HL Deb 22 May 1846 vol 86 cc970-80

rose to move— That there be laid before this House a Return of the Murders, and Attempts to Murder, committed in Ireland during each Month from the first of January, in this year, distinguishing the Hours of the Day or Night at which such Outrages were reported by the Constabulary to have been committed. He would detain their Lordships a few minutes whilst he explained to them the circumstances which induced him to move for that Return, and he would also feel it necessary to direct attention to some allusions which had been made on the subject of a Bill which had been recently discussed there. It so happened that considerations affecting his health had caused him to be absent from their Lordships' House during the earlier part of the Session, and during that absence a Bill was introduced by Her Majesty's Government which was variously called—namely, the Coercion Bill by its opponents, and by its advocates a "Bill for the Protection of Life and Property in Ireland." That Bill, he believed, met with no very strong opposition, though it was considerably altered in detail, and many of their Lordships did not give it a very cordial support. He must say that he sincerely deplored the increase of those crimes which that measure was intended to repress; and he regretted that Ireland should be subjected to a just reproach on that account, when it was most important that she should enlist on her behalf the sympathies of the people of this country. He was not, however, convinced, by anything he had yet heard, that the Bill recently sanctioned by their Lordships was calculated to remedy these evils; and he thought what had since occurred must have proved to Her Majesty's Ministers, if they had ever been convinced of the necessity of the measure, that they had formed an erroneous opinion. After the recommendation contained in the Queen's Speech at the opening of the present Session—a recommendation put into Her Majesty's mouth by her constitutional advisers, calling upon Parliament to interfere to repress the crime of assassination in Ireland—the Ministers of the Crown ought not to have allowed a single day to pass without bringing in a Bill to effect that object; and urging it upon their Lordships for discussion, instead of adopting the tardy and dawdling mode of proceeding which had characterized them with regard to this Bill. The Government should not have introduced that Bill in the House of Commons, more especially, when another Bill which attracted so much public attention was before them, unless they were resolved to proceed with it, and were perfectly convinced of the necessity of the measure. The evil of taking a course of that kind was not merely negative, for it had a tendency to destroy the moral influence of a Government; and whilst there was no doubt of the feelings of all parties in Parliament against such crimes, yet, when they were engaged night after night in showing that such a Bill was not applicable, they were more likely to forget the occurrences against which it was directed, whilst the ignorant would be too ready to attribute those arguments to a carelessness of crime on the part of those who opposed the Bill. He believed that a systematic and steady administration of the law would have been sufficient for the repression of crime in Ireland. The present mode of proceeding by the Government united all possible evils; it was tardy and dawdling, while the measure itself out-stepped the limits of the Constitution. If ever a plan united all the objections to which it could be exposed, it was that of taking a single stage of a measure, while another Bill was before the House, and postponing its future progress until some distant day. Government thereby naturally exposed themselves to the charge that they were not convinced of the necessity of the measure, and their moral influence on this subject was destroyed. One of the propositions of the Bill was, that persons in proclaimed districts should not be allowed to leave their dwellings during the night time, even in the month of December, whilst the Bill was brought in at such a time that, if it passed, it would be put in operation at a time of the year when, according to the almanacks, there was no real night. Since his return to this country, his attention had been called to a speech of a right hon. Baronet in another House on the subject of the Bill to which he alluded, in which he described the number of crimes that had taken place in Ireland within a recent period, as a proof of the necessity of that Bill; but he (the Marquess of Normanby) had remarked that all the crimes to which the right hon. Baronet had referred, had been committed in the day, and not in the night, and could not be good arguments for the provisions preventing persons from appearing out of their houses at night. The right hon. Baronet, in alluding to the four years from 1835 to 1839, candidly admitted, what indeed he could not deny, as it appeared on official record, that there was a gradual diminu- tion in crime; but how did he account for that diminution? He stated that it was because there was a law similar in its provisions to the Bill which the Government now introduced in existence in Ireland during those four years. Now, once for all, he (the Marquess of Normanby) would, in the strongest terms which he could use, both on the part of the Government with which he was at that time connected, and on the part of the people of Ireland, deny that there was any foundation for that inference. It was proved before a Committee which investigated the subject, that the diminution in crime had arisen from totally different causes; and in stating that, he (the Marquess of Normanby) did not wish to make any invidious distinction between his government in Ireland, and that of his two noble Friends who had preceded him in the government of Ireland. They had difficulties to contend with which he had not experienced; and he would only say on his own part, that during the time he was in Ireland, he, and those who acted with him, claimed no more credit than this, that they had carefully endeavoured to avail themselves of the favourable circumstances which presented themselves, and which his two noble predecessors had not enjoyed. It would appear, from the statement which had been made on the subject, that during the period referred to, 1835 to 1839, the Bill had been introduced; but it was in 1833 that the Coercion Bill had been brought forward by the Government, and that at that time he (the Marquess of Normanby) was at the other side of the globe. He hoped the Government would avail themselves of the recess which was coming on to reconsider the question, and he was sure they would come to the conclusion that coercion was not the way to inspire men with confidence; and never had been, nor never would be, while human nature remained what it is. If the principle, that coercion was beneficial only for the fear it inspired, then there was no autocracy or despotism which might not be justified by that argument, provided it was mildly administered. If such a sentiment were expressed, it did not look like the expression of a strong Minister. He hoped their Lordships would be told to-night what were the intentions of Government with respect to the Coercion Bill. It was not proper it should be held up in its present state of suspended animation. If it were the intention of the Government to go on, let them boldly meet the opposition it encountered; or, on the contrary, which would be better, let them avow that they had changed their opinion, and did not intend to press the measure.


regretted the absence of the noble Marquess at an earlier period of the Session; and he was sure that every noble Lord in that House, as well as himself, regretted the cause of that absence. If the noble Marquess had been present when the Bill was before their Lordships, he would, no doubt, have been better acquainted with its origin and history. During the summer and autumn of last year assassination and other offences had become very frequent, and the increase went on to such an extent that it was deemed advisable to strengthen the hands of the Government in Ireland; and all the means at its disposal were applied for the purpose of suppressing crime. It was under those circumstances that the Ministers of the Crown felt constrained to advise Her Majesty, in her Speech from the Throne, to recommend to Parliament the adoption of some measure for effectually checking them. Her Majesty did so, and both Houses of Parliament unanimously agreed to the propriety of the recommendation. The noble Marquess taunted the Government with slowness and delay. It was quite true the Government did not act hastily or precipitately—they acted with great reluctance, and were most unwilling to call for extraordinary powers. It was no light matter to abridge the constitutional privileges of the subject, and it was not until there was no hope of a better state of things being brought about, that they consented to do so. The Government had entertained a hope that the expression of abhorrence at these crimes by Her Majesty, as well as the unanimous disposition of both Houses of Parliament to acquiesce in Her Majesty's suggestions, would have had a beneficial effect in discouraging their commission. It was not until this hope failed that the Bill for the Protection of Life in Ireland was laid on the Table of the House. Noble Lords opposite had shown a disposition to consider the question fairly and without party spirit, and the Bill met with the almost unanimous support of the House of Lords. It passed their Lordships' House on the 13th of March, and went down to the House of Commons; but it did not pass the first reading in that House until the 1st of May, owing to the opposition it met with. He did not dispute the right of Members of the House of Commons to exercise the right of opposing a Bill on the first reading; but he must say that he thought the Members of it ought to exercise them with great discretion; and he thought that out of respect to that House, and having regard also to the importance of the subject, that it should have been permitted to pass through the first step in the usual manner. As regarded the progress of the Bill after the first reading, it must be recollected that a measure of vital importance to the commercial and agricultural interests of this country had been introduced into the House of Commons, before the Coercion Bill reached it, and he felt sure that even noble Lords on the cross benches would agree with him in thinking that the present state of suspense regarding the Corn Bill should not be unnecessarily prolonged. He felt convinced that their Lordships would agree with him in thinking that the Government could not, in justice to the other important business of the country, have done more than they had done; if they had went on with the Irish Bill, they must inevitably have suspended the whole business of the country. The opinions the Government formerly entertained respecting this Bill they still retained, and he hoped the state of public business would enable the House of Commons to recommence their deliberations upon it; but he felt sure the House could not expect him to fix upon any particular day when the discussions in another place would be resumed. With regard to the speech delivered by his right hon. Friend in the other House, he must say that the practice of replying in one House to speeches delivered in the other was extremely inconvenient; and the noble Marquess had no ground for adopting that course in the present case. The noble Lord the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Lord Morpeth) could have given any explanation in that House that was necessary. After all, the noble Marquess had only drawn an inference from the speech of the right hon. Baronet; and it was for their Lordships to determine whether that inference was a correct one. The noble Marquess had boasted of the tranquillity of Ireland during his administration; but it appeared that during the whole of that period an Act similar to the present had been on the Statute-book. It was more stringent in some respects, since it enforced the penalty of transportation. It also enacted the clause against which the noble Marquess had now protested—that of preventing persons from leaving their dwellings between sunset and sunrise. As respected the system of terror to which the noble Marquess had alluded, he hoped that even if the Bill passed into a law, it would be necessary to exercise it in only a few districts, if in any. But he could inform the noble Marquess, that unless circumstances over which the Government had no control occurred, it was the determination of the Government to proceed with this measure.


said, that the noble Earl, if he had understood him correctly, stated that the delay of five weeks in introducing this measure into Parliament after the Session commenced, was occasioned by the hesitation and reluctance of the Government to depart from the usual course of proceeding, and the strict principles of the Constitution. Now, he must say, it was with the greatest regret he heard the announcement that the Ministers of the Crown, without any such reluctance — without any such hesitation, had compromised the dignity of their Sovereign so far as to recommend distinctly to both Houses of Parliament, in the Speech from the Throne, that such a measure as had been adverted to should be taken into consideration, when they had not only not determined what law and what departure from the Constitution was necessary; but that they were even then hesitating and reluctant whether there should be any such departure at all. And it was to enter his protest against such conduct on the part of the Government that he now rose. When, however, the Government did bring forward such a measure, and said it was necessary on account of the state of the country, he could not take upon himself the responsibility of opposing it. But might it not be that the necessity for this measure arose from the want of influence of the Government in Ireland? Their Lordships might have read in the newspapers of that morning that there had been in one part of Ireland an open revolt against the law, and that loss of life had ensued. But, in other parts of the country neighbouring to that where that melancholy occurrence took place, he knew it to be a fact, that the reason why more outrages were not recorded was, that there the struggle had ceased, and that the parties leagued for disorder were in command of the country. He did not think that this measure could do any good now, from the way in which it was brought be- fore Parliament, and the way in which it was likely to pass. But, whether it were thrown out or not, he hoped that both Houses of Parliament had shown themselves sufficiently jealous of departing from the strict principles of the Constitution, and that it was not until they were actually driven by necessity, that either House of Parliament would adopt a measure so stringent.


said, that if the expressions in Her Majesty's Speech had succeeded in repressing crime in Ireland, this measure would not have been brought forward.


said, if the Government had had the Bill prepared, the more were they to blame for not bringing it forward immediately after the Session commenced.


wished to say a few words with respect to the preparation of this measure. He perfectly recollected that the measure was in a certain degree prepared before the Session commenced. The Government here were in communication with the Irish Government on the subject, and the details of the measure were under discusssion, there being, as the noble Lord was aware was usual in such cases, communication between the law officers of the Crown in both countries, which necessarily occupied some time. But positively the measure was in the course of preparation before it was mentioned in Her Majesty's Speech,


, in confirmation of the statement of the noble Duke, said the measure was shown to him immediately before or immediately after the commencement of the Session.


said, if the Bill were not imperatively necessary it should never have been introduced at all; and their Lordships should not have been called upon to pass a measure so evil and pernicious in its influence, unless Her Majesty's Government were fully satisfied of its absolute necessity, as it was upon their responsibility alone that it had received the sanction of that House. Was it not, therefore, most surprising, that after it had been passed by their Lordships, so little progress had been made with it in another place? He only knew by what had appeared in the public papers, what had taken place elsewhere, and he observed that it had been discussed for a considerable number of days, and the First Minister of the Crown had proposed, that if they would allow the first reading of the Bill, that the second reading should not be brought forward until certain other measures should have been passed. He would ask, was not such a course as that mere trifling with the lives and property of the people of Ireland? Was it not tantamount to saying that a measure for the preservation of the lives and property of Her Majesty's subjects was to be placed on a footing with commercial and financial measures? He was quite aware that it was desirable for the commerce of the country that the Corn Law and the other measures should be definitively settled; but he asserted that no such objects bore any comparison with the necessity for this Bill, if it were to pass at all; and he therefore said, that unless the Government came to the determination of abandoning the Bill altogether, they never should have allowed any other measure to interfere with one so important as this. He thought their Lordships would agree with him in believing, that by allowing the greater part of the Session to pass over, without having passed the Bill into law, would to a great extent render it inoperative; in fact, he entertained considerable doubts whether it would now be passed at all—if the Government had intended to carry it out, they should have done so long since.


considered that nothing could be more unfair than the attack that had been made upon Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord (the Marquess of Normanby) appeared to be unaware of the state of the other House of Parliament during the whole of the Session; and that in consequence of the introduction of the Corn Bill, the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) at the head of the Government was no longer the strong Minister that he had been before. The Bill, after having obtained the sanction of their Lordships, was taken down to the other House on the 13th of March, when it was proposed to be read soon after that day, but it had never received a first reading until the 1st of May; and the great measure in reference to the corn question was delayed till the first reading had been obtained. A small minority in the House of Commons made use of a power that had never been used before, for it had been usual, as a matter of courtesy, to permit the first reading, without opposition, of any measure sent down from their Lordships' House. They had, however, debated that Bill for seven nights, and oc- cupied all the Government nights down to the 1st of May, when it obtained a first reading. He would appeal to his noble Friend (the Marquess of Normanby) whether it was possible for the Government to go further with that question in the other House, until the Corn Bill had first been disposed of. What was the threat held out by the Irish Members? That they would impede the business of the House in every way in their power, if it were then pressed forward. Therefore, considering the state of the country, he believed that Her Majesty's Government would have been guilty of great misconduct if they had gone on with the measure at that time; and would contend that they were not responsible for the delay that had unavoidably taken place.


said, that the noble Earl had told them, that the Government had given way to the threats of the Irish Members in the House of Commons, and that they had acted judiciously in doing so. Now, that was what he most disliked on the part of Her Majesty's Government, as they invariably gave way when they were threatened; and it was to that he attributed the introduction of the Corn Bill, as they had given way to the threats of the Anti-Corn-Law League. The noble Lord had spoken of the "small minority" in the House of Commons, which he would take leave to say was much stronger than the Government party in that House, inasmuch as the "small minority" comprised 125 Members, whilst the right hon. Baronet's (Sir R. Peel's) party, who voted on the second reading of the Corn Bill, numbered only 112, and, therefore, were a much less important party than the minority alluded to. He (the Duke of Richmond) had voted for that (Coercion) Bill with the greatest regret; and if it could have been proved to him, that it would not have passed the other House before the 1st of May, he would not have voted for its passing at all. If the Government had considered it necessary to pass the Corn Bill through the House of Commons before proceeding with the Coercion Bill, there was no necessity for proceeding with the Tariff Bill also; because after the passing of "the Resolutions" by the House, the delay of the latter measure could not possibly occasion any inconvenience to the mercantile community, who had the power of taking those commodities which were affected by the Bill into use, by giving a bond to the Govern- ment for the duties, which would only be payable under certain contingencies.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned.