§ Mr. Brougham
rose to present a Petition from James Robertson, a weaver, in Bridgeton near Glasgow. The learned gentleman observed, that having no knowledge of the facts, he could not be responsible for the statements contained in the petition. But, as a great deal had been said of the petitions on the table, he thought it proper to observe, that if these petitions were true, the parties complaining ought obviously to be redressed; while, if they were false, the petitioners themselves were deserving of censure. If, however, any minor point in a petition-should appear to be unfounded or exaggerated, that would be no reason for rejecting the petition altogether, if it were substantially true. But be would not enter 947 into the merits of those petitions, as he would not anticipate the discussion to which they must give birth; for it was impossible that the House should refuse to institute some inquiry with respect to such extraordinary acts of injustice and oppression as those petitions detailed. Reverting to the petition which he held in his hand, the learned member repeated his disacquaintance with the case; but observed that he felt it his duty to present this, or any petition submitted to him, provided it was couched in correct terms. It would appear from the petition, that the tyranny of those by whom such a prisoner was unjustly imprisoned, was to operate, not only during his imprisonment but throughout his life.
The Petition was then read, setting forth,
"That the Petitioner is an unfortunate individual whom the late unhappy measures of government found innocent and peaceable, threw into gaol, and reduced to misery, he humbly begs leave to lay before the House a short and simple account of the circumstances of his case, premising that he will indulge in no assertion that be cannot satisfactorily establish. On account of the almost total stagnation of trade, about twelve months ago, considerable numbers of weavers and other tradesmen applied to the sheriff of the county for parish relief; this necessarily brought many of them, on several occasions, together, and on the 22d of February last year about nineteen persons of whom the petitioner was one, met in a tavern, to consult about the conduct and progress of the legal application; thus employed, the sheriff fiscal (Salmond) and constables suddenly entered the room, and fell to searching their pockets, in which they found no treasonable matter, in the petitioner's they seized a web-ticket; all were immediately led to prison, where the petitioner was confined for three hours to quite a dark cell on the floor of the prison, from which he was taken to a cell on the upper flatt, a space of seven by six feet, which became his future miserable abode; for four days he got no victuals but such as his starving family could scantily supply, and from the fifth he was allowed eight-pence a day, out of which he paid two-pence a day for coals, nearly as much for light, and was obliged to support nature on the few remaining pence; his bed was a little straw, a light coverlet, and one pair of blankets; the petitioner was 948 four several times examined by the sheriff and fiscal upon matters of which he was not only innocent and ignorant, but which really appeared to have no foundation beyond the examinator's own invention; he was told by the fiscal that he would be hanged if he denied, and when it was observed that innocence was not to be overcome, was finally returned to his cell; all access was denied to him for one month, after that allowed for five minutes once a week; in this horrid situation a favourite child dies, whose distress in death, he cannot sooth, whose remains he cannot accompany to the grave; the petitioner was now seized with a dropsy, which the physician certified would, if confinement were continued, speedily end in death, but his tormentors remained inexorable; to add to his afflictions, he hears that his landlord, weakly alarmed at his situation, has sold all his effects for an arrear of rent, and turned his wife and children to the streets; the petitioner's disease continued, the physician renewed, his report, and at length, after a delay of fifteen days from the first report, intimation was given that if he found bail to the amount of 50l. he would obtain his release; a humane individual became surety, and after a close confinement of eleven weeks, passed in the utmost misery, the petitioner came out of his cell, falling under disease, without a home to go to, without a penny for himself and family; and here another of his children died; to assist himself in this accumulated distress, the petitioner cited the managers of a Friendly Society, of which he had been long a member, before a justice for a weekly support, but the worthy magistrate observed, very loyally, that as the petitioner had been a state prisoner he could not be a deserving member, and dismissed the application; the petitioner is now to add, in conclusion, that the disease contracted in prison still afflicts him, sometimes prevents him from working altogether, at all times to his former extent, and appears to doom him to painful and incurable illness, poverty, and affliction; and he would therefore pray, that the House would be pleased to take his case into consideration, and give him such redress as may appear proper."
§ Mr. Finlay
said, that as he had, on former occasions, offered his sentiments on similar petitions, he did not intend to dwell on that which was now before the House; but this he would say, that the allegation of his innocence, which the pe- 949 titioner so much rested on, was wholly unfounded. The pretended object of the meeting was, he admitted, to devise some means of procuring relief; but the real one was of a very different nature. This statement he founded on the best of all evidence, the confessions of the persons who had been arrested with him, and who formed part of the meeting. With respect to the conduct of the magistrate, it was not what the petitioner had represented. He would boldly affirm that; for he knew all the magistrates in the district, and there never were a more respectable or humane set of men.
Sir F. Burdett
hoped the House would not take the assertions of the hon. member, though he had given them so great an extent, for absolute proof. The hon. member disbelieved the allegations in the petition, not only because he was acquainted with the circumstances of the case, but, what was a most extraordinary reason, because he knew all the magistrates. Surely such a statement as that did not afford any ground for withholding inquiry.
§ Mr. Brougham
asked, what did the argument of the hon. member amount to? He knew nothing of the truth or falsehood of the present petition, but, it seemed, he was acquainted with the groundlessness of petitions that had been drawn up by other persons, with whom the present petitioner was wholly unacquainted. The hon. member would not listen to this petition, because it came from the same quarter from which others had proceeded. Certainly it was from a man—a man of Glasgow—a man who complained of ill-treatment—and that was the whole similarity. Now, though some petitioners might have acted improperly, the petitions of all who complained of ill-treatment were not therefore to be looked upon as fabulous. The hon. member said the meeting was for a very different purpose from that pretended; and this statement he founded on the confessions of certain persons who had been taken. But there was another sort of evidence, which, he was sorry to say was falling into discredit in that House, namely, the evidence of witnesses before a jury. Why was not the man brought to trial? The hon. member said there was abundance of evidence in the confessions of the persons taken with him, and added to that, Mr. Salmond might have given his testimony. There was then abundant evidence to convict 950 him if he had been guilty of any crime; and why was it not put to the test? Had not this man a right to say, "You knew you could prove nothing against me, and therefore you abstained from bringing me to trial." Surely this was not a fair, a humane, or a decent way of treating an accused person.
§ Mr. Finlay
said, he could speak confidently to two points in the petition; first, that the petitioner was not innocent, as he had represented himself to be; and next, that the magistrates had not acted, improperly.
Mr. Brougham also presented a petition of a similar nature, from John Keith, a cotton spinner, of Glasgow, one of the persons arrested with the former petitioner. He also presented a petition from William Edgar, teacher of Bridgeton, by Glasgow; setting forth,
"That the Petitioner had the misfortune to be among the selected victims of ministerial vengeance in the late prosecutions for alleged treason, the origin and object of which have now been so fully developed to the country; that the petitioner conceives his case has a peculiar claim to the attention of the House, a case which he presumes is unparalleled in the history of British judicature; that a panel should be three times put on his defence for the same supposed crime, and three times called upon to plead to the same charges in successive indictments; that the petitioner was forced from his school by the imperious fiat of magisterial authority, and immured in a prison, to the great detriment of his health; that though he offered surety for his appearance when called upon, yet it was peremptorily refused; that he was hurried from one prison to another, bound like a felon, and hand-cuffed like a ruffian; that he was shut up in solitude for twenty weeks together; that he had there only the allowance and treatment of a common culprit, and that from his cell he was dragged before a tribunal as often as the pleasure or caprice of his prosecutors suggested; that the petitioner suffered all these in-dignities innocently, and consequently unjustly, is fully demonstrated by the result of the proceedings, a result which at once vindicated his character and covered his prosecutors with guilt, disgrace, and confusion; that while the petitioner submits his case to the House, and confidently expects a competent redress for the injuries he has sustained; he also hopes that 951 the House will, by a prompt and decisive interference, convince the nation in general, and ministers and their pliant instruments and agents in particular, that such flagrant proceedings will not in future be tolerated, and that the complaints and grievances of the meanest citizen shall not pass unredressed, nor their rights and liberties be violated with impunity; and praying the House to take the case of the petitioner under serious consideration, award him such indemnification for his complicated wrongs as he is injustice entitled to, and, above all, adopt such measures as may prevent the like in all time coming."
§ Mr. Boswell
said, that he did not rise to oppose the petition being laid on the table, but to observe that the acts alluded to in this as well as in the two former petitions, were not done under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, but according to the ordinary course of law. Therefore if the Indemnity bill were passed, the parties complaining would not be precluded from redress for such acts, if the complaints were well-founded.
§ Mr. Brougham
observed, that the justice of the remark which he made last night, namely, that some gentlemen were cheering the measure alluded to by the hon. member, without being aware of the character and object of that measure, was fully illustrated by the observation which the House had just heard. For the hon. member professed to think that the Indemnity bill did not propose to screen from any action at law such acts of oppression as the petitioner complained of, because such acts did not take place under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; whereas this bill extended to all acts done with a view to what was called the preservation of the public peace, or the suppression of conspiracy, since the 26th of January, 1817. Therefore the hon. gentleman misunderstood this bill, and upon that misunderstanding he should expect his vote against it in future.
§ Mr. Boswell
said, that he did not support the bill alluded to upon such specific grounds. He certainly was not aware that this bill extended to the cases stated by the petitioners; but persuaded of the loyal zeal of the persons complained of by the petitioners, he was glad to find that the bill proceeded to such an extent as the learned gentleman had stated, and he should the more readily vote for its adoption.
§ The Petitions were ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed.