HC Deb 27 June 1817 vol 36 cc1205-8
Mr. Bennet

presented a petition from Thomas Evans, confined in Horsemonger-gaol under the warrant of a secretary of state. He was denied pen, ink, or paper, summoned six times before the privy-council, and no other question asked than whether he was acquainted with Thistlewood, Watson, and questions of the like trivial import. The prisoner was removed to a condemned cell of the most wretched description, and a flute, his only amusement, taken from him. He was ironed for some time. His irons, after a visit from three magistrates, who said nothing on the subject, were afterwards taken off by order of the secretary of state, but he has not tasted fresh air since the 10th of April. He affirmed, that he had no connexion whatever with any designs against the peace of the country, and that by this confinement his trade is totally ruined, and his family reduced to beggary.

Mr. Addington

did not believe the petitioner was more harshly treated than other prisoners under the same charges. As a proof of the kind treatment of such prisoners, he had to mention, that Mr. Watson bad written a very becoming letter ro the secretary of state, thanking him for his indulgence to him while in confinement. It was impossible there could be any grounds for the complaints in the petition, but he should feel it his duty to inquire into the circumstances.

Mr. W. Smith

did not rise to contradict the right hon. gentleman, for he had only said that there could be nothing of such seventy by the orders of the secretary of state. He could believe that, and yet believe the complaint of the petition to be well founded. In the case of a lord-lieutenant of a neighbouring country (lord Hardwicke), he had known a similar contradiction. He had then papers put into his hand alleging the greatest cruelty to have been exercised towards prisoners: he could not believe that the lord-lieutenant could have sanctioned such acts, but he had no confidence in the tender mercies of the gaolers of that unhappy country. He had since known, from unquestionable authority, that the facts were true, and that the persons concerned deserved to be brought to condign punishment. In the same manner he could believe that the facts here were true, though the secretary of state had not sanctioned them.

Mr. Barham

could not imagine that any person would dare to bring forward such specific charges if they were not true. The secretary and the under-secretary were respectable men; but he wished to know, as to one single fact, whether any one person was, for the sake of security, put in irons. When the House was about to pass a law, suspending the Habeas Corpus, what security could they have against the most flagrant abuses of such a terrible power? It was the bounden duty of the tight hon. gentleman to inquire and to know when such extraordinary powers were claimed by the secretary of state.

Mr. Peter Moore

said, that the noble secretary of state was an amiable and good man; but he was imposed upon by vile miscreants, deserving of a halter rather than of a pension. Mention had been, made of transactions in Ireland under lord Hardwicke. He had then said that the lord-lieutenant was imposed upon, and so it afterwards turned out. In a committee appointed to inquire into the facts, it appeared that the conduct of Dr. Trevor, the superintendant, was such, that he ought to have been hanged a hundred times over. Yet this man was now on the pension list.

Mr. Macdonald

thought the assertion of the right hon. gentleman warranted an inference which he was not perhaps aware of. He had said, that the petitioner was not worse treated than other prisoners. This prisoner was put in irons. Was the inference therefore admitted, that other prisoners were put in irons? The right hon. gentleman seemed to think himself bound to know very little on the subject.

Mr. Bennet

said, the gaol was different from other gaols. In other gaols they had more room, and a yard to walk in. The gaol in Horsemonger-lane had no yard: for this, among other reasons, it was of essential benefit that gaols and prisoners should be accessible to the inspection of the public eye.

Lord Folkestone

would fain know who it was that was responsible, since all magistrates and other persons were excluded? Under such laws and restrictions, who was responsible that prisoners were not put in irons, and even put to the torture? The secretary had promulgated a new law as to prisoners; and having done so, he now says he is not bound to know any thing about the matter. The other night it was stated that solitary confinement was authorized by the law: the noble lord (Castlereagh) had stated that there was a distinction as to high treason, and that all prisoners under that charge were committed to safe and close custody. The noble lord had taken this up from the attorney-general, but stated it more explicitly. He was not now prepared to deny the interpretation given to the law. From the books, it appeared, that all prisoners were committed to safe and close custody. In Bumstead's Reports, there was a ease in which lord Coke lays it down as the law, that gaolers are bound to keep all prisoners committed to them in safe and close custody. The same doctrine was found in Bacon's abridgment, and in Coke upon Lyttleton. There was thus no authority for solitary confinement in the case of state prisoners. He had, however, seen directions from the secretary of state to keep them in solitary confinement. Irons were only to be applied when absolutely necessary. Other prisoners were not put in irons, and therefore it was not necessary here.

Mr. Bathurst

thought it was too much to expect when a petition like that now before them was presented for the first time, that those connected with the department to which the case belonged should be able at once to speak to all the allegations which it contained. These could not be held to be proved to be true, till some inquiry had taken place on the subject.

Lord Cochrane

thought the subject called for inquiry. The parties taken up had not been confined in the strong gaol of Newgate, merely because if placed there, the City magistrates could have access to them. He described the conduct of ministers to be most despotic; and maintained, that a man might as well live under the sway of one tyrant, as under the dominion of the deys on the opposite side of the House.

The petition was ordered to lie on the table. Mr. Barham gave notice, that, unless a satisfactory explanation should be previously given, he would, on Tuesday, move that the petition be referred to a committee.

Mr. Brougham

said, that one of the allegations of the petition set forth, that a petition to that House had been detained at the office of the secretary of state. If this charge was founded, a great breach of the privileges of the House had been committed.

The petition was ordered to be printed.