HC Deb 07 May 1817 vol 36 cc237-9
Sir S. Romilly

said, he held in his hands a Petition, which he was desirous of bringing before the House when the hon. member for Glasgow was present. It was from a person of the name of John Montgomery, a weaver in Glasgow, and one of those taken up on the charge of seditious and treasonable practices. On the 23d of February last he was taken up on a warrant of the sheriff, his papers were seized, and he was conveyed to prison, and confined there in a small cell, six feet and a half by eleven, where he was left without food and subsistence for 28 hours. He was kept three days and two nights in confinement, and then brought before the sheriff depute, Mr. Robert Hamilton, for examination. He was a total stranger to all those matters, on account of which he had been arrested. He had attended no political meetings. On the conclusion of his examination, he was sent back again to his cell, and next day, without any further examination, dismissed. It was impossible for him, a total stranger, to answer to the truth of the facts conveyed in the petition; but he believed them to be true. He had received testimonials as to the character of the individual, signed by a great number of persons resident in Glasgow, and also a number of attestations of the truth of the statements. It was perfectly true that this petitioner, as well as every other person unjustly deprived of his liberty, was entitled to redress by the laws of his country. But notwithstanding the courts of law were open, still he thought the case of this petitioner was one which was peculiarly entitled to the attention of the House. The evidence of the charges against this man afforded no ground for detaining him, unless something could be extorted from him on his examination; for the moment he and Weir denied the charges brought forward against them, they were immediately discharged. There was not, in fact, the slightest evidence against them. If this conduct of the sheriff depute was authorized by the law as it at present stood, he implored them to consider what would have been the situation of the subjects of Scotland if the bill for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act had passed into a law, in the manner in which it was originally framed.

The petition being read,

Mr. Finlay

said, that, with respect to the treatment of the persons who had been apprehended at Glasgow, they had been accommodated with rooms as comfortable and convenient as could be procured; and as to the petitioner, the cell, as it was called, was better than the room from which he had been removed. Great humanity and attention had been shown by the magistrates to all the unfortunate persons, and he believed that they had even encouraged subscriptions for their families It was customary, however, in Scotland to issue a warrant for the apprehension of persons, without mentioning their christian names, or specifying their situation in life. If he were to go through all the statements contained in the petition, he was sure he could give a most satisfactory answer to every allegation. A more exaggerated account of privations had never been made, and he was surprised that any one could venture to make so unfounded a statement. He was fully convinced of the great humanity of the hon. and learned gentleman who presented the petition; but in this case he had certainly been misled, respecting the facts of the case.

Mr. J. P. Grant

said, that having lately been at Glasgow, he felt it his duty to state the ciroumstances which had come to his knowledge. As to the exaggerations in the statement of the poor man Weir, he could only say that the man waited on him, and made the same statements as were in the petition, and from all the inquiries he made of others, he had reason to believe all the statements were founded in truth. He had waited on the lord provost, and desired to be informed if he might be allowed to examine into the circumstances of the case. He could not find any material circumstances misstated in the petition. He did not wish to throw any slur on the magistrates of Glasgow. The prison of Glasgow was well constructed, and even handsome, and the general management was correct. But he blamed them for this; that when so many persons were without accommodation from Sunday morning to the middle of Tuesday, during all that time no person from the magistrates visited the prison to see what accommodation could be obtained. It so happened, that the two persons who were discharged as soon as examined, were condemned to cells situated as described in the petition. He admitted that they were not damp in the degree which one of them stated; but they were on the ground floor, and cold and comfortless, and the prisoners were without any accommodation. After four days imprisonment they were examined by the sheriff, re-committed by him, and next day discharged without any further examination. As to the law of Scotland, if it were the law to take up persons without having their names distinctly stated, he could only say he never heard it before. But it was not the law of Scotland. The law of Scotland contained no such monstrous proposition.

Mr. Bathurst

said, that the petitioner was arrested, as there was no other person in the neighbourhood of his description. In all such cases, however, application for redress should be made to the ordinary tribunals, and not to parliament. He was ready to show that all necessary accommodation had been afforded to the prisoner.

Ordered to lie on the table and be printed.