HL Deb 04 March 1831 vol 3 cc7-10
The Earl of Wicklow

rose to present a Petition from certain Noblemen, Gentlemen, Magistrates, and Occupiers of Land in the County of Wicklow, declaring their abhorrence of those measures of agitation which had lately prevailed in various parts of Ireland, under the pretence of procuring a Repeal of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland. They stated, that they could regard such a repeal in no other light than as a dismemberment of the empire; and they prayed that the Legislature should adopt some strong measure to put an end to these agitations, which prevented the enjoyment by Ireland of those advantages which they had been led to expect from the Union. He was aware that agitation was no new feature in that country, for it prevailed among all classes before the passing of the measure for admitting the Roman Catholics into the Constitution, which had received the assent of the Legislature two years ago. Before that time, it was not surprising, that there should be constant agitation among all classes, but now that these political divisions were abolished, and that all classes were admitted to the privileges and blessings of the Constitution—when there was a real, instead of a nominal union, the petitioners thought it hard, that by these disturbances they should be deprived of the advantages which had been held out to them more than thirty years ago, as likely to result from the Union. He recollected, that the late Secretary for Ireland had mentioned in the House of Commons, last year, that there were several measures of amelioration in contemplation, to be brought forward for Ireland; and the noble Marquis (Lansdown) had mentioned something of the same kind previous to the recess. Now, considering that the present Ministers had had the advantage of whatever previous arrangements might have been made by the former Ministers, he was rather surprised that none of these measures had been as yet brought before either House of Parliament. The noble Marquis had said, that they could not all be brought forward in the present Session; but he was rather surprised that none had as yet appeared. He was anxious that they should be brought forward, and if he found them calculated to be of advantage to Ireland they would meet with his cordial co-operation. He had no doubt but that his Majesty's Ministers were aware of the awful situation of that country, and he was anxious that there should be as little delay as possible in the application of such remedies as it might be in the power of the Administration to apply.

Earl Grey

said, that no man could more fully concur than he did in the views of the petitioners, when they stated, that the agitation which had been lately set on foot was most pernicious to Ireland. He fully concurred with them too, that the object of the agitation would, if attained, be most disadvantageous, if not fatal, to the empire, and that the Repeal of the Union, if carried, would lead to its dismemberment. This was his view of the question, and so thinking of it, he, for one, in whatever situation he might be placed would give to any project for the Repeal of the Union his most decided and determined opposition. As to the prayer of the petition, that the Legislature should adopt some strong measures for putting down the agitation, most undoubtedly he should be prepared to apply to the Legislature to arm the Government with additional powers to put an end to these excesses, in case it should appear that such a course was necessary. But as long as the Government could entertain a reasonable hope that they could be restrained by the existing law, it was highly desirable to abstain from applying for additional powers. It did not require the recommendation of the petitioners to call the most anxious attention of the Government to this subject. The Government had already carefully and continually attended to it; and he appealed to their Lordships, whether there was any want of due attention, vigour, and decision in the Government of Ireland, in making use of the means afforded by the existing law to put an end to these pernicious tumults and agitations. And here he could not deny himself the satisfaction of bearing his testimony to the wise and prudent, yet vigorous course which the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Government had adopted, in the trying crisis in which they were placed; and it was to be hoped, that they would be enabled, by means of the existing law, to put down a system of agitation which was so detrimental to members of the community, but more particularly to those who were deluded by it. As to the notice which had been given of an intention on the part of the late Secretary for Ireland and his noble friend, respecting his intention to bring forward measures for the amelioration of Ireland, the noble Earl ought to consider that his Majesty's Ministers had had a great deal of other business in hand; that much was to be done before the measures in question could be put in such a shape as to be brought before Parliament. One measure had been already prepared—that which related to the Subletting Act; but it had been found necessary to send it back to Ireland, in order to have it as clear as possible from objections when it should be brought before the House. The bill, it was expected, would soon be returned from Ireland, and when returned, no time would be lost in laying it before Parliament.

The Duke of Wellington

wished to ask the noble Earl, whether it was his intention to renew the law giving the Lord Lieutenant powers to suppress illegal meetings by Proclamation? The noble Earl was aware that it would expire in no very long time.

Earl Grey

replied, that it was certainly his intention at present to propose to the Legislature the renewal of the law in question, before the period of its expiration.

The Marquis of Londonderry

was surprised that the noble Earl (Wicklow) should now reproach the Ministers with delay, when he had formerly complained of them for their promptitude and activity. He fully concurred in the compliment that had been paid to the Lord Lieutenant and Irish Government.

The Earl of Wicklow

had only observed on a former occasion, that he was afraid that Ministers might undertake too much if they did more, at the outset, than adopt the measures prepared by their predecessors. The late Secretary for Ireland had stated in his place, that it was in contemplation to bring forward seven or eight measures for the amelioration of Ireland, and be had been led to infer from that, that they might have been in such a state of forwardness as to enable the present Ministers to introduce them without much delay. He most fully concurred in the just tribute of praise that had been paid to the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Government, who had conducted themselves with equal prudence and courage.

The Marquis of Lansdown

said, that the measures which the present Ministers meant to propose were not those which their predecessors might have had in contemplation. To be sure the subjects to which they related were the same, but the principles and views on which they were founded had not been pointed out by the late Ministers, but had been laid down in a most valuable Report of a Committee of the other House, the Chairman of which now held a high situation in his Majesty's Government. The notice given by the Secretary for Ireland, in the course of the last Session, was, that it was in contemplation to introduce measures founded on these reports. The present Ministers had the same principles, recommendations, and evidence before them as the late Ministers; but it did not follow that they were to adopt exactly the same measures. They had their measures to prepare for themselves, and every possible attention had been paid to them. But then, when it was considered what details were to be gone through, and how many points required attention, and how many technical objections were to be guarded against, it must be obvious that some time must elapse before these measures could be put into a proper shape for introduction into Parliament. Before they were brought forward, it was necessary that all the details should be thoroughly sifted.

Petition laid on the Table.