in that country, if he mixed only with those who expressed their approbation of that measure. He could not have associated with the independent country gentlemen of Ireland, or if he had, he would not have heard any approbation of this Bill. He was glad to see a new Ministry who seemed fairly disposed to do justice to Ireland. If Ireland had justice done to her, she would acknowledge and return it with gratitude.
§ Mr. Christmas
could not understand the grounds of the very strange and inconsistent course pursued by Ministers. All the causes which were urged in justification of the former Bill were still in existence, and yet they were now told, that a Bill from which the most important clauses of the former Bill were omitted would be sufficient. He did not wish to appear to oppose a measure intended for the protection of property; but he owned, that he felt so strong an objection to this Bill that lie did not think he should vote for it.
§ Mr. Sheil
was not aware, until he heard it stated in this debate, that any part of the peasantry of Ireland were anxious to see locks placed on their hovels after sunset, or were disposed to see power given to the Lord-lieutenant of placing them almost under Martial-law. He did not believe, that any feeling of this kind prevailed amongst the people of Ireland. The noble Lord (Lord Althorp) had made a statement as to the necessity of this measure, but he had not adduced any evidence to justify what the noble Lord himself considered a violation of the Constitution. In order to justify such a measure the noble lord was bound to make out a strong case. Now what case had he made out? On what authority did he rest? Was it on that of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland? He was not disposed to lay any great stress on his authority; for that right hon. Gentleman had shown that he was prepared to vote for the whole Bill, though there were certain clauses of it which he did not approve. Still less could he rely on the authority of the Lord-lieutenant, for he found that on the 18th of April, the Lord-lieutenant was for the renewal of the whole Bill, though on the 179 21st of June he was satisfied to have a greatly modified Bill. The House bad not the latter document before them, which they had a right to complain of. He would not say, that its non-production was a suggestio falsi, but it did amount to a suppressio veri. If the Government relied on the opinion of the Lord-lieutenant in June for a particular course, why did they not produce that opinion? This, he must say, was a fraud on the public. It also appeared that five Ministers had changed their minds on it, and would vote for the measure when out of the Cabinet, though they disapproved of parts of it. He pressed this to show, that there was no sufficient authority for the ground on which the Bill now stood. Some of the Ministers had exhausted their eloquence in favour of the Court-martial clause; they now admitted, that they were mistaken. Might they not be equally mistaken as to the necessity of the Bill even in its present shape? Under these circumstances, what authority was there to show, that the Constitution ought to be violated, and that they could not restore tranquillity by the vigorous enforcement of the law as it stood? He was astonished at the evidence of Lord Oxmantown, and at the weight that had been attached to it, for it had been his Lordship's speech which had so mainly contributed to the carrying of the Court-martial clause. He had the greatest possible respect for his Lordship, but when he saw Lord Oxmantown brought into collision with the peasantry of the country; when he knew that at the last hustings he was obliged to go armed with pistols in his pocket: when he recollected these and similar facts, he must confess that he looked upon him and upon his authority on such a subject with great suspicion. His Lordship now asked for the political clauses; and why reject those clauses, and yet refer to his evidence touching other parts of the Bill? He had better evidence to guide the House upon this subject. He would refer the House to the evidence of Lord Chief Justice Bushe, who distinctly stated, that he deemed the existing laws of the land to be amply sufficient for the preservation of the public peace, provided they were vigorously put into execution. He had on his side the facts of every Special Commission that had ever been issued, for they all proved efficient in restoring the public peace. Why did not his Majesty's Minis- 180 ters refer to the evidence of the Judges of Assize? He had seen the evidence of those Judges. Baron Pennefather had said to the Grand Jury of Clare, where fatal outrages had existed, that he had looked over the calendar, and had found that it was entirely free from the crimes that had once visited that country. Lord Chief Justice Bushe had said to the Grand Jury that he had looked over the calendar, and he was happy to find, that it contained no case of a serious nature. He asked the right hon. Secretary for Ireland whether he had taken the trouble to inquire of the Judges whether they thought that the existing laws of the land, if vigorously enforced, were or were not sufficient to put down disturbances? Why not enforce the laws? Ministers admitted, that Juries would now do their duty, and why not then issue Special Commissions? What had the Irish Secretary said upon this subject, but that the country could not have a Special Commission, because it would cost so much. He had added, that there could be no Special Commission until the gaols were full, because the costs of the Commission were too high. Was this a circumstance that could for a moment be attended to in that House? The right hon. Secretary had said, that there was no instance in which the powers of the Coercion Bill had been misapplied. He would reply, that they had been improperly applied in the county of Galway. Then the right hon. Secretary had added, that the county of Kilkenny afforded a sufficient proof that no evils could arise from carrying into execution the powers of the Coercion Bill. He denied the fact. The county of Kilkenny had applied to Government for the liberty of holding a public meeting, for the purpose of peaceably and respectfully petitioning Parliament upon the subject of tithes, and Ministers had refused the permission. Was that right, he asked? Ought such a power as this to be intrusted to any Lord-lieutenant? He put it to the House whether this part of the Bill was not, strictly speaking, political? If the Lord-lieutenant should wish to prevent any meeting whatever, he had nothing to do but to proclaim a district to be under the Coercion Act, and he would gain by this means what he could not accomplish by a more direct mode of proceeding. This Bill was such as the Tories themselves had never ventured to introduce into Parlia- 181 ment; for in the Insurrection Act no such power had been given to the Lord-lieutenant. He submitted two propositions to the House. First, that there was no sufficient case before the House, no evidence to justify the giving of such a power to the Lord-lieutenant to suppress all public meetings. He had one observation more to make on this subject. Did not the Members on the other side of the House admit to the full extent the existence of Irish grievances? They had made this admission, and they had not applied any remedy. They admitted, that the Established Church was too highly endowed; and were not the Irish, he asked, to be allowed to petition against such a grievance? Ministers said, they were determined to put down all clamours against tithes, the injustice of which tithes they had themselves so often acknowledged. He called upon Ministers to remove the grievance in the first instance; and if that did not succeed to put down disturbances, then he would consent to their applying such a remedy as was now proposed. Lord Melbourne had said, that if he should find it necessary, he would even call a Parliament together in order to enact the political clauses of this Bill; and why might not his Lordship rest the whole case upon the same grounds, and call a Parliament to enact the Bill, provided predial disturbances should hereafter exist? From the year 1810 to 1814, more disturbances had existed in Ireland than at the present day. From 1814 to 1822, more outrages were committed than at present. In 1819, the Sheas were burnt, and other outrages had been committed. What had occurred in the next Session? Ministers had tried the interval, and, upon the opinion of the Judges, they had issued a Special Commission, and had placed their dependence upon Juries. At present, Ministers acknowledged that the High Sheriff could cite a body of yeomen who would do their duty; and why then did they call upon that House to suspend the Constitution? Ministers had changed their minds with reference to three clauses of the Bill; and was it, he asked, impossible for them to change their minds on the whole measure? Let them pause. Why did they not write to the Lord-lieutenant and say, that as he had changed his mind on three of the clauses, it was possible he might change his mind on the whole of the clauses that violated the Constitution? He felt it his 182 duty to vote against the Bill in the first stage, and notwithstanding that he anticipated its passing through the first reading by a very great majority, he still hoped that it might in the Committee undergo great changes. The five had recently yielded to the seven in the Cabinet, and now the seven yielded to the five; and he had yet hopes that those who now supported the Bill might be induced to change their opinions.
§ Mr. Abercromby
would detain the House but a very few moments. He should not have risen to make any observations whatever, had it not been for some things which had fallen from the hon. and learned Member, and which he could not suffer to pass unnoticed. He was sorry to say, that the hon. and learned Member's speech had partaken more of the character of a lawyer, than that of a Legislator. The speech, in fact, had been purely legal, and was in no respect adapted to the meridian of that House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that his Majesty's Ministers had assumed it as a matter beyond all question, that a good case had been made out for the propriety of passing the Bill which his noble friend had introduced. He denied the assertion, for his Majesty's Government had fully stated the grounds upon which they called upon Parliament to agree to the measure they had laid before it. With respect to the change of opinion in the noble Lord at the head of the Irish Government, he begged leave to remind the hon. and learned Member, that that change had been limited to only three clauses of the Bill, and that it did not relate to the general character or propriety of the measure to be introduced. That part of the Lord-lieutenant's opinion had never changed, and it still remained unshaken. The hon. Member had argued like a lawyer, that because the noble Lord had changed his opinion once, he might change it again; but was it to reason closely to suppose, that because he had changed his opinion upon only one point, it was likely that he should change it upon the whole measure? But the real question was, if a case had been made out to establish the necessity of the Bill. He would refer to the Report of 1832, which had had so much respect paid to it by the Gentlemen of Ireland, that on the present occasion they proposed, that that Report should now be reprinted for the informa- 183 tion and guidance of hon. Members. He agreed with that Report, and he contended, that there had existed then, that there did exist at present, symptoms such as justified the passing of the Bill which the House was called upon to sanction. He contended, that such symptoms were in full force, and he feared that they would be in full force much longer, inasmuch as they were evils arising out of the very state and condition of Ireland. The question was, whether the evils were not likely to be increased by the advancing prosperity of the country. Paradoxical as it might appear, he contended, that this would be the case. Every man in Ireland was connected with the land, and in passing to an improving state of society, the progress led to a dispossession of persons from their tenements; and if proper provision was not made for them, it threw hack upon society a class of persons, that under such circumstances, would always prove troublesome and dangerous. He had heard that night, statements of oppression on the part of landlords, that would tend to increase the danger. The papers before the House amply showed the actual condition of Ireland. He asked the hon. and learned member for Tipperary only to compare the crimes of the present day with those of former times. There was a strong resemblance between them, with the exception of one practice, which afforded a clear indication of the improvement of the country. In former times crimes arose out of the hostility of the poorer classes to the Magistrates and landlords; but at present there were few offences of this nature. The present crimes rose naturally out of the existing state of society. The offences were those of a people of an ardent and impetuous temperament, of lawless habits, and they endeavoured to obtain redress for grievances by violence, which redress, in a better state of society, would be sought after in Courts of Justice. When it was said, that there was nothing in the state of Ireland at this moment to authorize this Bill, or any such severe measure, he begged the House to look to the state of Ireland. Government had not been charged with misconducting themselves there; and he would ask, if it was safe and proper for Government, out of regard to the lives and property of individuals, not to have recourse to this measure, though severe. He was of opinion, with the noble Lord, 184 that this was a fit and proper measure. The consideration he had given to the Report of 1832, had convinced him of the necessity of devising some measure to secure person and property in Ireland, as nearly as possible analogous to the principles of the Constitution. Nothing was more injurious to Ireland than to resort upon all occasions to temporary laws of severity, winch were productive of discontent; but in the present instance, a clear case was made out to show, that a strong measure was requisite. Looking to all the circumstances of the case, he was satisfied that the Government were not in a condition to govern Ireland without a measure of this nature, omitting the clauses that had been excluded, "I trust, (continued the right hon. Gentleman) "this will be the prelude to an interval of peace, and every interval of peace will add to the strength and security of the community of Ireland. Those who possess a power and influence over the people of Ireland ought to be responsible for the way in which they exercise that power: we are upon our trial; they are upon theirs. If we find that we have been mistaken, and stern necessity drives us to enact the clauses which have been omitted in this Bill, the responsibility will not rest with the Government, who placed confidence in the people of Ireland, but on those who shall have abused the indulgence of the Legislature."
§ Colonel Perceval
said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had attempted to draw away the attention of the House from the question actually at issue, and by a reference to other subjects, had made an impression upon the House. The right hon. Gentleman also appealed to the influential Member below him, to whom it appeared the charge of preserving the peace of Ireland was to be confided by his Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman talked of the responsibility which the hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for Dublin, incurred in the event of his again agitating Ireland; but it was his Majesty's Ministers who incurred a heavy responsibility, in not preventing the possibility of his doing so. What confidence could either Whig, Tory, or Radical, place in the Administration, as at present constructed—an Administration which eight days since introduced the measure in its totality (to borrow a phrase from the hon. and learned mem- 185 ber for Tipperary), and now introduced another measure totally different. He believed that the measure as originally introduced, was absolutely necessary to preserve the peace and tranquillity of his unfortunate country —and therefore it was with extreme regret he found his Majesty's Ministers abandoning the most efficient portion of it. The hon. and learned Member below him (Mr. Shell) stated, that Ireland was now tranquil—but what was the fact? Since the 3rd of May, three counties had been proclaimed ["No, no!"] He was sure no hon. Member, however he might differ from him, would, for an instant, believe him capable of wilfully mis-stating a fact. Since the 3rd of May, portions of three counties in Ireland had been proclaimed—namely, Westmeath, the King's County, and the barony of Longford, in the county of Galway. Was it just, then, to state, that when it was an ascertained fact, that portions of three counties had been proclaimed within a space of less than three months—that Ireland was in a state of perfect tranquillity. It was his opinion, and it was also he knew that of the Secretary for Ireland, that were it not for the Coercion Bill, insubordination would have spread considerably in that country. The hon. and learned member for Tipperary had interred, from what two Judges had said on the late circuits, that the whole of Ireland was in a state of tranquillity; but his assertion was not borne out by the fact. Earl Grey considered the Coercion Bill, in the form in which he introduced it, as essential to the preservation of the peace of Ireland; and in that opinion, nineteen out of every twenty of the well-educated portion of the inhabitants of Ireland concurred. On the 18th of April, the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland applied in the strongest language, for the renewal of the measure, and stated, that the whole of the Bill was necessary. That letter was before the House. But they were informed, that on the 23rd of June, he had altered his opinion; and now, because that fact became known—notwithstanding that he had changed his mind since that period—his Majesty's Ministers, who, eight days since, were pledged to the measure in its integrity and totality—now came down to the House and introduced a Bill totally different in its nature. The House had no right to act, except upon the evidence before them; and as 186 the letter of the 23rd of June was withheld, the Bill ought to be passed as originally introduced. But, suppose that letter were produced, and the differences in the Cabinet cobbled up—he would ask, was it just to coerce the peasantry, and leave the educated portion, who goaded the people into acts of violence, and who were, therefore, in his opinion, greater culprits than the others?—was it just, he would ask, to permit one class to go free, while the other was to be restrained? But it was manifest that there was au understanding between his Majesty's Ministers, and the hon. and learned Gentleman below him (Mr. O'Connell). It was, he supposed, expected, that that hon. and learned Gentleman would cease from that agitation to which he attributed touch of the crime which had recently disgraced his country. His opinion of the truth, that such an understanding did exist, was strengthened by the feeling appeal which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Abercromby) had just made to the hon. and learned member for Dublin. He had heard an hon. friend of his impugned last night for accusing his Majesty's Ministers of yielding up the Protestants of Ireland to the agitators. He endeavoured more than once in the course of that debate to address the House, for the purpose of stating his readiness to have any odium, which a participation in his hon. friends sentiments may justly entitle him to. In the course of the debate this evening, the hon. and learned member for Dublin had been styled by members of the Government as "the right hon. Gentleman." He was, he made no doubt, entitled to the appellation. He looked upon him as the Law Officer of the Crown in that House, and he wished his Majesty's Ministers would boldly come forward and frankly acknowledge that he was their right hand in that House. He wished the hon. and learned Gentleman would be more sparing of his abuse of individuals who were not present to defend themselves. In the course of his speech that night, he had attacked some friends of his, one of whom (Mr. Young), had ample justice done to his character by the hon. member for the county of Roscommon. With respect to a noble friend of his (Lord Mountsandford), who had been assailed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, he could take upon himself to say, that in the British empire there was not to be found a more 187 amiable, or benevolent person, nor was there a better landlord. He would appeal to all those Members who resided in the neighbourhood of his noble friend's property, to confirm his statement—and he therefore regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman should so far forget himself as to indulge in abuse of one, who in every relation of life was deserving of the highest approbation. The hon. and learned Gentleman also attacked another noble friend of his (the Marquess of Westmeath). The charge against that noble Lord was, that he had dispossessed tenants. He would have done the same. In the instance alluded to, the tenants owed two years' arrear of rent—and was it for a moment to be maintained, that under such circumstances they were to be left in undisturbed possession of his property? He knew from the Marquess of Westmeath, that when he dispossessed them he forgave them the arrears due from them, and advanced them money to transport themselves elsewhere. The noble Marquess could not afford, no more than he could, to allow his estate to be occupied by persons who would not pay rent for it—and under the circumstances, his conduct was such as to call for commendation rather than reprehension. He would not occupy the attention of the House further than to say, that if his Majesty's Government calculated upon the support of the hon. Members below him by appealing to their feelings in the mode adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, they would be miserably deceived. If they went on sacrificing principle at the shrine of conciliation, and departing from the straightforward and manly course, they might obtain a temporary support, but they would ultimately bring an extinguisher upon their own heads, as well as their colleagues; and the sooner it came the better.
Mr. Secretary Rice
said, that some observations had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman, respecting a noble friend of his, which, out of regard both to the cause of truth and to the character of his noble friend, obliged him to offer some few remarks to the House. In the first place, however, he must advert to the general principle which had been laid down by the hon. and gallant officer, and respecting which he fully and entirely concurred with him. He thought that that general principle, and the observations 188 with which he accompanied it, afforded a pretty satisfactory answer to certain subsequent observations which he was pleased to make. It was perfectly true, that any Government which attempted to govern Ireland out of regard or deference to the prejudices or interests of any one of the contending parties in that country would fail and ought to fail. But he would take upon himself to say, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends had not been, on all occasions, disposed to consider the governing of Ireland in reference to the interests of a particular party in that country so serious an offence as he was now disposed to consider it; and he believed, if Ministers were inclined to reverse their conduct with regard to the peculiar views and interests of the hon. and gallant Officer and his friends, so far from its being made the subject-matter of reproach, they would have been lauded and cheered by the hon. and gallant Officer and his friends—we should have been told—"Now, indeed, you are suppressing the cry of the repeal of the Union—now, indeed, you are supporting the Protestants of our country—now, indeed, you are conciliating the real attached friends of Ireland and England—we will now give you our confidence, not because you are governing Ireland impartially, but because you are putting yourselves, bound hand and foot, into our hands. He was not disposed to quarrel with his hon. and gallant friend who had preceded him—he meant an amicable quarrel of course, for it was quite as impossible for him to quarrel with the gallant Officer on private matters as to agree with his political views. The cause of quarrel on the present occasion which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had thrown out was, that the Government had surrendered their own judgment in reference to this measure to that of the hon. and learned member for Dublin; but still the hon. and gallant Member had admitted in the course of the present discussion, that the hon. and learned Gentleman, and those who usually acted with him, were not disposed to join the Government in the present matter. Could it then be charged to the Government, even on this admission, that a coalition had taken place between the Government and the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite? He was certainly surprised at some of the observations which had fallen from the hon. and learned member for Tipperary. 189 Would that hon. and learned Gentleman, or any other hon. Member, venture to maintain, either in his place in Parliament or even in private, that it was inexpedient to enforce by law, for the sake of the peasantry and farmers of Ireland, such regulations as would give to these classes peace and security to themselves and families in their dwellings? Would the hon. and learned Gentleman undertake seriously to maintain such a proposition? That some measure of protection, some remedial provisions, were called for, even by the peasantry themselves, he could from his own personal knowledge most distinctly state. The people themselves called for protection, and claimed it at the hands of the Legislature of the country. The people sought and wished for protection from the miscreants who, without property in the country, went forth administering oaths, establishing confederacies, and by these means throwing the whole face of the country into complete confusion. He repeated that, in the course of his own experience of the country with which he was connected he had seen this, and hence it was, that he now stated, that the Roman Catholic clergy, the peasantry, and farmers of that country sought for protection to their homes, their families, and for every thing that would enable them to follow their own habits of industry and labour. If this, then, were true, and he stated it as the result of his knowledge of affairs in Ireland, what, he would ask, became of the argument of the hon. and learned Member? Why, if it was good for any thing, it went to this—that the Legislature ought not to pass any bill at all, but should rather leave Ireland in its present state and condition. He must remind the House, in corroboration of this assertion, of the report of the Select Committee appointed under the suggestion and on the Motion of the right hon. Baronet, the member for Dundee, (Sir H. Parnell), and what became, he must ask, of the evidence appended to that report,—evidence which he had never heard attempted to be controverted until the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had essayed to observe upon extreme cases? While he must admit that, the report of Sir Henry Parnell's Committee was in itself invaluable, he must contend, that the present advanced period of the Session was not the time for any effectual or beneficial purpose to 190 bring it forward, and especially for the purposes which had led to its introduction on the present occasion. Leaving this topic, he must now observe, that it was somewhat hard, that the names of individuals should ever be introduced to the House without at least more consideration being given to their conduct than could be gleaned from mere newspaper reports. He alluded to the mention which had been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite of the assumed conduct of a noble relative of his, in reference to the estates possessed by his noble relative—he meant the Earl of Limerick. He had seen the newspaper long since, and he could take upon himself to state, that a more unfounded and completely exaggerated statement never was sent forth than that contained in the Mayo newspaper, the authority upon which the hon. and learned Gentleman had based his charge. The paper in question was, he believed, the only one from that district which the hon. and learned Gentleman would receive. He was satisfied, that the hon. and learned Gentleman could not have seen the complete refutation which had been given in another journal to the assertions of the particular newspaper on which he had grounded his charge. He should take the liberty of placing these papers, and other corroboratory documents before the hon. and learned Gentleman, and with this promise, he should leave the charge which had been made in the course of the present discussion against the Earl of Limerick. With reference to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he begged to remind him of what took place in the year 1822. In the February of that year, at the time of the formation of the Wellesley Government, and when the right hon. member for the University of Cambridge was Chief Secretary for Ireland, two Bills were introduced into that House. One was intended to put down political agitation, and the other to put down what was called predial disturbance. One was the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the other was the insurrection Act. These Bills were founded upon papers then laid upon the Table of the House, and he acted with regard to them precisely as he intended to act now. To the Insurrection Act, which was intended to give protection to life and property, by putting down predial agitation, he assented reluctantly; 191 but still he did assent to it. To the other Bill, the political Bill, that for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, he refused his assent. The Legislature, however, passed both; but what happened on the 1st of August of the same year when they expired? Why, that the Government abandoned the Act which related to political agitation, but renewed the Insurrection Act. He did not complain of this; but if it was proper in the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his friends then to make this kind of distinction, it was rather strange that they should now turn round upon the present Government to reproach it for following their example; for the severance of the parts of the Coercion Bill amounted to no more. It had been truly stated, that after the declaration of the Irish Government had become known, it would have been impossible to carry the Court-martial clauses in that House; but supposing it had been possible, what, he must ask, would have been the effect of carrying them under such circumstances? He moved the Amendment to the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Dublin for the Repeal of the Union, and had the honour of being supported by a large majority of that House; but he would put it to the hon. and learned Member, he would put it to the House and to the country, to say whether a stronger argument could have been desired by the hon. and learned Member, than being able to say, that the objectionable clauses of this Bill had been disapproved of by the Irish Government; but that an English House of Commons, and an English Cabinet had forced them upon a reluctant Irish Administration? He would take another opportunity of putting the hon. and learned Gentleman in possession of the particular facts to which he had before alluded; and if he should satisfy the hon. and learned Gentleman, as he did not doubt he should be able to do, he should leave it to his candour to acknowledge it. He was reminded, that it had been said by the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Perceval) that his Majesty's Ministers had come to an understanding with the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Certainly when his right hon. friend said, that whilst the Government was prepared to do without these clauses, he knew perfectly well, that others were also responsible for the tranquillity of the country, he used terms not without significance; but if the hon. and gallant Mem- 192 ber thought they proved the existence of such an understanding as he described, the meaning he attached to them was very different from that which, rightly construed, they properly bore. It might be relied upon that the hon. and gallant Member and his friends would not dragoon them out of measures they thought beneficial, by threatening them with an imputation of the kind of understanding; alluded to. His Majesty's Government would not be frightened from doing that which would be popular in Ireland, by the dread of such an understanding being imputed to them. They would do their duty to Ireland; and if it met the approbation of different parties in that House, so much the better. They took it as incident to a proper measure, and it would be as great cowardice to shrink from the supposed approval of the hon. and learned member for Dublin, as it would be to shrink from his opposition. He had not shrunk from his opposition, and he should not shrink from receiving support to a measure good in itself, let it come from what quarter it might.
§ Mr. Ronayne
protested against the re-enactment of the Bill in the face of the statements put forth by the Judges of Assize to the Grand Juries of Ireland that the law was sufficiently powerful to meet any disturbances which might occur. He relied especially on the recent charge of Mr. Baron Pennefather, delivered to the Grand Jury of Clare, in the town of Ennis, and concurring in that opinion so expressed by such authorities, he should oppose the re-enactment of the Bill.
§ Mr. Cobbett
attributed the mitigation of the provisions of the present Bill from those of the measure of last year solely to the noble Lord opposite. He should, however, vote against the introduction of even the proposed measure, though he supposed it would be carried, and that the other House of Parliament would not refuse its assent to it. He should vote against it, putting up his prayers that it might tend to no ill effects but to those who had introduced it.
§ The House divided—Ayes 140; Noes 14: Majority 126.
§ The Bill was subsequently brought in by Lord Althorp, and read a first time.
|List of the NOES.|
|Attwood, T.||Christmas, W.|
|Blake, M. G.||Cobbett, W.|
|Evans, Colonel||Ruthven, E.|
|Fielden, J.||Scholefield, J.|
|Lowther, Colonel||Vigors, N. A.|
|O'Dwyer, A. C.||TELLERS.|
|Ronayne, D.||Sheil, R.|
|Ruthven, E. G.||O'Connor, F.|