The Attorney General
having moved the order of the clay for the first reading of the Indemnity bill, began by observing, that, on the present occasion he trusted it might be thought better, that before the House went into any debate upon it, the bill should be printed, in order that every member might have an opportunity of perusing it before the third reading. On considering the events that had taken place in this country within the last thirteen or fourteen months, and the measures which parliament had found it necessary to adopt as also the proceedings in the House of Lords, be was certain that the more the contents of this bill was reflected on, the stronger would appear the justice and necessity of passing it. He wished to call the recollection of the House to previous proceedings of this nature, not for the purpose of saying, that because in former times indemnity bills had passed, that therefore the present bill ought to pass: but, in order to show the occasions on which such bills had been produced and sanctioned by both Houses. And he would point out to the recollection of the House, that though in certain circumstances, these bills had differed, yet the 882 circumstances which called for the present bill, fell completely within the scope of those which justified similar bills on former occasions. It seemed, however, that some misconception had prevailed as to the facts which led to the passing of the former bills; for he believed it had been supposed by some gentleman, that the year 1801 was the first time that an Indemnity bill had passed subsequently to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. But it would be found, that in most instances in which the legislature had deemed it necessary to suspend the Habeas Corpus act—indeed in all instances he believed, excepting one, an indemnity bill had passed after the suspension of that act.
There had also been instances of Indemnity bills in cases where there had been no suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. The fact was, that with respect to both classes of bills, they had been passed at different times since the Revolution, according as the necessity of the times rendered them indispensable. But the same exigency that created the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act made it necessary that bills of Indemnity should be carried, for the protection of the guardians of the public tranquillity, as well as for the protection of those who had furnished them with information, on the authority of which they had found it necessary to take the steps that had been resorted to. If gentlemen would take the trouble to refer back to the time of the Revolution, they would find, that the persons who were the greatest supporters of that memorable proceeding, and the means of preserving the laws and liberties of the people of this country,—that these persons, immediately after passing the Bill of Rights, found it necessary to pass three several acts for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act; and as they expired, there were passed Indemnity bills to protect the persons who had informed against and apprehended those guilty of conspiracies against the reigning monarch. At a subsequent period, an Indemnity bill was passed, which was not preceded by a suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. It was in the year 1714: the act was the 1st of George 1st, cap. 39, and it recited, that as several lords lieutenants and other officers had apprehended certain persons, who might have excited riots and disturbances, it was deemed necessary by parliament to indemnify them 883 for their conduct in the preservation of the public peace. In the year 1744, the act for the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus was not immediately followed up by an Indemnity bill: but, in 1746 the Indemnity act was produced, to protect all persons in the situation of magistrates, &c. for their conduct in the preceding year: and for what they might have done subsequent to the expiration of that act. This, however, was not thought sufficient; for as that act only indemnified them to the 30th of April, and as the magistrates had been under the necessity of taking up several persons subsequent to that day, another act was passed indemnifying them for all actions done between the 30th of April and the 25th of July, 1746. Thus an Indemnity bill had, in all instances, followed the other. From that time till the year 1792, there was no suspension of the Habeas Corpus act; but there was an indemnity bill for the circumstances that took place in the year 1780, when the petitions presented to parliament on a subject then depending were accompanied by the most dangerous tumults; as the magistrates and others had acted on their own responsibility for the security of the public peace, at a time when it was absolutely necessary for them to interfere, and when it was difficult, if they had been prosecuted, to bring home the offence to the persons they had secured, so as to justify their apprehension.
From that time till the year 1801, he was not aware of any bill of this kind having been passed; but in that year there were two such acts, for indemnifying persons for having apprehended and detained individuals suspected of high treason, and for having been active in suppressing tumults and riots in Ireland. He merely mentioned this to show that our predecessors thought it necessary to indemnify public officers for apprehending persons who had assembled as auxiliaries for treasonable purposes. On all those occasions it must have been for the consideration of the House whether the exigencies of the times had been such as to justify those particular bills. Twice within the last year, and after the fullest discussion, parliament had thought it necessary for the peace of the country to suspend the Habeas Corpus act, and to give certain powers to the secretary of state and. the privy council, for the purpose of detention. If the House would*884 recollect the circumstances which had taken place within the last fourteen months, they must be convinced that it was absolutely necessary for those who were the guardians of the peace of the country, to take the steps they had done, and that they would have been guilty of a gross dereliction of their duty if they had acted otherwise. They were therefore fully entitled to the indemnity of parliament, in order that if any proceedings should be instituted against them in courts of law, they might not be under the necessity of disclosing the testimonies they had received, and thereby marking out those persons as objects of vengeance, or be put in the situation of violating the confidence reposed in them. Without such a protection, they would be put in the situation of sacrificing those persons, by making public their names, who had given information on condition that they should not be disclosed. It was impossible not to see that there had been conspiracies formed for the purpose of overthrowing the government of this kingdom in church and state as established by law. Plans had been formed by persons taking advantage of the distresses of the lower orders of the people, to get them to assemble under the false pretence of petitioning that House for a reform in parliament, while their real object, undisguised amongst themselves, was, to effect an entire revolution; so that at the very time they were speaking of reform, they had in view, nothing but destruction to all the admired and revered institutions of the country. The transactions that had taken place in February last year, and the December preceding, manifested the intention of getting together large numbers of people, for the purpose of persuading them to acts of insurrection and revolt. It therefore became the absolute duty of the magistracy to interfere, and they performed that duty in a manner highly creditable to themselves, and beneficial to the country.
And here he could not help observing, that amongst the intentions detailed to the committee of that House which was appointed last year, one scheme of those who were endeavouring to disturb the public peace, was the plan of coming to parliament with petitions signed by ten, persons each; but in large bodies of several thousands, every tenth person having a petition in his hand. This was stated in February, and its truth was established 885 by the attempt to carry the daring project into effect at Manchester in the following month. Who were the projectors or instigators of this bold scheme, he could not say; but it was a cool and deliberate plan of some persons who had studied every head and section of the law against tumultuous assemblies, in order to sec if they could not be evaded: and there was no man but must be convinced, that instead of these being large assemblies of petitioners, their object was to have a sort of army, every ten men having a leader, and every hundred a centurion, that they might come to overawe parliament, not by petitioning, but by threats and terror. He would say, there never was a more mischievous or a more atrocious project than this was intended to be, if it had not been circumvented. Poor persons were persuaded to leave their labours, and to march without provisions, clothing, or any means of supporting nature, so that their very necessities must have led them to violate the laws as they proceeded, in order to prevent themselves from starving. It was therefore the imperative duty of the magistrates to stop them in ail the parts through which they passed, as being unlawfully assembled, to the danger of the public peace. When the evils took place in the year 1780, the reproach against the guardians of the public peace was, that they had not done their duty, as the situation in which they stood called on them to stop those outrageous proceedings, instead of letting them go on till they burst into an explosion. What would have been said to the magistrates of those counties, if they had allowed the insurgents of last year to approach the doors of that House, or to meet in the metropolis, with their petitions amongst every ten men? Would it not have been said, that they had been guilty of a gross dereliction of their duty? The House also would recollect the proceedings that had taken place at Manchester, that information of these proceedings had been given upon oath, and that on this information the government had acted. The committee had reported last year on the state of the country, and the committee to whom the papers were lately referred had reported their opinions on its present state, all founded on the oaths of persons who had deposed to the circumstances that had taken place. Those facts must prove, that disturbances had occurred, and that it was absolutely necessary to proceed to 886 the trials of the most active conspirators at Derby, by which step the insurrection was put down.
As he had spoken of the trials at Derby, he would add; that it was clearly proved, from the testimony of persons whom it was impossible to doubt, that this was the branch of a large conspiracy which was intended to extend to many parts of the country, and which was only prevented from taking full effect by the activity of the magistrates. The trials in question had fully satisfied him that a deep laid conspiracy had existed, and that it would have gone on and led to a universal explosion. What he meant to say was, that it would have been so far general as to have taken place wherever an assembly of misguided people had been collected. With respect to what had been said about Oliver, he would counteract an important impression that had been made on the public mind respecting his appearance at Derby during those trials. Oliver was not brought there to give his evidence; he was brought there for a very different purpose. He had no hesitation in saying, that he (the attorney general) had been the man who had caused him to be brought down, and he would state for what purpose. There was a man who had been at Derby, and said he had seen Oliver amongst the conspirators, and he was to appear as a witness, and was to have proved that the man he was speaking of was Oliver. Oliver was therefore sent for to Derby, not that he might be examined as a witness, but as an auxiliary, that those on their trials might have an opportunity of saying whether he was the man; but the jury was perfectly satisfied that he was not the man. This was the reason for Oliver being at Derby, and it was a good reason; not for the purpose of having any thing communicated by him, but that he might be confronted with persons who might have said that he was present at many of those meetings; and thus the base fraud used on that occasion would have been detected. He ought to apologise, as this was the first opportunity he had had of making the statement, and he did it for the purpose, that if any blame was to be attached for having Oliver at Derby, it might rest upon him. He believed, that Oliver had had no concern whatever in exciting or promoting the insurrections alluded to in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, or in producing tumultuous meetings of insurrectionary movements 887 elsewhere. That there existed a spirit of insubordination and tumult in the country long before Oliver was employed to collect any information, or the Habeas Corpus act was suspended, it was now impossible to doubt, for the very terms in which the disaffected gave expression to their sentiments left no doubt of their designs. It had been proved that there had been an intention to bring about a revolution, and if there were such an intention, whether this conspiracy existed only amongst the lower orders or was secretly instigated by persons of a higher rank in society, was of no importance—it was the duty of government to prevent it from taking place.
It could not be denied that means were used to work upon the passions of the misguided people in the most atrocious way, and this was by an attempt to destroy their religious feelings. He would venture to say, that the tendency of the blasphemous publications that had been so widely disseminated, was to undermine and destroy all the principles of religion amongst the lower orders who had hitherto regarded them with reverence and veneration. There must be few persons who could not see that this was one of the objects of such publications; and when he heard it asserted that they had not had much circulation, and that persons who wanted to buy them out of curiosity could not obtain them, he was absolutely astonished. It was impossible to walk through the streets without seeing them at every shop-window. They were hawked about in the country and most industriously circulated. Wherever the municipal authorities interfered to prevent the sale of such works without a licence, they were actually distributed as gifts. Thus was the letter of the law evaded, and even the love of profit sacrificed to promote the currency of publications which had been productive of the worst effects in this country for the last twelvemonths. No man who knew what had been lately passing in this country could deny that this was a principal means by which the people had been corrupted. Was it not, then, necessary for those who were more peculiarly responsible for the guardianship of the public peace to interpose for the purpose of checking the progress of such a system? The government of the country, would indeed have been guilty of a dereliction of its duty, if it had not so interposed.
The question then for the House, in 888 this instance, to consider, was, whether admitting the existence of a treasonable conspiracy, which indeed it was impossible consistently to deny, the measures taken to prevent the explosion, or defeat the objects of that conspiracy were, whether lawful, strictly speaking, or not, entitled to an indemnity. He meant, whether the seizure of papers or of arms, which might not be justifiable according to the letter of the law, were not, still, such acts as ought not to be subjected to prosecution or penalty, when done with a view to save the state from the dangers of insurrection and treason. If government were warranted in apprehending persons, they were also warranted in doing other acts. Now when, under the warrants that were issued for apprehending certain individuals, they also seized their papers, it appeared to him that they did right, for they thus prevented information from being conveyed to their coadjutors. Another part of this act was to indemnify persons for the seizure of arms. If there was no desire to stir up insurrection, then every thing that had been done in this way was wrong; but if otherwise, he would say, that those who searched for arms were bound to do so for the preservation of the tranquillity of the country. One of the petitions that had been laid on the table of that House—he believed it was that from Francis Ward—complained that some persons entered into his house at Nottingham, for the purpose of searching for arms, but none were found. This proceeding was, no doubt, strictly speaking, contrary to law; but he begged the House to consider the time and circumstances under which that search took place. It was, in fact, on the 10th of June, on the very morning that the Derby insurgents had advanced to meet those malcontents by whom they expected to be joined at Nottingham Forest. It was to be recollected also that it was one of the great objects of these insurgents to procure arms —that: they eagerly sought for arms wherever they could hope to find them—that indeed their avowed wish was to collect a store, not only for their immediate followers, but for all those whom they could persuade or force to join them. Under such circumstances, then, was it not the obvious duty of the magistrates of Nottingham to search the house of every man whom they had reason to suspect of any connexion with the disaffected He would say, they would have been most negligent of their 889 duty, if they had not adopted the roost vigorous measures to take away arms from every suspected person. In short, nothing whatever had been done that was not absolutely necessary for the preservation of the peace.
Then, surely, it was fit that those who had so properly and actively conducted themselves should be indemnified for their acts. If they were to have actions brought against them they would have no means of defending themselves but by disclosing the names of those who had given them information. To guard against such disclosure was one of the great objects of this bill, and that object was of the last consequence. For if the names of those from whom information was obtained by government under such circumstances were made known, the result would be that treason and conspiracy might hereafter go on with impunity; for if such disclosure were made, most persons would hereafter be afraid to give any information to government, lest they should be exposed to general censure or individual resentment; consequently such disclosure would operate as an encouragement to future conspiracy. There was a certain part of the report from the secret committee which he thought particularly entitled to the attention of parliament and the country, he meant that passage in which it was stated, that notwithstanding the success of the measures which had been taken to put down conspiracy and rebellion, it still required all the vigilance of government and the magistracy to maintain the tranquillity which had been restored. The spirit of insubordination, although repressed, was not extinct, but still proceeded under the pretence of reform, to seek for numerous meetings, which could have nothing in view but riot and revolution. In saying that persons acted under the pretence of reform, he begged it to be understood that he meant no reflection upon the character of reformers generally, for there were many of those gentlemen towards whom he felt the highest respect, although he differed from them in opinion. But his objection applied to such persons as those who, while they called themselves reformers, made use of the language of revolutionists; for what other character than that of revolutionists could be applicable to those who, in their meetings, asserted it as a right to approach that House with a petition in one hand and the sword in 890 the other? This doctrine was preached at several of the meetings held by those who called themselves reformers; he meant those who petitioned for annual parliaments and universal suffrage; and in his view, those who sought such objects must be understood to seek revolution; for he maintained that such objects were incompatible with the existence of the British constitution, of which neither annually elected parliaments nor universal suffrage ever formed any part: nay, he was prepared to maintain that the establishment of such a system was inconsistent with the stability of any constitution whatever—that in fact, it could not last for one year in any country that desired the possession of a regular government.
After expressing his hope that he should stand excused for so long dwelling upon that passage of the report to which he had referred; he pressed upon the attention of the House that as the spirit of disaffection and tumult was not quelled, if the present bill were not adopted it would, being released from any check or control, again contrive to rear its head, and we should soon have to witness the repetition of such outrages as had within the last year, disturbed and degraded the counties of York and Nottingham. After animadverting upon the system of obtaining petitions for what was called reform from twenty persons, and thus splitting a petition, which might be signed by 5 or 10,000, into so many different petitions; with a view to give a factitious importance to such applications, he reverted to the precedents upon which the present measure was founded, and recapitulated the grounds upon which he thought this measure ought to be adopted. Adverting to the exertions of the magistrates of Manchester to prevent tumultuous meetings from proceeding to the metropolis, he appealed to the House how it would feel towards these magistrates, as well as towards the magistrates of the intervening counties, if such a meeting were allowed to approach and beset that House itself. If, then, it would have been deemed culpable on the part of those magistrates to allow such tumultuous meetings to proceed to what they called their destination in London, and if in the prevention of such an extraordinary proceeding measures had been taken not quite consonant to law, would that House allow the magistrates, who could not justify their conduct without revealing the information upon which 891 they acted, to become liable to actions at law? Surely such a decision on the part of the House would be inconsistent with the principles of justice, and with the objects which occasioned an acquiescence in the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, for those objects were the preservation of the public peace, and the defeat of traitorous conspiracy; and any man who acted in the promotion of such objects was entitled to indemnity and protection against vexatious prosecutions. He therefore would submit that, from every consideration of necessity, propriety, and justice, the House was bound to pass the bill now proposed, and should move, "That the bill be now read a first time."
§ Mr. Lambton
said, that it was not then his intention to enter into any discussion of the principles or details of the measure before the House, as other opportunities would offer for that discussion. But he would apply himself to the broad principle which had been little adverted to by the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last, namely, the conduct of those ministers who had brought forward this measure of indemnity. Before any such measure was acceded to, he thought it indispensable to justice, to the character of the House, and to the satisfaction of the public mind, that a full, fair, and impartial investigation should take place as to the Conduct of ministers for the last twelve months, in order to ascertain whether they deserved indemnity or impeachment.—The latter was, in his opinion, that which they deserved for the many arbitrary imprisonments, cruel inflictions and disgraceful acts which had taken place under their auspices, since the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. Entertaining these sentiments he could not allow the bill to be read a first time without stating his sentiments, as after the first reading, the nature, extent, and provisions of the particular measure would justly form a chief part of the discussion, and prevent his entering, unfettered, into the more important view of the question to which he had alluded. They were at length come to the winding up of the disgraceful measures which had been adopted by ministers. They were called upon that night by the hon. and learned gentleman to throw an impenetrable veil over all the acts of tyranny and oppression that had been committed under the Suspension act. They were required to stifle the voice of just complaint—td disregard the numerous peti- 892 tions that had been presented, arraigning the conduct of ministers, detailing acts of cruelty unparalleled in the annals of the Bastile, and demanding a full and open investigation into the truth of charges which regarded a topic over which that House ought always to watch with pecuculiar care—he meant the liberty of the subject.
He, however, was willing to afford ministers the fullest opportunity for explanation, before he called upon the House to decide upon acts of as great atrocity, and as hostile to the liberty of the subject as were ever paralleled in the history of any nation upon record. But to the measure of indemnity which ministers at present demanded, the House could not assent without becoming accomplices in the guilt which was imputed—winch belonged to those ministers. The House had invested ministers with extraordinary powers—it had armed them with a sharp, deadly, and dangerous weapon, and it was peculiarly the duty of the House to inquire how these powers had been used—how that weapon had been applied. The noble secretary of state for the home department stood charged, in the petitions which had been presented, with sanctioning unnecessary cruelty, and the most unwarrantable severity; but in answer to this charge he observed, that the personal character of that noble lord was very ostentatiously put forward. To the private character of the noble lord a great deal of benevolence was attributed; that might be so, or might not be so—but he must say, that his public conduct bore no such stamp. But whatever might be the tender feeling of the noble lord, history had shown that such feelings on the part of individuals was no guarantee against inhumanity in the administration of power. We were told that the inquisitors of old were often in tears upon witnessing the agonies of those who were suffering under their decrees. Yet that expression of feeling neither exonerated them from the charge of cruelty in inflicting the punishment or alleviated the sufferings of those unfortunate victims. It was mockery, then, to talk of tenderness of feeling on the part of any man invested with arbitrary power, as any argument against the probability of despotism and injustice in the administration of that power. Great wisdom and firmness could alone guard against the abuse of a power which ought not to belong to—which was calculated to corrupt 893 —any human being;—and were ministers seriously disposed to ascribe wisdom and firmness to lord Sidmouth [Hear, hear!]? He was aware that the noble lord had been often praised of late by persons on the opposite side of the House, who, at ether times, and not long since too, were forward to deny him any great or solid quality; nay, who were active in ridiculing his pretensions to any mental power. [Hear, hear!]. The inconsistency of such panegyrists of the noble lord as he alluded to, did not surprise him—but he would be much surprised indeed if that House should adopt the idea, that because lord Sidmouth had the reputation of sensibility, such cruelties as were detailed in the petions upon the table could not possibly have taken place.
But, to return to the subject of those acts of oppression to which he bad before alluded, be would assert that their having come to the knowledge of that House, and remaining uncontradicted as they did, must take away from the majority who sanctioned the Suspension act, all power of confiding in future in the protestations and promises of ministers. The conduct of ministers during the last twelve months was, indeed, extraordinary. They had come down to that House armed with what he believed many members imagined to be even a sufficient justification for suspending the Habeas Corpus act—a green bag—they submitted its formidable contents to a committee of their own choosing. Upon which they themselves sat.—Thusuniting in their own persons the overweening functions of judges, jury and witnesses.—They drew out the bill of indictment against the people of England—They swore to the truth of the allegations—and they found the bill. Thus it was that they contrived to impose upon the judgment of that House, and to swindle the people out of their liberty, upon false pretences; for, upon such pretences, and by such means, did they reconcile parliament to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, and after that suspension was repealed, they pretended to institute an inquiry into their conduct during that suspension. But what was the character of that inquiry? Precisely similar to that by which they had obtained the suspension. Yet, upon such an inquiry and decision, they called on that House to vote their complete acquittal for a series of injustice and absurdity, such as never was attributable to any other set of men ap- 894 pointed to manage the government of this country. Twelve months ago, they pretended that treason and conspiracy threatening the subversion of the state, raged throughout the country; and what was the first proceeding taken to prove the existence of that treason? Why, they preferred a charge of a design to overturn the government and constitution against a bankrupt apothecary and a starving cobler. He would not dwell upon the circumstan-stances of that case, as they were so fresh in the memory of the House; but it must be known, that the preposterous character of the charge made such an impression upon the mind of the jury, as to produce their verdict of acquittal, in opposition to all the efforts of the Crown lawyers, seconded by the elaborate arguments and authoritative opinion of the judges, some of whom were obviously more anxious for the conviction of the prisoners than for the elucidation of truth, or the inforcement of justice. The fact was, that all the criminality charged upon the prisoner on this occasion, appeared to originate solely with the agents of government, who were adduced as witnesses against them, and such was evidently the impression of the jury by whom they were acquitted.
Now, as to the precedents quoted by the hon. and learned gentleman to justify this measure, he contended that they had no analogy whatever to, the case under consideration. That the Habeas Corpus act had been before suspended, and that indemnities had followed was too true.—But never, he would tell the hon. and learned gentleman, on such slight, trivial or contemptible grounds. In 1689, the first period to which the hon. and learned gentleman had alluded, James 2nd, had endeavoured to recover the throne of Great Britain, from which, legitimate as he was, he had been hurled by the indignation of his people. He was backed by the most powerful and ambitious of the continental monarchs, and supported by a strong party in this country. Even then formidable as was the danger, and great as was the party in array against the right so beneficially exercised of deposing a sovereign when entertaining designs hostile to the liberties of his subjects, even then the measure was denounced in parliament as an infringement on the constitution, and the existing laws declared capable of ensuring the safety of the government—In 1745, the next of the learned gentleman's precedents the same 895 danger existed. The pretender was in arms against the dynasty in whom the succession to the throne had been secured by the Revolution of 1688. He was connected with a party in both Houses conspicuous for their rank, talents, and influence—and under their protection and assistance he penetrated into the centre of England. Still, with all these justificatory reasons for the adoption of the measure, it was not passed even then without the strongest protests and remonstrances against the unconstitutional nature of its powers. But in those days Englishmen were more tenacious of their liberties than unfortunately they appeared to be of in later years, and new eras. It was only of late it became an expedient on the part of ministers to suspend the Habeas Corpus act, in order to prop their tottering power, to secure their jobs and their places, and to gag the mouths of the people. [Hear, hear!]. The first cry of alarm was raised at the moment when there was a loud cry for economy in the country. Every where the demand for retrenchment and reform was heard, accompanied by reproaches upon ministerial profusion and extravagance. Ministers saw the danger to which they were exposed, and the difficulty of defending them selves. For they could not comply with the wishes of the people without risking their power. Their system could not be maintained, if they attended to economy, for that would alienate the majority of their adherents. Therefore they adopted the policy of Robespierre; who, whenever he found the security of his faction endangered, or the continuance of his diabolical power menaced, announced the existence of plots and conspiracies which he himself had fabricated, for the purpose of entrapping and destroying those whose characters and actions were adverse to his tyranny. In one respect however the ministers had abandoned his example.—He had attacked the great and powerful.—They had descended to search for treason into the dwellings of the starving manufacturer and distressed labourer They found them murmuring at the weight of insupportable taxation, destitute of employment, and obtaining the scanty and miserable pittance by which they barely supported themselves and their families from the hand of charity. Every where they discovered the existence of poverty, misery, and starvation. That celebrated English spirit which once preferred seeking the means of subsistence, however humble, through its own honourable exertions 896 was found by them bowed to the ground and overwhelmed by despair and oppression, submitting contentedly to the degradation of parochial relief. Most men would have felt remorse at the sight of a country so reduced, a people suffering the utmost privations, but still loyal in their attachment, and looking up to that House for redress of all their wrongs. But our ministers endeavoured to derive personal advantage from the sufferings of the people. They; thought they could work upon their distresses until they had formed the spark of discontent into the flame of rebellion.—And they succeeded.—For they dispatched their emissary, Oliver, on his infamous mission. Thus the resource of ministers for meeting all the distresses and complaints of the country was, to send forth Oliver, in order to excite disturbances, and thereby to justify acts of tyranny on the part of the government. This arch spy hurried along from county to county, proclaiming "Physical Force" as his watchword, displaying the standard of rebellion, and exciting riot and insurrection. Wherever his steps could be traced, (and they were traced with equal care and accuracy) he was found urging the people to acts of rapine and violence instigating them to open rebellion, and leading them on to that object through deeds of robbery and even of murder. And the House would remark that from the day on which his mission ceased—when he had left the presence of those whom he had deluded, when by the assistance of high military authority, he had escaped from the hands of those, who, unknowing of the nature of his actions, had taken him up as the chief traitor, that instant order and tranquillity were restored. He was found at length returning to render an account of his perils and his success. He could have rendered his account in the words which a great-poet ascribes to a personage, the base and more malignant parts of whose character Mr. Oliver strikingly resembled. This spy appeared.At last, as from a cloud,——loud was the acclaim:Forth rush' din haste the great consulting peers, Rais'd from their dark divan, and with like joy Congratulant approach'd him; who, with hand Silence, and with these words attention, won,—Long were to tellWhat I have done, what suffered; with what painVoyag'd the unreal, vast, unbounded deepOf horrible confusion: over which,By Sin and Death, a broad way now is pav'dTo expedite your glorious march,897 In consequence of this spy's success, Brandreth, and some of his associates, were publicly tried, and beheaded on the scaffold as traitors. Why was not the instigator, in whose hands Brandreth was but the mere instrument, tried? Why was not this blood-stained villain put upon his trial at the imperious call of justice and of the country? When the mere instruments of his designs, and the victims of delusion were pursued to death, why was Oliver left at large? If, by the laws of England, all connected with a transaction involving murder, are guilty of murder, how came no charge to be laid against the contriver and instigator of the transactions which had naturally led, to the commission of that crime? [Hear, hear!]
But, if the voice of justice and of the country called for the punishment of Oliver, equally did it call for the disgrace impeachment, and punishment of those who sent him on his base mission—who gave him such full powers as enabled him to instigate his fellow-subjects one against the other—to proclaim to them the virtue and necessity of disaffection, and by which he alienated their minds from their constitution and their king.—Those men were the ministers of the Crown.—In their councils originated the plan of sending spies among the people—from their cabinet issued Oliver as their champion. Yet those men now came down for an act of indemnity, requiring the House to screen the perpetrators of all those dark atrocities. The hon. and learned gentleman bad said, that indemnity was not sought for so much to protect ministers as those who gave information. Tin's was a fallacious representation; but if it were true, he would maintain that ministers were not warranted to call for such an indemnity, nor could parliament, consistently with a due regard to its fame and honour, grant them that act.—Who were their informers? Were they gentlemen of character, whose credibility justified in some measure such confidence as the House was called upon to place in their information? No, they were the blood-thirsty spies, who were sent forth by ministers, and who created all the evils that had disturbed the country. [Hear, hear!] There was one fact now come to light, respecting one of those spies, in addition to what had formerly been detected, which called for the utmost attention. The fact was stated in a daily paper, whose high respectability would be authority enough 898 for him if he possessed no other evidence. But he had other authority. He was authorised, if necessary, to produce the name of the gentleman who would prove all the circumstances at their bar. This gentleman stated, that on the day of opening the session last year, before the Prince Regent returned from the House of Peers he met Oliver at the Horse-guards and heard him inveighing in such loud and seditious terms against the Prince Regent as to collect a crowd about him. The individual whose name he could produce, and who was ready to confirm his statement on oath, remonstrated with Oliver in vain. The consequence was, the outrage on the person of the prince, and the suspension of the Habeas Corpus. [Hear, hear!] Thus it appeared that all the evils which had afflicted the country for the last twelve months, and led to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, with its melancholy consequences, originated mainly with the malignant ingenuity and active turpitude of a man whom ministers had specially employed and whom they still continued to praise and to patronise. [Hear, hear!] Would that House, then, consent to grant an act of indemnity to such ministers—to cover such iniquitous and disgraceful proceedings as they had originated with complete impunity? He should indeed lament if such were the result of that night's proceedings. For himself, he never would consent to such a measure. He confessed that on no occasion had he felt more anxious to state his sentiments—not with the hope of influencing the decision of that House; for of that constituted, as it was, he must utterly despair, unless he were possessed of those means of influence which rendered ministerial arguments so convincing and irresistible—but with the view of justifying himself in the eyes of his constituents, before whose bar he must shortly appear—of enabling him to render up unsullied the trust committed to his care—and with the view of conscientiously discharging that duty to his country which imperiously called upon him, to oppose any indemnity for proceedings so flagrantly unjustifiable. Not only was his own private opinion against the bill; not only was it his most solemn, conscientious, and decided conviction, that ministers and their agents ought not to be indemnified; but, in the name of the county which he represented, where the people had not altogether lost the right of election; in their name he called 899 for a full, fair, and impartial inquiry into the abuses practised during the suspension of the Habeas Corpus. He did not say so in hopes of influencing the House, but he would say on his conscience, that the House was bound in duty to the people of England to support him, when he moved as an amendment, "That the Bill be read a first time that day six months."[Loud and continued cheering.]
§ The Speaker having put the question, and no one appearing disposed to rise on the Treasury bench,
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
expressed his surprise that no member of his majesty's administration had thought it his duty to attempt some reply to the able speech of his hon. friend. [A cry of Hear! from the ministerial side of the House.] Perhaps that cheer intimated that he had prevented somebody from doing so, by prematurely offering himself. If so, he was quite ready to wait, and would postpone his pretensions to address the House.—The on. baronet accordingly sat down, and the Speaker read the question a second time, when a long pause ensued.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
again rose. He said he presumed he was to attribute the silence of the gentlemen opposite to a consciousness of the justice of their cause, although he was at a loss to conjecture the grounds on which that consciousness could be founded. He had risen principally for the purpose of making a few observations on some of the precedents adduced by the hon. and learned gentleman in support of the proposed bill, although he was aware that it was great presumption in him to follow that hon. and learned gentle man in argument. The hon. and learned gentleman had dwelt much on the precedent of 1689. Now in that act there was no parallel to this, nor were the circumstances of those times at all similar to the present. The House were well aware of the events which called for the act of indemnity of 1689. The legitimate sovereign had been expelled from the throne, and another prince had been chosen in his place. Many of the most powerful families in the kingdom were attached to the abdicated king, and the battle of Athlone had been fought in 1689, in hopes of recovering the throne for him. The militia of the country were in those circumstances called out, which was contrary to an act passed in the reign of Charles 2nd. This required an act of indemnity. The preamble of that act 900 completely distinguished it from the act now proposed. It set forth, as the reasons' for calling for indemnity, that they had seized persons suspected, contrary to acts then in existence, and from the legal consequences of these measures it was just that they should have protection. The present, however, were times of comparative peace and safety. The next precedent adverted to by the hon. and learned gentleman was that of 1692. At that period, however, an invasion had actually taken place, which was defeated only by the battle of La Hogue; and in the indemnity act which then passed the particular circumstances which required the adoption of such a measure were distinctly specified. What was there in this case of authority as a precedent for the proposed bill? The next of the hon. and learned gentleman's precedents was that of 1715. At that period there was a dangerous rebellion in the country, headed, not by persons of inferior condition, but by the first noblemen in the land, pervading all the northern part of the kingdom, and ending with the execution of the earl of Drinkwater. In order to stop this evil the government of that day took some measures, not strictly legal, to indemnify them for which the legislature passed an act. Yet indemnity had not been then required for those who had advised and planned measures, but for the magistrates who, in consequence of proceedings in their districts, had felt themselves bound, to assume extraordinary powers. How different, therefore, was that case from the present! In 1746, also, an act of indemnity was passed, but it was expressly limited to the acts performed by government during the period of the rebellion in 1745. Was there in this any parallel to the present case? Nothing could be more dissimilar. The indemnity act of 1780 related solely to the acts of the magistrates, in putting down the riots of that time. It was true, that in the same year the Habeas Corpus was suspended, but it was only with reference to our North American colonies. In 1801, then, was the only precedent to be found for this measure. Of this precedent it might be sufficient to say, that it was the act of the same ministers who now called for this act; that it was a precedent created by-those who had been but too ready to imitate it. But in the circumstances of danger, in the prevalence of alarm, in the, characters suspected, in every point in 901 which they could be compared, the precedent of 1801 was widely different from the act proposed.
In the brief retrospect which he had taken, he flattered himself, therefore, he had proved that none of the precedents quoted by the honourable and learned gentleman, were in their circumstances at all applicable to the case under the consideration of the House. So much for the general necessity of the bill itself. If there were any one part of it, which he should be inclined to pronounce upon as more objectionable than any other, it would be the period to which it referred. The operation of the bill was to go back to the 26th of January, 1817. Now even if it were expedient that an act of indemnity should, under the existing circumstances, be called for by government, at least it would be more consistent with the character of those circumstances, that its operation should be co-existent with that of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, in which its necessity was presumed to originate. Instead of which it was antecedently dated; going back to a period respecting which parliament knew nothing, no investigation into it having been instituted.—Whatever individual, therefore, might have suffered any illegality, even before the suspension of the Habeas Corpus up to the period he had mentioned (the 26th January, 1817), was to be prevented from obtaining any redress. Thus it was, that step by step, that which was originally just authority, proceeded until it terminated in despotism. The indemnity act of 1801 went farther than any preceding measure of a similar nature, and the present indemnity bill went farther even than that—He begged now to call the attention of the House to the list on the table of the individuals who had been committed under the act for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; and which he supposed the gentlemen opposite relied upon as a justification of that suspension. There were, it seemed, ninety-six persons arrested altogether by warrants from the secretary of state, from the privy council, and from the magistrates in the disturbed district. Of those ninety-six persons, fifty one had been arrested on the warrant of the secretary of state; four on the warrant of the privy council; and the remainder on the warrant of the magistrates. Not one of those arrested on the warrant of the secretary of state bad been brought to trial. The four 902 arrested on the warrant of the privy council, were brought to trial and acquitted. All those arrested on the warrant of the secretary of state had been discharged, some on their recognizances, and some without. He should perhaps be told that this was a proof of the mild and lenient manner in which government had exercised the powers that had been entrusted to them. On the contrary, he would rather say that it was a proof of the frivolity of the pretences on which they had called for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus. It was criminal on their part to cause the arrest of so many persons on charges of high treason against which there were no stronger grounds for farther proceeding. In fact, it was impossible not to be convinced, from the mean and contemptible situations of life in which the individuals who had been arrested were placed, that it was impossible they could be engaged in any serious revolutionary project. He by no means meant to say, that no attention ought to be paid to any mischievous designs, because those connected with them were in the lower walks of life. But when the disaffected were composed of bricklayers, carpenters, tailors, coblers, pamphlet-sellers, and such persons, it was evident that the danger could not have been such as to warrant placing in the hands of the executive government the extraordinary powers conferred by the suspension of the Habeas Corpus. Let it also be remembered, that it was not in times of peace and tranquillity that the benefits of the Habeas Corpus were most sensibly felt. It was only in periods of tumult and disaffection, when the arm of power was stretched forth with a despotic energy, that the subject found his liberties and his privileges protected by this inestimable shield. He trusted, therefore, that the House would refuse to sanction the bill, the first reading of which had been moved by the hon. and learned gentleman, unless a strong case could be made to appear in justification of ministers in the course which they had adopted.
§ Mr. Protheroe,
adverting to the observations made by the hon. and learned gentleman who had opened the present debate on the petitions which had been presented for annual parliaments, and universal suffrage, remarked, that while he agreed with the hon. and learned gentleman that revolution and anarchy would be the inevitable consequences of complying with the wishes of the petitioners, he thought it 903 but justice to say, that the hon. and learned gentleman did not make a sufficient distinction between those of the petitioners who were incited by unworthy, and those (many of thorn, he was persuaded), who were actuated by pure and patriotic motives. As he was on his legs, he would briefly state the grounds of the vote which he should that evening give. Though he had voted against the suspension of the had as Corpus last session, thinking it an unwarrantable infringement on the liberties of the people, yet, as a majority of parliament were of different sentiments, and had confided extraordinary powers in the hands of government, he was of opinion that, unless it could be shown that ministers had not acted conscientiously and uprightly, parliament ought now to protect them from the necessity of disclosing such information as they had received, and on which they had acted, but the publication of which they might consider attended with dangerous consequences. He was perfectly aware that the preamble of the bill grounded its expediency on another cause, in conjunction with the danger of such disclosure, and as that was a cause of which parliament did not know any thing from its own investigation, he should certainly object to its introduction whenever the preamble became the immediate subject of discussion.
§ Mr. Stanhope
was persuaded the House would agree with him, that if it appeared that ministers had acted firmly and judiciously, though at the same time temperately and humanely, in the discharge of the extraordinary powers which had been repossd in them by the act of last session, it was the duty of parliament to save them—not from responsibility—but from the indefinite vengeance of those whose malignant designs their prudence and vigilance had defeated. If the suspension bill had not passed—if the seeds of discontent had in consequence budded and ripened into open rebellion—what would have been said of the supineness of those who had neglected to provide the proper means of counteracting the evil? Again, the suspension bill having passed, if nevertheless the disturbances had increased until they burst forth with irresistible fury, would not that event have been attributed by the opponents of government to the irritation which so strong a measure had occasioned?—Certain it was, that at the period when the suspension bill 904 passed, the country was hot tranquil, and that at the present period it was so. Was it to be said that because we were well now, we had never been sick? Or was the inefficacy of the remedy to be asserted in consequence of the disappearance of the disorder?—The bill before the House had two objects in view. The one, the protection of the ministers; the other, the protection of the magistrates. He was perfectly ready to admit that no rank, however high, no station, however exalted, no talents, however splendid, no confidence, however well founded, ought to shelter a minister of the Crown from responsibility. But to whom was that responsibility due?—To that House. Parliament was the tribunal, by whose judgment the conduct of the servants of the Crown must stand or fall.—A committee of that House had entered into a minute investigation of the circumstances on which the proposed bill was founded. The evidence received in the examination of the case was of a nature that could not with safety be made public. He was firmly convinced, that there was not a man in that House who would not in his conscience declare, that not one of the documents submitted to the consideration of the committee of that House ought to be published. And what was the opinion which their committee, after every due deliberation, had pronounced?—"That the whole of the arduous duties confided to the executive government appeared to have been discharged with as much moderation and lenity as was compatible with the paramount object of general security." They must either believe this statement of their committee, or not. If they believed it, they ought without hesitation to accede to the proposed bill; if they did not believe it, they ought to impeach those by whom an attempt had been made to deceive them. Unless, therefore, parliament saw good ground to do so, they would not, by refusing this bill, give up all the well-disposed part of the community to all the most malignant. Much had been said about the persons who had furnished information to government of the conspiracies that had existed in the country. But were they basely to abandon such individuals to those who in the active persecution of them would find consolation for the failure of their own plots; "which, if not victory," to imitate the satanic quotation of the hon. mover of the amendment, "would be yet revenge?" 905 They were bound to protect those who gave them information, to whatever class of society they might belong. Let not gentlemen deceive themselves on this subject. While governments, even of the best kind, existed, conspiracies would be occasionally framed against them; and conspiracies had rarely been detected but by the information of accomplices. Informers there must be in some shape or other; and if one or two of them went somewhat beyond their instructions, were ministers to be responsible? As well might a general officer be called to account for the indiscretion of some of the subalterns of his army. He would not deny that some improprieties might have been committed. But was an apprehension of this kind to deter a government from availing itself of the great advantages to the public safety which such information offered? In what a situation would this or any other country be placed, were the government of that country to refuse to receive the communications of an informer? Let it be supposed, that under the pressure of the circumstances of last year, any individuals, seduced, they scarcely knew why, into a connexion with the designing traitors by whom the country was agitated, had repented of their errors, and in testimony of that repentance, had offered to communicate to government all they knew of the conspiracy in which they had been engaged, what could be more likely to induce them to persevere in their mischievous course, than to show them that their repentance was unavailing by a refusal to receive the information which they were disposed to give? With respect to many of the persons from whom government had obtained intelligence, he was persuaded that the stories were greatly exaggerated. Oliver was represented to have made marvellous journies. Never was a man heard of who bad such powers of ubiquity. For his own part, he did not believe that he had been in one place of a hundred that he was said to have been in; nor did he believe him to be by any means the infamous character described. It was not Oliver, or such men as he, who had incited the people to crime. It was Cobbett, and other malignant and inflammatory writers of that description, who pursued their mischievous avocation with the most persevering, and the most diabolical industry. Those were the persons justly chargeable with the accusations that had 906 been insidiously heaped on those who were not deserving of them. On the whole, as parliament had in the first instance, and on proof of the necessity of the case, entrusted government with extraordinary powers; and as it appeared by the report of their committee, that those powers had been exercised with moderation and discretion, of which the restored tranquillity of the country afforded satisfactory evidence, it was, in his opinion, impossible that the House could refuse the protection which it was the object of the bill on the table to afford.
§ Mr. J. H. Smyth,
adverting to the two recitals in the preamble, of the causes which rendered the bill of indemnity necessary, observed, that that which referred to the supposed over-exertion, in some instances, of magisterial authority, was (it was a notorious fact) not in the bill originally; but was suddenly introduced to meet a particular purpose. The hon. and learned gentleman had, however, contended, that the magistrates had acted according to law. If so, what occasion was there to indemnify them? And, besides, the hon. and learned gentleman knew very well that if no action were brought against any magistrate, within six months of the commission of the over-exercise of power with which he was charged, he became indemnified from the consequence of this act, by the 24th of George 2nd. He himself did not believe that there had been any instances of such excesses of authority on the part of the magistrates. At least none such appeared in the report of the committee. If, however, there had been any, let them be inquired into, and let them not be made one ground of a legislative proceeding without any investigation on the part of the legislature of their foundation. With respect to the other ground on which the bill proceeded, namely, the inconvenience of disclosing the information that had been afforded—it had been argued that if actions were permitted to be brought against the secretary of state or the magistrates, their defence would necessarily occasion the disclosure of such information. Deducting from the ninety-six cases of the persons who had been apprehended and detained under the Suspension act, those who had been tried, it would appear that forty-nine was the utmost number of those who could by possibility bring any such actions as those alluded to.—For his own part, he did not 907 believe that a single action would be brought, though the bill of indemnity were never again to be heard of. But supposing twenty or thirty actions were instituted, what mighty harm could they occasion? In times of danger and disturbance, the disclosures which they would elicit might be prejudicial; but it was impossible they should be so in the present times, than which none could be more tranquil or free from apprehension. When had evils resulted from similar disclosures? In 1813, for instance, it was thought necessary to make the sanguinary example of executing seventeen persons at York. The parties who prosecuted lived ever afterwards in perfect tranquillity, without any especial protection. On the subject of informers and spies, both sides of the House had, perhaps, spoken with too little deliberation. So abhorrent were such agents to the temper and genius of our constitution, that their employment, in ordinary times, could not be sufficiently reprobated. But emergencies could easily be imagined, when there was not a man in that House who would not implore the secretary of state to make use of such means for the detection of treason. It was only, however, when there was but a choice of evils that their employment could be reconciled to the mild and free spirit of our constitution. Of them it might be said, as it had been said of ghosts by Dr. Johnson, "all reasoning is against them, but all experience is for them." Briefly adverting to the precedents which had been adduced by the hon. and learned gentleman on the other side, he observed that there was but one at all applicable to the present case. The acts of indemnity of 1692, 1716, and 1746, were all passed in consequence of open rebellions, and in favour of transactions that took place when the country was in flagrante bello civili, and it was absurd, therefore, to maintain that they afforded any justification of the measure before the House. And with respect to the precedent of 1801, the circumstances of that period were very different from those of the present. In 1801, the country had been eight years at war; an internal faction was in active correspondence with a foreign enemy; and the doctrines of equality had signally triumphed in an important portion of the continent. In fact, there was but one point of resemblance between the two periods—the Habeas Corpus had been 908 suspended in both. It was a melancholy reflection that the victory of Waterloo, the success of our allies, and the recurrence to the old principles of legitimate government had produced, under the existing administration of Great Britain, the same suspension of the Habeas Corpus that Mr. Pitt felt himself compelled to resort to, after long war, with a desperate faction consuming the vitals of the country, with our allies defeated, and with the destructive principles of the French revolution triumphant.—Whatever might be the fate of our constitution —to whatever destiny it might be reserved —whether it was to fall by sap or by assault—whether it was to surrender at discretion to the open attack of major Cartwright at the head of the apostles of reform, or (which appeared more probable) to be gradually undermined by the corruption of government and the servility of that House—whether it was to be scared into despotism by the apprehension of the crimes and horrors of which Jacobinism had shown itself to be so fruitful, or urged into revolution by the obstinate perseverance of a weak administration in measures of alternate violence and imbecility—still it was the duty of every Englishman, whose breast glowed with the fire of genuine patriotism, to watch its convulsive struggles; and at least to endeavour to retard the consummation of that calamity which it might not be possible for him eventually to avert. It was with the strong impression of this feeling that he intreated the House to pause before they acquiesced in the measure now proposed to them. They had not the excuse to plead, that they were legislating in the dark, for they were in full possession of all the occurrences of last year to aid their judgment in the decision.—The hon. gentleman concluded by taking a short retrospective view of the disturbances that had occurred last year. In Scotland, respecting the state of which a learned lord had attempted to excite so powerful an alarm, no act whatever of insurrection had occurred. By the blanketeers no violence had been perpetrated. In Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, where the disgraceful system of Luddism had been so long allowed to flourish, and where, therefore, the people were prepared for crime, about two hundred persons assembled, and after committing some serious outrages, and a detestable murder, dispersed near Nottingham without farther 909 danger to the state, on the first appearance of a military force, and indeed exhibited so little principle of coherence, that a magistrate of that district, with a single dragoon, pursued and arrested thirty or forty of them. In Yorkshire, he knew of his own knowledge, and there was not a magistrate who would not say, that the danger was much greater, that there was much more of local outrage, much more of disposition to break the peace, in. 1812, when nobody thought of suspending the Habeas Corpus. Much better would it be that the costs and damages of any actions that might be brought for recent excesses of authority, should be paid out of the secret service fund, than that the people should be deprived of their just and hereditary rights. Thinking, therefore, as he did, that the grounds on which the present bill was proposed bad not been satisfactorily established, he was the more averse to its passing into a law, on account of the precedent which it would set to future times. He was confident that the present bill would never have been required of the House, but for the bill of 1801; and there was therefore great reason to apprehend that, some few years hence, a bill of a similar description might be justified by a reference to the present. The necessary consequence of passing such measures must be to lessen the respect of the people at large for the laws, by showing them, that those laws did not always distribute a common measure of justice, and afford redress for injuries to all men indifferently.
§ Mr. Brand
said, that on a question of such high constitutional importance, he should feel regret in giving a silent vote, particularly as it was probable that from circumstances, he should not be able to avail himself of the opportunity of discussing the measure in its future stages. If he wanted additional reasons for his strong opposition to any farther proceeding with this bill, he found them in the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman who submitted it that night to the consideration of the House. When that hon. and learned gentleman laid such stress upon the precedents on which he grounded his proposition, he begged the House to pause, before it added another, and on such comparatively weak reasons, to that number. In his opinion, those precedents were not applicable to the circumstances of the present time; but as that part of the subject had been so ably argued by his 910 hon. friend near him, and as another noble friend of his had thrown down the gauntlet on that subject, it would be unnecessary for him to enter into any observations in regard to them. The House would, however, feel that this was the first time in a period of profound peace, when no danger from abroad menaced our security, that the ministers of the Crown had ever called for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. He never could consider the recurrence to such a measure as the suspension, under such circumstances, as justifiable. But if the suspension of that law was unadvised, under what pretext could ministers now claim a bill of Indemnity? Should that claim be sanctioned, he feared the House and the country must prepare themselves for frequent renewals of those violations of the rights of the subject. He much feared that, if now adopted, it would be hereafter frequently resorted to; there being unfortunately, a feeling of disrespect in the people's minds towards that House, which was fostered by the inattention with which the House treated the petitions of those whom they represented. So long as these unconstitutional practices were adopted, the same irritation and discontent would continue to prevail, and a similar pretence often present itself for suspending the rights of individuals. Whilst such a state of circumstances existed, there never would be wanting pretexts and occasions to stifle the public voice on the reports of committees nominated by ministers to judge of their own acts. If he could be persuaded that the powers bestowed by the Suspension act had been mildly exercised, he should not be disposed to withhold his assent from the present measure; but he could derive no satisfaction from the reports of committees nominated by ministers themselves. He was not convinced—as the House ought to be before they passed a law of this nature—that the proceedings under the act were justifiable, as well as the mode subsequently pursued of securing themselves against the consequences of them. The bill under consideration indemnified, or rather protected, not only the secretary of state, but all magistrates and gaolers, for every thing done by virtue of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus. The proper description of the bill appeared to him to be, a bill for depriving the people of England of the benefits of law. He concurred with his 911 hon. friend who spoke last, that it would Be better to pay such damages as might be recovered, out of the secret service money, than to preclude the people from all legal redress. Such enactments were unknown to the old law of the country, and he still trusted that a provision would be introduced to enable the individuals in question to obtain some compensation. He did not think ministers had cleared themselves from the suspicion of having abused the powers intrusted to them, nor could public opinion be satisfied with the reports of committees so constituted as those were upon whose authority this measure was founded. He had no parliamentary information to warrant him in excluding from their legal, hereditary rights, any portion of the people of England. The bill appeared to him to be one not of indemnity but of injustice; and, viewed as a measure for taking away the liberties of the people, ought to be rejected by those who professed to represent them.
observed, that he had voted against the Suspension act, and he looked back with considerable satisfaction to this vote, which he thought every subsequent event had tended to justify. Every person who had since been convicted, had been convicted in the ordinary course of the law. The question now, however, was, whether ministers had abused the powers with which they were invested, or whether they had acted upon them with discretion and moderation? He thought that the government had demanded those powers from a conviction in their minds of the necessity of the case; and while he took credit to himself for the vote which he had given, he was equally bound and willing to give credit to those who had proposed the introduction of that measure. From what he had heard, he could find no ground whatever to charge his majesty's ministers with any abuse of authority, and therefore he saw no cause to induce him to withhold from them an act of indemnity. For these reasons, although he had voted against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, he should now vote for the bill of Indemnity.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that his view of the case was very different from that of the hon. and learned gentleman. The only ground, in his opinion, on which the ministers could claim a bill of Indemnity was, that they had exercised powers 912 which were not made legal by the legislature. He could see no reason for indemnity, if ministers acted in the spirit and within the limit of the law. There could be no reason in asking for such a measure, unless from the consciousness of their powers having been abused. Why did not ministers call for powers commensurate with the nature of the evil, when they applied to parliament last session? If the provisions of the suspension law were too limited, why did they not get a parliamentary sanction to extend them? It was material too, to remark, that, in the preamble of this bill, there was one distinction which did not occur in any former measure, of this description, except in the bill of 1801, namely, the recital as to the disclosure of evidence; and in the year 1801, it was introduced and passed on account of the actual state of the country. But it was impossible to believe that, in every one of the cases of the persons who had been arrested, it would be dangerous to disclose the grounds on which he was apprehended. Whatever some gentlemen might think of this question, he should always maintain, that the House had no right to deprive an Englishman of his legal remedy, unless a very strong case was made out. They would not be justified on any other grounds in acceding to this bill. His view of the case was this—that the acts of his majesty's ministers, which were done illegally, ought to be inquired into. The Commons of England were bound to institute an inquiry not only to satisly themselves, but also to convince: the country; and such an inquiry should be conducted in a very different manner from any that had yet been instituted.
said:—Although I do not think the arguments already advanced against this bill have had great force, yet I am anxious to take this opportunity of offering my public opinion in favour of it. I am anxious to do so, to preserve my own consistency, to maintain the character and dignity of the House of Commons, and to do justice to those who have executed the powers entrusted to them by the legislature in the course of the last session of parliament:—when I say that the arguments do not appear to me to have great weight, I mean, Sir, to apply that observation as in reference to the bill now before the House; for. I cannot but think that all arguments relating to the dangers which existed at the time the 913 legislature thought proper to adopt those measures for the preservation of the public tranquillity, were fair and legitimate arguments against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, and against the measures which followed it, but do not apply to the question now before us of the Indemnity bill. I think, Sir, I might admit the whole of the argument founded on the disbelief of all danger;—I might admit that parliament was deceived; that the legislature acted under false information, that the whole of our proceedings were founded in error, and yet it would not disparage the question now before us; for, if the government has acted upon our authority, and has not abused the power entrusted to it, if we are satisfied the measures pursued have not been detrimental to the state, but have been carried on with moderation, with temper, and with firmness, we are called upon, in justice to ourselves and to those who have acted in the government, to pass this bill, and it is on the ground of consistency, and of maintaining my opinions on these great and momentous proceedings, that I shall give it my support; but, Sir, though I have said that I might admit the fact of these dangers having been unfounded, without prejudice to this bill, yet in consistency with my former opinion, I still maintain the full extent of them, and every circumstance which has occurred since the suspension bill was passed. Every event that has taken place subsequent to the report of the first secret committee of this House, has justified and confirmed the opinions that were then entertained of the danger of the country.
I hardly think it necessary now to refer to what passed previous to the measures adopted by this House in the last session of parliament, but I must advert to the opinion which was then given by a gentleman of whose character and abilities no man can speak too highly,—I mean the late Mr. Ponsonby, whose memory I hold in the highest veneration. It must be remembered, that he professed his disbelief in the extent of that danger with which the country was menaced; but when he came out of the committee of which he was a member, he was perfectly convinced that the danger had not been exaggerated. Mr. Ponsonby undoubtedly differed with the majority of the House, as to the measures proposed to be adopted to meet those dangers; but he admitted 914 the existence of them, and he moreover said, that had he been a member of the cabinet, he should have felt it his duty to have recommended the measures which the government had adopted in laying the papers before the House, and making the communications under which the committee had been formed. Thus then, Sir, I say, if I erred in my opinion with regard to the danger which existed previous to the measures which were adopted by parliament, I erred in common with Mr. Ponsonby, whose honourable and manly conduct on all occasions will not be questioned by the hon. gentlemen who still continue to disbelieve and deny the danger.
But, Sir, let us also look to what has subsequently passed, to the events which have arisen since the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. Can any man look to the trials at Derby, and not feel that the proceedings in that part of the kingdom were of the most treasonable and dangerous description? Is there a magistrate, or a respectable inhabitant of that neighbourhood, who does not believe it to have been a deep laid conspiracy for subverting the constitution of these realms? I would ask the noble lord, the member for the county of Derby, who, I am told, was foreman of the grand jury who found the bills against these wretched men, whether there was a doubt in the breast of any one man composing the grand jury, or in his own, of the treasonable intent? The object of these insurrections was, not to procure employment, nor to find relief from the pressure then existing from the low state of trade in the manufacturing districts, but distinctly and exclusively for the purpose of overthrowing all the great establishments of the country. The convictions which took place have unquestionably proved this fact, and it is therefore absurd to talk of a conspiracy not having existed. The conspiracy not only existed in these counties, but was carried on, by communication and correspondence with the disaffected in the metropolis.
With regard to what fell from the hon. gentleman who opened this debate, I think he has dealt much in general declamation not new on this occasion.—He has told us that the people have been swindled out of their liberties by the government. Sir, if the people have been so swindled, it is not the government but the legislature who have been guilty of so foul a transac- 915 tion. But to those who contemplate this subject with less prejudice, and to the people of England, I think it will appear, that the legislature acted upon the coolest and most deliberate judgment; that its proceedings were marked by the soundest wisdom; and that the people owe to those proceedings, not the loss of their liberties, but the retention of that peace and tranquillity, and the enjoyment of those blessings under which they live.—Another hon. gentleman has stated, among other arguments against this bill, that the persons who have been apprehended, are of such notorious bad character, that no indemnity is necessary against charges preferred by such men. This argument proves, undoubtedly, that government did not abuse its power by apprehending those individuals; but it is no argument against awarding that justice which is due from this House for the moderation of its proceedings.—It has also been urged by another hon. gentleman, but I can hardly believe be was serious in the proposition, or that I distinctly heard him, that he disapproved of this bill because it shut the door against all future inquiry into the truth of those charges which had been prepared against the government for the abuse of its power, that "it might be wise and proper not to give up the authorities under which the information had been procured, but he thought that object might be attained by the ministers so charged suffering judgment to go by default, and if damages were awarded, to pay those damages from the revenues of the Crown." I must repeat, that I cannot believe this proposition to have been serious; it appears to be so preposterous, and so contrary to wisdom, economy, and justice.
In adverting, Sir, to the other arguments which have been advanced against this bill, there is one charge which, if made out, would undoubtedly place the government in the most degraded state, namely, the having employed spies, not alone to gain information, but for the purpose of instigating to the crime of treason. If this were true, there is no punishment too severe, there can be no condemnation too heavy for such an atrocious proceeding. What does the charge rest upon? The worst description of evidence, namely, the petitioners implicated in the crime, and a general statement by 26 persons calling themselves the respectable inhabitants of Manchester, denied by all the principal and opulent 916 and respectable inhabitants of that place and its vicinity. Sir, we have the strongest evidence to disprove this fact in the proceedings which occurred at Derby. Is it possible to conceive, that the counsel who so ably defended the prisoners on their trials, would not have brought forward evidence to substantiate this fact, had it been possible? Would any jury have convicted, if the fact had appeared? Would the grand jury have found the bills? But, Sir, it is impossible to believe that persons in the situation of ministers of this country, could have been so wanting to all character, so lost to all principles of morality, as to have committed themselves in such a manner. They would be considered worse than those desperate and horrible monsters, who, for the sake of blood-money, encourage to the commission of crime. Here it must have been an encouragement to crime of the most extensive and bloody nature, merely to establish the truth of their opinions, that their declaration of treason and danger to the state was well-founded and borne out by the result.
With regard to the conduct of the government in the execution of that sacred and serious trust reposed in them by the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, let us review the transactions. It appears that 46 persons have been apprehended, of which only 23 have been brought to trial, and pleaded guilty. Considering the state of the metropolis, which we had witnessed by the attempt made at the Spa-field's meeting, and the disposition manifested afterwards, looking to the proofs we had of conspiracy at Manchester, Nottingham, Derby, and spreading into Yorkshire, I, for one, cannot but be astonished at the few in numbers who were apprehended under the warrants of the secretary of state. If we are to give credit to the report of your committee, the proceedings on this subject seems to have been marked by every disposition to moderation and forbearance, and every principle of humanity and kindness. With regard to the other persons who have been detained on suspicion of treason, many of whom have petitioned this House, in no instance has it appeared that they were not fully connected, and participators in these dangerous conspiracies. They have been proved to be men of most abandoned characters, instigating and promoting sedition and seditious meetings. These men, in their petitions, have com- 917 plained of injustice and severity of treatment: they have asserted their innocence; but their complaints and assertions have never been borne out. Whenever the petitions have been discussed, the misstatements and falsehoods have been invariably proved; and I cannot but think that the executive power have the strongest evidence in support of these apprehensions, when it is expressly stated by your committee, that no individual whatever has been apprehended and imprisoned, but upon information given on oath, and in no instance on the oath of Mr. Oliver, or the persons employed as spies and informers. This fact alone, I must think, in the opinion of all those who are not greatly prejudiced on this subject, falsifies those statements and aggravated and inflamed charges which have been made against the government. No one can detest the character of an informer more than I do; but, Sir, must we shut our eyes and ears against all information derived in this way? I challenge any gentleman in this House, be his politics what they may; be his principles monarchical or republican, to deny the necessity under circumstances of resorting to such evidence. It is the bounden duty of a minister to profit by such information, to destroy the combinations of treason to the state. You cannot look back to your State Trials without seeing innumerable instances of the disclosure and destruction of treasonable conspiracies by the means of informers and spies. In this country, thank God, these means are less resorted to than in other countries; but I defy a government to be carried on in the execution to discharge its duty without recourse to such evidence. Why, then, I put it Sir, to the fair, unprejudiced, honourable feelings of the House to say, whether the government, and those whom they have employed for the suppression of the dangers which existed, merit that security which this bill provides.—Let us review the progress of these proceedings which appear to me to have been fair, open, and manly on the part of the government. First, information is laid before the House of dangerous and treasonable conspiracies existing; papers are brought down; a committee is formed, which in its report, confirms the danger; and the legislature thereon suspends the Habeas Corpus act; parliament is prorogued, and the government, during the recess, exercise the powers vested in 918 it in a manner to restore the country to a state of tranquillity. When parliament again assembles, it is instantly recommended by the executive power to restore the suspended liberties of the country by a restriction of the Habeas Corpus act, and papers are again brought down to the Houses of parliament, communicating the grounds of all proceedings which have taken place since the former session closed; a second committee reports on these proceedings, with which the House and the country is satisfied; and now it is proposed to indemnify government against all prosecutions, or penalties arising from these proceedings. Is this unreasonable to demand? Should we not deny the justice and consistency of our whole conduct by refusing it? It is no boon we grant; it is justice; it is a duty we owe to ourselves; it is to maintain my own consistency, and that of parliament, that compels me to vote for it. We either were or were not in earnest; we either did or did not believe the danger; and we are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the conduct of government in the exercise of those powers with which they were entrusted. Continuing to hold the same sentiments I have ever done in these measures, and convinced that the majority of this House and of the country maintain the same sentiments, I think we cannot hesitate one moment in agreeing to this bill, in favour of which I shall give my vote with more satisfaction than I ever voted in my life.
said, he did not think that this question had any thing to do with the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. He should not now enter into the reasons which induced him to give his vote on that measure last year; but he thought that those who voted against the suspension owed it to themselves, to the House, to the country, and even to ministers themselves, to institute a fuller investigation than was embodied in the report then upon the table. His hon. friend who spoke last, had quoted the opinion of a right hon. gentleman whose loss, he believed, they both sincerely regretted—he meant the late Mr. Ponsonby. It was true that that right hon. gentleman went into the committee impressed with the opinion that great danger existed; but he came out of it, believing that there were greater grounds of complaint. And what was the vote which he gave on that measure? He voted against the suspen- 919 sion of the Habeas Corpus, conceiving that the ordinary powers of the law were adequate to the protection of the public tranquillity: and if he were now in his place, he believed his right hon. friend would be too consistent not to vote against this bill of Indemnity. He, too, must put in his claim of consistency. He believed that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act was not warranted by the facts which had been disclosed, but that it was calculated to inflame the discontents of the people, and to foment those very evils against which it was passed as a remedy, it was introduced and carried by an administration whose motives he distrusted, and whose policy he did not subscribe to; and it was, both in principle and precedent, most dangerous to the liberties of the country. From this view of the subject, he could not but give his hearty vote against every thing in the name of indemnity. Let us not, in the name of God, now that the country was again restored to the operation of the law, thrust out the people of England from their legal remedies. Let us not, by acceding to such a measure, take from government the duty of its vindication, and from parliament the means of ascertaining how the powers given to ministers have been exercised! When the gaols of the kingdom had been crowded with prisoners detained under arbitrary warrants—when the table of parliament had been loaded with their complaints of cruelty and oppression, was it not too much to ask of parliament not only to preclude all examination within its walls, but to deprive the sufferers of all legal remedies in the courts of law? If these men were guilty, why were they not tried? If they were innocent, why were they imprisoned at all? Let the ministers of the country establish the necessity of their conduct; to this they were bound, not only by a regard to their own character, but to the character of a high minded people, over whose interests they superintend. We heard much of the trials at Derby. How, he would ask, did these proceedings bear upon the present question? The persons implicated in these disturbances were arrested in the ordinary authority of the law; and yet, when the parliament were discussing the conduct of ministers in the exercise of extraordinary powers, the very head and front of their defence is founded on occurrences that have no connexion whatever with that exercise, All that had been said in favour 920 of an indemnity, had been urged on the ground of the Report of the Secret Committee. With respect to this Report, he was not wrong in considering it as neither more nor less than an accredited manifesto of ministers; as much so, indeed, as a king's speech at the opening of the session was. The House ought not to delegate their powers to any committee. But, independent of this objection, the committee in question was appointed by miters, and the evidence was presented by ministers; and on a report from a committee so appointed and judging on such evidence, did they found their claim for a bill of Indemnity. Were the forms and analogies of justice ever so insulted as in this case? He hoped parliament would not sanction this mockery of a trial. The hon. and learned gentleman who opened the debate, had laid great stress on the danger which would arise from the communication of the sources of the information on which his majesty's ministers acted. Did the hon. and learned gentleman mean information derived from magistrates, information derived from informers, or information derived from spies? If he meant the two former, he trusted there was still law and good feeling enough in the country to protect those two classes in the exercise of their duty in exposing whatever threatened danger to the state or to individuals. Those two clauses, therefore, were secure. It was, then, entirely for the benefit of the other class—namely, that of spies, that they were now calling on parliament to grant an indemnity. With respect to Oliver, the right hon. the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Bathurst) had told them more than once that he had something to state with respect to Oliver's connexion with the Derby plot, which would materially alter the opinion of the House with regard to him—that would entirely do away the effect of the dying declaration of Turner, one of the men executed at Derby. From this declaration of the right hon. gentleman, he was led to expect something very strong from him; but the House had in reality heard nothing from him at all calculated to do away the effect of the words uttered by this man, at a time when he was in a situation far beyond the power of any man's bribe or intimidation [Hear, hear!]. Nothing surely that such an avowed wretch as Oliver could utter ought to weigh against such a declaration. The right hon. gentleman had said, that certain persons held 921 improper conversations with the persons in the condemned cells, and endeavoured to influence them to make such a declaration. But did he believe that the high sheriff and under sheriff of Derby would be so negligent in the discharge of their duty as to allow any clandestine communication of such a nature to be carried on? Sure he was, that if this was allowed in Derby, it was a solitary instance in this country. But he would put it to the House, if on the known principles of human nature, it was possible that men in such an awful situation could make such a declaration under any improper influence? For whose benefit were they to make it? Supposing the statement of the right hon. gentleman to be correct, this declaration was made for the benefit of those very persons by whose bad example they were brought to their unfortunate end. They had therefore no evidence to disconnect Oliver with the transactions at Derby. For their own sakes, government, if they were innocent, ought not to ask for any bill of indemnity. Government in this case had the misfortune common to all those who employed spies—they were in some sort identified in the public opinion with the persons whom they employed [Hear, hear!]. It was a dangerous speculation to try how far the people could withstand the artifices and machinations of those wretches whom they let loose among them. The noble lord deprecated in strong terms the system of employing spies, which not only tended to Undermine the confidence on which the charms of social intercourse was founded, but which was perverted to the baser purposes of tampering with the allegiance of the people, and suffering experiments of the most pernicious nature to be exercised on the temper and tranquillity of the country. The story so happily told by Cervantes must be familiar to the mind of every gentleman, wherein a husband, who had unjustly entertained suspicions of his wife's fidelity, employed a friend to try her constancy. The friend betrayed his trust, and the lady's virtue, before unstained, became the sacrifice of her husband's jealousy. Who, in reading that story of the Curious Impertinent, ever pitied the husband? And in the same manner, who could have pitied the ministers, if, in tampering with the fidelity and allegiance of the people, they had fallen victims to their own experiments? He would not impute bad motives harshly to any one; 922 but, if, as a juryman, he were desired to judge of the conduct of ministers only from their own report, he should lay his hand on his heart and declare before God and his conscience, that he thought them guilty. If the House were determined to allow ministers on their own showing, to suspend the liberties of the country, and subsequently, on their own statements, obtain an indemnity for their measures, it was impossible any longer to boast the freedom of this country. If such a system was to be pursued, public liberty would be gone, and the strong hold of the people, would be annihilated [Loud cheers].
§ Mr. Powlett
said, he was sorry to differ from those with whom he had so often been happy to concur, but he felt it his duty to give his support to the present bill.
§ The question being put, "That the Bill be now read a first time," the House divided: Ayes, 190; Noes, 64.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Monck, sir C.|
|Althorp, visc.||Newman, R. W.|
|Anson, hon. gen.||Neville, hon. R.|
|Baker, John||Newport, sir John|
|Barnett, James||North, Dudley|
|Birch, Jos.||Nugent, lord|
|Brande, hon. T.||Ord, Wm.|
|Brougham, Henry||Peirse, Henry|
|Burden, sir F.||Philips, George|
|Burrell, hon. P. D.||Pym, Francis|
|Burroughs, sir W.||Robarts,W. T.|
|Calcraft, John||Romilly, sir S.|
|Carter, John||Scudamore, Robt.|
|Campbell, hon. J.||Sharp, R.|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Smith, W.|
|Curwen, J. C.||Smyth, J. H.|
|Duncannon, visc.||Symonds, T. P.|
|Douglas, hon. F. S.||Tavistock, marq. of|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Fitzroy, lord John||Waldegrave, hon. W.|
|Folkestone, visc.||Walpole, hon. G.|
|Gaskell, Benjamin||Warre, J. A.|
|Guise, sir Wm.||Webb, Ed.|
|Harcourt, John||Wilkins, Walter|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Williams, Owen|
|Heathcote, sir G.||Wood, alderman|
|Heron, sir Robt.||TELLERS|
|Howard, hon. W.||Lambton, J. G.|
|Howorth, H.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Hughes, W. L.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Hornby, Edward||Cavendish, hon. C.|
|Hurst, Robt.||Latouche, John|
|Latouche, Robt.||Latouche, Robt. jun.|
|Lemon, sir Wm.||Markham, admiral|
|Mackintosh, sir J.||Morpeth, viscount|
|Madocks, W. A.||Pigott, sir A.|
|Martin, Henry,||Plumer, Wm.|
|Martin, John||Sefton, earl of|
§ The Attorney General having moved, that the Bill be read a second time tomorrow,
§ Mr. Brougham
said, that surely ministers would not so far lay aside all regard to appearances as to force on the second reading of this important bill to-morrow. There were three or four notices which would have precedence of it, on each of which considerable discussion might be anticipated. Did his hon. and learned friend mean by this to say at once to the House and the country, that he considered all argument superfluous and unnecessary—that the question was to be carried alone by numbers?[loud cheering from the ministerial benches]. He implored the House, acquainted as they must be with the fact, that in ten days they were to be dissolved, and were to be sent to the country to their constituents [hear, hear!] to consider the impression which their conduct could not fail to produce. The experience, he thought, might have been spared, that they rested this cause on numbers alone—that relying on the eloquence of votes, they deemed all other eloquence superfluous —that the persons who had been deprived of their liberty under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, were to be deprived of all legal redress, because such was the will and pleasure of his majesty's ministers, who did not think it even necessary to condescend to give any reasons in justification of such a measure. He did not say that this was meant as an insult, but certainly it had every appearance of it. When ministers in this manner met their opponents with no arguments, but, without saying any thing, put the question at once to the vote, this was as much as to say, "We have 190 votes, and we do not care for your arguments—we do not think it necessary to give one reason for what we ask" [hear, hear! from the ministerial benches]. After the division was declared, the manner in which the account of the numbers was received by the ministerial benches seemed to say, "Aye, that was just what we expected." It was as much as saying—We knew we were right.—Not right as to the merits of the measure, for we never condescended to tell you the reasons why we were right [Hear, hear! from the opposition benches]. And the worthy alderman (sir W. Curtis) who seemed to enjoy the triumph so much, knew not why he was right at all on the merits of the bill;—but though he knew 924 not that he was right on the merits of the bill—on the question, "shall we or shall we not be sure of 190 votes without hearing any arguments to justify them," he knew he should be right. On this question he was as sure as any of those who were now triumphing and cheering on his majesty's ministers. What was it but telling the country that they knew they had a great majority of votes, and therefore would not discuss the question? What was it but telling the country, we care nothing for all the arguments which can be brought against us, when they determined to bring on the question to-morrow at a time when it was physically impossible it could be discussed, there being four or five important questions which had the precedency? He could not help protesting against the conduct of an overbearing majority, who told them they would not give one argument, one reason, for the measure they called for. In such a state of things, nothing remained to those who were hostile to the measure, but to avail themselves of the forms of the House devised by their ancestors to meet such an occasion; and if any one supported him, he would avail himself of those forms, in order to give the country and the House an opportunity of making ministers pause, at least so long as to allow the House an opportunity for fairly discussing the important bill now before them [Hear, hear!].
appealed to the House if ever they had heard a more unfounded attack than that which had just been made by the hon. and learned gentleman. He had affirmed that on this question ministers had not spoken. But the question had been argued in a more fitting way perhaps than if ministers had offered their sentiments, for the measure had been powerfully defended by several gentlemen whose support they were not in the habit of receiving. But he really thought the hon. and learned gentleman seemed himself to show a great want of confidence in his own case. Had he came out from his hiding place [a laugh], he would probably have found no reluctance on the part of his majesty's ministers to meet him. But the hon. and learned gentleman seemed to be dreaming every night on the subject of elections, on which he had given some information quite new to him, and he believed to the House, namely, their immediate dissolution [Hear, hear! from the ministerial side]. He had 925 never known powder more idly wasted than in the fire of the hon. and learned gentleman that night. He had told them in an intimidating tone what he was to do in a future sitting. It would be better for the hon. and learned gentleman to have waited till that future sitting, when he was to carry his alarming threats into execution. The hon. and learned gentleman! would not find ministers at all alarmed by his threats. His hon. and learned friend (the attorney-general) would continue to fix the second reading of the bill for tomorrow. If the business which had precedence to-morrow should occupy the House to too late an hour, then the hon. and learned gentleman might with propriety appeal to his right, if the discussion was forced on at a late hour. He certainly should not wish the House to go into the question to-morrow, if the preceding business lasted to a late hour.
§ Mr. Brougham
rose amidst cries of "Spoke, spoke!" He thought, when he had been alluded so personally, he ought to be allowed an opportunity of defending himself. Whether he took part in any debate or not was a matter of so little importance to any one but himself, that he owed an apology to the House for now alluding to that subject, even after what had fallen from the noble lord. The only ground on which ha had abstained from bearing a part in the debate, either on the present or on any other occasion, was, because he had heard nothing which required an answer. He solemnly assured the noble lord and the House, if it was of any consequence for them to know it, that he had never, on any one occasion, lately heard any thing from the other side to which he did not consider all answer superfluous, except in the question as to the standing army, and he appealed to the House whether he did not [Here the cries of "Spoke, spoke!" were repeated, and the hon. and learned gentleman sat down].
§ Sir S. Romilly
said, he rose to move as an amendment, that the bill be read a second time on Wednesday. What his hon. and learned friend had advanced was certainly most true. On one side of the House there had been no discussion [Cries of no, no]. He would repeat it, there had been no discussion whatever. When the grounds advanced in support of a measure were answered—and in his opinion they had in the present case been answered in a satisfactory manner it was 926 usual to reply to the arguments of the opponents of the measure. Now nothing of this kind had been done that night. Gentleman after gentleman on his side of the House had risen to oppose the bill, without one single gentleman rising from the opposite side in support of it. Now, surely, the noble lord did not mean to say, that because his hon. and learned friend had not spoken, no argument urged by any other person, would be answered by them. His hon. friend the member for Cambridge, and his hon.: friend the member for Hertfordshire, had answered, in a most powerful manner, the only arguments which were advanced on the other side; but because his hon. and learned friend had not also answered them, they were resolved to keep back—till this formidable opponent spoke, they were determined to maintain silence; His hon. and learned friend had only to conceal himself in that place from which he lately addressed them, and then he would reduce the whole of his majesty's ministers to silence [a laugh.] The other measures which had precedency were important, and would probably occupy the House to a late hour. And where, he would ask, was the necessity for pressing the measure? The bill had a retrospective effect, and if it were passed three weeks hence, it would answer the same purpose as if it had been passed three weeks earlier. It was the mere wantonness of power in his majesty's ministers to wish to press this measure.
said, that the hon. and learned gentleman had stated some rules as to the forms of debate which were true in themselves, but not in their application to the present case. It was true that that night nearly all the speaking had been on the other side of the House, but certainly not all on the same side of the question. The reason why there was a want of occupation on the ministerial side of the House was that the work had been taken out of their hands. The hon. and learned gentleman seemed not to be aware of the length of the debate which was just concluded. That could not be called a very short debate, in which there had been twelve different speakers; and yet such had been the debate of that night. It could not be called a very extraordinary debate in which there were six speakers on one side of the question, and six on the other side; and yet such had been the debate of that night. When an accusation was brought 927 against one party for having allowed the debate to drop, the accusation could not be sustained if the last speech in the debate was one in favour of that side of the question, supported by the party accused; and yet such had been the case in the debate of that night. The debate had been opened by his hon. and learned friend, the attorney-general, with a very able speech, the arguments of which remained yet unshaken; and with that speech he would be willing to rest their part of the question. He was followed by the hon. member for Durham, and the member for Northumberland, who both opposed the bill. They were followed by the hon. member for Bristol, who declared he would vote for the indemnity, and his vote was the more valuable, having given a vote against ministers on the question of the suspension [No, no! from the opposition]. He was sure that was, the course of his argument. His argument was, that even those who voted against the suspension, were nevertheless bound to vote for the indemnity. This hon. gentleman had been followed by another hon. gentleman on the same side of the House (Mr. Stanhope), who again was followed by the hon. member for Cambridge. The hon. member for Cambridge was again followed by an hon. gentleman (Mr. Marryat), the first who spoke on his side of the House, but not the first who spoke on his side of the question: who, though he voted against the suspension, stated that he was prepared to vote in favour of the indemnity. The hon. and learned gentleman in question was followed by a noble lord (Althorp), of whose efforts in opposing the bill he certainly did not mean to speak with any disparagement, but he might safely say they were much second to that of the hon. gentleman whom he followed. However, the effect of that speech was completely done away by an hon. gentleman, who usually voted with the opposite side of the House (Mr. Fremantle). He was was followed by a noble lord (Nugent), who had certainly had his share of the debate, and had done his best. [a laugh.] He did not mean to under-rate the noble lord's abilities, but, however ingenious or eloquent, the noble lord's speech might have been, he thought it completely answered by the argument of the hon. member who succeeded him. This was the history of the debate in which his majesty's ministers were blamed for not 928 having taken a part. He would be glad to know in what part of the debate they could with propriety have come in? But, indeed, he would observe, that a debate in which the conduct of ministers themselves was in question, and in which they were personally implicated, was not that in which they should be too ready to take a part. In addition to the history of the debate, which was itself a sufficient reply to the two hon. and learned gentlemen, he must remind the House, with regard to their threat about forms, that the course of debating a bill on the first reading, which had been done that night, was a very unusual course. The usual coure would have been to have had the first reading on the same night that the bill was brought from the Lords; and the second reading on this night. That course was interrupted by a request from an hon. member opposite, out of courtesy to whom his hon. and learned friend had consented to postpone the first reading till this night; and now in return for this, the hon. and learned gentleman opposite came forward with his threats. His noble friend seemed to hint that if the other business which stood for to-morrow should occupy the House to a late hour, the second reading would not be pressed. Now, after the conduct of the hon. and learned gentleman opposite, he, for one, hoped that no postponement would take place to-morrow on any account whatever, and that the House would, by going through the second reading, then testify its sense of this interruption, so uncourteous and unprovoked [Hear, hear!].
§ Sir J. Newport
said, he would follow the example of the right hon. gentleman, by also giving a recommendation to his honourable friends. He would recommend them to avail themselves of the forms of the House, for the purpose of protecting the minority within those walls, and the people of England at large. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that if any protracted discussion should take place on any preceding question, ministers would not persevere in pressing the measure. He could inform that right hon. gentleman, that there was a question which, according to the rules of the House, had the priority, on which a discussion was likely to arise, unless the right hon. gentleman was prepared to maintain, that the salt duties did not present a question of importance to the country? Would it be right, after a long debate on such a*929 subject, to proceed to discuss the principle of the present measure? The right hon. gentleman had left out of his calculation, in the historical statement which he affected to give of the debate, the speeches of the member for Northumberland and the member for Hertfordshire, [cries of No, no!]. [Mr. Canning rose, and was about to address the Chair, but sir J. Newport refusing to give way to him, he sat down.] Sir J. Newport observed, with some warmth, that such an interruption was contrary to order, and he would no more tolerate it from the right hon. gentleman than from any other man in the House. The amount of what he contended for was this, that, according to the right hon. gentleman's own argument, the bill ought not to be brought forward to-morrow. He had said, that it was intended as an accommodation to the member for Durham, but the member for Durham had made no request of the kind, so that it was in fact only meant for the accommodation of ministers themselves. But even if the statement were correct, would the House agree to sanction them in granting such a favour to any individual, when the effect of it must he to prevent that deliberate, dispassionate consideration which they were bound to give to all questions, and particularly to questions of such magnitude. If it was to be laid down as a principle, that any stage of a bill could be hastily passed over, the very principle on which those different stages appeared to rest, would be contradicted. They were marked out for the purpose of insuring a fair and full discussion; and while it could be contended, that any member had a right to oppose a bill in all its stages, it must be admitted that he had a right to debate it in all its stages, and consequently a right to insist that he should not be deprived of the opportunities necessary to admit of such debate. Upon these grounds, he trusted that those gentlemen who promised to avail themselves of the orders, by proposing a call of the House, would persevere in their intention; and he had little doubt, that if they did so, ministers would find themselves in the same difficulties which they had experienced on former occasions, when the same expedient was successfully tried.
assured the right hon. baronet, that it was not from any disrespect towards him that he had offered himself to the attention of the House. It 930 was contrary to order to interrupt a speaker, but it was in perfect consistency with the practice of the House to correct, as soon as possible, a fact accidentally misrepresented, in order to prevent the waste of argument founded on such misrepresentation. Such a course was by no means unusual, and he never knew an instance before the present, in which it was not taken in good part. However, as the right hon. baronet preferred the more regular and formal proceeding, he, had yielded to his desire, and should now correct the misrepresentation of which he complained. The right hon. baronet had stated, that he had omitted in his enumeration the members for Northumberland and Hertfordshire; he should answer without any apology, that he had omitted neither.
§ Sir S. Romilly
withdrew his amendment, on the understanding, that if the second reading of the bill could not come on tomorrow before a late hour, it would be postponed.