§ Order for Second Reading read.
in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, it was intended to repeal an Act of Queen Anne, under which poor people in Ireland were sentenced to penal servitude for the offence of vagrancy. The Act of Anne was intended to deal with a state of things which no longer existed, and had often been made an instrument of oppression. He hoped the Government would not object to the second reading. Should any discussion be thought desirable it might be taken on going into Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The O'Donoghue.)
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
said, he had no objection to the Bill being read a second 756 time on the understanding that in Committee a discussion would be taken on various points arising on the wording of the first clause. The first clause proposed to repeal not only the Act of Queen Anne, but also "the several Acts amending and continuing the same." This he thought too extensive; but that was a question which would be best considered in Committee. He would only add that it was hardly correct to say that under the statute of Anne poor persons were committed to penal servitude for vagrancy. He did not defend the Act of Anne; but it should be known that the man who was convicted at Kilkenny had been going about the country causing the greatest possible disturbance and distress to the poor, not merely asking for alms as a pauper, but threatening to quarter himself on the poor farmers whom he intimidated, often burning down their stacks or homesteads if they refused compliance with his demands.
§ MR. GEORGE
said, he was ready to assent to the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, upon the understanding that it should be open to discussion on the Motion for going into Committee. He believed that some misapprehension prevailed with respect to the existing state of the law. There were three Acts which related to this subject—the Act of 6th of Queen Anne, in which the words "Tories, Robbers, and Rapparees" were introduced; the Act of the 2nd of George II., with respect to which some doubt had arisen whether it continued that of Queen Anne; and the 31st George III., chapter 44, which continued not only the Act of Anne, but many other most useful Acts, which no one wished to see repealed. The first clause of the present Bill would, however, under the words "the several Acts amending and continuing the same" repeal all those Acts, and so far it should be considered wholly inadmissible. It was under the Act 31st George III. that presentations before the grand jury took place, and however absurd the thing might seem to be in these days, it had worked very beneficially in many instances. There were and had always been in Ireland, a number of idle vagabonds prowling about the country, without any visible means of subsistence, who were found, not only "coshering," but intimidating farmers to give them supplies, and it was in the prosecution of this class of offenders that the Act was found convenient. At the same time it was too harsh and peremp- 757 tory for ordinary cases of vagrancy, and if the Act were repealed the Law Officers in Ireland should be consulted to see whether some available substitute could not be provided for the protection of farmers and the industrious classes in Ireland against this class of offenders.
thought that legislation of this kind was not conducted in a manner sufficiently careful—when it proposed to repeal existing Acts of Parliament they ought to be careful to have those Acts before them and know what they meant. It seemed absurd to him to talk of taking action against "Tories, Rapparees, and Robbers." There are not in Ireland such things as "Tories." He did not think that at this day there was such a thing as a Tory to be found even in that House. Originally, "Tories" were disbanded soldiers in Ireland, who lived a very irregular life, at least were said to do so by their enemies, and the name was finally given to the Royal party; just as the "Whigs" in Scotland did, who were opponents of the Government, and gave their names to the democratic party. Nothing but the fantastic name of the Bill—"Tories, Robbers, and Rapparees "—had called attention to it. The Bill seemed to be a remnant of the old penal laws, and as such objectionable; but as there were no other objects, it seemed now to have been exercised as a law against vagrants, and the case mentioned by the hon. Member, against a notorious and incorrigible thief. If it were necessary to deal with the subject of vagrancy let a proper Act be introduced upon the subject. He hoped that at a future stage of the Bill a further explanation of the objects of the Bill would be given to the House.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
observed, that presentments to the grand jury under this Act were made, not in cases where the parties accused had merely threatened, but had actually committed, malicious injuries. If the Act was repealed, something should be done to suppress this class of offenders who were very common in the rural districts of Ireland.
§ MR. SCULLY
said, he would not object to the second reading of the Bill; but it would require to be considerably altered in Committee. The Act of Anne being to continue only for seven years, had died a natural death; but a subsequent Act, which was not alluded to in this Bill, had set it on its legs again. The 6th of Anne was only one of the penal enact- 758 ments affecting Ireland, each being more cruel than its predecessor. The same year, what was called the Registering Act was passed for the discovery of the estates of Papists and handing them over to the Protestants, or for the benefit of the Established Church. A great number of Irish gentlemen were in this way deprived of their estates. They were left without a shilling to live upon; and being much respected in their localities, and not able to get out of the country, they were obliged to go among their former tenants, getting from them what scanty subsistence they could. This was the origin of this Act of Anne—to extirpate "such as pretended to be Irish gentlemen."
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Friday, 28th April.