HC Deb 13 March 1815 vol 30 cc0-157

THE orders of the day being read, for taking into further consideration the Minutes of the Proceedings upon the matter of the Complaint made upon Monday last, that the Approaches to the House were occupied by a Military Force; and for the attendance of the High Bailiff of Westminster, and Magistrates,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the object of the House in taking these minutes into their consideration, must be to secure on the part of the Police a vigorous discharge of their duty. He believed, since last Monday, every person was satistisfied with their conduct. Parliament had never held their sittings in greater security—had never been less in danger of interruption. With respect to what had taken place on the day he had named, he thought it unnecessary to say any thing now. It appeared that every precaution had previously been taken by the Secretary of State which common prudence could dictate. He regretted that it had been found necessary to call out the military; but the propriety of doing this under the circumstances of the case, he believed, would not be questioned, and he thought it would be seen that hardly any blame attached to the civil power, if, for once, it had not been able to preserve the peace, and afford full protection. If on this subject there was any difference of opinion, he trusted the House would think the conduct of the Police since Monday had atoned for their first errors. Conceiving it would be best not to revive the unfortunate events of Monday night, and that there would be no objection to pass over what had occurred, he should move, that the said orders be discharged.

Mr. Whitbread

was sorry to be under the necessity of bringing back to the recollection of the House, the evidence which was taken on the night in question, from the nature and effect of which he conceived the motion of the right hon. gentleman was by no means such a motion as the House could agree to, with a due regard to its own character. The right hon. gentleman, however, had not contented himself with merely moving, that the order should be discharged, but had intimated that the magistrates were almost without blame; and, by a panegyric upon their subsequent conduct, seemed desirous of at once wiping out all recollection of their previous proceedings. Now, what was the real history of the transaction? With respect to the precautions taken, upon the part of the Secretary of State and that of the Speaker, nothing could have been more proper or creditable to their vigilance; but, unfortunately, those precautions were rendered nugatory by the conduct of the magistrates to whom the execution of the orders given was entrusted. Notice, it was seen, had been given to the High Bailiff of Westminster of the possibility of a tumult, and of the propriety of his being prepared with proper assistants to prevent as much as possible its pernicious effects. But what was his conduct? Why, he issued summonses in the usual way for eighty persons to attend, of whom about forty obeyed his summons. He had no account of those persons, however, and seemed to have adopted no method with regard to their organization, and not one of the witnesses who were examined seemed to have observed the existence of any outrage, at a moment when one member of the House had complained of being nearly rode over by a troop of horse. He thought the apathy which had been displayed on this occasion should form a subject for very rigorous inquiry; as he was convinced, if the constables, of whom it appeared not less than 150 were in attendance, had been properly mustered and judiciously directed, at an early hour in the afternoon, all necessity for the interference of the military would have been obviated; and if it was not probable, it was, at least, possible, that all the disgraceful scenes which had taken place would have been prevented. Under this impression he could not concur in the vote which had been proposed by the right hon. gentleman, of passing over conduct lightly, which he could not but view with great jealousy in persons to whom, the protection of the House was entrusted. He thought, with a view to the future, that it was essential something like the disapprobation of the House towards the conduct of the magistrates should be manifested.

Mr. Bathurst

said, the House would recollect that it was understood, on the night alluded to, that information should be given to the magistrates of the feelings which the House entertained of their conduct. [Mr. Whitbread here remarked, that there was nothing on the Journals to this effect.] Mr. Bathurst, in continuation, observed, that Mr. Morris, the high bailiff, was in fact under the direction of other magistrates, at the head of whom was sir N. Conant, who at the time the outrages were taking place, was acting as the chief, from whom orders were received; but from the immense multitude which had assembled, he believed it was impossible to have avoided calling out the military. With respect to the assertion, that the calling out the military had produced the other outrages which had been committed, he believed this would not for a moment be credited, when it was known that before the military had arrived in Palace-yard, sir N. Conant had actually been called away to suppress riots of a complexion equally dangerous, which had broken out in other parts of the town. It was very true, that the magistrates had not placed themselves without the avenues of the House, because such situations were attended with imminent danger—one or two of the constables having been absolutely incapacitated from the exercise of their duties by blows received from brickbats. As far, however, as they could, consistently with the strength of the force under their orders, they had taken every means to resist the gross attacks which were made. Upon the whole, he saw nothing which called for punishment upon those individuals, or indeed merited the further cognizance of the House.

Mr. Wynn

was of opinion that it was impossible to pass over the conduct of the magistrates without notice. He would recall to the recollection of the House, that the noble lord (Castlereagh) had objected to any admonition being given to those persons on Monday night, because be considered that any discussion upon the subject would have kept them from those duties which at that time required their presence. It was then understood that their conduct was liable to inquiry on a future occasion, and, in obedience to that feeling, he conceived an inquiry should now take place. He thought with his hon. friend (Mr. Whitbread), that the conduct of the High Bailiff had been particularly reprehensible, because he was the person, of all others, to whom he believed the House ought to look for protection, and yet he, of all others, seemed to be most ignorant of what was passing. With respect to the hazard in which it was stated by the right hon. gentleman, who spoke last, the constables would have been placed by remaining without the doors of the House, he considered it of less importance that they should run risks, than that the members of the House should be prevented from performing their parliamentary duties. It was, in fact, a necessary attendant upon the office of constable, that he should expose his person to danger; and if such an excuse were to be received as a ground for neglect of duty, the necessary consequence would be, that on all occasions the military must be resorted to. Upon the whole, he could not help being of opinion, that there had been great re- missness on the part of the magistrates and civil power; and with this feeling he thought their conduct should not be passed over without an expression of the feeling of the House upon the subject.

Mr. F. Douglas

thought it of importance, that the conduct of the civil officers should be minutely inquired into, not so much with a view to punish or to censure the past, as to guard against a recurrence of the evil complained of. However he might regret some of the events which had taken place, he should always remember with pleasure the firmness and dignity which that House had displayed, and exult in the reflexion, that not one of its members had mistaken the clamour of a mob for the voice of the people.

Mr. Lockhart

was willing that the proceedings which had taken place should be consigned to oblivion, as far as the punishment of the magistrates was Concerned; but he wished their recollection to survive, in order that such measures of precaution might be taken as should make it unnecessary to call out the military on any similar occasion. He wished to see the constables young, healthy, and vigorous, instead of decayed and decrepid men, like those which he had seen on the late occasion, who appeared to be incapable of acting with effect, although he found they had foolish vanity enough to be jealous of each other. He understood such a feeling had caused a difference between the officers from Bow-street and those of other offices. He was of opinion that a civil force, better headed, and better organized, ought to be at hand on such occasions. He wished the old law, of calling out the house keepers of each parish when the public peace was endangered, were again resorted to, places of rendezvous named, and other arrangements made for their being speedily assembled, and effectually engaged to quell the disturbance. If such measures were not adopted, the capital might one day fall into the hands of a mob, who might not be kept down till they had done it great, and almost irreparable injury. He took occasion to censure the conduct of certain persons forming the jury on a coroner's inquest, who had promulgated authoritatively what they took upon themselves to lay down as the law, though he would not acknowledge it to be so. He controverted the opinions published by the jury, who lately sat on the body of the officer unfortunately killed in Burlington- street, refuted the doctrine which they had attempted to inculcate, and, supporting himself on the authority of lord Mansfield, contended that the right of the parties entrusted with the care of any place assailed by a mob, to use the weapons with which they were armed, to the destruction of the assailants, was only to be determined by the necessity of the case.

Mr. Addington

observed, that the charges brought against the magistrates seemed to be, that they had not been in their proper stations at the time of the riot, and that they had not made a judicious disposition of the civil force. Now, the first charge could only amount to an error in judgment; and he admitted that if they had been on the outside of the building, they would have been better able to direct the constables. As to the second charge, he thought it too much to expect, that on the first occasion, they should have been able to make the most judicious disposition of the civil power, which it was possible to make. The chief magistrate of Bow-street had been desired to be present at the Secretary of State's office during the evening in question. From a laudable degree of zeal he came down to the House in the beginning of the evening, and there continued till between eight and nine o'clock, being then on the outside of the building, when he was called suddenly away, his presence being necessary in another quarter of the town. The magistrates within were not aware that he was called off, and it was from this, he believed, that the circumstances had taken place which had given rise to the imputation of remissness. The conduct of the magistrates had been marked, since that period, with a great degree of zeal and assiduity, and he hoped the House would not think it proper to visit them with a punishment so heavy as its censure.

Mr. Whitbread

explained, that it was not his intention to lump all the magistrates, who had been examined, in the charge which he thought should be made against some of them. It was well for the right hon. gentleman who defended them to confound them; but he did not mean to attack them altogether.

Mr. Hammersley

thought the police laws defective, there being no provision for an extraordinary number of constables in case of riots. He hoped that the persons to whom this department of the government was entrusted, would pay attention to the subject.

Mr. Butterworth

said, that he had experienced some difficulty in reaching his carriage, about eight o'clock of the evening in question; but on that occasion, as well as on his return to the House about an hour afterwards, the constables exerted themselves to the utmost to clear the way.

Sir C. Monck

observed, that the Speaker of the House was not supposed to know any thing about the preservation of the peace; having given orders for their attendance, it was the duty of the magistrates to take all proper measures. He thought it most extraordinary that a verdict of murder had been returned against the soldiers, while it did not appear that any rioters were in custody, or that any attempt at arson or murder had appeared on the part of the populace.

Mr. Addington

stated there were at least thirty rioters in custody.

Mr. Wrottesley

could not agree that the magistrates were altogether exempt from blame. He remarked on the evidence of the high bailiff, who had stated that he had about 50 out of his 80 constables about the House; that that force was insufficient to repress the mob; but that he did not take any measures to procure additional force, relying on Messrs. Baker and Birnie, whom he knew were in attendance. He did not, however, communicate with them. His reliance on Mr. Baker was much to his credit, as there was a marked difference between the conduct of that gentleman and that of the other persons who had been examined at the bar. He thought the high bailiff blameable in not communicating with the police magistrates. Some measures, he thought, should be taken to let the magistrates know that it was necessary for them to take proper methods to stifle tumults in their commencement; for he was confident that with the help of a few constables at the beginning of the evening the riot might have been altogether suppressed, by taking such persons into custody as refused to disperse. He observed, that it was extraordinary that none of the persons had been apprehended, who had defiled the walls about the metropolis with the most inflammatory inscriptions. He thought this might have been done by the ordinary exertion of the Police.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

stated, that as far as he had witnessed the conduct of the magistrates on the night in question, they had been very active. The high bailiff, he thought, had exerted himself to the ut- most of his power. The civil power was by no means adequate. Having filled the office of sheriff, on the occasion of former riots, he had witnessed the conduct of Messrs. Baker and Birnie, who had read the Riot Act to their own great danger, with laudable zeal and courage. In those riots he found, that of the constables for Westminster, nevermore than 10 attended.

The motion for the discharge of the orders was then put and carried.