HC Deb 23 July 1834 vol 25 cc422-8

The House went into Committee on the Suppression of Disturbances (Ireland) Bill.

Mr. O'Connell

proposed the omission of such portions of the 28th and 31st clauses as, in point of fact, suspended the Habeas Corpus Bill all over Ireland; for the effect of the enactment was, that any person who happened to be arrested could be kept in gaol without bail or mainprize, though the offence of which he was accused should be bailable. There was nothing in the state of Ireland to justify this, and he therefore trusted that there would be no objection to expunge those two clauses from the act. He should bring up the following clause:—"Be it enacted, that all such provisions of the Act as make it a good and sufficient return to a writ of Habeas Corpus, that the party in question is detained by virtue of the powers conferred under the Disturbances Suppression (Ireland) Bill, are hereby repealed."

The Clause was read a first time, and, on the question, that it be read a second time,

The Attorney General

said, that if the provisions to which the hon. and learned Gentleman objected were omitted under the clause now brought up, the effect would be not to mitigate, but aggravate, the severity of the Act. The hon. Member proposed to expunge a provision which prevented any person from being kept in prison for a longer period than three months without trial, and the result would be, that prisoners might be detained six or nine months waiting for the assizes. The power of keeping parties in custody for three months without bail was more necessary since the omission of the courtsmartial clauses. It was wrong to call this a general suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, because the provision applied only to disturbed districts.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that he meant his clause to apply only to bailable offences.

Sir Robert Peel

expressed his surprise that the House should consent to discuss a Bill of such importance without having a copy of it before them. He defied any one to follow or understand the discussion under existing circumstances. The House ought not to renew a Bill of which so much was altered and repealed, without having the measure distinctly before them in the shape in which it was now proposed to be enacted. What objection could there be to placing the Bill on the Table in such a form as to be intelligible to Members, to the Magistrates who were to administer it, and to the people who were to obey it? It was a mockery of legislation to tell the people of Ireland that they were bound to obey the law, and then refer them for its provisions to the statute of 1833 in the first instance, and afterwards to this Bill, telling them to pick out the meaning of both, and conjecture the object and intent of the Legislature as well as they could from a comparison of the two statutes. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite seemed to be exceedingly enamoured with a short bill; but there was no advantage in brevity that could compensate for the absence of clearness and perspicuity.

The Attorney General

said, that the House was in precisely the same situation now as on former occasions, when it had been proposed to continue Acts of Parliament, repealing certain clauses. The statutes which were known so generally, and so creditably to the right hon. Baronet, under the title of "Peel's Acts," repealed some statutes entirely, and repealed others partially, leaving the remainder of the latter in force; but this was never considered any objection to them on the score of want of perspicuity. He admitted, that hon. Members could not well understand the discussion, if they had not the original Bill before them; but every Member had been furnished with a copy, and ought to be able to refer to it.

Mr. Thomas Wallace

said, that if the debate of the former night were compared to the Bill which was not before them, it would be seen that the whole of that debate was thrown away, as no one last night thought, that the only tribunal persons oppressed could appeal to was a military one. He hoped that the whole Bill would be printed and submitted to the House, so that any person of ordinary intelligence might know what the proposed measure was to be. The Bill had been so much altered that it was impossible for any one to form a correct opinion of the new law.

Mr. O'Reilly

objected to the Habeas Corpus Suspension Clause, since by it innocent persons might be taken up, and, as they would not be allowed to put in bail, the consequence was, that they would be kept in prison until the time of their trials.

Mr. Henry Grattan

began to address himself to the conduct of the police towards his tenantry at Monaghan, when

Mr. O'Connell

rose to order, and put it to his hon. friend whether there was not enough in the question itself to occupy the House, without introducing extrinsic matter.

Mr. Grattan

would go into the case on the Report.

Mr. Lynch

contended, that under the circumstances, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, would be unprecedented. It was uncalled for, and unnecessary. He, last year, called upon his Majesty's Ministers to state a single reason to justify the suspension of this sacred right of the people. No answer was then given to him. He now repeated the same question, and he did expect some cause to be assigned before the House would consent to this direct infringement of the liberty of the subject, this gross violation of the Constitution. It was contended last year, that there was political agitation in Ireland, which ought to be put down, and to justify that assertion, his Majesty's Ministers referred to the meetings then held in Ireland, and the political associations then existing in that country. It was stated, that there was predial agitation in Ireland which ought be repressed. But to justify this suspension, there was not even an attempt made in the way of argument or reason. He opposed the clause last year, and he would now oppose it. If they referred to history, they would not find any analogy between the present and any other case in which the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended in this coun- try. The first suspension took place in 1689. Ireland was then in a state of actual war. War was likewise declared against France, in consequence of her assistance to the deposed King; and in Scotland, persons were apprehended actually assisting to aid his pretensions. Again, in 1699, besides the great activity of the exiled monarch to recover the throne he had lost, there were very great exertions on the part of the Scotch nation, who were still desirous of bringing back the dethroned monarch. In 1715, this country was threatened with an invasion from France, for the purpose of recovering the Throne for the Pretender, and at that time, a state of actual rebellion existed at home. In 1722, a conspiracy was discovered against the life of the King, and plots and deep-laid schemes on behalf of the Pretender. In 1744, besides internal rebellion, there was a threatened invasion from France; and in 1746, when a suspension took place, the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, on the ground that there was actual rebellion existing. In 1794, dangerous communications were held with France, and we were then at war with that country. Another suspension took place in 1798, upon the ground that revolutionary France, in the plenitude of her success, was exerting all her powers against us, and at the same time there existed disturbances in both countries. The next suspension was in 1801, at which period we were not only at war with France, but threatened by invasion, and the greatest possible distress existed, of which the disaffected took advantage, and buoyed up by the hopes of foreign aid, were, by a sudden explosion, to carry into execution the most fatal and dangerous designs. In 1803, there was a suspension, but under what circumstances? War and threatened invasion, and an actual insurrection in Ireland. What was the inference from those several instances to which he had adverted. Was it not, that recourse was never had to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act but when there was either war with a foreign power, or a rebellion existing in the country, or a threatened invasion or a competition for the Throne. He said they had a legislative declaration in effect, that the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland should not be suspended except in cases of invasion or actual rebellion. He appealed to the Act of the 21st and 22nd George 3rd, chap. 11, the Habeas Corpus Act of Ireland, and whereby power was given to the Lord-lieutenant to suspend the operation of the Act in cases of actual rebellion or invasion. This, he said, was most important, not only as a legislative declaration that, in these instances only, a suspension should take place, but this being a law now in force, the House must infer there was no actual rebellion, otherwise his Majesty's Ministers would have put the law in force, and have suspended the Habeas Corpus Act without any application to Parliament. He (Mr. Lynch) contended, that not one of the cases which could be brought forward was a case analogous to the present. Let it not be said, indeed it was not said, that there was disaffection to his Majesty's person or Government. There was, however, another instance of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in this country, and which it was not his intention to overlook. He alluded to 1817. He admitted we were not then at war—no threatened invasion—no Pretender; but there was a pretext, or at least an attempt to prove, that a most traitorous conspiracy existed for overturning, by means of a general insurrection, the government and the laws, which was not confined to the metropolis alone, but extended to all the manufacturing and populous towns. There were also threats of firing towns and assailing the soldiery. He asked, would any Member of his Majesty's Government pretend, that there was any analogy between that case and the present? He asked was there any evidence of a traitorous conspiracy existing in Ireland, or of any disaffection to his Majesty's Government? Could not every outrage stated be traced to the opposition given to tithes, to the dispossession of tenantry, the competition for land, and the starvation and poverty of the people. If there were any affinity between the two cases, he could not bring himself to believe that his Majesty's Ministers would cite the authority of what took place in 1817. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) on that occasion said, that confidence was no argument when the question was the safeguard of the Constitution. The Lord Chancellor said, that the suspension only proved, that the Constitution was of no use, and the liberties of Englishmen were of no value. In the year 1819, the most inflammatory publications were circulated—military training—no warrants capable of being executed—the orders of the Magistrates disregarded—the Government threatened with the non-payment of taxes, and the landlords with a cessation of rents. Was suspension then resorted to? No. Supposing everything stated in that House, and everything stated in the other House, did not rest on mere allegation, but was actually proved, where was the distinction between the year 1819, and the year 1834 in Ireland? Were not the disturbances in 1819 in England much more alarming than those in Ireland of 1834? Did not they border much more closely on disaffection and rebellion? What were the measures then adopted in England? Was there a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act? No. Then why should the Constitution be violated in Ireland, and the rights of the people suspended? The Attorney General insinuated, that the cause for this suspension was the intimidation of witnesses and Juries. He (Mr. Lynch) denied, that any such intimidation existed; and he appealed to the several convictions at the different Assizes in Ireland. He appealed to the several charges of the Judges made at those Assizes, and he asked was not the withdrawal of the Courtmartial clauses an admission on the part of Government that no such intimidation existed. On these grounds he would vote for the Motion of the hon. member for Dublin, and again appeal to the justice of the House.

Mr. Sheil

called upon the Government to bring forward the Bill with the clauses in it, so that the House might have an opportunity of discussing its provisions in detail, and not be called upon to enact them in the mass, as was proposed. He contended, that it was against the law to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act beyond the time at which parties had a right to claim their trial before the Judges. He gave notice that he should move on the report, that the Government be called on to re-enact the Coercion Bill clause by clause.

The Committee divided on Mr. O'Connell's clause—Ayes 35; Noes 72: Majority 37.

The Clause was agreed to.

List of the AYES.
Attwood, T. Gillon, W. D.
Barry, G. S. Grattan, H.
Beauclerk, Major Grote, G.
Blake, M. J. Gronow, Captain
Callaghan, D, Kennedy, J.
Lynch, A. H. Potter, R.
Mullins, W. F. Roche, W.
Nagle, Sir R. Roe, J.
O'Connor, F. Ruthven, E.
O'Connor, Don. Ruthven, E. S.
O'Connell, Daniel Sheil, R. L.
O'Connell, Maurice Sullivan, R.
O'Connell, Morgan Vigors, N. A.
O'Connell, John Waddy, C.
O'Dwyer, A. C. Wallace, T.
O'Reilly, W. Walker, C. A.
Pease, J. Warburton, H.
Perrin, Serjeant Williams, Colonel

Mr. O'Connell moved the insertion of a clause, the effect of which was to repeal so much of the provisions of the former Bill as related to the offence of making signals by fires or otherwise.

The Clause having been brought up and read a first time—on the Motion, that it be read a second time,

Mr. Littleton

opposed the insertion of the clause, as it was calculated to defeat one of the leading features of the measure, and thereby make it inefficient.

The Attorney General

remarked, that no hardship to innocent parties could ensue from the re-enactment of the original clause, as it would be necessary to satisfy a Jury that fires were lighted and other signals made for the purpose of giving signals of an illegal Act before any conviction could take place.

Mr. Henry Grattan

remarked that parties who joined in the customary celebration of St. John's Eve, and other anniversaries, might be liable to punishment under the original clause, and he should therefore support the Amendment.

The Committee divided on the Clause—Ayes 27; Noes 72: Majority 45.

The House resumed. The report to be received.