§ Sir Evan Nepean,
in consequence of a notice given yesterday, rose to move for leave to bring in a bill for the further continuance of the act of last session for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland. The right hon. bart. said, that the continuance of the bill was rendered necessary by the existence of disaffection, in a considerable degree, in Ireland; by the avowed determination of the enemy to invade that country, and the preparations notoriously made for that invasion; by the fact of the collection and association of a number of Irishmen with the forces designed for that purpose, and the actual sitting of a committee of United Irishmen at Paris, corresponding with the United Irishmen of Ireland, and stimulating them to continue in acts of treason. In order to defeat their machinations, and counteract such treasonable plots, it became indispensably necessary to arm the Irish govt. by the further continuance of an authority which had already proved so salutary and efficacious in preserving the tranquillity of that country; more especially, too, as the present law would expire within the short period of six weeks, in which case a number of persons now confined in prison upon treasonable charges must be liberated, and left to follow their secret machinations without controul. He should therefore move for leave to bring in a bill to continue for a time to be limited, the said act."
§ Sir John Newport,
in rising to trespass upon the attention of the house, hoped he should not be considered as throwing any censure upon the government of Ireland, or any insinuation that the power reposed by the existing law in the hands of the present Chief Governor of that part of the empire, had been productive of any 312 reprehensible abuse. He could not, however, on so very momentous a proposition as that, for still longer suspending, in so considerable and important a portion of the empire, the most valuable privilege of our glorious constitution, suppress his decided opinion that before the right hon. bart. called for the assent of parliament to his introduction of such a measure, something more than mere light grounds should have been stated to justify such a proposition. The statement that an Irish committee was sitting in Paris, avowing hostile purposes for the invasion of Ireland, was surely not a sufficient reason for suspending the constitution throughout that country, and involving a whole nation under one disgraceful proscription, with a few suspected traitors; for, if the mischief was really as extensive as the bill pretended, something more of explanation, and stronger grounds, ought to be submitted to Parliament, before their assent was called for to the continuance of so severe a measure. If the continuance of such a committee sitting at Paris was to operate as a justification for the continuance of such a law, we must look to no other limitation for its existence than the continuance of the war: for if the enemy should perceive that the appointment of such a committee at Paris was to operate as a cause for the perpetuation of a law that could not fail to wound and exasperate the national pride and feelings of the Irish people, and so far mould them to the purposes of discontent and disaffection, they might rest assured the enemy would be zealous to keep up that committee, and attach to it the utmost possible importance, if it were only to create a ground of alarm, distrust, and apprehension, towards Ireland, and thus to weaken the energies of both countries. He had been taught from his youth to estimate the benefits of the Habeas Corpus Act as the most invaluable part of the British constitution, and to think that it never ought to be suspended but upon the strongest grounds; all he should now say was, that no such grounds had been shewn as yet. It was of the first importance, that the people of Ireland should be taught to feel that the Imperial parliament was as, tender of their privileges, and as vigilant with regard to their rights and liberties, as towards those of the people of England. He would say, that with respect to Ireland, or North Britain, they ought even to be greater than them with respect to Eng- 313 land; and the granting such extraordinary powers in those parts of the empire ought to be most narrowly looked to, for great powers exercised at a great distance were more liable to be abused than when they were under the immediate inspection and controul of parliament. Instances had already been laid before the house of such powers being stretched, when the exercise of them was remote from examination. He therefore thought the house should not grant such powers when there was no ground laid. Nay, even the ground which was laid by the movers of the proposition was adverse to it. For when he looked back to the extraordinary circumstances with which the motion was introduced, he could not help thinking, that it was matter of doubt with the hon. gentlemen themselves whether the suspension should be renewed: First, above a week since notice had been given of the intention to move for the renewal. Two days after, this notice was expressly abandoned. He asked, why was the proposition of renewal first brought forward? having been brought forward, why was it abandoned? having been abandoned, why was it brought at all? He asked whether a measure of this kind, which was to be justified only by unavoidable necessity, which was hostile and dangerous to the vital principles of the constitution, should, without sufficient cause, be put upon a country, the greater part of whose people was as veil affected to the govt. as the English themselves? He conceived that this justification of so harsh a measure was particularly due to the people of Ulster, who were remarkable for their loyalty and attachment to the British constitution and British connexion; but who were at the same time a strong minded people, not likely to be satisfied with a measure of this nature, unless sufficient cause for it were shewn to them. He should, therefore, conclude with moving, as an amendment to the motion, the omission of the latter part of the motion, from the word 'that,' for the purpose of inserting these words, "that a committee, consisting of 21 members, be formed by ballot, to examine such documents as may be laid before them, and to report to this house their opinion upon these documents, whether the continuance of the suspension of the habeas corpus act be a measure necessary to the tranquillity of Ireland at the present time."
§ Mr. Dennis Browne
agreed that the greater 314 part of the people of Ireland were altogether as loyal as the people of this country; but the circumstances in which Ireland stood at present were distinct from those of any former time. It was not alone the machinations of committees of united Irishmen sitting in Paris, that were to be apprehended and guarded against, but multitudes of them distributed along the whole coast of the French empire, prepared for invasion, communicating with the disaffected at home, and sending emissaries before them to excite discontent, and insurrection among the people. Under these circumstances, it was prudent and necessary to continue the suspension; and not to endanger the constitution by exposing it, with unguarded confidence, to the attacks of those who would take shelter behind it for the purpose of destroying it. It was well known, that hired emissaries from France had come to Ireland with the treasonable designs of exciting disaffection, and conveying information. His great object in supporting the measure now proposed was to prevent these wretches from prosecuting their infamous purposes.
deplored the necessity which he supposed the govt. felt of proposing so very strong a measure, without a full and previous explanation of the grounds on which it was demanded. If the necessity was shewn, he was sure no person would differ from them in a moment like the present. He would not, however, refuse his assent because the necessity was not shewn. He wished to call the attention of ministers to the full consideration of the state of Ireland, as he had repeatedly endeavoured to do before. He was, therefore, prepared to give them the most ample support they could desire; though there existed no disturbance, nor apprehension of distraction, to prevent their looking into the whole state and system of the country with a view to that general amelioration which was so much required. It was in the hope and with the design, that no local troubles, no partial disaffection, should call off the attention of parliament, or of his maj.'s cabinet, from the consideration that Ireland at large demanded and deserved of it, that he supported this measure, which was particularly necessary in a war like the present. He lamented again that it was not advisable to state the grounds on which the renewal of the suspension was asked, as they must be secrets of state; and when he acceded 315 to the measure, he hoped and trusted his maj.'s ministers would turn their serious attention to the state of Ireland at large.
§ Sir John Stuart
said, it did not surprise him much that gentlemen should receive the proposition for this measure with so much coldness; but he happened, in the course of his official connection with the govt. of Ireland, to have the melancholy experience of circumstances to prove the necessity for this measure, and he had no hesitation, for one, to declare it was in dispensably requisite for the tranquillity of that country. He was himself the representative of a county as sincerely attached as any in Ireland to Britain, and the Brit. constitution. This measure was called for by the loyal part of the people for their security and protection against the machinations of the disaffected. It was not now prudent or desirable to go through all the circumstances which rendered such a measure necessary in a country just freed from one rebellion which had succeeded to another, and in which this bill would be the principal support of the loyal and well affected. It was also satisfactory to have an assurance from experience, that the powers it gave would not he abused. He knew the nobleman at the head of the Irish govt. and had opportunities of seeing that he inherited from his illustrious ancestors a zealous attachment to the constitution. He had, in fact, conducted himself in such a manner throughout the whole course of his govt. that there was not a man in the country who had not the fullest confidence that he would not abuse any power entrusted to him. With respect to grounds to be laid by govt. from the information that had reached it, he had to say, that while he teas in office in Ireland (as attorney general,) information had been given by persons connected with the disaffected; and that the exposing to public view the channels through which this information had been obtained, would have the effect to deprive govt. of the sources to future discoveries, and to expose the persons who had made the communication to the knife of the assassin. The numbers confined at present were but few; and from the knowledge he himself had of some of them, they were justly detained. If an investigation could with prudence be granted, he had no doubt it would establish the necessity for the support and defence of the loyal.
§ Mr. Windham
rose to offer a few obser- 316 vations upon this motion, which it was impossible for him to let pass without comment. The right hon. baronet had shewn no necessity whatsoever for a proposition which could not possibly be acceded to, without some reasonable ground. He had himself supported the suspension of the habeas corpus act on former occasions; but he had never supported it without strong reason. The house had more than once voted such a suspension, but never without strong and clear grounds fairly proved or notoriously existing. He should be sorry it would vote it without such grounds. A measure of this sort, however, was not to be voted as a thing of course, like a malt tax, or any other annual money bill, merely because a minister moves it at 24 hours notice, without any clear reason given why the house should adopt it. It was extraordinary, too, that the arguments offered in support of the measure bore most strongly against it. The first was in fact the very worst that could be thought of. For if the existence of an Irish committee in Paris, or the govt. here being credulous enough to believe that such a committee existed, was on all occasions to be sufficient grounds for suspending the habeas corpus, the suspension would continue, as the hon. baronet very justly said, constantly during the war, and even perhaps in time of peace; and the bare existence of such a committee may be made a ground of a similar suspension in every part of the empire. The question was not, however, what mischief such committees or those connected with them, intended, but what they could produce. It was not what disaffection, they wished or designed to raise in Ireland, but whether their means of disturbing that country were such, that the suspension of the habeas corpus was necessary to prevent them.—Was the constitution to be stopped, and set a-going, in this manner? When it was asked why this extraordinary power was called for, it was answered, not that there were disturbances in Ireland; not that it was necessary the better to repel invasion; but that there were committees of united Irishmen sitting at Paris, and that there were mischievous people in Ireland. But the question was not, what either of these descriptions of persons wished to do; but what the others could do with them. None of those who spoke for the motion would give up the point of the general loyalty 317 of the people: all contended, that the great mass of the people were loyal, but that there were some michievous persons: and so there were here in England. But he would ask, whether the mischief that may be produced by these committees in Ireland, was such as to render it necessary to deprive all Ireland of the habeas corpus, the suspension of which may be followed with other measures of a still more odious nature? And the only reason why this broad and unqualified power should be given was, that from the character of the person to whom it was to be entrusted, it was not likely to be abused. In a free country such as this was, and he hoped always would be, the introduction of arbitrary power ought to be guarded against with the strictest jealousy: vast and extraordinary powers ought not to be delegated merely because some mischievous persons were taken up, and the persons to whom the power was to be entrusted for the present were of a mild and moderate disposition. If the govt. was to be armed with extraordinary powers, which it was fit it should when the country wished it for its own security, it was necessary the danger should be of such an extent as to impress on every man's mind the propriety of giving such powers. It should not be said, that no ground should be stated, lest there may be danger of discovering the sources from which the information was derived. The grounds which would justify the putting the country under martial law could not be of such a secret nature. The extent and magnitude of it must be such as to render it generally known. However, if any objection of this kind could be made with any propriety, it was obviated by the mode of inquiry which was proposed by the hon. bart. (sir J. Newport.) He recollected also that an hon. friend of his, if he would allow him to call him so (Mr. Dillon), in moving the address to his maj. drew a very flattering picture of the tranquillity of Ireland. Was it not extraordinary, that without any thing having happened since to do away the effect of this picture, without any explanation to render the colouring of it less strong, the representative of the Irish govt. suddenly started up, and without assigning any reason, proposed to suspend the Brit. constitution in Ireland. He agreed with the hon. baronet (sir J. Newport,) that we ought to be most tender in granting extraordinary powers with respect to Ireland 318 and Scotland, not only as a power exercised at a distance from controul and inspection was more liable to be abused, but also because there was an obligation of honour and consciousness to be delicate in granting powers, the weight of which would fall exclusively on others, while they could not touch ourselves. The declarations of one or two gentlemen, however respectable, was not a ground on which the house ought to be satisfied of the necessity of a measure of this nature. A larger justification ought to be given for depriving of so large a portion of its constitution, a people which had confided its legislature and its liberties to us—a confidence which deserved a care and gratitude very foreign to such monstrous proceedings as the one now proposed.
The Chanc. of the Excheq.
—I should be extremely desirous, sir, to give way on the present occasion to any gentleman from Ireland whose knowledge of the subject in question must be valuable, were it not that some observations which fell from the right hon. gent. over the way, which seem to me necessarily to call for animadversion. At the sentiments which he has now expressed, it is impossible for me not to feel some surprise. The position which he appeared to me to hold, seemed to go to this extent, that in no case whatever could the habeas corpus act be injustice suspended without a previous enquiry. If this was not the position which he meant to maintain in its full extent, then much, very much of what he has said was unnecessary, because it did not bear upon the present question. But if it were, why then he must have spoken with a full knowledge that it has been the practice of parliament to suspend this act without any previous enquiry, and that it was actually suspended in the course of last war with his full consent and approbation. But the right hon. gent. does not contend that the renewal is not right, but that it ought not to be granted without previous examination. Are there no circumstances, then, in which a contrary practice may not only be necessary, but strictly justifiable upon every principle of reason and common sense? It does, sir, often happen, that a case may be so clear and so notorious, so open to every man's observation, that a public statement of the grounds upon which it is required to adopt strong measures may be both futile and unnecessary. Such a case is the present, and 319 yet gentlemen come here and tell us, that we require of them to pass an act of this great importance without any reason assigned for it! What, sir, are the reasons, the strong reasons that exist at this moment? We are engaged in a war with a powerful and active enemy, whose object professedly is to destroy the constitution and overturn the liberties of the British empire. His attention is in the first instance directed towards Ireland, where his emissaries are perpetually at work, by means of correspondence and otherwise, to sow disloyalty and sedition. His object is the invasion and destruction of this country, and to attain it his preparations have been carried on with unremitted vigour, and at this moment are not abandoned. Our fleets are now employed in blockading in their harbours the vessels of our enemy, which, if it were not for their care and vigilance, would sail with an army to attempt to carry his threats into instant execution. To assist him in this plan, those who have fled from their own country, perhaps for crimes of different sorts, have been embodied and formed into a kind of regiment. They are the instruments which he employs to prepare the way for the execution of his purposes. They maintain a correspondence with the disaffected in their own country, and employ every means to spread the flame of rebellion over their unfortunate country, unfortunate for having been the birth place of persons who seem so little to understand or consult her true and permanent interests. They have given occasion to the melancholy insurrections which our times have witnessed in that kingdom. To say that these are not reasons for the measure now proposed to be adopted, is tantamount to saying that no facts of any kind can be a reason for it; but it is to the vigilance and precaution, which it is our object still to continue, that we owe the failure of our enemy's projects, and the consequent safety of Ireland, which would be every moment liable to be plunged in all the horrors of rebellion and bloodshed. The right hon. gent. says, that if an Irish committee were always in the event of war to force us to the necessity of suspending the habeas corpus act, then it would almost always be suspended. The numbers of the disaffected Irish were few, he observed, and the influence of the Irish committee could not enable them to do much mischief. There, however, he is not so correct as usual in his enumeration, The Irish 320 disaffected persons are most certainly few in numbers, compared with what they once were. But no person can have the boldness to assert that they are absolutely few. But it is not, solely on the grounds that there are a number of disaffected persons, who we admit are but comparatively small, that we rely in the present instance for a justification of the measure now proposed. It is upon this circumstance, coupled with past experience of the miseries to which the efforts of this minority have brought upon their country; coupled also with the fact, that we are now engaged in a war with an enemy who will let slip no opportunity of turning the remains of sedition and treason that may still exist in Ireland, to his own advantage, and who by means of those who have fled from their own country to throw themelves into the power of a despot, has too many opportunities allowed him. It is most undoubtly probable that, in all wars like that in which we are at present engaged, while our enemy has such means in his power of disturbing our domestic tranquility, and disseminating insurrection and disloyalty, the present measure will be continued. I believe, that this will be the case, and I am not unmanly enough to deny it. It is, sir, a misfortune of the times, that the principles which gave occasion to the French revolution, have found in many countries a number of adherents. These principles unfortunately are not yet extinct. The misfortune of the times, I say render this course necessary, and sad experience proves it to be the only safe one. The right hon. gent. should, therefore, excuse me for acting on the same principles on which he formerly acted, and by which this country has been preserved. But, if any thing surprised me more than another in the right hon. gent.'s speech, it was the extraordinary mis-statement of what has been said of the state of Ireland. My right hon. friend who made this motion, and those who support it, are assailed with the same clumsy weapon, the same clumsy dilemma, with which the right hon. gent. was formerly attacked when he thought with me, and which he was wont to baffle with so much force and ability. This is the famous dilemma to which they were wont to propose to us; either you have a majority of well-affected persons, or you have not: If you have, then there is no occasion for the present proceeding; if you have not, then tell us so at once. This was what we were told, and what he often 321 heard with so much indignation. There was certainly reason to hope that the disaffected would by this time have had their eyes opened; that those who had been carried away by unconstitutional frenzy would have been cured of their madness; that seeing the fruits the French revolution had produced, they would have got enough of that liberty which had yielded only such baneful produce; that if any, from the impulse of religion, were prompted to seek a change in the establishment, it was not possible for any Catholic to listen to any suggestion from France, on that head, after the mockery the French have made of all religion, and particularly after the late transaction, in which the Catholic religion has been impiously compelled to consecrate and sanction a power established by the hand that had profaned it. It was to be hoped from all the worse than bondage which has been introduced by republican fraternity, by the audacity of jacobinism, and the avowed despotism of the present government of France, wherever its influence could reach, that none could be found mad enough to seek alliance pregnant with so much mischief. But was it to be supposed that there was no minority in a part of the empire now indissolubly united, and he hoped never to be separated, which was still weak and wicked enough to cultivate such a connection? Does the right hon. gent. forget what he has said when the disaffected few talked as if they had a majority. When the majority during last war was sounded in our ears, he told us that this majority was nothing but a factious minority, who forced many quiet and peaceable people to appear to serve our schemes and principles, which in their hearts they hated. There are grounds for the measure in question. But this is not all; Ireland is a more distant limb of the empire, and therefore more exposed. This is the point to which our enemy has chiefly directed his attention, and, therefore, we are the more bound to take care that this point, the most important in the British empire, should be preserved from hostile aggression and secret machinations. What, then, is the next point to which he has adverted? He has observed, that whatever may be the excellence of the lord lieutenant's character, he ought not to be entrusted with arbitrary powers. If the excellence of the character of any individual were stated solely as a ground for entrusting him with extraordinary power, I should immediately allow 322 that the point could not be maintained. A necessity for vesting these powers must be first made; but when the necessity presents itself, then certainly it becomes an important consideration to ascertain the character of the person who is to have the execution of the object intended by the grant of such powers. It is in this view I apprehend, that an hon. bart. (sir J. Stewart) over the way, has brought forward the character of lord Hardwicke. This argument of character was applied by the right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham) in the course of last war with his usual talents, when he sat on the same side of the house with myself and when we acted in opposition to those levelling principles which we both thought subversive of the essence of good government, and a scourge to the civilized world.—I maintain in the present instance, that ah enquiry would be superfluous, and might be dangerous. It would be in the highest degree imprudent to disclose the sources from whence our information has been derived, and who that has attended to the state of Ireland can reasonably desire that they should? I have the greatest confidence in the discretion of the members of this house. But, in a matter where the life of others may depend upon secrecy, I am sure that few would wish for a disclosure. The matter then rests upon the plain general grounds of notorious necessity, which has been touched upon. The notice has been short. The reason, however, of this is obvious. Notice was given some time ago, but it was suffered to drop on account of the urgency of the business which was likely to come before the house. That business, however, has been unavoidably delayed; and as the time when this act would expire was so near, it was impossible to postpone the notice any longer. Having thus endeavoured to explain frankly and plainly, the grounds of the measure, and the reason of the proceedings with respect to it, I trust I have satisfied the house of the propriety of agreeing to the motion, and given a sufficient answer to the arguments of its opponents.
§ Mr. Windham,
in explanation said, that he had not stated that he would in no circumstances concur in the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act without instituting a committee of inquiry, but this he did say, and was ready to maintain, that upon such grounds as those which were stated for the motion before the house, it would be quite unjustifiable to answer to that motion without previous inquiry.
§ Mr. Fox.
—Much, sir, as I have been alarmed, and have had to regret the opinions avowed, and the conduct pursued by the ministers of this country for several years back, particularly while headed by the right hon. gent. who now presides over the administration of his maj.'s govt. yet I confess that I have never felt an equal degree of alarm to that which the sentiments he has just uttered have excited in my mind. I should hope, sir, that he did not speak seriously. If he did; if he really and deliberately holds such sentiments, I must say that I consider him as maintaining principles the most alarming that I have ever heard promulgated in this house or this country, and such as I could scarcely suppose it possible that any man who imagined the people of England retained any degree of regard for their liberties, would venture to declare, or who professed even a respect for the spirit of the British constitution would hear without pain. If the doctrines which the right hon. gent. has this night avowed, be those upon which he means to act, and if he should obtain power sufficient to carry them into effect, melancholy indeed is the prospect for this country ! But, perhaps, the right hon. gent. meant to use the declarations I have referred to merely as a defence against the arguments of my right hon. friend (Mr. Windham), and not as the indication of a settled opinion. If even so, they were inefficient to the purpose of such defence, and they certainly went much beyond any principles avowed by the right hon. gent. or any of his colleagues, during the last war; yet they were not inconsistent with those principles. They were different from, though not contrary to, the nature of those maxims which dictated that mischievous course of policy towards the people and their privileges, which it was my uniform endeavour to deprecate and prevent. Indeed, the rt. hon. gent. himself never attempted to go the length he has hazarded to-night. He never before ventured to maintain that because some of the people were bad subjects, the liberty of the whole people should be placed at the discretion of the minister and his agents by the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. With this statement he has coupled something which he meant as a reply to the arguments of my right hon. friend (Mr. Windham), and as a charge upon me and those gent. who acted with me in resisting the frequent motions for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus 324 Act, which in the course of the last way were carried through this house. The hon. gent. stated that my right hon. friend has had recourse, on this occasion, to that which he himself so often baffled before, when used by my friends and me, and which the right hon. gent. calls a "clumsy dilemma." But I would tell him, and my right hon. friend also, that it was not the dilemma we stated they succeeded in refuting, but it was the clumsy misrepresentation of that dilemma, against which they directed their objections. We never did maintain, that, while the majority was loyal, there could be no necessity for a measure similar to that now before the house. We never could have asserted any thing so absurd and clumsy, that the loyalty of a mere majority formed an argument against the adoption of any measures of precaution against the disaffection of a mere minority. We never even said that the loyalty of a considerable majority would furnish an irresistible objection to such measures. Our reasoning was uniformly grounded upon the degree and nature of the disloyalty alleged to exist, which we did not conceive such as to justify the harsh system of proceeding then pursued by the right hon. gent. But it suited the right hon. gent.'s purpose to give another description to our opinions, and against that other and unjust description his arguments were always levelled. The right hon. gent. and his colleagues appeared to me in every instance, to state insufficient grounds to call for the rigorous measures of the last war, but yet almost any grounds they urged at any time, were sufficiency itself compared to those that are laid for the measure now proposed. How is the state of Ireland described, even by those who support this proposition? Why, that it is in general, and particularly in the province of Ulster, which is by far the most populous and important district of the country, and once the most suspected of disloyalty, as sound, as well disposed, and as loyal as any part of England. Here, then, we have a comparison made that enables us to decide as to the nature of the necessity that exists for the farther continuance of such a bill. Here we have a rule and measure to guide our judgment—and, what is most extraordinary, furnished to us by the very men, who, notwithstanding, assert the necessity of this measure. But their reason for the assertion is truly curious—"because there are some disaffected 325 persons in the country." And where is it, I should be glad to know, that such persons are not to be found? Are there not bad subjects of every kind to be met with, perhaps, in every part of England? Yet, surely, no man will venture to alledge that as a reason for extending the operation of the measure before the house to this country. Perhaps, some one may be found to do so. Possibly the right hon. gent. may feel disposed to urge such a proposition. If he should entertain the wish, most certainly the adoption of the motion of the hon. bart. will afford him a most encouraging precedent. Unless it be pretended that the measure of justice which is due to the people of Ireland is very different from that which belongs to the people of this country, and that different, nay contrary principles of argument are applicable to the two countries, it cannot be said that the English nation enjoys the least security against the suspension of its constitution at the will of any minister, if the motion submitted by the hon. bart. be acceded to upon such slight grounds, or rather upon no grounds whatever.—I have stated, that I see not the least necessity for this proposition, and I always stated upon similar propositions in the course of the last war, that I never saw an adequate necessity for adopting them. This statement my full conviction justifies me in repeating, and I say again to the right hon. gent. and to my right hon. friend also, that they never succeeded in their reasoning against my friends and me, but by mis-stating our argument. We continually put the question which naturally suggested itself to our minds, and which my right hon. friend has very properly put to-night, namely of what consequence is the discontent or disaffection of a few, if the great body of the people be sound and loyal? Certainly, the consequence is not such as to warrant the suspension of public liberty; and I never imagined that any man would have the hardihood to assert in this house that it was. But the right hon. gent has exceeded my expectation. In the whole progress of his hostility to freedom, and the constitution of England, never has he uttered any thing so dangerous and alarming as we have heard from him to-night. Never has he attempted to take so great a stride before. In addition to the existence of disaffection in Ireland, the right hon. gent. states another reason for the adoption of the measure under consideration, and it is this, 326 which he described in very lofty terms; that we are engaged in war, and with an enemy who threatens to destroy our constitution and independence. I would ask were we ever at war with any power, particularly in France, that was not willing to destroy our independence, aye, quite as willing as the present government of France? I never heard that we were. It was, however, reserved for the right hon. gent. to maintain that war is a good ground for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act. But the right hon. gent. states, that the enemy threatened Ireland with an invasion; and did he not also threaten G. Britain? Both these reasons, therefore, are as applicable to the one country as to the other, and would, as I said before, equally sustain the extension of the measure before the house to both countries. When reasons of that sort, therefore, are stated, I must feel as much alarm for G. Britain as for Ireland. I approve highly the generous sentiments that have been expressed by the hon. bart. who moved the amendment. He feels a laudable tenderness and solicitude for Ireland, and so do I. But I feel also for G. Britain; and who knows how soon it may be doomed to suffer from the effects of that principle, which the right hon. gent. seeks to establish in the adoption of the motion before the house? That right hon. gent. would, I presume, be the last to deny, that there existed as strong grounds to apprehend an invasion of G. Britain as of Ireland. Different opinions prevailed as to the probability of invasion; but in the mind of the right hon. gent. there seemed to be no doubt that it would take place. Indeed, notwithstanding the close blockade of Brest, and the vigilant activity of our fleets and cruizers, with the increase of our land force, which none professed a desire to increase further than the right hon. gent. still was he haunted by the apprehension, and loudly proclaimed the probability, that an invasion of G. Britain was to be expected from day to day. This I mention, merely to shew, that at least in the judgment of the right hon. gentleman, there exists a good reason, in his view, for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Great Britain as well as in Ireland; and also to account for the alarm which I think must be universally excited by the opinions he has delivered in the course of this debate. If we are to be told, that although the people 327 of Ireland are as loyal as those of any county, in England, that because some persons in Ireland are alleged to be disaffected, we are, without any other reason, and without any previous examination of the nature and sufficiency of the grounds stated, to assent to the motion of the hon. bart. then I say, adieu to the security of British freedom; adieu to that Habeas Corpus Act which is the proudest boast and noblest guard of the British constitution. If the right hon. gent. and those who act with him, seriously think that the grounds they urge are sufficient to warrant the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, when, I would request to know, I don't mean as to date, but under what circumstances is that important privilege to be restored? Upon looking over the history of this act, I find that when, in former instances, it was thought necessary to suspend its operation, that suspension was but of very short duration. In the reign of Queen Anne it was suspended twice; and during the reign of the two first branches of the House of Brunswick, it was suspended more than once. I find that from the Revolution down to the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, this important privilege was not withdrawn from the British people so often as it has been during a very few years of the administration of the right hon. gent. And yet during the period that intervened, the country was frequently engaged in war —frequently threatened with invasion, and was much disturbed by disaffection also: a disaffection which sprung not from Jacobins, but Jacobites. The latter party, I must observe, was quite as resolute and enterprising as the former, and much stronger in numbers, influence, property and power.—What a material difference does this reflection manifest between the character and views of the right hon. gent. and that of any minister who preceded him! The right hon. gent. contends that notoriety is a sufficient ground for parliament to proceed upon, without instituting a committee of inquiry. He has so contended on other occasions. But did he and others who thought with him, argue that what they called the notoriety of disaffection, at the commencement of the last war, was an adequate ground to induce parliament to agree to a measure of the same nature as the present? No. And though that notoriety was generally asserted by the right hon. gent. and his friends, and by none, perhaps, more than by my right 328 hon. friend—(and I mention, that for the purpose of defending him against the observations just made by the right hon. gent.) although the notoriety was such as was said to be obvious in the public streets, yet ministers did not attempt to apply to parliament for a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act without instituting a committee of inquiry to examine and report upon the information which govt. possessed. That committee made a report to the house, and upon that report the proposals for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act was grounded. This was the course of proceeding which my right hon. friend supported, and this is the course which he recommends now. Can it be said, then, with any degree of fairness, that the least degree of inconsistency is attributable to him for opposing a motion of such importance as the present, which is ushered into the house by the mere statement of a minister, and that statement itself containing such vain and futile grounds. The passing of this act 18 months ago, without any previous inquiry, cannot be justly urged as a precedent to induce even those who agreed to it, to accede to the present motion, for the circumstances are not at all analagous. The alarm created by the intelligence received of the riot in Dublin, afforded some excuse for the precipitancy with which the proposition of ministers was then adopted. It was carried on the spur of the occasion, and some might have hoped, that when there was time, ministers would communicate more satisfactory grounds for the existence of such a measure, or that the house would institute an inquiry to ascertain the necessity of its continuance. These ideas might have influenced the acquiescence of some gentlemen in the conduct they then pursued. But my right hon. friend took a different and a wiser course. He urged the necessity of previous inquiry, and had I been present, I should have certainly supported him, although I should have had to resist the argument of another right hon. friend of mine, who I understand maintained that the bill for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act should, under these circumstances, be immediately passed. (Here Mr. Sheridan, towards whom Mr. Fox looked, signified his dissent.) Then, resumed Mr. Fox, I am glad it is a mistake. I am happy to find that my right hon. friend, was not among the number of those who 329 were deceived in the expectations which induced them to vote for that measure; which, although it has been now 18 months in existence, no inquiry has been instituted, nor have ministers communicated any further information to the house on the subject than what was contained in his maj. message—That my right hon. friend was right, notwithstanding the statement of the right hon. gent. in supposing that this measure was dropped, will not, I think, be denied by any candid man who considers the circumstances. After having given notice of the motion some time back, the hon. bart. put it off sine die. The right hon. gent. has said that the reason of that postponement was the press of business: but that need not have prevented the hon. bart. from mentioning some day for bringing it forward again. The omission to do so appears to betray something like a design to take the house by surprise, or to raise an argument out of the shortness of the time between this and the expiration of the act against the delay of any previous inquiry. If, without such inquiry, you enact this measure, upon the mere statement of a minister, upon such evidence, as, according to the principle of the right hon. gent. is sufficient to establish the necessity of a legislative act of this nature; namely, the view and opinion of his maj. ministers, you may as well pass an act at once to invest the executive govt. with the power to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act whenever it pleases. To apply to this house for an act of the description proposed by the right hon. bart. upon such authority as he has mentioned, is quite a mockery; and to answer that appeal by concurring in that act, will, in my mind, amount to little less than a virtual abandonment of our legislative functions. For what means an application to our judgment, unaccompanied by such information as is necessary to qualify that judgment to decide? I cannot understand the curious distinction which the right hon. gent. has drawn with respect to the character of Lord Harwicke, as applied to this measure. My right hon. friend stated manfully, that the character of any man, however pure, could form no reason in his mind to invest that man with arbitrary power. This is exactly my opinion. But the right hon. gent. says, that he only alluded to the character of lord Hardwicke, as an argument against the abuse of the power which this act is meant to estab- 330 lish, but as not at all applicable to the merits of the measure. This is to me a very nice and very unintelligible distinction; for the strongest reason in favour of any grant of power is, that it is, not liable to abuse. Therefore, when the right hon. gent. asserts so much with regard to the disposition and character of Lord Hardwicke, he is strongly recommending this measure; but yet his panegyric upon that noble lord, were it ever so well founded, would have no influence on my mind in favour of this proposition. I know there are certain theorists who hold the maxim, that the most uncontrouled authority may be granted without danger to an honest, able man; nay that an absolute monarchy is the best system of government, if the monarch were possessed of all the virtues and talents of which man is capable, but I am not one of those theorists. Let the disposition of a man be what it may, I will not consent to invest him with extraordinary, unconstitutional powers, for this plain reason, that it is subject to abuse. The virtue of a man is therefore, no argument with me in favour of such grants; because I learn from the history of mankind, because particularly the history of the constitution, and my own experience, forbid such grants, I am impelled to dread the abuse of power to whomsoever it may be given. These are my reasons for not allowing any weight to the argument, drawn from the character of lord Hardwicke. Into that character itself I will not now enter. I have reasons which form stronger grounds of complaint against that noble lord in my mind, than perhaps they would form in the minds of others. I shall not now mention them. It is enough with me to justify the vote I mean to give against the measure under consideration, that I will not intrust such power to any man. If character were a sufficient reason to justify the constitution of such a power, that reason a minister could always find among the nobility of this country. If lord Hardwicke did not answer, another and another nobleman of unexceptionable character could be immediately found to fill his place. I cannot, therefore, listen to such reasoning. My objection is, to grant the power proposed to the office, not to the man.—As the right hon. gent. has not hinted when the measure before the house is likely to cease, I suppose, from some observations of his, that it is his intention that it shall continue during the present 331 war, and nothing more likely that he may propose to extend it to this country. if he pleases to do so, he can adduce reasons quite as strong as he has offered in support of the motion of the hon. bart.; and why should it be presumed that the right hon. gent. is not as fond of enjoying extraordinary power himself in this country, as of granting it to any Lord Lieutenant? Ireland being now admitted by all to be in a general state of tranquillity, I cannot conceive what change in her situation can take place that is likely to induce the right hon. gent. to put an end to this odious measure. If, although Ireland be tranquil, the existence of what is called an Irish committee at Paris, he considered a reason for measures like that before the house, then is the French govt. furnished with the means of perpetually and sorely annoying this country, by depriving the people of their liberty. For that govt. has nothing more to do than to create, or to promulgate the existence of an Irish or an English committee also, and upon that, it seems, combined with the popular discontent which such measures as this under discussion, will always produce, an English minister may found a reason for investing himself and his friends with the extraordinary power of suspending the constitution of England. Among other singular and indeed incredible things, we are told by the supporters of this bill, that the majority of the people of Ireland will gladly hear of its re-enactment, because they are so confident of its necessity, and they are so much attached to lord Hardwicke, that they are convinced that any power would in his hands be safe from abuse. As to the disposition of the people I shall say nothing. But there are some facts with respect to the abuse of power in Ireland under this bill, which I shall take an opportunity of stating more at large, when the motion, of which an hon. gent. (Mr. Fitzgerald) has this day given notice, is brought before the house. There is one gross instance of abuse, which I cannot even now refrain from alluding to; I mean that of Mr. Todd Jones. This gent. I have reason to believe, has, on the ground of mere suspicion, suffered a most rigorous imprisonment in a loathsome jail, for upwards of 16 months. From the treatment he has experienced, and the situation in which he is placed, he has, in fact, suffered enough of punishment, even had he been guilty of a heavy crime. In- 332 deed, he has endured so much, that countries where the laws are less several it would be deemed quite sufficient to atone for treason or felony. There are other cases also which I could state, but I shall reserve them for the occasion I have already alluded to. But even suppose I allow every merit that may be ascribed to lord Hardwicke, or his secretary, and those immediately about his govt. still my objection to this bill would not be removed. For I feel it to be one of the great mischiefs of arbitrary power, that even though the principals in the administration of it be ever so virtuous, so vigilant, or so able, still acts will be committed by some of those to whom in its various ramifications, that power will be necessarily delegated, that the principals cannot prevent, and which, if communicated to them, would make them shudder with as much horror as any other persons would be apt to feel. These are the reasons which urge me to resist this and the other bill, of which the hon. bart. gave notice some time since; but of which, I hope, I shall hear no more. I cannot see the least reason for the adoption of such measures, much less such strong grounds of necessity as could alone justify their introduction. I trust, then, that by rejecting them we shall shew the people that we have their liberty not merely in our mouths, but in our hearts; and that we will not abandon our duty to preserve that sacred trust, upon idle rumours, or light ministerial whispers.
§ Sir Evan Nepean
said, that he had inquired into the situation of Mr. Todd Jones, and found, that though he was discharged, he had no reason to complain, as he was placed in as comfortable a state as a person in his circumstances deserved.
§ Mr. Fox
observed, that the judges of assize had stated, as a complaint from the county of Cork, the unwholesomeness of the prison in which Mr. Jones was confined. As to the concluding part of the hon. bart.'s observations, he should take occasion to talk a little more about it when the motion he had already alluded to should come before the house.
§ Lord De Blaquiere
observed, that if it was meant to discuss this question upon any supposition that the two countries, Ireland and England, were in the same situation, gent. were grossly mistaken indeed. The hon. gent. who had just sat down, had given to the sentiments of his 333 hon. friend, on the present state of Ireland, a construction which they would not fairly bear. They had never asserted, that the whole of Ireland was as loyal as England, but that certain provinces were so. Ulster, for instance, the inhabitants of which were certainly as well disposed to the existing govt. as those of any county in England whatever. The hon. gent. had alluded to what he was pleased to term the precipitation with which the bill for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland was carried through parliament in July 1803. He would just recal the attention of the house to the circumstances of the time. Antecedently to that period, application had been made to govt. requesting, for the security of the well-affected, that a suspension of the Habeas Corpus might be procured; but the ministry, actuated by motives of forbearance, he supposed, or not aware of the extent of the danger, refused their concurrence. What followed? The rebellion. In the mean time, the govt. having become sensible of the necessity of the measure, brought forward the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and obtained for it the sanction of parliament; but it was too late. He was convinced, and knew it to be the opinion of many gent. intimately acquainted with the internal politics of that country, that had the suspension taken place sooner, the rebellion would never have burst forth. It was infinitely better to prevent guilt than to punish it. He was desirous, by repressing the treasonable attempts of the turbulent and factious part of the community in Ireland, to secure to the loyal and well-affected the enjoyment of security and repose.
§ Mr. Sheridan
said, he should reserve the full declaration of his sentiments upon the subject before the house for a future stage of the proceeding. He rose only to correct a mistake into which his hon. friend (Mr. Fox) had fallen, in supposing that he had ever supported such a measure as that which was then under discussion. This mistake of his hon. friend arose from this, that upon the motion for an address to his majesty, in answer to his message respecting the riot in Dublin, he spoke against any delay in expressing the abhorrence which the house felt against such atrocities as that message referred to, but he never voted for either the martial law bill, or the act for the suspension of thy Habeas Corpus.
was surprised that any gent. should assert, that there existed no cause in Ireland for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. He believed, that in the north of Ireland the people were, in general, loyal; but disaffection still lurked among them, and if not kept down by the strong hand of power, would soon become too formidable for opposition. An hon. gent. had alluded to the period of history, during the reigns of the earlier princes of the Brunswick family, when the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act first took place, and had compared that epoch to the present; but he did not think the resemblance so strong as the hon. gent. seemed to imagine. At that time the jacobites were contending for the restoration of the Stewarts to the thrones both of G. Brit. and Ireland. They had no common object in view. Now, the exertions of the Irish malcontents are directed to separate Ireland from G. Brit. and to establish in the former country a distinct and independent democracy. The part of Ireland which he had the honour to represent, was in a quiescent state; but he was satisfied that his constituents, although they laboured under no necessity of availing themselves of the suspension, would heartily rejoice at the security that it would afford to such of their neighbours as were not in such an enviable situation. It was a circumstance too well authenticated to admit of the least doubt, that to every point of France that is easily accessible from Ireland, numbers are continually passing, whose object was surely questionable.
§ Sir John Newport
explained. He had never, in the most distant manner, intimated that he should ultimately oppose the suspension. What he contended for was, that by appointing a committee, the house might be enabled to ascertain with precision, whether such a measure was eligible or not.
§ Mr. R. Martin (of Galway)
said, he would trouble the house with an observation or two, which he would comprise in a few words. If it had been proposed to him to give a decided affirmative or a decided negative to the motion for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, he should certainly, with the knowledge of the circumstances of Ireland that he possessed, have preferred the former; but as a middle course had been offered to the house by the motion of an hon. bart. which went 335 to give them full information on the subject, he should most assuredly vote for the amendment. He differed materially from the hon. gent. who thought the situation of Ireland now the same as when the suspension of the Habeas Corpus had been voted by a parliament sitting in Ireland. To suppose this, would be to believe every argument that he had heard in favour of the union. No man was more disposed to pronounce an eulogy on that measure than he was; he had urged to his constituents, in the strongest terms, the full benefit which they would receive from a participation in the English constitution; but if a suspension were thus to take place on light grounds, or at any rate without serious inquiry, they would be apt to imagine that the benefits they derived from their close connection with England and English laws were not so great as he had represented them to be. There was another argument which appeared to him of some importance, and that was, that the suspension was confined to Ireland. If it were proposed to be extended over the whole kingdom he, for one, would make no opposition to it. It had been said, but without a shadow of truth, that the Irish gentry loved martial law better than magna charta.—With regard to France, the situation of Ireland was essentially different from what it was at the time of the suspension that he had last alluded to. When the suspension took place, there was an organised republic existing in Ireland, and ready to fraternize with the then democratical govt. of France; but from the late change in the legislature and govt. of that country, all hopes of co-operation and assistance in their political views, that the republicans of Ireland might once have indulged, must long have vanished. If any living characters were more detested by the Irish than others, they were the individuals composing the self-denominated Irish directory in Paris. On a review of all the circumstances of the case, he certainly thought the hon. baronet's amendment should be adopted. He by no means refused the suspension, he only asked for the inquiry.
could not suffer this question to come to a decision without declaring his hostility to the original motion, and his reasons for supporting the amendment of the hon. baronet. He was confident the right hon. baronet who had brought forward the original motion had 336 sufficient grounds in his own mind to justify the adoption of such a measure; and he believed too, that if he were himself acquainted with these grounds, he should be of the same opinion. In order to justify him in voting for such a motion, something more was necessary than the impressions of his own mind. If the hon. baronet even had communicated to him satisfactory reasons for the adoption of the measure, in his closet, yet, as a representative of the Irish people, he should require further information—public and official documents, sufficient to establish parliamentary ground for the necessity of the measure. Until such documents should be produced he could not reconcile it to himself to vote for a measure that was to deprive so great a proportion of his maj.'s subjects of the most invaluable benefits of the constitution. As to what had been said respecting the character of the noble lord at the head of the Irish govt. he readily subscribed to it all, and he was happy in the opportunity of bearing testimony of the high opinion he entertained of his virtues and talents: but he was far from thinking that any circumstances of personal character, however favourable, could constitute an argument in support of such a measure.—The question was then loudly called for, and the gallery being cleared, a division took place:
|For the original motion||112|
|For the amendment||33|
|List of the Minority.|
|Adair, Robert||Hughes, W. L.|
|Bagenel, Walter||Johnstone, G.|
|Calcraft, John||Kinnaird, Hon. C.|
|Cavendish, Lord G.||Latouche, R.|
|Cavendish, William||Latouche, J.|
|Chapman, Charles||Martin, R.|
|Creevey, T.||North, Dudley|
|Dawson, R.||Petty, Lord H.|
|Douglas, Marquis of||Plumer, W.|
|Ebrington, Lord||Newport, Sir. J.|
|Eliot, William||Sheridan, R. B.|
|Fellowes, Robert||Temple, L.|
|Fitzpatrick, Rt. Hon. R||Walpole, Hon. G.|
|Folkestone, Viscount||Western, C. C.|
|Fox, Hon. C. J.||Windham, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Grey, Hon. Charles||Wynne, Charles W. W.|
|Hamilton, Lord A.||Wynne, Sir W. W. W.|
|Holland, H. jun.|