HL Deb 07 July 1834 vol 24 cc1218-21

On the Order of the Day for going into a Committee on the Suppression of Disturbances (Ireland) Bill being read,

The Earl of Wicklow

said, he would take that opportunity, as he did not mean to propose any Amendment, to make one or two observations. On the evening when the noble Earl brought forward this Bill, he felt some surprise that the noble Earl had not alluded to the improvement in the Juries of that country to which it related. He had removed an odious clause (the Court-martial clause), for such he always considered it—a clause which nothing but the actual and urgent necessity of the case could justify. Now, when the noble Earl stated, that he had made that alteration, he expressed his surprise, that the noble Earl had not given the House any information to enable them to understand distinctly why he had taken that course. He had stated his satisfaction at the alteration, but he wished to know distinctly the grounds on which it had been made. In looking at the voluminous documents that had been laid on their Lordships' Table, he found, that neither the Lord Lieutenant, nor the Judges of Assize, nor the Lieutenants of counties, nor the Assistant Barristers, nor the Magistrates, had given any information which could enable the House to understand on what precise grounds the alteration had been made. He hoped that information existed which could be alleged in justification of the change, and if the noble Earl stated, that he was in possession of such information, he should be satisfied, although it were not adduced. Last Session, simultaneously with the Coercion Bill, the noble Earl brought forward a measure for changing the venue for one year, and he had suggested to the noble Earl the propriety of continuing that Bill for five years. The noble Earl said, he thought it better to pass the Change of Venue Bill for one year in the first instance, as an accompanying measure to the Coercion Bill, but it would be open to any noble Lord to call for the renewal of it this Session, if it were considered desirable. Their Lordships were about to dispense with that part of the measure (the Court-martial clauses) which was last year considered so necessary; they were about to leave cases for trial in the hands of the Courts of Law, as usual; and he wished to learn from the noble Earl, whether, under such circumstances, he considered it necessary to propose the renewal of the Change of Venue Bill.

Earl Grey

said, it was true, that the ground on which the extraordinary power of trying offences by Courts-martial was called for, consisted partly in the intimidation which prevented Juries from discharging their duty; and he was certainly liable to blame for omitting, through a defect of memory, to explain the grounds on which it was intended not only to leave out that clause, but to abstain from a renewal of the Change of Venue Bill. There were certainly no papers formally applicable to the point, among those laid before Parliament; but he could assure the noble Earl and the House, that the Government were not inattentive to the matter, and that they saw reason to be satisfied, that the powers conferred by the Protection Act might be left to the ordinary tribunals of the country. It was under this impression, and acting on the information that had reached them on the subject, that Ministers recommended the omission of the Courts-martial clauses. Among other authorities he might refer to that of Lord Oxmantown, as proposing, that offences should be disposed of by the ordinary tribunals. From the general in- formation which reached them, and acting on the notoriety of the fact, that Juries did not hesitate to discharge their duty, Government had brought forward the Bill as it now stood. A noble Lord on the cross-benches stated, that the conduct of the Juries at the last spring Assizes had satisfied him, that the trial of offences might safely be left to the Courts of Common-law. The Change of Venue Bill was founded on the same apprehension which gave rise to the Courts-martial clauses—namely, that Juries would not venture to do their duty; but the grounds of that apprehension being now removed, there did not appear to be any sufficient reason for re-enacting the Change of Venue Bill any more than the Courts-martial clauses. Whether, in the present improved condition of Ireland, they would renew the Change of Venue Bill, it was for their Lordships to consider; but he was inclined to think that Parliament should do what it could to avoid a recurrence to such a measure. He did not at present propose to renew that Bill, but if it should appear necessary to do so, in consequence of any change of circumstances, he would not shrink from his duty.

The Duke of Buckingham

expressed the deep regret which he felt at finding himself again obliged to concur in a Bill so much opposed to and so destructive of the best principles of the Constitution. He had stated last year, that not being able to place confidence in the Ministry of the day, be nevertheless felt bound to assent to their unconstitutional Coercion Bill, because he thought that the safety of the country required such a measure. If he felt a degree of difficulty then with respect to the Bill, it was doubled and trebled now, when the Administration was placed in hands in which he could see no security whatever for the safety of any of our establishments. He might here observe, that whatever difference might have arisen between some of the Ministers on the subject, the Marquess Wellesley (as appeared from the papers on the Table) had never ceased to express his anxiety for the renewal of the present measure. In agreeing to the Bill, he felt that Ireland was severely punished for having listened to the appeals made to her passions, and attended to the cries "to agitate," which had proceeded from various quarters the highest as well as the lowest.

Earl Grey

said, that the noble Duke acknowledged that the state of Ireland was such as to make the re-enactment of a severe law—such he must admit the present Bill to be—absolutely necessary; but, although he acknowledged this to be a very severe law, he did not wish to hazard the excitement of an unnecessary degree of feeling against it by describing the measure, with the noble Duke, as a violation and destruction of the Constitution. He acknowledged the Bill, however, to be one of great severity, beyond the principles and ordinary practice of the Constitution, and such as could he justified only by a peculiar and urgent state of things. On this ground the noble Duke himself concurred in the measure, although he felt disposed to place less confidence now than ever in Ministers. He did not expect the noble Duke's approbation. He felt satisfied that the noble Duke consented to strengthen the hands of Ministers with powers which he admitted to be necessary, although they excited his disgust. As to the use that Ministers would make of those powers, he appealed to the use that they had already made of them, and he asked, whether the powers of this unhappy law, so he would term it, had not been exercised with the greatest moderation, though with all necessary firmness? Could there be any doubt that Ministers would act in future as they had done heretofore? But there seemed to be some strange disquiet in the noble Duke's mind, the source of which he did not well understand, for, dreading the designs of Ministers against existing establishments, the noble Duke appeared to have a latent fear, that the present measure might be turned against them, in what manner, however, was not very intelligible. The noble Duke talked of appeals in favour of agitation from quarters high and low. It was to prevent agitation and its consequences, which he (Earl Grey) had always opposed, that the present law was proposed. Of the noble Duke's confidence, he was unhappily deprived, and must bear the loss as he might; but he should persevere in doing to the utmost of his ability, and in the best way be could, his duty to his Sovereign and his country.

The House went into Committee on the Bill, the Clauses of which were agreed to.

The House resumed.