HC Deb 01 July 1844 vol 76 cc152-4

House in Committee on the Unlawful Oaths (Ireland) Bill. On the question that the blank in the first Clause be filled up with the words "one year,"

Mr. More O'Ferrall

objected to the words in the Clause, permitting the discovery of any copy of any unlawful password or oath of an unlawful society upon a person to be primâ facie evidence against him.

Lord Eliot

thought the Clause necessary, although he admitted that the measure was one the enforcement of which it was necessary to watch with extreme caution. The Bill only proposed to renew the existing law for a year.

Mr. Morgan J. O'Connell

expressed his fears that secret informers would work out their ends by means of this Bill. They would, as they had already done, put papers containing illegal passwords into the hands of innocent men, and thus attempt to convict them of crimes of which they were innocent.

Mr. T. B. C. Smith

said, that, with reference to the case which had been alluded to, he had directed the policeman implicated to be prosecuted. As to the Act in question, he admitted that its operation was stringent; but with respect to secret societies, it was impossible to keep them in check without the agency of informers, however much they might deprecate their employment. On the whole, it did not appear to him that it would be wrong to renew the Bill for one year. If the Clause were struck out, there would be great difficulty in carrying on the prosecution against secret illegal societies.

Sir James Graham

remarked, that they all seemed agreed upon the necessity of putting down unlawful societies, an object which in Ireland must always be one of paramount national importance. This object was brought under the consideration of the late Government. They assiduously applied themselves to the suppression of illegal oaths and associations; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clonmel, the Irish legal adviser of that administration, originally introduced the present measure. He was quite satisfied that the Clause under discussion was in fact the essence of the measure, and that if it was not passed, all the rest of the Bill would be useless. What did the Clause propose to do? It threw the onus of proof, under certain safeguards, upon the party accused. This was certainly liable to abuse, and he admitted that the executive, in administering this Act of Parliament, must proceed with the utmost caution and suspicion with respect to any accusations made under it. But having made these admissions, he did not see how they could prosecute for the crime of being a member of an illegal society, unless the possession of a secret pass-word should be primâ facie evidence against the accused—saving always the necessity on the part of the accuser of proving a guilty knowledge. Now, to this extent the onus lay on the accuser. The possession was primâ facie evidence. That again was counterbalanced by the necessity of proving that the possession arose from knowledge, not from accident. He had deeply deliberated upon the subject. His prepossessions were strong against the enactment, and if unlawful societies did not exist, and in great numbers, in Ireland, he would be inclined to let the measure drop. Such societies, however, did exist. He intreated the House, then, not hastily to reject the measure. If it were proposed to make it of long duration, he should not be disposed to treat it as he now thought that, under present circumstances, it should be received. The proposal now before the House was, that the Bill should only continue until the 31st of August of next year. As the object then proposed to be attained by the measure was common to both sides of the House, and as it would be defeated were any material alteration to be made to the Clause under discussion, he hoped the Committee would come to an unanimous decision in its favour.

Mr. M. O'Ferrall

If it were not that the fact was notorious that those passes were attached to the persons of men without their knowledge, he should, if he were on a jury, have great difficulty in saying that a man was innocent upon whose person they were found. He believed the necessity for such a Bill was now less than ever, for when the public mind was strongly excited by great national questions, those secret societies ceased. He moved that the Chairman do leave the Chair.

Mr. Sheil

Having such a document on a man's person was by this Bill made a crime; whereas it should only be taken as evidence that he belonged to an illegal society. The practices alluded to, as adopted by some policemen in Ireland, was nothing new; it was as old as Benjamin's cup. He admitted that those illegal societies were the curse of the country, whether they belonged to one party or the other; but that was no reason for confounding the plainest principles of jurisprudence.

Colonel Rawdon

could not consent to place any further responsibility in the hands of the Attorney General for Ireland after the way in which he had acted with regard to the juries.

The Committee was about to divide, when

Sir R. Peel

hoped the Committee would bear in mind that the effect of carrying this Motion would be to lose the Bill altogether. There was nothing to prevent hon. Gentlemen opposite moving that this clause be expunged at a subsequent stage, though to such a proposal the Government could not consent. He asked for no new powers in the present state of Ireland. His predecessors asked for those powers for five years, whereas he (Sir R. Peel) asked for them but for one.

The Committee divided on the question that the Chairman do leave the Chair—Ayes 40; Noes 58: Majority 18.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A Archbold, R.
Barnard, E. G. O'Connell, M. J.
Barron, Sir H. W. O'Conor, Don.
Bellew, R. M. Ogle, S. C. H.
Brotherton, J. Plumridge, Capt.
Busfeild, W. Power, J.
Curteis, H. B. Rawdon, Col.
Dennistoun, J. Sheil, rt. hn. Sir R. L.
Duncan, G. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Dundas, F. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Esmonde, Sir T. Stewart, P. M.
Fielden, J. Stuart, W. V.
Forster, M. Strickland, Sir G.
French, F. Tancred, H. W.
Gore, hon. R. Thornely, T.
Greenaway, C. Wallace, R.
Hawes, B. Wawn, J. T.
Humphery, Ald. Wyse, T.
McTaggart, Sir J.
Morris, D. TELLERS.
Morison, Gen. O'Ferrall, R. M.
O'Brien, J. Norreys, Sir D. J.
List of the NOES.
Ackers, J. Hope, hon. C.
Acland, T. D. Hope, G. W.
Baird, W. Jermyn, Earl
Baring, hon. W. B. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.
Bentinck, Lord G. Lefroy, A.
Blackstone, W. S. Lincoln, Earl of
Boldero, H. G. McGeachy, F. A.
Bowles, Adm. M'Neill, D.
Bruce, Lord E. Meynell, Capt,
Buller, Sir J. Y. Milnes, R. M.
Burroughes, H. N. Neville, R.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. Palmer, G.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.
Darby, G. Price, R.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Pringle, A.
Drummond, H. H. Rushbrooke, Col.
Eliot, Lord Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Escott, B. Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Smollett, A.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Somerset, Lord G.
Gladstone, Capt. Stanley, Lord
Gordon, hon. Capt. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Vesey, hon. T.
Grogan, E. Vivian, J. E.
Hamilton, Lord C. Wortley, H. Jas. S.
Harcourt, G. G. Wortley, H. Jno. S.
Hayes, Sir E. Yorke, H. R.
Henniker, Lord
Hepburn, Sir T. B. TELLERS.
Herbert, hon. S. Young, J.
Hodgson, R. Lennox, Lord A.

Bill passed through Committee.