HC Deb 24 June 1853 vol 128 cc731-3

moved that the House, at its rising, do adjourn until Monday next.


said, that he had given notice that on this Motion he would call the attention of the House and Her Majesty's Ministers to the state in which the law in Ireland with reference to the possession of arms would he placed by the expiration of the Act popularly known as the Crime and Outrage Act. In putting to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland the question of which he had given notice, he would ask the attention of the House for a few minutes to the state of things to which that question referred. Last year, the House might recollect, they had renewed the Crime and Outrage Act for one year. It would expire on the 30th of August. He (Mr. Butt) did not wish, if it could be avoided, to renew the provisions of that Act. But upon its expiration there would be no law in force restricting either the importation of arms into Ireland, the sale of them in the country, or the acquisition of them by the people. Now, this would be the first time for 150 years, with one disastrous exception, in which there had been such a state of things. For 150 years they had constantly had laws, more or less severe, restricting the possession of arms in Ireland. In 1846, the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell) was placed at the head of the Government. Coming into office very late in the Session, he introduced, on the 10th of August, a temporary renewal of the Arms Act, justifying the proposal by the fact that Ireland had never been without such regulations for a century and a half. The opposition made to the proposal by his own supporters was so strong, that on the 17th he abandoned it. The noble Lord, in giving up the Bill, said that he did so with great hesitation—that he felt he was taking a very great responsibility. Then let the House see the result of the experiment. It was undertaken under the most favourable circumstances. The noble Lord said in 1846 that Ireland was then in a state of unexampled tranquillity; that the previous assizes had presented almost a total cessation of crime. Nay, more—Lord Bessborough, then Lord Lieutenant—a nobleman whose name he (Mr. Butt) would never mention without respect, and who had governed Ireland as ably and impartially as any Lord Lieutenant of any party ever did—that nobleman had said that he was willing to undertake the responsibility of governing Ireland without an Arms Act. But what was the result? A perfect mania seized on the people to possess themselves of arms; auctions of muskets were held in every district. The winter of 1847 was disgraced by outrages of the deepest dye. No sooner had Parliament met in that winter than the noble Lord was compelled to propose a Coercion Act infinitely more severe in its character than the Arms Act he had abandoned. The noble Lord in 1850 again proposed the continuance of that Act, and on that occasion, with the candour and manliness that invariably distinguished him, owned his error. He said, that he had felt a heavy weight in the responsibility he had taken on himself in 1846, and that the result of the experiment was such as to make it impossible to risk the consequences of dispensing with those powers. That Act had been again renewed in the last Session; but it would expire on the 30th of August, and, unless there was some legislation in the interim, Ireland would be left exactly in the position which had produced such sad results in 1846. These were the facts to which he had felt it his duty to call the attention of Ministers and of the House. He did so with not the slightest wish to embarrass the Government. He had waited until that period of the Session at which it became indispensable that something should be determined. If Ministers, acting on that official information with which the knowledge of no private Member could be put in competition—if Ministers were prepared deliberately to say that the circumstances of Ireland had so changed that they would venture to repeat the experiment of 1846—then he (Mr. Butt) could only say that, whatever misgivings he might have, he still would receive with satisfaction such an assurance of the view taken by Ministers of the tranquillity of Ireland, and give them credit for acting on a sincere wish to promote the peace of that country; but he had felt it his duty to bring the matter before the House, that if Ireland was to be left in that position, it might be done deliberately, and not in any inadvertence. He begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, whethey the attention of the Government had been called to the state in which the law as to arms in Ireland would be placed by the expiration of the Act of last Session on the 30th of August; and, if so, whether they intended to propose any measure upon the subject?


said, the matter to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had called the attention of the House, was one, no doubt, of very considerable importance, and might well be supposed to have occupied, and to occupy, the attention of Government. All he could say on that occasion was, that due notice would be given to the House of the course the Government might think fit to pursue.


said, he should give notice that on the first Committee of Supply, he should move a Resolution that it was the duty of the Parliament to turn their attention to the state of the law relating to the possession of arms in Ireland.