HC Deb 08 December 1819 vol 41 cc851-6
Lord Castlereagh

having moved that this bill be read a first time,

Mr. Stuart Wortley

said, that some circumstances had recently come to his knowledge which made him think it necessary that this bill should go through all its stages in as short a time as possible. Up to this time it had been said that training existed only in Lancaster. He had now documents in his hands which showed that it extended to Yorkshire, and was spreading to an alarming degree. He had been informed that a number of persons had been seen drilling in the neighbourhood of Barnsley last Friday night. He immediately wrote, desiring his informant to lay his depositions before sir — Wood. He held sir—Wood's letter in his hand. It stated that the training at Barnsley was notorious. He had also a second letter, containing the examination of persons whom it would be imprudent then to name, who had witnessed trainings of upwards of 200 men near Barnsley, on the nights of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The men had poles about eight feet long, which they exercised as muskets. On Monday night deponent was within 150 yards of these men, and it being light, he could see on the tops of the poles something shining like bayonets, and which he believed to be pike-heads. This morning he had received a letter from a gentleman named Forbes, a man whose politics were rather opposed to his own. That gentleman had witnessed a body of from 70 to 100 training on the night of Tuesday the 30th ult. They had poles about 8 feet long in their hands; and be distinctly heard the words halt—march—stand at ease, &c, repeated several times. Two of the party advanced towards him, and asked his business; he answered—"What the d—I are you about?" The men returned to the party, and he fearing danger, rode away. Since this he (Mr. Wortley) had been informed that the drilling was openly carried on, not only at Barnsley, but at Barton and the neighbouring towns, in defiance of the law. He hoped the House would see the danger which existed, and the necessity of preventing it from gaining ground, by speedily passing this bill into a law.

Mr. Tierney

said, that no one could be more anxious than he was to put down any of those practices against which this bill was directed. But at the same time he was desirous of proceeding with due caution, and in such a manner as not to establish a precedent for mischievous measures hereafter. The House would see that they were now called on to proceed without observing their usual forms, not on any communication made by his majesty's government, but on a communication made by a private individual, however high the character of that individual might be, and whatever credit might be due to what had the sanction of his authority. It was singular enough that these communications, instead of being made by lord Sidmouth, or even by the lord lieutenant of the county in which the training was said to take place, who was a member of that House, should be made by one of the members for that county. With respect to the practice of training, if this practice was not already liable to animadversion, he was willing to make it so. He had thought that by the existing laws, this practice could be stopt; but he now understood this was not the case. If the practice was not now punishable, it ought with all convenient dispatch; to be made so. No friend of liberty, could wish a practice of this sort to go on unchecked. But, then, see how the House was placed. There was nothing on their journals as a warrant for their proceeding, which was merely founded on the communication of an individual member of the House. When the House at once passed the bill suspending the Habeas Corpus act, they proceeded on a message from the throne, and a communication from his majesty's ministers, and it was proper to pass the measure, if at all, without delay, because otherwise the par- ties against whom the measure was directed, having notice of it might make their escape. But here there would only be two or three days more drilling at most, and if the numbers drilled, instead of 2 or 300 were 2 or 3,000, he did not think that would make much difference. He was on this occasion as sincerely desirous as the noble lord opposite could be of coming forward fairly to put down the practice of training, but he could not help thinking they would be laying the foundation for a dangerous precedent, if they were to pass this bill summarily, without evidence.

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that the Crown had already made a communication to the House with respect to the existence of the practice of training, and, therefore, in passing the bill in the manner proposed, they would not be proceeding on the information of any individual member. But if they were to pass the bill two stages to-night, and to go into a committee to-morrow, perhaps this would be satisfactory to all sides.

Mr. Curwen

said, that much as he lamented the existence of the practice of training, he could not entertain the smallest doubt, that this practice had taken place in the neighbourhood of Carlisle, as he had received the information from various respectable persons who had seen the parties. He owned that at one time he was in considerable doubt as to the fact of trainings taking place; but now he had not the least doubt. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood were most anxious that a stop should be put to this practice without delay.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

said, that his noble friend, the lord lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire (lord Lascelles), had felt it his duty to leave town last night for Yorkshire, after the adjournment of the House. He was the more anxious this bill should pass without delay, as a meeting was advertised to be held at Barnsley on Monday next, and it was held out by those people who proposed to attend the meeting, that they were to go armed—a circumstance which had caused no small alarm in that neighbourhood.

Lord Lowther

expressed his conviction, that training in a regular manner, had been practised to a great extent in the northern counties.

The Lord Advocate

bore his testimony to the existence of similar practices in Scotland.

Sir James Graham

said, that the inhabitants of Carlisle were under very great alarm, lest they should be attacked. At the same time he must say, the inhabitants in general were well-disposed, and the number of the disaffected very small. He did not believe the number of those who were badly disposed exceeded 4 or 500; but still these persons had arms in their hands, and were able to destroy the whole place. The cutting down of plantations had taken place to a great extent, for the purpose of obtaining staves to their pikes. The magistrates discovered that pikes had been made by blacksmiths to a very great extent. One of those who communicated the circumstance to the magistrates had received an order to make twelve dozen of pikes; but the other blacksmiths who had received orders did not choose to make any communication. Every inhabitant of Carlisle looked up to his majesty's ministers for protection, and if they did not receive that protection from ministers, they would look up to the opposition for it [laugh]; for they must have protection.

Mr. Brougham

said, he was rather surprised that any magistrates should entertain a shadow of doubt as to their power of preventing these nightly drills. If seventy or eighty men, even if they were armed only with clubs, but certainly if they were armed with pikes, met at mid-night, or under the cloud of night, for the purpose of training, there was only at shadow of difference between this crime and the highest crime known in law, that of levying war against the state. Surely those who thought the meeting at Manchester illegal, ought to think a meeting by night of persons, armed with pikes, illegal. Those who saw these practices ought to have given warning to the magistrates, who should have called out the yeomanry, and if the yeomanry were insufficient, the military also, to put down these trainings, and endeavour to secure some of the persons engaged in them. It was now between two and three months since he was in Carlisle, and he then heard the same account which was now given. Good God! where were the magistrates all the while? As to their saying they looked to his majesty's ministers for protection, and then to the opposition—he would merely observe, why did they not look to their own magistrates? He had no manner of doubt that the practice, of training was illegal, and a new law was only advisable to adopt penalties more specific than those of the common law of the land. The measure would also have the effect of a parliamentary denunciation against those mischievous persons who dared to commit such an offence.

The Attorney General

said, that several individuals had been committed for trial, at the last sessions, for, the offence of training, but they had traversed. It was undoubtedly true, that if it were possible to establish the purpose for which men met armed; by night, that amounted to high treason; but the hon. and learned gentleman must know, that there was a great difficulty in getting at that proof; and then they could only be indicted for the lowest offence in law—misdemeanor. But, in consequence of the traversing, there had been as yet no conviction, and consequently no example had been made. He needed only to state also, what was seen from the papers before them, the difficulty of getting evidence as to such training, the persons who had gone to see them having been attacked and maltreated. He trusted that the alarm now felt would induce individuals, at all hazards, to put down this practice, and that they would not suffer themselves to be intimidated by threats from doing so. After this act, he had hopes that the specific punishment would have the effect of preventing the repetition of this act. It had been said, if the Manchester meeting was illegal, surely there could be no doubt these nightly meetings were illegal; but the Manchester meeting had been held up to the country as a legal meeting, and thereby considerable difficulty had been thrown in the way of magistrates.

Lord Stanley

was surprised at the incredulity which the hon. member for Carlisle intimated, that he had till recently entertained with regard to the existence of these practices. All he could say was, that in the county of Lancashire they had been going on for a long period, and it was matter of general astonishment that legal proceedings had not been before instituted. Several persons had indeed been apprehended, but no prosecution had followed, and they were dismissed on promises of good behaviour. This was done, he believed, from doubt as to the illegality of the offence charged. He agreed with Mr. Brougham, that it was an offence at common law; but if it were not, it evidently ought to be made one; for it created not only alarm, but real danger. At the same time he did not wish to see it adopted without some time for consideration.

Mr. Curwen

said, his original doubt existed, because he had not at that time met with any person who had actually seen this drilling and training practised. Whatever might be the case in Lancashire, he was firmly persuaded that the far greater part of the people in Cumberland were loyal and well disposed. He never would believe until the fact was proved; to him, that any men could be desirous of overthrowing a constitution under which they enjoyed so many blessings.

Mr. S. Woortley

was quite satisfied with the mode proposed by his noble friend, which would mark, in some way, the feeling of the Houses He had no hesitation, on the part of the magistrates of Yorkshire, in saying that they considered themselves perfectly warranted in proceeding against the persons who met for training: the only difficulty was in obtaining proof against individuals—but he believed such proof was now obtained, and he expected some of them were in custody.

Mr. J. P. Grant

concurred in all that had been said, as to the immediate necessity of putting down practices which were as illegal as they were dangerous. He wished, however, to learn whether they were not understood to be confined to very small districts in Scotland.

The Lord Advocate

replied, chiefly to the neighbourhood of Glasgow.

Sir C. Burrell

thought that the information communicated by magistrates should always be treated with respect. It was too much the custom, on one side of the House, to represent such information as coming from government spies.

Lord Folkestone

gave his assent to the object of this measure, which he should have thought useless if the magistrates had done their duty.

Mr. Calcraft

agreed that training was an offence which ought to be put down. The House by showing an unanimous opinion to that effect, would, he was satisfied, recover many from delusion, and secure the punishment of irreclaimable offenders.

The bill was then read a first and second time.