, on moving the order of the day for the recommitment of this bill, thought it requisite to state to the House, before it went into the committee, certain alterations which he had made in the bill, and which he conceived might vary the opinions which certain hon. gentlemen had formed upon it. The recessity of the first alteration which he should mention to them was suggested by the consideration that the bill, as at present constituted, would affect certain meetings which were now held, and which had no relation whatever to either church or state. As the scope and object of this bill was not to suppress discussion, but merely to put down those large and tumultuous meetings which had of late so frequently menaced the public tranquillity, fee had excepted from the operation of it the meetings held by the different trades, in order to consider any public matter of grievance affecting their interests. He had once thought of limiting the numbers attending such meetings; but as there 758 was nothing, on which it was so difficult to legislate as, numbers, he, should, instead of making any fixed number, as 300, the limit beyond which it would be improper to pass, say, that all their meetings that were held in private rooms and not in the open air were untouched by the present bill. With regard to that part of the bill which rendered it a misdemeanor for any person to attend a meeting who was not a freeholder, householder, or inhabitant of the district in which the meeting was held, it had been suggested to him, that a person might be accidentally there, and thus violate the law without intending it; he, therefore, submitted to the House, whether it would not be enough to make this clause apply only to those who wilfully and knowingly attended such meetings, and who refused to depart, after the proclamation for strangers to disperse had been read by the magistrates. Another case had also been put to him, that strangers might be purposely sent there; were they to be excepted from this act? By no means; if they remained after proclamation made, the parishioners might constitute themselves into constables, and carry before a police magistrate any person so staying there. It had also been thrown out, that persons having property in one parish, and yet residing in another, should be allowed to attend at the meetings of those parishes in which they had. property: he had no objection to such a proposal, and therefore would allow them to attend, if their freehold reached a certain stipulated amount, and had been in their possession a certain stipulated time. He had now stated the principal alterations which were to be made in the bill, and would not detain the House any-longer, than to say a few words on what had fallen from hon. members opposite, namely—that it ought to be a local and temporary measure. If it was to be made local and temporary, it would be better to entitle it a bill for propagating tumult and sedition; for if it were confined to certain counties, and was not to be extended beyond them, without either a proclamation of the council, or a recommendation of the lord-lieutenant and magistracy, could any person, who had viewed how little the radicals and their itinerant orators thought of marching twenty or five-and-twenty miles, doubt for a moment that they would transfer their meetings from the counties included in the act, to counties which were yet 759 untainted with their doctrines? And, considering the delay which would be necessarily incurred in gaining a proclamation of the council, would it be right to give them so much time during which they might circulate their notions with impunity? He, therefore, thought that the House would not be consulting either the interest, security, or tranquillity of the country, if they did not give to this bill a general operation. As to the policy of rendering this measure one of temporary duration, he had previously stated to the House his impression; and he was now, on further reflection, convinced of the propriety of it, because it was expedient to deprive all future meetings of the tumultuous and menacing character which they at present possessed. He had, however, no objection to pass this bill under restrictions similar to those which the House had adopted upon former occasions. When the Granville act was passed for the decision of controverted elections, parliament was fully aware of the necessity which existed for enacting some permanent law on that subject; it did not, however, at once determine that the Grenville act should be that law, but passed it for seven years, in order that the country might have full experience of its efficacy before it was entered as a permanent act upon the statute-book. It was to such a view of the question that he had now bent his judgment. A right hon. gentleman opposite had said, that he should certainly move, that this measure should only be of temporary duration.
§ Mr. Tierney
begged leave to correct the noble lord. He had only said, that he would make a motion to that effect, if no other member in the House was found willing to do it.
trusted, that if either the right hon. gentleman or any other hon. member proposed an amendment to that effect, they would not limit the duration of the measure in question to too short a time; for he could assure them, that nothing would, in his opinion, be more prejudicial to the safety of the country, than to pass such a bill for an inadequate period. At the same time he would candidly inform them, that if the period which they proposed appeared to him sufficiently long, he would not object to their amendment. What he conceived ought to be the shortest period was five years, and to the end of the session of parliament ensuing immediately after their 760 expiration. If, therefore, they should propose that period, he would acquiesce in the proposal; if they fixed on a shorter period, he should as certainly oppose it. At all events, it was his determination to take the sense of the House on the propriety of rendering the measure of a general nature; neither should he submit to limiting its duration to a less period than five years, unless he was compelled to do so by finding a majority of the House entertaining a different opinion from his own. He then moved, that the bill should be re-committed.
§ Colonel Beaumont
maintained, that a measure of this nature ought not to be passed for so long a period as five years, but from one session to six weeks after the commencement of the ensuing session, till the danger which called for it ceased to exist. The hon. member was proceeding, when he was called to order by
§ The Speaker
, who informed him, that if he had any alteration to propose in the bill, it must be either done in the committee, or by a mandatory instruction of the House to the committee, to take such alteration into their consideration.
§ Mr. Tierney
thought that the most solemn course which the House could adopt would be to give mandatory instructions to the committee to limit the duration of the measure either to five years, or any other period which they might think proper to appoint.
said, that if the instructions to the committee were of a general nature, he should not oppose them: if they were specific, he should oppose, or amend, or agree to them, as he should think good, after they were proposed to the House.
§ Mr. Curwen
said, it was now clear to the House, that the noble lord found the bill itself so faulty, that he was obliged to propose very material alterations in it. He hoped the noble lord would proceed in the same way, and would make alterations still more important. He did not think the measure was called for by the state of the public mind; he did not think the power or the influence of those who called themselves the leaders of the radical reformers, was at all of the nature that had been represented; he acknowledged, however, that it was both important and desirable that those persons should be put down; they should not exist in a well-regulated government. He would gladly 761 lend his support to measures for their suppression. The bill before them would not effect that object—it would not put down the radicals; it would not accomplish the objects it had in view. He was convinced that if the noble lord had expressed in. that House a favourable opinion of reform, the radical leaders, who were objects of contempt and abhorrence, would feel most affected and distressed at that declaration. The noble lord had admitted that the great body of the people were sound in their principles; why, then, should he innovate on the rights of the whole people—why should He introduce a measure which went to impair the constitution? This, he feared, was but the beginning of a system which might be carried further, to the injury and misfortune of the country. Why did not the noble lord apply those measures, which, under alarming circumstances, were found effective in other parts of the empire? In Ireland the Insurrection act gave power to the magistrates to prevent all meetings; he thought such an act preferable to the present measure. The noble lord had stated, on a former occasion, that he was anxious to conciliate the country. If he was sincere, he had now the opportunity; but that object was to be gained by measures far different from those which ministers pursued. He could, not but complain of an attempt made by gentlemen from the treasury bench to implicate the opposition side of the House with the radicals. Such conduct he considered extremely unparliamentary and unfair. He could not but disapprove of the conduct of the right hon. member for Liverpool, not now in his place. He had made exaggerated statements of the public situation, which he (Mr. Curwen) could not agree to. As to the conduct of the magistrates of Manchester, he never did believe they had been guilty of the great cruelties imputed to them; but he did believe they had been guilty of great rashness and indiscretion. The noble lord had spoken the other night of the jealousy and discontent of the disaffected, and of the leaders of the reformers; but did he think that jealousy and discontent were confined to these? He could assure the noble lord, that a great proportion of the people—of the loyal and respectable people—were extremely jealous of the measures of ministers—that they doubt very much of the noble lord's veneration for the constitution, or regard for the liberties of the 762 people. The noble lord could not doubt but that this was the real feeling of the country. Those measures had sunk deep into the public heart. Many late measures, indeed, had disgusted the country; particularly, he would say, the act of Indemnity which had passed that House— an act which was opposed to the principles of justice—which deprived individuals of redress, whose liberties and whose fortunes were invaded, and who were deprived of all means of vindicating their innocence, if they were innocent. He disliked, he said, the principle of the present bill; yet if it were limited to one year, he would support it. He would wish for a measure more intelligible—he would prefer a bill similar to the Irish Insurrection act, which would give power to the magistrates, to prevent all meetings, if they thought necessary. He would give them that power for a limited time; because no one who knew the magistrates of this country could suppose that they would exercise that power unjustly. He repeated, that the danger of government was not most to be apprehended from visionary men— there was a danger of greater magnitude. The best informed, the most respectable were of opinion, that there was a power operating on that House, which did not make it the provident and faithful guardian of the public purse. They desired reform—it was expected speedily—and if the House did not grant it, he feared it would be reformed in a manner which no rational or moderate man would wish. He should lament to see any reform which would go to overturn the constitution. Distress was one of the great sources of the public discontent—distress created by taxation. This distress, no bill, no measure of coercion, would mitigate. It was impossible to continue their manufactures to the extent that they had been carried on. They should look to other sources of prosperity, besides the sources of foreign markets. When he heard the assertion of the noble lord, with respect to the distress of this country as originating from the distress of America, he was astonished. He was satisfied the noble lord would not assert what he did not think was true, but it only proved that the noble lord had not paid that attention to the real situation of the country which he ought to have paid when he made that statement. We had practised on foreign countries an unmixed system of monopoly; but they 763 would now practise that system against us which we had practised against them. As an evidence of this disposition, he would mention, that when government laid a duty on rape seed, the Dutch imposed a duty on rape cake, which prevented its importation into this country. If the noble ford would look into the real situation of the country, he would find that her whole resources did not exceed three hundred millions, whilst her taxes amounted to sixty millions. In such a state of things, great alterations were necessary—much of reform—much of conciliation and of wisdom to save her. The bill before the House was evidently drawn up in a hasty manner. He would state one clause of it. A person subject to the penalties of the bill was liable to be brought immediately before the judges of assize or of sessions, to be put upon his trial; he was entirely to depend upon the favour of the judge for an opportunity to produce his witnesses, and to prepare his defence. He had no doubt what the feelings of the judges would be, remarkable as they were for a tender and a pure regard for the liberties of the subject; but he asked, was this a situation in which persons charged with an offence against law should be placed. It was desirable that the executive government should have the confidence of the people, yet he felt it his duty to state, that he believed the executive had not that confidence, and that the measure before the House was not one which was likely to obtain it.
Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald
expressed his satisfaction at what had fallen from the noble lord, and entirely concurred in the alterations suggested. He concurred also in the principle of the bill immediately before the House: in Ireland it had been carried into execution with effect, and without danger, though he could not persuade himself that it could be made local in Great Britain without an increase of the peril it was intended to diminish. One of the amendments of the noble lord he particularly approved, as without it the Catholics of Ireland would not have been able to assemble and approach the throne by petition. This change proved that it was not the design of ministers to interfere with the exercise of legitimate rights that did not endanger the security of the country. He might safely assert, that in no instance, for many years, had the meetings of the Catholics been attended 764 with a display of popular strength, or any attempt to intimidate the government. In Ireland, the meetings of the Catholics had invariably been under cover generally in some of their places of worship; and if the amendment of the noble lord did not precisely meet that case, it could be more distinctly worded in the committee.
§ Sir Robert Wilson
felt himself called upon to resist the principle of the bill, and the aggregate system of measures that were now to be imposed upon the country. He had had frequent opportunities of hearing them defended, but never successfully; and it was his conviction, from a strong sense of what was due to the good of his country, that the series of bills recently brought into parliament ought to subject the noble lord to articles of impeachment [Hear]. He repeated, that they ought to subject the noble lord to articles of impeachment, for they introduced capital innovations—they introduced arbitrary power, and subverted the real elements of the constitution. His object was not to use inflammatory language, not to excite feeling out of doors. This was a crisis when every member was bound to express his conviction strongly, that he might not aid and abet in the ruin of his country. The condition to which it was now reduced had been occasioned by misrule, by a total inattention to the views and wishes of the people; by a refusal to listen to their complaints and to redress their wrongs. This denial of justice, this determination not to listen but to proceed in the same wild career of extravagance, was heaping coals of fire on the heads of the people—pouring oil of vitriol into their angry wounds. The noble lord had taken credit to himself for lenity in these measures, inasmuch as he had not subjected to the penalty of death any person who persisted in remaining at a parochial meeting, though it had no riotous or tumultuous character, excepting what he derived from the presence of that individual; but he would assert that if this system was persevered in—if the government of the law was to be converted into a government of force—if tyranny was to be established on the ruins of liberty, he cared little who were to be the ministers of the Crown, or whether he himself was to be one of the first or the last of their victims. He would never relinquish the course he was pursuing; and he trusted that the people would never abandon the rights to which they were born. "Ad 765 decus, ad libertatem, nati sumus; aut hæc teneamus, aut cum dignitate moriemur." With regard to the particular bills, he must observe that training and drilling was already an offence, and he admitted that government was bound to protect itself; but he entreated the House to look at the bill for seizing arms, for seizing them by night as well as by day, under which any individual, with whatever motive might make a deposition before a magistrate, and procure the house, the castle of a man to be broken open and entered at midnight. Suppose the constable, armed with his authority, came for the purpose, what knowledge had the housekeeper of the warrant? and for defending himself against those he considered the spoilers of his property, he might not only be tried for murder, but for rebellion. Suppose men in military uniform (for every thing was now done by the military) were to come and insist upon admission; the housekeeper, unsuspecting their real purpose, and knowing that he had nothing to fear from a search, might open his door and thus admit those who had availed themselves of this disguise to plunder his house and outrage his family. He begged to read to the House, as a contrast to the present measure, a sentence from a statute passed in the reign of William 3rd, when it was believed that the papists had designs against the peace of the country, and had accordingly provided themselves with weapons of offence. "Any two or more justices of the peace may from time to time, by warrant under their hands and seals, authorize and empower any person or persons in the day time, and with the assistance of a constable, &c. to search for arms." Such was the law in the time of king William; no search could be made but in the day; yet in the year 1819, the power was extended either to the night or day. And what was the excuse for this change—for this invasion of the rights of Englishmen? Truly, nothing, but the tyrant's plea, the plea of Richard 3rd for one of the murders he had committed:What! think you we are Turks or Infidels!Or that we would, against the form of law,Proceed thus rashly,But that the extreme peril of the case,The peace of England, and our person's safety,Enforced us to this execution?With regard to the bill restricting the freedom of the press; the noble lord 766 had very kindly informed the House that he did not mean to abolish the trial by jury. So it appeared; but the very mention of the possibility of such a thing showed that it had at some time or other entered into the contemplation of ministers; and every body knew that the conception of men in power were generally quickly followed by the acts themselves. It had been urged formerly by the noble lord, when the price of the stamp was raised, that it would interfere with the existence of a cheap press? Would not this new law interfere with the existence of a cheap press? Would it not prevent any man, whatever might be his talents, unless he had property also, from conducting a publication of the kind? Besides, it subjected every editor or proprietor of a newspaper to transportation on a second conviction; and men of character would not run the risk of embarking in such a hazardous undertaking. If this step were allowed, others must follow; and we should go on from invasion to invasion, until a writer was reduced to the situation described by the author of Figaror—"Provided I say nothing against the powers that be nothing against religion, politics, or morals — nothing against the court and its vices—against somebody, or any body that may be somebody, I may be at liberty to publish what I please—subject nevertheless to the provisions aforesaid."[A laugh]. He had great respect for the chief body of the clergy; their lives were devoted to their laborious profession, and were examples to the rest of the community; but the, church ought not to forget that it was a church of peace and charity, not of war and intolerance; and its ministers ought not to exchange the pastoral staff for the ensigns of magisterial authority; they ought not to be employed in levying war against the people of England. He trusted that gentlemen would take care how they lent their support to such a system as was now attempted to be imposed upon the nation; they ought to recollect that it was most costly—that if persevered in, it must increase the taxes; and that, with the increase of taxes, distress and disaffection would be augmented. Let not gentlemen flatter themselves that the venerable fabric whose foundations were now assailed would last their time; and that if it fell, its ruins would only injure their posterity Louis 14th had exclaimed, "After me the deluge;" but here danger 767 was at hand; national bankruptcy and revolution would soon open the floodgates of popular fury, and ministers and their adherents would find no ark to which they could fly for shelter. A requisition had been circulated and signed in Southwark, and another was in progress through the whole metropolis; but the noble lord had not allowed time to ascertain the sense of the more distant parts of the country. Supposing he was able, to carry his projects through by triumphant majorities, what would the people say, but that the House of Commons did not care for their opinions, or regard their interests? [Some symptoms of impatience by coughing, &c. were here expressed]. He was aware that what he was offering must be very offensive to many gentlemen, but he must do his duty; it would be most of all unpleasant to a certain class of members to whom the noble lord had alluded on a former night, when he contemptuously said, that all the pensions in the list did not amount to the, wages of the radicals for a single day. True, but did the noble lord flatter himself that the people would not see through this shallow argument? Were they not fully aware of the importance of abolishing pensions when they saw that it was by virtue of them that the noble lord could come down to the House, not only without the fear of punishment, but with the certainty of triumph, to outrage privileges held sacred from time immemorial, and recognized in the Bill of Rights, the violation of which was an act of suicide on the part of that House, destroying its own power, and annulling the relationship between the people and their representatives. But one mode now remained for saving the people, and that mode was, for independent men of all parties to combine in erecting a constitutional standard, and the motto "Nolumus leges Angliæ mutari."
§ Mr. Grenfell
said, that he should not have risen but for the observations of his hon. friend who had just sat down. No person in the House heard the gallant officer with greater satisfaction than he did on any question but a political one: on those matters they were as far divided as the Poles. He had commenced by observing, that the noble lord deserved impeachment for introducing the measures now under consideration: if that impeachment were extended to individuals who heartily concurred with the noble lord, 768 he (Mr. Grenfell) would be happy to bear his share of the crime and the punishment. [Cheers.] The gallant general had further asserted that he was not in the habit of using inflammatory language, either in the House or out of it. Had the memory of the gallant general totally failed him? Had he forgotten what had passed not long ago at a meeting in the borough of Southwark? Had he forgotten the memorable occasion when he shook hands—when he publicly gave the fraternal embrace to Mr. Hunt? Continued cheers from all sides.] On that occasion, if the reports in the public journals spoke truly, the gallant general had asserted, that England was the most degraded country on the face of the earth. Was not that inflammatory language? Next he had maintained, that the time must arrive when the House must repent of the measures it now thought wise and necessary. If he (Mr. Grenfell) should at any time have occasion to give vent to his useless sorrow at the decision he now felt justified in making, the gallant general would be the last man he should ask to wipe; away his unavailing tears, [continued cheers.] He would not follow him through his observations in detail upon the bill, but he would take that opportunity of stating, that if the measure against seditious meetings was limited to any period short of that named by the noble lord, it would be of no benefit, and the object in view would he utterly disappointed.
§ Sir R. Wilson
said, he hoped the House would allow him to say a few words in explanation. He had never known Mr. Hunt before the meeting in Southwark; but he certainly did then give him his hand, because he conceived that he had been greatly injured, and because in Mr. Hunt's person, his own rights, and the rights of all, had been violated. He gave him his hand as a pledge that he would go hand in hand with him, to exert all his efforts as a representative in order to obtain redress. In doing so, he conceived that he did no more than his duty; but he would have felt himself disgraced if he had given his hand to any of those who had their hands stained with the blood of their countrymen, and of those who had sanctioned their conduct.
§ Mr. V. Blake
observed, that he had given all the attention in his power to the gallant knight's arguments, but he entertained a totally different opinion respect- 769 ing this measure, and others connected with it. He considered them measures for the preservation of the country against the dangers which threatened it. If amputation was necessary for the preservation of the vital parts of the constitution, he should have agreed to it: but he did not think that necessary, nor did he consider these measures as affecting any part of the constitution. Such speeches as were made in that House by the hon. knight and others near him, afforded to the disaffected an opportunity of deluding the distressed. He was perfectly sure that nothing was farther from their intention than to occasion such an evil: but however excellent their hearts might be, their heads appeared not so well suited for public discussion as they thought them. They had convulsed the country with complaints, because of the refusal of that House to institute an inquiry into the events at Manchester. It was extremely ludicrous to see them urging inquiry in such circumstances; for let them only consider in what situation they would be placed if an inquiry were gone into, and that House were to address the Prince Regent, praying that the attorney-general should prosecute certain persons. Without inquiry, criminal informations could be applied for, or bills might be presented to the grand jury, or civil actions might be brought; but if the attorney-general were to prosecute in consequence of the ad- dress of that House to the Prince Regent, he must file informations ex officio, and the accused could at once put his hand into his pocket and produce a plea in bar by presenting the letter of thanks. An inquiry would therefore be the surest way to prevent the accused from punishment, if they were guilty.
§ Mr. Ricardo
said, he was anxious very briefly to express his opinion on this subject. He thought that, in the course of this discussion, sufficient attention had not been given to the importance of the right to be curtailed. If the people's right of meeting and petitioning consisted only in the right of meeting to petition for the removal of grievances, it was not of so much importance, and the curtailment of it was not of such serious interest. But the right was, a right of meeting in such numbers, and showing such a front to ministers as would afford a hope that bad measures would be abandoned, and that public opinion would be respected. 770 It might be compared, in this view, with the right of that House to address the Crown. If the right of that House consisted in passing resolutions only and if they could not follow up their resolutions by refusing the supplies, and by culling up a spirit of resistance in the country, the Crown could despise their interference. It was the same with the right of the people to petition. If they could not meet in such numbers as to make them be respected, their petitions would have no effect. At the same time, he admitted, that those meetings were attended with very great inconvenience. It could not be denied that circumstances might arise when the government should be fairly administered, and yet distress might arise from causes which the government could not control, and wicked and designing men might produce a great degree of mischief; it did not appear to him that such meetings were the sort of check which ought to exist in a well-administered government; but it was necessary to have some check, because if they left men to govern without any control in the people, the consequence would be despotism. The check which he would give, could be established only by a reform of parliament. Then, instead of petitioning, and from the worst part of the people perhaps, being the check, that House would be come the best check which any government could have, and with that check the people would be perfectly satisfied. He had read with surprise the abhorrence of radical reform expressed by several members of that House. He believed there were among the advocates of that measure, designing and wicked men. But he also knew that there was a great number of very honest men who believed universal suffrage and annual parliaments were the only means of protecting the rights of the people, and establishing an adequate check upon government. He had the same object as they professed to have in view; but he thought that suffrage far from universal would effect that object, and-form a sufficient check. He therefore thought it would be madness to attempt a reform to that extent, when a less extensive reform would be sufficient.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
said, he felt great reluctance in addressing the House; but his duty as the representative of so conspicuous a body superseded his reluctance. He concurred in the opinions of the hon. gentleman who spoke last, so far as 771 they went. The House were called upon, in the most extraordinary way, to adopt measures affecting the rights and liberties of the people, without giving the people sufficient opportunity of knowing what passed. It was impossible that the people could know in some parts of the country what was doing, for even the city of London had not yet been able to present their opinions to the House, though he believed the sheriffs were now at the door with them. It was three months since the events took place on which those measures were founded. If the necessity for passing such measures was so urgent, why had not parliament been called together earlier, in order to give the people abundant time to meet and to express their sentiments? It appeared extraordinary that ministers should have been so well assured of the illegality of the meeting at Manchester, as to have at once issued thanks in the name of the Prince Regent, and yet that they had not previously informed the people of the illegality. At least the time had now arrived when they ought to state the grounds on which their thanks were founded: but he was yet, after having seen the papers on their table, as much in the dark as ever. All the legal authorities in that House were unable to come to an opinion as to the legality or illegality of the meeting. In a case of so much doubt and difficulty, was it right, was it proper, to disperse the meeting in a manner which terminated so calamitously? An inquiry was called for, not merely in order to ascertain the conduct of the yeomanry and of the magistrates, but to ascertain the conduct of his majesty's ministers, and what communications they had previously had with the magistrates. A meeting had been held in Smithfield some time before the meeting at Manchester, and it was then the opinion of all the legal gentlemen, the learned gentlemen opposite included, that the meeting was perfectly legal. The whole of the measures adopted with regard to that meeting had been pre-concerted. Harrison was to be apprehended, and the military were to attack, if any resistance had been made. He knew these things perfectly; as he was the representative in the common council of the ward in which the meeting was held. At that meeting a great body had attended from mere curiosity to know what passed. If any resistance had been made, if an arm had been lifted up, the military would have 772 been called in, and the same scenes would have followed which were occasioned by the interference of the military at Manchester. He was, therefore, of opinion, that the magistrates would not have so acted, unless they had instructions from ministers. His opinions upon such meetings were known to Several members of the House. He thought them dangerous, impolitic, foolish beyond description, and particularly injurious to rational reform. His majesty's ministers could not have found more effectual means than such meetings afforded for injuring rational re-form, and for obtaining such measures as those now before them. But if the example of lord Fitzwilliam had been generally followed, gentlemen of character and talents would be listened to and respected, and visionary and itinerant orators would not be attended to. That House was called the grand inquest of the nation; it was so, not merely to inquire into the concealment of arms, but to inquire into the oppressions of ministers. It might be said, there were no oppressions, for ministers were such good sort of men, But the people said there were oppressions. Let the grand inquest inquire into it. All the remedies hitherto applied had failed, The Habeas Corpus act had been suspended; but when the suspension was removed, the people were worse than ever. It was therefore necessary to inquire into the real causes of complaint. Declarations of loyalty had come from part of the people, but at the head of such declarations were always to be found persons who held places or received private favours from the government. There was no doubt of the loyalty of such men. Certainly not; and why did they profess their loyalty but in order to brand all others with a charge of disloyalty? Were two-thirds of the nation who called for inquiry and redress to be disregarded, and acts passed in that House to their prejudice, merely because one-third, and these either self-interested or influenced, made loyal declarations? He had attended popular meetings for five and twenty years, and was representative of a ward containing 4,000 families; and he could assure the House that he had found more intelligence in the lower and middle classes than certain gentlemen were disposed to give them credit for. He always thought that their notions of reform were wild and visionary, and destructive of their own object; but when they were charged with desiring a revolution, he 773 could not refrain from expressing his astonishment at a charge so unfounded. Was it not known that sir Robert Raymond, afterwards lord chief justice of England, had advocated the same opinion? Was it not known that they had been the opinions of one, than whom a purer spirit never appeared before the tribunal of his maker? He meant Mr. Granville Sharpe The people had read and reflected upon the subject of parliamentary reform. They understood the source of their grievances as well as any member of that House. They erred only in their estimate of the necessary remedy, it was the fashion to speak of the people as a different species—as if they were insects or worms; and every butterfly-gentleman, when far succeeded in emerging from among them turned round and said, I have got wings.; I leave the people behind me; Jet their impertinence be repressed." The object of many measures lately passed was, to break down the middle classes; and the consequence now was, that they could not afford labour and wages sufficient; to the working classes. Did the noble lord suppose that his coercive measures would counteract the: effects of impolicy and excessive taxation? No; the noble lord did not think it. Why did he first propose this measure to last for ever and now propose it for five; years, but because he knew that it was not-sufficient as a remedy? Distress, discontent, and irritation would not thus be remedied, nor could they be thus effectually suppressed. They would burst forth like a volcanic eruption, sweeping everything along, and destroying all in their course, if, that House did not apply a sufficient remedy. If they gave this remedy to the in noble lord, would he be satisfied? No; when they put down meetings (to use a favourite phrase) by such measures, they must also have 10,000 or 12,000 men added to the military force of the country. It was all a piece of trickery. It was part of a system to abolish the Bill of Rights. Because the people had shown a formidable front, and petitioned for the preservation of their liberties, they must now be driven back. But he could tell the House, that if they passed a resolution that they would take the grievances of the people into consideration, and if, as a means of doing so, they dismissed his majesty's ministers—instead of complaints, they would have addresses of congratulation from all pans of the country. They talked of pre- 774 serving the constitution: was it now found inadequate? We had rebellions and insurrections in the country, and yet the constitution survived. It had been the fashion of late to suspend the Habeas Corpus act; but the object now was to put down the constitution. If this bill should be effectual for five years, the people would never again meet like Britons. In a period of the reign of Charles 2nd, the people petitioned for the assembling of parliament, for the parliament was then with the people, and the courtiers congratulated the king upon his deliverance from parliament. It was not so now, for parliament was occupied in deluding the king, the people, and themselves. Then the House of Commons expelled sir Thomas Withens for expressing his disapprobation of petitions to the king to assemble parliament. They addressed the king against sir George Jeffries, recorder of London, for his activity in the same cause. Sir George was then in great favour with the court of aldermen, as he perhaps would be with the aldermen of the present day. There was silence for some years; but the consequence of those violations of the rights of the people was the Revolution; and if the noble lord succeeded in his measures now, the same consequence would follow. Ministers appeared to have taken that page of history for their model, so far as that was possible in the present state of opinion, and of the public press. It was, indeed, still conceded, that lord-lieutenants, sheriffs, and mayors, could call meetings, but the first could be dismissed. Sheriffs might be appointed on the recommendation of-lord-lieutenants, and the House knew how mayors would act. The lord mayor of London had refused to call a common-hall when three million of new taxes were to be imposed. The House was now legislating without evidence. Anonymous evidence was no evidence. The 7,000 armed men turned out to be all men in buckram. The lord mayor had said, that he had evidence on oath that fire was to be pat to the city, and the inhabitants to be murdered. Why was not that evidence on the table? The lord mayor must have contributed the important information to lord Sidmouth. He could not suppose that any lord mayor would have said so, if he did not believe it. If, then, the lord mayor of London was so practised on, must not others have been practised on in the same manner? The districts that were now alleged to be 775 disaffected contained 1,000,000 of inhabitants. Our armies were principally recruited from those districts. If they were to be so recruited again, they would willingly enter the army; for, as an ingenious writer had eloquently said, they would see "that death was less certain, and more honourable, in the army than at home." But how could such troops be relied on? When there had been danger of invasion, the cry was, "Let us all unite;" and parliament put arms into the hands of those men. But we were told, that the difference was, that now disaffection stalked abroad; that then a foreign enemy was to-be opposed. But the disaffection was either, entirely imaginary, or forced by distress and misgovernment. Even the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act was not so formidable as this measure, because, then, the people might meet: they could then have the assistance of men of talents to stimulate them to acts of energy. If this bill were to make it imperious on magistrates to call meetings, and if they were to preside, and only to see that no stranger addressed those meetings, the measure would be less objectionable. How was the slave trade abolished, but by meetings all over the country, and by individuals travelling for the purpose who got much credit for their conduct? If he were to use such language as had been used on a similar subject by lords Chatham and Camden, against lord Loughborough for, preventing the remonstrance of the city of London from being received, he should excite such, a storm as would oblige him to sit down, and perhaps call forth the rebuke of an hon. gentleman Taxes had not been reduced, though the value of property had fallen, more than half. The same lavish expenditure was attempted to be supported by diminished means. If those who were represented as so dangerous were let alone, the whole cause of alarm would soon subside. At the last meeting in the city. no radicals had attended: but there was a strong feeling for rational reform throughout the country. To give freedom by means of reform to the people, was the only means of restoring tranquillity now, and of being prepared for any emergency.
§ Mr. Wilson
observed, that it seemed pretty generally admitted on all sides, that the evil arose from want of employment and from heavy taxes. Was it possible, then, to remove these causes of discontent? He should be most happy if the poorer and the labouring classes of so- 776 ciety could be convinced of the impossibility. Of this, however, all who heard him must be satisfied: every member of that House well knew that the unfortunate state of things to which he had alluded could not be done away, that our manufactures must continue depressed, and that taxes must continue to be paid. He was not, he trusted, insensible to the sufferings now experienced, nor, in giving his support to these measures, did he conceive that; he was; preventing their mitigation. The condition of the lower orders he hoped soon to see ameliorated. But it appeared to, him that the proposed measures were necessary, if were only for the purpose of showing that the sentiments often pronounced at public meetings were not the unanimous sentiments of the county. It had been urged, that the people had not sufficient confidence in that House, and that in their belief a majority of it gave its votes as a matter of course to the ministers of the Crown. But was not this likely to be always the case? And if the gentlemen opposite were to come into power, would they not think themselves also justified in making use of the patronage of government? For one, he must frankly say, that he preferred the term of five years for the duration of the bill now before the House to a shorter period: a shorter time would, he thought, only serve to keep men's minds in their present state of agitation. As long as that should continue, there would be a necessity for in- creased expense, and an enlarged military establishment. He wished to see that necessity at an end. With these impressions, and adverting to all the circumstances in which this country was now placed, he felt it his duty, as an honest man, and an Englishman, to vote for the present measure.
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey
could not agree that the true remedy for the grievances of this country was to be found in the multiplied and complicated provisions of the system now recommended to their adoption. So far from allaying the present discontents, or putting an end to existing evils, he believed these enactments would aggravate and increase them. There were, in his opinion, but two certain and effectual remedies; one, a diminution, or perhaps rather an equalization, of the taxes; the other, a parliamentary reform. The former was, perhaps, that which called for more immediate attention. There were many persons who had large property, 777 and especially in land, who derived advantage, instead of suffering loss, from our present system of taxation, connected as it was with the whole system of our internal policy. A given rental might pay a larger amount of taxes than it did thirty years ago, but that rental was itself augmented in a much more considerable pro- portion. A landed proprietor of 5,000l. per annum was before charged with perhaps 300l. a year: he now paid double that sum, but his entire estate had also, during the intervening period, been doubled in value. Had manufacturing or any species of labour experienced a similar advantage? He concurred with the view lately taken of this subject by a noble lord; he wished to see the duties on salt and other articles subjected to an excise differently modelled, and, if a property tax was to be resorted to, that it might be attended with various gradations, and fall chiefly on the richer orders. Nothing would more completely satisfy the minds of the labouring classes that their interests were consulted, and prove to them that there was a disposition to sympathize with their wants and sufferings. He had, however, one very strong objection to the measures before the House. They were bound to consider, when they were about to create new powers, to whom it was that they intrusted them. His majesty's ministers had lost the confidence of the nation upon this subject. It had expected that parliament was called-together for the purpose of going into an inquiry respecting it, and his own constituents had abstained from publicly assembling to consider the transactions at Manchester under this persuasion, conceiving that, as a full investigation would so soon lake place, their meeting might for regarded as a mark of their disposition to prejudge the question. This had been a general belief, but the county was disappointed. The learned gentlemen on the other side had contended, that the House was an inadequate tribunal, and that the subject would come more properly under the cognizance of courts of law. The hon. and learned solicitor-general had, a few nights since, made a triumphant appeal on the ground of the inquest at Oldham. He had asked whether it was right to take the question out of the hands of a court specially constituted for the purpose of conducting inquiries of this nature? What now had become of this reasoning? For his own part, he must declare that he had 778 a very sincere respect for the judges of the King's-bench, but he could not understand the grounds on which they proceeded in putting a stop to the inquest. It appeared to him that they had gone out of their way on that occasion. It was new to him to find a man allowed to convert his own wrong into a justification of himself. The coroner was absolved from the necessity of resuming an inquest in consequence of his own irregularity; and what chance was there now that the merits of the case would ever be ascertained? The court had, indeed, referred to the grand jury, and stated that the matter might be safely left to that tribunal. No doubt a grand jury would discharge its duty; but it had been admitted in that House, that they had a peculiar protection thrown over them. They could not be called upon, in consequence of their oath of secrecy, to divulge the grounds on which they acted. With regard to this point, however, he would here mention a case which had been recently decided at York. A prisoner was on his trial for felony, and the of the witnesses against him was under examination. A member of the grand jury, by whom the bill of indictment had been found, happened to be present, and was so struck with the difference between the witness's testimony there and what he had sworn before the grand jury; that he thought it his duty to apprise the judge of it. The latter conceived that it was essential to the ends of public justice that the witness should be indicted for perjury. A bill for this purpose was preferred to the grand jury, and upon the evidence of one of themselves the man was indicted and convicted. It was deemed right in that case, for the paramount ends of justice, to release a grand juror from the obligation of his oath. In the case of the transaction at Manchester, there was a general persuasion, that al-though the grand jury might not have ignored bills contrary to evidence, yet that they had refused to admit certain evidence. This sometimes happened on election committees, and he recollected an instance of two sitting at the same time, and one of them determining that treating was bribery, and the other that treating was not bribery. The cause of this difference was, the rejection of evidence in one room, which evidence was admitted in the other. It might have been possible that the Lancashire grand jury conceived that if Derbyshire were indicted, no proceedings 779 could be had against Mr. Hunt and his friends, and therefore threw out the bill against him. There seemed to him, however, to be an absolute necessity for inquiry into all the transactions at Manchester. The very first letter of the papers submitted to the House was a very important document. It represented the disturbed districts to be in a state calculated to end in a revolution, and it was remarkable that it was dated on the 1st of July, several days before the prorogation of parliament. No allusion, however, was made to it in the speech from the throne, and parliament was allowed to separate with some general advice only, to maintain order in their, respective neighbourhoods. This furnished some reason for believing that ministers wished the evil to go on, till it assumed some tangible shape, and should enable them to bring forward these portentous measures. He believed, however, that their only tendency would be to exasperate and increase the disaffection already prevailing.—He had now but a very few observations to make on that other question of sovereign importance—he meant a reform of parliament. It had been too successfully endeavoured to confound this subject with the views of the radicals. He could not agree indeed with all the terms of reproach which had been applied to the latter. They wished for what they considered suitable remedies to all the distempers of our condition. He had lately suffered from an internal complaint, and was desirous of a radical cure, but this his physician could not undertake, though he promised him considerable relief. His own principle with regard to parliamentary reform was narrowed to this—that the House should contain no member who did not, al fixed periods, revert to some public body, to whose praise or condemnation he should be subject, whilst dismissal or re-election should depend on their judgment of his conduct. This, he believed, would be satisfactory to the public, but they would not be satisfied whilst they saw so many members who had no constituents. He did not wish that the House should be converted into a mere organ of the sentiments of others, for that would be incompatible with their character as a deliberative body. The principle of reform which had stated went to no such extreme, and could, he thought, be obnoxious only to those who looked to their seats as a source of profit to themselves.
§ Lord Stanley
, in consequence of his having been so pointedly alluded to, rose to submit a few observations. He certainly had been, no doubt unintentionally, very much misconceived. The hon. gentleman who spoke last was wrong in supposing that he had admitted, that a grand juror's oath threw too great a protection over him. He had said, that the Lancashire grand jury were able to justify their conduct, but that they would not violate their oaths. Unquestionably, however, that obligation might be removed by the interference of a superior court. The hon. member, he apprehended, had derived his facts from the statements contained in Mr. Hunt's petition; in which it was alleged, that the grand jury had been actuated by feelings and prejudices against him. He wished to speak with tenderness of all persons who addressed themselves to the House; but he must say, that there was no authority for the assertions of the hon. member in this respect.
§ Mr. Bootle Wilbraham
asked, whether the hon. member for Colchester meant to state that the grand jury refused to receive the evidence of Derbyshire?
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey
did not mean to say any such thing. All he had asserted was, that on public grounds it would be desirable to know the reasons which influenced the grand jury to ignore particular bills. They might have ignored them by adopting a particular rule, and acting upon it to the exclusion of a certain line of evidence, which, if admitted, would perhaps have led them to a different result.
§ Mr. Bootle Wilbraham
stated, that the grand jury had made no such rule, nor refused any particular evidence.
, after lamenting, the painful necessity in which he found himself, of trespassing upon the attention of the House, after the speeches that were made by his hon. friends round him, warmly defended his hon. and gallant friend from the attack made upon him by the hon. member for Marlow. He was the more ready to repeat and justify every expression made use of by his hon. and gallant friend, as he was so much in the habit of connecting his feelings and interests with his own upon every occasion. Before he proceeded further, lie begged to ask ministers, whether it was their intention to extend the provisions of this Bill to Ireland?
resumed, and with great animation recalled the attention of the House to the speech of the noble lord, when he introduced this bill to their consideration—a bill which would be for ever connected with his name. Did not that noble lord, in his opening speech, contrast the peaceable state of Ireland with the disturbed condition of England?— Did he not express his pride and satisfaction at seeing what he termed the peaceable and prosperous state of a country with which he was so nearly connected? Why, then, did the noble lord talk of the peaceable and tranquil state of Ireland if he meant to visit that country with the pains and penalties of his bill of coercion? What was the noble lord's intention by adopting such a delusive course? Did he mean to deceive the seventy Irish members who voted with him on the former night, and to induce them to give their support, under the idea that though England was to be coerced, Ireland was to be free? When the noble lord, with his usual douceur of manner, and apparent modesty, even though introducing a measure of such tremendous con sequence, made this allusion to the state of Ireland, what was his meaning? Why the delusion? He intreated the Irish members to recollect the declaration of the noble lord as to the tranquillity of their country, and to couple it with what they now heard of the intention to include Ireland in the operation of this Bill [Hear, hear! and some coughing from the ministerial benches.] Gentlemen might interrupt him if they pleased; they might manifest a readiness to vote away the liberties of their own country, but they must give him leave to defend those of his—such at least as remained to his country in her present state. When the noble lord had talked of the prosperity of Ireland, he did not believe him, though he was ready to admit its peace and tranquillity, and to assert its claim for an exemption from the operation of these bills.— Nothing, he must say, could be more outrageous than the conduct of the noble lord, who, upon evidence of his own showing, part absurd, part anonymous, grounded the necessity of measures subversive of the most essential privileges of the constitution, notwithstanding the many flat contradictions which this evidence had received in both Houses of Parliament. It seemed the noble lord, even with his majorities, did not feel himself on quite as 782 safe ground as he at first imagined, when he now came down, and in smooth and flowing numbers, admitted the limitation of the bill to five years existence. It was to be hoped that before this night passed away, a feeling of a similar description would prompt the noble lord, notwithstanding his bold declarations, to make the bill local, instead of general, in its application. He begged pardon while he said that there was something so outrageous and offensive in the mode pursued by the noble lord, that he was afraid to give vent to the feelings which it excited in his breast. The ministers, in bringing forward these measures, came before their country with false colours. Were these the glories that followed the labours of upwards of half a century of administrations like the present? Were these the laurels which the people were to reap after the termination of a war unparalleled in its renown, but for which no thanks were due to ministers, though none could be too much for the brave soldiers and their great captain, who had won them by their spirit and heroism? Was it in the fifth year of profound peace with the world that ministers were to claim confidence, when they avowed that sedition and treason raged among their own people, and that they could only be eradicated by bills of pains and penalties? [Coughing on the ministerial benches.]—He trusted gentlemen would refrain from interrupting, him: he meant to be brief, but if this interruption were persevered in, he should Only have to detain them longer, as he was determined to express his opinions, and he would extend them to tenfold length, if these attempts: were renewed. — He was old enough to recollect the proceedings of governments and parliaments in Ireland, and to remember the cruel oppressions that were practised upon the people, when the noble lord was in, as well as when he was out of office in that country. He recollected when any honest man who interposed between the people and their oppressors was coughed down in parliament by the purchased majority of that day. What had been the result? The grievances of the people were met by coercion—the country at length became goaded to madness, and a devastating rebellion was the result. The history of those sad times in Ireland presented a spectacle for deep contemplation. There were those in power in that day who were eager to 783 see the people draw the sword, that they themselves might have a pretext for throwing away the scabbard. The vices which human nature exhibited once, she again threw forth at other periods, and he meant no offence to any particular individuals when he avowed his full and thorough conviction, that there were persons in the country at this moment, who, for their own black and malignant purposes, were ready and eager to drive the people into acts of outrage which might furnish a pretext for putting down that people at the point of the sword. If parliament lent itself to such persons it would stand degraded in the eyes of the people—it would forfeit its character as the guardian of public liberty. They were told, indeed, by ministers, of the nations of the continent that were saved by the vigour and valour of their councils. He denied the assertion, and declared that the nations of the continent were saved by themselves, and not by his majesty's ministers. The proof of the estimation in which ministers were held on the continent, could be easily put to the test. Go to any court in Europe, and see the contempt in which they were held—go to any people in Europe and see the scorn and derision which were heaped upon them: they were universally despised and detested. So long as the strength of the continental people rested upon the influence of rotten thrones, it crumbled, and they owed their existence as nations to whatever of generosity was bestowed upon them by their conqueror, Buona-parté; when at length an accumulation of oppression roused the people to resistance, they expelled the previous conqueror, his own people refused him obedience and oppressed nations conquered—not France, but Napoleon. He had no words in which he could adequately express his admiration of the military glory acquired by this country during the late eventful war; but the noble efforts and heroism, which consummated it, would, he feared, have been vain, if the people of the continent had not to a man risen and assisted in the expulsion of their oppressor. But this glory belonged to the people, and not to the ministers. Where had they the suffrages of any once prostrate nation for its redemption? Would the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) whose eloquence was so exercised in defence of the measures of his colleagues, and who had but just returned from the continent, say from what state he had pro- 784 cured a certificate of attachment to his majesty's ministers? Did he obtain one from the fallen and expelled people of Parga? Was it from the people of Genoa he received an eulogium upon the merits of the British ministers? If it were not was it from dismembered Saxony, or did Belgium resound their praises? What did France say of their acts? They suffered, as friends, their parties to enter her states, and they remained there as invaders. To crown all, in the fifth year of peace, the people of this empire—the people whose energies and perseverance, under every sacrifice, enabled ministers to carry to the full length the whole of their war measures, were now to be put down by coercion—they were to receive chains in return for their efforts and their confidence—and these were to be rivetted, without even the preparatory form of any inquiry.—The hon. member, with great force, condemned the whole policy of his majesty's ministers on the present occasion: at home and abroad it was alike disgraceful, condemned, execrated, and despised. Why was it that, under such circumstances, appeals were made to rally round the throne with loyal addresses, when no danger for the stability of the throne could at all be contemplated while no efforts were made to rally round the people and the constitution, and to save both from the pains and penalties that were alike levelled against them? He then condemned, in pointed terms, the proposed duration of the bill, and its extension beyond the local places of disorder.
§ Mr. Grenfell
appealed to the House, whether, as had been imputed to him by the hon. gentleman who last spoke, he had said that the gallant general fought better than he spoke. As to the expression, that "the country was degraded," he had not said that it had been used in the course of this debate; it had been used three months ago by the gallant general on the hustings at Southwark.
§ Mr. Barham
was of exactly a contrary opinion to that expressed by the hon. gentleman respecting the character which this country sustained in the estimation of foreigners; for if any Englishman was not satisfied with that character, he must be unreasonable indeed. He did not know any thing of Parga; but with Genoa he had long been acquainted, and he knew that, whatever might have been the sufferings of that people, they did not ascribe those sufferings to England. If 785 the hon. gentleman would go to Genoa, or into Saxony, he would find the highest opinion, entertained of the character of this country. As to the main question, he thought it his duty to support ministers on the measures before the House. His opinion that such a measure as the present was necessary, was founded on the illegality of those meetings which it was the object of the bill to suppress; for he could not suppose that any thing so dangerous to the peace of this country as these meetings were, could be legal. As to the conduct of the Manchester magistrates, he believed they had acted in the discharge of a difficult and delicate duty; and as to the yeomen, he could not bring himself to believe that a body of Englishmen were capable of acting with the wanton cruelty which had been imputed to them. But while he agreed with ministers on these points, there was another question on which he entirely differed from them; for he was of opinion that these proceedings were of such a nature, that they ought to have been inquired into. He did not believe that the House of Commons had fallen into such contempt as had been alleged by the hon. gentleman, but that, on the contrary, it was still respected by the majority of the people, He did not doubt, however, that this respect would be greatly diminished, if an inquiry into those proceedings was denied; and therefore he was convinced that no evil could arise from inquiry, equal to the evil that would result-from denying it. The construction likely to be put by the country on the refusal of ministers to institute an inquiry. Was, that they were afraid of something coming out that would not bear the light. —He thought the present measure ought to be restricted to those parts of the country only that required it, because, to punish the whole kingdom for the offence of some districts, comparatively small, was certainly not a measure likely to promote conciliation. He was not a reformer himself. He had no objection to correct abuses by applying the laws with proper severity in all cases of corruption; but he would not introduce any new principle into the system of representation. As to the principles of Radical Reform, he conceived that if they were adopted they would lead directly to the abolition of monarchy and the subversion of the constitution. He looked, however, on 786 the right of petitioning to be one of the most valuable and useful privileges of the subject, when judiciously exercised; and, therefore, the House should be guarded in making any law that would trench on this privilege. He appealed to the chancellor, of the exchequer, whether the property-tax would have been repealed, but for that resistance which this measure was calculated to prevent in future. The slave-trade, also, had been petitioned against; and there the result had proved the good effects of expressing temperately the sentiments of the people on great measures. At the time of the American war, the people were for peace, and peace was accordingly granted to them; in the revolutionary, they expressed their desire for wary, and Mr. Pitt continued it; in short, on every memorable occasion the good effects of listening to the voice of the people through their petitions, had been clearly proved; but now ministers, by this measure, were going to cut asunder the link that connected the parliament with the people.
, in explanation, disclaimed any intention of stating that the national character of England was degraded upon the continent, as the last speaker appeared to think.—What he meant to say was, that the policy and practice of the British cabinet was universally deemed to be disgraceful upon the continent—that in fact, that policy and practice were odious in the estimation of every intelligent man in Europe.
§ Mr. J. Smith
rose, he said, to take notice of some erroneous and mischievous reports which had been lately propagated, and with the origination of which he could not suppose that government had any concern. He could not, indeed, suspect the members of the government of descending to any unworthy expedient for the purpose of producing an effect in debate. But he lamented to say, that some reports had recently gone forth from high authority, which were materially calculated, and which did actually operate, to affect the credit of the country.— He alluded particularly to the report mentioned elsewhere, that there were no less than 100,000 men in a state ready to 787 be called out for open rebellion, in the line between the Weir and the Tyne up to Carlisle. Now he would take leave to say, that this statement was not true, because it was impossible it could be true, for there were not 100,000 men in the whole of the district alluded to capable of bearing arms. The population of the counties of Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland, comprehended within the district alluded to, amounted, according to the Census of 1817, to 480,000; and supposing 70,000 to have been since added, which was rather a liberal supposition, that addition could not be conceived to include more than 10,000 men capable of bearing arms.— This conclusion he founded upon the authority of those able writers who, especially in the course of the French Revolution, had illustrated the number of men capable of bearing arms, which could be rationally looked for among a certain amount of population; and he was fully persuaded, that the district to which he referred could not produce 100,000 men capable of bearing arms, even if the lord-lieutenants of the several counties were, with all the clergy, to be included.— Such an extraordinary statement, then, as he had mentioned should serve to put the House and the public on their guard against similar exaggeration, and the more so, as the propagation of such statements was calculated to do serious injury. For example, the statement upon which he had animadverted, coming as it did, from a nobleman of great property and consideration in the country (the duke of Northumberland) had had a very serious effect upon public credit on Saturday last. Several persons, indeed, were known at once to-take proceedings for transferring their property from our own to foreign funds.— For his own part, he had never done, nor would he ever do any such thing; because it was his resolution never to desert the vessel of his country in its distress, but, on the contrary, to cling to it while a plank remained to swim upon.— But upon the same ground that sustained this resolution, he must lament the delusion of others, and deprecate the cause which gave birth to such delusion. Delusions of this nature must always serve to do mischief; for any report that created alarm, was calculated to affect public credit, which was the more to be deprecated at present, as it must operate to 788 produce an unfavourable exchange, and so raise the price of bullion, at a time when the Bank was called upon to commence payments in bullion. In every view, then, he condemned such groundless fears as had induced him to address the House; for although the finding of 100,000 men capable of bearing arms in the district referred to was quite as improbable, or rather as impossible, as that Rutlandshire could furnish 20,000 such men, or Bedfordshire 50,000, still there were minds upon which such stories were likely to operate, and such minds ought not to be practised upon.
§ Sir Isaac Coffin
said, he would vote for this measure because the constitution was in danger, and he was sworn to defend it.
A Gentleman, whose name we could not learn, deprecated the propagation of groundless alarms, and expressed his: disinclination to vote for making the present a permanent or universal measure. He thought some such measure necessary in certain districts, but he would have is apply only to such districts, and he would rather vote for it if it were only to continue for one year, or three years at farthest.
Sir Robert Heron
declared, that he was so: perfectly and entirely opposed to the bill, that no limitation could reconcile him to it. No case could be stated which would, for a moment, reconcile him to any measure that he deemed to be an infraction of the constitution; and he conceived it would be much better for ministers to take the responsibility of such a proceeding upon themselves, than to endeavour to procure for it the high sanction of that House. On the subject of the Manchester meeting, it was not his intention to detain hon. gentlemen for two minutes; but this he must say, they had been frequently told that they were not to prejudge the conduct or the motives of the magistrates of Manchester. His duty told him, that they were now assembled as the representatives of the people, and it was especially for them not to prejudge the people. Till evidence was offered such as was to be relied upon, to the contrary, he was bound not to suppose them guilty. In the whole course of the observations which had fallen from those who assumed a different position, he had heard but one remark in the shape of an argument; and that was, that the reforms which the meeting in question was assembled to discuss, were no other 789 than so many projects of sedition; but if that was the case, Mr. Speaker himself was guilty of disseminating them: "for you, Sir (continued the hon. baronet, addressing himself to the chair) whose conduct has entitled you to the esteem of this House, and of the country— you, Sir, have always directed that the petitions which have been presented to us for similar objects should be printed, and copies of them, under your eye, have, been circulated among hon. members." Respecting the meeting at Birmingham, indeed, there could be no doubt; but he could not think that it was always necessary to exercise the utmost severity against the people, even when their proceedings had assumed a character of illegality. Mr. Speaker had not suffered, he believed, by the election of the "legislatorial attorney," and if he were to attempt to take his seat among them, he would meet with a reception likely to occasion disappointment and vexation to himself [Hear!]. The worst measure of all, as connected with the Manchester business, however, was the letter of thanks to the magistrates. The people had been long accustomed to receive from the throne solace in their sufferings, and commiseration for their distress. The fountain of mercy and justice in this case, unhappily, had been polluted; and, as far as it was in the power of ministers to do so, the father of his people had been converted into the head of a faction. The people petitioned for relief, because they were miserably distressed; and what answer was the House about to return to their petitions? That they had raised a new army [Hear, hear!]. Yes, they had raised a new army, at a time when they had already one which it would be impossible long to pay — one for which there could exist neither demand nor necessity at home nor elsewhere, because of a state of general peace. In conclusion, be had only to express his utter dissent from the principle and provisions of the bill.
Sir C. Monck
took the opportunity of stating, in reference to what had been reported to have occurred in another place, that he did not believe the population of the northern districts alluded to could afford the numbers which were reported to be actually engaged in plans of disaffection. He at the same time was most confident that the noble duke who was said to have made the statement, would not have made it unless he fully credited it.
§ Mr. Brownlow
defended the conduct of the Irish members who supported the present measures, from the implication conveyed in the speech of the hon. member for Cork. It was asserted by him that seventy members from that part of the kingdom, were deceived by the noble lord as to the fact of their extension to Ireland. He denied any such inference. The Irish members who supported these measures of security did so under an irresistible impression of their necessity. It was because they had witnessed in then own country the symptoms and effects of a growing rebellion, that they hurried from their homes and families to ward off from this most favoured land those violences, the misery of which had been experienced in Ireland.
stated, that until that night he had not the remotest idea that the bill was to extend to Ireland. What he had said in his speech went to charge the noble lord with the deception practised on the members of that part of the country, who thought they were alone imposing those severities on Great Britain. In the bill, as it now stood, there was no mention of the united kingdom.
said, it was probable the hon. member was not in his place when he opened the subject to the House; if he was, it was impossible but he must have heard him directly state that it was intended that the bill should apply to every part of the kingdom.
§ On the question being put, that the bill be recommitted,
§ Colonel Beaumont
observed, that it was unnecessary for him to take up much of the time of the House. He rose for the purpose of expressing, in the first place, his wish that an instruction might be given to the committee. But he trusted that every hon. member, who, like himself, belonged to no particular party, would not feel himself committed by the vote he might have given in regard to this bill. He meant to move, that an instruction be given to the committee, to the effect that they should limit the duration of the bill, so as that its operation might not extend beyond the 1st of March, 1821. It would have been most gratifying to his feelings if such a measure could have been altogether dispensed with. He was proud to say, that from the first moment in which he had had the honour of sitting in that House, he had kept himself quite unconnected with any 791 party. His sole object had ever been the support of the constitution, and of the rights which it involved, in their original, ancient, and long-established vigour. He need not enlarge upon the immense importance of the subject before the House — important in every sense of the word; but he must take the liberty of differing from the opinion advanced by a noble lord on a former night, that this bill was not, in fact, an infringement of constitutional rights. Had that noble lord contended that it was called for by the circumstances of the times, he should have been most willing to allow the fact; for he thought the necessity of it, for the preservation of our rights, our liberties, and our property, was so clear, that he could not imagine any of those honourable gentlemen who disapproved of its provisions would argue that it was of itself unnecessary. It had been stated by an hon. member, that the minds of the people were more likely to be kept in a state of agitation and ferment by a bill for one year than by one for five years. But he did not see how it was to be proved that the people of England could forget all their duties, their rights, and their loyalty, at the end of one year, as if they were impatient to resume seditious practices. He should therefore move, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill, that they make provision to limit the duration of the Bill to six weeks after the commencement of the next Session of Parliament."
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
was desirous of taking the earliest opportunity to express his regret that he could not coincide in the motion of his hon. friend. It was of the very first importance that upon a subject of this nature there should be, if possible, an unanimity of opinion among them; and when his noble friend had stated his wish that the bill should be limited in its duration, and not permanent, he had hoped that he would have united all opinions. There were, however, very different opinions held, especially by the hon. gentleman who thought that no real or actual dangers threatened the country from within; but to such he was not now addressing himself. The case had been so frequently and so fully argued, that he had not the smallest hope of inducing any of them to recant their opinions. It was to those who thought it should be a temporary measure, that he now wished to address one or two ob- 792 servations. The evils which they were called upon to remedy had been growing upon us for many years. In 1812 they had assumed so serious a character, as to require the imposition of very strong measures; but in 1817, they had in-creased to such a degree, as to call for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. And from that time to the present, al-though for a short period they were checked by the vigour of parliament, they had been increasing till they had attained the full maturity of mischief. A period of less than five or six years could hardly tranquillize the public mind; and he should therefore move, that, instead of the words in the proposed instruction of the hon. gentleman, the limitation to be for five years. The hon. gentleman who had proposed the instruction had not spoken of the period at which public tranquillity was likely to be re-established. And what was the reason? That by putting so short a term to the bill, he should force the government the sooner to adopt some measures of reconciliation. But he had not told them what those measures were to be. He had heard, indeed, a good deal from honourable gentlemen who entertained views about parliamentary reform—a subject upon which, by-the-by, he had not yet heard any two gentlemen agree as to their plans; but to suspend precautionary measures, or subject them to considerations like these, would be a sacrifice of public prudence for a mere effusion of popularity. Another hon. gentleman had said, that if this bill passed, no meeting could be legally held to oppose the property tax, or any other unpopular measure. Now, he begged leave to remind him, that the meetings which were formerly held upon that subject, were convened, many of them, by the sheriffs; and completely proved how much the public voice influenced the proceedings of parliament. Upon the whole, it appeared to him, that this bill did not take away from the people any one of their rights or liberties, but was calculated so to regulate and modify them, as to ensure their proper and salutary exercise. Moreover, the proposed term would afford the country full experience of the effects of this measure. He could not but complain of the erroneous statements which had been so often made in that House against his majesty's government, namely—that without sufficient time for due consideration, they had approved of the conduct of the 793 Manchester magistrates. He was anxious to explain to the House the real history of that fact. On the morning of the 17th of August the first accounts of the meeting reached them by express. On the 28th, two gentlemen, who had arrived with full information of all the circumstances, were examined by his majesty's ministers: on the 19th and 20th they appeared before the law officers of the crown, and all the members of the cabinet: and it was on the 21st, and not before, that the letter in question was written. But, to return to the subject before them, he considered that a period of five years was as short a time as could be assigned to restore the public tranquillity. Under this feeling, it was impossible for him to support a shorter limitation, and he should therefore move, by way of amendment, to leave out the words, "six. weeks after the commencement of the next Session of Parliament," and to add instead thereof "five years, and from thence to the end of the next Session of Parliament."
§ Mr. Calcraft
began by observing, that if the right hon. gentleman had not, in the termination of the speech, entered into a defence of the thanks which his majesty's ministers had given to the magistrates of Manchester for their conduct, he should not have now spoken upon that subject: it was his decided opinion, that in a transaction which involved the name of the Prince Regent, they should have taken more time, and exercised more care. The present proposition was wrong from the noble lord—the House might easily discover by what—by those large divisions which the noble lord had seen op-posed to him. The concession Was not owing to any sympathy for the people, to any feeling for their liberties, which were violated, to any wish for, or attempt at conciliation, no, but it was owing to the conduct of those independent gentlemen who had honestly exerted themselves to prevent the passing of so extraordinary a measure upon such grounds But what was the precedent resorted to for this measure? Why (and it showed the extremity to which the noble lord and his colleagues were reduced), the only one which could be found for this experiment on the liberties of the people—the only one which the noble lord could find, after rummaging over all his books—was the Grenville act; but the House should recollect, that in that case a power was 794 given up which had been abused, and the aid of the other House of parliament was called in to establish that new judicature. Looking to the proposed amendment, and anxiously wishing for something like conciliation, he conceived that the term of fourteen months in the original proposition was too long for such an experiment on the liberty of the subject, and long enough for that inquiry into the state of the country which he thought ought to take place before any strong measure was agreed to. When the inquiry into the proceedings at Manchester was refused, he could not bring himself to believe, that no inquiry would be instituted into the general situation of the country. Something, he thought, should be done, in order to ascertain and provide some remedy for the distress which prevailed in the country. When this subject was alluded to, it was said that gentlemen fled off immediately to the question of reform, as a universal remedy. He did not think so; voting for reform, as he always had done, he did not conceive that that alone would be a sufficient remedy for the evils which were complained of. At the same time he would admit, that a wise and temperate reform would produced powerful effect in conciliating the people, and whenever the subject should come before the House, he would give it his best consideration. His panacea fob the present distress was, that an inquiry should be instituted, in order to ascertain how many were thrown out of employment, and to devise some means of assisting them. For this purpose he would give his vote for a sum of money out of the public purse, to take off the present pressure of distress, until it should be seen whether trade would revive, and bring matters back to their for me channel. He had agreed to a vote for the relief of the sufferers in Russia. He had voted for loans to some of our colonies; and should it now be said, after the House had agreed to those votes, that in consequence of the conduct of a few demagogues, no inquiry should take place into the state of the people, and no assistance be given in their distress? His advice was, that a trial should be made, in order to see what could be done: this he said to prevent being taunted with urging the question of reform as the only remedy. He spoke of an immediate substantial remedy—of bread and meat; which, he maintained, should be procured 795 for those who were labouring under severe pressure; and he felt satisfied, that if such relief were afforded, the itinerant demagogues would soon be without followers. He did not mean to underrate the alarms which were felt for the state of the country; he would, on the contrary, admit that there were bodies of men inclined to do mischief, but he denied that they could overturn the state. That was a result which he could not contemplate from any thing which was alleged of what had occurred in any part of the country; it was a danger which he did not and could not apprehend, on such grounds as were before the House. But while danger was thus talked of, was it considered that there were 11,000 additional men added to the standing army of the country? Was that no ground of security against the danger which was feared? He thought it was; and he would rather depend upon it than upon all the measures which the noble lord could devise. Were not the whole of those measures, connecting them with what he had just alluded to, sufficient to exasperate the people? Were they not rather calculated to snake men desperate than to conciliate them in this period of general distress? But it was said, that the distress was only temporary. Why what had been the case whenever any stagnation of commerce, or manufacture, or revenue took place; it was said to be only temporary; but this discontent which was the effect of that distress, was to be considered as permanent, and it was so intended to deal with it. God forbid he should assert, that if the revenue was declining, something should not be done to support it; but what had the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer done? Why, in those periods of alleged temporary distress, additional burthens were laid upon the people — new taxes, in proportion to their inability to bear them. Could this step be productive of conciliation? There was also the grant to the duke of York; what effect had that produced in the minds of the people? The sum of 10,000l. a year could not certainly be considered as very great in the national (expenditure; but such were the circumstances under which it was given that, almost every class were agreed in looking upon it as wasteful and extravagant. And yet following up such measures as that, with those which were now proposed, ministers complained that they (the op- 796 position) could not agree with them. It was said to them (the opposition), "Why are you not satisfied to join us now, when we come with open arms to receive you—when we are willing to conciliate?'' He would answer, that such measures could not satisfy them, because they were not such as would produce conciliation; because they were uncalled for by any circumstances connected with the state of the country. It had been said, that this bill might be limited to three years. He would object to any extension of it beyond that which was mentioned in the proposition of the hon. member; He conceived that period too long for the suspension of the liberties of the people, and, as he had before observed, quite long enough for the inquiry which he maintained ought to take place into the state of the country.
contended that if the bill were limited to the short period proposed, it would, instead of good, be productive of considerable mischief. The hon. gentleman proceeded to notice the insurrection under Wat Tyler, and the historical acts connected with it; he also adverted to the disturbances that had been occasioned in Flanders by a party, like the radicals of the present day, wearing the distinguishing mark of white hats. After-adverting to several of the circumstances connected with public meetings, he arrived at the conclusion, that some permanent law was required for their regulation; and he concluded by repeating that he thought fourteen months much too short a period for the duration of this bill.
§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
troubled the House with reluctance, but it was overcome by a conviction of the necessity of stating the motives for his vote, on a question of such, acknowledged magnitude. He differed from the hon. gentleman who proposed that fourteen months should be the duration of the measure, as he was convinced that in that interval the existing ferment would not have subsided. Another and an invincible objection to it was, that if it were so limited, it was certain that at the end of a year it would be effectually defeated. But if he differed from the hon. member, he differed also from the noble lord. The period proposed by ministers was, he thought, much too long. When an inroad was made upon the constitution (and he considered this measure a most important inroad upon it), it ought to continue for the shortest possible period. Still more 797 was he opposed to the reasons urged on the other side for the longer continuance. The noble lord had declared that he thought the bill would be an improvement on the constitution; but he was content to take it as our forefathers had left it, without any alteration beyond what pressing circumstances required. Surely it could not be seriously argued, that the complicated machinery of petitioning five magistrates, or the majority of the grand jury, in case the sheriff refused to call a meeting, was an advantage not enjoyed under the old system. A right hon. gentleman on a late occasion, with a facility of language peculiarly his own, had supposed a case in which he should be called upon to instruct a mere stranger on the laws and constitution of the country, its external and internal policy, and in all the arcana of government. If such a task had fallen to him (Mr. Buxton), he would have referred the stranger to that part of the bill which called upon any justice or justices, if they thought fit, to prevent any individual from addressing a meeting, and inflicted severe penalties on parties resisting or refusing to obey. What would a stranger think of such a law? Suppose a magistrate, endeavouring to retrieve his broken fortune by a supererogation in zeal and loyalty, should deem it right to stop an individual who was casting reflections on the government. [No, no; hear.] Honourable gentlemen would observe, that it depended on the discretion and interpretation of the magistrate, and he might order any speaker at the meeting to prison for resistance; and then a clause of indemnity was inserted to screen the magistrate in case death or wounds ensued, while the parties resisting were subjected to transportation. The stranger to whom he would show this part of the measure might study from that time until doomsday, and not at last discover that this was an improvement upon the constitution [Cheers!]. The arguments on this question had been so exhausted, that he should confine himself to evidence. He lived in connexion with a class of the community not the richest nor the poorest, the tradesmen of this country; and the more he had seen of them, the more he had learned to admire and respect them. Among them prevailed the most genuine attachment to the principles of the constitution. It had been insinuated that they were disciples of Mr. Hunt; but the celebrated minority 798 of 84 at the late Westminster election was sufficient evidence to the contrary. Next it was said, that they were the disciples of Carlile; but he was convinced from intimate knowledge, that the indignation of the House against the pernicious doctrines of that man was not so great or so sincere as that which was felt by the great body of the tradesmen of this kingdom; they feared that the odious principles recently promulgated would make an inroad upon their children, and destroy the harmony and happiness of their domestic circle. A force of this kind might easily be collected round the government and the constitution that would set at defiance irreligion and disaffection. It must be accomplished, however, by satisfaction and conciliation; and if it were asked, as it had been, what plan of conciliation ought to be adopted, he would fairly say that he would begin by rejecting the present bill, which was to suspend for five years a valuable part of the constitution. He firmly believed that that single act would give more satisfaction, would diffuse more content throughout the whole empire than any other, and would produce more tranquillity than all the laws of force and compulsion that could be brought into action against the people. Another measure of conciliation, and a measure of the utmost value at this time was, a declaration of economy, followed as it ought to be by carrying that declaration into effect. There was a glaring inconsistency in the argument of a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel), on a former night; he had shown with great clearness and truth, the wide difference that existed between the inhabitants of Manchester and of other parts of the country—that when trade flourished, the inhabitants of Manchester were contented; and when it was depressed, that they were clamorous for the remedy of some supposed grievance. Yet what was his conclusion from this admitted state of things? That the law which might be so necessary for Manchester ought to be inflicted on the whole British empire [Cheers]. He concluded by stating, that if any gentleman would move that the present bill should be limited to three years, he would support it; but if not, he would rather vote for the extended period of the noble lord, than for the short time proposed to be inserted in the instruction to the committee.
§ Mr. Perceval
said, he was fully convinced that the bill would be attended with the 799 most evil consequences; that it would have an immediate and injurious tendency, and on this account he was called upon to oppose those with whom he generally acted. He would shortly lay before the House the estimation in which he held the right of the people to meet to petition the legislature. In the first place, it had been acknowledged by parliament, in his opinion, much more effectually in the temporary restrictions to which it had been subjected, commonly called gagging-bills, than it had been contravened by the statute of Charles 2nd. He was prepared to contend, that the meetings of the people to petition parliament, whether summoned or not summoned by the sheriff, was their undoubted and constitutional right. He held it to be a most salutary vent for discontent: the saying of Mr. Burke, that this right formed the safety-valve of the constitution, had been already quoted, as it merited, in terms of the highest applause. Let not parliament, then, when the commotion within was at its height from the extraordinary heat applied at the present moment, increase the pressure upon that safety-valve, and thereby perhaps occasion, or at least endanger, a terrible explosion. This might be called an active advantage derived from the right; but of a different nature was that benefit which was derived from the consciousness in the subjects of this country that their complaints could be heard, whenever they thought fit to lay them before their representatives. It was this that gave an Englishman that proud character of independence, that distinguished him from all the nations of the earth. Was it nothing, he would ask, to destroy, or at the best to diminish, this proud independence. It was said that it was a dangerous right—a right that might be injurious to its possessors; but when we took even from the child the sword by which he might be wounded, and supplied its place by a leaden weapon, it exhibited some feeling of indignation at the cheat which was practised. The people of England had too much understanding to be thus imposed upon by those who affected to deprive them of their rights, under the pretence that they would be injurious. Surely there was something offensive in the words "parish meeting;" and this circumstance, trifling as it was, deserved attention, and the solicitor general well knew it, when, from the beginning to the end of his speech, 800 he so studiously abstained from employing them. It was answered, that if the people could not call themselves together, they might still be convened, as of old, by the sheriff or lord-lieutenant; but he had much doubt, whether after the passing of this bill, even those- meetings still allowed would not rapidly decrease. Such was his opinion of this bill, that though he thought it ought not to pass for one year, he would rather that it should be passed for five years; because, at the expiration of that period, the whole country would be so dissatisfied with it, and that dissatisfaction would be so loudly expressed, that there would be no difficulty in casting it away for ever. On these grounds, he should vote for the motion, which continued these restrictions for five years, rather than for that which continued them for three years, though he must confess that it was to the latter motion that he felt the best inclined.
A Member said, that he should vote for the amendment of the chancellor of the exchequer, because he considered this bill calculated to serve as a protection to our best and dearest rights. Nothing could be so dangerous to the constitution of the country as the tumultuous meetings which had recently taken place, and if they were allowed to continue, our liberties would certainly fall a sacrifice to them. The act ought to be continued so long as to render the cause which it was intended to repress desperate: this could only be done by continuing it for five years. If it was to be passed only for one year, the disaffected would resume their labours with fresh vigour, as soon as its operation expired.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
, after complimenting his honourable young friend on the other side of the House, for the strong and ardent manner in which he had that evening-declared himself in support of the liberties of his country, gave his cordial thanks to the noble lord opposite, for having given up his intention to render the measure permanent. It was one of the peculiar excellencies of the British constitution, an excellency which none of the republics of old had ever enjoyed, to be able in times of popular commotion to strengthen the hands of the executive government; and afterwards, when the danger was past, to revert to our former state of liberty and freedom. He should have had great difficulty in bringing himself to vote for the measure, if the noble lord had determined 801 to persist in his original intentions; but now that he had so far conceded to the wishes of the House as to limit their duration to five years, he had not the slightest objection to strengthen his hands with these powers for that period. He should therefore advise the House, if they thought the danger to be so great as to justify them in passing the bill at all, to select that time for the period of trying its efficacy which was fixed on by the average opinion of all parties; because, if there was any injury done by passing these measures, it was in the way of precedent; and gentlemen who argued in behalf of their duration for three years rather than five, erred equally with their opponents against precedent, and, besides that, endangered the success of the measures themselves, by the reluctance which they evinced to grant the two additional years. This reluctance could only arise from the circumstance that they thought the danger not to be so great as was represented; and if that was the case, how did they reconcile it to themselves to vote for their continuance for three years? To confine these restrictions to certain counties, was also highly objectionable; because, if these radicals would abandon their principles in three years, under the restrictions now proposed to be established in their own districts, would it be right to allow them to have another field to which they might resort? Would it not be giving them a fresh place in which to carry on their trade and occupation? They all knew with what art those deluded and deluding men conducted their designs; and it was but too probable that the publications, which they would disseminate to effect their purpose in the districts not yet contaminated, would be of such a nature as would induce those who read them to go any lengths in the prosecution of the criminal objects held up as worthy of pursuit, though they would not be of such a nature as to render those who disseminated them liable to prosecution in the eye of the law. He should not detain them any longer at the present late hour of the night. He had only been led to express the sentiments which they had just heard from the love which he bore to the constitution, and the conviction which he felt that it was beyond all other things worth preserving. When he heard the question agitated, whether we were in the most danger from the encroachments of the Crown or of the people, he was at 802 first in some doubt; but when he recollected the character and views of such men as Hunt, he felt convinced that they were ten times more dangerous enemies to liberty than any bad minister in this country possibly could be: so that he felt himself justified in adopting the sentiments of the poet,Now, half a patriot, half a coward grown,I fly from petty tyrants to the throne.
§ Lord Milton
asked, what feelings ought to actuate the House when they passed their judgment on the present ministers, who, after acknowledging the value of the right of petition, had come forward and proposed to abrogate it for ever? The only right left by the present bill would be, not the right to meet, but the right to ask an officer of Crown for leave to meet.
wished to correct a misrepresentation, under which several honourable members appeared to labour in the course of the debate. A noble relative of his had never said that there were 100,000 men furnished with anus in the northern counties: he had never stated from his own knowledge whether they had arms or not; he had merely said, that their own estimate of their numbers and strength was to that amount.
said, he could not but regret that the question respecting the duration of the bill, should have been brought forward in the present stage of their proceedings: it would have been much more convenient, in his opinion, to have gone through the different clauses of the bill in the committee first, and to have settled the duration of it afterwards. If the clauses were filled up in that spirit of moderation which had marked the speech of the noble lord on the treasury bench, he should have felt the less difficulty in agreeing to the more extended term proposed; but if, on the contrary, when it came out of the committee, it contained what he considered as severe and unnecessary restrictions on the liberty of the subject, he should then vote for limiting its duration to the shortest possibly period. At present, the House were called upon to decide how long a bill should continue in force, the spirit and character of which they had yet to learn. As far as he could then judge, the period proposed by the motion was too short, and that proposed by the amendment too long; and he inclined to the opinion of the hon. member opposite (Mr. Buxton), that three years 803 would be a more eligible term than either. He thought six weeks after the commencement of the next session of parliament too short a period, because the House would have to decide upon the renewal of the measure, before sufficient time had elapsed to enable them to form a correct judgment of its effects; and to excite fresh agitation in the public mind, before the present agitation had well subsided. He thought five years, and from thence to the end of the next ensuring session of parliament, too long, because he recollected that the allied sovereigns, after stipulating by treaty that their armies should continue in the occupation of France for five years, considering that period would be necessary for the restoration of tranquillity in that country, voluntarily evacuated it at the end of three years. If then, France, at the conclusion of a war in which the passions of men had been excited to a degree of fury that perhaps never was equalled, could completely recover her tranquillity in the course of three years, surely this country, under present circumstances, could not require a longer term of probation. Being called upon to decide between two extremes, he considered, in the first place, that to re-new an expiring law, was easy, usual, and almost a matter of course; but to repeal an existing law, was on the contrary always attended with great difficulty. In the next place he Considered, that if he must err at all, it was his duty to err on that side that was most favourable to the rights and liberties of the people; and for these reasons he should give his vote for the shorter, rather than for the longer period.
did not consider the measure before the House an infringement upon the rights of the people. He denied that it confined that right; on the contrary, it left it undiminished. It was not illegal, according to the provisions of the act, to hold meetings within doors; and before the American war it never was the practice to hold meetings in the open air. It had been said that it was left to the discretion of officers of the Crown to call public meetings; but he did not know that the sheriffs of counties were generally speaking, liable to the influence of the Crown. He knew there was a spirit of loyalty throughout the kingdom that would be sufficient to put down, even by force of arms, the disloyal and disaffected; bus he had great confidence that it would 804 be unnecessary to resort to such a measure.
§ Mr. Maxwell
bore testimony to the people of his county assembling in arms, and firing off pistols on retiring from the spot. He considered it under all circumstances, his duty not to oppose the measure of the noble lord. He saw no objection to its extending to the manufacturing districts for five years, and to the whole empire for one year.
§ Lord Compton
thought that circumstances would necessitate a much stronger measure if the present were not carried.
§ Mr. Benett
, of Wiltshire, hoped that three years would be sufficient for the operation of the measure, as before that period, 'something might be done to better the' condition of the people. He trusted that a select committee would be appointed to consider the distress of the country, and propose some relief.
said, he should vote for the amendment of the chancellor of the exchequer, though he was of opinion that it would have been more beneficial to the country, that the bill should have been made permanent [Loud cries from the opposition of "Move that it be made permanent."]
§ The gallery was then cleared for a division. Colonel Beaumont's motion was negatived without a division. The House afterwards divided on the motion of Mr. Buxton to limit the bill to three years. For it, 153; Against it, 328: Majority, 175. The Chancellor of the exchequer's amendment was then carried in the affirmative; after which the House resolved itself into a committee, resumed, and the chairman obtained leave to sit again to day.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Calvert, N.|
|Allen, J. H.||Crickett, R. A.|
|Althorp, viscount||Churchill, lord C.|
|Aubrey, sir John||Calvert, C.|
|Burton, R. C.||Campbell, hon. J.|
|Benett, John||Carter, John|
|Beaumont, T. W.||Cavendish, lord G.|
|Barham, J. E.||Cavendish, Henry|
|Baring, sir T.||Clifford, capt.|
|Barnett, James||Clifton, viscount|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Colborne, N. R.|
|Benyon, Benjamin||Coke, T. W.|
|Bernal, Ralph||Concannon, Lucius|
|Birch, Joseph||Crespigny, sir W. De|
|Brougham, Henry||Crompton, Sam.|
|Browne, Dom.||Curwen, J. C.|
|Byng, G.||Davies T. H.|
|Denman, Thos.||Mostyn, sir Thos.|
|Denison, W. J.||Normanby, visct.|
|Duncannon, visct.||Newman, R. W.|
|Dundas, hon. L.||Neville, hon. R.|
|Dundas, hon. G.||Nugent, lord|
|Dundas, Thos.||O'Callaghan, J.|
|Ebrington, visct.||Ord, W.|
|Ellice, E.||Perceval, Spencer|
|Euston, earl of||Portman, Ed. B.|
|Fazakerly, N.||Palmer, col.|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Foley, Thos.||Pares, Thos.|
|Folkestone, lord||Parnell, sir H.|
|Frankland, Thos.||Parnell, Wm.|
|Gaskell, Benj.||Peirse, Henry|
|Grant, J. P.||Philips, G.|
|Graham, Sandford||Philips, G. jun.|
|Graham, J. R. G.||Phillipps, C. M.|
|Griffiths, John W.||Powlett, hon. W.|
|Guise, sir W.||Prittie, hon. F.|
|Gurney, R. H.||Primrose, hon. F.|
|Heygate, ald.||Price, Robt.|
|Heron, sir R.||Rickford, Wm.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Ramsbottom John|
|Harvey, D. W.||Ricardo, David|
|Hill, lord A.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Honywood, W. P.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Hornby, Ed.||Robarts, W. T.|
|Howard, hon. W.||Robarts, A.|
|Howorth, H.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Hughes, W. L.||Russell, lord G. W.|
|Hume, J.||Russell, R. G.|
|Hurst, Robt.||Rumbold, C.|
|Hutchinson, hon. C.||Scarlett, James|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Scudamore, R. P.|
|Kinnaird, hon. D.||Sefton, earl of|
|Lloyd, S. Jones||Smith, John|
|Longman, Geo.||Smith, hon. R.|
|Lister, B. L.||Smith W.|
|Lamb, hon. W.||Spencer, lord R.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Stuart, lord J.|
|Lambton, John G.||Stewart, W.|
|Latouche, John||Stanley, lord|
|Latouche, R.||Talbot, R. W.|
|Lloyd, sir E.||Tavistock, marquis of|
|Lloyd, J. M.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Miles, Wm.||Thorp, alderman|
|Mahon, hon. Step.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Marryat, Jos.||Waithman, ald.|
|Maberly, John||Walpole, hon. G.|
|Maberly, W. L.||Webbe, Ed.|
|Macleod, R.||Wharton, John|
|Macdonald, James||Whitbread, W. H.|
|Mackintosh, sir J.||Williams, Owen|
|Madocks, W. A.||Williams, W.|
|Martin, John||Wilson, sir Robert|
|Mildmay, P. St. John||Wood, alderman|
|Milton, visct.||Webster, sir G.|
|Mouck, sir C.||TELLERS.|
|Moore, Peter||Buxton, T. F.|
|Morpeth, visct.||Calcraft John|