HC Deb 27 February 1817 vol 35 cc762-4
Lord Cochrane

presented a petition from George Edmonds, chairman of the Birmingham Hampden-club, denying that the assertions in the report of the Secret Committee, relative to the Hampden-club were true, and expressing his confidence that, if the House would be pleased to call him to their bar, and hear his evidence, he could convince them that those assertions rested on an ex-parte examination, and were not founded in fact. The noble lord observed, that it would have been highly proper had the House, before agreeing to the bill now in progress for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, entered into a full and fair investigation of the whole matter. If he might judge from the small portion of the evidence which ministers had communicated to the House, he had a right to infer that the great body of the evidence submitted to the secret committee had not been of a very authentic nature. He had last night particularly called on the lord advocate of Scotland to state—not from what precise quarter he had received the oath which he read to the House—but whether it had been found on any of the individuals seized in Scotland, or had been obtained from any one by whom it had been taken? Probably owing to the lateness of the hour, the learned lord did not answer his question. It was certainly very desirable to know the true nature and value of that single scrap of evidence. If it had been acquired by a seizure of the papers and records of the persons who had been apprehended, it was a document which unequivocally proved that such a wicked oath had actually been administered; but if it had been obtained by other means, it bore, in his opinion, a very questionable character. He begged leave to say, that no man wished more than himself for the preservation of general tranquillity. But he maintained that the measures proposed by ministers were not calculated to preserve it. Without the disclosure of names, the House might assuredly have had on its table the greater part of the information on which the committee had founded its report. With respect to the pikes, for instance, why could not the circumstances of that transaction be detailed without stating the name of the informer? In the total ignorance of the House with regard to the proofs of the allegations of the secret committee, it was, in his opinion, most unwarrantable to condemn the whole people, without hearing them in their defence. It was due to the character of the House, and of the individuals who had been accused, to inquire into the matter and ascertain by an examination at the bar, whether those individuals could or could not refute the charges adduced against them. The present petitioner was the chairman of the Hampden-club at Birmingham. He (lord C.) could assure the House, that had he thought the Hampden-clubs in any way conducive to the attainment of parliamentary reform, he would have sedulously attended that in London. But so insignificant did he consider their efforts, that he had only attended at two meetings—one in an open room, to which every one had access, and another at which only three individuals had been present. The reason that more of the members had not attended on the latter occasion was declared to be the extravagant ideas that had been suggested by certain individuals with respect to universal suffrage and annual par- liaments. In fact, the Hampden-club was made up of materials so discordant, that to suppose that any thing like a conspiracy could originate in it was most absurd. Not two of them agreed on the subject of parliamentary reform, or indeed on any other subject. Some were for one plan, some for another. But he solemnly declared before God, that he never heard any thing in the Hampden-club which tended to put the smallest part of the constitution, in the slightest danger. He was persuaded that his hon. colleague, who was chairman of that club, would vouch for the truth of this declaration. He believed that not a single paper had issued from the Hampden-club, which was not written by a venerable individual, whose character stood deservedly high with all who were in any way acquainted with him.

The petition was ordered to lie on the table.