HC Deb 23 February 1818 vol 37 cc578-81
Mr. Sheriff Desanges

presented at the bar of the House a Petition from the lord mayor, aldermen, and commons of the city of London, in common council assembled; setting forth,

"That the Petitioners, holding in veneration the sacred principles of freedom upon which the British constitution is founded, have witnessed with the deepest concern the frequent and dangerous innovations which, upon unfounded alarms and pretences, have of late years been made thereon, more particularly by the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, and other restrictions upon the liberty of the subject, during the last session of parliament; the petitioners remind the House that the Habeas Corpus act was passed at a period remarkable above all others for plots and alarms, that it conferred no new right, but was intended as a barrier for the liberty of the subject in consequence of the frequent arbitrary and illegal arrests and imprisonments, upon charges of sedition and treason, by the corrupt and tyrannical ministers of those days; they sub- mit to the House, that if this great bulwark of personal security is to be suspended whenever the people labour under heavy grievances, and the misconduct of ministers has impelled them to lay their complaints before parliament, or at the foot of the throne, instead of inquiring into and redressing them, this boasted right is become a dead letter, its whole efficacy is lost, and it had better at once be struck out of the Statute book than be suffered to remain only as a sad and mortifying memorial of what Englishmen formerly enjoyed; that the petitioners did, in the last session of parliament, implore the House not to assent to any proposition for depriving the people of that essential part of the constitution, the Habeas Corpus act, no precedent whatever existing of such a measure having been resorted to at a period of profound peace; they deprecated the precipitancy with which measures of such vital interest were hurried through parliament; they complained then, and they complain now, that they were founded upon the reports of secret committees, upon which were some of the ministers of the Crown, and upon ex-parle evidence alone, selected by those ministers, without even farther investigation after those reports had been contradicted in some of their most material parts, and had been offered to be disproved at the bar of the House; that since the passing of the said act, the petitioners have viewed with indignation and horror the vindictive cruelty with which ministers have exercised the powers intrusted to them; numerous individuals have been torn from their wives and families, dragged into distant prisons, where they have been immured, heavily ironed, for months together, and afterwards released without being brought to trial, or even knowing the charges against them, although repeatedly demanding to be brought before the legal tribunals of the country; the petitioners cannot sufficiently express their abhorrence at the employment of infamous and abandoned wretches in the capacity of spies and informers, the hired agents of government, who, it appears, have been traversing the country, and, wherever distress and misery had engendered discontent and irritation, these inhuman wretches have, by the basest artifices and falsehoods, endeavoured to excite simple and deluded men into acts of outrage and treason, and in the instances where convictions have taken place, the petitioners feel convinced, from what has transpired, that the unhappy and deluded individuals were the victims of these abandoned agents; that, notwithstanding the solemnity with which the magnitude and atrocity of the treasons in Scotland were said-to exist, the petitioners can find no record of any conviction for the crimes alleged, although the most disgraceful tampering with a witness appears to have taken place in order to procure such conviction; that in the metropolis, after the greatest prejudice had been excited by ministers against an individual, and after vindictively persisting in putting him on his trial the third time, not content with the previous acquittal of two successive juries, during which trials attempts were made to deprive him of the only means of defence by which he could establish his innocence, ministers experienced equal disgrace and discomfiture; and the petitioners cannot refrain from expressing to the House their conviction that those prosecutions were net undertaken for the protection of religion, but for political objects, and that had the publications been in favour of ministers, or in ridicule of their opponents, they would not have excited the attention of the government, unless, as in other cases, to reward the authors; that, while these acts of severity and oppression have been pursued with unrelenting rigour, although the sufferings of the people have been unexampled, and the numbers of their petitions without precedent, their grievances have neither been redressed nor their complaints inquired into; and the petitioners believe that the groundless alarms excited by ministers were solely for the purpose of stifling complaints and protecting abuses; the petitioners have looked with anxiety to the recent proceedings of the House; the Commons House of parliament has been represented by the best authorities as the great inquest of the kingdom, to search into all the oppressions and injustices of the king's ministers; it is long since the petitioners have seen this important and necessary function exercised, but they entertained the most sanguine hopes that the House, after the unexampled difficulties and privations the people had endured, aggravated as they have been by the arbitrary and oppressive acts of the ministers, would at length have instituted the most serious and rigid inquiry into the multiplied oppressions and injustices of the king's ministers; the petitioners cannot conceal from the House that they look with no confidence to any' report that the committees of secrecy now sitting may make, the said committees appearing to be composed for the greater part of placemen, and those very ministers whose conduct is the subject of investigation; that a committee thus formed is at variance with every established principle of civil or criminal jurisprudence, and cannot satisfy the justice and expectation of the country; the petitioners therefore humbly pray the House to institute an immediate, impartial, and rigid inquiry into the conduct of ministers, under the late suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, and that the whole proceedings connected therewith may be referred to such committee as shall be composed of such members only of the House as hold neither places or pensions under the Crown; and they farther pray, that the House will not render the vaunted responsibility of ministers a mere name, by passing a bill of indemnity, and preclude those who have been the victims of oppression and persecution from the means of appeal to the laws of the country."

Ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed.