HC Deb 03 December 1819 vol 41 cc701-5

Lord Castlereagh moved the order of the day for the House to resolve itself into a committee of the whole House on the Seditious Meetings Prevention Bill. His lordship said, this proceeding was merely pro forma. He would: in the committee move, that the blanks be filled up; and on Monday he would state to the House, before going into the debate, what alterations were intended to be made in the bill.

Mr. Tierney

said, perhaps the noble lord would now state what alterations were contemplated; particularly, whether it was intended that the bill should be temporary or permanent.

Lord Castlereagh

said, if he gave an explanation on one point, he must follow § it up by explaining several others. He therefore declined giving any explanation now. It would only give rise to a debate, for no useful purpose that he could perceive. The best course was, to render the bill intelligible, by filling up the blanks now, and on Monday he would give all farther information.

Mr. Tierney

said, he was only anxious to know, whether the noble lord had altered his opinion with respect to the passing a permanent measure. He could not see how an answer to such a question could provoke a debate. The noble lord's wrath against the people, which he had so strongly displayed within the last twenty-four hours, afforded but slight grounds for supposing that he had changed his opinion.

Lord Castlereagh

.— I feel no wrath against the people. I am only doing my duty.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

said, he conceived yesterday, that after the debate was over, the noble lord meant to state a general outline of the alterations he intended to make; but now he found the explanation would not be given until Monday. He wished, most undoubtedly, for the convenience of himself and other gentlemen, to know the extent to which the noble lord meant to press the measure. As he would not give him that information, and as he had no means of compelling him, he would take another opportunity, when the House was apprized of the noble lord's intention, to state the light in which he viewed the measure.

Mr. Tierney

gave notice, that he would in the committee, on Monday next, pro-, pose that the bill should not be permanent, but temporary.

Mr. Lambton

rose, not for the purpose of discussing the question before them, but because he felt bound to state his opinions to the House and the country, in consequence of a statement made by a noble earl in another place, that there were 14,000 or 15,000 men on the banks of the Weir and the Tyne, ready for rebellion. Without in any way accusing those from whom the noble earl received his information (of whom he had no knowledge), or supposing, for a moment, that the noble earl made the statement in any other than the most temperate manner, yet, residing, as he did, in that neighbourhood, employing many of the inferior classes of the population, as he did, and representing the county of Durham, as he did, he felt himself imperatively called upon to declare, that, from all the observation which he had been enabled personally to make, and from all the information which he had derived from his agents, there did not appear the slightest reason to believe that the assertion was founded in truth. He was bound to state this, as it might otherwise be supposed that his silence implied a concurrence in the accuracy of the noble earl's declaration. He wished also to state, with reference to the assertion cited in the debate of last night, that 700 men, with concealed arms; proceeded from a village three miles from Newcastle, to the meeting near that town on the 11th of October; that he entirely agreed with the hon. member for Northumberland in saying, that, from all the information which he had been able to procure on the subject, not one of the individuals alluded to was armed. Before he left that part of the country, he took all the means in his power to obtain information on the subject of the supposed secret manufacture of arms. It had been stated to him by the foreman of a large iron manufactory, in the neighbourhood, that he considered it impossible that any arms could be secretly manufactured by the workmen there employed; for that the raw material was weighed out to them in the first instance, and the manufactured article weighed when completed. It was impossible, therefore, that they could use any of the iron belonging to their employers; and in his opinion they were too poor to purchase iron. He sincerely believed, therefore, that from the stigma of being engaged in any such atrocious practice as that imputed to them, the population of his neighbourhood was entirely free. God forbid that he should say the noble earl did not implicitly believe the statement which he had made; but he had probably received his information from persons not entitled to credit. It had been suggested to him by some of his hon. friends, that he ought to name the noble earl. It was the earl of Strathmore. Although the inferior classes in his neighbourhood were firmly and enthusiastically attached to the cause of reform, he was persuaded they entertained no hostility towards the constitution and the government.

Sir M. W. Ridley

begged to be allowed to mention a few facts, illustrative of the real character of the meeting which had been held in the neighbourhood of New- castle. He was peculiarly anxious to do this, from the general impression, that many of the persons attending the meeting at Newcastle, on the 11th of October, were inhabitants of Newcastle itself. He had been particularly requested by the inhabitants of that town to state, that there was scarcely a single person present at the meeting who was really an inhabitant householder of Newcastle. The meeting was held on the town moor, being the only place thereabouts sufficiently large for the purpose. The great number assembled, owing to the neighbourhood not being accustomed to such assemblages, excited considerable alarm. There were about 30,000 or 40,000 persons. He took it upon him to state, from the information of an individual who was present, and who saw the radicals inarching in a body into the town, that they did not exceed 7,000 in number. When they reached the moor, and saw the assembly, and the kind of persons who were likely to take the lead in it, the greater part of them turned off, and went away, dispersing very peaceably. On the best information and inquiry, he was persuaded that there were no persons with arms present. He also wished to state, with reference to the other subject mentioned by the mayor of New-castle in his letter to lord Sidmouth, namely, the turbulent conduct of the keelmen, that it had no connexion whatever with the disaffection which was supposed to exist in that part of the country. It happened about the period of the meeting that there was an unfortunate disagreement between the keelmen and the shipowners. He had little doubt that the meeting was fixed by the leaders for the 11th of October, in the hope that they would be joined by the unemployed keel-men. It was highly creditable to the keelmen, that those who did attend the meeting were influenced only by curiosity, and took no part in the proceedings. He had that morning received a letter from the secretary of a society, calling itself the society of "Political Protestants" in that neighbourhood, a part of which he thought himself bound injustice to read. It could scarcely be necessary for him to observe, that he believed the principles of such a society were most mischievous, and that he was determined to do all that he could to put such principles down. But as the letter to which he had alluded disavowed any arming on the part of the reformers, he would read a passage from it, which was as follows:—"We challenge our most inveterate opponents to say that we have in a single instance evinced a spirit of disloyalty. Our meetings have been open, and we have occasionally had the honour of the company of the officers of the police. Our books and papers are to be seen by all who choose to look at them. As to the accusation of our having concealed arms, we are persuaded that his worship, the mayor of Newcastle, has been misinformed on that subject. We are not quite such fools as some persons take us to be. We know that it is the right of every Englishman openly to have arms, and we also know, that to conceal arms is illegal. If, therefore, we wished to have arms, we should buy them openly, and hang them up in our houses. Our object is not revolution, but reform." Of course he could not pledge himself to the truth of one word which he had read, but he had thought that justice to the persons in question required that he should state their own character of themselves.

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that whether the 700 men who marched to Newcastle from a neighbouring village were armed or not, was immaterial. What had fallen from the hon. baronet was perfectly sufficient to show that there were abundant grounds for apprehension and vigilance. That a meeting of between 30,000 and 40,000 persons had assembled, of whom 7,000 formed a regularly organized body, was a fact on which comment would be superfluous.

The House then resolved itself into the committee. The blanks in the bill were filled up; and the House resumed.