§ Mr. Ronayne
said, that he had opposed this Bill in every stage from its commencement, and he should continue to contest it to the last. He felt it his duty to struggle strenuously against a Bill which was not only an injury, but an insult to Ireland. He considered this Bill to be at once wanton and vexatious; no case had been made out for its introduction. They had no evidence before them but the Report upon the Table, made up out of the (no doubt disinterested) testimony of stipendiary Magistrates. There were thirty-two Lords-lieutenant of counties in Ireland, and if there existed the over- 545 whelming necessity that had been stated for the passing of this Bill, why not apply to those Gentlemen whose information might be entitled to more weight? However, the Government had failed in this, and had only produced a communication from Lord Oxmantown. In this, however, there was something unique, as upon the occasion of the introduction of the former Bill they had produced a letter from another Lord-lieutenant, Sir P. Bellew. Well, then, the whole of the present case rested upon the opinions of stipendiary Magistrates, and would English gentlemen, with all their boasted notions of liberty, consent to have their country coerced upon the testimony of stipendiary Magistrates? Would they allow the constitution to be suspended, and their best and dearest rights abridged upon a case so utterly unsupported by any evidence worthy of attention in that House? The right hon. the Attorney General had very zealously defended that clause which gave immunity to the police and the military, and had asked with a triumphant air, had not that very clause been objected to when the former Bill was in Committee, and been carried by a large majority? No doubt it had; but he would make the right hon. Gentleman a present of his argument, for every other clause of the Bill had had the sanction of a majority of the House, and he would venture to assert, that if the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, felt it expedient to give up this clause, the right hon. Attorney General himself would be ready enough to find arguments in support of its abandonment. He begged again to call the attention of the House to the sort of evidence upon which the renewal of this Bill was founded; and he would venture to assert, that there was not one in ten of those who were now legislating upon that evidence who had read it. This clause he conceived to be not alone offensive to the people of Ireland, but an insult to the soldiery. Surely this House would not, by renewing this clause, promulgate such a libel upon the British army as to say, that soldiers could not act efficiently in proclaimed districts so long as they continued amenable to the ordinary institutions of the country. There was no force more popular in Ireland than the army, as they had always conducted themselves with propriety towards the people. In many cases they bad been a protection to the people from the outrages of the police. He thought, however, that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman was 546 perfectly, felo de se, as in the first place he contended that it was indispensable for the efficient discharge of their duties that the soldiers should be protected from liability to actions, and again, when pressed by the argument of the hon. and learned member for Dublin and others, he admitted that they were liable to actions, and that the clause only afforded them protection when in the bonâ fide execution of the provisions of this Bill. By the second part of the learned Attorney General's argument, it appeared that an action might be commenced, but that it should be left to a judge and jury to decide whether the defendant was entitled to exemption under this clause. Thus so far did the right hon. Gentleman admit the liability. This argument was inconsistent and at variance with the manifest object of the clause, the intention of which was, to destroy all liability. But even admitting the right of action, who would be mad enough to go to law with a soldier or a serjeant? When a man brought an action, it was usually against some person of property. As to any danger to result to these men from being committed to the ordinary course of justice, it was preposterous to suppose that they would not be perfectly safe in the protection of the loyal devotion of the Judges of the land to the support of constituted authorities and existing institutions. The merciful exercise of their functions by the Crown prosecutors in Ireland, and the judicious management of the clerks of the Crown in the selection of juries in every case where the police were on trial, afforded ample guarantee for the safety and protection of the military and police, without the legislative protection of a clause so revolting and unconstitutional. In the debate of a former evening there was a solitary circumstance that had afforded him and his friends at that side of the House the most unbounded satisfaction. It was the part taken by an honourable and learned member of his own profession, the member for Monaghan, who had given so triumphant a reply to the argument of the Attorney General, and proved that official connection with the Whig Government could not in him extinguish his innate love of country, and acquired attachment to the principles of the Constitution which should ever characterise the members of that profession. With respect to the Bill itself, he contended that there did not exist any necessity whatever for it. All the Judges on the circuits, now very nearly concluded, concurred in 547 congratulating the people of Ireland on the peace and tranquillity which prevailed in the country, and on the unusual absence of crime. He would entreat the House, if it did not think the measure of the most urgent importance to the peace and safety of Ireland—if it did not think it indispensably necessary to the maintenance of public tranquillity—to pause before it passed it into a law. You attempt to coerce Ireland as long as you can, and the result will assuredly be, that you will lose all hold on the hearts and affections of the people of that country. Ireland had gained nothing by the accession of a Whig Government; for, so far as that country is concerned, the Whigs have proved as bad as the Tories. No Tory Government ever proposed such a measure as the present; and if the system which the Whig Administration have hitherto acted on with regard to Ireland be persevered in, the consequence will be, that the people of that country will despair of any good from it; and in that case the result must be serious indeed. On the first occasion, many Members of that House had said, that they supported the Bill then because they relied on the intentions of Government to give Ireland measures of amelioration. Where were those measures of amelioration to be found? No where. Ask Ireland what she had got from the Whigs, and all she could acknowledge was, the Coercion Act. On the last occasion the late Secretary for the Colonies, the great champion of the Bill, urged as a reason for supporting it, that it was so atrociously bad that it could never be brought into precedent. It was now to be seen how little reliance was to be placed on that. They had since refused to affirm the proposition of the hon. member for St. Alban's, and had thus refused to recognise a principle which, for twenty-five years, whilst they occupied those benches under him, they had continually asserted. Ireland had looked to the Whigs as her friends, and by her reliance upon them had been kept from the infidel despair; but now the experience of a Whig Government had led them to believe that Whigs and Tories differed but in name. He would warn them not to persevere in this treatment of Ireland—she would soon become too strong for the coercive system. They had lost America by their spirit of domination and oppression, and they ought to take warning from experience, and not drive Ireland to despair. It was time to abandon that course of despotism and misgovernment. If they 548 did not do so, it would produce results in Ireland similar to those it had produced in America. Entertaining the objections to the Bill which he had now, as well as on former occasions, stated to the House, he would conclude by moving, as an amendment, that the Bill be read a third time this day six months.
seconded the Amendment. The Bill was so objectionable, and so uncalled for by the circumstances of the case, that he was resolved to meet it in every stage of its progress throughout that House with the most decided opposition. The Bill ought not to pass, because it was clear that it had not been sanctioned by a united Cabinet. Ireland had often been the victim of the misgovernment of a disunited Ministry, and the circumstances which had lately transpired respecting the bringing forward of this Coercion Bill showed that she was so in this instance. Last year Ireland was persecuted by the Coercion Bill; and this year she was made a plaything of to suit the state of parties in the Ministry and the country. Last year the county of Kilkenny was proclaimed, though it was not pretended that any disturbances existed in it. On what ground, then, was it proclaimed? On the ground that there might be disturbances in it. Why, every county in Ireland might have been proclaimed on the same principle. Because public meetings had been proscribed in Ireland he, on every occasion, used more violent language in Ireland last year than he had ever done before, and than he would have done had not the measure been applied to his native country. He must take that opportunity to complain of the Lord-lieutenants of counties and the Magistrates of Ireland. The latter were the satellites of the former, and were chosen, not because of their fitness for office, but because they secured electioneering influence. The Magistrates were the familiars of the Government inquisition, and, instead of being increased in number, might be swept off in scores.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, the authority of Lord Wellesley, who rested his opinion on the authority of the police, was the only ground on which this Bill could be sustained. With respect to the police, they might be very fit to execute laws, but very little calcu- 549 lated to enact them. In every Chief Constable Lord Wellesley discovered a Confucius. As to Lord Wellesley himself, the striking things which he had said and done in his earlier political life should protect him from that derision in which there recently had been an indulgence as regarded him. He, for one, condemned the references which had been made to certain dramatic personages in illustration of the senility attributed to the noble Marquess. It was, however, due to truth to say, that he had reached the point of political superannuation. The Whigs had intimated the estimate in which they held him when the Cabinet was constructed in 1830—they had excluded him from the Cabinet; and it was a little anomalous that they should rely on the authority of a man whom they had regarded as incompetent to share with them in their new acquisition of power. Independently of these considerations, it should be remembered that Lord Wellesley had in the East contracted exotic habits of domination; although nature might prevent him from being a tyrant, circumstances had given him a predilection for absolute authority. His conduct, too, upon this very measure had been such as to take away all value from his opinion, for it was evident that he regulated his judgment by the convenience of the Government, and not by the urgency of the evil to which he ought to apply a cure; besides, his whole correspondence had not been published, and how little regard ought to be paid to dispatches which the House knew were at utter variance with the sentiments conveyed in his private communications with Earl Grey. Such proceedings were calculated to bring the mock-royalty of the Castle into disrepute. Were Lord Wellesley a Minister sitting in the House of Lords, he might be brought to task in debate; but, sheltered behind his viceroyalty, he could now with impunity supply the Government with the instruments by which the liberties of Ireland were to be assailed. How inconsistent was the conduct of the Whigs with regard to Lord Wellesley. That nobleman in 1824, when he was tea years younger, had, as Lord-lieutenant, recommended a renewal of the Coercion Bill. The Whigs, and more especially the present Master of the Mint, had treated his opinion with utter disregard. He should be disposed to quote the speech of the Master of the Mint, but that these citations were become of little value, as it now seemed admitted on all hands, that what a man said in opposition 550 was not to regulate his conduct when in power. The contrasts between what men had been on the opposition side of the House, and what they became on the Treasury Bench, were so marked, and there were so many instances of this discrepancy, that what would formerly have been regarded as matter of discredit, was now considered as scarcely worth the public notice. The Bill was divisible into two parts—the predial and the political. It was admitted by the Irish Members that the spirit of outrage must be put down, and that the course recommended by the Queen's County Committee ought in cases of emergency to be adopted. But this Bill went far beyond the advice of that Committee, which reported, that absence from a man's house in a proclaimed district was to be evidence against him when charged with a crime, and become corroboratory of the other proofs of his guilt. Whatever might be said with regard to the necessity of immuring the peasantry in their hovels, no answer had as yet been given to the striking fact, that in no instance has a Special Commission ever failed, and that the uniform opinion of the Judges has been, that the law, if vigorously enforced, was sufficiently strong to put disturbance down. It was also deserving of attention, and should be impressed on English Members, that when parts of England were in a state of commotion as great as any district of Ireland, such remedies had never been resorted to. Take the case of the Luddites for example. No Act such as this was ever proposed, or even dreamed of. Again, in 1830, when incendiarism prevailed to an extent so formidable, was it ever proposed to lock the English peasantry up? What was the remedy proposed? Lord Melbourne, the present Premier, as Home Secretary, suggested that a law should be passed to enable farmers to place spring-guns and man-traps in their back yards. This was the utmost extent to which an English Minister, in dealing with English atrocity, would consent to go; but where Irish crime was concerned, the limits of penalty were at once extended, and a curfew was to be established. His next objection was, that a clause, for which there was no precedent of any kind, that for the immunity of the soldiery, was introduced into this Bill. This part of the Court-martial enactments was retained. No action could be brought against a military man for any outrage he might perpetrate under colour of this Act; but he must be proceeded against by Court- 551 martial; and, with respect to Magistrates, no action could be brought against them unless the Attorney General gave his consent to the prosecution. It was a new device to place the keys of public tribunals in the hands of an Attorney General, and leave the redress of the worst wrongs to his arbitrary caprice. His next objection was to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. No authority—no evidence had been adduced for this measure. If a man was out of his house, why not try him at once for the offence, instead of leaving it in the power of the Crown to keep him in confinement, by a suspension of the great safeguard of personal freedom? Nothing could be more injurious in a free country than the unnecessary abstraction of the rights of individuals even for a brief period. It took away the reverence and sanctity for those privileges of which the value consisted in the respect which was paid them. Accustom the people to see freedom placed in occasional abeyance, and they would at length consent to its extinction. He objected also to the signal clause—a candle lighted in a hovel, or heath on fire on a mountain side, might be converted into matter for accusation. His last objection was to the political part of the Bill. The Government had been compelled to relinquish the first three clauses against public meetings. That was not conceded by their wisdom, but extorted by a fortunate discovery, from their necessities. Still they showed their hankering after the object of their predilection, and did their best to accomplish indirectly, what more openly they could not venture to do. The Lord-lieutenant had the power, by proclaiming a district, to put an end to the right of petitioning. Was it not monstrous, that at this moment, in the city of Kilkenny, which contained a population of upwards of 20,000 people, which had once been the seat of Government, and which was distinguished by the civilization and intelligence of its citizens, no public meeting to petition Parliament for the redress of grievances—of palpable and undisputed grievances could be held? The Government had by this, and other details of the Bill, rendered it most obnoxious to the Irish people. Had Ministers contented themselves with a measure for the suppression of local outrages, the Irish public would not have repudiated the measure; but they went beyond the necessity of the case, and, with some mitigations, renewed the Coercion Bill. They had no great reason to plume themselves on the results of that Bill, 552 nor to recall the public memory to its enactments. It had caused the downfall of Earl Grey. The measure before the House was a chip of that block on which the Cabinet had been beheaded; but although Earl Grey was severed from the trunk, he had left his "right arm," in the person of the noble Lord behind. Earl Grey imagined that his "right arm" had been cut off; but, here it was animated by a sort of galvanic vitality. The noble Lord was returned to office, pledged to sustain the principles of Reform; but he adopted a peculiar mode of carrying them into effect, by insisting on a Bill, which, on his own confession, was a violation of the rights of British citizens, and an offence to the Constitution. The noble Lord and his colleagues had been recently made the theme of panegyric, but let it pot be forgotten, that five of the Cabinet, after protesting against the Coercion Bill, had given way to a small majority of their body. In truth, there were some circumstances connected with recent transactions which must excite feelings of pain and sorrow. He could not help regretting that a man so illustrious as Earl Grey should have arrived at a termination of his career so little corresponding with the splendor of his former days. He could not help regretting that that noble Earl's political career should have been put an end to by a Bill which had suspended the liberties of the people. But the circumstance which he had stated—that five members of the Cabinet had been induced for the purpose of preventing a dissolution of the Cabinet to sacrifice the Constitution—was a prominent fact, which ought never to be lost sight of. It was thus that the liberties of the people of Ireland were sacrificed to the retention of office. The Constitution was put into one scale—the Cabinet into the other; and after the balance had wavered for a moment, the Cabinet preponderated, and the Constitution was seen to kick the beam. The Government had repented of that; and for that repentance credit ought to be given to them, so far as it was sincere. He was not disposed to quarrel with the change; but he trusted that, again in possession of power, they would make amends by the measures which they adopted for the mistake of which they had been guilty. The noble Lord had been called back by the voice of many Members of that House, as well as by the will of the Sovereign, to the situation which he held—he had been called on to follow up the prin- 553 ciples of Reform; and he trusted that he would follow them up by better measures than the extinction of constitutional liberties, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the gift of immunity to soldiers for whatever offence they might commit.
§ The House divided on the original question: Ayes 82; Noes 21—Majority 61.
|List of the NOES.|
|Blake, M. J.||O'Dwyer, A. C.|
|Buckingham, J. S.||O'Reilly, W.|
|Callaghan, D.||Perrin, L.|
|Grattan, H.||Roche, W.|
|Kennedy, J.||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Lynch, A. H.||Ruthven, E.|
|Nagle, Sir R.||Sheil, R. L.|
|O'Connell, D.||Sullivan, R.|
|O'Connell, M.||Vigors, N. A.|
|O'Connell, J.||Waddy, C.|
|O'Connell, M.||Walker, C. A.|
§ The Bill was read a third time.
§ Mr. O'Connell moved a Clause to the effect, "That no provision of this Act should prevent Officers and others committing Offences in the execution of this Act, from being proceeded against before civil tribunals." By the 28th section of the Act, Courts of Common-law would have power to shut out a Jury from deciding on a cause, and at once to stop the action:—there could be no appeal from such an order, because it was summary, and there was no mode of questioning it in any superior Court. There were some offences liable by Court-martial, and over which they had a sole exclusive jurisdiction; but this was the first time that any provision had been introduced into any Act of either country, for the trial of civil offences by Courts-martial, and for the vindication of civil rights by the same tribunal. The attempt stood isolated and alone—it was the first and ought to be the last; and he trusted that the good sense and feeling of the noble Lord opposite would prevail, and that this most preposterous anti obnoxious clause would not be allowed to continue. The clause which he proposed did not touch those offences which might properly be tried by Courts-martial; all that it did was to leave to the Common-law tribunals, the trial of offences committed by the soldiers against the people. He did not wish to take any legal protection front the military, or even to limit it; he was content that they should have as much protection 554 as could be given to them; but let it be given to them before the Judges and the Juries of the land. The Act first indemnified the soldiers from any action or trial, except by Courts-martial, and then indemnified everybody else engaged in its execution—securing all who were not officers or soldiers from being proceeded against unless the Attorney General should think fit. Was not that a monstrous extent of protection? Could anything be more outrageous? Look only at the recent instance of the conduct of the police, which was commented on yesterday by the hon. member for Sligo—the affair at Croom, in which an aged beggar-man and a young man, while crying for mercy, were shot by the police. He knew the facts long ago, but he would not bring them before the House till the case was tried. The hon. member for Sligo stated, that it was tried before Mr. Baron Pennefather, and that he had severely censured the conduct of Mr. Lyons, the Magistrate, who was concerned in it. But Mr. Baron Pennefather did not try the case at all; it was tried by a gentleman making his first essay of the duties of a Judge—the Solicitor General, Mr. Crampton. As to the Magistrate, Mr. Lyons, upon whom he passed so grave a censure, no man could have acted with more prudence or moderation than he did; he placed the police in the barracks, and remained in the fair for fourteen hours; he then went to his dinner for a short time, and the first object which met his view when he came back, was an aged beggar-man lying dead, with his brains scattered about on the pavement. When he went up, the Sergeant of Police said, that the men had fired without any necessity, and without orders, and he then ordered them back to the barracks; they were returning and bringing with them their prisoner; the mob shouted; two policemen singled out a young man—pursued him into a lane, and shot him dead. Because Mr. Lyons carried on a prosecution against the policemen for that horrible murder, and assisted the poor people in their endeavours to obtain justice, the Solicitor General censured him! If an offence such as this had occurred in a disturbed district, nobody could prosecute the murderer without the consent of the Attorney General. He submitted to the House, that the indemnity which the Act extended ought not to be allowed; and he hoped, therefore, that they would see the propriety of adopting the clause which he proposed.
The Attorney General
said, it was neces- 555 sary, in his vindication, to make a few observations on this clause. It seemed to him, on mature deliberation, that the clause was not liable to the objections urged against it by the hon. and learned Member. Two questions were for consideration:—what was the just construction of the clause, and whether it ought to remain part of the Bill? As to the construction, he would venture to say, that no two lawyers who read it, and gave it a candid consideration, could come to a different conclusion; and he was happy to think, that his hon. and learned friend, the member for Monaghan, although he disapproved of the clause, agreed with him in the construction which he placed upon it. That construction was of this kind—that it gave protection for acts done bona fide, under a reasonable belief that the party doing them was justified in what he did by the powers which this Statute conferred, although he might exceed them. It would be wholly nugatory unless the protection it afforded were applied to cases in which the law was actually transgressed; because where it was not transgressed, no protection was needed—it was only when unintentional mistakes were committed for which otherwise the party would be subject to the penalties of the law, that it was given him. He had looked anxiously to the law authorities on this subject; but he would not trouble the House with more than one or two cases in which the point at issue had been expressly determined. First, with regard to cases in which the party transgressing the law would have been liable—but for the protection—to an action. This was the case of Graves v. Almond, which was tried before Lord Ellenborough. The Act of Parliament gave power to constables to take up all persons guilty of any breach of the peace, and said that no action should be brought for anything done in pursuance of its power and authority, without notice being given. A watchman took up a man who broke a lamp; but he had not seen the man break the lamp, and not having seen the act committed, he was not justified in taking him up and imprisoning him. An action was accordingly brought against him for false imprisonment, but Lord Ellenborough held that he was privileged—no notice having been given, and he being entitled to it, as he believed himself to be exercising the powers conferred by the Statute, though in point of fact he was not justified by the Statute, in the act which he committed. There was also the case of Weller v. Tyke, 556 in which an order had been made by one Justice in a bastardy case under which a man was imprisoned; whereas, it was well known that the Statute of Elizabeth gives that power only to two Justices. An action was accordingly brought; and Lord Ellen-borough held, that though the act committed could not be said to have been done by virtue of his office, yet the subject-matter was within his jurisdiction, and he intended to act correctly as a Magistrate, though he was mistaken. With regard to the case of exceeding the powers of the Act when the party had no reasonable ground for believing that he was acting within them; the hon. and learned Member, in the heat of debate, said the other night, that the protection would extend to any outrage, however wanton, that could be committed; and that if an officer were to compel any female indecently to expose herself to the gaze of his soldiers, no proceedings could be had against him, sheltered as he would be by this protection. It would not shelter him; for not only must he believe that the act which he was doing was within the powers of the Act, in order to entitle himself to the protection, but he must have reasonable ground for entertaining that belief, as the Court of King's Bench had decided in the case of Cook and Lennard. There existed a local Act relating to the town of Stroud, which gave authority to the constables to remove all nuisances upon the streets. There was a wild beast exhibiting in the streets, and, while it remained in the streets, it was a nuisance. A constable was accordingly commissioned to remove the nuisance; but before he could take measures for the capture, the animal was safely lodged in a stable. The constable proceeded to that place, and insisted on the removal of the beast; but the parties to whom it belonged refused to comply with his order, alleging that the beast was perfectly quiet, and could not then be considered as a nuisance. The constable, nevertheless, assaulted the owners of the animal, and an action being brought, the question arose, whether the constable had any reasonable grounds for believing that he had a right to remove the nuisance, and that he was acting in pursuance of the Act of Parliament. Mr. Justice Bayley held that the constable was not acting in pursuance of the Act; for although he might have believed that he was so acting, he had no reasonable ground for entertaining that belief. The other Judges concurred, and it was determined, therefore, that the privilege did not extend 557 to this case. The authorities which he had cited were sufficient to bear him out in the construction which he had put on the clause in question, and in which he believed all lawyers would agree. He admitted, that very extensive powers were given by this Act, and that considerable protection was given to those whose painful duty it would be to carry it into effect; but at the same time, he was conscious that the state of Ireland required the application of strong coercive measures; and he therefore trusted that the House would agree with him, that the clauses which the hon. and learned member for Dublin objected to, ought to stand part of the Bill. The hon. and learned member for Dublin had talked of the profits which would accrue to the Irish Attorney General under the operation of this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman was mistaken. A source of profit it would not be to any of the Law Officers of the Crown. For his part, he could say, that he had had neither pleasure nor profit from any share that he had had in framing the Coercion Bill. He had acted only in the discharge of a very painful duty, and most happy should he be if, in his conscience, he could believe that no such measure was required for Ireland.
§ Colonel Perceval
rose, not so much to give his opinion on the utility of the clauses, as to set himself right with the House respecting the statement he had made the day before, from a Limerick newspaper. He spoke to the hon. and learned member for Dublin, and the hon. and learned Member's account of the facts of the case differed from what the newspaper which he had given as his authority alleged.
§ Colonel Perceval
said, that those who lived in glass-houses ought not to throw stones. The hon. Member was himself egregiously out of order in interrupting him. He should examine into the facts of the case, and if it turned out that what he had stated was correct, he should give notice of a Motion on the subject.
§ Mr. Serjeant Perrin
objected to the 28th Clause, considering that it was unnecessary, that it would be liable to abuse, and that it would encourage a licentious army in outrages upon the people. The Attorney General, who had discussed the matter as a question of law, had not shown the House the meaning of the words "in 558 pursuance of or execution of this Act.' In the 38th section, which related to "acts done in pursuance of this Act without the proclaimed districts," he found the following proviso—"If a verdict shall be given for the plaintiff in any action brought against a Magistrate or officer for what he has done under the authority of this Act, and if it shall appear that he had probable cause for the measures which he adopted, the said verdict shall be reduced." The House would therefore see what kind of protection was afforded to every person, whether civil or military, who acted in pursuance or execution of the Act. Let the House reflect upon the almost unlimited power of proceeding which was afforded to those acting under the authority of the Act. One of the sections was to this effect:—"And be it enacted, that all Justices of the peace, constables, and commissioned officers, are hereby required to take the most efficient measures, according to law, to repress the disturbances which may prevail in any district;" "and to detain every person charged with any of the offences set out in this Act." All military men acting under the Act were to be protected for any misconduct which they might commit in executing the powers of the Act. The military were frequently called upon to use violence or repel force, and in such encounters the loss of life and destruction of property, which sometimes ensued to a considerable extent, threw much criminality upon the proceedings of those who were armed with the powers of the law; and yet the House was now about to pronounce that a standing army ought to be placed without the pale and beyond the control of the laws of the country—that the military who committed outrages, however gross they might be, ought to be tried, not by the civil tribunals, but by their superior officers. The standing army had always been an object of jealousy to the constitution, but never, until the proposal of this Bill, had they been so completely exempted from all control of the civil power, and actually empowered to trample upon the liberties of the people. According to his construction of the Act, a soldier whose indiscretion or violent passions might cause him to commit an act which amounted to murder would be tried by a Court-martial, and would be liable to the punishment of death; but what necessity was there for thus dispensing with the ordinary laws, and removing his trial from the constituted tribunals of the coun- 559 try? Was there any danger to be apprehended from the civil courts? Had not the defendant the protection of the Grand Jury in the first place, then of the Petty Jury, and then of the Judge? and if each of these parties combined to do injustice, was not the prerogative of mercy vested in the Crown, upon which he could confidently rely? If it were just to proceed in Ireland without any regard to the principles of the constitution, would it not be equally as just to adopt the same course in Birmingham, in Bristol, or, any other part of England? Let him know what reason there was for throwing on one side the civil tribunals? It had not been suggested that the Grand Jury were disposed to find untruly, or that the Judge and Juries would not act with impartiality: it had not been denied, that the Crown had the power of correcting any error that might take place, or the Attorney General the privilege of entering a nolle prosequi. But the protection afforded to military men was not the only point of which he had to complain. By the second clause it was provided, that "all justices of the peace, police officers, and others, save and except military men, who act under the authority of this Act, shall not be liable to be prosecuted in any court of criminal jurisdiction, except under the warrant of the Attorney General." No matter what misconduct a constable might be guilty of in the execution of what he conceived to be the powers of the Act—no matter to what extent he might go in the destruction of property and the abuse of civil liberty—he was still not to be answerable for the commission of such offences, except by a prosecution directed by the Attorney General. Was it not monstrous that such a privilege should be accorded to men who were by no means of the most moderate character—that they should be encouraged to act with the most perfect impunity—while the industrious householder must submit to have his life placed in jeopardy, and his property destroyed, without power to bring the offenders to account, except by a tedious and unusual process of law? An officer might conceive that he had a right to break into a man's house in order to apprehend some one who had offended against this Act, but the criminal might be absent, and an innocent individual might be apprehended in his stead, and deprived of his liberty for a considerable period. But was that innocent individual to have no claim to compensation? Was he to be entirely 560 deprived of the benefit of the laws? Could not they afford adequate protection to an officer without an infringement of the rights of the people? Why, the Act provided, that if a verdict was returned against a Magistrate, or officer, who had acted in execution of the Act, and if the Judge certified, that there was reasonable or probable cause for what the defendant did, the damages should not exceed 6d. and there should be no more costs than damages. Without depriving the injured man of the protection of the law, and without placing the offender at the mercy of excited jurymen, they had here a protection which was undoubtedly sufficient for the full protection of the magistracy and constabulary force in the execution of their duty. It was indeed said, that the Attorney General would never refuse his warrant on any reasonable application, but that he would investigate with patience and impartiality the circumstances of every case brought under his consideration. Such might be the opinion in England, but cross the Channel, and it would be found that there was not a more bitter and general cause of complaint than the manner in which the Crown prosecutions were conducted. It was impossible to give an idea of the general astonishment and disgust which were created at the last Assizes for Kildare, by the circumstance that every Roman Catholic on the Jury, and every gentleman connected by consanguinity with persons of that persuasion, were challenged and set aside. The very same scene took place in Carlow, and he was justified by the general feeling of the community in declaring, that no confidence would be placed in his Majesty's Attorney General in Ireland. In conclusion, he entered his protest against the clause in question, as introducing a most unconstitutional mode of proceeding, for which there was no necessity, and which would tend to give a license to misconduct, and an encouragement to outrage and oppression.
§ Lord Althorp
observed, that setting aside all irrelevant considerations, the question for the House to determine was, the expediency and propriety of the enactment proposed. And, first, with respect to the military part of the subject; the question was, whether for acts done, bona fide, in the execution of what they believed to be their duty, the military should be protected from trial by civil or criminal courts, and the investigation of their conduct confined to military tribunals? The 561 question was not one of general principles, as the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken had treated it. It had reference merely to a particular district, proclaimed by the Lord-lieutenant, which proclamation was a sufficient indication, that in that district the ordinary law was not sufficient to preserve the public peace. The question was whether in such a district as this it was expedient to apply the arbitrary principles of the present law—a district in which the proclamation of the Lord-lieutenant testified that not even public meetings for the purpose of petitioning Parliament could be safely held. The question was, whether, in such a country, it was not expedient to protect the military, when acting bona fide in what they conceived to be the due execution of the law, from the jurisdiction of the civil courts, partaking, as those courts necessarily must, of the excitement by which they were surrounded? It appeared to him, that it would be to place the military in a most invidious and painful situation, if they were to be called upon to do their duty in such a district, and under such circumstances, and then having done their duty to the best of their ability, to subject their conduct to the decision of a Jury, placed in a situation in which impartiality was not to be expected. Unquestionably, if it were proposed to apply such provisions as the present law contained to any country which was not in such a state of excitement as Ireland was at present, he should cordially join with the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken, in resisting the proposition. As it was, however, it was his decided opinion that Parliament would not do justice to the military who were engaged in the painful duty of suppressing disturbances in Ireland, if they did not afford them the protection proposed by the present Bill. He now came to the other part of the clause, that which applied to the civil power employed in the execution of the law. By the clause, persons exercising that civil power were not to be subjected to a civil action or a criminal prosecution, except by the warrant of the Attorney General. Perhaps it would be said, that the Attorney General might act improperly. That might be a very good ground for a personal accusation of the individual; that might be a very good ground for his removal from office; but surely they ought to presume that an Attorney General, to whom such a power was intrusted, would exercise it properly.
562 If they did not give this power, what would be the consequence? That the officers who acted under the Bill would be liable to be tried at a time when impartiality would probably be excluded, and when passion and not judgment would guide the decision. The hon. and learned Gentleman had alluded to the mercy of the Crown, but he was satisfied that it would be unjust to place the authorities who acted in pursuance of this Bill within the reach of party feeling, and then to trust to the mercy of the Crown for their escape. In conclusion, he must state his conviction that there was no danger of the powers of this Act being abused, and that it was imperative upon them to give protection to those persons who were called upon to perform an important duty, which must subject them to considerable odium and prejudice.
§ Mr. Lynch
contended, that the argument of the noble Lord went the whole extent of saying, that the military should go altogether unpunished, in consequence of the difficulties of the situation in which they would be placed. The noble Lord, no doubt, dissented from that proposition. Such was the effect of the noble Lord's argument; for if these officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers, acted in strict conformity to and in pursuance of the Act, where was the occasion of withdrawing their responsibility from the ordinary tribunals of the land? But, said the noble Lord, they would be placed in a difficult situation in a proclaimed district, and, therefore, they should not be responsible to the common tribunals, but to Courts-martial. Must not that be on the supposition that Courts-martial would look upon their conduct in a light different from that by which it would be viewed by Juries and the Judges of the land? If not, where was the necessity for the clause? But, in point of fact, such was the object of the clause; and, upon that ground, he protested against it. Besides, he doubted considerably whether all remedy was not taken away from the party aggrieved by means of this clause. He (Mr. Lynch) had taken the liberty the other evening of stating what he conceived to be the law upon the subject; and he was happy to find that the cases then stated by the Attorney General bore out his statement of the law, which was, that if these individuals exceeded their jurisdiction, or did anything not authorised by the Act, they would be amenable to the ordinary tribunals; but if, act- 563 ing under the authority of the Act, they should abuse that authority, they would be only responsible to Courts-martial. By the Act commissioned officers were authorised to arrest and detain in proclaimed districts. Let the House suppose that they wantonly exercised that power by using undue violence, by breaking open doors or windows, by damaging property, by striking or wounding individuals, by using them when in custody with uncalled for and wanton severity—such acts, according to the clause, were not to be questioned in any Court, Civil or Criminal; and if proceedings were taken in such Courts, such proceedings might be stopped, not in the usual way, by plea, upon which issue might be taken, and the question whether the officers were acting in pursuance of the Act or not determined by a Jury. But these proceedings were to be stopped by a summary application to be made to a Judge, against which he also protested. By the Act they were to be responsible to Courts-martial "to be holden under any Statute in force for holding Courts-martial, by which Courts-martial respectively they shall be liable to be tried and punished for any offence against the Articles of War, under any law then in force for such purposes; and such Courts-martial respectively shall have full and exclusive cognizance of all such matters and things which shall be objected against such officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers respectively, and proceedings shall be had thereon in the same manner as for offences against the Articles of War, and not otherwise." Now, the abuse of authority under this Act was not an offence against the Articles of War, but might be a violence or offence against the person, estate, or property of his Majesty's subjects; and, by the 14th section of the Mutiny Act, officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers, accused of any capital crime, or of any violence or offence against the person, estate, or effects, of any of his Majesty's subjects, shall be delivered over to the common tribunals of the land. The clause, therefore, in question, was altogether contradictory to, and inconsistent with, the 14th section of the Mutiny Act, which was not repealed. He would like to have, on that point, the opinion of his Majesty's Judge Advocate, who he was sorry not to see in his place. He might be wrong. It might be said, that this section in effect repealed the 14th section of the Mutiny Act, but the question was well worthy of consideration; and he 564 certainly feared, that with those two inconsistent clauses, the Courts-martial would have a good pretext for saying, that they had no jurisdiction, and in which case there would be no remedy whatsoever. He then asked, was this a situation in which to place the liberties of the subjects, the security of their habitations, and the safety of their property? Besides, no redress, no damages could be awarded to the party aggrieved. The party offending, if such jurisdiction were at all given, might be punished according to military discipline; but what satisfaction would that be to the party who might be wantonly and inhumanly treated, or whose habitation might be invaded, or whose property might be damaged? The noble Lord said, that the military would be placed in a difficult position, and, therefore, they should not be oppressed by proceedings in the common tribunals; but if the noble Lord went so far, how much further would the Courts-martial be inclined to go in favour of officers and soldiers of their own regiments? One might suppose from the speech of the noble Lord, that the military were never before employed in Ireland. He asked if they were not employed under the Insurrection Act, and whether such a clause as this was ever introduced before into any Act of Parliament? He asked what injustice was done—what inconvenience was felt by the military without this clause? Then why should it be introduced into this Act. One of the defences made in favour of the Act last year was its monstrosity in legislation. On that ground, and on that ground alone, could this clause be defended. But the Act was not now defended upon such ground, and, therefore, he (Mr. L.) contended, that this clause should be omitted. With respect to the second part of this clause—that no proceedings should be taken against any Justice of the Peace, policeman, or other persons, besides officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers, except under the warrant of his Majesty's Attorney General—he looked upon it as more objectionable than the first part of the clause. It was placing the liberties of the Irish people at the disposal of his Majesty's Attorney General. He would not condescend to argue the question in reference to any particular Attorney General; he objected to it on principle, and he protested as strongly as he could against the despotism it conferred. There was a contradiction, besides, which he could not help noticing; Magistrates, Peace Officers, and 565 others might be proceeded against out of the proclaimed districts, in respect to things done by them under the Act without the warrant of his Majesty's Attorney General. He asked why it was that any distinction should he made as to a proclaimed district? Would not the people of Ireland look upon it that a shield was thereby thrown over such Peace Officers and others, to prevent their being amenable to the ordinary tribunals of the land? He asked, was that right or just? He asked, if sufficient protection was not given to the Magistrate, by the notice necessary to be given previously to the bringing of the action—by the liberty given to the Judge, to certify that there was probable cause in case a verdict should pass against the defendant—and treble damages being given in case the verdict should pass against the plaintiff. Upon these grounds he looked upon this clause, not as a clause of indemnity, but of impunity, and, therefore, he supported the Motion of his hon. friend the member for Dublin.
§ Mr. Tancred
supported the clause. It was but fitting that they should give those parties who acted bona fide under this Bill, an assurance that any small transgressions would not be visited with severity. Unless they did so, how would they get men to act with firmness and decision?
§ Mr. O'Reilly
observed, that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite took credit for omitting the Court-martial clause, and yet they still retained a clause of the most objectionable character. If the noble Lord believed that the Juries in disturbed districts would be partial and guided by their passions, must he not on the same principle anticipate an undue leniency on the part of the Courts-martial? They would be composed of officers acting in the disturbed districts, irritated by the resistance they met, and, therefore, disposed to make improper allowances for the excesses of privates.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, that he thought the conduct of the Irish Law Officers, who were unrepresented in that House, had not been very fairly dealt with by hon. Members who had preceded him, particularly as those were also learned Members, who probably were very willing to take the places of those Gentlemen to whose prejudice their observations had been made. For his part, it was but justice in him to say, that he himself had had some judicial experience of the manner in which Crown prosecutions were conducted in Ireland, and he must bear 566 testimony to the general discretion, forbearance, and consideration for the rights of the accused parties, with which they were carried on. As he had not before had an opportunity of offering any opinion on the Bill then under discussion, he hoped the House would allow him to say a few words expressive of his entire dissent from, and earnestly protesting against the principle his Majesty's Ministers had adopted with reference to it. It had been observed in the previous part of the debate, but contrary to the fact, that the objection he (Mr. Shaw), and those friends about him had to the measure was—that it was not sufficiently penal and unconstitutional. This he denied. So far from it, he was one of those who had always maintained—that if there was in Ireland a Government that would act with firmness and decision—yet, at the same time, with moderation, there would be no necessity for any Coercion Act. He was, nevertheless, generally speaking, unwilling to refuse to a Government such powers as they said were necessary for the maintenance of the public peace; and still more so, to force upon them extraordinary and extra constitutional powers which they did not require; but, in either case, it was essential that one should he able to put some reliance in the statements of Government, and, he would ask, how any person could place confidence in those of the present Government; who, within the last fortnight, had assured the House that the whole measure they then introduced was necessary, nay, farther, that those clauses were the most indispensably necessary which they had since struck out? Was it possible, then, to put any faith in the declaration of such a Government, even as to the necessity of the powers they now retained? Moreover, no necessity could warrant injustice; and could that Bill, in the hands of the present Government, by any possibility avoid the character of injustice, partiality, and oppression? For be it observed that the Government could not now put themselves in the same situation as if they had originally omitted the agitation clauses. After having, from the speech from the Throne down to the latest moment, in the speeches of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland and other members of the Cabinet, affirmed the principle of those clauses—and still more emphatically in the despatch of Lord Wellesley, which stated, that he could not employ words of sufficient strength to draw attention to the "intimate connection between the system of agitation and its inevitable consequence, 567 the system of combination leading to violence and outrage; that they were inseparably cause and effect, and that by no effort of his understanding could they be separated one from the other in that unbroken chain of indissoluble connection;"—was there any person, either in or out of that House, who believed that those opinions, so deliberately given and acted upon by his Majesty's Ministers, had really been uttered?—not one. But all knew right well that their opinions and judgments had been merely sacrificed to considerations of official convenience—of temporising expediency, and in a spirit of the meanest subserviency to the hon. and learned member for Dublin. They were told that Lord Wellesley, in the end of June, had said, that he could do without the three clauses; but they were not told what was the communication which led to that statement, nor in what manner the statement itself was qualified. But, forsooth, the communication was private and confidential. He respected, as much as any man, the sanctity of a confidential communication—but then it would not do to blow hot and cold in the same breath. The communication either was confidential or it was not, and by the present Cabinet it had not been acted upon as either. The noble Earl who has been driven from the head of the Cabinet by the intrigues practised with respect to this question, had every right to refuse the production of the correspondence, as private and confidential, because he had all along acted upon it as such. His conduct in reference to it was honourable, straightforward, and intelligible; but how different was that of his colleagues, who violated the confidence he had reposed in them, so far as served their purpose, by disclosing so much as made for them, and then they sheltered themselves under the pretext of confidence, in suppressing all that would make against them. The consequence was, that which always followed a suppression of the truth; each person indulged their own surmise, and drew from the transaction what they considered the most natural and just inference—for example, he had not the least doubt that whoever concocted the letter to Lord Wellesley on this side of the water—in substance it stated—that it was impossible to controvert the facts upon which he relied, or to dispute the force of his reasoning upon them. Admitting, then, that the evil would be very great, of expunging the clauses which restrained political agitation; the letter, in all proba- 568 bility, went on to observe that in the first place it was to be recollected, that it was only Ireland that was in question, which the present Government had already found a ready theatre, wherein to try their hands on new experiments. That besides, however great the evil might be of endangering the public peace there, it would be an incomparably greater evil to disturb the little remaining peace of the Cabinet at this side of the water; which, by the way, could not be done without exposing individuals of the Government who had been carrying on secret negotiations behind the back of their Premier, and, above all, the most pathetic appeal must have been made on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland; and the great calamity pictured which must befal the country, if in an evil hour the newly formed alliance between him and the hon. and learned member for Dublin (Mr. O'Connell) should be in any degree impaired. No doubt it was represented in what perfect leading-strings the right hon. Secretary held the hon. and learned member, causing the hon. and learned Member to support the right hon. Secretary when he pleased, and to offer him a gentle or sham opposition, when it better suited their double purpose—the right hon. Gentleman urging upon the Lord-lieutenant an opinion which he seemed fully to have impressed upon his own mind, that there was no Member of the House, except the right hon. Gentleman, who was possessed of sufficient depth, wisdom, prudence, and discretion, to manage the honourable and learned member for Dublin. He believed it was Swift who said, "All sublunary bliss consists in being well deceived;" and he certainly must say, that no human being was ever better deceived than the right hon. Gentleman was, if he enjoyed the felicity of thinking that he was the manager instead of the managed of the hon. and learned Gentleman—in short, he was persuaded that the mysterious correspondence, so frequently alluded to, amounted in effect to neither more nor less than this—an assurance from this side that, however much the clauses against agitation were required, they could not be granted (and that from motives not having the slightest reference to the peace or welfare of Ireland), and then an answer from the other, that if the clauses could not be granted, they must do as well as they could without them in Ireland. But were these grounds upon which the Government could expect the support 569 of any honourable or upright man? He should be ashamed to give his sanction to a principle so partial, oppressive, and unjust, as that upon which the Government were acting. He might be regarded as violent or prejudiced in his political opinions, but in all that related to the administration of the law, he trusted he was above the suspicion of leaning to wealth, or influence, or power, or of being swayed by any party or political consideration. The present Government had a great deal of liberty and equal rights of the people on their lips—but here they were adopting the doctrine which he had frequently heard them denounce—of having one law for the rich, and another for the poor. The mere instrument in crime was to be punished, and the principal to escape with impunity. The liberty of the poor and humble man was to be restrained—while unbridled license was to be allowed to the educated and better informed, and the deep-designing disturber of the public peace was to be permitted to riot in all the excess of agitation—enjoying both its pleasures and its profits—while the whole weight of its penalties was to fall upon the miserable dupes—the poor deluded instruments of that very system which he was, by the course adopted on this Bill, encouraged to pursue. Was it possible that the right hon. Gentleman was so blind and infatuated as not to anticipate the consequences which must ensue—the effect that would be produced in the minds of all classes of his Majesty's subjects in Ireland? He verily believed, that if the right hon. Gentleman had the courage to return in his official capacity to that country, he would find, that there was not a Gentleman, nor an intelligent, sober-minded, or thinking person of any party, politics, or persuasion, who would not be unanimous in the opinion, that there was no one thing in existence more despicable or more despised than that thing nick-named the Government of Ireland. In saying this, he entirely excluded the noble Marquess who was nominally at the head of that Government; for recent events had sufficiently proved, that his opinions and his wishes were disregarded through the influence of a distant secret conclave who virtually managed the affairs of that country. He (Mr. Shaw) warned his Majesty's Ministers, that the measure would end in failure as regarded itself—would bring the utterest contempt on their Government, and, together with other recent proceedings of theirs, tend to induce a disrespect for all law and all authority in 570 Ireland. He (Mr. Shaw) would give no vote on the occasion, but leave his Majesty's Ministers to drag themselves through the mire of inconsistency, injustice and meanness, into which their conduct in respect of that Bill had deservedly plunged them.
§ Mr. Littleton
said: The House are aware that the duties of the office which the hon. and learned Gentleman holds, frequently calls him to Dublin, and that on such occasions he is in the habit of dining at the Sheriff's dinners, and giving free vent to the out-pourings of the spirit of the party to which he belongs. Now, I have no objection to his remaining in Dublin altogether; and I think the House will agree with me that he ought to do so, if he continues in the situation which he now holds. It is the hon. and learned Gentleman's practice, at least once in every Session, to furnish the House with a rechauffé of the out-pourings of his political inspirations at those dinners; and I suppose the vituperation and invective in which he has now dealt have been resorted to merely in pursuance of this custom. I will say, that the hon. and learned Gentleman's judicial conduct merits approbation; but when he takes upon himself the character of his own eulogist, I think he would have shown more discretion, when speaking of the conduct of others, if he had been a little more impartial, and exhibited a little more evenness of temper in his observations than he has done. If, however, the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that he can hurt the feelings of others by the intemperate and violent language in which he has indulged, he will find himself mistaken; for, as far as I am concerned, I shall not notice the hon. and learned Gentleman's violent speech, but treat all such expressions with the contempt which they merit.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
said, it was amusing to hear the attack, which, in the fury of faction, the hon. and learned Gentleman had made upon the present Government. The present Government need not fear the attacks of either that hon. Member, or the party to which he belonged. The object of the present Ministers was to give peace and tranquillity to Ireland. That party which assailed them, had for three hundred years produced nothing in Ireland but oppression, tyranny, and blood. The object of that contemptible and wicked faction had been to oppress and spoliate Ireland in every way they could, and in the perpetration of their guilty purpose they 571 had been appalled by no shame, and restrained by no remorse. In no instance bad they been moderate or conciliating. The hon. Gentleman had called the Government of Ireland mean, base, and contemptible; but then, as if recollecting himself, he had made an exception is favour of the Lord-lieutenant. But the hon. Member forgot that he still accused the Lord-lieutenant of the baseness of handing over his powers to other hands. He begged to tell the hon. Gentleman, that the Lord-lieutenant could as well afford to dispense with his praise, as to disregard his censure. It was most unfair to attribute to the Marquess Wellesley the meanness of handing over the Government of Ireland to the conduct of others. He had voted against the Court-martial clauses; but he thought that the Bill, as it at present stood, was calculated to preserve the peace of Ireland, and should be hailed as a boon by the friends of peace in Ireland. It would have been as well if the hon. and learned Recorder, instead of abusing the Government for a change of opinion, had applied himself to the real question before the House.
§ Mr. O'Dwyer
said, that he believed the hon. and learned Gentleman had, by this time, discovered that he was not at a Sheriff's dinner. He thought, also, that the hon. Member had made another discovery, that language, which was hailed with such delight amid the carousals of the loyal and very Protestant Corporation of Dublin, was not entitled to the slightest consideration in that House. The right hon. Secretary had referred to a speech recently delivered at a Sheriff's dinner. It happened, that by accident he had then in his pocket the last speech delivered by the hon. and learned Gentleman at the identical Sheriff's dinner referred to. It would be well for the House to listen to the post-prandial opinions delivered amidst Bacchanal applause by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and to compare them with those sentiments which he had now uttered in all the solemnity of his meridian politics. After some prefatory violence—the hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded to say—"I will not conceal my opinion, that at this moment we are approaching a crisis of revolution, and that all my predictions are about to be verified." What an innocent prophecy for a Recorder! The hon. Gentleman further said—"In any crisis, the party to which we belong would take office most reluctantly; but without any sacrifice of principle." But for this Coercion Bill 572 which he regretted the present Government should be so mistaken as to press, he would express the pleasure he felt at seeing the benches opposite filled by their present occupants, instead of that party who could deliver sentiments such as they had heard that day. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to read several extracts from the printed speech of the learned Recorder, which was found in a paper which was the mouthpiece of that party. In one passage, the hon. and learned Gentleman said—"that their last struggle would be a great one for their lives, and liberties, and religion." This was the language which the hon. and learned Recorder felt himself justified in delivering in their carousal of faction to a parcel of gourmands and drunkards. Good God, was this language to be used by a man filling the judicial bench? Could the most violent political agitator use more objectionable language than that? What confidence could be placed in the administration of justice in a country where the Judge went reeking from the political banquet to the bench, where he was to be the dispenser of the laws, and to adjudicate upon the lives and properties of the King's subjects? He did not doubt that the party to which the member for the University belonged were anxious to return to power. That party whom he should call a miserable and degraded faction ought to be silenced at once and for ever. They hoped to return to power; but that hope would be abortive if the Government opposite had the manliness to act with determination. It was perhaps too familiar an illustration; but if they seized the nettle gently, it would inflict a sting, while, if pressed firmly, its power of mischief was at an end. So with that party, whilst touched forbearingly, its powers of mischief would remain, but let them clutch it firmly, and there was no injury it could inflict. What was that party which the hon. Gentleman held out to terrify any Government that meddled with its insolent assumption of superiority? He admitted, there were in that party men of worth and consideration, but, contrasted with the people of Ireland, they dwindled into feeble and impotent insignificance. Let the Government then abandon the Irish faction, and embrace the Irish people. The one demanded the infliction of wrong, whilst the other only asked for justice.
§ The House divided on the Clause: Ayes 24; Noes 69—Majority 45.
§ On the Question, that the Bill do pass,573
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
said, he could not suffer the present Motion to be carried without entering his solemn protest against several of the clauses of the Bill, which, were, in his opinion, as unnecessary as they were unjust and unconstitutional. Instead of promoting tranquillity in Ireland, this Bill would have the contrary effect. But what was it that endangered the peace of that country, but the absence of the nobility and gentry, whose bounden duty it was to see that proper moral instruction was provided for the people? Without the inculcation of the principles of morality amongst the people, military force would be of no avail; and although he gave the Government full credit for having given up the Court-martial clauses, he must protest against a measure which he was satisfied would answer no good end.
§ Mr. O'Reilly
said, that he must also protest against this Bill as a most unnecessary piece of legislation. He had never been disposed to encourage by any act of his anything that could excite agrarian disturbances; but without entering into the question, as to whether agrarian disturbances were not occasioned by political agitation, he was prepared to contend, that in no point of view were the Government entitled to the powers which the Bill would place in their hands. If they really wished to see Ireland in perfect tranquillity, they must remove the causes which gave rise to the disturbances that occurred in that unhappy country; for, do what they might, the effects would remain until the causes from which they sprung were removed. If the Irish Tithe Bill—a measure susceptible of very great improvement—were passed, certainly one great cause of discontent would be got rid of; but his reason for objecting to this Bill was, that the law as it stood was amply sufficient for the suppression of agrarian disturbances. The code of law commonly called the Whiteboy Act, provided for every offence of this kind that could occur; and if that code was insufficient for the purpose, they had the Statute of the 27th of George 3rd, which did not leave a single insurrectionary offence untouched. It should also be recollected, that Roman Catholics were prohibited from carrying arms; and if, then, they were so well provided with laws to meet all the exigences which might arise, he could not see the necessity for a Coercion Bill, which was in every point of view objectionable.
would not detain the House many minutes, but he owed it to 574 himself to state to the House and to the Government the reasons why, and he should do it with regret, he felt it his duty to vote against the passing this Bill in its present shape. He had promised—he had given a pledge—that he would vote for so much of the Bill as related to the suppression of agrarian disturbances; and he now wished to show, that he was not violating that promise by voting against the passing a measure which contained such enactments as were to be found in this. He asserted, that it contained clauses which were wholly unnecessary. One of those clauses went the length of depriving the people of the right to petition Parliament for the redress of their grievances; and against such a clause lie must strongly object. It also contained a clause of indemnity to the Magistrates, constables, and soldiers, by whom its provisions were to be enforced, and to that clause he likewise objected, as he did to another, which authorized the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. The Bill also contained a clause which created no fewer than twenty-five new offences, and against that clause he must also protest. He knew, however, that this last clause was justified on the ground, that it was intended as a means to put down agrarian disturbances; but he very much doubted whether it would have any such effect. If, however, it would have that tendency, he should willingly acknowledge that he was wrong. He was as anxious as anyone to see agrarian disturbances put down by the strong arm of the law: and if the clause to which he referred would have that effect, all he could say was, that it should have his support. With respect to the remainder of the clauses, he was bound to say, that he approved of them. They would be a desirable addition to the Whiteboy code, and, for his part, he wished them to be made perpetual. As the law stood, there were no means of ascertaining whether or not a county or district was in a state of disturbance, except by the evidence adduced before a Judge and Jury; and that being the case, and thinking that such a fact should be ascertained by some responsible authority, he thought the Lord-lieutenant ought to be empowered to announce the existence of disturbances in any given place by proclamation. He repeated, that he should not object to make a clause of this description perpetual, although it might be said, that in doing so he was consenting to the abrogation of some portion of the liberties of the people. He was as decided an 575 enemy to agrarian disturbances as any man in that House; but he still thought that the only effect which the clauses against which he objected could have, would be to strengthen the hands of a party in Ireland who had never done anything but wrong to that unfortunate country. It had been stated, that office was to be given to him in consequence of his advocacy of this measure, but there were two very strong objections in the way of this statement—first, the Government had no office to give him, and next, there was none he would accept, even if they had. The praises bestowed by the opponents of the Government on the Irish Attorney General ought to show them that this officer had no one political feeling in unison with the sentiments of the party with which he was connected. The sooner they got rid of him the better; for, instead of aiding them, his whole efforts seemed to be directed to the frustration of their proceedings. What he (Mr. O'Connell) wanted was, that the institutions of the two countries should be assimilated. He was strongly in favour of the clauses for putting down agrarian disturbances, and he must say, that he thanked the Government for this Bill, because it went the length of avowing the opinion which he believed they entertained, that there was no connexion whatever between political agitation and agrarian disturbances. It was quite manifest, he thought, that agrarian disturbances could advance no one political object, and therefore it was absurd to say, that the individuals who suffered punishment for agrarian disturbances, were the victims of political agitation. But he had been told, that Poor-laws would remedy all the grievances complained of in Ireland, and restore that country to peace and prosperity. He wished that any one could point out to the satisfaction of his mind, that Poor-laws in Ireland, instead of producing misery, would tend to the least good, and not only should such a proposition have his anxious support, but he should ever feel the deepest gratitude to the individual by whom his present opinions were changed. So far, however, from Poor-laws having any beneficial influence, he feared that they would infallibly lead to the shedding of blood—that the rancour and bad feeling which now produced agrarian disturbances would he directed against those by whom such laws were administered in every instance in which relief was refused to a person who had no title to receive it. They would dissolve every tie that existed, whether 576 between parent and child, brother and sister, or man and man; and if this was not his strong conviction, he most unquestionably should be the advocate, and not the opponent of Poor-laws. He repeated, that he should be delighted to be convinced of his error, if indeed he were wrong; and certainly, so far as the opinion of the Catholic priests went, he must say, that they were in favour of Poor-laws; but this he did not wonder at, seeing that they had constantly before their eyes scenes of misery which were harrowing to the feelings of any person possessing the least spark of humanity in his disposition. He must say, that he had been greatly amused at the compliments which certain Irish landlords had paid to each other on a recent occasion in another place. The individuals to whom he alluded were about the worst landlords in Ireland; and yet, to believe them, the advantage of their tenantry was the chief and only object they had in view. He had felt it necessary to say thus much in his own vindication; and although he was as thorough a Radical as any that had ever stood in that House, he must again say, he was favourable to rendering the clauses to which he alluded, perpetual. Ireland had been governed by force for 300 years, without being better now than she was then; and if, as the fact was, force had failed, why did they not try what conciliation would do? The Irish people would never suffer themselves to be put down by force; hitherto they had been governed by, and for a faction, but to this they would submit no longer. The present Government had been in office four years without benefiting Ireland in the smallest degree; and if they would now do but justice to the people of that country, they would soon find quiet and tranquillity restored throughout the land.
§ Lord Althorp
wished to make a single observation on a statement which had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for Dublin. The hon. Gentleman said, that the omission of the clauses which had been struck out of the Bill went to show, that the Government did not think that there was any connexion between political agitation and agrarian disturbances. Now, he (Lord Althorp) begged to say, that the admission of the Government did not go to any such extent; on the contrary, they believed there was some connexion between the two circumstances, though not to the extent that was generally supposed. Much exaggeration had taken place on the 577 matter; and although agrarian disturbances might not be altogether attributable to political agitation, yet it could not be doubted that the one tended to increase the other. He did not feel it necessary to do more than make this explanation, as he did not believe that the House would require him to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman through all the other parts of his speech.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, that belonging to the party of which his hon. and learned friend (Mr. O'Connell) was the leader, he felt it necessary to express his dissent from one statement which had fallen from him. His hon. and learned friend had no objection to give the Lord-lieutenant power to proclaim any district he pleased to be in a disturbed state; but for his (Mr. Sheil's) part, he never would consent to confer a power so arbitrary upon any Lord-lieutenant.
explained, that the power which he meant to confer, would only remedy a defect which existed in the present law.
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
declared, that he would oppose the granting of any such power as rendering the clauses alluded to, perpetual. He never would give his sanction to a permanent measure of the kind.
§ The House divided on the Motion, that the Bill do pass: Ayes 60; Noes 25—Majority 35.
§ The Bill was passed.