§ Mr. Sheil
rose and spoke to the following effect;—Instead of the customary prorogation by the Queen, the adjournment of the House is proposed by the first Minister of the Crown, in order that the opinions of the Judges in the case of Mr. O'Connell may be delivered before the next Session, and to prevent the hazard of a great injustice being done. It is felt by everybody that it would be monstrous that Mr. O'Connell should be kept in gaol for six months, and that he should afterwards be discharged upon the ground that he ought not to have been originally imprisoned. The case is conceived to be one of so much importance and so much difficulty, that a deviation from Parliamentary usage is proposed by the Prime Minister, and on the 5thof September Parliament is to assemble again. If the decision shall be in favour of Mr. O'Connell, if the Judges shall think that the Jury was improperly composed, and that the challenge to the array should have been allowed, Mr, O'Connell will be discharged. For this proceeding the Government do not claim any credit, for by an opposite course the general censure of the country would be incurred. But surely the Government have, by the step which they are now adopting made the most important practical admission. They have, by an irresistible implication, acknowledged that the detention of Mr. O'Connell pending the question whe her he ought to have been imprisoned at all, 1957 ought to be deeply lamented by themselves. Mr. O'Connell was imprisoned on the 30th of May. If he is discharged on the 30th of August, because the sentence was illegal,—that will be the feeling of both countries,—how great will be the astonishment of the one, how vehement the indignation of the other? It ought, then, to be matter of the most solemn deliberation with the Government, whether instead of waiting to ascertain whether the lawyers shall have succeeded in picking the lock of the Richmond Penitentiary, it would not be far wiser to throw open the doors of the prison-house at once, and to give back his freedom to the man whom under circumstances so peculiar you have deprived of his liberty. These are facts admitted upon all sides, facts beyond dispute, almost any one of which ought to have induced the Government to terminate the period of Mr. O'Connell's imprisonment. The suppression of the lists in the Recorders Court—the refusal of the Crown to join issue on the averment of fraud—the solemn opinion of one of the Judges at a trial at bar that the panel was illegally and wrongfully concocted—the exclusion of every Catholic from the Jury, by which the leader of a great Catholic people was tried and convicted,—these are circumstances which ought to induce the Government to give up a verdict thus illegitimately obtained, and to which it is the consummation of impolicy that you should so pertinaciously adhere. You have yourselves, unconscious of what you were doing, furnished in a very recent proceeding, one of the strongest arguments against your verdict which it would be possible to suggest. You have admitted, that it would be most unjust that a Commission for the administration of charitable bequests should be exclusively Protestants, and you have provided that out of the ten individuals to be selected as a Committee, five at least shall be Catholics. What an inference is afforded by this special provision in your recent Bill, which you represent as an act of common justice to the people of Ireland? If the charitable bequests of Ireland are not any longer to be administered by a Protestant board, is it not an outrage to common sense and common justice, that the great leader of a Catholic people should have been tried by a Jury from which every one of his co-religionists was excluded by the Crown, and was, in fact, 1958 composed of men who had rendered themselves conspicuous by the vehemence of their political and religious feelings? No other fact to condemn your verdict in the opinion of all unimpassioned men, no other fact is wanting to justify my noble Friend the Member for London in his deliberate declaration that Mr. O'Connell had not been fairly tried. The House of Commons, has not ratified that declaration, but the present Prime Minister ought to look to something besides the House of Commons, and that for his own sake, for the sake of his fame hereafter, he ought at once to assent to she liberation of a man tried under his own Jury Act, under an Act introduced by himself, and which has been converted into an instrumentality so utterly abhorent from the purposes for which it was devised. The right hon. Gentleman is one of those by whom fame is estimated at its proper value, and who can appreciate renown. You pass every day by the statue of George Canning—every day you look at Westminster Abbey—to the judgment of posterity you cannot be insensible. Of what will be hereafter said, in reference to the great events which are passing, that you can be reckless, no man shall persuade me to believe. Doesit not then occur to you that of your conduct in reference to your great Irish antagonist history will not approve? The time will come when your merits will not be determined by the numbers which issue from the old lobby or from the new, but by another and more impartial reckoning, and when that time shall have arrived, and when it shall be told that Daniel O'Connell at almost the outset of your political career rushed against you into the lists of political encounter—that after nearly twenty years of a fearful struggle he extorted the freedom of his country from your reluctant consciousness that it could no longer be withheld; that, finding you unwilling to complete your achievement and to carry out the lofty principle on which it was founded, he continued in antagonism to your party, and demanded that the institutions of Ireland should be remodelled and adapted to the great change which had been accomplished; that, after a long exclusion from office, you came back to power, and that instead of availing yourself of the opportunity which was afforded you of winning the hearts of millions of Irishmen, you preferred the support of a faction to the sustainment 1959 of a people; that you selected the men to whom Ireland was most antipathetic as the objects of your favour; and that when goaded by many wrongs and exasperated by affronts, your old political foe demanded the restoration of her Legislature to Ireland, you empannelled a Jury of twelve Protestants for his conviction; that despite the protest of one of the first Judges of the land, you threw him into prison, and when an inquiry was demanded into the machinery by which your Jury was manufactured, you shrank from investigation, and left your adversary in the prison house to which, at the age of seventy, he had been consigned; do you not think—does not your own heart inform you, that history, in whose tribunal Juries are not packed — history, the recorder whose lists are not lost, stern, inflexible, impartial history, upon this series of calamitous proceedings will pronounce her condemnation? It is in your power, it is yet within your power, to give to history something nobler to tell—to commit to it the better office of telling, that having the magnanimity to confess yourself to have been mistaken, rescuing yourself from the trammels of vindictiveness, animated by the feelings by which the Minister of the greatest Sovereign and the noblest empire in the world should be inspired, you disdained the luxuries of vengeance, you did not wait for the tardy adjudication of the men by whom it is acknowledged that difficulties are entertained, but winning by a generous action, a victory over your adversary, and over yourself, you gave back his freedom to the man to whom mil lions are indebted for the liberty,—you acquired a title to their confidence by the only possible reparation you can make for the great injustice you have done to the Irish people. If this measure were adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, if the wound could be healed by the hand which inflicted it, Ireland would be made susceptible of the ameliorations which we are assured by the Government that they have in view. But Daniel O'Connell is detained in the prison to which he ought never to have been committed. What advantage have you obtained—what benefit can you expect ever to secure—from the imprisonment of Daniel O'Connell? His spirit is as much abroad as if he stood on the theatre of Mullaghmast, and tens of thousands were gathered at his call. His mind still agitates the great mass, 1960 and with the mighty millions is still blended and commingled. After the verdict (it is a remarkable fact) the repeal rent suddenly fell, and after the execution of the sentence, it rose fourfold. You have imprisoned three proprietors of newspapers, and yet the press, undeterred by your verdict, is more exciting and more intrepid than ever. The Nation newspaper, distinguished by the rare eloquence with which it is written, circulates more than 11,000 copies a week—that most remarkable publication circulates in every hamlet of the country, and ministers the strongest stimulants to the high spirit of nationality which it has made it its chief object to awaken. The Catholic clergy are, almost to a man against you. In Dublin a great and well-organized association, which no law can reach, holds its weekly meetings; and, although not elected by the people, must be admitted to be a faithful representative of the national feelings. What, then, have you gained by the imprisonment of Daniel O'Connell, what other has been the result of that rash measure, excepting the creation of a deep feeling of hostility to the English Government, which, if it is any time most injudicious—it is under the existing circumstances of the country, most perilous to provoke! There are those who tell you that Ireland is tranquil; but I, who know Ireland well—who have had a long and painful experience in Irish agitation, who have, however, near at heart the peace and security of the country, and who have taken no part, direct or indirect, in the recent excitement of that country — I anxious only that my admonition should have the effect of inducing you to adopt a wiser course, tell you, that however ostensibly tranquil, Ireland is not safe. There can be no doubt that your competitors for the masterdom of Europe, who have begun to think that they could dispute your supremacy upon the ocean, have assumed a tone which they never would have adopted if they did not calculate upon the internal debility of England, and upon the weakness resulting from the alienation of Ireland. You have adopted a tone at last which becomes this great country, and have declared that a reparation for the outrage offered to a British subject would be required; but, having adopted this tone, it becomes you to secure yourselves against every hazard, and to marshal the people of Ireland in your cause. The 1961 higher the position you have taken, the stronger the bulwarks with which you should encompass it, and you may rest assured that you will find a muniment in the affections of the Irish people far better than the martello towers in the Bay of Bantry can supply.
§ Mr. Wyse
must, on this last day of the Session, before it has yet closed, and whilst the voice of the Representatives of Ireland could still be heard, again protest, as he had done repeatedly during its continuance, against the sentence and proceedings by which Mr. O'Connell and his fellow sufferers were held in prison. He must again raise his voice, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend, against what he had called, and must continue to call, an unfair and most unjust condemnation. Mr. O'Connell was silent, and properly so: he called for no remission, no mitigation of his sentence. Neither he, nor any of his companions in suffering, had for one moment betrayed any unworthy anxiety for pardon. They disdained to plead for a discharge from mere punishment, and he must say that every one who had such an opinion, who had such an opinion as he entertained of the character of the trial, must honour them for such conduct. The people, too, had hardly spoken. Their feelings were of a much stronger character. Not for mercy did they ask, but for justice—not for favour, but for the right of every British-born subject, to fair and impartial judgment. For this the traversers had asked in the Courts below; it was refused them, he cared not upon what technical quibble. They again asked for it from the same tribunal; no new trial was granted. They appealed to the House of Lords; but all the great facts were shut out from consideration. To whom had they to turn, and with them any Irishmen (for in wrong done to their rights, wrong was done to the rights of all), but to that House, the guardian of the franchises of every citizen, however low, the protector of the accused, and the inquirer into every abuse and grievance in the nation? To that House they turned. They asked for inquiry, and for nothing, be it remembered, but inquiry. A great fact was in-contestible, a great Catholic, the first of that powerful community, was tried and convicted, by a Jury from which Catholics, some say, were studiously excluded, but on which certainly there did not sit a single Catholic. Some called that accident—others 1962 design. The Judge on the bench admitted that its formation was subject to the very greatest suspicions. This admission, so far from being denied or modified, was re-asserted by the same Judge later. After every opportunity for deeper examination—cooler consideration it was re-asserted: the opinion was adopted by the most learned legal authorities—it had been heard in that House from the highest and most experienced Statesmen, and, out of doors, again and again, it has been the cry of many a public meeting. If ever there was a ground for inquiry that was it; and how, he would ask, was the prayer for that inquiry, notwithstanding, received within the walls of that House? It was passed by, he might almost say, with contumely, and by the verdict of that very Jury into whose constitution all examination was then refused. Mr. O'Connell was now, at the very moment he was speaking, and would have to continue, for aught he knew, in prison. He should be unworthy of a place in that House—of his bounden duty as a representative of an Irish constituency—he should be false to the first obligations of a free citizen—if he had not protested, and did not continue to protest, in every possible way, against such a wrong. It was no use to say that the public were deceived, that the people had no good grounds for such feelings. This would not alter facts; human nature was still human nature, whether in Ireland or in England. It was not by speeches in that House, but by substantial acts of justice and kindness out of it, that such injustice could be removed. Let not the Government and Legislature flatter themselves that they could raise and put down these emotions at will. He much feared the feeling of dislike and mistrust was getting daily further and further into the national breast. He much feared that it was daily changing its character, and taking a much worse form than it ever had. It was no longer a quarrel between parties for place, nor religions for ascendancy, but a struggle of nation against nation for independent power. Other men, too, of whom that House had little cognizance as yet, but who every day were appearing on the scene—men of talent, of energy, of knowledge and determination were every day taking the place of more moderate men. Another generation, better informed, but not better clothed or fed, perhaps, than their fathers, were growing 1963 up to be the people whom this party would yet have to wield. And in the midst of all these elements of domestic uneasiness, disease, and danger, was the political horizon quite clear of other symptoms of coming storm? Was peace to be ever-during, and was war never more to re-appear? And when every effort should be made to convert our enemies into friends abroad, why should we continue to do all we could to make men who ought to be our best friends our worst enemies at home? He had a right to speak in these words of warning—not of menace—to that House. He was not a man of dissension, but of peace; of peace by every just and righteous mean; but not by any sacrifice of what he believed to be his and his country's just rights. Had Mr. O'Connell's alleged delinquencies been tenfold greater than what was assumed, still that would alter nothing of the case. His charge was against the trial, against the Jury, against the men and mode by which the Jury was struck. He had given the case every attention in his power, and the more he considered it the more they had become his convictions. By such a trial, no law could have been vindicated, no seditious feeling could have been repressed, no confidence imprinted — nothing, in fine, but a deep and sullen indignation generated, which must meet and thwart, when they least expected it, even the best intentions and efforts of a Government. He must again and again assure the right hon. Baronet, that if he really looked for the pacification of Ireland, he must first look to the Irish heart; if he hoped that the people would trust to his professions, he must begin to put them into deeds forthwith. From the prison door he must begin his march of conciliation: he must justify by redress his claims to popular reliance. Let him throw aside force, and conquer by generosity; give up these wretched attempts at frightening a people from the exposition of their grievances, and substitute, instead, a calm but resolute spirit to search them out, even when unproclaimed, and no sooner found than a determination to relieve them by any means in his power. This is the time to do it: the country still waits for him, but will not much longer wait. He was deeply convinced that, upon his conduct in the interval which must elapse before they again met in that House, much of the future destinies of Ireland would depend. He had thus spoken without reserve— 1964 without reference to party or person—but to discharge what he conceived to be a most imperative trust—a bounden duty which he owed to God and his country—at what he solemnly believed to be one of the most critical periods in history of his fate.
Lord J. Russell
Sir, in the time of the late Administration it was the custom that the House should not disperse at the end of the Session until a pamphlet had been delivered by Lord Lyndhurst in the shape of a speech, referring to the various Bills had been introduced into Parliament, pointing out when they had been completed, how often they had been postponed, and how many of them had not arrived at their fitting consummation. I never considered that course very just or very fair. I did not consider it so, in the first place, because the Houses of Parliament themselves, how well disposed so ever they may be to consider measures, yet, in the course of discussion, interpose so many obstacles to rapid progress, that an Administration, I think, can never be justly chargeable with all the legislative failures that may have occurred during the Session. I thought it, in the next place, an unfair course, because it was notorious that the Upper House of Parliament was chiefly composed of members belonging to one political party. It was notorious that that party, having been in power during a long period of years, had placed in that House of Parliament about 200 of its members—that of upwards of 400 Members of which it consisted, not less than 200 had been placed there by the advice of the Ministers of the Tory party to the Crown, during that period. It was natural that those who entertained these politics, who had entered into Parliament with strong prejudices of that kind, should be adverse to a Ministry which was of a different political party. It was not difficult, therefore, for those who had authority with that party, to obtain the rejection of Bills, however useful, which were promoted by a Ministry with whom they did not agree. But, Sir, no doubt that mode of proceeding made its impression. It was considered by many persons that the Ministry must have failed in its duty when so many Bills had not obtained the sanction of the Legislature. That course I have never followed; it is not a course which I am now about to follow. If I were about to do so, I think I should have far more reason to object to 1965 the Ministry now in power. In the first place it is notorious, and has been proclaimed by themselves, that the present Ministry has a majority, having confidence in their Administration in both Houses of Parliament; it is, in the next place, evident that the present Ministry has had no great difficulties placed in the way of their legislation. But I do not see any public advantage which could be derived from going back and tracing the history of the different Bills, and pointing out that many of them had failed. I took occasion, at the close of a former Session, to call the attention of the House, when they were about to separate, to the existing state of the country, and I do not think it will be without its use if we should now for a short time turn our eyes in the same direction, and ascertain how we may be enabled to consult the public welfare when we are next told by Her Majesty to meet for the dispatch of business. In speaking last year of the affairs of the country, I entered at considerable length into the state of Ireland. My right hon. Friend, who has spoken upon this occasion, has alluded to a part of that great subject. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, when, in 1839, he was speaking of the formation of a Government under his auspices, stated, or rather confessed, that his chief difficulty was Ireland. Sir, I own I am surprised that, with the exception of one circumstance to which he then alluded—a circumstance I consider so trifling that I shall not advert to it at present—the Administration now in office, after that announcement by their Head, have never seriously taken into consideration the state of Ireland, with a view to its improvement. When, last year, we were considering this subject, it is true that there were great meetings, which are now no longer held. It is true that there was often language of menace used by some of the principal speakers, and that we do not hear that language at present. But we should be very much mistaken indeed, if we supposed that the affections of Ireland had been won by the proceedings which have since taken place. In my view of the circumstances as they stood last year, the Government would have been justified in issuing a Proclamation at the commencement of those meetings, forbidding any other assemblage of the same kind, and following up that announcement by a declaration of their intention to take all the 1966 grievances and complaints of Ireland into consideration, with a view to their redress. I think that Mr. O'Connell would have obeyed such a Proclamation; that I think we cannot doubt, as we have seen that on the very first occasion on which the advisers of the Lord Lieutenant thought they could declare such a meeting to be illegal, it was followed, not only by instant obedience, not merely by a sudden acquiescence, but by the most active measures for the prevention of the meeting which had been announced, I think, therefore, it is impossible to deny that if at the commencement of those meetings a similar course had been taken, similar obedience would have been paid. I confess that the stoppage of these meetings, by itself would have been almost a useless measure; it would have been dealing only with the symptoms of the disease; but if you had followed up a measure, asserting and vindicating the law, by measures of improvement and conciliation, I think you would then have laid a foundation for the future prosperity of Ireland. But the course taken was very different. Mr. O'Connell and other popular leaders were allowed to go on for seven or eight months without interruption. Their language was unchecked, their meetings uninterrupted, and the only declarations we had, one from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, and another from the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, led to the inference, coinciding with the opinion I myself had formed, not as a lawyer, but as a constitutional politician, that those meetings were legal. No wonder that they continued—that they continued to such an extent as to menace the peace of the country. At length they were interrupted—after seven or eight months of impunity they were interrupted—and the chief leaders of them were brought to trial, not for the last of their proceedings—not for any one particular meeting which had just taken place—not for any seditious language lately uttered, but for their proceeding during the whole course of eight or nine months of popular agitation which was qualified by the legal advisers of the Crown as conspiracy. Such a proceeding was entirely contrary to the rule laid down by Mr. Erskine, in his celebrated defence of Mr. Hardy. On that occasion Mr. Erskine declared, that if there were a particular act of a man's life, or a particular course of proceedings, which was 1967 criminal, he should be brought to trial; but he maintained, that to look for two years—in that case it was two years—through a man's whole conduct, language, and conversation, and to endeavour to drag out from all those circumstances put together an imputation of guilt, was not legal. It was not justice, but tyranny. But having determined to bring this case to trial, it was so contrived, that there being eleven Roman Catholics among the persons who might have been upon the Jury, those eleven Roman Catholics were struck off by the Crown, and there remained a Jury of twelve Protestants, several of whom were known to be violent partisans in a line of politics opposite to that which Mr. O'Connell had embraced. How, I ask, could the internal peace of Ireland be secured by these means? In the first place, was it just to leave these persons to pursue their course for eight months without any notice that they were bringing themselves within the meshes of the law? In the next place, having determined to bring them to trial, was that trial likely to produce the effect which an impartial trial always produced, even upon those who were the sufferers from it—when it was known that the prosecutors had cautiously excluded from the Jury every man who was of the same religion as Mr. O'Connell, that religion being the religion of the great majority of the people of Ireland? I would not have said anything on this subject, if I had thought the evil beyond the hope of remedy—if I had thought that Government had taken a step which it was impossible for them to retrieve? But I am sure that the Government have been for a long time ignorant of the real state of Ireland, or, if not ignorant of the real state, at least regardless of the feelings of the people of that country. I have of late observed symptoms on the part of the Government of a disposition to pay more regard to the feelings of so large a portion of our fellow-subjects; and I hope that before the next Session, the Government will fully consider the question—that they will look to the hopes which have been held out, and to the promises which were made at the time of the Union that Ireland should be placed upon an equality with England; that she should be governed upon the same principles, and should enjoy the same rights and privileges. Let Government determine, in the, 1968 light of those declarations, to go through those laws which now exist, to go through those maxims of administration which they themselves have followed, and produce a plan which will not countenance Repeal of the Union; but which will, on the contrary, give a death-blow to that agitation by granting to the people of Ireland fully, fairly, and entirely, the privileges which they themselves have solemnly promised to give them. Sir, I should say, that if such was to be their determination, whatever may be the opinions of the House of Lords or of the Judges, upon the judicial questions which have been placed before them, there could be no better symptom of your policy, no better earnest of your intention to carry those large views into effect, than using the prerogative of the Crown for the purpose of the discharge of Mr. O'Connell and the other prisoners from the remainder of their incarceration; even if, in your legal technicalities, it shall be decided that you have been in the right, I should say that in a question of State policy there could be no better step taken. I think you may well reflect, whatever view you may have with respect to the course of Mr. O'Connell last year, or at former periods—you may well consider that this is a man who, by great exertions, has obtained for his fellow subjects the rights of the British Constitution, and is, therefore, looked to by them with a gratitude which as long as he lives, will never cease. You may consider that he is a man now sixty-nine years of age, approaching to the close of his political career, and that by declaring, though you wish to vindicate the law, when it has been decided in your favour, that you do not ask for anything in the nature of a vindictive punishment. By so doing, you will not show weakness—you will not, as I consider, desert even the policy which you yourselves have pursued, but you will be inducing among the people of Ireland a disposition to receive favourably the measures of legislation which you may be prepared to bring forward; because you have seen too often, both with those who are most favourable to the views of a majority of the Irish people, and naturally much more with those who adopt the views confined to a small minority of that people—a disposition to carp and to cavil at those measures which are really and sincerely intended for their benefit—from a distrust (and I think no extraordinary distrust) in 1969 the intentions of those who, in other respects, they think have been parties to the oppression of that country. If you wish, then, to have your measures received favourably, if you wish them to be measures which shall be not merely laws upon the Statute Book, but what is of far more importance, laws to secure the affections of the Irish people, I think that the opportunity for attaining these objects is not yet gone by. I think that you have such an occasion to do it—that it will not be lost to the Government, although by doing so they may lose the support of some persons whom they can hardly call at this moment their supporters—some who professed to support them when they came into power, in the hope that old abuses and old oppressions would be restored. Though I can well understand that their support might be needed, I will not think so meanly of the right hon. Gentleman—I will not declare so low an opinion of him—as to suppose, that for the sake of their support, he would do anything that he thought unjust, or omit to do anything that he thought just towards so great a portion of the inhabitants of our Empire. In speaking of this subject, I cannot refrain from alluding, however delicate the topic may be, to the state of our Foreign Relations. I hope that nothing I shall say upon the state of those Relations will tend in any way to deprive the Government of any of the means of negotiation which they have in their hands. I trust that they will exert firmness and moderation. I am not about to impute to them that they are wanting in either of those qualities; but this say, that the period is one which requires the utmost exercise of those qualities. We have heard from the right hon. Gentleman, with respect to the present prosecution of hostilities in Morocco, that he is disposed to maintain the policy of the late Government, who submitted to the conquests of France in Algiers, warning her that she should not proceed either in the direction of Tunis or Morocco. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he is fully aware of how much British interests are involved both in the welfare of an ally who has been at all times faithful to us, and in the independence of a country which is so near our own possessions. The right hon. Gentleman, with respect to another subject, which is likewise of great importance, though it affects but a small place, but 1970 certainly of great importance, because it touches national honour—the right hon. Gentleman has declared upon that subject that a gross outrage had been offered to a British subject, and that he expects the French Government to give that reparation which he thinks this country is entitled to require. Sir, I was fully satisfied with that declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, and, if I remind him, I wish to do it no terms of offence—but if I remind him that when Parliament next meets, I shall consider that upon both these subjects he has given a pledge to Parliament, and that we may expect to see this pledge fulfilled,—I think I am doing no more than my duty as a Member of Parliament. But, Sir, if this is the case, I think it must be allowed that at no period since the Peace, with the exception of the Autumn of the year 1830, after the Revolution of France, after the Revolution of Belgium, and the disturbances of Italy, and of the Autumn of 1840, after the Alliance of July of that year, and the operations in Syria—with the exception of those two periods I think there has been no time since the Peace of 1815 at which our Foreign Relations were calculated to inspire so much anxiety as at the present momont. Now Sir, I have already said I do not mention this subject for the purpose of throwing blame upon the Government or for the purpose of requiring from them any declarations beyond those which they have already made. I want not a word more of information, I want not a word more of apology upon the part of the official advisers of the Crown, I think I can say if those circumstances are calculated to inspire anxiety—if there has scarcely been a period at which the peace of the world was more in jeopardy, with the exception of the two occasions I have mentioned — so likewise it is a period when we ought to look to see that with respect to the circumstances of the State, with respect to the means which we ought to have at our disposal, this country should not be wanting, and that neither the Government nor the Parliament have failed in their duty in this respect; and I am not now speaking of the state of the Navy, though I retain the opinion which I expressed on a former day with respect to that subject, I am not speaking either of the state of the Navy, or of the state of our Military Forces. But even if you have the strongest Navy, if you have 1971 the best equipped and the bravest Army, there is another element of strength which, if you wish to be great, you should not overlook—and that element is internal union. We ought to have the people of the three kingdoms bound in affection towards the Crown, and towards the Constitution; that should be your constant and never-ceasing endeavour; and if we have omitted any means hitherto which should attain that desirable object, I think that no time should be lost in now reviving all the means by which you may strengthen that Union—by which you may augment that affection—and by which you may make this country—while she is an object of respect to all men whose opinion is worth having in every part of Europe—to be likewise an object of fear to all those ill-disposed parties who seek in war a vent for their ambition and their bad passions. There is another topic upon which I wish to say a few words, because I think it must force itself upon our attention in some shape or other before a very long period elapses—I mean the condition of the people of England. You cannot help, from day to day, and from time to time, observing the state of the people of this country—the inadequate means which the labouring people have to supply their families with the comforts of life, with the extreme labour which in the manufacturing districts is undergone, and with the discontent which, both in our agricultural counties and in our manufacturing districts, is at short intervals excited; and I think, if we take a general view of this subject, it is impossible not to see whether it be the fault of our Legislature or not, that the labouring classes have not advanced in comfort and welfare in proportion to the other orders of the community. If we compare the condition of this country with what it was a century ago, with what it was in 1740, for instance, it is impossible not to see that while the higher classes have advanced in luxury beyond measure—while the means available for the diffusion of comfort and the enjoyment of life have prodigiously increased—that while if we look again at the middle classes and their means of procuring comfort, of travelling from one place to another, the quickness with which intelligence is conveyed, and the increase in the consumption of foreign articles of luxury, that these classes have made a very great advance. If we look to the labouring classes—if we look to the 1972 men who either till the soil or labour in the factories—if we look to the quantity of necessaries which their wages would buy in the middle of the last century, and that which they can buy now—if we go into the details with which I shall not now trouble the House, but which have been exhibited in the reports of the Commissioners sent forth, some by the late Government, and some by the present—I think we must be convinced that they have not participated in an equal degree in the advantages which civilization and improved knowledge have conferred upon us. Neither, Sir, can I say that they have advanced in the means of education, or in the general communication of religious knowledge throughout all parts of this country. It is a subject so vast and so extensive, that it will require to be divided into many parts, and which will necessitate a comparison of all the various counties, in order to give anything like an adequate view of this great subject. But unless the Government next year shall be prepared with some measure of a comprehensive nature, by which I will not say that the condition of the people can at once be altered for the better, but by which many restrictions which are now imposed upon their well-being shall be removed; I shall think it my duty to ask the House either to consent to some measure which I shall propose, or to go into Committee of the whole House on the state of the country. Sir, I may say generally that I conceive there is no likelihood of improvement in that which I see is put forth by many as if it would be an improvement of the condition of the labouring classes, in either an alteration or a repeal of the existing Poor Laws. My own opinion is, that if you were to break down all the workhouses and give nothing but out-door relief, and give it in as much abundance as those who desire it would wish, that you would but be increasing the difficulty, you would but be increasing the number of poor, and augmenting the miseries of the labouring classes; and that, in fine, it is not to giving alms—it is not to State charity that we ought to look for the support of the people of England, but it is to enabling them to obtain by honest labour, that which some of themselves declare to be their object, and there can be more just object, a fair day's wages for a fair day's work. In considering the question, I think it will be necessary to revise the 1973 whole of the subject which the right hon. Gentleman brought before the House, I think in an imperfect manner, two years ago. I mean the subject of the Import Duties. I think the right hon. Gentleman has this year proposed a plan with respect to the Currency, which tends to bring us back to the principles which obtained before the commencement of the war of 1793. I think it is worth our while to see what were the duties upon the importation of articles of food and other general commodities of consumption at that period. I think, together with an improved and stable Currency, those great articles of consumption should be admitted with as small a duty as can well be laid upon them; and, in regard to what is due to the mitigation of burthens imposed upon the consumers of this country, I think we should likewise consider what is due to the agricultural interest of this country. I think you should consider, with respect to many subjects, whether that unequal taxation, which now presses upon us, cannot be remedied. I remember at the commencement of the Session that some expressions I used on this subject were misunderstood by some Members of the House, when I declared that I thought it would not be wise at once to abolish all laws restricting the importation of corn, without taking into consideration the increase of duties and taxes to which the producers of corn had been subjected since the commencement of the present century. I will mention but two of them. One, the very great increase in the county rates since the beginning of the war of 1793—another, the very large augmentation of the Malt Tax. It appears to me that now, when the Government have the leisure of the recess before them, they might very well consider whether some relief might not be given to the agricultural interest, and whether in giving that relief they might not frame measures more in accordance with those principles of trade which the present Government, as well as the late, uphold. There is another question on which there has been a discussion in this House in the course of last Session which has not been brought forward by my hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Liskeard, in the present Session—I mean the subject of emigration. I think that very great difficulties embarrass that subject, but at the same time I consider that 1974 with respect to certain localities—to certain districts emigration, promoted by the Government, and carried out in some instances by the companies already formed, and which have now lands in the Colonies—carried on in other instances in conjunction with the great proprietors of the country, will be one of the measures which will be of essential service to the labouring classes. Sir, I trust it is a subject which will not escape the attention of the Government. I do not think the present system is all that can be desired. I believe that much may still be done. I have thus mentioned some of the topics which, I think, in the present state of the country, will diminish the public distress. I have already stated, that I will not refer to the various measures brought forward during the present Session, and of which a great proportion have failed. But there is evidently one evil which, during the present Administration, as well as under the last, is prominent, and I think ought not to be omitted from our consideration, I mean the length of time which is consumed at the commencement of each Session without forwarding measures of legislation, and the very great rapidity with which those measures are passed towards its termination. If we are to attend to measures of legislation, surely some means can be devised by which those measures shall be brought under the attention of this House of Parliament as well as of the other during the earlier period of the Session. That there has been some alteration made I readily confess. Formerly it was the usage that this House got through a great number of Bills which were sent up to the House of Lords at the end of the Session, by which means the House of Lords were deprived of the opportunity of due deliberation. Now the evil is extended to both Houses; the House of Lords have many Bills sent to them, such as the Poor Law, to which they can hardly give attention, owing to the very thin attendance, but then, on the other hand, we have this evil, that many Bills come down to the House of Commons when there are scarcely forty Members present. Certainly, we are prevented by circumstances from attending in this House during the latter period of the Session, but I do not think it can be expected, that after four or five months of discussion and attendance in Parliament, the Members should remain here in order to go minutely through measures 1975 of legislation. I will say more. I do not think a very prolonged Session is at all advantageous to the country. I think there are many Members of Parliament whom I do not blame in the least for their non-attendance in this House—for I am sure their presence in the country, and the due conduct which they then observe in their attention to all questions which come before them as proprietors and as men having stakes in the country, is much more important than their attendance in this House. I think we should endeavour if possible to have measures brought before us in such a time that we should be enabled to have a general attendance to their purport. I have now concluded the observations I had to offer, I hope not in the spirit of party, or from any hostility to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. My views differ with theirs in respect to subjects of general policy; but there may be measures on which we may agree, and by our agreement in which the interests of the country may be promoted. I have thought it right to state some of these questions, and the manner in which I think they ought to be treated.
§ Sir R. Peel
Sir, the speech made by the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) was, in its general character, so entirely divested of anything partaking of party spirit, and the noble Lord imputed so little blame to the Government, that I am almost relieved from the necessity of making any observations in reply; but some remarks I feel it my duty to address to the House, and I shall endeavour to observe the same spirit by which the noble Lord's speech has been characterised. The noble Lord states that he is content to leave the questions connected with the foreign policy of this country in the hands of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord, therefore, does not call upon us for any renewed declarations; he does not seek to elicit from us any expression of opinion which might by possibility prejudice our endeavours to maintain peace, consistently with the honour and the interests of this country. In some of the observations made by the noble Lord I entirely concur. I think there is little public advantage in the extreme length to which the Sessions of Parliament are now carried. Our first business is, of course, to discharge those duties which devolve upon us as Members of Parliament; 1976 but still there are very few Members of this House who have not other important duties to perform connected with the general administration of the law throughout this country; and the neglect of those duties would be attended with considerable public inconvenience. Mr. Burke, in his work on the French Revolution, if I recollect rightly, strongly deprecates a proposal made at that time for devoting a considerable portion of the year to the discharge of legislative duties. He argued that great inconvenience would result from enjoining upon Members of legislative bodies constant attendance to their legislative duties, especially during that period of time which ought to be devoted to the discharge of other duties in their various localities—duties which, as Mr. Burke justly observes, qualify them for the business of legislation. We are now in the habit of sitting until the middle of August, and I think it is impossible to assert that the course we at present pursue tends to an economical distribution of our time. We make great progress in legislation towards the end of the Session, but a very small part of the early period of the Session is occupied in serious attention to the details of legislation. I am afraid it would be very difficult to apply any efficacious remedy. The early part of the Session is necessarily occupied in bringing forward grievances, or supposed grievances, which had accumulated during the recess; and so many interesting and exciting questions are then brought before the House, that the dull and dry details of legislation are not likely to obtain any serious attention. I fear it would be very difficult to adopt any efficient measures for remedying this evil of which the noble Lord has complained; but I do think, that by a prevalent feeling among the Members of this House, and by the concurrence of the great political parties of which it consists, we might apply such a remedy as would enable Parliament to separate at an earlier period than that at which its sittings have hitherto been brought to a close; and, what is of still greater importance, we might insure a better execution of our legislative duties—we might be enabled to give more careful attention to measures of great public importance, both with regard to their principle and their details. This I will say, that no parties can have a greater interest than Her Majesty's Government in shortening 1977 the duration of the Session of Parliament. It is almost utterly impossible for a Minister of the Crown to perform his duties satisfactorily, and to give his attendance in Parliament during six or seven months of the year for eight or nine hours a-day. The attendance of a Minister of the Crown in Parliament is unavoidable. If he should be absent, even in the discharge of important official duties, his absence is complained of. If he is not present here to answer any question that may be put to him, it is supposed that he is enjoying himself in ease and comfort, while the fact may be that important and official duties require his attention—duties, the neglect of which would entail upon him the greatest responsibility. But this I may say, that no persons can be more ready to join in a general understanding with reference to the mode of transacting business in this House, than those who fill the high offices of the State. I heard with regret the vague intimation given by the noble Lord, with regard to measures for improving the condition of the labouring classes. In the importance of that subject I fully concur. Indeed, I cannot conceive anything more important than that those to whose labour we are so much indebted—those who, in point of fact, constitute the stamina of this country, should be placed in a position of comfort and of happiness. I would listen with the most careful attention to any measures that may be proposed for ameliorating their condition; but I regret that the speech of the noble Lord has a tendency to encourage expectations which it will not be easy practically to fulfil. The noble Lord holds out the expectation that, by resolving ourselves into a Committee of the whole House, to consider the condition of these classes, we might be enabled so to legislate, as to insure to all industrious persons in this country at all times a fair day's wages for a fair day's work. The speech of the noble Lord has a tendency to excite such hopes; but I much doubt whether, during the next Session of Parliament, the noble Lord will be enabled practically to fulfil them. I fear that the noble Lord will find, that as population increases, in all countries there is a tendency towards the evil which he has pointed out, and which it would be very difficult for any legislation to avert. The noble Lord also encourages the agricultural interest to expect some reduction in the Malt Tax, and in 1978 the amount of county rates. It appears then, that the noble Lord admits that there are burdens upon land. I have myself frequently stated, that it was a matter much to be regretted that in consequence of the burdens upon agriculture, the protection could not be removed from articles which were the produce of agriculture, and the consumption of which was consequently diminished; and I therefore rejoice to hear this admission from the noble Lord. I am glad also that he considers that the county rates are a burden peculiarly on the agricultural interest, and that the noble Lord adheres to the principle on which the Corn Laws are founded—that there should be some protection to agriculture. [Lord J. Russell: I always stated that.] I am very glad to hear it; and very glad that the noble Lord has come down at the close of the Session to give an assurance to the agricultural interest, that he does not wish to deprive them of fair protection. I should be sorry to discourage any hopes which that class may be led to entertain from the speech of the noble Lord; but I cannot consent to purchase their good will by any promise with respect to the Malt Tax. I offered my most strenuous opposition formerly to the reduction of that tax; and I was supported by the majority of this House; and I must reserve to myself an entire and unfettered discretion of considering whether, if there is to be a remission of taxation, the Malt Tax shall be one of the taxes to be reduced. The noble Lord said, that he did not intend to take a review of the Session, or of the result of the endeavours of Her Majesty's Government to pass legislative measures. I am rather glad that the noble Lord did not take that course. The noble Lord thinks that upon general principles such a proceeding would be objectionable. But if the noble Lord had been inclined to review the progress of the Session, I could have enabled him to state—and if the noble Lord could have given me an opportunity of doing so, I would have enabled him to state, that there never was a Session in which more important and beneficial legislation has been effected than during the present Session of Parliament. It is true that two of the Bills brought forward by the Government had not passed into law. One of those measures was the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill; but we received private intimations from 1979 some of the opponents of that Bill, that though the measure was a tolerably good one—though it effected an improvement upon the present system—it would prevent some more extensive reform, and that they were, therefore, determined it should not pass into a law. That being the case, we had to determine whether we would make an attempt, which clearly would have been fruitless, to pass that Bill; and the opposition to that measure certainly prevailed. But with respect to general measures of legislation, I reaffirm that there never was a Session in which any Government has been more successful than Her Majesty's present Government in passing measures of deep and vital importance to the well-being of this country. I must at the same time admit, and I do it with perfect readiness, that with regard to many of those measures the Government have received most cordial support, uninfluenced by any party feeling from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Now, I will do what the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) would not do—I will take a review of the business of the Session, not in a hostile, but in a friendly spirit. I will very shortly review the progress which, greatly as it appears to me to the credit of the House of Commons, has been made in legislation. [Mr. Hawes: And the dates of the Bills?] And the dates of the Bills, says the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lambeth. No; I am not, at this short notice, quite prepared to go through the dates of the Bills; and I rather think, if I were, that it would be a dry and uninteresting discussion. The hon. Gentleman has lately moved for the Returns of these dates; and it will, no doubt, be an agreeable and useful occupation to him to go through them. I know no Gentleman who performs his duties in this House more sedulously; and I am rejoiced to find that he has laid the foundation, through the means of those Returns, of combining so successfully instruction, and amusement in his studies, during the recess. But to return to what I was about to say: in the first place a Poor Law Bill was introduced by my right hon. Friend, and was conducted throughout with the greatest temper, moderation, and ability, gaining from hon. Members, almost in spite of themselves, a cordial approbation of a measure to which they were at first decidedly opposed, and their opposition to which was abated only by 1980 the perfect knowledge of the subject which my right hon. Friend exhibited, the good temper in which he was disposed to discuss it, and the readiness with which he received and yielded to every useful suggestion. I may say, then, that a Poor Law Bill has been passed which even the hon. Gentleman opposed to it will admit to contain very important amendments of the previously existing law. A Bill has also passed under the auspices of my right hon. Friend regulating factory labour, and embodying many most important provisions. Then, with respect to financial matters, one of the greatest financial operations that ever took place in this country has been performed in the course of the present Session, by which the Three-and-a-Half per cents, have been reduced, and the foundation laid for the prospective and ultimate reduction of taxation to the amount of 1,240,000l. per annum now levied on the people of this country. That measure was brought to a successful issue in consequence of the high state of public credit. This is the just reward of public honesty. This is a legitimate reduction—this is the honourable economy which a country that is honest may adopt. If we had taken another course, and had refused to satisfy the claims of the public creditor, we might have saved in a dishonourable way 300,000l. or 400,000l.; whereas, by adopting that principle which is as applicable to states as to individuals, that honesty is the best policy, we have been enabled to make a considerable immediate reduction, and a very great prospective reduction, in the public expenditure, and at the same time to give general satisfaction to the public creditor. Let other nations profit by our example. I must at the same time say, that, in carrying through this measure, we received the general support of this House. I do not claim any exclusive credit for Her Majesty's Government. I am not making these observations in any party spirit. I am not speaking of it as a party measure. It was supported generally and cordially by the late Members of Her Majesty's Government. There were others who supported it, and who might have gained political objects, promoted party interests, and secured the aid and attachment of powerful parties, by obstructing the course of the Government and throwing obstacles in the way of the progress of this 1981 measure. It was fortunately excepted from the course of party politics, and I have therefore the happiness to reflect that a measure proposed by Her Majesty's Government, following out the principles of the Bill of 1819, did pass both Houses of Parliament with the cordial assent of the political opponents of the Government. A Bill has also passed with respect to the future regulation of joint-stock companies. I recollect sitting in a Committee on the subject of Joint Stock Banks, in June, 1837. We also sat in 1838 and 1839. It was a subject on which it was most difficult to legislate, and great opposition, it was said, might be expected from the Joint Stock Banks, but in the course of the present Session we have passed a Bill regulating the concerns of all existing banks, and embracing new regulations with regard to all future Joint Stock Banks. In the course of the present Session, however, we have regulated the currency of all existing banks, and have established new regulations with respect to all future Joint Stock Banks. In the course of this Session legislative measures for the registration and regulation of Joint Stock Companies have also passed into a law. During this Session, too, though at a late period of it, a most important Act—the Insolvent Debtors Act—has received the sanction of Parliament; and a final blow has been struck against imprisonment for debt in all cases where the debt contracted does not exceed 20l. We have also had to deal with other questions of great importance and difficulty, relating to religious subjects; but no less than three most important measures, touching upon, and connected with, religious differences, have been passed. The Government proposed a Bill for preventing endless and most expensive litigation with respect to Dissenters' chapels. We resolved to face the very formidable opposition which this measure encountered, and which I certainly thought at one time would have been successful, though this question affected the interests of our decided political opponents—parties who had little interest or influence to recommend them to our sympathies. We were actuated, indeed, in dealing with this subject solely by a desire to do justice to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects. That Bill, which will prevent most expensive, useless, and vexatious litigation, was passed into a 1982 law. We have also settled, during the present Session, a matter in dispute in the north of Ireland, which affected the interests of a most powerful, most respectable, and most valuable class of Her Majesty's subjects—the Presbyterians of that country. The question to which I allude arose with respect to the validity of their marriages. The Bill which we introduced on this subject was viewed, in the first instance, with considerable jealousy and distrust; but, I am happy to say, it has passed into a law, and I believe the Presbyterians are entirely contented with it. I may observe, to the honour of the Established Church, that they expressed their full concurrence in this enactment, which was calculated to afford satisfaction to their Presbyterian fellow-subjects. Lastly, we introduced a Bill for the purpose of placing the charitable trusts in Ireland upon an entirely new foundation. It will be remembered that, at present, the constitution of the board which has the superintendence of charitable trusts in Ireland is almost exclusively Protestant. We have altered the constitution of that board. We have provided that those commissioners who are to superintend and control Roman Catholic charities and bequests shall be exclusively members of that religious communion. I may add, that the same spirit which induced us to introduce that Bill will preside over the execution of its enactments, and I cannot doubt that the Roman Cntholics will find that that Bill, in its execution, as in its conception, is one calculated to accomplish our object—to facilitate the voluntary endowment of Roman Catholic Ministers and voluntary provision for the building of Roman Catholic chapels. These three important measures — the Charitable Bequests Bill, the Presbyterian Marriages Bill, and the Dissenters' Chapels Bill, have all been passed in the course of the present Session, on the proposition of the Government, and with the cheerful concurrence of the great body of the House. Other measures have also been passed, certainly of less importance, but the preparation of which was attended with considerable difficulty; and they add to the aggregate amount of our legislation. By one Act provision has been made with respect to all future Railways, for the comfort and convenience of passengers of the lower classes. Security has been taken, that 1983 with regard to all future Railways, (and we may anticipate that a large number of Railway Bills will be introduced in the next Session of Parliament), the public interests shall not be overlooked or disregarded. I myself proposed two Bills of very great local interest, relating to the Duchy of Cornwall. The object of those Bills is to settle a question which has given rise to litigation for years—giving tenants a more permanent interest in their holdings; and promoting, as I believe most materially, the interests of the duchy, by removing a long-standing cause of dispute between the Duke of Cornwall and the people. Another Bill of very considerable importance, and involving questions of great difficulty—the Metropolitan Improvements Bill, has also been passed; and the highest credit is due to the noble Lord the Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests (Lord Lincoln), for the care and attention he has bestowed on this subject. I think I have now said enough to show the accuracy of the statement with which I set out, namely, that a Session more remarkable than the present for the extension of useful and beneficial legislation is not upon record. If the noble Lord had been inclined to imitate the example of others, and to take a review of the Session, I am satisfied he would have been enabled to present a much more satisfactory account of the business of this Session than persons were able to give of any previous Session within the last ten years. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, and also the noble Lord, had made reference to recent proceedings in Ireland. I am not going to enter into any discussion on that subject. But the only part of the noble Lord's speech which partook of the character of an attack on Her Majesty's Government, was in reference to the recent law proceedings in Ireland. The noble Lord stated that we had given no notice of our intention to prohibit proceedings which we thought dangerous to the public peace, and that we then suddenly resorted to the law, and charged parties with being guilty of a conspiracy for acts which had extended over several months. With respect to the law upon the subject, it is quite sufficient for me to slate that the Court of Queen's Bench in Ireland was unanimous upon that point. Mr. Justice Perrin said, that although there might be a doubt upon technical points, yet he expressly declared that the evidence to 1984 prove a conspiracy was substantilly perfect and conclusive. With respect to the application of the law of conspiracy to the case, I believe the Court bf Queen's Bench was unanimous. Now, I could not follow the noble Lord, I could not enter into all the reasons which induced Her Majesty's Government to forbear from all interference with respect to the great meetings held in Ireland in the early part of last year on the subject of the Repeal of the Union. I could not enter into that subject without provoking a debate which would necessarily bring into discussion in this House the conduct of persons who were the subjects of those proceedings, but who are now suffering the sentence of the law. Whatever advantage, therefore, the noble Lord may derive from that part of the case, I will willingly relinquish, rather than, at the close of the Session, bring under the consideration of the House the conduct of Gentlemen who are absent. I did on a former occasion state that Her Majesty's Government had on two several occasions determined to issue a proclamation for the suppression of particular meetings, with respect to which they had reason to believe that there would be a disturbance of the public peace, and the necessity of which proclamations was only obviated by the abandonment of the intention of the parties to hold such meetings. But it is entirely without foundation that Her Majesty's Government forbore interfering for the purpose of entrapping parties into the violation of the law, and then of having the opportunity of bringing a connected series of evidence of their misconduct as proof of a conspiracy. With respect to those other considerations which were entered into by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in reference to the prerogative of the Crown, I consider it my duty to maintain an entire silence. I shall content myself with saying, that I should consider it almost unworthy of me were I even to disclaim any of that feeling of personal vindictiveness with which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sheil) supposed it possible I could be imbued. I must also distinctly declare that I cannot admit that there is any wrong which we are called upon to repair. I must distinctly deny that the trial of Mr. O'Connell was other than a fair trial; but as I said before, considering the circumstances under which that Gentleman is placed, considering his absence, considering that he is 1985 fulfilling the sentence of the law, I will not provoke any discussion with respect to Irish proceedings, which might make it necessary for me, in vindication of the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, to refer to the acts done, and declarations utterred by that Gentleman. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that he presumed, that the sole cause of the adjournment, instead of the prorogation of Parliament, was the position of affairs in Ireland. I cannot say that that is the sole cause. There are other circumstances which would make the prorogation of Parliament at the present moment inexpedient. I need not refer more particularly to those circumstances. But this I will not hesitate to say, that seeing that the Judges could not pronounce a judgment upon the matter referred to them, on the writ of error, until the latter end of August—seeing that they were necessarily absent on the circuit, and seeing that it is possible that the decision to be pronounced by the highest tribunal—the Court of Appeal—might be in favour of those who are now suffering the sentence of the law, I certainly should have lamented that a course had been taken by Her Majesty's Government that would have deprived those parties of the benefit of any such decision in their favour. If there had been no further reason, I should not have hesitated to advise an adjournment rather than a prorogation, in order that the chance might be given to the parties of a favourable decision. Although, therefore, an adjournment instead of a prorogation has not been solely caused by the Irish trials, still I do not deny that that would have been a sufficient cause for an adjournment. The noble Lord says, that Her Majesty's Government has as yet done nothing for Ireland. Is this the fact? First, I will speak of that subject which, in the course of the last Session, was felt to be a matter of the greatest importance as affecting the interests of Ireland, I mean the relation between landlord and tenant. The circumstances of the country were such as induced the Government to prefer making a full and comprehensive inquiry, rather than proceed to any precipitate legislation upon such a subject. The hon. Member for Bolton brought forward a Bill touching the relations of landlord and tenant on certain points, and no doubt the Government might have relieved themselves from 1986 further responsibility by adopting that Bill, but they considered it not to be the proper course they ought to take. The Government appointed a Commission of Inquiry, composed of men who were entitled to the confidence of the country, for the purpose of making a full and effectual inquiry with respect to the local usages, peculiarities and systems introduced into the different parts of the country. I think that was a much wiser course than if the Government had immediately proceeded to legislate on imperfect information. Although, therefore, Her Majesty's Government have not yet introduced any measure on the subject they have adopted means to lay before Parliament full information on the nature of the relation between landlord and tenant, with the means of determining what should be the legislative remedy to be applied. I think I have sufficiently shown that the measures of Her Majesty's Government in regard to Ireland have not been at all influenced by recent events, nor has the spirit of their legislation been in any degree affected by them. With respect to the Charitable Bequests Bill, I have already stated the great benefits that must accrue; and I have also stated, and will now repeat, that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, during the recess, to take into consideration the question of academical education, for the purpose of ascertaining what, is the best mode of supplying that deficiency, which we admit to exist in respect to lay academical education in Ireland. The condition of Maynooth will not escape the attention of the Government, nor the necessity of establishing an ecclesiastical college that shall be a satisfactory one. The Government will apply themselves to consider that question, in the hope of remedying some of the defects, and of removing some of the objections which apply at present to that college. I think, therefore, that that which Her Majesty's Government have already done, and that which they state it to be their intention to do during the recess in regard to Ireland is sufficiently indicative of the spirit in which they are disposed to act towards that part of the United Kingdom. We have always stated, although the measure we introduced upon the subject did not receive the sanction of the House, that with respect to the franchise, we thought that, as a general rule Great Britain and 1987 Ireland should, as far as possible be placed upon the same footing, and upon an equality as to civil and political liberties. The Municipal Bill proposed by the Government did carry out that principle. It did propose to place the municipal franchise in Ireland precisely on the same footing as the franchise is placed in this country. But it would be very unwise for me now to enter into any discussion upon this point. I only state what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government; but I do not wish to be unnecessarily and unwisely led into any discussion upon these points. The present discussion was commenced, and I trust it has been continued and conducted by me in a spirit remote from all party asperity. I trust I have not said anything to provoke a reply from others which shall savour of bitterness or party rancour. I must say that no man laments more than I do the existence of those jealousies in Ireland and of those unfortunate dissensions that have prevailed, tending, as no doubt they do, to weaken the strength of this country. But although these things have prevailed, I am not the less confident that in case—but I trust there will be no necessity of such an appeal—but in case the honour or interest of this country should require that such an appeal should be made. I have not a doubt that the people of Ireland would, with the people of Great Britain, cordially and zealously support their Sovereign in the maintenance of her Throne and the honour and interests of her Empire. The noble Lord did not draw any contrast between the condition of the country, in which it is at present placed, and with its condition at former periods. But I cannot help thinking that those who will carefully consider the general condition of the country at this day, on which Parliament is about to separate, with the condition of the country in 1841; if they will consider what had then occurred in England, if they will consider what was the condition of this country in respect to the revenue at that period, what was its condition with respect to its trade, what with respect to its industry, I think they must come to the conclusion that the contrast is favourable, both in respect to the strength of the country, and the happiness of the great mass of the people. But it is not my wish to drive the noble Lord into making this contrast, and as he has not made it, I will not claim undue credit for 1988 Her Majesty's present Ministers. I will only state that which I believe to be true, that in respect to revenue, in respect to trade, in respect to employment, and in respect to the general comfort of the people, we may entertain a cordial satisfaction, that there has been a material improvement in all these matters, without there being any doubt of advancement in the general prosperity of the Empire.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that it was all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to congratulate the House on the present state of the country as compared with its condition three years ago; but could any man conscientiously say, when looking at the actual condition of the miners and the manufacturing classes, that he participated in the satisfaction expressed by the right hon. Baronet? The question was, could Parliament better the condition of the working classes? He considered that it was in their power to give great relief by equalizing the taxes which at present pressed most unequally on the people. There was one expression which fell from the right hon. Baronet that he could not allow to pass unnoticed. The right hon. Gentleman had said that Mr. O'Connell had had a fair trial. He believed the reverse—and he believed that the right hon. Baronet's assertion was not only contrary to the opinion entertained by this country, but by the whole civilized world. There was an almost universal conviction that Mr. O'Connell had not had a fair trial. That was a conviction deeply rooted in the general mind—especially on the subject of the Jury—the great tribunal where justice alone could be obtained. It was impossible to say that Mr. O'Connell had had a fair trial. In respect to the policy of Her Majesty's Government, within the last few weeks, with regard to Ireland, he believed it was characterised by the spirit of conciliation, and contrasted favourably with the spirit evinced at the commencement of the Session. If the right hon. Gentleman would persevere in that spirit, he would soon find a response from the people of Ireland. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the several excellent measures he had introduced during the latter period of the Session, more especially the Dissenters Chapels Bill. Let the spirit which dictated that measure prevail in the Cabinet, and the right hon. Gentleman might reckon upon the cordial support of the country.
§ Mr. B. Cochrane
said, that there was a single omission in the speech of the right hon. Baronet. He had not held out a hope that it was his intention to introduce any further alterations in the Poor Law. The House must fully concur in the eulogy which the right hon. Baronet had passed upon the ability and temper with which the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department had brought forward the question of the Poor Laws. It formed a striking contrast to the conduct pursued by certain hon. Gentlemen on the question who usually supported the Government and sat behind the Treasury Bench. He had some thoughts of bringing forward in the next Session of Parliament a measure for regulating the wages of labour. He would have done so this Session if there had been time to pass it. Nothing had been done for the establishment of the system of allotment to the poor. In those parishes where that system was in operation much distress had been alleviated. In Scotland, where this allotment system was in operation, and where they had no Poor Laws, the distress was not so great as in this country. Were the House disposed to entertain the question, he had it in his power to bring forward fresh cases which would fully demonstrate the harshness of the present Poor Law.
said, that if the hon. Member was sincere in his wish to better the condition of the poor, and thought that increasing their employment was the way to effect it, he wondered at his complaint of the speech of the right hon. Baronet; for if he rightly apprehended the part of that speech that referred to this matter, it was that of congratulation at the improvement which had taken place. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to the improvement of the Revenue, the prosperity of trade, and the better employment of the poor which had resulted from his policy. As that policy consisted in relaxing the restrictions on trade, lowering the protective duties, and thereby increasing the demand for labour, he roust express his surprise that the hon. Member for Bridport, was always found in opposition to that policy. The right hon. Baronet was right in saying that trade had improved, and that the poor were better off, and as the hon. Gentleman's remedy abolishing the New Poor Law had not effected it, he would do well to inquire whether it had 1990 not resulted from the causes of pauperism being somewhat mitigated, and he would recommend to the hon. Gentleman the more worthy object for his consideration of learning the means by which pauperism could be prevented, and not confine his whole attention to providing for it as it occurred. He would recommend the hon. Member to employ the recess in considering what was the effect of restricting trade, checking the employment of capital and narrowing the sources for consumption upon the condition of that class which was the professed object of his solicitude; and if the hon. Member applied his mind honestly to that consideration, he should expect next Session that the hon. Member would not be found in constant hostility to every measure that had in view to extend trade and augment the resources of the nation. Let him advise the hon. Member to give a little time to this subject, and he doubted not but the hon. Member would take some higher view of the want and condition of the working-class than that of beggars and paupers. He had not risen, however, to enter upon a discussion of these topics, or refer generally to those matters which had been touched upon by the leaders of the two great parties, and on which they appeared to differ, but only to refer to that point on which they seemed to agree, but on which he did so entirely differ, that he never would hear what had fallen from them without rising to express his utter and unqualified dissent. He referred to the assertion that had been made that night, that agriculture bore any peculiar burthens, and afforded thereby an excuse for monopoly. He did not hesitate to say, that this was not borne out by the fact; he gave it an unqualified denial, and in the most confident way in which he could. He defied those who asserted it to prove it. Inquiry into this point had time after time been demanded by this House, and had been refused; and it literally stood before the country now as a bare assertion, unsupported by evidence, for which proof was refused, and used only as a pretext for the continuance of a Corn Law, He repeated, as he had done so often before, that there was not one single charge that could be termed peculiar or exclusive on the land. Whatever local taxes were imposed were borne by property other than land in its due proportion; in some parishes, and in some counties 1991 the property other than land bore a much larger share than the land itself. His noble Friend had alluded to those that he thought were the most severe, and they were the county-rate and the malt-tax, and these had been assented to by the right hon. Baronet. Now he really wondered how they could keep their countenance in urging such an argument. The county-rate an excuse for the Corn Laws!—look at its amount, in the first place, compared with what the Corn Laws cost—look at the property liable to it in the next, some owners of which suffered as much from the Corn Law as any other individual; and look again to the fact that within a very few years a very considerable portion of that which used to exist before the Corn Laws were passed has since been placed on the Consolidated Fund. Can this be gravely believed to be an excuse for limiting the supply of food to the whole community? Then, again, the malt-tax, which is a tax on the beer of the community, and which, if it injures the agriculturist at all is, of course, by first injuring the consumer, by limiting his power of consumption. And after this injury being inflicted upon him, he is to be told that on this account he is to be visited by another tax on his bread; and because by his poverty he cannot consume beer enough to suit the landlord, therefore he is to be taxed in his bread for the benefit of this seller of corn. That, certainly, is not very just and rational, and yet these are the grounds for continuing the Corn Law. [Mr. Cochrane: The poor-rate.] The poor-rate! Why, really, he thought that this notion had been abandoned, by its not having been repeated with the others that night, and because it was too silly to talk of. What! make food scarce, make employment difficult, reduce the working man to pauperism, and then complain of the cost of relieving him, and call this self-inflicted burthen a peculiar charge for which you are to have indemnity. Very just, very consistent indeed. No, these things could hardly be said earnestly; they will certainly not be treated so out of doors. He was glad however, that they were mentioned at the close of the Session, when so many persons were giving thought to the subject, for they would doubtless be well sifted and considered during the recess, and they should be fully prepared for discussion next Session. He was 1992 obliged to the noble Lord for having raised the question upon this occasion. He thanked him for saying that he was dissatisfied with the present system, and that he would always, if others were not, be forward to disturb it. He was sure that when the noble Lord, with all the authority of his character and station, at the head of a powerful party in the country, declared that he considered that the present Corn Law was a vast evil, and could not too soon be changed that nobody out of this House would consider the question settled, or that the little change that had been made two years ago could be said to approach a final settlement. It was important that this should have been said at this time. He knew that there was a fancy on the opposite side that the present law was to have a trial, and was considered satisfactory for the time. The noble Lord had dispelled that illusion by his speech that night, and it would go forth in season to the country, for he knew that the farmers were generally dissatisfied with the present law—they saw nothing stable in it—they saw it already fail in its promise to the producer,—they had regarded it as a mode of maintaining a certain price for their produce, and they had agreed for the land with that view, and already they had been deceived. It was at this moment giving them 6s. less per quarter for their wheat than they were taught to expect from it, and it was precisely of this that they complained—they were constantly being meddled with, and deceived. Now, what the fanners want is, that there should be a final settlement and an adjustment accordingly with those that they have to contract with for the land. The farmers want stability; they want you to give up legislating for agriculture; to do, in fact, what you promise, or do nothing; and the farmer never will be well off, he never can do justice to his labourer, if he is to be giving rent for his land under a delusion, which leaves him a victim, and renders him spiritless and timid in the conduct of his business. He knew that rent was an affair between landlord and tenant, and that this House had properly nothing to do with it; but it was forced upon their attention when landlords came to this House for a law to keep up the price of produce, and which had not the effect of making that produce plentiful; but only resulted in making rent high. They were compelled in consequence to examine 1993 into the state of the farmer, and the influence which this law had upon him, and their condition at this moment was that of loss, and suffering, and discontent. [Colonel Sibthorp: No.] The hon. Member for Lincoln says the farmers are not dissatisfied with the present state of things; he would tell the hon. Member in the face of the House and the country, that the farmers were generally ill off—that they were not satisfied—that they want things settled—that they want to see an adjustment of rent to prices—that they see nothing but the prospect of prices falling, and rents being maintained; and that this is a prospect of ruin and distress to them. He said further, that there was no hope for any improvement in this state of things while the Corn Law lasted, and could not be placed on any just or national ground. The law could not be tolerated in this free and densely peopled country under its present circumstances, and the farmers could not be well off till it was settled. Settlement of the question was worth any price to the agriculturist, and that could only be done in one way. He, however, would again thank the noble Lord for the assurance be had given to this country to-night that the present arrangement should not, as far as he could prevent it, be final, and the more that was impressed upon the parties interested, the sooner they would prepare their minds for that total abolition of this law which was alike required by policy and justice.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
maintained that more had been done this year for the benefit of the country than in ten years of previous legislation under the late Ministry. He denied that the farmers were discontented. They had a most gratifying harvest, and, moreover, they witnessed the regular decline and fall of the Anti-Corn Law League. Though in some little points the fanners complained, he had no hesitation in saying that both farmers and labourers were in an infinitely better condition than they were formerly, during the constant agitation of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton and the Anti-Corn Law League. He trusted that body was nearly crushed. He knew they were very low in that which they most sought after—funds—and though he did not usually rejoice at the misfortunes of his fellow creatures, yet he could not help rejoicing to hear that they had not a shilling left in their locker. 1994 The whole country was deeply indebted to the Ministers for their attention, assiduity, talent, and, what he valued above all in any Ministry, their honesty.
§ Lord Ebrington
thought the praise of the measures of Ministers did not come very well from the hon. and gallant Member, considering that he had himself opposed several of the most important—such as the Dissenters Chapels Bill, the Poor Law Bill, and the Factory Bill.
§ The question of adjournment agreed to.