HC Deb 17 August 1846 vol 88 cc753-5

Sir, in rising to move the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Public Works (Ireland) Bill, I wish to observe that there is another Bill before the House which has excited considerable attention, and in reference to which several hon. Gentlemen have given notices of Motion. I think it would be convenient to the House, therefore, that I should state the intention of Her Majesty's Government with reference to that Bill. The Bill I allude to is the Arms (Ireland) Bill, the second on the list of Orders of the Day. That Bill was introduced by my right hon. Friend near me, the Secretary for Ireland, upon the ground that Her Majesty's Ministers having but lately come into office, and having many other subjects pressing upon them at this time, it was desirable to obtain the renewal of the Arms Act until the next spring; in order that Her Majesty's Government might consider the whole of its provisions, to see whether any of those provisions were necessary, whether the system should be altogether abandoned, or whether any other provision should be introduced in its place. It appears to me that that was a reasonable proposition, considering that the system of having restrictions on the possession of arms in Ireland has lasted, not only for fifty years, to which I referred the other day in debate, but that in fact it has been in practice ever since the period of the Revolution of 1688. But when that proposition was made to the House, it appeared to many hon. Gentlemen that no such Bill ought to be renewed, without going into its various provisions, and considering whether or not they were such as should be continued. Many hon. Friends of mine, I found, were of that opinion; and I stated to the House, in the discussion upon the Bill, that I was willing to consider those provisions which I stated, when the Bill was last under discussion, were the most objectionable; and to withdraw those provisions from the Bill thus to be continued and reenacted. But in examining the provisions of this Bill, when we had taken out that clause which relates to the "branding" of arms; and when we had taken out also the clause which relates to visits to houses in search of arms, other questions unavoidably occurred to the Government with regard to the provisions of the Bill. We found that it was impossible to consider certain provisions of the Bill, to see if these were objectionable, and not be obliged either to defend the other provisions of the Bill upon their merits, or to give them up altogether. Now, Sir, we could not contend that the Bill should be taken as a whole without looking into it, and considering its various provisions. But on looking into it in the way I have stated, we agreed that the registration clauses, being deprived of those more stringent provisions which were introduced to make those clauses more effectual, would be not tyrannical nor coercive, but useless and unnecessary, and calculated to interrupt the peace of the country. My noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who is as well acquainted as any man with the usual course of proceeding in Ireland, and the various counties of Ireland, was of opinion that it was far hotter to dispense with the Bill, altogether, than to have it thus curtailed of some of its principal provisions. He declared to us that he was perfectly ready to undertake the government of Ireland without the continuance of these provisions. Now, Sir, such being the case, I will not say that I feel no apprehension as to the result of dispensing with this system of legislation which has lasted so long. I would much rather have had a longer time to consider it; and especially to consider whether those clauses which relate to the importation of arms had not better be continued, or amended at least, as parts of our legislation respecting Ireland; but as matters at present stand, having this alternative before me, either to dispense altogether with the provisions of the Bill, and allow it to expire, or on the other hand, to defend clause by clause the provisions of the Bill, which provisions I think unnecessary and useless, I think the former part of the alternative appears to be the preferable. Therefore, on further consideration, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Ministers to drop the Bill. Sir, in so saying, I must observe that I have had reference to what has recently come to our knowledge with respect to the state of Ireland. I find that as regards the trials on the circuits in Ireland, there has been no impediment to the administration of justice, and that the juries generally have done their duty; and likewise as regards another circumstance—I speak in reference to the reports of the constabulary—I find that during the last month the reports of grave offences by them are greatly decreased, and that the returns upon that point are extremely satisfactory. This gives me encouragement to hope that, when we part altogether with these restrictions, the future state of the country will justify us for having altogether dispensed with them. But at the same time I should say, as strongly as possible, that Her Majesty's Ministers can only consider their responsibility for the safety of life and property in Ireland as increased; that whatever measures may be necessary, either for the strict maintenance of the existing laws, or the enforcement of all the provisions of those laws for the maintenance of peace and security in Ireland, or, if it should unfortunately be necessary to demand extraordinary powers in order to preserve life and property in Ireland, Her Majesty's Government will not shrink from the duties which may be incumbent upon them; and that, believing and hoping it will be possible not to resort to extraordinary measures which will restrain the liberty of the subject, they still are determined at all events that security to life and property in Ireland shall not be diminished. Sir, I conclude by moving the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Public Works (Ireland) Bill.