§ Mr. Philips,
after moving that the petitions* of the inhabitants of Manchester and Salford, and of Benjamin Scholes, Joseph Mitchell, George Bradbury, and Samuel Bamford be entered as read, began by stating, that before he proceeded to recommend the House to adopt the motion with which he should conclude, it was his wish to guard himself from the suspicion of being inclined to encourage, or to appear as the advocate of itinerant orators, who preferred living by talking rather than by working, and who journied from place to place propagating their political sentiments. He had no hope of any public benefit being derived from such proceedings; but was convinced that their ten-*For Copies of these Petitions, see pp. 217, 399, 458, 589, and 674.821 dency was to produce directly opposite effects His sentiments on this subject might be inferred from the advice which he had given to a person of that description who had called on him since he came to town. His advice, though not offered in the form of paternal and correctional admonition (a phrase with which the House was well acquainted), was such as he had no doubt the government itself would approve. He had recommended to the person alluded to, now that he was liberated from prison, to desist from attempting to reform the state, and to attend to his own business and the interests of his own family. This advice met with the fate that unsolicited advice generally meets with. The man thanked him for it, but showed at the same time by his manner that he was quite determined not to follow it. The hon. member said, he was aware that, from peculiar causes a great ferment had arisen in the minds of people during the last year, particularly in the manufacturing districts. He was also ready to admit that the mere agitation of political questions of great importance and difficulty, by large bodies of unemployed and half-starved labourers, was of itself a sufficient reason for the exercise of vigilance, but such vigilance ought to have been united with great prudence and discretion: and if spies and informers were to be employed at all, their proceedings should have been most carefully watched, and their representations received with distrust. Indeed, to have accepted the office of spy should be such a presumption against any man's character, that he ought from that moment to become an object of suspicion. Little or no credit should be given to his evidence, unless confirmed by coincident circumstances and less exceptionable testimony. Every person knew how liable such characters were to misrepresent, exaggerate, and even to create mischief, if they did not find it, in order to magnify the apparent value of their services, and to claim from their employers a proportionably greater reward. It had been most justly observed in another place, that spies were much more dangerous when employed in the lower than in the higher classes of society. Among the latter, the only mischief they could do was by making false and exaggerated reports of the conduct and designs of the persons whom they were appointed to watch. With men of station and education, they could have comparatively little 822 chance of influencing their conduct, and engaging them in criminal designs, which they had not themselves before meditated. But the case was very different with the lower classes. If spies were appointed to watch them, it was because they were supposed to be persons of superior intelligence and sagacity. Over ignorant and uneducated men they might easily acquire such an influence as to become their leaders. They might begin by suggesting to them schemes of mischief which they had never before contemplated, might gradually reconcile their minds to such schemes, and at length drive them on to the actual perpetration of them. On this part of the subject, the hon. member observed, that he had great satisfaction in being authorized by sir John Byng (whose name, in consequence of the command which he held, had been a good deal connected with the proceedings of the disturbed districts) to state, that no spy or informer had ever been in any carriage of his in Lancashire, that he had never had any such character in his service or employ, nor ever had any communication, either directly or indirectly, with persons of that description, up to the 28th of March, the day on which the individuals in Manchester, accused of traitorous designs, were arrested. Whoever was acquainted with sir John Byng, or had any knowledge whatever of his character, would do him the justice to admit that he was not less conspicuous for his humanity, than for the courage which impelled him to be the foremost in danger. Though fully sensible of the relation in which he stood to the government that employed him, and of the duties resulting from it, that gal lant officer did not forget that he was the subject of a free state, nor would he ever divest himself of the constitutional feelings of an Englishman. Under the influence of these feelings, the government knew that he had occasionally incurred the displeasure of magistrates, for repressing their eagerness to have premature recourse to military assistance. It was unnecessary to remark, that in a season of general agitation like that of last year, the command of the manufacturing districts could not have been entrusted to an officer who would exercise it with more judgment, and more humane for bearance.—Returning from this digression, Mr. Philips said, that he did not see on what ground ministers could refuse to inquire into the proceedings of the spies and informers employed in those districts, without rejecting the conclu- 823 sions of their own secret committees. Those committees stated their apprehensions that the language and conduct of some persons of that description, might have had the effect of encouraging the designs which it was intended they should only be the instruments of detecting. Their improper language and conduct appeared to be admitted on both sides of the House. Why should we not, then, inquire into the effect which they had produced? The question between us was only as to the extent of the mischievous consequences of their proceedings. The petitioners say, "We engage to furnish evidence of it to the House. We will, if you will examine us, show that the evil, whatever might be its nature, was principally, if not entirely, the work of spies and informers. We will give proof of their guilt, and of the innocence of many of the persons whom they have accused. We will show you that they and their emissaries were frequently, proposing schemes of violence, and endeavouring to reconcile people's minds to the perpetration of them; that they were most anxious to appoint public and secret meetings, and used all the means in their power to prevail on others to attend them, in the hope of being able at last to make them the dupes of their own villanies, to have them arrested as traitors, and to reap the reward of their condemnation." Several of the petitioners were persons who had been arrested and imprisoned on the secret accusation of those spies and informers, and had been since discharged without trial. Others, such as the petitioners from Manchester had never been suspected of being at all implicated in criminal proceedings. These persons say, We have diligently inquired into facts, and pledge ourselves to prove the allegations in our petition. Here the hon. member said, he must protest against the mode of proceeding (reasoning he could not call it) adopted by the noble lord (Castlereagh). If the noble lord found that a petitioner had a bad character, or that a mistake had been made in any fact stated in a petition, he drew a general inference from thence against the character of all petitioners, and against all the facts stated in every other petition. It was unnecessary to say, that such an inference was not less illogical than it was ungenerous and unfair. It was a strong presumption against the case of the noble lord, that he found it convenient to have recourse to such an 824 expedient. But if this sophistry was to be used on one side, let it be used also on the other. Was the noble lord prepared to say, that spies and informers, and police agents (for on their representations the communications made to government had been generally founded),—that those men were such pure and virtuous characters, that their testimony was above suspicion? What spies and informers generally were, he had already stated. Were police agents often much better? This question would be best answered by a reference to facts which had lately appeared in evidence, showing the activity of these persons in enticing others into crimes that they might profit by their condemnation. The House would judge of the extent of the temptation to wickedness offered to these men (a temptation that few of them had virtue enough to withstand) when they were informed, that a gentleman in, Manchester lately gave, to his knowledge, 300l. for a Tyburn ticket. Was the noble lord prepared also to say, that no information on these -subjects communicated to government had been proved to be incorrect? Did he not know that the dread of incendiaries and assassins, and the first public declaration against reformers in Manchester, were in a great measure caused by a report spread by an individual, that the reformers had burnt his house because he had spoken against their proceedings? Was not the fact communicated to the government as evidence of their mischievous intentions, and would it not have been found in the first green bag, if strong suspicion had not in the mean time arisen that the individual was himself the incendiary, and that in destroying his own property, he had also destroyed, by invalidating, a most valuable communication for the government?—Mr. Philips stated, that he was by no means inclined to assert that the spies and informers in Lancashire —the population of which approached to 900,000 persons—did not meet with some men who listened with pleasure to their villainous proposals, and would have had no objection, if occasion had offered, to assist in executing them. The facts, however, appeared to him to show that the number of such persons was very small, and not sufficient of itself to justify the alarm which had been excited, and excited principally, as he most conscientiously believed, by the agency of spies and informers. The hon. member observed, that he could not regard ministers as quite 825 disinterested parties in this discussion. He did not believe them capable of making a plot entirely themselves, when none of the elements of one were previously in existence. But he could not help remarking, that the plot had been most useful to them, in withdrawing the attention of the public, and of some of their wavering friends in the House, from the demand so generally made at that time for economy and retrenchment; a demand the most distressing of all demands that could be made on such a government, as theirs. He would not say that ministers had made the plot, but he would say that they had made the most of it, and no instruments could be found so convenient for their purpose as spies and informers, by whose means the dread of violence and treason was kept alive, and the attention both of parliament and the public was effectually diverted from those questions of public economy and retrenchment which had been so peculiarly harassing to the government. Ministers having profited by the labours of these men, it was natural enough that they should wish to screen them from inquiry. But what interest had the House in screening them? And why should the House object to inquiry, when so many powerful considerations urge us to go into it? We might dispute in this House (said the hon. member) day after day about particular facts stated in petitions, as well as upon the characters of the petitioners, without coming any nearer to a just conclusion. The noble lord may take one view of a case, I may take another, and a still different view may be taken by a third person. But how are we to discover whose view is right, and whose wrong, without an exact and rigid inquiry? If the noble lord says the petitioners are either rogues who are not to be believed, or dupes whom these rogues have deluded, have we not just as much reason before the facts are investigated, to retort the same charge on their accusers? Let the House consider for a moment the relation in which the accused and the accusers stand towards each other. The former say, "We entreat the House to go into an inquiry, and we undertake to prove our own innocence, and the guilt of those who have accused us, after vainly attempting to betray us into their mischievous projects." The ministers reply, "We will not permit you who are accused to defend yourselves: we will not suffer you to say a word 826 against your accusers, or to prove that the character which they have given of you belongs to themselves." The hon. member asked, whether the House was prepared to sanction such a proceeding as this? Were they ready, in compliment to his majesty's ministers, to express their disbelief of maxims founded on universal experience, and to say that the unanimous feelings and sentiments of mankind were mere prejudice and delusion? Would they declare by their votes that it was conscious guilt that demanded inquiry, and conscious innocence which shrank from it?—Mr. Phillips expressed his hope that the House would not incur the disgrace of acting so as to make itself liable to such an imputation. He trusted that they would satisfy both themselves and the public, by entering into a full, a rigid, and an impartial inquiry, on a subject which had occasioned great anxiety and agitation, and upon which it was quite evident that no just conclusion could be formed, without such an inquiry as it was the object of his motion to recommend. The hon. member concluded by moving, "That this House, taking into consideration the Report of the Committee of Secrecy presented on the 20th of June last; together with the Report of the Committee of Secrecy of the Lords, communicated to this House on the 23d of June last, so far as the same refer to instances in which the language and conduct of persons, said to be employed for the purpose of detecting, may have had the effect of encouraging criminal designs; and taking also into consideration the allegations contained in certain petitions, with respect to practices of so alarming a tendency, is of opinion that it is the duty of this House fully to investigate the nature and extent of the same."
§ Mr. F. Robinson
said, that since he had the honour of a seat in this House, he did not recollect any instance of a more extraordinary proceeding than that of the hon. gentleman who had brought forward this motion. The House must recollect the parade with which the subject was first brought forward—the vast and paramount importance which was attached to it by the gentlemen on the opposite side of the House—the long and minute details into which the hon. gentleman himself had entered upon the subject—and yet, after all this, what had he now brought forward? The petition from Manchester, upon which the motion was mainly 827 founded, was couched in vague, loose, and general terms. It affected indeed as important an air, as if it represented the sense of the whole population of Manchester and its neighbourhood, although in fact it was only signed by twenty-six persons. It stated that they had instituted a rigid inquiry into all the circumstances comprehended in the petition; and it did the House the favour to state that the result of this inquiry was, that no treasonable designs had been harboured, and no atrocity projected in Manchester, but by the hired spies and informers of government. Such was the general statement of the petitioners. But they did not deign to state the form or mode of their inquiry, nor the grounds on which they came to this conclusion, nor the species of evidence which they were prepared to bring forward, if the inquiry for which they wished was granted. The hon. gentleman himself was well aware of these deficiencies; and therefore he opened the case of the petitioners, with an elaborate comment upon the petition, and a minute detail of facts, which he promised to substantiate, and which he gave notice he intended to call upon the House to give him an opportunity of proving. But when he found that he could not follow up his statements by proof, he saw that he must change his ground. And then it was that the hon. gentleman, with a grave face, came down to the House to alter the nature of his notice; for the purpose, as he stated, of making it more precise; but, in point of fact, completely to abandon the ground which he had taken. And why? Was it not because he now knew that the stories of the petitioners could not be supported; that the ground which he had taken could not be maintained? Only let the House recollect the elaborate speech of the hon. gentleman when he presented the petition, and his long story about a man of the name of Dewhurst, who had been carried to general Byng in that officer's gig; and about another man of the name of Lomax, who he said was a hired spy. What had the hon. gentleman now to say to these stories? So far as general Byng was concerned, he had now told the truth; all the rest was a fabrication. The whole of that story was false. Nay more—no man of the name of Dewhurst was known to general Byng, or to government; as to Lomax the hon. gentleman knew from 828 general Byng that that man was no spy; or if the hon. gentleman did not know it before, he knew it now [Hear, hear! from the Opposition]. Whatever schemes Lomax was concerned in—whatever atrocities he contemplated—he did all as a conspirator and not a spy. It was true that on the 17th of March this man wrote a letter to lord Sidmouth, offering to communicate information. This letter was not answered. On the 28th of March, Lomax was arrested with several others, and after being examined was released; and there ended the whole communication between Lomax and the magistrates, or the government. Therefore he affirmed that all that was done by Lomax was done by him as a conspirator, and not as a spy—a spy he never was. He thought that after what he had stated, unless they could disprove it, the case of gentlemen opposite would fail. They might bring forward a great deal to contradict it, because contradiction was very easy when proof was impossible. But he was confident it was impossible to overturn what he had stated. He was convinced they could not disprove what he had said of the two cases which were the main support of the petition, and therefore the whole fabric would fall to the ground, with the rigid investigation the petitioners professed to have made. It was impossible that the House could attach any importance to such a document so supported. But there was something important proved by the statements that had been given. It had been declared that none of the schemes mentioned had been proposed to the people but by hired spies and informers. That was an admission that propositions had been made. And besides, they had the speech of Lomax before he had written the letter to lord Sidmouth, and they had also the speeches made by various persons in Manchester. It was said, indeed, that Lomax was viewed with scorn and horror; but when he was so viewed, it wa6 very singular that they should not denounce him. The very circumstance of his non-denunciation was an irreconcilable contradiction to the hon. gentleman. The man, however, was dead; he could not answer; he could not be forthcoming; but unless they could prove something worse than they had done, it was needless that he should be alive; dead or alive, his statement was not to be disproved.—Then there was a petitioner of 829 the name of Bamford, who said he had been arrested on the information of Lomax. This could not be true; as that person was taken up on the 29th of March. The warrant must have been signed some time before, and Lomax was not arrested till the 27th. There were, besides this Manchester petition, the petition of Mitchell, and the petition of Scholes. Mitchell gave a sort of meagre account of his communication with Oliver, and endeavoured to impress, though he did not distinctly assert, that all he had done was at the instigation of Oliver; but he quite sunk what he did in Yorkshire, in conjunction with Oliver; but this omission of Scholes, another petitioner supplied; for he stated Oliver had been introduced to him by Mitchell, and that Mitchell and Oliver appointed meetings at his house. Now, either Scholes' petition was false, or Mitchell had culpably concealed the truth, to make a false impression, he cared not which, so no credit was due to their assertions. They had already heard of Francis Ward, the religious and pious man; there was another person who had presented a petition couched in the same style, and apparently' written by the same hand, named Haynes. He knew not what information might have been derived from him, but he had been guilty of perjury. He had been witness at the trial of two persons, Towle and Slater, for shooting at a man in a frame-breaking transaction. Slater was acquitted on an alibi, as Haynes and some others swore, that he was at the time seventeen miles from the place where the crime was committed. Additional in formation was obtained, and Slater was again indicted for the minor crime of frame-breaking, at the same time and place, at the following sessions, and he pleaded guilty, thus proving the perjury of Haynes and the others. This was an additional proof of the nature of the character of the petitioners. Thus, as the allegations of the petitions were many of them totally false—as the stories respecting Dewhurst and Lomax were false—as the allegations of Bamford could not be true—as Scholes and Mitchell's petitions could not be both true, or could not contain both the whole truth—he hoped the House would reject the motion. On this evidence only was it founded [Hear! from the Opposition]. The petitions must make the ground-work of the motion. He allowed that the motion' re- 830 ferred to the reports of the committees, but it added, "looking also to the allegations of certain petitions." He should not trespass longer on the time of the House. He believed in his honour and conscience that the petitions were false, and he begged the House, on behalf of a calumniated government, of a calumniated magistracy, and in the sacred names of truth and justice, to reject the motion.
The Hon. F. Douglas
said, that all the right hon. gentleman had proved amounted to these two facts—that no person of the name of Dewhurst was in sir J. Byng'6 gig, and that Lomax was dead. He had told them too, that contradiction was not proof. Yet his speech was a tissue of unproved contradictions, which he had begged the House to receive instead of the proof which it was the object of the motion to elicit. It was to be remarked too, on the right hon. gentleman's own statement, that Lomax had written to lord Sidmouth offering to give information —that he had afterwards been apprehended, and almost immediately released. It was unfortunate that the hon. mover had not made a long speech on the Manchester petition, as the right hon. gentleman's speech seemed entirely prepared to refer to it. But the petition had very properly been made by the hon. mover accessary to his proofs;—he rested on the general knowledge of the country—on the general avowal of the ministers themselves through their committees. But how did the right hon. gentleman answer the allegations of the other petitions? By saying that one Haynes was a perjured man. But who was Haynes? His petition had not that day been read. He said nothing of Oliver, nor had any information that he knew of been derived from him. The right hon. gentleman wondered why the present motion had been made. Did he not remember that on the motion of the member for Lincoln (Mr. Fazakerley), half the speech, and more than half the argument of the speech of a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) turned on the incompetency of the secret committee to carry on the investigation which was demanded? Did they not remember that the hon. member for Bramber (Mr. Wilberforce) had pledged himself to agree to an investigation, if it was to be conducted by a committee differently chosen? The present motion was brought forward to give him an opportunity to support in- 831 quiry [a laugh]. It was framed almost on the Suggestion of the gentlemen opposite; and for the plain and manly object, that this question, important in every moral and political view, should be brought to a satisfactory issue. It was now the last day previously to the introduction of a bill of indemnity. In a few days they would have debarred themselves from all inquiry. Should they not, then, be convinced of the merit of the government before they granted them an indemnity for their violations of the law? He did not wish to take narrow or uncandid views, nor should the House shift from its own shoulders the heavy responsibility which, in his opinion, weighed on them, for acceding to ministers the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. He did not think that there Was a solitary instance of having, under such a measure, violated the law; but when he bad said thus much, he thought he had granted a reasonable measure of indulgence. Such a measure of confidence as an indemnity act should proceed on two grounds:—that in the present state of the country, the disclosure of the evidence they had received was impracticable; and that the ministers had in general discreetly and conscientiously administered the law. Before the House granted the greatest indulgence which could be granted, it was their duty to inquire into these questions—both of them of the most paramount importance. It was admitted by ministers, that spies had been employed. It could not be denied by them, that the employment of spies might produce mischievous effects; the committee had said they had reason to believe it might have produced those effects;—twenty six persons from Manchester asserted, that it had produced mischief, and they and many others pledged themselves to produce proof, and prayed the House to receive them. There were in the House gentlemen who could adduce proofs on this subject; who could prove the effect of the appearance of spies in the West Riding of Yorkshire—the dismay of the magistracy, the encouragement of the disaffected, and the combination which was thus created much superior to that which the efforts of orators could bring about. There was that paragraph, too, extorted by the force of truth from a reluctant committee, proceeding on garbled and prepared evidence. What, then, was to be reasonably expected from a fair committee, having no private inter- 832 ests to consult, receiving the evidence which might be offered on both sides, and having no limit to its investigation? There was that miserable collection of newspaper paragraphs, which a committee had chosen to dignify by the name of a report. In that production two facts were stated. The insurrection in Derbyshire, which was then represented in its proper light, as not important in itself, but merely as connected with disturbances in other parts. The importance, therefore, of the Derbyshire disturbance rested on the disturbance in other parts. And what was the other place referred to?—The south-western corner of Yorkshire, which was the peculiar field of the employment of spies. It had been stated to the House by the most unexceptionable authority, that the appearance of the London delegate was there a cause of joy; that assemblies were held to meet the London delegate; and with the knowledge of this, and the allegations of the petitioners, would they not at least inquire before they granted an indemnity?—It would perhaps be said, that the evil was admitted, but that the amount of evil was the question. This was the very subject for inquiry. It had been said, that the spies had not given evidence which was not corroborated by others. It was not contended that they alone had given evidence. They had created the facts of which evidence was given by others. The justification of the ministers was rested on several grounds. The spies had transgressed their orders. Why, then, had they not been brought to punishment? That honour and fidelity was not to be found in such men was well known; but if so, those were responsible for their conduct who continued to employ them. It was said, that the critical situation of the country required the intervention of such agents. He hoped the House would bear this in mind, that the constitution could not be suspended, that tyranny could not be introduced for a moment into England, without bringing as its natural train, public and private vice.—The hon. member then distinguished between the characters of spies by profession, and hired informers, and contended, that no necessity could justify the employment of agents of the first atrocious description. The mischief of their employment by a government that rested on moral opinion, outweighed any advantage that could be derived from them. When the 833 right hon. gentleman spoke of the moral character of the petitioners, and concluded that their associates were equally vicious, what would those think, who saw the secretary of state in constant communication and close union with persons, who, by the nature of their profession, were devoid of honesty or honour; when they saw him bound to such persons by mutual good offices, prostituting his moral and religious character, to an association with persons who were guilty of the flagitious baseness at which professed villains revolted—treachery towards friends and associates? What an effect must such an example have on those individuals in the lowest ranks of life, who were exposed to constant temptation, and hardened and deadened by their professions? What effect must it have upon the morals of the people when they observed government having recourse to such agents,—when they saw a noble lord at the head of the home department, of most moral, decorous, and humane character, engaging in a reciprocity of benefits with such infamous characters, and called upon to defend them,—when they saw their names associated with such a man as sir John Byng, whom he was proud to call his friend, who possessed every thing that was amiable as a citizen, and chivalrous or honourable as a soldier? If those who were amiable and high in every respect, who must be supposed alive to all the delicacies of honour, were seen to come in contact with such vile wretches, what effect would it have on those in minor departments; on police officers for example? Would they not naturally conclude that they also had a right to employ their Olivers to assist in the execution of their duties? They were told that a system of prevention was adopted, and was most proper on the occasion. But the only prevention he knew was, that the guilty were prevented from receiving that punishment which their conduct called for, while the innocent only were the sufferers. How could it be said that a system of prevention had been adopted by ministers towards the country, when it was known that persons had been fitted out at the home office, and sent into the disturbed districts, who fomented and fanned into a flame those disturbances which would not have otherwise extended to any such length?—He wished to observe before he sat down, that he did not impute to ministers such a gross deviation 834 from their duty as that of having hired spies and informers for the purpose of creating those disturbances, but he blamed them for having acted incautiously and imprudently in selecting the persons to procure information who proved that they were unworthy of even that mean office. He blamed ministers for having by their carelessness thrown firebrands into the heap of combustible matter which, according to their own statements, was known to exist in the country. He blamed them for unnecessarily exciting alarm in the public mind, for having exaggerated those disturbances which they knew to have arisen at first from no other than political causes, for having on other occasions been the cause of sending forth to the world a number of old and forgotten publications, the tendency of which they themselves allowed to be dangerous to public morals, and which would otherwise have remained in merited obscurity.—He blamed ministers for having given to the public partial and garbled statements of the state of the country— of having produced or kept back proof as it made against or for their particular views,—of having published one letter while another was kept behind—In a word, he blamed them for acting unfairly to the country in refusing that inquiry into the complaints of aggrieved persons, which if true required some investigation, and if false would fully exculpate ministers in the minds of the public. On these grounds it was that he advocated the motion then before the House, and on these grounds he would certainly vote in favour of it.
said, he was desirous of making a few observations on the petition from Manchester, which had been so much spoken of by the hon. gentlemen on the other side of the House. He could inform them that the 26 names which were said to be signed to the petition were not the names of most respectable people, as had been stated. On the contrary it was known, that the petitioners were some of the lower classes of society, and consisted for the most part of persons who were instrumental to the calling the meetings which took place at the period mentioned in Manchester. He wished also to inform the House that a resolution had been signed by 285 respectable persons at Manchester, stating that they were indebted to the constables and other persons employed at the time of those meet- 835 ings and disturbances before mentioned, for the safety and protection they enjoyed on that occasion. He had received a letter a few days hack, signed by three magistrates of Manchester or its neighbourhood, which lie would wish the House to hear read, as it would show in what light the petition presented by the hon. mover on a former night was viewed in that place. Here the hon. member read the letter. It stated that the inhabitants of Manchester were much surprised to hear the several observations made by the hon. gentleman (Mr. Philips) on presenting the petition, complaining of spies and informers, and also at the statements made by him relative to what had taken place in Manchester at the time of the disturbances there. The letter went on to state, that the borough-reeves and constables were elected annually at courts-leet, and that there was no interference on the part of government in their election; that it was the business of those officers to convene a public meeting, when properly called upon by the inhabitants to do so. That they bad been called upon a short time previous to the disturbances at Manchester to convene a public meeting, but that the demand was made by so few a number of persons, and those too of the lowest classes, that they declined to do so. That a similar demand was made by the same persons shortly after, which was also refused for the same reason. That on a representation of the distresses which existed in Manchester at that period among the lower classes, a liberal subscription was entered into for their relief; but notwithstanding this, the parties who had at first required that a meeting of the inhabitants should be convened, did, without the consent of the proper officers, convene those meetings which took place, and which were said to be for the purpose of considering the means of relieving the public distresses, but were in reality found to be for quite a different object. That the business at Manchester had been represented, in a speech said to have been made in that House by an hon. member (Mr. Philips) in a light quite different from what occurred; and that that speech had been printed and circulated at Manchester at such a price as to insure it an extended circulation. The letter concluded by stating, that the petition relative to the spies and informers, was not sent by the consent of the inhabitants of Manchester, and that their feelings were 836 decidedly against it. That the people of Manchester disapproved of the meetings, which gave rise to the disturbances in that place, and had never sanctioned them. That Ogden and some of the other suspected persons, were among those who applied for the calling the meeting, and who subsequently convened the meetings which gave rise to those disturbances which interrupted the peace of that place. The hon. member said, that it was necessary the House should be made acquainted with the circumstances which he had just read to them, as the letter showed the weight which should be attached to the petition from Manchester, which complained of the conduct of spies and informers.
§ Mr. W. Courtenay
said, he was for some time at a loss to discover what the nature of the hon. gentleman's motion was; but he at length found that it was intended to catch and entrap the hon. member for Bramber, so as to oblige him to give the measure his support. Upon what grounds was the House called upon to enter into a discussion of the present measure? They were called upon to censure the means used for the public safety at a time when the country had just escaped from the greatest dangers, and when the alarm, which so justly existed in the public mind was subsided from a knowledge that the danger was now oven They were told that the petitions laid on the table from time to time this session, contained such a list of grievances (all of which were stated to be true) as merited the strictest investigation. But now when it was found that the allegations contained in those petitions could not be supported, it was said, that the general feeling of the country required, that some inquiry should be made. The hon. supporters of the motion were obliged to shift their ground, as they found each successive point untenable. With respect to the general feeling of the country, as it was only a matter of opinion what that feeling was, nothing but opinion could be advanced in opposition to such an observation. He thought that the general feeling of the country was decidedly against the statements contained in the petitions, on which the motion then before the House was grounded, and he would instance the letter just read by his hon. friend in support of that opinion. If the hon. member who made the motion, and the other hon. members who supported him were so- 837 much mistaken in what had taken place at Manchester, was it too much to suppose that they might be equally mistaken with respect to the other parts of the country? It had been said, that the system of prevention had not been acted upon by his majesty's ministers. Then the question resolved itself into this, whether ministers had properly used the power vested in them by parliament, and whether they had taken the necessary steps to prevent rather than punish disturbances in the country. On this subject the House had a right to inquire, and his majesty's ministers were ready to give every information. But, he would ask, was it treating them fairly, first to pay a high compliment to the noble lord at the head of the home department, and in the same breath to say that spies had been fitted out in London to be sent into the country for the purpose of finding out and fomenting the disturbances in the country. He would ask the House whether any such thing had been proved?—[Hear! from the Opposition side.] He was happy to observe the gentlemen take notice of what he said, as he supposed some hon. member from that side would prove to the House that such was the fact. With respect to a person who had been much spoken of, he could inform the House that Oliver had not been expressly sent to the country to discover the nature of those conspiracies. Oliver had, without the knowledge of government, discovered the plots and treasons which were carrying on in the country, and had given information thereof to government. Me was then desired to continue his observations on the conduct of those disaffected persons [cheers from the Opposition],—He thought that though the hon. gentlemen cheered him, they would find it difficult to disprove what he had said, and what he was able to prove [Hear!]. At the trials which took place in the country and in London, relative to those disturbances, was it proved that Oliver had been instrumental to the meetings or conspiracies which were proved to have taken place? It was impossible that such a circumstance should escape the counsel for the prisoners on those occasions, if it could he made to appear. If Oliver had been instrumental to the meetings before the 10th of June, or had held out hopes, or in any way instigated the persons whose acts had made them liable to the laws, would it not have been proved on the trials at Derby, when the prisoners' 838 counsel had an opportunity of cross-examining the witnesses? An able and most respectable barrister (Mr. Desman) did, on the trials at Derby, ask one witness, whether Oliver was in any manner connected with the conspirators? and on that occasion he received such an answer as prevented his repeating the question, and a question of the kind was not again put during those trials. He was aware that it was more congenial to the law and constitution of the country to promote than to prevent inquiry. But it was necessary a strong case should be made out of the necessity of such inquiry, before the House could agree to the measure. What were the grounds adduced for the motion, which would, if carried, he supposed, be followed up by the appointment of a committee of inquiry? It was said that a petition, signed by 26 inhabitants of Manchester, was a good reason for supporting the resolution; but he supposed, after the proofs which were brought forward to the contrary, the hon. members opposite would perceive the necessity of bringing some better argument in support of the measure before the Mouse could agree to it. It was unusual for the House to accede to such a motion, unless proper grounds were shown for it. The only reasons he had heard were, that spies and informers were said to have stepped beyond the line marked out for them. Was it doing justice to ministers, by whoso exertions the safety of the country had been preserved, to tell them an inquiry should be instituted into the conduct of every person they found it necessary to employ in the execution of the arduous task they were called upon to perform, when it was already said, that no person had been arrested but upon information upon oath, unless where that information was corroborated by unquestionable evidence. Another reason assigned for the motion was, that the vote to which the House came last year, on the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, was uncalled for, and that the reports of the committees which had been then appointed, had been proved to be totally false. He could not accede to such assertions. He had voted for the Suspension, and he had done so from a conviction that the safety of the country rendered such a measure necessary. He had also carefully read the Reports, and knew that they represented nothing which had not turned out to be the fact—namely, that there was in the 839 country a strong spirit of disaffection to the government, and that nothing short of the suspension of the constitution was intended. He thought it was false reasoning to say, that because the vigilance of ministers had prevented an alarming explosion from taking place, therefore there was no need of their being vested with the powers entrusted to them. It therefore appeared to him, from every view of the subject, that the motion was altogether unnecessary.
§ Lord Lascelles,
on comparing the speech of the honourable mover, when he presented the Manchester petition, with that which he had made this night, could not help thinking that he had abandoned the whole of his case, and must feel that he was not likely to be strongly supported. The noble lord bore testimony to the conduct of general Byng, who was eminently entitled to the thanks, not only of those who regarded the preservation of peace in the districts in which he commanded, but of those deluded persons also whom he prevented from doing farther mischief. This testimony he felt it his duty to offer, from a knowledge of the proceedings, and from a conviction of the rectitude of the respectable officer alluded to; upon whom, however, he could not suppose that the hon. mover deliberately meant to cast any reflexion, as he hoped would appear from that hon. member's explanation. With regard to spies and informers, he could say that he had no predilection whatever for the character or employment of such persons. Such persons, he had no hesitation in saying, ought not to be employed by any government, with a view to inflame a mass of combustible matter, as some gentlemen on the other side had expressed it; but at the same time he must say, that it was the duty of government to make use of the information of Oliver, or any other person, for the purpose of preventing the explosion of such matter. As to Oliver, he firmly believed that a great deal of what had been said respecting his conduct, was mere clamour. He could never, indeed, concur in the opinion, that ministers had employed this person for the purpose of excitement. On the contrary, he would deny that such was ever the intention of government. The hon. mover had stated, that according to the general opinion of the country, ministers had abused the powers with which they were invested under the suspension of the Habeas Cor- 840 pus act; but from what quarter had the hon. member collected the information upon which he grounded this statement? For himself he could say, that he had not heard of such an opinion, unless from the allegations of some of the petitioners to that House, who were themselves implicated in the transactions which gave rise to the proposition for suspending the Habeas Corpus act. He therefore felt it his duty to oppose the motion.
§ Mr. Philips
said, he had not uttered one disrespectful word of sir John Byng. He had only mentioned that Dewhurst had been seen with him in his carriage. This was told to him by an hon. friend near him, who had his information from a person whom they both knew to be a very bad character. He had never said that all that had happened was the work of spies and informers.
§ Lord Milton,
while he felt every respect, esteem, and affection for general Byng, considered all that the hon. gentleman and his noble colleague had said of him to be quite beside the question. As to what the learned gentleman had said of Oliver's not being called as a witness at the Derby trials, it had been repeatedly and unanswerably replied, that if Oliver had done all the mischief imputed to him, his evidence could have been of no service to the prisoners, but, on the contrary, it would at once have established their guilt. How could any inference be drawn from the perfect ignorance of him manifested by witnesses who had only seen the insurrection, but who had known nothing of its origin? But all this did not signify a straw in the present question. The question really was, whether the extraordinary circumstance of spies having excited disturbances, as stated in their own report, and complained of in the petitions, should be allowed to pass without any inquiry. He thought that inquiry was loudly called for, and his noble colleague ought to have thought so: but he was in a dilemma between his abhorrence of spies, and the necessity of detecting conspiracy. The means of obtaining detection was the ground of difference. He sincerely acquitted ministers of the intention to excite disturbances through the medium of spies: but they were not therefore acquitted of the consequence of having employed them. They had heard statements of Oliver having been in different parts of the country, entrapping the unwary, holding meetings, using vio- 841 lent and inflammatory language, and inciting to the wildest acts of rebellion. Not one word of this had yet been denied. He hoped some denial was to be given before the present motion should be negatived. The conduct of government was rather singular. They felt an abhorrence of the conduct of spies, but no inquiry must be instituted into this abhorred conduct. All other subjects were investigated in that House; the civil list was overhauled; the army estimates were examined; but espionage was not for the profane eyes of the House of Commons! He believed all who were employed as spies were, like Castles, infamous characters. In the outset ministers ought to have regarded them as suspicious. They were therefore chargeable with having improvidently sent such persons into the country, although, as he conscientiously believed, they had not contemplated the consequences. It had been triumphantly retorted, that the country was admitted to have been in a combustible state. Undoubtedly, great distress had existed, and' consequently great discontent prevailed in the country. These were the combustible materials, and to this admission the other side was undoubtedly entitled. To these materials they had applied a firebrand when they' sent Oliver into the country. Did he not every where appear as the London delegate? Was not that fact well known to the government; and was not that enough to open their eyes as to the transactions with which he was connected? In law, he believed, it was no palliation, that rioters or rebels were told of disturbances in other parts; but in point of moral turpitude, it made a very wide difference. It was a trite but a true remark, that success or failure constituted the difference between a traitor and a hero. If, then, an ignorant person was insidiously persuaded that the cooperation of multitudes would infallibly make him a hero instead of being a traitor, was not his case different from common treason? He was not justifying the conduct of the deluded. Even the circumstances of their delusion did not justify them; but surely they formed a strong palliation of their crimes. He believed that ministers opposed the inquiry, because they were afraid to have the subject inquired into: and because they felt that, if probed to the bottom, the result would be to discover the facility and improvidence with which they had listened to 842 every tale-bearer who was seeking to curry favour. The great danger of such a policy was, that it went to establish a system of espionage, which must finally produce universal suspicion and jealousy, and wholly alienate the affections of the people from the government.
§ Lord Stanley
said, he should support the motion, but not on the ground that ministers were guilty of employing; spies for the purpose of fomenting disturbances in the country. His belief was, that Oliver and others had been solely employed to discover what was doing in the disturbed districts. Where blame was fairly to be cast on ministers, was, he thought, in the manner in which those spies were chosen. Though ministers did not warrant the fomenting of disturbances, yet they left it in the power of those acting under them to do so. He did not accuse the ministers of having wilfully exaggerated the distressed state of the country, but he thought they had not taken sufficient pains to ascertain what was the nature or the extent of the disturbances. They did not inquire so fully as they might have done into the purity of the sources from whence they derived their information on the state of the country. He thought ministers had been much calumniated; but they would be most so by themselves, if they refused to inquire into those acts, when inquiry, according to their own statement, would fully acquit them of the charges laid against them. On these grounds, he should certainly vote for the motion.
observed, that ministers seemed disposed to content themselves with denying ail the complaints and allegations which were adduced against their conduct, without bringing forward any thing like evidence to support that denial, or acceding to any inquiry that might afford an opportunity of ascertaining the real merits of the case. The question before the House was simply this, whether the reports of this and the other House of parliament were of such a nature, contrasted with the petitions upon the table, as to furnish a primâ facie ground for inquiry? In opposition to the assertion of an hon. gentleman on the other side, he would maintain, that his hon. friend, who brought forward the motion, had not abandoned one iota of his case, or receded in any degree from the ground which he had originally taken. He himself was the member who informed his hon. friend that 843 Dewhurst, the spy, was seen in the same carriage with general Byng; and such was the information which he had received, not, however, from a quarter, as his hon. friend had stated, upon which he could implicitly rely. But, perhaps, the House was not aware of the sort of person whom this Dewhurst was. He who led the people with whom he communicated into a toil—he who had them caught in a net from which he escaped himself, was no other than Michael Hall, a returned transport, who was, no doubt, a fit ally and instrument for Messrs. Nadin and Co. of Manchester. Such was the spy who was arrested on one day, and discharged the next by the magistrates of Manchester. According to one of the reports from the Secret Committee of the House of Lords, some persons employed by ministers to prevent disturbances, had themselves been guilty of exciting that disturbance. But what, he would ask, had ministers done in consequence of this detection? Had any of those inflammatory agents been taken into custody, or had any proceedings whatever been taken against them? Was not this, he would ask, a fair subject for inquiry? [Hear, hear!] He did not mean to say that ministers themselves had excited to insurrection, or promoted the fabrication of plots; but there was notoriously a large forge for this purpose at Bolton, under the auspices of Mr. Fletcher, the magistrate, who, after such facts as had appeared against him, ought not to be allowed for one moment to remain in the commission [Hear, hear!]. As to the observation, that the information upon which his hon. friend had spoken, proceeded from polluted sources, he must say that such an observation came with a very ill grace from those who after suspending the liberties of their countrymen, abusing the power with which they were invested, and packing a committee to cover them from blame, had notoriously derived their information from the basest persons to be found in any state of society. Yet upon such information they had thought proper to confound rebellious riots with the commission of high treason, He however knew this information to be false; and the intelligence upon which his knowledge rested, with respect to Oliver especially, came from persons who were by no means implicated in any conspiracy; this he pledged himself to show, if the House would go into the proposed inquiry. He would repeat, that 844 he was prepared to support all the statements he had formerly made respecting the conduct of Oliver, not by suspicious or polluted evidence, but on the testimony of men in no way connected with the acts of the conspirators. It was not his intention to come down to the House, like the noble lord (Castlereagh), and with a collection of dead men's tales to take away the character of the living. He dared his majesty's ministers to the inquiry, and if they did not face it, there would be but one verdict in the country—that their guilt alone prevented them. Why should ministers resist inquiry if they could justify their conduct? Did not such resistance betray their conviction that their conduct had been such as they would be ashamed or afraid to exhibit in the face of day? The noble lord had indeed through-out the debates upon this transaction professed a desire to do one thing, while he took especial care to do another. He professed a wish, and proposed a motion, for inquiry, while he contrived to guard against any inquiry whatever. It was known that in one of the committees appointed upon the motion of the noble lord, a proposition to have Oliver examined as to his conduct, while acting under the auspices of lord Sidmouth, was negatived through the influence of ministers. Again what had become of the second letter of earl Fitzwilliam, which was studiously kept back, while a former letter from that nobleman was adduced in that House, to answer a purpose in debate by the right hon. gentleman at the head of the board of control? The second letter of earl Fitzwilliam, which was dated on the 17th of June, must have reached London on the 19th. This letter could of course have been communicated to the Lords committee, which had not then made its report. There was indeed, plenty of time for that communication, but this would not have suited the views of ministers, because this second letter from earl Fitzwilliam was, in fact a recantation of the opinion expressed in a former letter, which opinion that nobleman had found to be erroneous upon farther inquiry. From the suppression, then, of this letter, as well as from other facts, it was evident that ministers wished to prevent parliament and the public from having a clear view of their proceedings, by affording only such information as suited their purpose. While they sought to keep aloof all testimony that might expose the 845 character of the evidence with which they communicated, and upon which they acted, they even now denied inquiry with regard to the injury of those who had most severely suffered through that evidence. The character of Oliver was become quite notorious. But the noble lord (Castlereagh) had said, that no one was imprisoned upon the oath of that person. He would, however, desire to know, upon what other evidence were the persons arrested in consequence of the meeting at Thornhill Lees? For that meeting was actually collected through the contrivance of Oliver himself. For it was Oliver who sent Crabtree to Birmingham to invite persons to that meeting—while he himself had called upon a person at Dewsbury to attend it. Nay, Oliver wrote a note, requesting an interview, to a person who was quite as respectable as any member of that House, from which he (Mr. Bennet) had the information. The interview took place, and he was assured, that the whole of the language of Oliver to this person, whom he earnestly exhorted to attend the meeting at Thornhill Lees, was derogatory to the character of that House, in which he said, that no reliance whatever could be placed; that physical force must be employed; and that a great crash would speedily take place. The person to whom this language was addressed refused to attend the meeting at Thornhill Lees. Had he been examined before the committee?" No. The course pursued by his majesty's ministers was, first to pack a committee, then to garble, and finally to suppress evidence. He knew that Mr. Parker, a magistrate at Sheffield, had written to lord Sidmouth, acquainting him, that the greatest danger he apprehended was the arrival of the deputies from London: that the men in his district had arms to work without being able to find any, and that in a such situation, like drowning men, they would catch at straws. At this period it was that Oliver was sent down among them with his story of 70,000 men being ready to rise in London, and to act in conjunction with them. This was the manner in which the distemper was treated; a blister was applied to the sore place, and the effects that followed might have been easily foreseen. Instead of being surprised that a hundred men rose at Nottingham, or fifty in another place, or that the mayor and a few old women at Leeds were thrown into a state of alarm, it was rather a matter of 846 astonishment that more serious mischief, and a much more formidable explosion, had not been created by the artifices with which discontent was thus inflamed and fomented. He implored the House to recollect, that as soon as Oliver was withdrawn, tranquillity was restored as by a charm, and all was peace. Would the House, then, consult the principles of justice, the opinion of the country, or the maintenance of its own character, if it refused to inquire into the conduct of such ministers and such agents?
§ Mr. Bathurst
contended, that the hon. mover had entirely abandoned the Manchester case, and instead of confining himself to the matter of the petition, had, indulged in general charges against his majesty's ministers. He gave credit to the hon. gentleman who spoke last, for much laudable zeal, although it frequently outran his discretion; and he thought him bound, after the strong assertions he had made, to mention the names of those on whose information he placed such implicit reliance. The hon. gentleman had stated, that they were not parties implicated with the conspirators. How then did they obtain their knowledge? They must have been present at their meetings, without communicating the information to the magistracy. They were, therefore, not the spies and informers of government, but the spies and informers of the hon. gentleman, they were, he presumed, an innocent part of the combustible matter of which the House had heard so much. An attempt had been made to draw a distinction between spies and informers [Hear, hear! from sir S. Romilly]. The hon. and learned gentleman appeared to support this distinction, and he was ready to admit his authority to be great; but he would oppose to it other great law authorities, those of lord chief justice Holt, and chief justice Eyre, who had held, that accomplices, whilst their credit was to be judged of by cirucmstances, were often the best witnesses, and ought to be encouraged by all governments, as otherwise the most heinous crimes would go unpunished. Suppose a man were to come to government, and confess that he had gone a certain way in the commission of treasonable acts, but that he repented of the proceeding, and was desirous of making atonement; would it be the duty of government to dismiss him immediately, instead of employing him as a means, of detecting and defeating the schemes of 847 the conspirators? In the very first place he was an informer, and the next step turned him into a spy. Those to whose care and vigilance the preservation of the public peace was intrusted, had an anxious and difficult duty to discharge. As to the dark surmises of the hon. gentleman, as far as respected the employment of Mr. Oliver, he was prepared to give them a full contradiction. Government knew nothing of his private character previous to his journey in company with Mitchell. He would have no objection to meet any specific motion with regard to the employment of Oliver; but he would now say, that government had no reason to believe that Oliver had, upon any occasion, forfeited the character of a respectable individual. That he had intercourse with the parties charged was admitted, but beyond that there was nothing against him. He had, accidentally, in the course of his private business, fallen into society where something dangerous to the state was going on. He found that those he was with had been instrumental in secreting a person for whom a public reward had been offered for his apprehension, on a charge of high treason. A warrant had been issued for the apprehension of Mitchell long before the 28th of April, which was the time Oliver went down into the country, where he was sent to learn the true state of the disturbed districts. In the letter of general Byng to the editor of The Morning Chronicle, he stated that the rejection of sir Francis Burdett's motion for parliamentary reform, was to be the signal for a general rising, and this was some time before Oliver left London. The Manchester magistrates did look with an eye of suspicion upon the information given them; but having received it, nothing was left for them to do but to find out the means of discovering the truth; they gave no instructions in the first place; they had no object in seeking for tumults, for they did not want to hear of tumults. "No news," said they, "is good news. Do not attempt to bring us dismal tidings: we only want to hear what is really going on." Mr. Fletcher, the magistrate whom the hon. gentleman had thought proper to stigmatize, and mix with spies mid informers, had exerted himself most zealously and meritoriously in preserving the public peace, and protecting the property of his neighbours. Let the hon. gentleman attack government with as much vehemence as he pleased; but let him not act unjustly 848 in assailing the character of a private individual. An attempt had been made to ridicule the expedition of the blanketeers; but what must have been the consequence of their continuing their route? Where were they to find sustenance by the way? How were they to have gone on without committing every sort of depredation? Parker had been confronted with Oliver, and the result was, that the language imputed to Oliver had been made use of by Mitchell. The assertions were not founded upon fact, that nothing did arise of consequence, and that when the government did leave off employing Oliver the mischief ended. The cessation of that employment did not prevent an explosion, for the disturbances did break out. The Thornhill Lees delegates met to decide whether the rising should be on the 9th or the 10th of June. These men were all taken up in the act of meeting, and near Huddersfield the rioters were described as being ranged in battle array. Could all this be thought a trifling matter. With respect to the letter of earl Fitzwilliam, it did not arrive till after the Lords' committee had broken up, nor till a day or two before the rising of their own committee, which had already decided upon the view which they should take of the evidence. The noble lord opposite (lord Milton) had, however, read a letter from earl Fitzwilliam to himself of the same import, and it amounted only to this—that the state of the country was more tranquil than he had expected to find it, and that if ministers would certify that London was equally so, there would be no necessity for the Suspension act. This opinion was at variance with that of all the magistracy in that part of the country, and it had not been thought necessary, therefore, to open again a question, upon which the deliberation of the committee had been already employed. Upon the whole, nothing could be more cautious, nor more conscientious, than the conduct of government, and their assistants in the magistracy throughout the country, and, therefore, he conceived there was no-ground whatever for the motion of the hon. member.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, that he should not have risen but for the challenge thrown out on the other side respecting the private character of Oliver. Only the day before the report of the last Secret Committee was presented, evidence had been offered and produced to him, which 849 charged that avowed agent of government with acts of great criminality. The testimony was as credible as that of any gentleman in parliament; and it convinced him that Oliver had been guilty of a series of frauds upon his employers for a great number of years. The witnesses who could prove this fact were ready to come forward, should an inquiry into the subject be instituted; and that their evidence might be taken, was one principal reason why he should vote for the appointment of a committee. It would distinctly establish, that Oliver was completely unworthy of the least credit, and, that lie was a person well calculated for the purpose for which he had been employed, being possessed of talents and plausibility, but wholly destitute of truth and principle. With two of the witnesses to substantiate this position he had long been acquainted, one being a partner in an extensive commercial establishment, in which an hon. baronet, a member of the House, was also concerned, and the other an attorney of high respectability. A third witness was the employer of Oliver, whom he had defrauded, and who had actually preferred against him no less than four bills of indictment, which, however, were not tried, because the prosecutor yielding his public duty to his private interest, thought that by abandoning them, he had a better chance of recovering the money of which Oliver had criminally possessed himself. The name of this person was Restall, a carpenter of London; and the matter being referred to arbitration, it was found that during the space of ten years, Oliver had defrauded his master of a sum nearly amounting to 300l. In addition to this, Oliver had sold for his own advantage, a large quantity of old building materials which belonged to Restall, and of which he had never rendered any account. Completely to blacken his character, he had only to state, that during the arbitration, the daughter of Oliver was examined, and she afterwards confessed, that what she had sworn was untrue, and that she had been persuaded by her father to commit the crime of perjury.
§ Mr. Bathurst
admitted, that the hon. member had communicated to him the nature of the charge he had to bring against Oliver. At the same time he (Mr. B.) had cautioned him not to give too easy credit to the ex-parte statement of a transaction of twenty years standing. 850 On inquiry he had found, that it was true that Restall had preferred four bills of indictment against Oliver; but it was no less true that he had abandoned them, and that the matter being referred to a gentleman at the bar, it had been awarded that the prosecutor should pay all the costs incurred. It was also found on investigation, that the intelligent and upright gentleman who was the referree, did not attribute any degree of criminality to Oliver, considering the transaction as a mere matter of account disputed by both parties. No doubt, in the end Oliver was directed to pay a sum of money; but, having himself previously given security, it was deducted from the amount of a bond he held from Restall. Next, as to the atrocious charge of having induced his daughter to forswear herself, it was perfectly evident that the hon. member had been imposed upon; for the minutes of evidence before the arbitrator showed distinctly that Jane Oliver had spoken to nothing that affected the interests of her father. The amount of damages would not be increased or diminished by her evidence a single shilling. [The right hon. gentleman read the testimony of the girl, until he was stopped by the impatience of the House.] Oliver had threatened an action for a malicious prosecution, and, as Restall refused to obey the award the whole subject came before the court of King's-bench, and there a rule obtained by Restall was discharged with costs, on the undertaking of Oliver not to proceed for a malicious prosecution. It was quite evident, therefore, that there was no foundation for the assertion endeavoured to be cast upon an injured individual: the inquiry originated in a paragraph in a newspaper, and the result had been worthy of its origin. The right hon. gentleman concluded by recommending the hon. member to be more cautious for the future how he brought forward accusations of so serious a nature.
§ Mr. W. Smith
still adhered to his belief of the story which had been related to him, and was anxious that the subject should be investigated before a committee. As to the testimony of Jane Oliver, it related to the obtaining of papers by Restall during the absence of Oliver, and formed one of the grounds of set-oil' before the arbitrator; so that in fact her evidence was extremely material.
§ Mr. Tierney,
before he entered upon the question, desired that the motion 851 should be read from the chair, that gentlemen might judge for themselves, whether it had or had not been fairly represented on the other side, when they hinted at a supposed conspiracy against the character of a private and "much injured individual," Mr. Oliver. [Here the Speaker read the question accordingly.] The House would perceive that the conspiracy, if it existed at all, was composed of two sets of persons—those who petitioned parliament for this inquiry, and the two secret committees that had been appointed. This circumstance had been entirely overlooked, and by no person more than by the noble lord who spoke from under the gallery, who forgot that he was himself one of the persons forming the body which had made assertions similar to those in the petition from Manchester, which led to the proposition now under discussion. The fate of the motion was of the utmost importance, not merely to "the much-injured individual," Mr. Oliver, and his coadjutors in fomenting treason, but to the whole country; for the question was, whether the House should give its sanction to a system which had no parallel in the history of this country? The question was not whether, under certain circumstances, spies and informers might sometimes be innocently employed, but whether the regular organization of them into an effective body—effective for the worst purposes—was to receive the verdict and warrant of that House? The answers yet attempted to the motion had completely failed. One hon. gentleman had affected to sneer at it; another had caught hold of an accidental expression, falling from one of its supporters; and a third had endeavoured to raise a clamour against all those who wished to inquire how far innocent persons had been charged with the foulest crimes. Surely the other side must have been hard pressed indeed for an argument, when they snatched so greedily at a casual and hasty phrase, that the motion was framed to catch the vote of the hon. member for Bramber. It should never be forgotten, too, that the ridicule of this expression came from those who had not scrupled to practise trick after trick to catch the vote of that hon. member—from those who had spared no expense to catch it; not, indeed, to the profit of the hon. member himself (that was out of the question), but to the great loss of the public, whose money had been spent, time 852 after time, in inquiries intended to satisfy the scrupulousness of his conscience. He did not wish to speak disrespectfully of the hon. member for Bramber, and, certainly, there was no individual more capable of giving effective support to ministers and their measures, when he chose to turn out [cheers and laughter]. What his vote would be upon the present occasion it was not, perhaps, easy to prophecy. If he had given a distinct and unequivocal pledge upon any question, he would doubtless redeem it; but here it was impossible to speak from experience, the case was of such rare occurrence: generally, his phraseology was happily adapted to suit either party; and if now and then he lost the balance of his argument, and tended a little to one side he quickly recovered himself, and deviated as much in an opposite direction as would make a fair division of his speech on both sides of the question [continued cheers].—The speech of the hon. mover had been attacked because he had confined himself merely to Manchester; and a complaint had been made against another hon. gentleman that he had spoken only of Yorkshire; but not one of the adherents of ministers had ventured to touch the real merits of the motion, which did not rest upon argument merely, but upon the reports of committees, and upon the petition of twenty-six inhabitants of Manchester, of irreproachable character, against whom it had only been objected, that they were not- the whole population of the place: the authority of the borough-reeve was not necessary to convince the House that twenty-six individuals were not the whole population of Manchester. Three spies were principally referred to. The first was named Lomax, and all the other side could state with regard to him, was, that he could not have been a spy, because he had been taken up with the rest. But what could they say to his singular discharge, while the rest continued in custody? Nothing; and the unavoidable inference was, that he was a spy, and that as a spy he received favour at the hands of government. The next was named Dewhurst, and of him the right hon. gentleman had stated that he was a nonentity—that no person of the name of Dewhurst was known. But what would he say if it were shown that this Dewhurst was in truth no other than Michael Hall, who had passed under an assumed name—had taken advantage 853 of an alias to carry on his plot against the lives of innocent men? Yet such was the undoubted fact; and it was equally true that this Hall (another "much injured individual,") had qualified himself for his mission, by a sojourn on board one of his majesty's hulks. As to Waddington, the third spy, not a syllable had been urged by his friends: he was left to his fate, and on that account might well be styled "a much injured individual." Against all these, evidence was offered, and from the respectability of the individuals tendering it, it was fair to presume that the testimony was deserving of credit. But then it was said that two men of the names of Mitchell and Scholes had presented petitions: and that, as they were men of bad character, their evidence was incredible; those who used this argument seemed to forget that they had put forward Mr. Castles (not a gentleman of the most irreproachable reputation) as a witness, and had expected that upon his testimony five men should be deprived of life. Admitting, therefore, that Mitchell was a man of bad character, in favour of Scholes there was strong evidence, as a magistrate upon the spot, in a letter which he (Mr. T.) had seen, had spoken highly of the regularity and sobriety of his deportment. Lord Holt and chief justice Eyre had wisely observed, that there were some transactions which could not be proved by ordinary witnesses, and the House should recollect that the intrigues of these spies were in the dark; they wormed themselves in among men not always of the best reputation, even in the rank in which they moved; and it was impossible therefore that the evidence against them should be in all respects unexceptionable; the witnesses were, however, to speak to facts capable of confirmation; viz., of the employment of spies and informers, not to check crime, but to promote it—not to discover treason, but to foment it. If one thing more than another required the immediate investigation of parliament, it was the rapid increase of spies of all kinds in this country [Hear, hear!]. It was no answer to say, that lord Sidmouth was himself a man of good character; that the secretary for the home department could not in any way be attacked, when the proposal was, that an inquiry should be instituted into an odious system, which had grown from year to year, and was now arrived at a height disgraceful to the character and injurious to the consti- 854 tution of the country. Assessed taxes were, perhaps, unavoidable in the present burthened condition of the empire, but the very collection of the revenue promoted the increase of spies and informers, who intruded themselves even into the private circles of domestic life: they insinuated themselves among the servants, creeping into the confidence of the groom and the footman, hanging about livery stables or mews, and sneaking into halls and kitchens. To put a case in illustration of the subject under debate, suppose one of these artful informers persuaded a gentleman who kept five horses, to return only four, and afterwards not only made the fact known to the commissioners, but participated in the reward; if the matter were brought before parliament, would not every gentleman start from his seat, and demand an instant and a strict inquiry? Yet where was the distinction, excepting that here the lives of poor men, and not the pockets of rich men were concerned? [Hear, hear!] It was the duty of the House to take some steps upon the subject; and if it were asked (as it had been), what steps were to be taken for the punishment of Oliver and his nefarious associates, the answer was short and plain—that the committee was merely to inquire into facts, and when the facts were ascertained, it would be early enough to arrange what criminal proceedings ought to be instituted. In Yorkshire, Oliver appeared to have played the principal part; and it was asserted on the other side, that government gave him instructions only to send them information. Yet, how did the case stand? It was notorious, that in the north great distress and disaffection prevailed, and that a rising was contemplated by a few of the more hasty, as soon as they were assured of the co-operation of the London delegates. Oliver knew that this was the match that would produce the explosion, and he immediately assumed the character of a London delegate. It was sincerely to be hoped, that neither lord Sidmouth nor the executive knew of this detestable expedient; that they were unacquainted with the base disguise of their spy—this informer—this Oliver, who had been so bespattered with praise (for it deserved no other term) by his employers. Had he represented himself merely as a delegate from the north, he would have been comparatively harmless and innocent: but he went down from London to assure the 855 discontented that 70,000 men would rise at the waving of his hand, and thus the north and the south at once blazed with a co-operating flame. Was it possible to imagine a blacker villain than a man, who, with such a lie in his mouth, seduced the wavering and entrapped the unwary? [Loud cheers]. What was the answer given by ministers? The right hon. gentleman (Mr. Bathurst) had merely said," We deny the truth of what you assert. You may have a thousand credible witnesses to prove it, but unless you give us their names, we will deny the truth of your assertion." Of course this was refused; for if any name were given," rogue and rascal! "was the instant exclamation:" he has been at police offices a hundred times, and he is down in our books as the greatest scoundrel that ever the sun shone upon. "Immediately the friends of ministers in the back rows throw up their hats, and" down with the rascal—down with the villain! "was the general whoop. What pretence had those to require names, who themselves had refused all information? If the other side would consent to give the names of their witnesses, the mover of this question would not object to communicate the names of his, but there must be some reciprocity. A doubt had been expressed as to the accuracy of the information of one hon. gentleman (Mr. Bennet), but his authority was the last that ought to be questioned, when it was recollected that all his statements respecting gaols and madhouses, though declared to be exaggerations or falsehoods, had turned out to be founded on authentic intelligence. Why, then, in this instance was he not to be allowed an opportunity of making good his case? The only true reason was to be found in the fear on the other side, lest they should be personally implicated, and that their political importance would be endangered. Whatever might be the vote of the House, in the country there had been, and would be, but one opinion. Considering the diffusion of education among the lower classes, and the consequent facility of acquiring some evil knowledge among much good: considering the severe distress which had prevailed through many parts of the country, and the liability to complain, which distress and starvation necessarily engendered; was it to be wondered at, that some were easily inflamed to dangerous designs and desperate acts? Was it not rather to be wondered at that so few had been in- 856 fected? But if this was natural, what could be more diabolical than that the delusion so spread should have arisen from deluders employed by government? [Hear, hear!] It was fair to suppose, that all the spies employed were not the immediate agents of government; indeed, he believed that government were not aware of half their numbers. Perhaps, lord Sidmouth had only communicated with the notorious Oliver; and really this was quite enough for one secretary to have done. Yet the subordinate spies were innumerable, and though their information came refined through the strainers of constables and magistrates (for every magistrate, every con-stable, had his little corps of spies and informers), yet the system was all one; it was an open and avowed adoption of the odious method of espionage, and not a whit preferable to the French] police. This country had hitherto been content to be without those advantages which were supposed to flow from the rigorous and vigilant exertions of the French police, because at the same time we enjoyed those free privileges and that general happy security which constituted the envied characteristics of our peculiar government. But this was now at an end; we had as many spies as France herself; we had ministers as minutely inquisitorial as their prefect of police, and all the boasted peculiarities of our constitution had been voted as useless for the preservation of the country. He was sure that no Englishman could view such a state of things with indifference: nay, he would give so much credit to every gentleman present, as to assert that he had no doubt they must all feel indignant that this country should be reduced to such a state of degradation as to sanction a regular system of espionage. He was sure that every gentleman would be anxious for an investigation into every allegation of the existence of such an evil, if he could be persuaded that no danger would accrue to the state or to the administration. Now what danger could accrue to the state? The question was too absurd to be asked. What danger could accrue to the administration? If government, as they asserted, had given merely a few simple directions to their agents, and instead of doing what would foment disaffection, had exerted themselves to check it as soon as possible, then surely government would gain by the inquiry; for they would 857 thereby have the fullest opportunity of disavowing and disproving any connexion with those odious spies. Whence, then, was it that they refused to do themselves so much honour? Surely not from modesty. No, he feared it was because they knew that there was something rotten in their proceedings, which would not bear to be brought to light. If, however, a negative should be put on the present question, what was it but giving a sanction to a new principle of administration—to a melancholy innovation on our constitution, which would alarm our own country, and astonish all Europe? And the reason, forsooth, why British privileges were to be overthrown, and British prejudices disregarded, was, that nothing but strong measures could keep the country tranquil. Why, this was sad news after so many years of hard and expensive fighting when we had been told, too, that the peace of the world was fixed, and that we had nothing to do but to sit down and enjoy ourselves in ease and quietness all the rest of our days. Could ministers believe that such a declaration, coming from them, would not tend to irritate rather than allay disaffection? Oh! then, they exclaim, if that should be the case, there must be another suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, then another secret committee, then another indemnity bill! And so the odious wheel was to go round for ever! He implored the House to do what they could to prevent such a result. No inconvenience could arise from the adoption of the motion, and much might result from rejecting it. For instance, he was, and ever should be a friend to an extensive reform in our parliamentary representation: but at the same time, he was an utter enemy to those wild and senseless schemes which had been broached in many quarters: but were the wild designs of the foolish or the desperate to be checked by imprisoning the innocent, and ruining their families? He said the innocent, for they had not been proved to be otherwise, and it was at least a sign of grace in them, that in their anxiety to be declared so, they had demanded to be tried by their country. What would those men say on being sent back to their impoverished families, to their ruined trades, without redress, nay, without a hearing? Would they not say, "We have been imprisoned without cause, we have been discharged without trial, or the means of asserting our innocence: go- 858 vernment spies were sent to irritate us to desperation in the hour of our distress, and having failed in that object, they made us their victims because we would not be their dupes; and yet you see, when we apply to parliament, it will not assist us; it turns a deaf ear to our petitions, and shuts the avenue to all redress." Would not this be their laaguage, and who could gainsay it? and yet what a dangerous argument it would be in the mouth of a disaffected reformer? He knew that some motions were opposed, and perhaps rightly, on the ground of their being party ones; but that could not apply to the present. Here the simple question was, whether the House would recognize the detestable employment of informers—whether they would encourage a system which would sap the first principles of our constitution, and consequently the happiness which resulted from them. He saw a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) making himself ready to engage, but that right hon. gentleman would find it hard to convince the House or the country, that the system of espionage was not at once fatal to the honour of the government, fatal to the freedom of the nation, fatal to the comfort of every branch of society. [Loud cries of Hear, hear!].
§ Mr. Wilberforce
began by saying, that he should not have offered himself to the attention of the House, if he had not been called upon in so marked a manner. He was not the more disposed to agree to the present motion on account of the tone of easy confidence assumed by the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down, for he had known that right hon. gentleman too long and too well, not to know that he always appeared most confident when his cause was desperate. The fact was, that nothing could be more loose, vague, and indefinite than the present motion. When a motion had been formerly brought forward concerning the persons supposed to be alluded to in the report of the Secret Committee, as having instigated the insurrection they were sent to detect, he had objected to that motion, because he did not think that the committee had referred to any specific case which had come to their notice. Indeed, he knew that the meaning of the committee was very different; for they distinctly saw and directly asserted, that a general rising had been determined upon before that man, Oliver, had appeared upon the scene at all. The committee 859 at the same time had fairly avowed what had come to their knowledge, as to the existence somewhere of instigators to mischief, who had been employed for a different purpose; but no specific instance had come before the committee, nor was it their intention to say that any had. He had, therefore, opposed the motion so founded. But the present motion was even less founded, and the inquiry suggested would be laborious, nay, endless. Besides, how did it appear that the very first thing essential to an inquiry would be found in this case—he meant, the veracity of the witnesses. Was it improbable that the persons who professed a readiness to come forward against Oliver and the rest, would be persons whose designs might have been prematurely revealed by Oliver, and who therefore would be anxious, from revenge alone, to appear against their detector. He felt convinced, that if the strictest investigation were to take place, all parties would come out of it with disgrace [a laugh] His right hon. friend who spoke last, and himself were old soldiers in parliamentary warfare, and he certainly felt no anger at any observations which had dropped from him that night, because he felt that his right hon. friend had done no more than might be expected from him as leader of the opposition. But he would do what he conceived to be his duty, whatever might be the opinions, or whatever the sneers of his right hon. friend. As to the question more immediately before the House, if his hon. friend behind him (Mr. Bennet) or any hon. gentleman would pledge himself to bring forward any credible witness, who would prove that Oliver, or any other person, had instigated others to commit treason, he, for one, would give his vote for an instruction to the attorney-general to prosecute such a wretch. That he could be prosecuted he had no doubt; for on the common principle of our law, that there was no evil without a remedy, there must be a remedy for so monstrous an evil. Let such a motion be made, and he hereby pledged himself to support it. The system of espionage he execrated, and he considered it as not one of the least evils resulting from it, that those who, from circumstances might be able to furnish information, and who would be willing to do it from motives of pure patriotism, might nevertheless be deterred from rendering such an essential 860 service, lest they might be suspected of vile and mercenary motives; while, on the other hand, the hired spy, from anxiety to please his employer, and to do himself credit, would irritate instead of appeasing discontent, and would make a plot if he did not find one. He was convinced that there was no man whose nature was more abhorrent from the employment of such agents than the noble secretary of state for the home department; and the truth was, that Oliver had not been in the first instance, employed by him. Oliver went to that noble lord saying that certain things had accidentally come to his knowledge, and offered to accompany an officer, who was then going down to the disturbed districts. His offer was accepted, and he must condemn that act; for he felt it to be as unnecessary and impolitic, as it was contrary to all the best principles of moral and religious justice, to employ the arts of depraved and mercenary falsehood for the discovery of truth. A country which had more morality and more religion than any other country in the world, ought not to be degraded by the employment of such wretched means of producing even useful results. For his own part, he saw so much good in the country, that he was not at all disposed to adopt the desponding tone of the right hon. gentleman, especially when he saw that the great hopes of the disaffected had been built on the distress of the country, while the most distressed districts had, to their great honour, remained untainted.—One word more, though on a subject on which it could not be pleasant for him to speak: he would ask, to what length must party feeling have reached in that House, when it was asserted, that because a person was not systematically opposed to every motion of government, he could not form an honest opinion on any subject presented to him in parliament. [Cries of No, no! from the Opposition.] Well, if gentlemen were anxious to disclaim such an injustice, he hoped that himself and an hon. friend of his would in future be treated with somewhat more respect. He would repeat, that when he contemplated the moral and religious habits of the people, he could not despair of the country, though he was sure that to revile as some did, and to depreciate as others did, our civil institutions was not at all calculated to generate a feeling of content or love of country. A right hon. gentleman had 861 talked about what foreign countries would, think of our proceedings. It was some times a curious speculation to inquire into the opinion entertained of us by other nations: and here certainly there was a singular contrast between the judgments formed of our institutions abroad and at home. The wisest and best foreigners were full of admiration at our liberty and integrity, while, according to our declaimers at home, all was slavery — all corruption. He had been drawn in to say more than he had intended; but let a de finite motion be made, and he would support it, That the present motion was of a different character was evident from the extraneous matter into which an acute and dear friend of his (Mr. W. Smith) [A laugh!] had wandered. He did not exactly know what that laugh meant, but if it was meant for his hon. friend, never was a laugh more misapplied; for he was convinced that his hon. friend never acted in that House except from the most sincere motives of good to his country. The right hon. gentleman who had spoken last had amused the House a good deal by allusions to the chase, and by descanting on starting game. He (Mr. W.) could compare the present motion, and some others like it, to nothing else than a pack of hounds in full cry, scouring the fields, and starting a hare in every corner [A laugh!]. They might, as far as he was concerned, have the sport all to them selves, for he would not pretend to keep up with them.
§ Lord Archibald Hamilton
rose amid loud cries of "Question!" He said he would merely allude to the conduct of government in Scotland. If Oliver was not employed and paid for his services in Lancashire, it was clear that Richman was in the county of Lanark. The affidavit of Mac Laughlin asserted that that fellow had at a public meeting, said to a set of starving mechanics, that nothing but an alteration in the government could benefit them, and that parliament must be attacked by fear, not by prayer. The noble lord concluded by observing upon the inconsistency of the last hon. member who pretended to abhor spies, and yet would vote against the present motion for inquiry into their proceedings.
§ Mr. Philips
replied. He said he was surprised, after the sentiments which had been avowed Mr. Wilberforce, that, framed as the present motion was, he should not have the benefit of his vote, because if the 862 inquiry commenced, he could see no end to it. He thought it extraordinary that the difficulty or extent of an inquiry should thus be urged as a reason for not entering into it. He briefly noticed what had fallen from other speakers, repeated many of his former arguments, and concluded by strongly insisting on the propriety of granting the proposed inquiry.
§ The House then divided: Ayes, 69; Noes, 162. Majority against the motion, 93.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Methuen, Paul|
|Althorp, viscount||Macdonald, James|
|Baillie, J. E.||Mackintosh, sir W.|
|Barnett, James||Madocks, Wm. A.|
|Baker, John||Martin, John|
|Birch, Joseph||Milton, visct.|
|Brougham, Henry||Monck, sir C.|
|Browne, Dom.||Morpeth, visct.|
|Burrell, hon. P. D.||Moore, Peter|
|Byng, Geo.||Mosley, sir O.|
|Burroughs, sir W.||Newport, sir John|
|Calcraft, John||North, Dudley|
|Calvert, C.||Nugent, lord|
|Campbell, hon. J.||Ord, Wm.|
|Carter, John||Peirse, Henry|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Pelham, hon. C.|
|Cavendish, hon. C.||Pym, Francis|
|Duncannon, viscount||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Fazakerley, N.||Robarts, W. T.|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Scudamore, R. P.|
|Folkestone, visct.||Sharp, Richard|
|Frankland, Robert||Smith, John|
|Gaskell, Benjamin||Smith, W.|
|Gordon, Robert||Symonds, T. P.|
|Guise, sir Wm.||Stanley, lord|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Tavistock, marquis|
|Howard, hon. W.||Tierney, George|
|Howorth, Humph.||Walpole, hon. G.|
|Hughes, W. L.||Walaegrave, hon. W.|
|Hurst, Robert||Warre, J. A.|
|Hammersley, H.||Webb, Edward|
|Latouche, John,||Wilkins, Walter|
|Latouche, Robt.||Wood, Matthew|
|Latouche, Robt. jun.||TELLERS|
|Lefevre, Chas. S.||Douglas, hon. F. S.|
|Lambton, J. G.||Philips, George|