HL Deb 22 August 1831 vol 6 cc367-79

The Earl of Wicklow rose to put certain questions to the noble Earl opposite, on the subject of the Yeomanry in Ireland. The question was of so important a nature, that he was only deterred from entering at large into the discussion, of it from a conviction of the great inconvenience of such a proceeding, upon the mere putting a question. He would, however, state the reasons which induced him to bring the subject under the notice of the noble Earl opposite. He had learned from the public press, and public rumour, that communications had taken place in the course of last week between several Irish Members of Parliament and his Majesty's Government, on certain subjects connected with Ireland, and particularly the disbanding of the Yeomanry corps. He was perfectly ready to believe, that those gentlemen were influenced by the best feelings and the most patriotic motives; but he must declare his opinion, that the system of gentlemen of the House of Commons banding themselves together for the purpose of intimidating and browbeating the Minister of the Crown, and drawing from him concession, whether right or wrong, was exceedingly unwise, unjust, and unconstitutional. The natural effect of such a proceeding would be, to cause combinations to be formed on the other side; and the consequence to the peace and tranquillity of the country would be most unfavourable. The proper sphere for Members of Parliament to exercise their abilities in, was the House to which they belonged, and he could say, that ever since he had been a Member of Parliament, he had found every disposition on the part of the gentlemen of this country to co-operate in any measure for the benefit of Ireland. The first meeting of the Members of Parliament who had so combined with the Ministers, took place at the house of the noble Earl opposite, and he was struck with the honest and manly manner in which the noble Earl had conducted himself on that occasion. But, unfortunately, on the next day he had reason to alter the good opinion which he had formed of the noble Earl's conduct; for he learned that another meeting had taken place, and he found that the firm and dignified Minister had become—quantum mutatus ab illo!—the timid and acquiescing placeman. The noble Earl was reported to have offered conditions and made concessions. He was reported to have proposed to disarm the Yeomanry of Ireland—or at least to place their arms in dépôts—form the corps into battalions resembling the local militia of this country, and place them under the command of the new Lord-lieutenants of counties. If such a proceeding were adopted, it would be tantamount to disbanding the Yeomanry, because that high-minded body of men, it was evident, would never consent to such conditions. Let him ask what was the nature of this force? Was it a force which the party in power had uniformly condemned, holding it preferable to increase the standing army rather than employ the Yeomanry? By whom had the Yeomanry been called out to preserve the peace of Ireland? By this Government. By the present Government, they had been employed to preserve the peace of the country, and after having performed that duty, they were now to be handed over to the mercy of those who had ever been their greatest enemies. This was the recompense they were to receive for the services which they had rendered their country. He begged leave to be understood as not standing up as the advocate abstractedly of such a species of force. If it had never existed, if it had never been called out, he should certainly hesitate a good deal before saying, that such a species of force ought to be established. But the question of disbanding that force after it had been established was a very different thing. The Yeomanry had, on former occasions, performed great services to their country, and perhaps the time was not far distant when they would be required to perform some similar services. It was pretty evident that Government must have been under serious alarm with respect to the peace of Ireland; because, in calling out the Yeomanry corps, they were acting in violation of the principles of one of their colleagues (the President of the Council), whose last act, previous to retiring from office in 1828, was to abolish the Yeomanry corps in this country. That was a proof that they must have considered the state of the case urgent. Another reason which led him to believe, that Government had felt alarmed with respect to the state of Ireland was, that a bill, the most unconstitutional and tyrannical ever proposed to a British Parliament, had been presented to the other House by the organ of the Ministry there. But it might be inferred from the conduct of Government towards the Yeomanry corps, and by their allowing that bill to lie dormant on the Table of the other House, that Government no longer felt any alarm on the subject of Ireland. To whom, then, were they indebted for this beneficial change? It was to the Yeomanry alone that they owed the maintenance of peace? He could assure their Lordships that he looked with apprehension to the effect which the reports he had alluded to might produce in different parts of Ireland. In the North, where Protestantism prevailed, the reported intentions of Government would be received with contempt. They would be met, not perhaps by a determination of resistance, but certainly by resolutions to counteract and defeat them. Besides, there was nothing to prevent the Yeomanry from arming themselves, and then they would be free from that responsibility which at present attached to them. With respect to the South, where the number of Protestants was few, his apprehensions were still more alarming. The effect produced there would be that of excessive intimidation. In that part of Ireland the Protestants all belonged to the Yeomanry. There was no reason to prevent the Roman Catholics from belonging to the Yeomanry too; but as regarded the Protestants, they were all in the Yeomanry. When they found that they were deserted by the Government to which they had hitherto looked for protection—when they found that they no longer had the security, more imaginary than real, of being embodied together in corps—they would be driven to desperation; they would be obliged to abandon their religion or their country, and would seek in exile that security which they no longer enjoyed at home:— Exilioque domos et dulcia limina mutant, Atque alio patriam querunt sub sole jacentem. He was aware of the difficulties which Government had to encounter in taking any measures with respect to Ireland; and he should be glad to concur with Ministers in any proposition for the benefit of that country; but he should be sorry to see them brow-beaten by any faction. He therefore wished to know whether it was correct that the noble Earl had declared that Government meant to disarm the Yeomanry of Ireland, to place their arms in dépôts, or to form them into battalions?

Earl Grey

said, that agreeing as he did with the noble Earl who had just sat down, both as to the inconvenience and impropriety of discussing a subject of this nature on the simple asking of a question, he could not but regret, that the noble Earl had deviated from the rule which he had laid down for himself in the beginning of his speech, and had gone into a considerable discussion, not only on the establishment of the Yeomanry corps in Ireland, but also on the conduct of his Majesty's Government with respect to those corps, on which latter subject the noble Earl appeared to him to be very incorrectly informed. In what had fallen from the noble Earl in the other parts of his speech, he (Earl Grey) certainly concurred. He had to lament, with the noble Earl, the prevailing fashion of introducing into the public prints communications which had taken place on a matter of this nature, and which were never intended for publication. By whose fault those communications had found their way to the public, he did not know. He certainly had no concern in the publications on this subject which had appeared. He did not admit their authenticity, and he condemned, as strongly as the noble Earl, the practice of which the noble Earl had complained, and which had grown up to a most inconvenient height. The noble Earl had referred to two communications which had taken place with Government on the subject of Ireland; and he had deprecated another practice, certainly not less inconvenient than that which he had just noticed—namely, the association of certain Members of Parliament, for the purpose of conveying to his Majesty's Ministers intimations, that if such or such conditions were not complied with, they would be found in opposition to the measures of Government. He certainly agreed in the observations which the noble Earl had made on this subject. He could not approve of any such proceedings. For himself he would say this, that as long as he had the honour to hold the situation which he at present filled, those intimations would have no effect on his mind; and the noble Lord had, with respect to the particular case to which he had alluded, done him the justice to say, that he had answered the deputation which waited on him, in a manner becoming his situation. He certainly did feel it his duty distinctly to state, that if any threat of that kind was held out, he was prepared to meet the consequences: that it might be in the power of a number of persons, by combining against the Ministers, to force them from their situations, and that, if that should happen, he should have much less unwillingness to relinquish office than he had felt originally in accepting it; and he further stated, that he possibly might be forced to concur with those from whose policy he most dissented, in order to oppose measures tending to a separation of the different parts of the kingdom, which he felt confident would have the worst effect on the peace and happiness of the whole. At the same time he explained, as he thought himself bound to do, in common courtesy towards a deputation of Members of Parliament, his general views on the state of Ireland, and what measures, in his opinion, might be taken for the relief of that country. Among other things, he undoubtedly did state, that there was in the contemplation of Government a measure for adopting new regulations with respect to the Yeomanry of Ireland. This measure had been in the contemplation of the Government long before the meeting in question was thought of; but as to any disarming or suppression of the Yeomanry corps, that was not a measure for which he was prepared. This was what passed at the meeting at which he was present. The noble Earl had referred to another meeting, at which the noble Earl supposed that he had been present. He could, however, assure the noble Earl, that he was not present at that meeting, but he believed the object of it was, to make some communications with respect to the measure, which it had been thought might be useful in re-modelling the Yeomanry of Ireland. What that measure was, whether it was a right, or whether a wrong measure, as the details were not before their Lordships, and probably might never come before them, he did not think he was at present called upon to say. Thus much, however, he would state, that whatever measures were in the contemplation of Government, it was the furthest possible from their intention to do anything which could appear like an insult to the Yeomanry, or anything that might express an opinion, or convey an imputation, which would, in any degree, hurt their sense of honour, of which the noble Lord had so highly spoken, or detract from the value of the services which they had, on many occasions, rendered the country. He had, therefore, only to say, that though the measure to which he had alluded, had been in the contemplation of Government, yet what had passed on the occasions referred to by the noble Lord, as well as on the present occasion, did not make him feel inclined, as one of his Majesty's Ministers, to persevere in proposing that measure. With respect to the Yeomanry of Ireland, he had only to state, that it was far from his wish to say anything which might injure the feelings of that highly important body; but he must freely and candidly declare, in answer to the noble Earl, if the noble Earl wished to know his opinion with respect to that description of force, that experience had convinced him, that whatever might have been its merits on particular occasions—whatever might be the patriotic spirit by which the members of the corps were actuated—whatever might have been the advantages rendered the country by that body on certain occasions—that species of force was not one which was attended, on the whole, with advantage to the country. The disadvantage of that species of force was obvious. With the anxiety which the members of it felt to support the Constitution of the country—with the zeal and ardour with which they embarked in that service—there were, unfortunately, too often mixed, from local circumstances, other feelings of party spirit and personal hostility, which sometimes produced the most lamentable consequences. Another evil was, that when they were called out to act against a spirit of insubordination in the country, the feelings which were excited did not subside when the occasion was over, but remained in the minds of the people, ready to break out at a future opportunity. He had already stated, that he did not mean to concur in, or propose, any measure, that tended to a sudden abolition of those corps, yet he certainly did think, that the general security of the country would be better provided for by other means; and whatever taunts the noble Earl opposite, or any other person, might think fit to throw out against him, with respect to a change in his opinion on the subject of a force of this description, or an increase of the standing army, he certainly had no hesitation in declaring, that if any further military force for the maintenance of internal tranquillity should be required—(a most lamentable necessity he acknowledged it to be)—he should infinitely prefer the extension of the regular police force of the country, or an increase of the standing army, however unpopular that expression might be, to the assistance of those corps, against which, however, he begged leave to say, in order that he might not be misunderstood, that he threw out no imputation whatever. He had said thus much, perhaps more than was suited to the occasion, in answer to the noble Earl; but if he had done anything inconsistent with the convenience and orders of the House, he had been led into the proceeding by the noble Earl opposite, for it was impossible for him to suffer all that the noble Earl had said to pass without notice. It only remained for him to add, that Government had no intention of introducing any measure of the description which the noble Earl imagined, for the disarming and extinction of the Yeomanry of Ireland or England, or any measure which would be injurious to their feelings, or derogatory to their sense of honour. He had no local feelings on a question of this nature. What he had said with respect to the Irish Yeomanry, was equally applicable, in his mind, to the Yeomanry of England; and he should have expressed his entire concurrence in the measures formerly taken by his noble friend (the Marquis of Lansdown) with respect to the Yeomanry, if he had had an opportunity of so doing at the time. It might be satisfactory to the noble Lord to learn that his Majesty's Government were determined not to govern Ireland by anything like a party spirit; and whatever measures might be taken for the peace and advantage of that country, every thing like party spirit would be avoided.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that if he had committed any irregularity in originating this discussion, he felt no regret at having done so, because he had been the humble means of drawing from the noble Earl one of the most satisfactory statements he had ever heard, which would do more good in Ireland than a hundred Acts of Parliament.

The Marquis of Lansdown

said, that he should not have taken part in the present conversation, had not the noble Earl opposite stated, that before the noble Earl at the head of the Government could have had recourse to the services of the Yeomanry, he must first have overcome the scruples of one of his colleagues. The noble Earl seemed to think, that because he had formerly proposed what the noble Earl was pleased to call the extinction of the Yeomanry corps of England, that he should be favourable to the same course with respect to the Yeomanry of Ireland. Now the noble Earl was greatly misinformed, if he supposed that the measure which he (the noble Marquis) proposed, when he held the office of Secretary for the Home Department under a former Administration, had for its object the extinction of the Yeomanry corps of England. On the contrary, that measure related to its partial diminution, on the score of its expense in some districts compared with its amount and efficiency. It was preserved, and usefully preserved, in those districts where, from the state of the population, the services of the Yeomanry might be required. It was preserved in that state in which he should wish to see it preserved in some parts of Ireland, where, from their insular position, the Yeomanry corps might sometimes be called out without that efficient control over their movements which was so necessary for the public service. When he had proposed that the Yeomanry corps should be so continued, he could not be supposed to wish for their extinction, still less could he be supposed to have that wish when it was recollected, that he was the humble adviser, that the Yeomanry should be called out in that county of which he had the honour of being the Lord-lieutenant, and with respect to which he had the happiness to say, that its services had been applied with complete success; for he had the satisfaction of knowing, that the corps whose services had been so required, had not been more distinguished by the zeal with which they came forward, than by the temper and moderation which they evinced in the discharge of their duty, and for which they received his Majesty's thanks. These corps were kept up in that state which did not render them liable to that objection which existed against some corps, of being called out, or of calling themselves out, without that regimental control so necessary to the efficient performance of their duty. He had felt it necessary to say this much as to what fell from the noble Earl, who had altogether misunderstood the measure which he had brought forward when he had the honour to hold the office of Secretary of State for the Home Department.

The Marquis of Londonderry

could not, as an Irishman, refrain from expressing his thanks to the noble Earl (Earl Grey), for the statement he had made, which, he must say, was likely to be productive of much benefit to Ireland; for certainly it would be a most mischievous course to put down the Yeomanry corps in that country. He would now say a word as to the character of those Irish Members who had made the application to the noble Earl. They consisted chiefly of the Catholic Members, or those who represented the Catholic feeling in Ireland such as Sir John Milley Doyle, Mr. Daniel O'Connell, O'Connor Don, Mr. James Lambert, Mr. Wyse, Mr. R. M. O'Ferrall, Mr. R. L. Sheil, Mr. Alexander Dawson, &c. &c. These hon. Members might represent the feelings of the province of Connaught, but he had no doubt, that if those Members who represented the other parts of Ireland were assembled, they would differ much from the opinions which those Members expressed. If the opinions of these hon. Members, who might be said to represent the Catholic interest in Ireland, were to prevail, they would have the effect of renewing those feelings of irritation for which it was thought, that the settlement of the Catholic Question would be the panacea. He considered it highly improper that any set of Members should go to the Minister of the country, and state, that if he did not submit to such and such a course, they would oppose him, not on one, but all questions. Was this consistent with that due consideration which a Member was bound to give to every measure on its own merits? The House of Commons was the proper place for Members to state their objections to any measure that might be brought forward; but from the public Journals, he perceived that this application was made in private. He hoped, that this would be a warning to others how they made such applications. He regretted that these Members were influenced by that unfortunate person—for unfortunate he would call him—who had raised the minds of his countrymen to a state of desperation before. He hoped, however, the noble Earl would be on his guard against him, and recollect how he had deceived the noble Marquis at the head of the Irish Government. He hoped the noble Earl would recollect what this person had stated in his last Letter to the people of Ireland. This union of some Irish Members put him in mind of that Parliamentary Association which they had had in Ireland, and he could not but think, that it was most degrading to those Members who took a part in it. Let the noble Earl at the head of the Government recollect what was the language of that person to whom he had alluded, on the Question of Parliamentary Reform. That Question must, indeed, be at a discount, if it required the support of twenty or thirty Members to carry it. The individual he had alluded to (Mr. O'Connell) said, in the last Letter he had addressed to the people of Ireland:—"That in framing the Reform Bill, his Majesty's Ministers have been actuated by a latent, if not avowed disposition to treat the people of Ireland with indignity, by a determined disregard to Irish interests, and a vile jealousy of giving constitutional rights to the Irish people, by a foolish imagination that they can with impunity treat Ireland with supercilious contempt and ignominy—by the presumption which leads them to think that the Irish people would submit to be treated in this manner, by the opinion that the Irish are like the eels, accustomed to be skinned alive—by contemptuous injustice towards the towns and counties of Ireland—by disgusting unfairness—by gross partiality." Yet this was the man, who could so write against the Government, to gain whose support, and that of the Members he carried with him, it was expected that Government should listen to the suggestions made with respect to the extinction of the Yeomanry of Ireland, The noble Marquis was proceeding to advert to the conduct of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with whose conduct (as we understood the noble Marquis) he did not find fault, except in his late unconstitutional interference in the election at Dublin—when

The Duke of Richmond rose to order, He observed, that it was irregular in the noble Marquis, on the occasion of a question put by another noble Lord, to enter at length, not only into that subject, but also into a number of others which had no connexion with it. If this course were to be permitted, there would be no regularity in their Lordships' proceedings. The noble Marquis had alluded to the conduct of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland on the late election for Dublin. Now, whenever the noble Marquis should think proper to bring that subject before the House, he I should be prepared to show, that the charge made against the noble Marquis at the head of the Irish Government was altogether without foundation; but he submitted, that it was not regular to introduce it in this way.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, that when the noble Duke called him to order, he should himself be acquainted with the forms of the House. If he were out of order in commenting on the subject of a question asked, so was the noble Marquis, the President of the Council, whom the noble Duke did not call to order. He contended that he was not out of order [cries of "Order"]

The Earl of Shaftesbury

(who sat as Speaker), said, there was no question before the House.

Lord Holland

said, that the noble Marquis did not appear to recollect, that there was no question before their Lordships. It was true that the courtesy of the House admitted a question to be put by a noble Lord to any Member of his Majesty's Government. The object of that permission was to save time, since it was frequently found to be a summary way of obtaining information on which an ulterior parliamentary proceeding might or might not be founded. But there was a great difference between allowing a simple question and answer, and permitting other noble Lords to enter into a discussion, involving a variety of extraneous matter. It might be convenient not to be too strict in such matters, but he must say, that he thought the noble Marquis was abusing the privilege when he made a speech which had little connexion with the subject of the question put by a noble Earl to his noble friend, but in which he went into an excursive consideration of all the various topics connected with Ireland. He by no means wished for an abolition of the practice to which he had been alluding; but he thought it ought to be kept within certain bounds. In his opinion it would be a wholesome regulation if the privilege were confined to the noble Lord putting the question, and the noble Lord giving the answer.

The Marquis of Londonderry

thanked the noble baron for the kind manner in which, on this as on all other occasions, he put his suggestion. He had not conceived himself out of order in speaking on the subject, after what fell from the noble marquis (Lansdown); but as he should have other opportunities of adverting to the subjects to which he referred, he would not press them further at present.

The Marquis of Westmeath

said, that the noble Marquis had alluded to the parties whose names he had read as being Catholic. Now the fact was, that Sir John Doyle, Mr. Dawson (the member for Louth), and several others who attended the meeting, were Protestants. He mentioned the fact only to show, that if he wished to draw any inference from the fact, he was in error with respect to it.

The Marquis of Londonderry

had not described all those members as Catholics, but only as persons who were disposed to take exaggerated views of Catholic interests.

Earl Grey

said, that no suspicion could be attached to the motives of the individual who was at the head of the party who had called on him. It was but justice to add, that the whole of the hon. members had communicated with him in the most amicable manner.

Here the subject dropped.