had a petition to present from a district in the county of Cork, praying that that Bill might not be renewed.
§ Mr. Hume
observed, that having voted against every clause of the former Bill, he felt equally called upon to give his opposition to that before the House, although it was presented to them deserted of its most objectionable clauses. There were still, however, some clauses in it so objectionable, that he was determined to resist them. The clauses to which he more particularly alluded, were the 12th and the 28th, the one taking away from public officers all responsibility, and the other requiring the sanction of the Lord-Lieutenant to the holding of meetings to petition that House for a redress of grievances. The Bill, but more particularly those clauses of it was, in his opinion, altogether uncalled for, and calculated to irritate and render discontented the people of Ireland. As to the clause taking away responsibility from public officers, he thought it one of a most mischievous tendency. It ought to be known throughout Ireland as well as in this country, that every public servant, from the Crown down to the most humble individual, was responsible for his public conduct. He hoped the noble Lord would consider this matter before he pressed these clauses.
said, it was not his intention to divide the House in that stage of the proceedings, as it was his intention to move the omission of certain clauses when the Bill went into Committee. He would, however, take leave to assure the noble Lord opposite, that this measure was a bad remedy with which to attempt to allay or soften down the irritated feelings of the Irish people. If the noble Lord wished to take such a course, he would advise him so to mitigate the Bill as to render it merely a prohibition of, or a punishment for, agrarian disturbance. For God's sake, let it not be said, that the English Legislature was only known to Ireland by the severe, oppressive, and persecuting measures which it enacted against that unhappy country.
§ The House went into a Committee.
§ On the first Clause of the Bill being read, to renew the Bill till next year,
said, he was aware that 350 if the Bill were to be enacted at all, it must pass into a law before the first of August. As it now stood, it was merely a renewal of certain clauses of the Act of last year, with certain indefinite exceptions. Some of the clauses still remaining in the Bill he was determined to oppose.
§ Mr. Feargus O'Connor
was determined to oppose the Bill, no matter in what shape it might be brought under the consideration of the Committee. He would oppose it clause by clause, line by line, because he felt convinced that it was altogether uncalled for.
asked his hon. friend whether, after having opposed the first clause and defeated it, he would go on to oppose the second, which would then become the first?
§ Mr. Feargus O'Connor
said, he was at a loss to understand the meaning of the laugh which had been raised against him, and he was equally at a loss to understand how his hon. and learned friend, the member for Dublin, could point out the course he (Mr. O'Connor) meant to take. He would certainly oppose the first clause, and the second clause, and every other which he felt injurious to the feelings and interests of his country.
§ Mr. Barron
supported the Motion, and quoted the evidence given by Dr. Doyle, and the reverend Mr. O'Connor in support of his views, that the measure was necessary. He was prepared to oppose that part of the Bill which went against the right of petitioning, inasmuch as he considered it the safety-valve of the Constitution. If you coerced the people, you would drive them to secret associations, than which nothing could be more dangerous. He would put down predial disturbances, but not the right of petitioning. He believed this Bill, with some modifications, and as a temporary measure, would prove a measure of protection and not of coercion.
§ Mr. Feargus O'Connor
said, if all the priesthood in Ireland, and Dr. Doyle to boot, supported the Bill, he would not do so against his conscientious conviction. He must say, that he stood in that House as the Representative of one of the most peaceable counties in Ireland.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 90; Noes 21; Majority 69.
§ The second Clause was agreed to.351
rose to propose the modification of which he had given notice. The first clause of the Act to which he had to call the attention of the Committee, was the eleventh. It provided, that it should be unlawful in any proclaimed district to hold any meeting, whether for the purpose or under the pretence of petitioning Parliament or otherwise, unless ten days' previous notice had been given, and the assent of the Lord-lieutenant had been expressed in writing. Such a clause he considered totally unnecessary, and as it was impossible to deny, that it was exceedingly unconstitutional, he trusted there would be no objection to modify it so as not to prohibit meetings convened for the mere purpose of petitioning Parliament. By the Bill, the Lord Lieutenant could capriciously proclaim any peaceable district, and he had proclaimed the city of Kilkenny without any other grounds than an alleged convenience. In such cases, the right of petitioning was taken away. All he proposed was, to keep so much of the clause as would enable the people to petition Parliament in meetings convened without the disapprobation of the Lord-lieutenant. He wished to license no meetings but those held for the purpose of petitioning Parliament; and all he contended for was, that in disturbed districts, no meeting for petitioning Parliament should be prevented, if ten days' notice of it was given to Government. By the first and second of William 4th, which embodied all the Whiteboy Acts, it was provided that a person making use of inflammatory language, to excite any one to the commission of disturbances, or any Whiteboy offence, should be liable to transportation. They had, therefore, a very good safeguard against the introduction of exciting topics at meetings convened to petition Parliament on subjects connected with the Church and State. By the previous notice of the meeting, the Government would be enabled to send their policemen and note-takers to the assembly, and the law left the power of adopting a legitimate course for punishing any one who was bold enough to make use of inflammatory language. He submitted, therefore, to the House, that the law was strong enough as it stood. He had drawn up a clause to the effect, that all meetings should be held for the purpose of petitioning Parliament, 352 provided ten days' notice of the meeting was given to the Government.
§ Mr. Littleton
said, it would be highly inexpedient to omit the clause as it stood in the Bill. There was no practical evil, in consequence of no political meetings having taken place in the proclaimed districts; and, so far as that went, he could not accede to the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He should be sorry to throw any obstacles in the way of exercising the right of petition, but he certainly would object to inflammatory meetings. In the Baronies of Delvin and Ballibeg, there was decided insubordination, and as such they were properly proclaimed.
said, the few remarks of the right hon. Gentleman were in favour of his Amendment. All that he required was, that the people should have the right to petition Parliament at an open meeting. The value of public meetings was to act upon this House and the Government, for if it had not that effect, the right of petition would be of no use.
§ Lord Althorp
said, in an ordinary case he would not support the clause in this Bill; but the question was whether, in a proclaimed district, public meetings should be held tending to disturb the public peace? He considered it would be imprudent to omit the clause, although the hon. and learned Gentleman said, that persons using exciting language would be liable to punishment under the Whiteboy Acts. In that doctrine he could not agree; but this he would say, that no Lord-lieutenant would proclaim a county or a district merely to prevent public meetings. For these reasons, he would support the clause as it now stood.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, that in all the Insurrection Acts for Ireland, from 1796 to 1833, there was no such clause as that which the present Government now called for. In 1812, the Catholic Board and Committee was put down by the law of the land. Mr. Saurin, the then Attorney General, asked for no new law; but the then Secretary of State for Ireland called for a new Bill—an Insurrection Act—and he readily obtained it. Agitation was then put down in Ireland, although a class of persons, called "Carders," had committed outrages in various parts of the North of Ireland. In 1807, 1813, 1822 and 1824, a series of measures were brought forward by the Tories to put 353 down predial agitation, but in none of those measures was there any clause to suppress public meetings. The refusal of Government to allow meetings in Kilkenny had created a reaction in the public mind, and the result of that reaction was, that a great number of petitions were signed. Would Whig Members allow the introduction of a clause putting down political agitation by a sidewind?—an object which Government, although they wished, could not otherwise obtain. Was it not true, that Government would have carried the whole of the three clauses if they could have so done? They could not do so in consequence of a discovery which was more fortunate than fortuitous. Would the House of Commons allow Ministers to do that by subterfuge which they could not do in the open day? If they were to give up the political part of the Bill, why not give it up entirely? By this Bill the Lord-lieutenant could act without the concurrence of the Magistrates; he could, ex mero motu, proclaim a district, and the moment he did so there was an end to petition. Was it not better to adopt the principle of the English Bill in 1819, to put down seditious meetings than to follow the precedent of the Coercion Bill of 1833? Why adopt a course for Ireland which you did not adopt with respect to England? This clause was far more severe than any clause in any Act which had been resorted to in this county. If Ministers adhered to this clause, they would raise up a spirit of resentment against the Government nearly as great as if they had not left out the political clauses.
§ Mr. Feargus O'Connor
entreated of his Majesty's Ministers not to persevere in this clause. The object of all laws should be the prevention of evil, and it was clear, that this clause would not prevent the recurrence of those evils which it was designed to meet. It would have no effect in putting down the meetings of the people. In the year 1822, when Ireland was almost deluged with blood in the conflicts that took place between his Majesty's troops, and the people in that country, when the people were regularly encamped and came forth in battle array to meet the soldiers, the Tory Government of that day never thought of having recourse to such an Act as this. So far from this clause preventing meetings, it 354 would be made the subject of discussion at meetings all over Ireland during the approaching recess. It would be the very means of again making the people look up to agitators. He declared, that he had no wish for agitation; all he wished for was peace and comfort for the people of that unhappy country; but it was too bad, that such a Bill as this should to them be the only fruits of the great measure of Reform which they had so strenuously supported.
§ Sir Robert Peel
, considering that the most important clauses of this Bill, the Court-martial clause, and the political clauses, had been omitted, thought it would have been far better if his Majesty's Government had brought in a new Bill altogether, with the clauses that were deemed necessary to preserve tranquillity in the present state of Ireland, than to have altered the present Bill in such a manner as to render it almost unintelligible. This was a penal enactment, which ought to be clear and defined, whereas, by leaving several of the clauses of the other Bill, part whole, and part mutilated, the law was made a mass of confusion. It was usual to look at the preamble to a Bill, to know its meaning: by the present Bill, the whole of the preamble of the former Bill was left in full force, and referred to: three-fourths of this preamble were directed against large assemblages of the people; and yet it was not now intended, as it appeared, to interfere with these meetings. Of some clauses three-fourths were struck out, of other clauses two-thirds, but none were repealed in a clear or satisfactory manner; so that, in his opinion, it would not be possible to carry this new Bill into execution. One Act said, that the Lord-lieutenant should not have the power to prevent meetings of the people for certain purposes; but another Act said, that he should have the power to withhold his consent from such meetings. That was confused and contradictory, and left in doubt the provisions of a penal statute, that should never be obscure. By leaving out certain clauses, the Government admitted, that they did not believe there was any connection between political and agrarian disturbances in Ireland, and yet by another new clause they said there must be that connection, for they gave the Lord-lieutenant the power to with-hold his consent to the holding of meet- 355 ings that might bear a political character. If the meetings were to be only for the purpose of petition, and not of a political nature, why should the Lord-lieutenant have the power to withhold his consent? It did not appear, that the Act passed in the last Session had the effect of preventing petitions, for there were never more petitions got up at Kilkenny, than since the district had been proclaimed under the Coercion Bill. Indeed it seemed to be a Petition Generating Bill. But, after all, were the Whigs going to put down meetings held for the purpose of petitioning—going to stop up their own favorite safety-valves? To be sure, petitions might still be got up, as was done at Kilkenny, by carrying them round for signature from house to house. ["Hear, hear."] The noble Lords, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite cheered; but surely they would not as yet altogether repudiate the old Whig doctrine, that petitions emanating from meetings of large bodies of the people were of more value and importance than petitions carried about for signature from house to house. Such as the present Bill was, he must support it with a view to preserve the tranquillity of Ireland; but he was sorry, that his Majesty's present Government had not the manliness to follow the example of Lord Grey, and adhere to the opinions which that noble Lord had expressed when he introduced the measure in the other House of Parliament.
The Attorney General
said, that if the right hon. member for Tamworth had devoted himself to the law he would have been an admirable hand at arguing special demurrers. If Judges were to argue as the hon. Baronet had argued, this law would never be carried into effect; but Judges would not so argue because they would be actuated by a sense of justice, and put a fair construction on the language of the Legislature. It was better to study brevity than have a long Act which might occasion doubts. By the manner in which this short Act was drawn, no man who proceeded reasonably, and who sincerely wished to discover its meaning, could have the slightest difficulty in putting the correct construction upon it. All the clauses which gave the Lord-lieutenant the power of preventing public meetings, in any districts in Ireland, which were not proclaimed, were repealed—all the clauses which related to the trial of 356 civil offences by Courts-martial were repealed. The remaining parts of the old Bill were continued as before. The preamble spoke the language of the Legislature in 1833, when the original Bill was passed; but not of 1834 when it was renewed. The preamble recited the former Bill, and declared that it was expedient it should be renewed, but it did not embody the former preamble. The three distinct parts of the Bill were kept as much apart as was possible. The right hon. Baronet had, with a great deal of ingenuity, endeavoured to show that there was an ambiguity in the Bill with respect to the power of the Lord-lieutenant in prohibiting meetings; but there was no ambiguity with regard to meetings in districts which were not proclaimed. The Lord Lieutenant must take an active part. He must issue his proclamation, which must be published in the Dublin Gazette; but in districts which were proclaimed no meeting would be legal unless it had his written sanction. It required all the ingenuity of the right hon. Baronet to point out any thing like ambiguity in the Bill. He would ask whether the right hon. Baronet approved of the continuance of the eleventh clause of the old Bill? If he did, he thought it was inconsistent on his part to endeavour to throw discredit upon the framers of the Bill. As to the connection between political meetings and agrarian disturbances, it was obvious, that there must be a connection between them in disturbed districts, which were in such a state as, that the King might, by his prerogative, almost, place them under the operation of martial law. There might be districts in such a state, that the Lord-lieutenant would not fulfil his duty, if he did not proclaim them; and he said, that to allow political meetings to be held in such districts must tend to produce the most fatal consequences. For instance, if a meeting were held for the Repeal of the Union in a disturbed district, and speeches made there, setting forth the grievances of Ireland, there must, in such a case, be a close connection between political and agrarian disturbances. But when a district was not proclaimed, such meetings might be held, only under the restriction, that if they were made illegal by any thing that was said or done at them, the parties should be amenable. He thought it would have 357 been better if the right hon. Baronet had opposed the Bill openly than attacked the framers of it in this indirect way.
§ Mr. Denis O'Connor
said, that this clause was wholly unnecessary, and, let what might be said of it, tyrannical. He hoped the Government would withdraw it.
§ Sir Robert Peel
, while he thanked the hon. and learned Attorney General for the lecture he had read him as to the model he should adopt in his Parliamentary conduct, begged the hon. and learned Gentleman would excuse him if he took his own course. The Committee was now discussing a clause of the Bill, which he considered to be drawn up in a most clumsy form, and he was directing his attention to that which was the particular duty of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and considering what appeared to him a most blundering specimen of legislation. There was a preamble to the Bill, of course, but it was a preamble which suited the Bill of 1833, and did not suit the measure which the Committee was now discussing; and, when he referred to this, he was told by the hon. and learned Gentleman that such was the meaning of the Legislature in 1833, but not now. There was a positive enactment in the Bill, that the Lord-lieutenant should not have power to prevent any meeting in Ireland. He understood what the hon. and learned Gentleman said the Bill was intended to mean, but he considered it obscure. When he supported the Bill, he said in express terms that he did so because he considered political disturbances connected with agrarian disturbances, and thought that this measure would in some degree remedy them; but he thought it would be more consistent with the dignity of the Government to do that directly which this clause did indirectly.
§ Mr. O'Reilly
said, the Bill was full of doubt and mystification, particularly this clause. Penal laws should not he left in such a state. As Ministers had once passed the Rubicon, it would have been better if they went further. They would get no credit for what they left out, but have all the odium of a Coercion Bill.
§ Mr. Charles Buller
contended, that the clauses were sufficiently clear; and no confusion could arise from applying the preamble of the Bill of 1833 to the present Bill. He opposed the Bill of 1833, because he did not think political agita- 358 tion was connected with agrarian outrage. He was one of those who did not wish to see agitation cease in Ireland till the grievances of the country were removed. Too much importance was attached by this Bill to political meetings. He considered the right of walking out at night quite as valuable as the liberty of meeting. After all, the Bill provided no remedy against the most effectual mode of political agitation—he meant, agitation by the public press. He supported this clause, though not with a view to prevent agitation; for he was not disposed to prevent anything which had a tendency to put down that abominable institution, the Church of Ireland.
§ Mr. Maurice O'Connell
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) admitted, if he heard him correctly, that the Lord-lieutenant would be liable to impeachment if he proclaimed a district for the purpose of preventing meetings, a district not openly in a state of disturbance, in which martial law might be proclaimed. Now, the right hon. Secretary for Ireland admitted that Balliboy was not disturbed; and yet it was proclaimed, because it was situated between two districts that were disturbed. How was this contradiction to be explained?
said, that to say that there was any connexion between political and agrarian disturbances showed either the grossest ignorance of the present and former states of Ireland, or a wilful attempt to delude the people of England on the subject; for there never were two subjects more distinct.
§ The Committee divided on the Amendment—Ayes 38; Noes 121: Majority 83.
|List of the AYES.|
|Barron, H. W.||O'Connell, J.|
|Barry, G. S.||O'Connor, Don|
|Bellew, R. M.||O'Connor, F.|
|Blake, M.||O'Dwyer, A. C.|
|Callaghan, D.||O'Reilly, W.|
|Ewart, W.||Pease, J.|
|Faithfull, G.||Perrin, Sergeant|
|Grattan, H.||Potter, R.|
|Hall, B.||Rippon, C.|
|Hutt, W.||Roche, W.|
|James, W.||Roe, J.|
|Lynch, A. H.||Ronayne, D.|
|Martin, T. B.||Ruthven, E.|
|Mullins, F. W.||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Nagle, Sir R.||Scholefield, J.|
|O'Connell, D.||Sheil, R. L.|
|O'Connell, M.||Sullivan, R.|
|Vigors, N. A.||Williams, Colonel|
|Walker, C. A.||TELLER.|
|Wallace, R.||O'Connell, M.|
§ Mr. O'Connell moved an Amendment to repeal the clause which exempted officers and soldiers doing any act under the authority of the Bill from the jurisdiction of any other Courts than Courts-martial.
The Attorney General
defended the clause, and said it was intended as a sequel to the Court-martial clause, and to protect the military when acting without malice, and merely in the execution of their duty. If they did anything contrary to military discipline, they would still have to be tried by the ordinary tribunals. This protection was, therefore, necessary to enable the military to do their duty with firmness and constancy.
§ Mr. O'Connell
offered to consent that there should be a clause substituted in the Bill, that it should be a good defence in any Court of law, civil or criminal, that the acts done had been done bonâ fide in execution of the provisions of the Act, and that they had not been done wilfully or maliciously. All he was anxious for was, that the Judges of the land should alone have the power of deciding that question.
The Attorney General
said, that a similar proposition had been made last year, and the answer given to it then, was the answer he would give to it now—namely, that the words introduced into this clause were well known, time out of mind, as settled terms in Courts of Justice in England and Ireland; and that it was better to adhere to words of a well-known and defined interpretation, than to have recourse to a new form of words. Every lawyer knew that, notwithstanding the existence of this clause in the Bill, an action could be brought against a man, in any of the Four Courts in Dublin, for acts done under this Bill; and that the only defence he could set up would be, that such acts had been done bonâ fide in execution of, and pursuant to, the provisions of the Act, and that question a Judge and Jury would have to decide. That would be the civil remedy. Then there would be the criminal remedy. A man might be indicted for acts done under this Bill, and he would be obliged to make a similar defence to such indictment.
§ Mr. Serjeant Perrin
declared, that by 360 the clause the Army was protected, whether acting legally or illegally, provided they were acting in the performance of their military duty. The protecting clause was of an unprecedented and unconstitutional character. The meaning of the clause was not such as had been ascribed to it by the learned Attorney General; for it provided, that no officer should be "questioned," except by Court-martial.
§ Mr. O'Connell
offered to withdraw the Amendment for the present, and propose it again on bringing up the Report, if his Majesty's Government would intimate that, in the meantime, the clause should be taken into consideration, as to whether it should be acceded to or not.
The Attorney General
called the attention of the learned Sergeant who spoke last but one to the words preceding those that he had quoted, and he would find, that an officer was only to be questioned by Court-martial for anything done "in pursuance of this Act." Of course, if he did anything not in pursuance of the Act, he might be questioned for it in a Court of Law.
§ Mr. Charles Buller
said, that the clause would then be useless; for without it, a party accused might plead, that what he had done was done in pursuance of the Act.
The Attorney General
said, that no doubt but he might; but, if he happened ever so innocently to exceed the powers of the Act, his plea would be good for nothing.
§ Mr. Ronayne
thought, that one o'clock in the morning was not a fit hour to proceed with a discussion like this, and should, therefore, move, that the Chairman do report progress.
§ The Amendment having been put,
§ Mr. Littleton
said, he thought that, after the discussion they had had, they were ripe for the decision of this clause. When they employed soldiers in a service of this kind, they were bound to give them every possible protection against acts of inadvertence. The Bill, as it stood, would do that, whilst it would not protect them in any wanton exercise of power.
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
thought the proposition of the hon. and learned member for Dublin, to let the matter stand over for the present, a fair one.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, that all they wanted was to give the Government an opportunity 361 of changing its mind, which, he thought, it could not help doing after what had been urged from his side of the House. He granted, that the clause had been both attacked and defended by legal subtleties; but were they to sacrifice a constitutional principle to the spirit of sophistry?
§ Lord Althorp
did not pretend to the knowledge of the law possessed by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had conducted the discussion on this clause; but he would adopt the view taken by the Attorney General, more especially as it appeared, that the clause did not partake of the objection which lay against Courts-martial. The objection against Courts-martial was, that civilians would be tried before them; whereas, the present clause only subjected the soldiery to the jurisdiction of this court.
§ The Committee divided on the Motion, that the Chairman report progress:— Ayes 29; Noes 88; Majority 59.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he should have no objection, as there were conflicting opinions delivered by legal gentlemen on the tendency of the eleventh clause, to allow this clause to stand over till the bringing up of the Report.
§ Mr. O'Connell
said, upon that understanding, he should withdraw his Amendment. He had, however, objections to the 27th and 31st clauses, which he should press upon the proper occasion.
§ House resumed. Committee to sit again.