HC Deb 20 February 1821 vol 4 cc804-10
Mr. Denman

said, he held in his hand a petition from the people of Nottingham, praying for an inquiry into the state of the country—praying specifically for an inquiry into the transactions which took place at Manchester, and also that articles of impeachment might be exhibited against ministers. In the absence of ministers he would not stop to say how far their conduct appeared to him to deserve the severe imputations cast upon them. In presenting this petition he thought it right to observe that the language, although strong, and perhaps extremely so in one or two passages, was yet on the whole what he could not but consider applicable to the circumstances to which the petitioners referred. And when the House recollected that the petition came from a town where, though trade was said to have revived, there yet remained an arrear of 6,000l. of poor's rates, which could hot be collected without aggravating the dis- tress it was intended to relieve, the House ought not to be too fastidious in considering the language in which such persons conveyed their sentiments.

The Petition was then brought up and read. The petitioners stated, that the greatest evils had been brought upon the country by the acts of a corrupt and unfeeling administration, under whose policy the real glory of England was tarnished, and her people bent down under acts of cruelty and oppression. The motto of those ministers was "divide and conquer." They implored the House to institute an impeachment against them For the various injuries they had inflicted on the people, and for their base and traitorous conduct towards their innocent, high-minded, and persecuted Queen. They wished to terrify the people by acts of tyranny—men were led to captivity, and brought to the scaffold without cause. The people, suffering under distress and misfortune, cried out for food—their complaints were answered by the corn law, by swords and bayonets, and disgraceful acts of parliament. The carnage of the memorable 16th of August, a day of blood, which was not accounted for, demanded retributive justice. They prayed that the traitors and murderers of that day might be brought to condign punishment. The people on that day had done no wrong. Why, then, should they have been butchered by armed yeomanry, who received public thanks for their deeds of murder and of blood.—On the question being put, that the petition be printed,

Mr. Wynn

said, that he must object to this motion, which would send forth in a printed form, through the medium of that House, a libel upon the administration of justice. He did not object to expressions merely offensive to ministers; but when it was said that innocent blood had been shed upon the scaffold, they ought to hesitate before they circulated such a statement throughout the country.

Mr. Bennet

said, he did not agree in all the statements of the petitions, but he could not but strongly object to the attempt to get rid, by a side wind, of the old right of printing petitions. The hon. gentleman could not produce a single instance in which petitions were not printed as a matter of course for the last two years. His late lamented friend (Mr. Whitbread,) had said, on the occasion where an alteration had been made with respect to the printing of petitions, that the language of several petitions might not often suit the delicate ears of persons in that House, whose conduct those very petitions might impugn. It was quite a new attempt to prevent the printing of petitions. It was done with a view which was disclaimed in that House several years ago. If it should prove successful, the thing would come to this—that every petition which expressed, in terms of honest indignation the feelings of the people might be stifled: gentlemen would refuse to allow such petitions to be printed. The next step would be, to prevent the petitions from being read. They might then decide not to receive them at all. He could not but set his face against an attempt to prevent the printing of petitions. It was acknowledged on all hands, that the country should be informed of the proceedings of that House; but the present was an attempt to prevent the country from being informed. The right of having the petitions of the people printed, was one which he would not consent to surrender. He would therefore take the sense of the House upon the subject.

Lord Binning

said, that a more inflamed account of a possible grievance could not have been made, than that just given by the hon. member upon an objection being merely taken to the printing of a petition, which libelled the administration of justice throughout the country. Because they refused to print such a petition they were to be told that they were obstructing the right of petition? Since the arrangement had been made upon the subject of printing the votes, he only recollected one instance in which an objection had been taken to the language of a petition; so that the right of making the objection—which unquestionably existed, or else why put the question from the chair upon the printing—had not been captiously exercised. The old practice was, when arranging the votes, for the Speaker to order the petitions to be presented, omitting, however, any passages which might be deemed objectionable. By the new arrangement, the whole of each petition was printed. He certainly should vote against printing a petition containing such language.

Sir Robert Wilson

was not prepared to say that blood had been shed innocently upon the scaffold, yet he was ready to assert that people had been cut down and trampled to death in broad day, without having been guilty of any violation of law; and that ministers, so far from bringing to punishment the perpetrators of that atrocious act, had rewarded there by transmitting in the first instance the thanks of their sovereign, and by subsequently conferring upon the individual by whose order the people had been trampled upon, a place of great emolument. This petition, so far from being deemed objectionable, ought to be received with readiness by ministers, who had thus an opportunity of redeeming themselves from the disgrace and infamy of countenancing the destruction of 620 persons who had been Wantonly killed, wounded, and maimed on the 16th of August at Manchester. He was in a court of justice the other day 'when an hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett), was receiving sentence for having expressed his indignation at the murders that had been committed at Manchester,—murders which he was prepared to prove at the bar, if the House would grant him the opportunity. He had heard the judge declare, that no wrong could be inflicted in England without redress. Where then was that redress for the people of Manchester? He and others had been in vain seeking to obtain redress for that outrage. The conduct of ministers, in suffering it to pass without inquiry, justified the people in considering their subsequent acts so lawless as to call for a bill of indemnity.

Lord Castlereagh

said, he could not help admiring the strain of feeling in which the gallant member thought proper to indulge, when he launched out in describing acts of the most extraordinary description, and at once charged ministers with protecting from punishment known violators of the law. Thank God the people of England lived in a country where the ministers could not, if they Were so disposed, protect any individual who had offended against the laws from being amenable to their jurisdiction. The ministers had here no power to screen any man from the consequences of his act: the highest and the lowest were alike amenable to the law. Why did the gallant officer indulge in this theme of declamation, when the laws were open to the aggrieved party? Was it because it answered better the views of the gallant member, and others who thought with him, to keep this subject afloat as a topic of inflammatory declamation rather than to put it into any train of legal inquiry? If there were any man, or any body of men, under a charge of murder, and no person stepped forward to bring them to punishment, it was a reproach to the gallant general that he had not travelled out of his military character, and assumed the civil functions of a public prosecutor. With regard to the thanks which his majesty had been advised to give to the magistrates of Manchester, he should always glory in the share he had had in protecting men who had saved the country from the base attempts which evil-minded persons had made to subvert its constitution. The true reason why the conduct of the magistrates and yeomanry had not been brought before a jury was, that there existed no grounds for such a proceeding. Though ministers, in the line of conduct which they had pursued, had not the good fortune to possess the favourable opinion of the gallant general, they had obtained what they valued much more—the approbation of that House. As to the question immediately under consideration, he hardly knew any thing that could be said Of the ministers of the Crown, which ought to prevent [the House from receiving a petition; but when it spoke in unbecoming language of the legislature, or impugned the administration of justice in the courts of the country, it was the duty of the House to express its opinion in such a manner as should repel the unfounded charge. Perhaps it would have been the more natural course to have objected to the petition being received; but he did not see that because that had been neglected, they were deprived of all discretion, so far as to be obliged to send before the country sentiments so unbecoming and so dangerous.

Sir R. Wilson

said, he had not asserted any thing that he was not prepared to prove. He charged the parties to the transaction of the 16th of August with murder, and he was prepared to take the responsibility of that charge.

Lord Castlereagh

said, it was open to the hon. general to establish his charge before a competent tribunal.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that if he had been in the House when the petition was read, he should have objected to its lying on the table; but he thought that as it had been received it ought to be printed.

Mr. Wynnn

could not accede to the pro- position that every petition that was received was fit to be printed, as there might be petitions presented containing reflections on individuals which it would be highly improper to send forth.

Mr. Bathurst

contended, that the House had sanctioned the principle that a petition might be received and not be printed, by deciding that after it had been laid on the table there should be a distinct question "that this petition be printed."

Mr. B. Wilbraham

declared that the magistrates of Manchester were anxious, for a full inquiry into their conduct. No bills had been presented against any of them. As to the yeomanry, they stood in a situation somewhat different; for bills had been presented against them, and had been thrown out by the grand jury.

Mr. Brougham

thought it must be the desire of the House to put the petition in print. The phrase "disgraceful acts of parliament," must be understood as applicable to the conduct of ministers; and he contended that the people had a right to stigmatise acts of parliament carried by the influence of ministers. With respect to the other parts of the petition he considered that the people had a constitutional right to go great lengths in the language of petition. With respect to the transactions at Manchester, nothing on that subject which had occurred since those transactions, had altered his original opinion. Indeed he thought that what had happened since, had done more to abate the respect of the people for the administration of the public justice than any thing he had ever known before. Nothing had so tended to shake the confidence of the people in that best and surest support of a government. He regretted that the grand jury of Lancaster had not found the bills of indictment; because, had they found those bills, the 'subsequent proceedings upon them, the conviction or acquittal of the accused would have restored the public confidence in the laws.

Mr. Lushington

observed, that the House had last session rejected a motion for the printing a petition; and if there was ever a case in which the House should exercise its discretion, it was in the case of this petition, the language of which, was so universally acknowledged to be objectionable.

Mr. Denman

denied that Ire had ex- pressed any thing which could be understood as a doubt as to the propriety of receiving the petition. Indeed, with respect to that part of it which said that "when the people uttered the language of complaint and woe, they were consigned to the scaffold," he contended that it was literally the fact. The distress of the people had been worked into rebellion by the conduct of spies and informers. Referring to the transactions at Manchester he said it was odd enough that ministers themselves had never instituted any inquiry. There had however been a little judicial inquiry; and although it had been broadly asserted that cart-loads of stones had been carried to the meeting at Manchester, and that one of the magistrates had been trampled upon, yet not the slightest evidence had been offered upon the judicial inquiry at York," for the purpose of shewing the truth of those statements. He was aware that many of his friends were not inclined to go the length of the sentiments contained in the petition. But he never remembered a petition presented to that House which met with the unanimous approval of all parties. The people were not bound to couch their complaints to that House in such language as should suit its taste. The House should know what were the sentiments of the people; and this being done in the form of petitions, they were in the ordinary course printed for the accommodation of the House. It was not for the purpose of disseminating libels through the country, nor could it have that effect, that he desired the present petition should be printed.

The question being put, "That the petition be printed," the House divided: Ayes 6*. Noes 130.

List of the Minority.
Allen, J. H. Duncannon, visc.
Althorp, visc. Ellice, Ed.
Beaumont, T. P. Fergusson, sir R. C.
Becher, W. W. Gordon, R.
Birch, J. Graham, Sandford
Bright, H. Grant, J. P.
Brougham, H. Griffths, J. W.
Bury, visc. Guise, sir W.
Calvert, C. Hamilton, lord A.
Caulfield, hon. H. Harbord, hon. E.
Colborne, N. W. R. Heathoote, G. J.
Crespigny, sir W. Hobhouse, J. C.
Creevey, Thos. Honeyvvood, W. P.
Curwen, J. C. Hornby, Ed.
Davies, T. H. Hughes, W.L.
Denison, W. J. Hume, J.
Dickenson. W. Hulchinson, hon.C.H.
Lambton, J. G. Rice, G.
Lennard, T. B. Ridley, sir M. W.
Lushington, Dr. Robarts, A.
Maberly, John Robarts, G.
Macdonald, J. Robinson, sir G.
Martin, John Stanley, lord
Monck, J. B. Sefton, earl of
Moore, Peter Smith, W.
Moore, A. Stuart, lord J.
Newport, sir J. Taylor, M. A.
O'Callaghan, J. Wharton, John.
Ord, Wm. Wilson, sir R.
Ossulston, lord Wortley, J. S.
Palmer, C. F. Wyvill, M.
Phillips, G. TELLERS.
Phillips, G. R. Bennet, hon. H. G.
Power, R. Denman, T.