HC Deb 29 June 1831 vol 4 cc467-79

Mr. Hume, on presenting a Petition from the National Union of the Working Classes held at the Bazaar Coffee House, Castle Street, Oxford Street, said, that it was well worthy the serious attention of the House. It prayed for the repeal of the Six Acts, and he hoped some measure would be introduced by his Majesty's Ministers for the repeal of these obnoxious Statutes, and that prosecutions under them would cease. He must observe, in reference to what had passed yesterday, that he was authorised by Mr. Hetherington to state, that he was only the printer of The Republican, and in order to be assured of the fact, he (Mr. Hume) had obtained possession of two of the manuscripts from which two of the numbers of The Republican were printed, and hence it appeared, that the real writer was a person in the enemy's camp, with whose name no doubt many Gentlemen who heard him were acquainted. He had no objection to name him — Mr. Lorimer, and if it were required he would give his address also. It was a gross injustice to Mr. Hetherington to prosecute him for printing anything for which he was paid, if he gave up the name of the writer when the publication contained objectionable matter. That person, stated it would deprive him of his bread if he was prevented from printing cheap publications. The arguments of the petitioners against the continuance of the Six Acts were most convincing. The principle of them was, they said, as if a tyrannical law had passed forbidding shoemakers to make shoes for the lower orders; by these Acts, printers were allowed to print only for the higher orders, as none could buy but those who were rich. This parallel was highly appropriate; there might be some excuse for these laws if they produced beneficial effects, but their effects were directly contrary. He had been furnished with a list of eighteen individuals, confined in seven years, for various periods, from six months to three years, and sixteen of them were in prison at the same time. The period in which this happened, was while the late Secretary for the Home Department was in office, although the right hon. Baronet had himself said last night, that it would be far better not to engage in any such proceedings, for if such publications were not prosecuted they soon fell into utter contempt, and continued to be totally disregarded, until, unfortunately, Government again raised them into importance by prosecuting their authors. He hoped the Government would profit by experience, and remove the remainder of the Six Acts from the Statute-book, He moved that the petition be brought up.

Sir H. Hardinge, in the absence of his right hon. friend (Sir R. Peel), asked whether the hon. Member meant to say that Mr. Lorimer, who, he asserted, was in the enemy's camp, wrote in The Republican in opposition to the sentiments and principles he really professed. Did the hon. Gentleman mean to assert that Mr. Lorimer was connected with Gentlemen on that side of the House who maintained what were called anti-liberal opinions, and had two sets of opinions, one for private use and the other to publish, with the views ascribed to him? If such were his conduct, he (Sir H. Hardinge) could only say, that no punishment could be too heavy for such a person when convicted. He begged to ask the hon. Member, whether Mr. Lorimer's principles differed from his own, and whether he was certainly the author of these infamous publications, for he (Sir H. Hardinge) had no knowledge of the individual referred to.

Mr. Hume

replied, that he would completely satisfy the right hon. Gentleman; he would give him Mr. Lorimer's address, and then by calling upon him he would be able to satisfy himself, and hear what that Gentleman's political opinions really were. He had every reason to believe, that the politics of this Gentleman on the subject of Reform were similar to those held by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), and it was his opinion, that in all such cases as that of Mr. Hetherington, the author, and not the unfortunate printer, ought to be punished. He had said, and he repeated it, that he entertained great suspicion that the manuscript sent to The Republican, and other works of that nature, came from the enemy's camp.

Sir H. Hardinge

called upon the House to recollect the first statement made by the hon. member for Middlesex, and compare it with that statement which he had just made. He did not, in the first instance, give it as a mere matter of suspicion but of fact, that the manuscript of The Republican came from the enemy's camp. Now the hon. Gentleman seemed anxious to back out of his assertion.

Mr. Hume

said, he had no wish to back out.

Sir H. Hardinge

The hon. Member had given it as a fact that Mr. Lorimer, who wrote in The Republican, was connected with the present Opposition side of the House — that he was in the enemy's camp, but he did not seem to be now prepared to treat the subject with his usual fairness. The suspicions of the hon. Member could not justify the allegations he had made.

Mr. Hume

I said that I had a suspicion [no!]— a strong suspicion [no, no!] — then I will say at once, that it did come from the enemy's camp.

Mr. C. Ross

contended, that before the hon. Member ventured on such an assertion, he ought to be able to prove that Mr. Lorimer was really connected with Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House. The hon. Gentleman ought to have evidence to prove his assertion before he advanced such charges against Gentlemen at least as honourable as himself.

Mr. John Gordon

was not surprised at the observations of the hon. Member, for he bad no doubt the publication was connected with those Political Unions, of which the hon. Member was an adviser, and indeed he happened to know, that some of these writers were the accredited organs of these bodies. In these Political Unions motions were discussed and resolutions entered into, which were printed in these books. The hon. Member had addressed a letter to the Political Union of Dunfermline, recommending the establishment of reading rooms, the circulation of pamphlets, and holding out the expectation that the elective franchise would in time be communicated to them, although not at present contemplated. He there advised the people to carry their expectations beyond the present Bill. The hon. Member said in his letter, which had been published in The Prompter, that "newspapers, and other political works, should be read by the members of these Unions, who should thus prepare themselves for the exercise of those rights which will be conceded to them by this measure; and even those who have not the right of suffrage granted to them, should look forward to the time when it will be granted beyond the limit of the present Bill. To Paisley, Glasgow, and other places, where institutions of this nature are formed, I shall be happy to advance the object in view by supplying pamphlets and other useful works." These Political Unions were founded on what they called the "Rights of Man"— words used by the enemies of the British Constitution, and of everything that pertains to it. The result of those Unions were publications like those to which so much allusion had been made.

Mr. Hume

was sorry, that the hon. Gentleman bad not read the whole of the letter containing the advice to the Political Unions.

Mr. John Gordon

replied, he had not got the whole of the letter. He had read and quoted such expressions as seemed necessary, and he was sure the House would be convinced that when the people were told to expect "something more than the Bill," only one opinion could be entertained as to the nature of the advice.

Mr. Hume

repeated, he wished the hon. Member had read the whole of the letter, as it did not contain one word which he meant to retract. The facts were simply these. A letter had been sent to him, requesting his advice as to the establishing Political Unions, and he, in reply, wrote the letter which the hon. Member so much deprecated. He never wrote a syllable about defending the "Rights of Man," in the sense these words were used years ago. So far from that being the case, he would give the hon. Gentleman a whole year to find out in his writings the advocacy of any such doctrines. He advocated the rights of the people, not what were called the Rights of Man in the year 1793. The riots in Scotland proceeded from ignorance, and being most desirous to prevent the recurrence of such scenes, he recommended, that instruction should be given to the lower orders, to enlighten and prepare them for that elective franchise which had so long been unjustly withheld. He defied any man to trace the most remote connexion between him and the publications which had been referred to. Had the people been properly instructed, the disgraceful riots which had prevailed in Scotland, would have never occurred, and if the hon. Member supposed he was on any occasion the advocate of violence and outrage, he was never more mistaken in his life. Nothing was more injurious to any cause than the commission of such acts, and if the hon. Gentleman supposed he could, by that letter, connect him (Mr. Hume) with those occurrences, it roust be because he was like a drowning man, ready to catch at anything. With respect to these publications, his belief still was, that they came from the enemy's camp. [A voice, "Give some proof of this assertion."] He would give the documents to the hon. Member, and would lend him any assistance in his power to ascertain what he had stated, and the hon. Member could hardly expect him to go beyond that. The late right hon. Secretary for the Home Department alluded last night, with great pomp, to his (Mr. Hume's) constitutional knowledge. He had assumed an appearance of mildness and candour, but his intention was, to excite laughter and expose him to ridicule. The observations of the right hon. Gentleman, to say the least, were not applicable to what he had said, and had nothing to do with the question before the House. He should certainly move, that a copy of the letter alluded to by the hon. Member should be laid on the Table, and although it might be easy to pervert what was said, he would challenge the hon. Gentleman to make good any of his allegations with respect to improper advice being contained in it.

Mr. John Gordon

said, he had been charged with uttering a calumny, of which he was not only incapable, but which he utterly denied. What he had said was, that the Association of which he complained was the advocate of the Rights of Man, as well as the Political Unions to which the hon. Member had given advice; but he had not said the Rights of Man were associated with the name of the hon. Member, and if it were necessary, he was in a condition to prove what he had affirmed.

Sir C. Wetherell

observed that the hon. Member might be perfectly right in the line he had taken, and in the sensitiveness which he had shewn on being charged with having had any connexion with institutions or publications employed in the propagation of opinions connected with what were called the Rights of Man. The hon. Gentleman, however, had not shown much regard to the feelings of hon. Members who conscientiously opposed the present Government, and of whom he stated, that they formed the "enemy's camp," from which these infamous publications had been distributed. These Gentlemen, who were now sitting under the shadow of the Mountain, had been rashly, improperly, and audaciously accused of giving publicity to doctrines which every one who knew them would admit to be totally unfounded. He would only read to the House the title in the first page of one of those papers, published on Saturday, the 18th June. The first article was headed "The Sovereignty of the People," and it was dated, "the 18th June, in the Year of the People One." Was it to be tolerated when such language was said by the hon. Member to come from the enemy's camp? He thought, before the hon. Gentleman complained of his own sensitive feelings being touched, he should spare the feelings of others, and not give utterance to such groundless charges. He was as stout an anti-reformer as any Gentleman, yet he had not felt so acutely the imputations thrown on them as the hon. Member who was the great patron and adviser of political unions, felt at an insinuation respecting his advocating the Rights of Man. He would let the House see, too, what those writers said of the Church. He would call the attention of the House to one paragraph: "As a temporary relief, and previous to a total confiscation of what is called the property of the Church, that property should be subjected to a tax for the maintenance of the poor." Here, then, these publications wished to confiscate the property of the Church; and he would remind the hon. member for Middlesex, that, although he disclaimed any connexion or community of opinion with the writers in those publications, yet he had often said, that the property of the Church was resumable by Parliament. Therefore, all the distinction between that hon. Gentleman and "The Republican" rested upon the difference between resumption and confiscation. He would also let the House see how these writers and venders of slander and infamy spoke of the Army. An article commenting on the assistance given by the army to the civil authorities in quelling disturbances, was headed —" the Army, Man-butchers." It was only last night that the hon. and learned member for Kerry recommended the employment of the King's troops, in consequence of their greater humanity, and being divested of local feelings. But he would not trouble the House longer by running through the whole of "The Republican." He would content himself by reading a passage from a letter to a society in Glasgow, in which the hon. Member said, "that he had no doubt the franchise would be extended beyond the limits of the present Bill;" from which he (Sir C. Wetherell) inferred, that the hon. member for Middlesex anticipated another new Constitution to supersede very soon that which the Reform Bill would establish. It was said by the framers of that Bill, that it would satisfy the people, fix and settle the Representation of that House, while the hon. Member distinctly told them, that after it had passed, they would have much to expect "beyond it." He would recommend the hon. Member to abstain from making such charges, and from attacking an absent man; and when the constant attendance of his right hon. friend was recollected, the House would agree with him, that the hon. Gentleman ought to have postponed his attack until the right hon. Baronet had been present to reply to it.

Mr. Lamb

wished to remind the House of the inconvenience to which such discussions as the present must invariably lead. He had heard it admitted by some of the Gentlemen with whom the conversation originated, that a mischievous notoriety was given to those worthless writings by prosecution. But it was of little use that the Government should abstain from prosecution, if hon. Gentlemen were to take up the time of the House, and delay the public business, in order to confer upon such writings the notoriety which their authors desired. He believed, from what he had heard that evening, that the discussion on that subject the day before had contributed much to increase the circulation of the publications in question; and he greatly feared, from the turn the Debate had taken, that their dissemination would be promoted still more extensively.

Mr. George Bankes

gave the hon. member for Middlesex the credit of reviving the Debate, for he thought his hon. friends who surrounded him would not have been true to themselves, had they not instantly repelled the charge made by the hon. Gentleman against an absent friend, of being instrumental to the corruption of public morals. Nothing which had been said by the right hon. Baronet could bear the construction put upon it. His right hon. friend did no more than he was then endeavouring to do; namely, repel allegations attempted to be fixed by the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, upon him. In doing this he gave no occasion for the comments which had much better have been made in his presence, than in his absence. Who Mr. Lorimer was, the House was not informed, but it was politely told, it might inquire. Now it was the duty of the hon. Member to have inquired before making the charge, and unless he knew the assertion to be true, he ought not to have made it. If he was convinced of its truth, he was the more called upon to give those proofs which were the grounds of his own conviction. If he stopped short in doing that justice, he would not deal fairly with those to whom he had imputed unworthy motives. He had no desire to give publicity to these infamous publications, which he was glad to see stigmatised by all the Members of that House; but, in however bad a light they might then be looked on, he feared they could not forget their existence. They were regarded, it was plain, with a different eye in those Assemblies which the hon. member for Middlesex and his friends encouraged. He did not say the hon. Member encouraged such publications, but there was no doubt they were now increasing in number and infamy.

Mr. O'Connell

thought the hon. member for Middlesex had not been fairlytreated. The hon. member for Borough bridge admitted, that in the allegations of the hon. member for Middlesex, those who occupied what the hon. and learned member was pleased to call the Plain, were not alluded to, but only those who opposed Reform. The hon. member for Middlesex thought it was right to caution the people, that these publications proceeded from the enemies, and not from the friends of Reform; but it was not he who introduced "The Republican," and "Poor Man's Guardian," to the notice of the House. It was the hon. member for Dundalk. He had also brought forward "The Prompter," and if there was any other miserable vehicle of sedition, he would no doubt speak of that to-morrow, in order to spare the parties the expense of advertising. The hon. member for Middlesex was charged with encouraging Political Unions, and it was insinuated that these publications were their accredited organs. But on what facts was this charge supported? They might be the organs of some such Unions, but that had not been proved, and it had not been shewn that they were connected with the Scotch Political Unions. With respect 10 the Letter alluded to, any man might be proud to be the author. The greatest friends of the lower classes were those who informed them that they were the greatest sufferers by revolutions. The upper classes might sink some few degrees; but the labouring classes were inevitably thrown out of employment, and out of bread. It was of importance to encourage Political Unions, that great truths might be spread amongst the lower orders. It was by the encouragement of such Unions, that the senseless cry against the Truck System was silenced. It was admitted by all the Scottish Gentlemen who had spoken, that there had been riots in Scotland, and that there still existed a disposition to riot. This, therefore, was the time to enlighten the minds of the people, by shewing them that any attempts to bring about political changes by force would be most injurious to themselves. The hon. member for Dundalk had thrown out an anti-Jacobin cry against the "Rights of Man," a cry which in past years reached the pitch of political insanity, and from the effects of which the country was still suffering. The phrase was in itself a good one, and not to be quarrelled with. The English people had rights which had been taken from them by the borough mongering faction, and the attempt to raise an anti-Jacobin cry against these, would fail as signally as the attack made upon the hon. member for Middlesex. He was sure, that the proprietors of these publications must be very grateful to the hon. member for Dundalk, who seemed to have volunteered his services to them as bellman, and, in that capacity, went about proclaiming to the public at what shop they might purchase blasphemy and sedition at the lowest price. Perhaps he might shortly have occasion to apply himself to some more useful trade. The hon. member for Boroughbridge admitted, that what was said respecting Church property, implied confiscation; whereas, the hon. member for Middlesex only said, that Church property was the property of the State. If so, and it was held under an Act of Parliament, which took it from its former, and gave it to its present owners, that was the best title a man could have to property, but the power that gave could take away, or modify it. There could be no doubt of the power of the Legislature, or the Roman Catholics would claim all the Church property of the country. By removing the authority of the Legislature, the hon. Member made a good title for the Popish Bishops of Ireland. He disclaimed, however, with them, any such title, and recognised the authority of the Legislature which, if it thought fit, could deprive the present holders of this property, or remodel their tenure of it. The former ought not to be done capriciously, but on the latter he entertained a very different opinion; and because the hon. member for Middlesex thought, and said, that the Legislature had the power so to act, he was charged with a desire to confiscate Church property. Certainly, such insinuations were most unjust, and ought least of all to be made by Members who were called learned as well as honourable.

Mr. Paget

deprecated those discussions, by means of which the House was sometimes occupied to the fatiguing hour of half-past one o'clock in the morning with matters which in no way concerned the welfare of the nation. It was a cruel thing to waste the time of Members by a sort of trickery on words, and a sort of cajolery that meant nothing, and that they did not understand or wish to enter into. Whilst the time of the Legislature was thus destroyed, Gentlemen accustomed to the pure air of the country, were shut up for many weeks more than was really necessary, in the close streets of the metropolis, to the injury of their health as well as of their domestic affairs. Besides, he thought that nothing could more sink the character of the House than discussions such as that introduced by the hon. Gentleman below him (Mr. Gordon.) The high character of the hon. member for Middlesex ought to have protected him from the improper, the unjustifiable attack which had been made upon him.

Sir H. Hardinge

thought, that when the hon. Gentleman who spoke last had been for some time a member of that House, he would be aware of the impropriety of lecturing hon. Members concerning the subjects which they thought proper to discuss. If he had ears he must have heard the hon. member for Middlesex bring an accusation against a right hon. Baronet not present, and state, that Mr. Lorimer was a person connected with the enemy's camp, that he was the author of The Republican, and published opinions directly the reverse of his private sentiments. He would ask the hon. member for Leicestershire, as a man of honour and spirit, could he sit quiet and hear such accusations cast upon his absent friends? For his part he would tell the hon. Member that he should be always ready to vindicate his friends. The hon. member for Middlesex had still to prove, that Lorimer was connected with the anti-Reformers, or he must come down to the House tomorrow evening, and state that he had made improper allegations against the right hon. Baronet.

Mr. Spring Rice

observed, that no man in the House would object to the hon. and gallant Officer rising to defend his absent friend, but that was not the precise matter alluded to by the hon. member for Leicestershire, and he would appeal to the House to say how small a portion of the discussion had been occupied by that incidental defence. The matter that had occupied their time, and to which the hon. Gentleman pointed their attention, was the desultory discussions upon publications which, however they might disagree upon other subjects, they all condemned for their mischievous tendency and want of principle. If they were noticed at all, it should be in a court of law. The time of the House, which was public property, ought to be protected; and as it was found insufficient for the public service, it would be better to put an end to the matter, than to go into a second discussion how the mischief began. Certainly he thought that no observations ought to be made upon the conduct of an absent Member, and to defend him was an act of friendship.

Lord Stormont

vindicated the Gentlemen with whom he was connected from the imputation of having provoked this discussion, which was not on a trivial subject, for the question yesterday was, whether these publications ought not to have been put down at the outset.

Mr. Spring Rice

declared he had been misunderstood; he had abstained from imputing blame to either side, and his object was, to reconcile the two contending parties.

Mr. Maberly

thought they never could get through their public duties if they were constantly to discuss obnoxious opinions. He never saw the time of the House consumed so unprofitably, and he appealed to all, if such measures were continued, whether the public business could be attended to.

Mr. Hunt

observed, that a certain society had met to petition for the repeal of the remainder of the Six Acts; they had intrusted their petition to the care of the hon. member for Middlesex, and had requested him to support it. That was the matter before the House, and in seconding the prayer of the petition be must say he knew nothing of Lorimer, and disclaimed him for a Radical. He knew all the Radicals pretty well, and had never heard of The Republican or The Prompter till they had been mentioned in that House. The Poor Man's Guardian he did know, for it had been sent to him, and he concurred entirely in the remarks made on what had been read from that production, which certainly contained the most abominable trash ever written. In consequence, however, of last night's discussion, extensive orders had been received for it, and if the editor sold 20,000 next week instead of 4,000 or 5,000, he would owe that to the hon. member for Dundalk. With respect to the petition, he understood there were 150 similar petitions lying for signature, but he trusted their presentation would be unnecessary by their prayer being previously complied with.

Mr. George Dawson

said, an hon. Gentleman, new to the House (Mr. Paget) had lectured them for misspending the public time, but it hardly came well from the hon. Member, for two nights before this House voted away twelve millions of money, and where was then the hon. Member? He proclaimed himself in his public documents to be an exposer of all grievances, and an advocate of all retrenchment. Why was he not present, therefore, to curtail or opppose some of these many items? Not having done so he was hardly justified in attacking others who were doing their best to promote the public interests.

Petition laid on the Table.