HL Deb 13 August 1832 vol 14 cc1337-41
Viscount Melbourne,

in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that as the measure was one of importance, he felt it necessary to say a few words upon it. The object of the Bill was to declare the illegality of those party processions in Ireland which had so frequently disturbed the peace of that country, particularly in the north. These processions had for a long time been a cause of alarm to the country, and precautionary measures on the part of Government; they had frequently been attended with riot and tumult, and often ended in bloodshed. Their avowed object was the commemoration of former events, yet it was evident that they were got up to serve the purposes of the present time. They were calculated by a large display of physical force to cause alarm in the minds of peaceable men, and indeed were greatly injurious to those who were engaged in them, as they led to excesses of various kinds, and kept up party feelings and animosities, which every friend of order should wish to see at an end. When meetings of this kind, or indeed large assemblages of any kind were held, and the parties conducted themselves peaceably, it was perhaps the more prudent course not to interfere with them; but experience had shown, that however peaceably some of those meetings had been conducted at times, their general tendency had been of a contrary character; and when, as was the fact, it was found that advice and remonstrance had, year after year, been thrown away, in the endeavour to put a stop to them, it became the duty of the Government and the Legislature to step in and prevent them in future. In wishing to put an end to those party processions, he should not, he hoped, be considered as being opposed to the principles of the great revolution which they were ostensibly held to commemorate. He would then also deprecate the charge of having in this measure, aimed at any one class of men in particular. The Bill extended to party processions of any kind; its object was to prevent tumult, and to strengthen the hands of the executive in preserving order. An objection had been made to the Bill when it was first introduced into the other House, that it then being the end of June, and the Bill being intended to prevent, amongst other meetings, those which were to be expected in the succeeding month of July, it would find men in a state of excitement, in which they might be tempted to a breach of the law, and that, under these circumstances, it would not be prudent to make it immediately operative. Whatever might have been the force of that objection at the time it was urged, it could be of no weight at present, for the period of the meetings alluded to had since passed away, and a quiet time had now arrived when no such excitement could be alleged as an argument against the measure. Under these circumstances, he thought the present time was a very proper one for the passing of such a measure. He, therefore, moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.

The Duke of Wellington

did not rise to make any serious objections to the Bill; on the contrary, he concurred in its principle, and only wished that its provisions had been extended to all processions and to all large assemblies of all classes of his Majesty's subjects from which any disturbance of the peace might be apprehended, as well as to the processions of the Protestants of the north of Ireland. He regretted the introduction of the Bill in its present shape on this ground; and the more so, as he knew that many noble friends of his, Members of that House, and also many hon. friends, Members of the other House of Parliament, had left town under the belief that the Bill would not be pressed in this Session. He threw out this for the consideration of the noble Lords opposite, particularly as there would be ample time for the passing of such a measure in the early part of the next Session, before it could interfere with the return of those kinds of processions against which it seemed to him to be principally directed. He did not think the measure expressive enough to extend to all kinds of processions which it was desirable to put down. He had seen many processions in Ireland in honour of the memory of William 3rd, but they were conducted with good order, and without any bad feeling towards those who differed from the persons who formed the processions. At the same time, he did not mean to say, that meetings of that kind, tending to a breach of order, should not be prevented. He, himself, was a party to a proclamation issued by a late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to put down meetings tending to a breach of the peace. He therefore could not, on principle, oppose such a Bill as this, if it were properly extended, and introduced at a fit time. He should wish the noble Lord to withdraw it for the present, and introduce it, making it more extensive, the next Session of Parliament.

The Marquess of Lansdown

remembered the very active part which the noble Duke had taken in preserving the peace of Ireland on the occasion to which he had alluded, and he gave him full credit for the same intention at the present moment; and if he thought that the present Bill was as partial in its operation as the noble Duke seemed to consider, he should willingly ask his noble friend at the head of the Government to defer it, or indeed would oppose it altogether; for he would admit, that any appearance of acting against only one party in the present excited state of Ireland would be extremely imprudent; but if the noble Duke would look at the provisions of this Bill, he would find that it equally included processions of all descriptions. The preamble stated that—"Whereas great numbers of persons be longing to different religious denominations, and distinguished respectively by various emblems expressive of party feelings and differences, are in the practice of meeting and marching in procession in Ireland upon certain festivals and anniversaries and other occasions," &c.; and then the Bill proceeded to enact, "That from and after the commencement of this act, any body of persons who shall meet and parade together, or join in procession, for the purpose of celebrating or commemorating any festival, anniversary, or political event relating to, or connected with, any religious distinctions or differences between any classes of his Majesty's subjects, or of demonstrating any such religious distinction or difference, and who shall bear, wear, or have amongst them any fire-arms or other" offensive weapon, or any banner, emblem, flag, or symbol, the display whereof may be calculated or tend to provoke animosity between his Majesty's subjects of different religious persuasions, or who shall be accompanied by any music of a like nature or tendency, shall be and be deemed an unlawful assembly, and every person present thereat shall be and be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour, and shall, Upon conviction thereof, be liable to be punished accordingly." It was clear from this, that the measure was not directed against any one particular class of men exclusively, but was general in its application to all classes. He, therefore, thought that it did not come within the first objection made by the noble Duke. As to the second he would say, that if he thought that any intimation had been given that the measure would not be proceeded with in the present Session, he would most readily accede to the noble Duke's suggestion of postponing it; but in the communication made to him by his right hon. friend (Mr. Stanley), in whose department this more immediately came, it was most distinctly said that no such intimation had been given. The delay took place only till the particular period of excitement to which it was supposed to refer should have passed over.

The Marquess of Westmeath

said, that he was under the same impression as the noble Duke, and so were several of his friends, that the Bill would not be proceeded with during the present Session. He was unwilling to talk of distinctions between Catholics and Protestants, and the less so, as he had been favourable to the measure passed with respect to the former; but he must say, that the Catholics with, he would admit, many splendid exceptions, had broken faith with those who had sup- ported their cause. He thought that the present Bill would be taken by many in Ireland as pandering to the morbid feelings of the Catholic party, and not dictated in the spirit of fairness as a measure equally affecting all parties. The Bill alluded to persons coming armed to those processions, and seemed as if directed against one class of men. He was not an Orangeman, and never had been, and probably never should be, but he must say, that the King of England was as much indebted for the defence of his Crown to the Orangemen of Ireland as to any other body of men in the Empire, for certainly there was no class of men who had shown more loyalty. It was unfair, then, to bring-in a parliamentary measure which seemed to be chiefly directed against them. It looked as if the Government were truckling to men who had rebellion in their hearts, and the subversion of all order in their dispositions. He would, on these grounds, express his hope that the Bill might be deferred.

Bill read a second time.