HC Deb 02 June 1843 vol 69 cc1239-50
Sir R. Peel

moved that the House on its rising should adjourn to Thursday next.

Lord J. Russell

I will take this opportunity of giving an explanation respecting a statement which I have seen in the newspapers, purporting to be an account of something which passed in this House, and I will then proceed to offer a few observations on the present state of affairs in Ireland. It appears to have been several times stated that the late Government offered the office of Chief Baron to Mr. O'Connell. The fact is, that the late Government offered that Gentleman only the office of Master of the Rolls, which Sir Michael O'Loghlen was about to vacate for that of Chief Baron. I am not now going to enter into the reasons which induced the Government to make that offer; but if any animadversions should be made upon it, I shall at all times be ready to defend it. I will now touch upon the other subject to which I have already adverted, namely, what appears to me to be the extraordinary state of affairs with respect to the Government and this House relative to Ireland. We are told every day of new regiments going over to Ireland—of large reinforcements of troops being sent there. We are told of military preparations being made at Dublin Castle; and this day it is stated, in an article from an Irish paper, that Admiral Bowles had repaired to the Irish coast, and was to have war steamers under his command. The: Government must be aware that the steps they have taken, particularly by dismissing from the magistracy a great number of persons who have the confidence of the people of Ireland, must production injurious effect in various ways. In the first place, these proceedings were calculated to create considerable alarm; and in the next place, they must add to the repeal agitation, which it is the object of Parliament and the Government to discourage. Then, again, it is necessary to consider how these proceedings bear upon the votes which we have given during the present Session in a committee of supply. Many Members, and I among them, voted for the estimates proposed by the Government, being of opinion that, as hostilities had so recently ceased in China and other quarters, it would not be reasonable to press for further reductions, but still hoping that the Government themselves would, from time to time, prudently and cautiously make such retrenchments as the public service would admit of, so as, in some measure, to repair the deficiency in the revenue, which is so much lamented. I, on one occasion, took the liberty of expressing myself to that effect in the House, and I understood, from the cheers of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, that he concurred in the view I took on that point; but it must be obvious that if we are to keep up a large force for the purpose of maintaining peace in Ireland, no such object as that I have referred to can be carried into effect. I say, therefore, that on the ground of the impolicy of creating alarm; on the ground of the impolicy of increasing excitement, which it is desirable, rather, by every means, to discourage and diminish; and on the ground of the impolicy of keeping up large military and naval establishments, which it is important to reduce as quickly as possible —on all these grounds the measures which have been lately taken by the Government require some explanation, in order to induce the House to sanction them. As I have already intimated, I say we are not justified in now pressing the Government for any statement of circumstances within their knowledge which may have made the adoption of those measures necessary; but I must declare that I have heard of nothing myself—and I have spoken with persons who have lately come from Ireland, and J who are best informed as to the state of that country—which seems to my mind to j justify those measures. I trust, therefore, I that the Ministers of the Crown, who have been entrusted with the disposal of large forces, who are entrusted likewise with the j power of dismissing magistrates—from the responsibility of which I hope the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Office does not mean to shrink, and to throw it upon the Lord Chancellor for Ireland—will make some statement to the House in justification of the policy which they have pursued. If they should not think proper to do so, I think it may be necessary to ask for the opinion of the House with respect to the policy they have pursued towards Ireland. I am not prepared to give notice of any motion on the subject at present, but I find that the Government intend to propose no measures with regard to Ireland, except the Arms Bill and the Registration Bill—of which, by the by, the prospect is very distant—I shall, in no very long time after the recess, move an Address to the Crown, expressing the opinion of the House with respect to the policy pursued towards Ireland by the Government.

Sir R. Peel

I am disposed to consider the observations which have fallen from the noble Lord rather as a notice of his future intentions, than as intended to provoke a debate on the present occasion on the matters to which he has referred. I am sure the House will feel that, after a continued debate of three nights on a measure immediately connected with the peace of Ireland, which led to discussion on several matters connected with the Government and present condition of that country, it would not be consistent with the convenience of the House now to enter on a fresh debate upon the same subject. The noble Lord and the House must feel, that it is the first duty of the Government to provide for the maintenance of the public tranquillity. The noble Lord also must know, that nothing can be more unwise than to place reliance on every rumour collected from the newspapers. I must guard the House against supposing that these reports, in every case, rest upon a solid foundation, or that they are not in many instances erroneous. I will not now say a word with respect to the dismissal of the magistrates; I think it would be very inconvenient to anticipate discussion on that subject. I cannot, however, help reminding the noble Lord, that when the Government with which he was connected was in power, they attached so much importance to demonstrating their intention to maintain the legislative union, that the Lord-lieutenant appointed by them, and having their full confidence, felt it his duly to make a public notification of a very peculiar and unusual character. Lord Fortescue distinctly notified that no favour on the part of the Crown should be conferred on those who encouraged meetings, or otherwise took part in the repeal movement. Upon that occasion Lord Fortescue distinctly notified that every person who took an active part in favour of repeal should incur the penalty of civil disability, because it would be impossible for any such person to obtain an appointment under the Crown. The noble Lord must bear in mind that the Repeal of the Union has been considered by all Governments as a question of a very peculiar character, and although it, doubtless, is competent to any Member to propose the Repeal of the Union in this House, yet the conduct of the late Government shows that the active supporters of that question ought to be looked upon with disapprobation. Whenever the noble Lord shall feel disposed to bring the subject of our policy towards Ireland under the consideration of the House, I trust that the Government will be able to vindicate the course which it has pursued.

Mr. Hume

expressed his surprise at the statement of the noble Lord the Member for London, that the late Government had not made Mr. O'Connell an offer of the office of Chief Baron. He heard Mr. O'Connell state publicly in that House, without contradiction, that the offer of that office had been made to him, and he had repeated the same thing in private. The state of affairs in Ireland was such, that Parliament ought not to lose one hour in extracting from Government an explanation of their reasons for making such formidable preparations as were now being carried on. If the Government were about to revert to the old practice in Ireland, and govern that country by coercion, they would fail to establish tranquillity there. The right hon. Baronet said that the House had been occupied during three nights in discussing the state of Ireland and the policy of the Government; but that was not the fact. The right hon. Baronet himself, when he addressed the House, said that he would confine himself strictly to the one— subject immediately under discussion the Arms' Bill. It appeared to him an act of madness on the part of the Government to take their present course. "When a different system was pursued, Ireland was so tranquil that one half of the military usually maintained there was removed. The military force in Ireland in 1793 was 8,500 men; on the occasion to which he referred the force was reduced to within a thousand of that number, and he recollected Mr. O'Connell stating that, if necessary, two or three more regiments might immediately be withdrawn from Ireland. What had produced the extraordinary change now apparent? The people had not changed; it was the conduct of the Government towards the people that had changed. He begged the right hon. Baronet, before he drove the country to civil war, into which he was fast precipitating it, to consider the situation, not only of Ireland, but of England. We were in a state of absolute bankruptcy; notwithstanding the Income-tax, the revenue was two millions and a half below the ordinary expenditure. Instead of reduction, under these circumstances, which he honestly declared he expected from the right hon. Baronet, he was concentrating a large naval and military force in Ireland. The Government were taking the most unconstitutional measures to create a rebellion in that country. They did not intend it certainly; but there was no rational man out of the House who would not say that they were adding to the excitement by the course which they were pursuing. He would tell the right hon. Baronet what he ought to do. He should discountenance the strong party feeling that existed in that country, both on the system of national education and on all other subjects. The right hon. Baronet told them he supported the system of education in Ireland, but every man appointed by the right hon. Baronet's Government to a high dignity in the Church, and every law officer of the Crown, were men who had done everything in their power to oppose that system. So long as the lord lieutenancy was kept up, so long would it be a focus for faction. The lord lieutenancy ought to have been done away with long ago. Ireland ought to be incorporated with England, as Scotland was. As Member for Kilkenny, he (Mr. Hume) had spoken against repeal, and had omitted no opportunity of declaring his belief that the repeal of the Union would be injurious alike to England and to Ireland. On the motion of Lord Althorp, the House of Commons pledged itself to maintain the legislative Union, but pledged itself at the same time to redress the grievances of Ireland. Had that been done? Twenty-four years ago, he (Mr. Hume) had denounced the overgrown Church establishment of Ireland. Since then the country had been robbed of one-fourth of the tithes. He said "robbed," for he considered the tithes public property, and thought they ought not to have been given to the landlords; but the Church was still monstrously disproportioned, and he believed that was the honest opinion of every Member of the House, on whichever side he might sit. Let the causes of grievance be removed, and the Government need be under no apprehension as to the violence of the repealers. For his own part, he should hold Government responsible if any of the serious consequences should occur which they seemed to apprehend, and which they were doing all in their power to bring about. The population of Ireland had long continued patient, but justice had not been done to them; and before the Government had recourse to measures of severity, they ought to have assured themselves that the pledges of Parliament had been redeemed.

Sir R. Peel

hoped the House would allow him to correct a mistake into which the hon. Gentleman seemed to have fallen on rather an important point. The hon. Gentleman admitted that the Government had declared their intention to support the system of national education, but he said that the Government had counteracted that declaration by selecting for every appointment in the Church and the law persons hostile to that system. He would state the facts with respect to the law officers of the Crown. The two principal law officers of the Crown were the Attorney-general and the Solicitor-general. Now, it was of great importance that the Attorney-general for Ireland should have a seat in that House. The high academical character of the Attorney-general entitled him to become a candidate for the university of which he was a member: It was then intimated to him that if he would not oppose the system of national education he had no chance of success. The right hon. and learned Gentleman communicated the substance of this intimation to him, but said at the same time that he should feel much averse to giving such a pledge. He expressed his approbation at the hon. and learned Gentleman's unwillingness to pledge himself in the manner required of him; he refused to give the pledge, and was appointed Attorney-general. As to the Solicitor-general for Ireland, he was one of those appointed by the late Government to act as commissioners for conducting the system of national education. He must caution the House against allowing itself to be misled by erroneous statements with respect to the intention of the Government.

Mr. M. O'Ferrall

entreated the right hon. Gentlemen opposite to avail themselves of the approaching holidays, and to prepare a statement of what their intentions were. There was a large part of the people of Ireland, who, while they fully agreed with others of their countrymen, that there were many and serious grievances, yet did not concur with them as to the remedy to be applied. What he wished her Majesty's Government to do, was to put those who were opposed to repeal in a position to say to the people of Ireland, that the Government was ready to do everything it could do, to redress all just subjects of grievance. There was one subject that had been much misunderstood. He alluded to what had been called fixity of tenure. For the tenant to wish to possess himself of all the rights of a proprietor, was too absurd a thing to be even discussed; but it was not less certain that there was much in the existing law between landlord and tenant that required alteration. At the last meeting which he had attended of the commissioners for inquiring into the state of the poor in Ireland, he believed it was in 1835 —he had proposed to his brother commissioners to extend their inquiries to the laws for regulating the relations between landlord and tenant, for he was satisfied, that much misery and crime might be traced to those laws. He believed it was an unfortunate circumstance that that inquiry had not been proceeded with. It was a question fraught with the greatest danger to the peace of the country, and if it was not attended to, the consequence would be, that the at- tention of a large part of the population would be so much fastened on the absurdity to which he had alluded, that it would afterwards be difficult to dispose them to accept of a more reasonable arrangement. The fate of Ireland depended very much on the conduct of Government, and he very much regretted the course which they seemed at present disposed to pursue. He thought, after all these large meetings had been allowed to proceed to such an extent without any intimation that the Government intended to take any steps openly to discourage them, and after the public mind had been suffered to be excited by the speeches delivered at those meetings, it was most unwise to come forward and dismiss magistrates who had attended those meetings. It was only making those gentlemen more popular by making martyrs of them, whereas if a previous notice had been given them of the intentions of Government, they would probably have remained away from those meetings, or would have attended them only as spectators. He would entreat her Majesty's Government seriously to consider what he had said.

Mr. Sham

merely rose to set himself right with respect to one or two facts that had been erroneously stated. He was present when Lord Fortescue made his declaration on the subject of repeal, and Lord Fortescue not only stated that he would discourage the agitation of that question, but said he would carry his opposition to the utmost extent to which Government could go, and would withhold every kind of patronage and favour from every person who, in any way, lent any encouragement to that movement. With respect to the system of national education, hon. Gentlemen opposite were constantly charging the Government with appointing bishops, whose opinions on that subject were at variance with those which Government acted on. Now, there was a very simple reason for th1s. He would not say, whether the Irish clergy were right or wrong in the view they took, but he did not believe that her Majesty's Government could have found any person competent in every other respect to fill the office of a bishop who was not opposed to that system of education. With respect to his (Mr. Shaw's) right hon. Friend the Attorney-general, he (Mr. Shaw) had never before heard that it had been proposed to his right hon. Friend to give a pledge against the present system of education, but he felt quite persuaded that the proper feeling and independence of his right hon. Friend could not have allowed him to take any other course than the one he had taken. If the constituency had asked him (Mr. Shaw) to give such a pledge, he would certainly have refused it. At the same time, he was quite surprised to hear that his right hon. Friend was favourable to the system of national education, he had always thought quite the reverse.

Mr. T. B. C. Smith

said, as his name had been introduced into the discussion, he trusted the House would allow him to make a few observations. The first intimation which he received with regard to the representation of the University of Dublin was before he was a law officer of the Crown, and before any person was aware that he was to receive any appointment from the Government; and it was conveyed in a letter from a private Gentleman connected with the university, who stated that there was a strong feeling in his favour, and a desire that he should be put in nomination; and required to know from him whether or not he would permit himself to be put forward, but there was not one syllable in it relating to his opinions on any one subject. Perhaps that was occasioned by the fact that his general political views were known from former occasions. As he thought it possible that there might be some misconstruction, and he had made it a rule never to attempt to gain an advantage for himself by practising deception on any man, he wrote in reply to his friend in the university, saying, lest the gentlemen there might be under a misapprehension as to his views, that he would not wish to be put forward if he should be expected to oppose the grant to Maynooth or the grant for the purpose of national education. That declaration was voluntary on his part. He made it because he thought it would not be right that there should be a requisition to him under a misapprehension. In the course of the following month he was appointed to the office of Solicitor-general, without the slightest application having been made on his behalf. Under these circumstances he acted fairly and openly, and stated that if he should be returned he should in all probability support the grants for national education and the College of Maynooth. The requisi- tion was proceeded with, and he had, as he believed, a majority of the electors within the walls of the university; the outvoters, consisting principally of the clergy, were against him; but he believed that if he had pledged himself to oppose the system of national education and the grant to Maynooth College he might have contested the representation. Having been educated within the walls of the university, there was a feeling in his favour amongst many of the electors, and the clergy would have been satisfied if he would have promised to support a grant to the Church Education Society, but he was determined not to be pledged in any way, and upon those grounds declared to offer himself as a candidate for the honour of representing the University.

Mr. Cardwell

thought it would have been more expedient had there been no magistrates dismissed. He thought, the large class of persons in Ireland whose lives and property were placed in jeopardy, would consider that the notice taken in this House of the proceedings in that country was not likely to stop, or pacify the agitation, and that it was, on the contrary, very likely to excite in the minds of large classes there, and their leaders a strong impression that they had the sympathy of a large party in this House with them. At this particular moment it was most undesirable that such an impression should go abroad. If this were his own opinion merely, he should not trouble the House with it—but he stated it because it was the opinion of a great number of persons in this House and country. He must say, then, that if the noble Lord was prepared to pass a vote of censure on the Government, he should do so at once—or if not prepared with an immediate vote of censure, he should have delayed his observations till the subject was better understood.

Mr. M. J. O'Connell

felt persuaded, that when any body of men were deprived of their civil privileges, for doing what was perfectly legal in itself, such injustice would always awaken a feeling of sympathy in that House. He believed, that all parties in Ireland felt satisfied, that when their country was treated with injustice, they would be sure to meet with the sympathy of the people of England.

Sir H. W. Barron

rose amid cries of "oh, oh," "question, question." He should not allow himself, he said, to be deterred by any cries of "oh, oh," or "question, question," from doing what he believed to be his duty, and he could tell them that the Irish people would resent their insolence, and would deeply feel the insult offered to one of their representatives and themselves. He knew that the appointments made by the Government, had given an impulse to clerical agitation, and that opposition to the education system was looked on as a stepping-stone to a mitre. The Bishop of Cashel had always been the bitterest op ponent of that system, and since his appointment, he had attended a meeting held in the city of Dublin, for the purpose of opposing the system. Was that the way in which patronage ought to be distributed? The natural consequence was, that the people of Ireland looked upon the Government as insincere in their professions of support to the system of national education. Ministers had sent over troops to Ireland, and dismissed magistrates. Every act of this kind they had done, had increased the repeal rent. threefold, fourfold, and six fold, and driven into the ranks of the repealers men of wealth and station, distinguished for their integrity and their love of peace, who had never before joined any political movement. He could declare with certainty, from his knowledge of Ireland, and of the opinions of many men of calmness and impartiality, who were well able to judge of the political circumstances of the country, that there was not the slightest chance of any outbreak of violence occurring, except it were provoked by the tyranny and perverse proceedings of Government themselves. He believed, that both the leaders of the people and the Roman Catholic clergy to a man would oppose themselves, in the most determined and most energetic manner, to everything like violence or revolt. All the armaments that were in preparation, therefore, and all this great display of military and naval force, were merely laughed at in that country, or regarded as an insult to the people, and an attempt to overawe their opinions. Ministers, however, would fail in this, as they had failed in previous attempts to repress the free spirit of public opinion in Ireland, by misplaced measures of harshness and coercion.

Captain Bernal

wished to make one observation on what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, the Recorder of Dublin, as to there being none of the Irish clergy fit to be elevated to the episcopal bench, who were favourable to the Irish national system of education. He might mention, as distinguished examples to the contrary, the lately appointed Dean of Ossory, Dr. Bellew, and the Provost of Trinity College, who were both favourable to that plan. He would only add, that he implored the hon. Member for Ipswich, who had placed a notice on the books for some day after Whitsuntide, of a motion to repeal the Emancipation Act, to reflect whether at the present moment such a notice remaining on the books, would have any other effect than that of inflaming the unhappy disturbances now so widely spread in Ireland. He would implore the hon. Member, in the name of common sense, in the name of the majority of the Members of that House, to withdraw his notice.

Mr. Lane Fox

As the hon. Member has appealed to me, I beg to say I mean to bring forward the motion of which I have given notice; and I never should have given notice of such a motion, unless on that occasion I was prepared to prove that it is Popery, and nothing but Popery, which leads to the disorders now prevailing in Ireland.

Motion for the adjournment agreed to.