HC Deb 17 August 1860 vol 160 cc1486-9

said, that though he was ready to express his satisfaction generally with the statement which had been made on the part of the Government with respect to the erection of fortifications, he deemed their conduct not a little inconsistent, inasmuch as while they asked the House to vote large sums for that purpose, the reduction of extremely well-organized regiments of Militia—no bad means of defence—was in progress of being carried into effect under their auspices. That was a policy, the expediency and prudence of which he very much doubted, because it led in the first place to the loss of excellent soldiers, and was, moreover, calculated to create no small degree of discontent among the Militia throughout the kingdom. The subject, however, to which he had risen more especially to address himself was the objection which appeared to exist on the part of the Government to the extension of the Volunteer system to Ireland. The expediency of that extension was a point with regard to which several propositions had in the course of the Session been made, but upon those occasions right hon. and hon. Gentlemen had got up in their places, and with a shake of the head had talked of the existence in Ireland of a spirit of hostility between the members of two distinct religious persuasions, and of the danger of intrusting arms into the hands of people who might make use of them for the first time in their own internal quarrels. Now, the apprehensions upon that score which some hon. Gentlemen appeared to entertain he could not help regarding as greatly exaggerated; nor could he be brought to believe that because two or three heads had on sonic recent occasion been broken in some village in the North of Ireland, where sectarian bitterness existed to a greater extent than in other parts of the country, that circumstance, even though it were to he repeated a dozen times in the year, furnished a sufficient reason for withholding from the Irish people that confidence which was extended to the inhabitants of England and Scotland. He could easily understand that gentlemen in Ireland, connected as they were with a local Government, might say, "For God's sake leave us as we are," but be could not understand how the noble Lord at the head of the Government and the right hon. Secretary for War could listen to such paltry objections. It was, he might add, contrary to all sound statesmanship to make such a distinction between the several portions of the realm, more particularly at a moment when Ireland was in a most progressive and improving condition, and when it was stated, on the authority of its Chief Secretary, that education was there making more rapid advances than in almost any part of Europe. The true way, he contended, to obtain the confidence of a nation was to repose confidence in its people—a policy on which Lord Chatham had acted after the rebellion of 1745, when he overcame the difficulty which had arisen out of the attachment of the inhabitants of the north of Scotland to the Stuart family, by raising some Highland regiments. It was, indeed, said that meetings were held in Ireland about the Pope, and that sentiments were given utterance to which proved it was not safe to intrust Irishmen with arms; but he could not understand how the declamation which might be indulged in at those meetings could be seriously supposed to affect the undoubted loyalty of the Irish people. In considering the subject he had been very much struck by the difference of the policy which had been pursued by the late Duke of Wellington with respect to that to which the Government at the present day seemed determined to adhere. In 1808 the Duke of Wellington—then Sir Arthur Wellesley and Chief Secretary for Ireland—did not hesitate to advocate the raising of Volunteer Corps in Ireland, notwithstanding that it was only five or six years before that a grave rebellion had been extinguished in that country. Writing in that year to Lord Castlereagh or Lord Hawkesbury, he expressed his gratification at the progress which the; corps which had been established were making, and asked to be informed to what extent the Government desired the yeomanry force in Ireland—which had at the time reached 40,000 or 50,000 men, and which he wished to see increased to 60,000—to he carried. There was a pretence that the law did not allow the enrolment of Volunteers in Ireland; but the Government had been invited by the hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon (Colonel French) to alter the law, and very injudiciously they had turned a deaf ear to that proposal. It was a monstrous inconsistency that, while large sums were being voted for the defence of the country, the Government should refuse the offer of a large body of men in Ireland which would be no expense to them. A noble demonstration of patriotic feeling had taken place in this country, though he was not quite sure that the Government had been ready to admit it in the first instance. Still, there were occasionally obstacles thrown in the way of the development of the movement. He had the honour of being the chairman of the first meeting which took place in Middlesex on the subject; and he could state that it was ten weeks before an answer was received from the Lord Lieutenant to the offer to form a corps. He believed, indeed, that an appeal was made to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of War, and that he exercised his authority in the matter. Within the last few days it had been proposed to form two additional corps in Westminster, but the Lord Lieutenant, it seemed, thought the two corps at present existing quite sufficient for a city containing 250,000 inhabitants. He believed the Government would be appealed to on the subject, for it was not to be borne that the obsolete prejudices of any old gentleman should interfere with the development of the movement.


said, he wished to point out that in the absence of Volunteer Corps; Ireland, in the event of an invasion, would be placed in a most defenceless condition, for almost as a matter of course the greater part of the regular army would be withdrawn to this country. His consolation was, however, that there was no chance of an invasion. He wished to make an earnest appeal to the noble Lord at the head of the Government to spare the House the misery of having to discuss a Roman Catholic Charities Bill next Session by taking some steps by which the Bill now before the House might be passed into law. There was only one clause objected to, and the most eminent Catholic lawyers and solicitors had stated that there wore the greatest objections to that clause. If the Attorney General would take the matter in hand, he might frame a clause which would satisfy all parties, and the Bill might be settled in an hour. Otherwise the Bill must drop, a Continuance Bill would have to be passed, and the House would have the annoyance of discussing the question again next Session.

Motion agreed to.