HC Deb 21 December 1819 vol 41 cc1414-45
Lord Castlereagh

moved the second reading of the Blasphemous and Seditious Libel bill.

Lord Ebrington

felt much diffidence in addressing the House upon this subject. His diffidence was increased by the consciousness, that he could not add any thing to the unanswered and unanswerable arguments already urged from his side of the House against these measures. He trusted, however, that as he did not often, claim the indulgence of the House, he should experience it upon the present occasion. He protested against the whole of the system of measures of which this however appeared to him to be the most objectionable. Although he would admit some of those measures to be locally and temporarily necessary, yet he could not help thinking that the whole, brought forward and supported as they were, formed the most alarming attack ever made by parliament upon the liberties and constitution of the country. Here he must say, in reference to what he considered as the source and cause of all the measures brought forward—he meant the proceedings at Manchester—with respect to those proceedings, all he heard in that House only strengthened his previous conviction that inquiry, rigid and impartial inquiry, was loudly called for, and was indispensably necessary for the purposes of justice. The most positive assertions, and the most distinct offers of proof from his side of the House, were answered only by counter-assertions and by ex parte statements contained in the papers on the table. The legality of the meeting was still a matter of question, if it was not positively established. The dispersion of the meeting appeared at the present moment to have been unnecessary; illegal, and cruel. The House of Commons would therefore have only done their duty to the country—his majesty's ministers would have consulted their own interest, if the present measures had been preceded by strict inquiry; and if an attempt had been made to alleviate the distresses of the people, rather than recourse had to severe and coercive proceedings. But all inquiry had been rejected, and parliament had been called on, in a moment of alarm, not unfounded but greatly exaggerated, to legislate, not temporarily, or according to the exigency, but permanently, and in a manner that involved the innocent with the guilty. The right of meeting and petitioning was fettered for five years, and by other measures our liberties were to suffer permanently. But, alarming as the measures themselves were, he thought the manner in which they were received in that House, and the arguments by which they were supported, still more alarming. He had heard with astonishment the greatest blessing and the best security for the tranquillity of the country, represented as an evil, and the cause of disaffection and disloyalty. An hon. member had represented the general diffusion of education among the poor as the cause of those evils which now existed. At such an assertion he could only express his astonishment. Another hon. and learned member had referred to the security required from publicans as similar to the recognizances proposed in the Stamp-duties bill: but this was an argument which did not bear at all upon the subject. The state of morals in this county was not such as to call for such a measure as the present. It was not, he trusted, necessary for him to guard himself from misapprehension by expressing the abhorrence which he felt at the principles of blasphemy which were propagated. He admitted that some miscreants did circulate such principles, but he believed that their number was far less than it was represented by the other side of the House. As proofs that there did not exist in the country that spirit of blasphemy and infidelity from which some hon. gentlemen anticipated so much change, let the House look to the Bible Societies; let them look to the various societies for the propagation of the gospel, societies patronized, not by the rich and the great alone, but by all classes above the very paupers; let them look at the new churches and chapels building in every part of the country—let them look at the immense increase of meeting-houses. Many clergymen in the church were heard to complain that the people did not think the devotion of our own church sufficient for them. He was sincerely attached to the church, and did not wish to encourage methodism; but he could appeal to the increase of methodism as proof that blasphemy was not generally prevalent. But even admitting the evil to exist to a far greater degree than it really did, surely it was incumbent upon those who brought in the present measures, to show that the existing laws were not sufficient to meet that evil, before they called upon the House to pass other laws, by which the dearest privileges of Englishmen were invaded and destroyed. Since 1810, only one individual had been prosecuted for blasphemy, as appeared from the return upon their table; and he had been successfully prosecuted. The conviction and punishment of that individual could not be supposed to encourage blasphemy. The severity of his punishment might be thought sufficient without severer laws. Parliament had already restricted the right of public meeting; they had already repressed, and properly, all unnecessary military trainings; they had already, by too severe a law, authorized magistrates to search for arms. They had just had before them, a law proposing new and unheard, of securities against the possible abuse, or rather an imagined abuse, of the intention of writing. Under those circumstances, the House would surely do wise to pause before they proceeded further. In urging delay, hostile though he was to the principle of this bill, and particularly to the punishment of banishment proposed in it, his object only was to gain time for consideration. At present, it was impossible to give it due attention. Those who entertained the greatest alarm upon this subject could not suffer their feelings to run away with them, so far as to apprehend any danger or evil from the delay of this bill till after the recess. He would therefore move as an amendment, that for the word "now" be substituted "the 15th of February."

Colonel Davies

could not sufficiently express his surprise at the extraordinary conduct of ministers. He asked whether it was respectful to the House, whether it was respectful to the country, that this subject should be debated night after night on his side of the House, and that not one word should be said by ministers? When the rights and liberties of the country were attacked, were hon. gentlemen on his side of the House to get up one after another, and urge the most forcible arguments against those attacks, and was the House to hear not one word in their defence but such speeches as they had heard last night. In the annals of parliament were not to be found such arguments as had been used last night in defence of these measures. Measures adopted in the time of Charles 1st, measures adopted by the long parliament, measures peculiar to the rash councils of the Stuarts, were the only precedents urged in defence of the present measures. If arguments were to be selected by the friends of the measures against themselves, none more forcible than those could be found. What worse could be said of the measures before them, than that they were paralleled only by abominable measures, passed when there was not a vestige of the liberty of the press—when there was not a trace of civil or religious freedom? Was it, he asked, by measures of this kind that we had attained to all our eminence in freedom, in commerce, in wealth, in general prosperity? Was it by measures like these we had become the admiration and envy of the world? Was it necessary to remind gentlemen, that if measures of this kind had always existed, the public mind had never been awakened, the constitution on which Englishmen so justly prided themselves had never grown up to its acknowledged excellence and strength? By repressing the free circulation and the open avowal of opinion, that warning voice which often apprised of danger and preserved from ruin, would be silenced, but instead would be generated a deep, lasting, and dangerous spirit of indignation and resentment. Men would in secret brood over their sufferings and their wrongs, till a sudden explosion would spread over the land a calamity as complete as it had been unforeseen. But he had not risen to discuss the question; he had risen only to protest against the violation of every principle of decency which appeared in the conduct of ministers. In the history of parliament—gentlemen might laugh, but he would repeat, that in the history of parliament, was nothing to be found so indecent. Objections had been urged against the legality of many parts of the present bill. Why did not learned gentlemen on the other side at least attempt an answer? The necessity of the measure was denied. Why was no proof offered of the existence of any necessity? If ministers could urge one good ground for such a measure, let them receive the gratitude of the country, instead of the abhorrence with which they and their measures were now regarded.

Mr. Money

said, he cordially assented to all the measures proposed as calculated for the protection of our religion and our liberties. He trusted that the whole had not yet appeared of the measures prepared for stemming and turning the tide of blasphemy, which was now poured into some of the most populous, and hitherto some of the most religious parts of the country. A right hon. and learned gentleman had stated, in a speech at distinguished for piety as for eloquence, that blasphemers carried their pernicious industry so far as to convey their poison to the minds of youth by means of primers and catechisms. Of this fact, too, there was abundant proof. The magistrates of the county of Chester stated in the papers on the table, that blasphemy and sedition were taught in schools where thousands were educated. The grand jury of the same county declared that the holy scriptures were reviled and laughed at, and audaciously represented to the people as false, by blasphemers, who thus deprive the people of all the moral restraints, and all the hopes and comforts of religion. The earl of Glasgow also stated, that most active endeavours were made to instil the most poisonous principles, and to eradicate every principle of religion from a district once the most religious. A gentleman, much experienced in the knowledge of mankind, and well known to that House, had said, that it was one of the worst symptoms of the age, that sedition was conveyed to the child with his lesson. That an early and effectual antidote to this evil was necessary all must admit. It was the bounden duty of the House to extend a moral and religious education to every part of the country. The tax on cheap publications, as it would diminish the sale of them, would in so far diminish the evil which they were the means of inflicting on the country. But there were other publications, on which some restraint ought to be laid—he meant Sun- day newspapers, which were the most fruitful sources of the mischiefs which had sprung out of the abuses of the press. This evil ought to be repressed. They were a modern innovation on the repose of the sabbath: and being published when the lower orders were idle, they were read with avidity. The publishers of these papers selected and arranged all the poison of the week, and brought it out in one copious dose. The reading of these papers occupied the time and attention which ought to be devoted to the sabbath. Hence proceeded much of the increase of infidelity. Surely on one day of seven, a day divinely commanded to be kept holy, the sale of news ought, like all other sales, to be prohibited. He knew of no other shop that was allowed to be open. The shops of booksellers, libraries, and every other shop, were shut. Many of those most interested in the sale of those papers were anxious to have them repressed. He had seen a petition signed by 60 or 70 news-venders, which was intended to be presented to that House. They declared that they were placed in the most inconvenient situation by the increase of Sunday newspapers, for that they were unwilling to live by the breach of the sabbath; and those papers induced persons to frequent public-houses, and circulated principles and doctrines that were disloyal, seditious, and profane. He trusted that the suppression of those papers would be undertaken by his majesty's government as a measure that would tend much to effect the object intended by all the measures now proposed. At this crisis they had the confidence of the great majority of the country, as they had in the counsels which, sanctioned by parliament, had conducted the country triumphantly through the war. The same counsels, he trusted, would, through divine Providence, preserve unimpaired the institutions of our ancestors.

Mr. William smith

could assure the hon. gentleman who had just sat down that he would agree with him if he could prove his case. Those who knew him best, would as little suspect him of blasphemy, sedition, and impiety, as the hon. member. If he saw any reason for believing what the hon. gentleman wished the House to believe, that there were schools in the country, in which sedition and blasphemy were taught, he would be as forward as the hon. gentleman for almost any measures. But the whole evidence was mere assertion of the most vague and uncertain nature. There was nothing like proof. Not one primer or seditious spelling-book was produced which could be produced by scores and thousands, if the assertion were true. A very respectable friend had told him the same story. He had told him that he had come out of the country recently, and that sedition and blasphemy were taught in schools. He asked his friend whether he had seen any books of that kind. His friend acknowledged that he had not, but that he had had his information from good authority. But he, upon further interrogation, acknowledged that this authority had never seen such books. What, then, was his evidence? "Somebody told me that somebody told him that something existed." It so happened in every part of the information on which the subjects before them were founded—subjects on which he was unfortunately in a minority. Inquiry was refused, and they were desired to take every assertion in the papers on the table as an ascertained fact. Of those papers some were too vague, and a great many were not the result of personal knowledge. He regretted that a noble lord, the lord-lieutenant of the west riding of the county of York—whom he regarded with much respect, he had almost said personal regard—he regretted that the noble lord was not present, for he was told that he had stated it to be a fact that sedition was taught in schools. He wished to ask the noble lord, whether, having been recently in the country, he had got any further instance on the spot. If the practice existed at all, instances of its existence might have been easily found. He had been long of opinion, that religion, though inculcated in youth, could have very little authority with adults if supported only by the force of law; but he knew no common punishment sufficient for those who imbued the young mind with irreligious principles. On those subjects, then, stated by the hon. gentleman, he was a total infidel. He did not believe in the facts. While he had the deepest regard for religion, he had too much regard for civil and religious liberty to sacrifice it without conviction of necessity. He would not do it on suspicion, because suspicion ought to have no weight or authority without the support of facts. He hoped he should be excused for saying a few words here upon the kind of defence set up on his trial by Mr. Carlile—a de- fence in which proceedings in that House were alluded to, and his name, as the mover of a bill on which Mr. Carlile rested his defence, had been mentioned. He knew nothing of Mr. Carlile, and almost of the whole of his defence he was ignorant. But if he had rested his defence on the bill which he had the honour and very great satisfaction to carry through that House, no defence was ever more void of foundation. He had had a conversation with the most respectable and venerable person who was at the head of the church of England, and to whom he could appeal if he were in that House, before the bill was proposed, and they had agreed that the common law respecting blasphemy was not affected by it. He would not now touch on the law of blasphemy, nor would he enter into the question whether blasphemy might not better be left to its own fate. He was sure of the concurrence of an hon. and learned gentleman on the other side, in the opinion that Christianity needed not the support of the civil power. He was perfectly satisfied that it would occasion no danger to our religion if every statute for its defence were done away, or had never existed in this country. If the laws against blasphemy had existed, or had been put into effectual execution at former periods, the Christian religion never could have existed as it now did in this country—because the principle of those laws must go to this extent—that every government should have the power of protecting the religion which is established; and, if so, it must have been effectual against the reformers in behalf of the Catholics. This was his creed, and he should never hesitate to avow it. With respect to the question before the House, and particularly the new punishment of banishment, he begged leave to say, that he had never been more surprised than at the arguments used last night. When they considered the changes of time—when they viewed the great and extensive operations of that great innovator—when they reflected, that, as had been last night said, the great excellence of our constitution was, that like the skin of the human body, it enlarged itself, and grew in exact correspondence with the growth of the institutions which it embraced—when they observed these things, must they not think it very extraordinary, that not only the precedents of our Saxon ancestors were referred to in support of any legislative proceeding but those of the Tudors and Stuarts? He should have thought that the very circumstance of such measures having been resorted to then, would be sufficient reason for their condemnation now. If, however, any thing could surprise him more than another, it was another argument used last night. Although this was in fact a continuation of last night's debate, yet it being irregular to refer to a former debate, he would only mention the argument. The extent of education in this country had been regarded as ground of reprobation and censure rather than of applause. This was going very far back indeed. Upon the same grounds, the invention of printing ought to be condemned altogether, and reprobated as the bane of society, and John Faustus and his associates ought to have been consigned to the dungeons of the inquisition, instead of being regarded as the greatest benefactors of mankind. Knowledge was valuable, not as the exclusive privilege of a few, but as a means of happiness which extended its benefits to all classes, and enabled the lowest to raise themselves in the scale of existence. But he did not mean to go into that discussion; he had risen only to say, that the hon. member's statements were without foundation in fact.

Mr. Money

explained. He had expressly referred to the papers on the table as containing proofs of his assertion. The magistrates of Chester had said that the facts could be verified on oath.

Mr. W. Smith

explained. He was aware of that; but he repeated that the assertions in those papers were too vague to be trusted.

Mr. J. P. Grant

could not avoid expressing his surprise at the very extraordinary conduct pursued by his majesty's ministers, relative to the progress of all the measures they had proposed since the meeting of parliament. He could see no reason to justify the precipitancy with which they were hurrying bills through the House, which went to shake the foundation of English liberty. He hoped, however, the manner in which they were passed, would have its due impression with the country, and that such members as were not devoted to the Treasury, would pause before they sanctioned proceedings of the most indecent and unnecessary description. In proposing a bill which went, be- yond all precedent, against the liberty of the subject, ministers did not think it worth their while either to state why it should pass, or why the modification which it was understood to be their wish to make in it hereafter, should be made. His opposition would, he feared, be ineffectual, but he should consider himself guilty of a gross breach of his public duty, did he suffer the bill to be read a second time, without being afforded sufficient time to look at its provisions.

Mr. Tierney

said, that in opposing the haste with which the present measure was attempted to be forced through the House, he was only actuated by a sincere desire to perform a great public duty. He was sure the noble lord would do him the justice to say, that during the whole course of these proceedings, he had not endeavoured to retard their progress by a factious or vexatious opposition. The present bill, however, which was most novel in its provisions, was not brought forward as the other measures had been; and he conceived he was not asking too much, when he called on ministers not to press it before the Christmas recess, but to pause until they met again after the holidays. The noble lord, it seemed, was not disposed to accede to that proposition. Since that was the case, he would make his appeal to other gentlemen in the House, who, though they might approve of the measure, were not quite so eager to have it immediately disposed of. They perhaps, would agree to his proposition, which he declared, in all sincerity of heart, was not intended to impede the course of proceedings which government recommended for adoption, but was meant to afford a proper opportunity for due deliberation on one of the most important subjects that was ever brought before the legislature. Many gentlemen were, he knew, willing to give a certain degree of confidence to ministers; but he believed no member of any administration, before the present period, ever thought of introducing a bill from the other House of Parliament, containing the most important enactments, without feeling the propriety of opening, distinctly, his view of the subject, and stating the necessity in which the measure originated. He was quite sure, that, in another place to which a bill passed in that House had been sent, some of his majesty's ministers deemed it their duty to state the grounds on which the measure had been introduced, and * agreed to. They did not think it was sufficient to say that the bill ought to be passed, merely because it came from the other House of parliament. Such a proceeding was unprecedented. It was the more necessary also, that explanation should be given in this case, because the bill as sent down here from the other House had been altered. All the noble lord had said on this point was, that transportation was too severe a penalty, and that banishment should be substituted; but he offered no reason to show that transportation was too severe, or that banishment should be preferred. Now, however, at this late period of the year, without stating any argument in support of its necessity, the noble lord called on them to recognize a principle, not only hostile to the liberties of the country, but totally new in its legislation; for whatever might have been the practice with respect to individuals, there was never before a case where a whole class of offences was, without discrimination, subjected to this species of punishment. In dividing on this question, his object was, to see whether a certain fair period of time could not be procured for properly considering this measure. With this view, he felt it to be an imperative duty to proceed to a division. Knowing that he was not acting from any wish to create an unnecessary delay, he implored gentlemen to support the motion of his noble friend, and not to carry a measure of this kind without consideration, because it came from the Treasury-bench. He hoped the House would pause before they hurried this measure forward at this time; since hurried it must be, if it were agreed to before the recess. There was no circumstance which pressed for an immediate decision: there was no reason adduced for not postponing its consideration to the period proposed by his noble friend. He did not wish to trouble the House farther; he did not want to protract the debate; but he should not discharge the duty he owed to the House and the country, if he did not use his best efforts to procure an opportunity for a solemn pause, in order that this measure should be thoroughly considered and properly understood.

Lord Castlereagh

appealed to the House, whether, in former discussions, a full opening had not been made, with respect to the nature and tendency of all the measures which had recently been brought before them; and amongst them, of that which was now immediately under consideration. If the present measure were as complicated in its details as the bill for preventing seditious assemblies was described to be, considerable inconvenience might have arisen had it been introduced without a regular opening. It was very unfortunate that ministers could not, by any line of conduct, please the gentlemen opposite. To-night they were not satisfied, because no opening speech had been delivered; although the nature of the measure rendered such a speech unnecessary. But, on a former occasion, when he stated that his hon. and learned friend would introduce the seditious meetings bill by a speech explanatory of its nature, that course was also deprecated by the gentlemen opposite, as an objectional proceeding. His hon. and learned friend, in moving the second reading of that bill, fully described its enactments, which were rather complicated; but the present bill required no such introduction, since it was by no means extensive in its detail. It was undoubtedly a bill of great importance, but still it was altogether a bill of principle, and he conceived that when he originally introduced the whole of the proposed measures to the House, he had sufficiently opened the principle on which this bill rested. The right hon. gentleman said, that this was not the same bill as that which was sent down from the Lords. He (lord Castlereagh) asserted that it was precisely the same bill, but he thought it would bring the House more fairly to the question, when he reminded them that he had apprised them on a former night that he would in the committee propose to commute transportation for banishment. Having on the occasion to which he had already alluded, so fully stated the scope and principle of the bill which was intended to be brought into the other House of Parliament, and observing that it was called for by the notoriety of the situation in which the country was placed, it did appear to him now a very extraordinary circumstance, that gentlemen should declare their ignorance of the nature of the measure. He really did expect that, according to the common course of business in that House, some of the gentlemen opposite would have stated what their objections against the bill were. The speech of the noble lord however (whom he always heard with pleasure), was directed against all the measures of government rather than against this particular measure. He had censured all that ministers had done, and all that they had proposed to do. The hon. member for Norwich had expressed his sentiments on a bill which had passed a few-years ago, had adverted to Mr. Carlile's trial, and indeed had touched on almost every subject, except that which was immediately before the House. When the debate took this sort of course, he felt with his hon. friends near him, that if he got up for the purpose of addressing the chair, he must either enter into those explanations of the bill which he had previously given, or digress into subjects not at all relevant to that before the House. When he saw such a phalanx of talent before him—when he knew the expectation which was naturally excited with respect to the debate of this evening, he was led to suppose, that some of those hon. gentlemen would endeavour to expose the inutility and impolicy of the bill; and he could assure them, that if any of them made a display of that kind, it would not go without an answer. But he could not see why he and his hon. friends should be called upon to combat air, or to fight where there was no appearance of an enemy. Now, when this night was fixed for the consideration of this bill, as he understood with the consent of all parties, it was certainly not fair to call on the House to stay in the middle of its proceedings until after the holidays. He asserted, looking to the situation of the country, that the House would not show a proper sensibility for the suppression of that horrible system which prevailed, if, having passed bills of less importance, they showed an unwillingness to accede to this. The right hon. gentleman might reproach ministers for having shown a comparative coldness to the true interests of the country, if after they had carried measures for regulating public meetings, and for other points of considerable importance at the present moment, they had refrained from checking that evil by which the morals of the people and the peace of the country were more likely to be shaken than by any other cause whatsoever. He stated originally, that he looked on the measures which were connected with the press, and which were intended to support the character and morals of the country, as of infinitely more importance to the safety of the state than any others that could be devised or imagined. If parliament separated with- out performing this great, sacred, and solemn duty to the country; if they separated without averting the monstrous danger which threatened the empire; if they separated without dispelling the disgrace which hung over their heads, by permitting blasphemous publications to be disseminated without restraint, they would ill discharge the duty which had devolved upon them. He decidedly protested against the doctrine, that ministers were bound to get up in that House, and make speeches, when no objections were offered against their measures. If he had not originally opened this subject with sufficient fulness, he certainly might now be called on for information; but as that charge could not be made against him, it lay on the other side of the House to state their objections; and when they did so, he felt confident that they would be refuted.

Sir James Mackintosh

said, he had entered the House with expectations of a very reasonable kind— expectations which, reasonable as they were, he was sorry to perceive were likely to be disappointed. He had entered the House with the expectation that those who proposed an innovation in the criminal law of the country—an innovation affecting the most important of all the constitutional rights of Englishmen—a law against the freedom of the British press—would show some reason for such a proceeding, before they called upon the House to entertain the proposition; but the noble lord reversed the usual course of business, and argued, that gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House should state their objections to the measure. To state their objections to the measure! To offer arguments against that in support of which 110 argument had been offered! In his opinion, every individual who agreed to this proposition without full explanation from those by whom it was introduced, would make himself a party to an outrage against the constitution—would become a party to a precedent of the most scandalous and reprehensible nature. Surely it could not be argued, that because the bill came from another place, it was therefore to be adopted here, on a simple proposition to that effect. It was a measure of the highest possible importance, and before the second reading was moved, its nature should have been fully described to the House. He hoped the circumstances would be recollected by the House and the country, under which it was brought forward by the noble lord. He hoped the introduction in such a manner of a new penalty for an undefined offence would not be forgotten. He hoped it would be remembered, that it was in the noble lord's administration that such an innovation, on such a subject, was avowedly tolerated. Let the House bear in mind that not one syllable of reason had been adduced for this innovation. When the bill came from the House of Lords, it was read the first time without opposition, in conformity with the usual courtesy which prevailed in such cases. It passed the first reading without discussion or observation, because no man, he thought, in his senses, could have supposed that the noble lord had forgotten ail the maxims of sound argument and just reasoning, and adopted the opinion, that the burthen of proof rested with those who opposed the measure. He (sir J. Mackintosh) always understood that such proof rested with the proposers of a law, and not with those who were called upon to consider it. The noble lord had told them, that in the case of the seditious meetings bill, he had found it necessary to make a separate statement. Was it, he asked, on account of the comparative importance of the bill, that he was obliged to do so? The noble lord would perhaps answer, that its intricacy in point of detail rendered such a proceeding necessary. The present bill, the noble lord might perhaps observe, only authorized new principles, new precedents, and new laws, in their penal legislation respecting the liberty of the press, and was therefore of so frivolous a nature as to render statement or explanation quite unnecessary! There was no shadow of ground for the distinction which the noble lord was solicitous to establish. The introduction of a new principle and a new law on general grounds, such as those alluded to by the noble lord, required that those grounds should be stated, as well as the facts which called for the introduction of a measure of complicated details. What did the noble lord state in his opening speech on a former occasion? He had listened to the noble lord with the deepest but most painful attention, and having done so, he would maintain that the noble lord had stated no ground whatever for this measure. The noble lord had stated indeed, that blasphemous libels had increased, and he had argued the necessity of putting them down by a severe penalty. But did the noble lord prove that necessity? Did he show that the inadequacy of the punishment awarded by the law as it at present stood, was the cause of this increase of blasphemous libels? Was it stated by any gentleman in the House that this was the case? It was not: no individual could make such a statement. He believed such a position to be absolutely untenable. Many things ought to be proved before the House agreed to such a measure. Ere they could wisely or honestly adopt it, the existence of the evil must be shown—the inadequacy of the existing law to meet it—the efficacy of the remedy, and its likelihood not to produce a greater evil than that which it was intended to remove. Not one of them was made out by the noble lord, and indeed it was impossible that they could be in a few cursory paragraphs of the noble lord's speech—a speech in which the noble lord, certainly with great ability had taken a review of the whole state of the country. It was impossible that the noble lord could, in part of that description, pay such attention to a question of this extent and importance as it manifestly demanded. What the noble lord had now said was quite beside the question. It was not a question whether a bill for putting down blasphemous libels was, or was not, of more importance than the others, which had been passed to meet particular offences. The other measures were introduced to check what was termed an urgent existing evil. If they were to be adopted at all (and he did not think they were called for) they must be adopted immediately; but that which was a measure of a preventive nature did not demand the same degree of hurry. It was of much more importance than the immediate passing of this bill, that the House should keep up to the accustomed forms of legislature—to those decencies and decorums which ought to attend the enactment of any penal law; and much more so, when new penalties were about to be directed against the liberty of the press. They ought not to lose sight of that gravity and calm deliberation which should be witnessed in every deliberative assembly, when new and heretofore unknown penalties were introduced for their adoption. He therefore, most unquestionably, would not enter into the discussion of this measure on the present occasion. He would consider himself highly blameable if he did; as that would be to assume that the mea- sure bore on its face its recommendation to the House. Time for due consideration ought to be allowed, and to obtain the necessary delay, he would vote for the motion of his noble friend who had proposed an adjournment of the question.

The Attorney General

observed, that the remarks on the course of proceeding adopted by his majesty's ministers, which had fallen from gentlemen on the other side, were well deserving of notice. They appeared to him to have arisen from a misunderstanding of what had formerly taken place. His noble friend had, on a former occasion, distinctly stated the nature of the alterations intended to be proposed in the committee, and therefore he thought the imputation of his hon. and learned friend, was without foundation. Still less founded was the assertion which his hon. and learned friend had made, that his noble friend, or any other of his majesty's ministers, or indeed any gentleman on that (the ministerial) side of the House, had treated the present as a frivolous measure. Measures connected with the state of the press had been insisted on by his majesty's ministers, as those of the utmost importance, and therefore deserving the most serious consideration of the House before they became the law of the land. When he recollected the manner in which the noble lord opened the present debate, and the speeches which were delivered by gentlemen on the other side of the House, they appeared to him directed to any thing rather than the matter immediately under discussion. They had again restated to the House the question at Manchester, and a sweeping condemnation of all those measures produced by it. Some allusions had been made to himself in the course of the debate, intending to provoke him to address the House, which he was always unwilling to do, unless his duty rendered it absolutely necessary. He rose last night to answer certain remarks which were then thrown out, but was on that occasion prevented from stating his opinion. The law, they were told, as it at present stood, was sufficient for the punishment of libel; and observations were made relative to the conduct of an hon. and learned friend of his, to whom he had unworthily succeeded. He begged to state to the House the circumstances in which his hon. and learned friend was placed, particularly in the year 1818, when no prosecutions were commenced. The observations which came from the other side of the House on this subject were most extraordinary, and astonished him not a little. It was the first time, he believed, that gentlemen opposite had reproached the law officers of the Crown for not exercising their powers. Let the House consider the situation in which the law officers of the Crown were placed. If they wished to prosecute with effect, and at the proper time, motions were brought forward in parliament, charging them with having prosecuted too much. An hon. and learned predecessor of his, in the years 1810 and 1811, had selected a number of cases of libel, which he prosecuted with effect. A motion was in consequence made on the subject in parliament, and observations similar to those which he had since heard were not only directed against that individual, but the policy of prosecuting at all was strongly questioned. In 1817, when libels were disseminated through the country, attempts were made to put them down, not by the ex officio informations of the attorney-general, but by instituting prosecutions in inferior courts. Then a motion was made in parliament questioning the legality of the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, who maintained the right of those inferior courts to exercise a jurisdiction in cases of libel. Was it likely, after this, that magistrates would interfere to repress libels in their different districts, when a doubt was thus thrown on their authority? Prosecutions were afterwards instituted in the metropolis, and acquittal followed acquittal. Two remarkable cases of this kind occurred (those of Mr. Wooler). In one of them a verdict of acquittal was recorded; in the other the defendant was found guilty, but the verdict was set aside in consequence of an informality, all the jurymen not having been in court when the verdict was returned. He was ready to meet the hon. gentlemen opposite with respect to the trial and acquittal of Mr. Hone. What was the nature of the libels in that case—for he must so call them, as they had been so decided since the acquittal of that individual? In mentioning these circumstances, he by no means intended to impeach the verdict of the jury by which Mr. Hone was tried. It was said, as the ground of Mr. Hone's defence, that the primary object of those libels was, not to bring into contempt any part of the Litany, but to libel and scandalize certain persons named in them. He never heard those publications defended, but many attempts had been made to jus- tify the verdicts. Gentlemen on both sides of the House allowed that the parodies were improper. He would ask, why they were so considered? The reason evidently was, because gentlemen must have felt, that whatever the intention of the defendant was, the necessary effect of those publications must be, to bring into contempt those parts of the Litany which were parodied. Whatever was the intention of Mr. Hone, if such an effect were produced, he (Mr. Hone) was answerable for it. But no sooner came the first day of the sessions, though no amendment was moved to the Address, although it was concurred in by gentlemen opposite, still they one and all rose to state their opinion, that it was a cruel persecution of this individual, and that the attorney-general had exercised a most unwise discretion. They, however, admitted the impropriety of those publications. He was told at that time, that to prosecute them was a most dangerous system, because it tended to disseminate the poison more widely [Hear, hear, hear!]. One hon. gentleman had said to-night, that the Christian religion did not want the aid of the civil power for its support, as he (the attorney-general) had stated on the trial of Carlile. He admitted that it did not demand the aid of the civil power for the promulgation of its doctrines or the preservation of its tenets; but when publications were sent forth, such as those disseminated by Carlile, was it not necessary, for the protection of the lower orders, that those prosecutions should be carried on? Was not the prosecution of such an offender likely to repress the offence? But gentlemen on the other side of the House wished the law officers of the Crown to be tender of prosecuting libels; and it had even been declared, that the more foul the libel, the more dangerous the prosecution, because it gave a greater publicity, and sometimes excited commiseration for the party prosecuted. The case of Mr. Hone was quoted in support of this statement, and allusion was made to the lavish subscription which had been procured for the relief of that individual throughout the country. He did not mean to impute improper motives to any one; he would hazard the censure of the hon. member for Shrewsbury by declaring, that whatever might have been the motives of those who thus subscribed, the effect of their conduct was most prejudicial. What must be the effect on the country, where a man, who hap- pened to be acquitted for publishing pamphlets considered on all hands improper, confessedly of a mischievous nature, was immediately held up as a persecuted individual, and therefore worthy of public support. At the time to which he alluded, a prosecution was considered beneficial. He might almost say, that premiums were offered for prosecutions. His hon. and learned predecessor had actually received letters from individuals, calling on him to prosecute them. There were not only acquittals, but the persons acquitted were held up as martyrs. These circumstances were not very encouraging to those whose duty it was to prosecute; for the House would perceive that the right of the attorney-general to prosecute should be maturely considered before he proceeded. No prosecution ought to be instituted by him, unless he meant to carry it on with effect, and where he was not conscious in his own mind of the probability of a successful issue. The House would also agree with him, that there was, and perhaps there ought to be, a prejudice in the minds of jurymen, and of the public, against Crown prosecutions. An attorney-general would, under these circumstances, do wrong to launch into prosecutions for libel, without considering the nature of the libel, the temper of the times, and temper of the jury. There had been five acquittals within the walls of the courts of justice, as well as a subscription out of doors for persons who had been prosecuted for libel. Feeling, therefore, as an attorney-general must do, that he was likely to be called to an account in that House for the exercise of his power, his hon. and learned friend was completely justified in not proceeding without very great deliberation. Early in 1819, prosecutions were commenced against Carlile, not only for blasphemous publications, but for a seditious libel having the tendency to encourage people to act upon the principle of assassination. His hon. and learned predecessor having instituted those prosecutions, and finding also that others were instituted by a society in this town, who made it their business to look after offences of this kind, had a right to pause before he filed other informations, until the result of the pending prosecutions was known. He did not in consequence file any more informations, lest he might be accused of harassing individuals unnecessarily. It was impossible, from the press of business in the court of King's-bench, to bring on the trial until the month of October last, at which time his hon. and learned friend had retired from office. This delay was by no means unprecedented. In 1795, when a noble and learned lord (then Mr. Erskine) prosecuted Williams for publishing "The Age of Reason," he declined bringing the case to trial until a full special jury attended. He (the attorney-general), however, was determined to proceed, whether the number of special jurors who attended was great or small. The result was, that Carlile was convicted, and he had no doubt that that conviction had produced a useful effect. On his entrance into office, such was the number of libels which inundated the country, and the cheapness of the forms in which they were published, that, painful as the duty was, he had felt it necessary to prosecute, not only by ex officio informations, but also by another way, in the inferior courts; but if indictment were multiplied on indictment, if information were heaped upon information, it would have been impossible to meet all the cases of libel. They might as well think of instituting actions against all the persons who attended at the meeting at Manchester, or any other illegal meeting, if an hon. and learned friend of his would allow him so to call it. His hon. and learned friend had said, that this was only a preventive measure. Could he say that the placing an additional punishment on a particular offence known to exist, was mere matter of prevention? One object of the bill, he apprehended, was this—by affixing an accumulated punishment on an offender who had committed a second offence, at once to visit him for his past conduct, and to prevent a recurrence of it in future. What could be a greater offence against a society, constituted like our's, than an attempt, first, to overthrow the religion; and next, to subvert the government? By this bill, an endeavour was made to prevent the mischief, before it went to any great extent. It first enabled the Court before whom the party was tried, to seize the libellous publication, whether in his own hands or those of any other person. His hon. and learned friend had said, that no proof was given of the existence of mischief; but was it not clear in the case of Carlile, who, up to the very eve of his judgment, had continued to sell those blasphemous publications for which he was punished? This instance was ground enough for the enactment subjecting the libels, after convic- tion, to be seized by the order of the Court; and it was provided, that if a new trial should be granted, the property should be restored, society being protected in the mean time against the diffusion of the evil. Could any thing be more pernicious to society than the publication of those seditious and blasphemous libels with which the country had been deluged? It was said that this bill enacted a new punishment. That was not the case. In 1796 a bill was passed, by which the party convicted of the offences therein mentioned was subjected to banishment. Banishment was not so severe a punishment as transportation, because it enabled the the person on whom it was inflicted to select his own place of retreat, and saved him from being forcibly detained among felons. He trusted he had shown that an evil did exist, against which the House were called upon to furnish a preventive. This being the case, he apprehended that the provisions of this bill would have a tendency to repress that evil. It would operate to prevent a second offence, because when persons had committed a first, they would be more careful not to offend again. Whatever objections might be made to the details in the committee, he thought the public would not be satisfied unless that House should consent to pass this bill. His majesty's ministers did not wish to break in upon fair discussion, but it was necessary to provide a security against blasphemy and sedition; and, in framing this measure, it had been considered, that prevention was better than punishment.

Sir James Mackintosh

rose to explain. He said he had been misunderstood. He intended to distinguish, and he thought he had distinguished prevention by previous restraint from prevention by punishment and example. His hon. and learned friend, had told them, that banishment was not a new punishment. He (sir J. Mackintosh) had merely stated, that it was a punishment not now existing as applicable to offences of the press.

Lord Althorp

said, that as allusion had been made to him, he thought it necessary to rise in order that he might state to the House the grounds on which he had objected to the prosecution of Mr. Hone. His objections to that prosecution arose from the circumstance of the hon. and learned gentleman who then held the office of attorney-general, having appealed from one jury to another, with the view of obtaining a conviction for a libel of the same nature. This perseverance accorded but little with the relaxation which followed it concerning cases of a much less equivocal nature. The objections which he and his hon. friends entertained against the present measure were, that it was wrong to bring in a new penal law, when the existing laws had not been previously tried. The hon. and learned gentleman had said, that prevention was better than punishment; but he (lord Althorp) contended, that the noble lord opposite and his colleagues had no right to impose fresh restrictions on the press at the present moment; when the sufficiency of the existing restrictions had not been ascertained.

The Attorney General

, in explanation, defended the conduct of his hon. and learned predecessor in not pressing any more prosecutions immediately after the acquittals which had been alluded to.

The Marquis of Tavistock

said, that the hon. and learned gentleman had that night, although in a tone very different from that of his hon. and learned colleague on a former evening, brought forward a charge against those who contributed to the relief of Mr. Hone. He had hoped, that after what had passed in that House from time to time, respecting the prosecution of that individual, it would not have been necessary for him to say one word upon the subject. He had thought it had been clearly understood, that whatever might be the opinion with respect to the conduct of government in that prosecution, there could be but one feeling of disgust with respect to the parodies in question. One of the hon. and learned gentlemen opposite had thought proper on a former occasion to say that it was owing to those who expressed their disapprobation of the prosecution of Mr. Hone, and who had contributed to the subscription for that individual, that blasphemy and sedition had since gone unpunished. He (the marquis of Tavistock) must request the indulgence of the House, while he stated shortly what the motives of his conduct had been. Having seen others not only not prosecuted, but loaded with honours and pensions, after having published parodies of a similar nature, only that they were in favour of the government; and having seen in the case of Mr. Hone, that if the parodies had not been against his majesty's government, we should not probably have ever heard of them; having seen contrary to the spirit of our laws three prosecutions carried on by the attorney-general for the same offence; although Mr. Hone, after the acquittal on the first of them, had given a promise—a promise which he had since kept—that he would not republish the parodies, he (the marquis of Tavistock) thought it proper to mark his sense of the conduct of those proceedings, and he had no hesitation to add his admiration of the abilities of Mr. Hone in conducting his defence against all the power and talents which had been arrayed against him. As to the attempt to implicate him (the marquis of Tavistock) and those who had pursued the same course, in the charge of approving and extending the progress of blasphemy, it was too absurd to be maintained for a moment; although he confessed he felt some surprise at the course of argument which had been pursued by the hon. and learned gentleman as he had some recollection of the time when the hon. and learned gentleman was accustomed to treat similar topics in a very different tone. However objectionable the mode of political discussion by parody on the sacred writings unquestionably was, Mr. Hone could plead abundant precedents for it. He would appeal to a right hon. gentleman opposite, whether he had not in his former, perhaps he might call them his less prudent days, indulged in such a mode of expressing his feelings; and whether at the time he did so, he was not, nevertheless, capable of entertaining a just abhorrence of blasphemy and sedition.

The Solicitor General

observed, that he was so pointedly called upon by the speech of the noble lord and by that of the hon. member for Shrewsbury last night that he did not think he should discharge his duty to himself if he did not rise to offer an explanation of the language imputed to him. Three weeks had elapsed since he had made use of the expressions alluded to. They had occurred at the commencement of the debate on the present bills, and yet, strange to say, though the hon. member for Shrewsbury was present at the time (whether the noble lord was or was not he could not say), he had not ventured to bring forward the charge when what he (the solicitor general) had said was fresh in the recollection of the House, but had postponed doing so until an interval of three weeks had elapsed. He would dare any hon. member in the House, who was listening to him at the time to say, that there was the slightest ground for the charge. He never had said that the conduct of the gentlemen opposite, in Mr. Hone's case had given rise to all the sedition and blasphemy which had since flowed in upon the country. He never in his life had given a more guarded opinion than on the occasion in question, and he would defy any one to say that his expressions were not that, without censuring the motives of the persons who entered into a subscription for Mr. Hone, he was confident that such conduct had had the effect of holding out a hope of impunity to blasphemous and seditious libellers. That was his sentiment on that occasion, and he now deliberately repeated the same. He would ask the noble lord on what grounds did he bring charges against him (the Solicitor-general), for his former conduct? He would ask the hon. member for Shrewsbury on what ground did he charge him with inconsistency? He had never before the time of his entrance into that House belonged to any political society, or was in any way connected with politics, and even if he had intended to connect himself with any party, he confessed that during his short parliamentary experience he had seen nothing in the views, the policy or the conduct of the gentlemen opposite, to induce him, as a true friend of the constitution to join them. On a former night he stated what he stated now, and what could not be contradicted, that on the three trials of Mr. Hone, a judge, of whose talents and knowledge of English law he had the highest opinion, and who was distinguished for his independence of character, declared the publications to be profane libels; that the present chief justice of the King's-bench, who filled that situation with so much honour, declared that the publication produced on the trial at which he presided was a profane and impious libel; that another person was tried and found guilty for the publication of one of those libels; that another person suffered judgment to go by default for publishing one of those parodies, and that the court in passing sentence described it to be a profane and impious libel. With all these circumstances before his eyes, and relying upon the knowledge of the laws of this country possessed by the respectable individuals before mentioned, was it, he would ask, too much for him to say, that notwithstanding the verdict of the jury, he considered the publications profane and impious libels? When the question was afterwards brought before that House by a noble lord, and seconded by an hon. and learned individual now no more, for whose great talents he had always entertained the highest respect, and of whom no person could speak in any terms of approbation to which he would not subscribe, that hon. and learned individual then said that he did not mean to state that the publications themselves were undeserving of censure, but that the conduct of the attorney-general in the conduct of the prosecution was highly improper. In a month afterwards the hon. member far Norwich again brought the question before the House, and admitted that the publications were censurable, although he contended that they were not deserving of a criminal prosecution. This therefore went forth to the world, that though the judges of the land had declared these publications to be profane, and though the gentlemen in that House always arrayed in opposition to the ministers of the Crown, had allowed the publications to be censurable, yet they ought not to be visited by a prosecution. He would ask any man what effect could such a declaration have on the people, other than that extreme effect of encouragement to seditious libels? But that was not all. There was in a short time afterwards a meeting held for the avowed purpose of entering into a subscription for the man who was before pronounced by the judges of the land, as the publisher of profane and impious libels; at which meeting a worthy alderman member for the city of London, presided; and at which meeting an hon. baronet member for Westminster, was present; and at that meeting was Mr. Wooler allowed to make an inflammatory attack on the judge who presided at Mr. Hone's trial; whom he described as one who had in the course of the trial acted the part rather of a vindictive prosecutor than of an impartial judge of the land, and yet no dissent to such sentiments was offered at that meeting. On the contrary they were received with great approbation, and a subscription for the relief of Mr. Hone was immediately opened. When speaking of the influence which the conduct of gentlemen of the first rank and patriotism, who subscribed on that occasion, had on the people as it too much to say that it was impossible under such circumstances to expect a verdict of § guilty against persons prosecuted for a similar offence? He had nothing to answer to the arguments on the principle of the bill, because he thought they had been completely answered by his hon. and learned friend. He should now sit down, having supported the opinion which he had given on a former night, and having rebutted the unfounded charges which had been made against him in the course of the debate.

Mr. Scarlett

allowed that he never had heard that his hon. and learned friend was a member of any political society, or that he was connected with any political body. All that could be said was, perhaps, that his hon. and learned friend now entertained opinions different from those he had formerly expressed, respecting his present associates; but there was nothing wonderful in this; it was natural that we should like people better the more we became acquainted with them. The very apprehension of being thought inconsistent would excuse some warmth—a warmth which seemed to verify the old proverb, "That proselytes were generally enthusiasts." That it was not intended to discuss this bill was manifest, for the gentlemen on the other side had not advanced any argument in support of it; he had heard no indication of their sentiments, except a scoff or a laugh, which was not an argument. With respect to the particular question, whether or not there had been a due activity in the prosecution of libels, he must say that he did not think the reasons urged by the other side in defence of their declining to prosecute were of sufficient weight. He meant to say nothing unkind of individuals, for whom he felt great respect, and of the purity of whose motives there could be no question, but it was his duty to state his opinion freely. When he spoke of individuals in public stations, he must be understood as speaking of nothing but errors in judgment, of a relaxation in some cases, and too severe activity in others. He would, take up the conduct of the law officers of the Crown since the year 1811, and he would say he was one of those who thought that the activity exercised at that period called for animadversion. Every body knew, that in prosecuting for libel, persons might sometimes be convicted who were not in any way chargeable with moral guilt. He had been present on one occasion at the time to which he had just alluded, when twenty people were brought up for judgment, every one of whom was as little involved in any participation of the moral guilt of the offence of which they were convicted, as any hon. member of that House. Among them were several women who lived in distant parts of the country, and whose only connexion with the offence was, that having annuities on newspapers, their names as required by act of parliament, were lodged at the Stamp Office as joint proprietors of those papers. They all received sentence, not indeed a very severe one (they were fined 20l. a-piece); but still the prosecution of such persons argued an activity on the part of those who prosecuted them, which excited strong sensations, and not of approbation, in Westminster Hall. The next Attorney-general seemed to act on the principle that frequent prosecutions for libel did more harm than good, and he believed that in the course of four years there was but one prosecution, and that for a libel on one of the royal family. Then came, under a subsequent Attorney-general the prosecutions against Wooler. One of them was for a libel not of a very offensive nature, but one or two passages struck him as likely to produce a verdict. When the Attorney-general had opened his case, Mr. Wooler made a defence which exhibited a very extraordinary degree of talent: and, feeling all the respect that he did for the Attorney-general, he must say that he thought Mr. Wooler had greatly the advantage over him. The conviction of Mr. Wooler might be attributed rather to the mode of his defence, and the topics touched on by him, than to any arguments used by the Attorney-general. As an example of the mode of defence adopted by Mr. Wooler, he (Mr. Scarlett) would state, that Mr. Wooler, in his defence, said that the Bill of Rights was a bill of wrongs and insults; and avowed himself the follower of Paine's political doctrines. In fact, his own speech did more to overturn his own arguments than the speech of the Attorney-general. In the second case, the libel was a mere piece of pleasantry against some members of the administration, and Mr. Wooler conducted his defence in the same tone of pleasantry, observing that after the former prosecution, which he called a tragedy, this was a farce. The jury acquitted him, and he (Mr. Scarlett) thought they did right. For his own part, and he must be suppos- ed to have some experience on the subject, he believed there could not be a more fair, honourable, and intelligent tribunal in the world than a London jury. Then came the case of Mr. Hone; who was indicted for three libels; one a parody on the Litany, another a parody on the Catechism, and the third a parody on the Athanasian Creed. When Mr. Hone was brought up, the information was read at great length, and every count but the last charged him with an intent to revile the Liturgy. He (Mr. Scarlett) thought at the time that Mr. Hone would be acquitted; and he said so to a learned gentlemen who now filled with the greatest credit to himself the situation of a judge in the court of King's Bench—he meant Mr. Justice Richardson, who was then one of the counsel for the prosecution. His reason for so thinking, and he then stated it, was, that so many distinguished persons, bishops, deans, and ministers of state, in all times and ages, had published parodies, and he did not believe that twelve men could be found in the metropolis, who could, on their oaths, Conscientiously find a man guilty of blasphemy, for doing what had so frequently and by such persons been done before him. As he had foretold, Mr. Hone was acquitted. The second prosecution was for a parody on the Catechism; this was something worse; but Mr. Hone had produced in his defence, a parody called "The Freeholder's Catechism," "written by Dr. Arbuthnot., in the reign of queen Anne, but which by mistake he had attributed to Mr. Wilkes. It was in fact written by Dr. Arbuthnot, in favour of the government of that day, and was thought to be a very useful composition. Mr. Hone, was again acquitted. As to the third parody, on the Athanasian Creed, he (Mr. Scarlett) had no sooner read the record, than he asserted that he had no doubt of an acquittal. Indeed, a parody did not necessarily infer an intention to revile the thing parodied. How many parodies, for instance, had been published on Pope's Letter of Eloisa to Abelard? It was well known that Mr. Person was very fond of a parody on that poem; but who would impute to him or to the poem any wish to revile the poetical character of Mr. Pope? He was one of those who thought that these compositions ought not to be applauded. He did not think the present an irreligious age; if not so devout as former ages, it, however, paid the greatest attention to the outward forms and decorums of religion; and perhaps it was for this very reason that parodies, which appeared so innocent to our forefathers, were so shocking and offensive in our eyes. But a jury to whom it was put as Mr. Hone put it, whether they could think he had a design of reviling or degrading the Christian religion, by doing that which bishops and ministers of state had done before him, or whether they thought that his object was purely political, could not in their conscience convict him of the former offence; and as to the latter, the Attorney- general, though certainly not deficient in courage, had not ventured to appeal to the jury for a political verdict. If the acquittals of Wooler and Hone were the grounds on which the opinion was founded, that juries would not convict in those other cases of atrocious libel to which reference had been made, he (Mr. Scarlett) felt assured that this was a grievous mistake. He was convinced that not one of those aggravated libels could have been brought before any jury without a certainty of a verdict of guilty. As to what had been said by his hon. and learned friend on former occasions, of the policy of prosecuting libels, he conceived that much depended on the nature of each particular case. There were many cases, no doubt, where prosecution might do harm by giving publicity to a libel not likely to be otherwise circulated; but where a libel, and one, too, of a malignant nature, had already circulated very considerably, especially where it had been disseminated among schools, as was alleged to be the case at present, there nobody could deny that it would be highly useful to brand the libeller with a verdict of conviction; nobody, at least, could deny that such a person was a fit object against whom an Attorney-general might call in aid the operation of the laws. He would not impute motives to his majesty's ministers; but if it was their object to put down the press by the clamour of the House of Commons, they could not proceed in a way different from their present course. The cry was— "The laws won't do; juries won't convict; give us severer laws:" whereas the fact was, that the aid of the laws had not been invoked in those cases where juries would be sure to convict. He was not one of those who thought the power of filing ex-officio informations ought to be taken away from Attorney- generals; on the contrary, he thought it a power which if discreetly exercised, was a great benefit to the country. Nor had any objection been made to that power by his honourable friends; their view was simply this—that as it was a power which if indiscriminately applied, would be in many cases rigorously severe, it ought not to be pressed on ordinary or inadequate occasions; but if the country were really in that alarming state described by the Attorney-general, then why not bring some of the worst cases before a jury? It was a libel on juries to say that they would not convict in such cases. Why did government sleep throughout 1818, when they might have obtained convictions of libels unquestionably blasphemous and seditious? Was it necessary that such publications should be tolerated, to afford a pretext for the introduction of coercive measures and restrictions on the liberty of the subject? He was convinced that nothing more than ordinary attention was necessary to procure conviction according to the present laws, and that ministers were not entitled to demand any additional restrictive laws until the present laws failed to bring delinquents to punishment.

Colonel Wood

, adverting to the assertion of the hon. and learned gentleman who had just sat down, that no argument had been offered in support of this measure, observed, that no argument had been advanced against it. He would give a reason why he should most conscientiously vote for the bill. It had two objects—one to seize libels, and the other to send out of the country those who persisted in vilifying the civil and religious institutions. With respect to the parodies published by Mr. Hone, the House could not be unaware of their mischievous tendency. The impression against them would however, he believed, be still stronger, if the mode of their distribution were fully made known, for that would naturally increase the alarm which the currency of such publications was calculated to produce in every religious, considerate mind.—Where would the House suppose he first saw these parodies? It had pleased God to bless hint with a large family and he actually found one of these profane and impious libels in the nursery of his children! He must, however, do justice to the young folks; who said that the jokes were very good; but very shocking. Parliament would neglect a very material duty if it did not take measures to guard the public against the pollution of such prophane and impious productions. With that view, then, he would vote for the first part of this bill, and he would also vote for the second part, because although a sincere admirer of civil and religious liberty, he thought that those who after one conviction could not refrain from a second attempt to destroy the religion and government of their country, ought to be sent out of it.

The question being put, That the word "now" stand part of the question, the House divided: Ayes, 190; Noes, 72: Majority, 118. The bill was then read a second time.