Mr. H. Sumner
wished to put a question to the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department, relative to the incendiary proceedings in several of the Home Counties. They had commenced in Kent, and had been alarmingly extended, till they had unfortunately reached the county to which he belonged. The Magistrates believed, that at present they had not sufficient power to swear in special constables prospectively; they could only swear them in when tumults occurred, and then only locally. He would beg leave, therefore, to suggest, that a short bill, for a short term, might be advantageously brought in, to constitute a constabulary force to perform the duty of watch and ward, by which a great deal of mischief might be prevented. He wished to know, therefore, whether the right hon. Gentleman had taken into his consideration any measure of that nature, or any other that might be effectual for the end in view.
§ Sir Robert Peel
replied, I can assure the hon. Member, that four or five hours every day of my life are spent in endeavouring to discover the perpetrators of these atrocious crimes. I know that voluntary associations have been formed to establish watch and ward in many threatened situations; and I believe that nothing but extraordinary local vigilance will provide effectual security against these abominable offenders. No military force, no yeomanry force, can, I am afraid, defeat the wicked designs of men who have some ulterior object in view beyond the mere redress of a local evil: that I firmly 520 believe. If any measure can be suggested, by forming local associations, or otherwise, for which the assistance of Parliament or of Government may be necessary, I shall be most happy to give it every possible consideration. I am perfectly certain that there is no plan, promising to be effectual, which this House would not cheerfully sanction, in order to terminate a system so disgraceful. The House will not require me to disclose the measures I am adopting to detect the perpetrators— to do so would defeat the object itself. No expense, no exertion, on my part, has been spared, to bring these iniquitous persons to justice. If any difficulty should arise in forming voluntary associations, or in swearing in special constables, the House will, as I have said, be ready to sanction any mode of removing that difficulty, and I may add, for myself, that I will give any proposition my most willing attention.
§ Mr. Portman
observed, that as the law stood at present, special constables might be sworn in by Magistrates.
§ Sir Robert Peel
referred to the Statute of the 1st Geo. 4th, which enabled Magistrates to appoint special constables under certain circumstances. He did not know that it applied to cases where there was a mere apprehension of tumult.
§ Mr. Denison
.— As I have the honour to sit here for Surrey, I may, perhaps, with propriety, take this opportunity of saying, that I deeply lament, in common with my hon. friend (if he will allow me to call him so), the events which, during the three last nights, have disgraced the county. Whether the plan suggested be the best, I cannot now decide; but that some plan ought to be adopted to put down these abominable outrages, as the right hon. Secretary justly calls them, promptly and decisively, is quite clear. As to the spirit of the county, over which I have recently travelled, I must deny in toto, that there is anything approaching disloyalty among any class of the inhabitants: they are attached to the Monarchy and to the Monarch; but that they are satisfied with the King's Ministers I will by no means take upon me to affirm. The dissatisfaction has been increased by the Speech recently put into his Majesty's mouth, and still more by the extraordinary and uncalled for declaration of the Duke of Wellington in the other House. The people want retrenchment and reform. 521 And I speak not only of the lower but of the middle, well-informed and thinking classes. They are also dissatisfied with the proposition regarding the Civil List. Let the right hon. Gentleman recollect, that to put an end to this spirit, Ministers must both retrench and reform — they must repeal taxes, and consent to that change in the representation which is required by the corruptions that have crept into it. Above all, let Ministers repeal the imposts upon productive industry, and let landlords reduce their rents; and farmers will then be able to give such wages to their labourers, as will enable them to support their families. At all events, every body will agree that the prevailing outrages must be terminated speedily and effectually.
.— Arrangements for establishing associations for self-defence have, I know, been made in several parts of the County of Middlesex; and in the parish of St. Anne, Limehouse, at a meeting convened by advertisement, the following Resolution was very recently adopted:—We declare in the first place, in the most solemn manner, our firm and devoted loyalty to oar excellent King, and our attachment to the principles of the Constitution, and to the political and sacred institutions of our country.Possessing, in our property, and in our families, an unequivocal stake in the preservation of social order, we declare our readiness, at any and every hazard, to exert our utmost efforts for the suppression of tumult and disorder, and for the protection of persons and property from violence.But we owe it to truth, to justice, and to policy, to declare, that while we are aware that the existing discontents are fomented by artful and unprincipled agitators, for the worst and most mischievous of purposes, we are unfortunately convinced, that in the perversion of some of our most valuable institutions, in the unequal distribution of public burthens, in the prodigality of public expenditure, in the arbitrary character of some of our laws, and in the corruptions and abuses existing in many departments of Church and State, are to be found the original and extensive sources of dissatisfaction and complaint; we are, therefore, persuaded, that by a prudent and constitutional reform of admitted abuses alone (and especially by a revision of our present system of parliamentary representation) can the designs of the disaffected be defeated, and tranquillity be permanently restored and maintained.A similar course will, I believe, be adopted, not in one or two other parishes 522 only, but in every other parish of the county, where resolutions in the same spirit will be agreed to. Therefore, if Ministers wish to preserve the lives and property of the King's subjects, they must make retrenchments, and not drive to desperation men of acknowledged loyalty. Violence cannot be put down without removing the cause which produced it. At the present moment, the Ministers are the causes of all these evils; and I have no doubt that the best and most effectual act of Parliament will be, to remove the Ministers.
§ Sir R. Peel
— I deeply regret that the hon. Member has connected two subjects which have not the most remote relation to each other — dissatisfaction with the Government and the legal and acknowledged means of shewing it — and this infamous system of destroying the property of unoffending individuals. I do not believe that he means what he has been stating; and I form that opinion of the construction of his words from communications he has himself made to me. I appeal to the House, whether it was for the hon. Member to hold out even the shadow of a palliation for the late detestable proceedings by arguing that the Ministers are unpopular?
§ Sir R. Peel
— The hon. Member said, that the best law to put an end to them was to get rid of the Ministers. Whatever he may do, I acquit those who feel dissatisfied with Government of any participation in these infamous acts. I do not believe that there is a thinking man in the community, however opposed to Government, who would participate in these excesses, and who would not join any confederacy to put an end to them. Whatever cause of dissatisfaction there may be, there is a clear distinction between that dissatisfaction, and outrage such as every man laments. The hon. Member states truly, that voluntary associations have been formed in various situations, to take precautions against crimes of this nature; and I apprehend it will be found that Magistrates are empowered, on any reasonable apprehension of meditated felony, to swear in special constables. I am, however, quite ready to consider any further suggestion, by a temporary law, to render that power more effectual. I earnestly recommend, from my experience, the utmost. local and personal care; for I 523 believe that these crimes have been frequently committed through the agency of one or two individuals of respectable appearance—so respectable as to disarm suspicion—unconnected with the parish or village where the fire takes place. Such has been the case in more situations than one; and I can suggest nothing but extreme local vigilance, and associations among the inhabitants, to protect their own property. I again repeat, that every measure it may be possible for me to adopt, without local knowledge, shall be adopted. I am prepared to consider any rational law, for any useful purpose.
hoped the House would allow him to explain. The right hon. Baronet had certainly mistaken or misrepresented what he had said. At least, nothing which had fallen from him could have been sufficient to excite much irritation.
§ Sir R. Peel
did not think that he misrepresented the hon. Gentleman. But he must have greatly misunderstood him, if he (Mr. Hume) did not say that "no Act of Parliament which they could pass would have any effect in putting down the disaffection, unless it were accompanied by concessions."
said, that it was not the first time that Gentleman had attributed to him language which be had not used, and meanings which he never intended to convey. He could not patiently stand by whilst words were put in his mouth which he had never thought of using. He would repeat what the right hon. Baronet had misrepresented. He had said, that no Act of Parliament would put down the dissatisfaction of the country, unless Ministers showed a sincere determination to retrench. But he had said nothing to countenance the incendiaries. He was as anxious as the Ministers themselves to quell disorder, and to promote the peace of the country.
§ Sir R. Peel
disclaimed any intention to misrepresent the language of the hon. member for Middlesex, or to put a false or an unfair construction upon it. If the hon. Gentleman wished the system of the incendiaries to be put down, he (Sir R. Peel) must say, that the observations of the hon. Gentleman were but little calculated to effect that object, and were, at least, ill-timed.
Mr. H. Sumner
said, that with respect to the observations made by the hon. member for Surrey (Mr. Denison), he felt 524 bound, as a Magistrate of that county, to state that no such feeling as disaffection existed amongst the peasantry. He did not believe that any of the subjects alluded to by another hon. Gentleman—the member for Middlesex—had any influence upon their minds. On one occasion which came under his own observation, the labouring people of the neighbourhood were all anxious to give assistance to the utmost of their power. His object, in the inquiry which he had just made, was to ascertain whether, on an occasion when there existed reasonable grounds for apprehension that mischief was designed, the Magistrates would be justified in adopting strong measures of precaution?
§ Sir R. Peel
believed, that some advantage might be gained by making publicly known what is the true state of the law upon that subject. By the Act of 1 Geo. 4th, c. 27, for increasing the power of Magistrates under certain circumstances, it was provided, "that in all cases where it should be made appear, upon the oath of rive respectable householders, that any riot or other breach of the peace had taken place, or was likely to take place, the Magistrates may, by precept in writing, call on any number of householders to act as special constables, whenever they, the Magistrates shall see fit and necessary; in which case it is competent to the Justices at the Sessions to order the expenses incurred by such appointment of constables to be paid by a rate upon the county." Now according to that law, when the Magistrates are satisfied that reasonable grounds exist for suspecting that incendiary acts are meditated, they are empowered to appoint constables, and charge the expenses to the county.
§ Sir J. E. Brydges
observed, that in these perilous times, when two branches out of three of the Legislature were new, England could not do otherwise than expect "every man to do his duty." He entirely approved of his Majesty's most gracious Speech. It breathed only peace and economy. He contended that it was warping and twisting the plain meaning of words to say, that his Majesty contemplated interference with other States. He would contend also, against the hon. member for Yorkshire that the terms without reserve, did not convey the meaning that hon. Member attributed to them. [The House manifested impatience.] He would not occupy the time of the House 525 unnecessarily, but he was determined never to be put down by noise. He was sure there was but one opinion as to the unparalleled outrages which had for some time past disgraced some parts of the country. He had no doubt that Gentlemen, on whatever side they might usually sit in that House, would, in their respective counties, use all their energies to put them down.