§ Mr. Hunt
presented a Petition from the working-classes being members of the north west division of the National Political Union, meeting at Marylebone-lane, complaining of the restrictions which particular taxes now imposed upon the Liberty of the Press. The petition he stated to be couched in very respectful language, which, however, condemned most strongly the existence of these taxes. The hon. Member referred to the various shackles which, at different times, had been imposed upon the Press, and particularly to the Six Acts which had been passed some years ago, which, in his opinion, ought to be repealed, and which were a blot upon the Statute Book. If that House did not repeal them, it would disgrace itself. He wished the Press to be allowed to publish truth, and only to be punished when it published falsehood.
§ Mr. John Gordon
did not rise to oppose the reception of the petition, though it was perhaps irregular to receive it; but with a view of showing the House what sort of ideas the Society from which this petition had emanated entertained, and what sort of publications they were, against which the Acts complained of operated, he would beg leave to read to the House some extracts of the publications which he 413 believed the Society fostered. The first was a publication entitled," The Poor Man's Guardian" and he would read from it a specimen of the manner in which these writers spoke of the laws they now asked to have repealed. "We maintain that the act of Messrs. Capet, Polignac, &c, which so deservedly lost Charles 10th of France his throne, and consigned Polignac, &c, to imprisonment, was not more arbitrary nor atrocious than the present proceedings of Messrs. Guelph, Grey, Brougham, Denman, &c. The French tyrants intended to destroy the liberty of the press (which is the very key and safeguard of every other liberty) —the English tyrants intend the same. What difference is there then between the act of Capet, &c, and this Act of Guelph, &c.? Why there is this, and this only difference. The act of Capet, &c, was the act of a hero, and the Act of Guelph, &c., is the Act of a dastardly assassin. But William Guelph and his minions, although they think they have the right, and also the power, to 'do as they please with their own' people, yet have not courage enough to bite with their own teeth. They have not courage to fight with their own weapons. They will not sully their own bright sword, but they will mangle us with the teeth of a deceased bloodhound. They will stab us with the dagger of a dead assassin. Cowardly tyrants!" The following was the advice given to the people. "Charles Capet and his minions deliberated and ordered, or caused their armed slaves to violate, in endeavouring to suppress their popular papers, not the laws, but the rights and liberties of the whole people of France; and William Guelph and his minions have, doubtless, deliberated and ordered, or caused the violation, not of the laws, but the rights and liberties of the whole people of England, by their present endeavours to destroy these penny papers. The people of France resisted the tyrannical attempt, hurled the tyrant from the Throne, and caged, as they would tigers, his minions. And are the people of England such sorry slaves, that they can only talk and sing of freedom? Will not they, too, resist the law of these tyrants? Will not they, too, have a glorious revolution? We must resist it, for, be the laws binding on you, they are not on us. We have not consented to them. We have always condemned them. We have never author- 414 ised, but have ever denied the power of any man, or any set of men, or any William Guelph, or any other Guelph, to control our actions and make laws for us. We deny such power now, and we will not be bound by their laws." In another publication, called The Republican; or, the Sovereignty of the People, he found the case described of the Editor of the Poor Man's Guardian, was the case that called forth the petition. The description was as follows: —The friend Castlereagh's ordinances.— Fellow Citizens—An honest British Citizen, for having published untaxed useful knowledge, tending to open the eyes of the bamboozled multitude, has been summoned to Bow-street office, there put on a footing with pickpockets, and has been condemned to pay the penalty mentioned in the Act of Parliament. But Citizen Hetherington does not acknowledge the validity of the Act of Parliament under which he has been convicted. It is not binding on him. He has nothing to do with it except to defy it. And why does he defy it? Because he had no Representative in the Parliament in which this villanous ordinance was passed. He considers the damnable knowledge-taxing mandate of the borough mongering parliamentarians as much binding on the unrepresented people of England, as the contemptible, impotent, ordinances of Charles Capet were binding on the people of France. He who approves or enforces them must be a devilish malignant fiend, and ought to be hunted out of civilized society. He who submits to them is a contemptible, abject and cowardly slave—a disgrace to his country, and an enemy to his fellow-citizens. Acting on this incontrovertible principle, he defies the ordinances of self-elected tyrants. He appeals to his fellow-citizens to support him in his honest, public-spirited exertions. His publications were instituted for the sole benefit of the cheated, plundered, and insulted multitude? to them he appeals for protection against the diabolical machinations of the villains in power." The hon. Member observed, that this was a specimen of the knowledge, the wide circulation of which was so much desired, and that was a specimen too of the light in which these petitioners viewed what they called the Liberty of the Press. There were other publications of the same class. There was The Prompter of Saturday, June 18th, which contained a paragraph directed 415 against all Kings and Priests whatever, and expressly declaring, that the writer did not exempt from his censures the present King of England. "I make no exception. The Royal Family of England is as great an evil in England as the Royal Family of Spain is in Spain—of Portugal in Portugal—of France in France—of Russia in Russia—of Turkey in Turkey…. With the voice of a man, with the spirit of a good man and a citizen, struggling to be free, I cry out to all Europe, and more particularly to my own countrymen, down with Kings, Priests, and Lords…. Either in war or in peace, Kingcraft, Priestcraft, or Lordcraft, is a system of murder, plunder, and spoliation—then down with Kings, Priests, and Lords." He must say, that for himself, he differed from the hon. member for Preston, and was not at all inclined to give his assistance to the dissemination of works of this kind. It seemed that some Stamp prosecutions had been instituted against some of these publications. All that he regretted was, that those prosecutions had not been of a different sort, and that, instead of being instituted by the Stamp Office, they had not been commenced under the direction of the King's Attorney-General, for the offence of having published such seditious language. He hoped, that this matter would soon be taken up in the proper quarter; for if it were not, he should most assuredly take an early opportunity of putting the subject into the shape of a motion.
said, he had a Petition of a similar nature to that presented by the hon. member for Preston, to present to the House, though from different persons, but he would take that opportunity of stating his sentiments upon it. Hitherto those extracts, quoted by the hon. Member in his enthusiastic zeal, had been read by only one or two hundred persons, but now he might congratulate the hon. Member that they would be read by thousands. All the prosecutions now undertaken by the Government were prosecutions under laws which the members of that Government themselves condemned. There was not one member of the present Government, except, indeed, the Secretary for the Home Department(Viscount Melbourne), who had manfully supported these Bills; there was not one member of the Government who had not given the measures under which those prosecutions were instituted his deter- 416 mined opposition. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), and every other member of the present Government, had raised their voices, loud and often, against those enactments, which, in his own opinion, should have been repealed long ago. For his part he had obeyed those laws because they were the law, but he obeyed them reluctantly. The laws under which those prosecutions were instituted were against the very essence of the Constitution. The publication of conflicting opinions, against which those prosecutions were directed, was calculated to elicit the truth, and he was happy that those laws had been so long a dead letter. The House ought not to forget the origin of those laws which the hon. Member now thought ought to be enforced. After the melancholy catastrophe which occurred at Manchester, in which he would not say hundreds, but certainly a score of his Majesty's subjects were destroyed, those laws were enacted, which were known under the name of the Six Acts. Those Acts he considered a disgrace to the country; and he had hoped that the present Ministry would not have been six months in office without repealing them. As to the particular Act under which those prosecutions were instituted, when it was brought forward by the then Attorney-general, he candidly declared, that he could not defend the measure on its own merits, because he felt that it was against the liberty of the Press, and he believed the liberty of the Press to be essential to the preservation of the liberty of the country. He called upon the House, therefore, to take the Six Acts as one measure, of which this Bill was a part; and upon that ground alone the Bill was carried through Parliament. When the hon. Member opposite, therefore, who had expatiated at such length on these publications, called upon the Ministry to act upon this measure, he called upon them to act in contradiction to the opinions they had given when they occupied the Opposition benches. On the 5th of December, 1819, the present Lord Chancellor (Lord Brougham), then a Member of the House of Commons, stated, that, in his opinion, the Bill under which those prosecutions were instituted went "to abridge the liberty of the Press, which he conceived to be the great pillar of the Constitution,"✶ and, therefore, that✶ Hansard's Debates, vol. xli. p. 705.417 he could not suffer it to pass without distinctly stating his objections to it. The present member for Hampshire (Sir James Macdonald) at the same time stated his opinion in very forcible language. After saying very justly, that a more important measure was never brought before Parliament, he added, "the services rendered by the public Press to the cause of the country throughout the late war, were scarcely calculable; and, yet, upon this Press, it was now proposed to impose a most galling chain." ✶ The hon. Member also said, "He held it to be a primary principle of the English Constitution, that an Englishman might publish what he pleased on his own responsibility; but now, for the first time, it was required of him to find others to share in the responsibility. While one spark of the spirit of liberty remained in the country such measures could not be tolerated."† The members of the present Government, not only opposed these Bills by the expression of their opinions, but also recorded their feelings by frequent divisions against them. Was it a matter of surprise, therefore, that those Members, now that they were become Ministers, should be against prosecutions under this Statute. The only surprise which he felt was, that the Act should still be allowed to disgrace the Statute Book of the country; and he could tell the hon. Member, that if he thought to stifle discussion, or to stop the progress of information, he came too late. The day was past when he could hope to have ignorance for his supporter, or to muzzle the people of England. The hon. Member, or any one else, might publish what he pleased, in an octavo volume, provided that it exceeded two sheets, and cost more than 6d.; but the present law refused to grant the same liberty to any one who published at 2d. or 3d., no matter how valuable, how moral, or how religious, the character of the publication. The law, therefore, operated as a tax against the poor man, leaving the rich to do what they pleased. He fully agreed with what had been stated, not only by Sir James Macdonald, but by nearly every one of those who occupied the Ministerial benches, that this law was a disgrace to the country. Mr. Primrose, a Gentleman not now in the House, laid down his opinions on the passing of this✶ Hansard's Debates, vo xli. p. 1322.† Ibid. p. 1323.418 Act, in a manner which no man could peruse without advantage; and even Mr. Canning, who was never the advocate of popular measures, declared that nothing but urgent necessity could induce him to give his consent to such a measure, and that he gave it, not to the measure taken separately, but as one of several measures taken as a whole, as stated by Sir John Copley, who was then Solicitor-general, and a Member of that House. The hon. Member, he was told, was an advocate for educating and teaching the poor in another country; but where was the use of teaching to read, if publishing was prevented. Publishing was often the only means of eliciting truth, and freedom of publication promoted discussion on any opinions that were brought forward. If any hon. Member found that the arguments he used were misrepresented, and falsified by sophistical statements, it was his duty to make the best answer he could; but, as things at present stood, he could not do so without subjecting himself to the penalties of the law. The consequence was, that mischievous publications were often allowed to maintain undisturbed possession of the public mind, because any one attempting to answer them was liable to prosecution, if his answer consisted of less than two sheets. The present Government ought to remove the shackles upon the public Press, instead of being called upon to prosecute persons connected with it. He (Mr. Hume) was one of those who joined in blaming the Duke of Wellington's Government for ruining an individual by prosecutions; but that Government had never disgraced itself by prosecuting small publishers, as the present Ministry had done. There was not one person prosecuted for publishing without a stamp under the Duke of Wellington's Government, which was the ground of prosecution now. The predecessors of the present Ministry, with great credit to themselves, refrained from prosecuting. He (Mr. Hume) held in his hand several publications winch took place under that Administration, but which he should not read, for he would not be the medium of disseminating poison. If the 60th of George 3rd, chaps. viii. and ix., were repealed, however, all those publications might be answered. All cheap publications, however, were not mischievous; many of them disseminated most im- 419 portant truths among the community. That strange opinions should sometimes be put forward in those works did not derogate from their general utility. But what he objected to particularly was, that noxious publications under the present state of the law, could not be answered in a cheap form. This he had felt in one case himself, where he wished to answer a publication, but upon taking the opinion of Mr. Tindal, then a Member of the House, that learned Gentleman said, that no such publication could take place without the liability of prosecution under the Six Acts. He had always contended, and was disposed still to contend, that it was best to let ultra papers have their run, and exhaust themselves. To put down free discussion, however, was, in effect, to allow ignorance to have the upper hand, and to encourage mischievous publications. He was for eliciting truth, and truth was only to be elicited by free discussion, which could not take place unless all the shackles were removed from the Press. The right hon. member for Tamworth (Sir Robert Peel), when Secretary of State, had prosecuted Mr. Carlile for blasphemy. It was found, that the blasphemous publications increased tenfold during the prosecutions. In a few days the sale, which was then diminishing, increased to 20,000 copies; thus proving that the most ready way to disseminate noxious publications was by prosecuting the authors and publishers. The late Secretary for the Home Department, gathering experience from what had occurred, sensibly directed that no more prosecutions should be instituted against Mr. Carlile, and the consequence was, that the sale of the blasphemous publications diminished, and Mr. Carlile was brought down to the verge of poverty, so as scarcely to have the means of subsistence. When the late prosecution took place, two gentlemen applied to Government not to press the prosecution—an application which unfortunately was not complied with; but when Mr. Carlile heard of the interference of these gentlemen he was enraged. What he wanted was notoriety, and that would have been defeated if the prosecution had not been proceeded with. In consequence of the prosecution the publication increased tenfold, and an annuity of 50l. per year was settled on Mr. Carlile and his wife, to enable them to bear up against what was 420 called the cruelty of Government. It would be the same with the publication of Hetherington. At present it was little known; but by prosecuting and endeavouring to bring it under the Stamp Act, it would be sought for in the country. Those who advocated such prosecutions said, in effect, "We will spread evil far and wide, and prevent that moral influence which may neutralise its virulence; we will spread the poison and prevent the antidote." He therefore protested against the principle as mischievous, injurious, and ill-timed. The petition which he had to present was from the National Working Union, holding its meetings at the Bazaar Coffee-house, in Castle-street. The petitioners prayed for the repeal of the remainder of the Six Acts. He concurred with them in reprobating those Acts, which had the effect of perpetuating ignorance and oppressing the poor, and when he heard an allusion made to what had been done in France, he must say, that he saw no difference between the Ordonnances of the French king, and those Acts of Parliament. He said, he saw no difference but in degree; and as the French people drove out Charles, so he hoped the English people would not be satisfied until they caused those Acts to be driven from the Statute Book. The hon. and learned Lord Advocate seemed to think that he (Mr. Hume) was not serious; but he would assure him that he was so. When he saw a poor man like Carpenter, a common printer, prosecuted, what could he think but that the object was, to keep the poor in ignorance? Charles 10th, endeavoured to put down the Press in France by an ordinance— here it was done by Act of Parliament. If there was any difference it was only in degree, and those who always opposed the measures against the Press could not have much satisfaction in witnessing such prosecutions. Let those who were not friends to discussion, but who wished to stifle truth, object to the shackles being taken off the Press, and they would be consistent; but he could not expect such principles from the present liberal Ministry. At all events, if it was right to put down one man, it was equally necessary to put clown others. Now, he understood that if Hetherington, the printer and publisher of The Poor Man's Guardian was prosecuted and sent to prison, the next morning another man would be found to 421 supply his place, and that there were plenty of candidates willing to have the honour of being made the subjects of a prosecution by the Attorney General. The attempt, therefore, to put down those publications was hopeless, and he rejoiced at it. It was too much to expect, that when Acts were passed against sound principles they could be enforced. Every attempt to compel obedience to such measures was productive of an increase of the evil which it was proposed to remedy. The only way was, to allow Hetherington and Carpenter, and such men to proceed, and hon. Members might answer them, if they thought proper. In conclusion, he had only to hope that it would not be long before the Ministry moved for the repeal of the Six Acts.
§ Mr. Trevor
declared, that he was not opposed to the freedom of the Press; but a distinction should be made between its freedom and its licentiousness. It was not to ignorance alone that the crimes which prevailed in this country were to be ascribed. Many offences could be traced to the abominable advice contained in those publications—advice which had brought more than one individual to expiate his crimes on the scaffold. He was not one who wished to keep the people in ignorance; but he could not see publications sent forth which sowed the seeds of disloyalty, atheism, and rebellion, without apprehension and regret. There was no country in the world where greater freedom was allowed; but he believed that, as the use of the Press was one of the greatest blessings, and the greatest glory which this country enjoyed, its abuse was the greatest curse, and the parent of many crimes.
Sir F. Burdett
concurred in the prayer of both petitions. He thought that the better course would be, for some hon. Member to make a motion for the repeal of those Acts. He had heard no one say a word in favour of those Statutes, nor had it been shown how they could have had one beneficial effect. He wished that a motion should be made—not in the spirit of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down—not for the purpose of censuring the Government for omitting to prosecute, but for the purpose of restoring the ancient law of the land. He hoped, therefore, that a proposition would shortly be brought forward to repeal them, and to place the Law and the Constitution upon the footing 422 on which they stood before such innovations had been introduced. He did not think that much mischief could be occasioned by the publication to which reference had been made. He had never heard of it before, and it really appeared to him that the poison which was circulated in such a trashy publication was not calculated to affect the minds of any men except those of exceedingly great stupidity indeed. In fact, he took this publication, and things of the sort, to be a weak and miserable invention of the enemy, for the purpose of bringing discredit upon the popular party and a popular Administration. Such sinister modes of warfare were sometimes adopted, and he should not be surprised to find that this was one of them, for he did not suppose it possible that any man could suppose that any cause could be advanced by the absurd and ridiculous trash which those publications contained. He did not think that there was any danger to be apprehended from the circulation of such trash, for its only effect would be to excite the disgust of the community. The proper mode of meeting such things was, to alter the law with regard to the press, which, as it at present stood, was in his opinion of a. most evil tendency. It had been once a delightful object of contemplation to him (Sir Francis Burdett), to behold persons in the class of life to which those petitioners belonged applying the information which they possessed through the means of cheap publications, to the promotion of the welfare of the community. Such publications had been frequently sent to him, and he read them with pride, pleasure, and satisfaction, and he was sorry, that they had been put an end to by this law. There was nothing-more simple, as he had already said, than for the hon. member for Middlesex to move for the repeal of that law, and he was satisfied that his Majesty's Ministers, who in their present places had not abandoned the opinions which they had expressed while on the other side of the House, would not fail to support such a proposition. The matter appeared to him to be one of great importance, and he trusted it would be speedily brought forward, he hoped even in the course of the present session. The House was engaged, it was true, with the great and all-absorbing question of Reform, and until it was disposed of, certainly nothing of importance should be introduced. But, as soon 423 as that great question was settled, a motion for the repeal of those laws ought to be at once brought forward, and it should have his (Sir F. Burdett's) cordial support.
said, that entertaining strong opinions on the subject of libel, he wished to make a few observations on this question. He totally differed from the hon. member for Dundalk (Mr. Gordon), who thought that his Majesty's Ministers should prosecute such publications as he had referred to. He did not think that any notice should be taken of the ridiculous and disgusting trash which such publications contained, and the only way to disseminate such trash was to take notice of it. The only true definition that any man could give of licentiousness of the Press was, the utterance of opinions of which he disapproved. Prosecutions might succeed in smothering the expression of obnoxious opinions at one time, and at one particular place, but they were sure to rise again with an additional excitement, from their having been suppressed by force. Opinions would always be met by counter-opinions, and a notion was sure to prevail that the prosecutor was in the wrong. The Press was free in England only from the unwillingness of Government to prosecute when the Government was possessed of common sense—it was free only because the Government was not disposed to curb it, and because the public mind was strongly set against the prosecution of it. The Press was free in America, and yet than it there was no part of the world in which public opinion would more certainly crush the Carliles and writers of that class. Carlile made his fortune by prosecutions. When he was prosecuted, he became rich; when he was left alone, he sunk into poverty; and he rose to competence again directly the Government attempted to crush him by means of the law. The maiden speech of the member for Dundalk against the Press would make the fortune of The Republican, and turn The Poor Man's Guardian into a rich speculation. It was an excellent puff for what the hon. Member called seditious publications, and the author must be much obliged to him for having pitied the sorrows of a poor old libeller, who must otherwise have starved.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that the proposition he had just heard was, that every man was to be at liberty to publish whatever excitement to crime he thought fit. 424 Whether the excitement were conveyed in one of the papers which had been shown to him that morning, and which contained the advice to the people to put down Kings, Lords, and Priests; or whether it were to appear in the shape of advice to the labourers of Kent and Sussex to set fire to their neighbours' ricks, it appeared to him that the excitement was exactly the same. Both of them were equally guilty according to the law of this country, and he believed of every other country that ever existed. It had been urged, that if these things were conveyed in moderate language, it amounted to only fair discussion. In this case it was to be allowed to pass merely as the exposition of the hardships and grievances which the people suffered; and if it assumed the language which he had just mentioned, then the argument was, that it ought to be let alone, for it was too absurd to do any mischief. Was it, then, to be maintained, that no writing that could excite to crime was an offence, or an offence that ought to be suppressed by law? He trusted, that the House would never sanction any such absurd and dangerous doctrine.
The Attorney General
said, that although the Government was armed with very extraordinary power in such cases, yet since he had held the situation which he had the honour to fill, nothing had been done against any publication but what any individual might legally have done who thought that such a publication ought to be put down. He had filed no ex-officio informations, but had proceeded so that the opinion of the Grand Jury should be taken in the first instance. It was on the very strong feeling of the absolute necessity of having public opinion to go along with him, that he had acted. In answer to what had just been said, he would declare, that most undoubtedly no Ministers could give up the right to proceed, when they thought it their duty to proceed, against publications which tended immediately to disturb the public peace, and to give the people an excitement to crime. Whether that excitement were in a written letter, or in a publication addressed to the passions of the multitude, in every case where immediate danger followed, he did apprehend that he was bound by the necessity of considering what was the best mode of preventing the offence. But still this was a matter of nice discretion, and 425 one that required the greatest caution in applying the remedy. One inevitable evil of all such prosecutions was, the wider and legalised diffusion of the mischief, which was originally confined to but a small number of persons. The public could hardly desire a diffusion of those publications, which justly met with their scorn, disgust, and horror, and which but for prosecutions might be confined to a few. He had felt it his duty to weigh the several cases in the balance of conveniences and inconveniences, and he had come to the thorough conviction, that it was infinitely better to let such publications dwindle into insignificance from a want of all encouragement, than to give them a wider publicity, and to force them into notice by means of prosecutions. He would not shrink from the performance of his duty, but as a trial of this nature was to come on in a few days, he was much fettered in entering into the question before the House. If any papers of an innocent description had been proceeded against under this Stamp Act, he should say that the proceedings had been very improperly instituted, and he was not aware; of the fact. When, however, he had found that a paper of a contrary nature went on from day to day, and that a law existed by which it could be suppressed, he had no hesitation in availing himself of that Act. He objected to the passing of the law, but still, as the law was in his hands, he felt himself justified in resorting to it in this case, and this without its restraining him, or any person connected with him, from uttering their free opinions if the subject of the Six Acts should be brought before the House. No person who looked to the interest of the public in prosecutions for libels could disregard the speculations of the individual prosecuted, who calculated upon a general feeling being roused in favour of any case of supposed martyrdom. With respect to the prosecution of Carpenter, that was commenced several weeks ago, and had only been delayed by his proceedings. He endeavoured by fraud to evade an Act of Parliament, and so his conduct appeared to the Jury, who gave a verdict against him. As to Mr. Carlile having grown rich by prosecution, he knew nothing of the fact, but it showed that a sound discretion was necessary in instituting prosecutions. Anonymous letters were constantly sent to him, in order to provoke him to give the authors and. their 426 cause the benefits of a Government prosecution. These letters attacked the highest character in the State, and all the establishments and institutions in the country—even the institution of property itself. He thought that these might be left with great safety to the public sentiment, even to the lowest classes. If the whole public were disposed to rush into palaces, and mansions, and dwellings, and destroy all the rights of property, he was sure, that prosecutions could not prevent them, but society even to the lowest degree would prevent this on the principle of self-interest, for even the poorest labourer who put his weekly wages into his pocket, would feel himself arrayed against such persons. He felt that it was throwing away the strength of Government to prosecute publications against which the public could better protect themselves.
Sir Robert Peel
had heard, with great satisfaction, from the right hon. Gentleman who filled the high situation of Attorney General, so complete a denial of the doctrine of the hon. member for Middlesex, and the learned and hon. Gentleman the representative of Kerry—that let what might be published, no law was necessary to check it—it might find its level by means of free discussion—all encouragements to blasphemy might pass unnoticed by the law, and that confidence might be reposed in the progress of public opinion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, his Majesty's Attorney General, had said, that he never would consent that Government should lose the power of checking such crimes by law, and of punishing the instigators; and he (Sir R. Peel) agreed with the learned Gentleman in that opinion; as he also concurred in the opinion that the law on such occasions ought not to be called into operation too frequently, and without the exercise of great caution and circumspection. He protested against the extraordinary, absurd, and wicked doctrine held in these publications, and espoused by some hon. Members, that in no case ought Government to prosecute. The hon. member for Middlesex had said, that prosecutions in many cases made the fortunes of the individuals prosecuted, and that the fact of additional publicity being given to the original matter was to be considered; but the learned Gentleman opposite, by avail-himself of the Stamp Act, had effected his object without inflicting upon the public 427 the mischief of giving publicity to the objectionable matter. It must be most painful to any officer of the Crown to appear to connive at such a person as Carlile and his infamous publications; but the Attorney General had judged between the evil of perpetual prosecutions and of his apparent connivance, and he had been satisfied that more advantage was to be derived to the public from this apparent indifference or connivance, than from a series of improvident prosecutions. The publications alluded to were calculated to rouse the just indignation of society. When windows were broken by a riotous mob, it was insinuated that persons adverse to Reform had joined the crowd, and had effected the mischief, in order to cast an obloquy on the other party; and now that these infamous publications were set forth and acknowledged by the authors, up rose the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, and insinuated that other parties were at the bottom of these works. The hon. Baronet must be aware that the persons whose names were put to the publications were the authors of them. The hon. member for Middlesex had called himself the great advocate for the diffusion of truth and knowledge. He (Sir R. Peel) would agree, that constitutional knowledge was a very good thing; but when he heard this great advocate for constitutional knowledge inform the public of England that there was no difference between the ordinances of Charles 10th, for suppressing the Press, and the English Six Acts, he must confess, that he had great distrust in those doctrines, and he could not expect that great benefits would result from a diffusion by the Press of what this great advocate of knowledge might utter. He had thought the hon. member for Middlesex so wise, that he would have proceeded to advise the people of England to do something; or other. He had expected that the hon. Member would have excited the people of England to follow the example of the people of France, and to perform some tremendous acts; and he had felt greatly relieved when the hon. Member contented himself with recommending them to chase the statutes from the Statute-book. Did the hon. Member, who had been selected as the Representative of the intelligence of the metropolitan county, see no distinction between Acts of Parliament constitutionally passed, and formally ratified by the three branches of the Legis- 428 lature, and the Ordinances of Charles 10th, passed in defiance of the Legislature, and in destruction of the Constitution? He would recommend the hon. Member to refrain from drawing parallels between what he appeared not to be thoroughly acquainted with. He should refrain from saying more until the whole question came regularly before the House, which he supposed it would; and he hoped that, in the meahwhile, it would receive the serious consideration of Members. He did hope also that his Majesty's Government would revise the opinion they formerly maintained —an opinion which they maintained upon less information than they might now be supposed to possess, being in office. He hoped, then, with their present information and with the knowledge which they must possess of the efforts which were now making to undermine the morals, religious faith, and loyalty of the country, they would not be averse from reconsidering the opinions maintained by them in 1819; and if, from their experience in office, they saw any reason to alter those sentiments, there was no man who would be so unworthy as to taunt them with inconsistency.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, that he had hitherto made but a very few observations, and in what he had to offer he should strictly confine himself to the matter in hand. The object of the petitioners was, to procure the abolition of the Six Acts, and to remove those restraints which interfered with the liberty of the Press. His opinion of the liberty of the Press was, that men should be at liberty to publish everything that was not untrue [murmurs]. He was perfectly ready to wait with patience until it should prove the pleasure of hon. Members to give him a hearing. The petitioners, whose prayer he had the honour to present to the House, were highly respectable, and their representations were, he thought, entitled to attention. They and he held, that the laws against which they complained were passed by a borough mongering faction, and by their nominees; and they held, as he conceived most properly, that the people were not bound to obey such laws. To be sure he might be told, that he could move to have those laws repealed; but the petitioners prayed that the Government would do so themselves. He hoped, notwithstanding what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, that the members of his Majesty's Government would take the 429 same view of those Acts which they had taken when they sat on the Opposition side of the House. For his part, if they did not move for a repeal of those Acts, he most certainly would; but he was resolved to wait till the great measure which was then before the House was completed, and immediately upon its passing, he, if no one else did, would move for the repeal of those Acts.
wished to explain. He had only said, that the effect of those laws, and of the ordinances of Charles 10th, were the same, the tendency of both was, to lessen and destroy the liberty of the Press. He did not concur with what fell from the hon. member for Preston as to obeying these laws, for if they had no authority, he was afraid the authority of the Parliament to pass the Reform Bill might be equally disputed.
Sir Robert Peel
said, that the hon. Member did not comprehend the French Revolution. The people of France did not rise for the purpose of supporting the liberty of the Press—they rose against an illegal assumption of authority, under which Charles 10th sought to destroy the independence and authority of the two Chambers of Legislature; therefore, the parallel drawn by the hon. member for Middlesex was most unjust. As to what the hon. member for Preston had said about the Acts in question being void, he would ask that hon. Member whether he, in going from that House, would seek for no redress against assault and robbery, merely because the statutes punishing those offences had been enacted by an unreformed Parliament?
§ Mr. Hunt
again rose for the purpose of moving that the petition be printed, when he was assailed by much interruption. He said, that if he was out of order he would sit down: but the young Members who endeavoured to cough him down ought to inquire of the Speaker whether he was really out of order or not. As to what the right hon. Baronet near him had said, about his (Mr. Hunt) appealing to the law in a case of assault and robbery, he should certainly have recourse to the law, but not to any statute; he should prosecute under the common law of the land.