HL Deb 11 April 1848 vol 98 cc135-8

The DUKE of BEAUFORT said, he wished to call their Lordships' attention to the circumstance of the great number of foreigners that were to be seen at present filling the streets of London, and among whom it had been ascertained were several who were known to be the worst characters of France. He was the last person who would object to this country affording a refuge to foreigners driven from their own country by misfortune; but he thought it was a very different matter when persons came to this country, as many now did, with the object of trying to raise sedition and disturbance. He wished, therefore, to know from Her Majesty's Government whether, since the repeal of the Alien Act, there were any provisions in force in this country which would enable the Government to interfere with this class of persons; and if not, whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to ask Parliament for new powers to effect that object? There was another point also on which he wished for information. It was in reference to the body which called itself the National Convention. That assembly, he was aware, had not been recognised by the Government, but still it was well known to be in existence; and now that there was this fraternisation with foreigners going on, it appeared to him that the existence of that society ought to be taken into consideration, and he would wish to know, therefore, if Her Majesty's Government had any intention of taking measures to put it down?

The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE: My Lords, with regard to the subject last mooted by the noble Duke, I do not propose to state what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government in reference to that society; but with respect to the point to which he first alluded, I am anxious to give an answer which I trust will be considered satisfactory, not only by the noble Duke, but by your Lordships' House generally—I mean the circumstances connected with the presence of large numbers of aliens in this country. In reply to the first question of the noble Duke, I may state that there are no provisions now on the Statute-book by means of which the conduct of aliens can be controlled in this country, otherwise than in accordance with the general laws which exist regarding the personal liberty of Her Majesty's subjects. But in answer to the very natural question put by the noble Duke, whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Ministers to propose any measure providing a remedy for such a state of things, I have to state that I now hold in my hand a Bill on this very subject, which I intend to lay on the table of your Lordships' House to-night, and by which ample powers are given to the Government to proceed at once to eject foreigners whose objects in this country do not warrant their remaining here. Although it is not necessary for me, according to the forms of your Lordships' House, to preface any application I may make for laying such a Bill on the table with any observations whatever, yet, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, and with a view to the expediency of passing the Bill into law with as little delay as possible, I trust that your Lordships will allow me on this occasion, in moving the first reading of the Bill, to make a few observations on the object of it. I am myself the last person who would wish that there should remain in force any permanent law in this country prohibiting either the arrival or the residence of aliens among us, other than the usual laws of the country with respect to all her Majesty's subjects; and under this feeling I have myself, in conjunction with other noble Lords, taken a part in procuring in one instance a modification, and in the other a repeal of the laws which had existed on this subject. But I must say that I am of opinion, that desirable as it is that this country should on all occasions afford hospitality and a refuge to all those aliens, whether they be monarchical, constitutional, or republican, who are ready to obey the laws of the country. that they are about to enter, and to adopt the part of obedient subjects during the residence that they obtain there under the favour of the law; yet I cannot conceal from myself, when I see the causes that are now in operation, and when I am aware of the increased number of foreigners that, under the most peculiar circumstances, have recently visited this country, and, in short, when I know that these foreigners come under various influences, and those not the accustomed influences of pleasure or business, but influences of a totally different description that I shall not at present more particularly allude to—I say, my Lords, that seeing these things, I cannot but think, and I trust your Lordships will think with me, that the Government of the country ought to have vested in them a power, to be used on their responsibility and for a limited time, in certain cases, to compel the departure of these persons. I am authorised to state that this is the opinion of Her Majesty's Ministers generally, but also that it is above all the opinion of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; and, my Lords, when I hear it proclaimed loudly, and generally, and avowedly, that there are numbers of those foreigners who are prepared to take a part in the internal dissensions of this country—if there be such dissensions —and, above all, when I hear it clearly proclaimed by a person who is deeply guilty of misleading his fellow-subjects in that respect—when that person has publicly stated, that there are 40,000 or 50,000 persons, not only prepared, but desirous, to seize an opportunity of taking part in overturning the Government of this country, and in dismembering the parts of which the empire consists—when I hear this, and when I know that there are crowds of persons resorting to this country, whose motives cannot at this moment be ascertained, I say that it is the duty of the Government, and of Parliament, to stand armed in this respect, as in every other, against such contingencies as may arise. I will not go farther at present than to state the circumstances under which I lay the Bill on the table; and if your Lordships consent to read it a first time to-day, I shall propose to read it a second time on Thursday; and, if it be your Lordships' pleasure to do so, I would wish to have it pass through this House with as little delay as possible.

LORD BROUGHAM said, that he only rose for the purpose of making a single observation. He wished merely to remark, with regard to the assertion that there were 50,000 Frenchman ready to assist in an outbreak in this country, that he believed it to be without the shadow of a foundation.

The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE said, that he had given no opinion as to the truth of the assertion, but he had merely mentioned it as an announcement that had been made.

The EARL of MALMESBURY said, that he was sure that there was not a person in that House who did not agree with him in feeling most grateful to Her Majesty's Government for the prompt and judicious step that they had taken on this subject. As an instance that such a measure was not uncalled for, he would beg to read a passage from a speech made by a person named Harney within the last few days. [The noble Lord read the passage, which alluded to the willingness expressed by foreigners to assist in any struggle that might be considered necessary in this country.] At the same time it was right to state that there was a large number of foreigners of the most respectable class, among whom he might mention such names as Prince Louis Buonaparte and M. Gaudin, who had offered their services to the authorities to be swown in as special constables.

Bill read 1a.

Back to