HC Deb 27 June 1831 vol 4 cc361-7
Mr. Charles Douglas,

on presenting a Petition from the Noblemen, Freeholders, Justices of the Peace, and Heritors of the County of Forfar, against the Reform in Parliament, as connected with Scotland, said, the petitioners expressed their fears, that the proposed alterations in the manner of returning Members would not be attended with beneficial effects. They complained of the diminution of County Members, and the increase of Borough Representation, and that the admission of 10l. householders to the right of voting, would give them an undue preponderance over the landed interest. These were the principal points in the petition, and the petitioners entreated the House not to omit the consideration of these topics in any measure connected with Scotch Representation that might come before them.

Mr. Maule

observed, that as the petition came from the county which he had the honour to represent, he hoped to be indulged in making a few remarks. He acknowledged the great respectability of the petitioners, but he did not hesitate to aver, that their petition did not speak the sense of the county of Forfar, the inhabitants of which were generally in favour of the measure of Reform introduced by Government. He was glad to have that opportunity to express his grateful thanks to his Majesty's Ministers for having brought it forward, and it should have his humble and sincere support.

Mr. Horatio Ross

knew something of the county from whence the petition came, and added his testimony to that of his hon. friend who had just spoken. He believed, that ninety-nine out of every hundred persons of the population of Forfar were favourable to the change proposed by his Majesty's Ministers. Before that plan had been brought forward, there were many persons in favour of Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments, but on the details of the proposed measure being placed before them, they expressed their unbounded satisfaction with it, and were now loud in their calls for its being passed into a law. He was sure no measure could have enlisted more of the best wishes of the people, and they would hear no more from that part of the country of Universal Suffrage.

Mr. Charles Douglas

said, he did not present this as the petition of the county of Forfar, as had been insinuated by the hon. Members, but as the petition of the respectable persons who had signed it, and who resided in that county. He must add, that the petitioners did not express themselves to be unfavourable to Reform generally, they only stated their apprehensions of some parts of the proposed measure.

Mr. R. Dundas

wished to take that opportunity of asking the Lord Advocate, whether proceedings had been instituted against any of the persons who were concerned in the late riots which had taken place in different parts of Scotland. There had been most formidable riots at Ayr and Dunbar, and in several other places in Scotland; and it would be satisfactory to know whether any proceedings had been taken to bring the offenders to justice.

The Lord Advocate

said, that he would answer the question of the hon. Member as explicitly as he could at the present moment, seeing that all the proceedings which had been instituted in those cases had not been as yet brought to a termination. He had ordered proceedings to be instituted, and he had to state, that indictments had been drawn out against an individual for being concerned in a riot at Lanark, and also against another rioter in another place. The investigation at Lanark was still going on, and it was expected that the public prosecutor would be able to include another individual in the indictment for the riot there. Indictments had also been preferred against three or four individuals who had been concerned in the formidable riots at Cawdor. It was true, that there had been also formidable and distressing riots in Ayr and Dunbar. With regard to them inquiries had been instituted, and were at present in progress. With respect to Ayr, he regretted to say, that it had not yet been possible to identify any of the rioters there. He had sent down a barrister of great skill and considerable experience to examine into the subject, but nevertheless he had not as yet been able to make out a case against any individual as being connected with the riots which had occurred in Ayr, to justify the preferring of an indictment against him. These investigations, however, were still in progress, and he trusted that the justice of the country would finally be effectually vindicated.

Mr. Kennedy

contended, that it had been attempted, by a reference to those riots, to cast an unjust stigma upon the disposition and character of the people of Scotland. The people of Scotland—that was to say the intelligent and well-educated mass of the people of that country— had no connexion with those riotous proceeding's, which had originated with that low and disorderly class of persons that constitute mobs in all countries. He begged to contradict, in the strongest manner, the assertion which had been made in another place, that the people of Scotland only wanted a chief to lead them on to any mischief; so far was this from the fact, that nothing could be more sound and well-disposed than the minds of the respectable classes in that country.

Sir W. Rae

said, that he had been exposed to much obloquy and abuse in Scotland, in consequence of a misrepresentation of what had fallen from him in the last Session, in reference to some riotous proceedings which had then taken place. He had been represented as having said, that there was no bringing a number of Scotchmen together without their proceeding to the commission of acts of riot and bloodshed. What he said was, and he would repeat it, that the people of Scotland, when excited, were very apt to proceed to acts of riot and violence, and that though it was extremely difficult to excite them, when a numerous body of them were excited, they were by no means easily allayed or pacified. That was his statement, and the late riots in that country furnished a proof of its correctness.

Admiral Adam

referred to the proceedings at the Stirling election in proof that the Scotch people could conduct those matters as peaceably as their neighbours. Though the popular candidate had been defeated at Stirling, there had not been the slightest exhibition of violence on the part of the people. The election was attended by 7,000 or 8,000 persons, and upon learning the defeat of the favourite candidate, the people reversed their colours, the music ceased, and they marched peaceably off the ground without committing any act of violence or outrage.

Sir George Clerk

could not help thinking, that the good conduct of the people who appeared at the election for Stirling in so formidable an attitude, was mainly owing to the advice of the Sheriff, founded upon the opinion of the Lord Advocate, as to the illegality of the whole proceedings. He conceived, that the gross outrages and violence which had taken place at the late elections in Scotland, justified the conclusion that, when the people of that country were assembled in mobs, they were more apt to proceed to acts of violence than the people of this part of the country. He wished to call the attention of the learned Lord opposite to what had taken place at Haddington. The people had there violently rescued some persons who had been proceeded against for rioting, and when they were warned not to do so, they said they were not afraid that the Lord Advocate would prosecute them. He was very far from saying, that the learned Lord Advocate, or any one connected with the Government, wished to raise or excite the people; but it could not be denied, he believed, that the friends of the Government had allowed the people to assume a disorderly appearance, for the purpose of intimidating voters, and influencing the election. An idea, unfortunately, got abroad, that the Government did not disapprove of those proceedings; and this feeling was so strong and universal, that the learned Lord found it necessary to publish a hand-bill at Haddington, stating that the people were entirely deceived if they thought he should neglect his duty, which was, to bring all concerned in those illegal proceedings to condign punishment. Before the agitation of the Reform question, there was no part of his Majesty's dominions more peaceable than Scotland; the consequence of which was, that nearly the whole military force was withdrawn from that country. When the riots broke out in Edinburgh there was only one cavalry regiment in Scotland, and that regiment was under orders for Ireland. In consequence of the riotous proceedings which had taken place, however, it became necessary to augment the military force of that country; and he did not know whether the hon. Baronet who had to move the Army Estimates (Sir H. Parnell) might not find it necessary to ask for an increase of the military force, in consequence of the disturbed state of Scotland. He feared, however, that the country was not yet restored to a state of tranquillity which might be considered permanent. He wished particularly to call the attention of the noble Lord to a statement which had appeared in the papers, relative to an assembly of the people, which was to take place at Glasgow. The people, it was stated, had leaders, and banners, and symbols, and were at an appointed signal, to collect in large numbers, and march in procession. He wished to know if measures had been taken to preserve the peace. Nothing, however, in his opinion, was more likely to prevent any disturbance than for the learned Lord to state publicly the illegality of such meetings.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

thought it unwarrantable for any man to say, when a great public meeting was peaceable, that it would not have been so but for the advice of the Sheriff. He would be bound to say, that if judicial proceedings were to be instituted, it would be found that not one of the rioters was a person to whom the elective franchise was to be granted by the new Bill. There could not exist a more loyal and peaceable population than that of the county alluded to. It was absolute madness to suppose, that any man favourable to Reform, and holding the situation of the Lord Advocate, could wish otherwise than to suppress violence at elections. He positively denied that the Government had occasioned any popular excitement. The Reform Bill was a fit and proper measure, and those who opposed it ought to bear the blame of the tumults that ensued.

Mr. Hope

protested against the conclusion, that those who opposed Reform were to bear the blame of these tumults. It was true, that there was no riot at Stirling, but if the people had no intention to intimidate, why did they arm themselves, and unite in a body. At Lanark and at Dumbarton, the lives of both the anti-Reform candidates were threatened. He thought these acts were proofs enough of the violent disposition of the people, and he did not wish to hear of their being multiplied.

The Lord Advocate

wished to say a few words in reply to the hon. Baronet, respecting his communication with the Sheriff of Haddington. The people there believed that the investigation was instituted by the Sheriff, who was not very popular it appeared, and his communication was for the purpose of assuring the people, that the investigation was going on by his authority, and that the parties would not be brought to condign punishment by the Sheriff, but by the chief law-officer of the Government. Respecting the assemblage at Stirling, and other places, he could only say, that the Crown officers had kept an anxious eye on them, and that every precaution had been taken to prevent any serious results. He must, at the same time say, in justice to the people, that previous to the motion for the second reading of the Bill during the last Parliament, a very numerous assembly had been collected at Glasgow with banners; but that, though the result was unfavourable, they separated without the slightest disturbance. It was that instance, as well as some others, which led him to believe that such serious results were not to be apprehended merely from the collection of a great body of the people. He was well aware, however, that on a day of election the case might be very different, and had therefore used every precaution against disturbance. On investigation it would be found, he believed, that very few of those to whom the franchise was held out, had been implicated in the disturbances.

An Hon. Member

bore testimony to the violence that had accompanied many of the recent elections in Scotland, but he denied, that from the popular vehemence any inference could be drawn that the people were favourable to Reform. He called upon Ministers to look at the whole of the provincial press of Scotland, and learn from thence whether the people of that country were in favour of the Bill. He would call on his Majesty's Ministers to look at this provincial press, and they would see that each editor, in his little recess, was carrying on a progress of incubation, as he thought, against the Bill, although he must confess that, in his opinion, their incubations seemed often to tend more to favour the measure than to oppose it.

Mr. Dixon,

as the Representative of Glasgow, wished to give the most unqualified contradiction to the calumnious statements of the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Clerk.)

The Speaker

called the hon. Member to order, and observed, that such expressions were not parliamentary.

Mr. Dixon

apologised, and added, that he did not mean to attribute calumny to the hon. Baronet. He had seen a procession in Glasgow of 40,000 persons in favour of Reform, and not a single instance of tumult had occurred, and women and children had met it. in the streets without any apprehension or inconvenience. In the course of his canvass, he had been surrounded by thousands of persons, and he had experienced no insult nor molestation. In other places, certainly, scenes had been exhibited which he, in common with every other person, could not but deplore; but it must be recollected that the people had been excited by the threats of introducing the military. If the whole city of Glasgow were polled out, he was convinced that out of its 200,000 inhabitants, 199,000 would be in favour of his Majesty's Ministers.

Mr. W. F. Campbell

said, that although a few persons might have acted infamously in Lanark, yet the accounts of what had taken place there were grossly and shamefully exaggerated. He had seen 200 troops charge through a mob of people, and the military had been called in most unnecessarily, for of the 300 Special Constables not one had been maltreated, or had lost a single staff.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Charles Douglas,

in moving that it be printed, said, that he had attained his object by calling the attention of Government to the matter, for he had no doubt that steps would be taken to prevent the recurrence of such disgraceful conduct as took place in Scotland during the late elections.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

did not rise to say one word in justification of any rioting, for he reprobated such conduct as much as any man, but he must assert, that those who were friendly to Reform had always recommended and counselled the people to keep the peace.

The petition was ordered to be printed.