HC Deb 10 August 1832 vol 14 cc1311-22

Mr. Spring Rice moved the third reading of the Civil List Payments Bill.

Mr. Hume

said, he would take that opportunity to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lamb) on the subject of the melancholy transaction which took place at Clithero a few days ago. He was the more anxious to put this question, because he saw that an hon. Member (Mr. Irving) who was connected with that transaction was now present. He was informed, that when the Chief Magistrate of Clithero understood that the hon. Member, who was then at a distance of two miles from the town, was about to enter it with troops, he objected to the proceeding, from prudential motives, though it had been sanctioned by Colonel Clayton and two other Magistrates. He had abstained from asking any question on this subject for several days, but as he supposed the right hon. Gentleman had by this time received full information on the subject, he hoped that he would now detail the whole of the circumstances. He the more especially wished this to be done, because he had this day received a petition from Whalley, complaining that the constituted authorities there had behaved in a manner highly unconstitutional.

Mr. Irving

said, he would state, as shortly as he could, what took place on the occasion to which the hon. Member alluded. A considerable time ago, an intimation had been made to him (Mr. Irving) by many of the most influential and respectable inhabitants of Clithero, that if he offered himself as a candidate, he would be well received. To that a short reply was returned, and this was the only communication he had had previously to his proceeding to the town. Another gentleman, it appeared, had also set up as a candidate for the representation of the borough. There were in that neighbourhood three manufacturers of great wealth and importance, and he believed highly respectable men, with whom, however, he had no acquaintance. They employed a very considerable number of men—not less, he supposed, than 2,000 or 3,000. Each of these gentlemen was considered by some as a proper person to represent the borough. He knew not how they had come to a decision, whether by ballot or otherwise, as to which of them should stand; but one of the three, Mr. Fort, had been selected. There was, however, another interest, which did not consider any one of these gentlemen as a proper Representative for the borough. A committee had been formed of the gentlemen constituting a part' of the constituency of the town of Clithero, and on the invitation of that committee, he (Mr. Irving) had been invited to come forward as a candidate, and personally to present himself to the electors of the borough. That invitation was accompanied by a statement, which had been forwarded to him, emanating from Mr. Thomson, and in which he believed Mr. Fort had also joined, assuring him that he might enter Clithero in perfect safety. In answer to that invitation, he replied that he should reach that town on the evening of Monday the 30th of July last, and in pursuance of that reply, he proceeded to visit that town. He was joined at the house where he had sojourned for the night in the neighbourhood of Clithero, by about sixty persons, manufacturers, gentlemen, and yeomen mounted, and with that cavalcade, increased as it proceeded by about twenty individuals on foot, he proceeded to enter the town. On reaching the town he found a dense concourse of people assembled—indeed such a multitude as he was not prepared to expect. Stones were thrown, some at himself, and others at the gentlemen by whom he was accompanied. He was personally insulted in the grossest manner by being spit upon, Stones and other missiles were hurled into his carriage, and yet he was inclined to view all this with perfect indifference. After this, three several attempts were made to open the door of the carriage, and those attempts were accompanied with imprecations of the grossest nature, such as "Pull him out,"—" Burke him,"—"D—n him, kill him." This all transpired before he (Mr. Irving) had reached the inn, and it was but justice to say, that he had only been saved from being dragged from his carriage by a person who seemed to be of great importance amongst the multitude, and who, it subsequently appeared, was the gamekeeper of the other candidate for the borough, Mr. Fort. He succeeded in arriving at the inn in which the self-formed committee in his support had assembled, and around which, on his arrival, he found the people so densely crowded, that had he made an attempt to enter, it would have been impossible that he should have succeeded. At this moment there were persons busily occupied in the hind part of the carriage in the endeavour to overturn it. The linch-pins of the carriage were also attempted to be removed, the stones were flying as thick as hail, and under the directions of some voice in the multitude, the post-boys proceeded to drive on. They did so, despite of every attempt made by him (Mr. Irving) to stop them. He could not feel surprised that they obeyed the order to drive on—such was the shower of missiles by which they, in common with himself, had been attacked; and when they were surrounded as they were by a multitude of the greatest scoundrels in the world. He begged not to be understood as describing the constituency of Clithero in such terms, nor could he do so, for though the multitude or mob amounted to about 10,000, yet the constituency of Clithero were not more than between 200 and 300. He again begged to repeat, that he was the mere instrument in the hands of others, and had not himself done any act calculated at all to give offence to any party. Having been driven away from the town in the manner and under the circumstances which he had described, at the next neighbouring place, to which he had been carried after a long and mature deliberation of the Magistrates who had assembled, they thought fit to send for a military force from the nearest town, which was distant two or three miles from the place at which they had assembled. He here begged to remark, that his belief was, that whatever feeling had been raised against him, owed its origin to his having voted in favour of the Anatomy Bill. At the place where they proceeded to after leaving Clithero, he and his friends had remained some time, when the landlady gave information that the resting-place of the party was known in Clithero, and that a great body of men were moving from that place, towards the place in which he had taken up his temporary abode. At this period he should remark, that Mr. Garstang, the bailiff of the town of Clithero, of whom it had been said, that he dissented from the course pursued of calling in aid a military force, had a consultation with the Magistrates, and came from that consultation, convinced that the interference of the magistracy was called for in this instance, and he had even joined with the body of Magistrates, who had acted in signing the report, which had been made by them in reference to this transaction, to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He now came to the last point, to which, in reference to this transaction, it was necessary for him to refer—namely, as to the return to Clithero. He must first observe, that before this. Colonel Clayton, one of the Magistrates who had acted, had set out on his return home, when, on meeting with the military, he again turned back, and joined the party. The party then returned to the town, and on entering it, he (Mr. Irving) perceived that the numbers of the crowded multitude had been greatly reduced; in fact, it appeared to him that at least two-thirds of the people had gone away. Still, however, a great concourse of people remained, and that concourse increased as they proceeded again into the town, and in their progress the military were assailed with missiles, stones, and brick-bats, which were thrown from the houses as the cavalcade proceeded. In addition to this, other offensive weapons, such as sticks, were used by persons in the crowd against the military force, which was most severely attacked in that way. It was then that the commanding-officer applied to the resident Magistrates to read the riot act, and in obedience to that application, the riot act was read by the bailiff and other Magistrates, in various parts of the town. The commanding-officer of the military party then endeavoured, by the action of the horses of the corps under his command, to disperse the crowds which had assembled. In doing this, that officer, he knew, was extremely sorry that injury should have been done to any individual, and nobody could regret such an event more than he (Mr. Irving) did; but soldiers, when called upon to act, and having weapons of defence in their hands, could not be expected—nay, it was na- tural that they should resist the attacks with which they were themselves assailed. After this endeavour to restore tranquillity, he and his friends again proceeded from the town, under the escort of two troops of military. Under that escort they had reached the neighbouring town of Blackburn, when, in consequence of information which followed, one troop of the military was sent back to endeavour to restore the public tranquillity of the place. He would here remark, that notwithstanding what had happened on the first occasion, he had been anxious to have canvassed a certain portion of the electors of the borough, who Were distant from the town itself; but he had been informed that, in that district, the men were armed, and that it would be as much as his life was worth to make any such attempt, and therefore it was, that he had abandoned the canvass. To this fact he begged to call the attention of the Attorney General, whom he was glad to see in his place, as one which greatly interfered with the freedom of election, and he could assure the House that he made the statement without having in view any personal motive, but on general views with reference to the rights of any individual claiming or seeking the Representation of any town or borough. He also could assure the Attorney General that he could point out the chief actors in the system of intimidation or interruption to a candidate, which had, in the present instance been practised, and those individuals were certain of the members of the committee for securing the election of the opponent candidate to him (Mr. Irving). He could not but take the present opportunity of noticing the conduct which had been pursued by a candidate for the neighbouring town of Blackburn, Dr. Bowring, who had been pleased, in the course of his speeches and addresses to the electors of that borough, to attack and cast imputations upon him. The learned doctor had alluded to his being a West-India proprietor, and insinuated that, therefore, he was inimical to the abolition of slavery, while at the same time, the learned doctor well knew that he had suggested a plan which had met the attention of his Majesty's Government, by which that subject might be set at rest. The learned doctor had said much elsewhere as to what he (Mr. Irving) was, and he would take the liberty of telling the House what he was not. He was neither an Atheist nor a Deist in his religious principles; neither was he republican in his political principles, nor had he trafficked in revolutions. He thanked the House for the patience with which they had heard his statement, and for the attention they had bestowed upon it.

Mr. Lamb

was glad that he had given precedence, on the present occasion, to the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, because the statement made by the hon. Member had much shortened that with which he must have necessarily troubled the House. He was not prepared to pronounce any decided opinion upon the conduct of the parties concerned in the transaction in question, for some of the statements with which the Government had been furnished, and having reference to some points affecting some of the troopers individually, had only been received in the course of this day. He regretted that any town in this country should, on any occasion, have manifested and displayed such a spirit of dictation, and Such a feeling of hostility to free discussion, as had been manifested by those who had so long and so loudly complained against the party who had been called the borough mongers. With regard to the calling out the troops upon the present occasion, he did not think that the Magistrates Could be blamed for the course they had pursued. A misconception had gone forth that the bailiff of the town of Clithero (Mr. GarstangJ had opposed the military being called out; for, as had been stated by the hon. Gentleman opposite, that gentleman had joined with the Magistrates, who had acted on the occasion, in their report of the transaction to the Government. The only doubt or question upon his (Mr. Lamb's) mind was, why it was that the hon. Gentleman opposite and his friends returned to Clithero accompanied by the military. If the military went there to allay any tumult that prevailed, he could not think it was quite correct that they should be accompanied by, or that they should carry back with them, the cause of that tumult. At the same time he did not mean to dispute the right of the hon. Gentleman to enter the town; but it certainly appeared, that the tumult which took place on his appearing, was renewed on his return with the military; and when one troop returned (in the manner which had been described by the hon. Gentleman) without him, peace was restored. He had already said, that an inquiry was going on with reference to this transaction, and therefore he was not prepared to give any decided opinion in respect to it. Therefore, the only question which he had to answer on the present occasion, was that which had been put with reference to the reading of the Riot Act. The Riot Act had been read by Mr. Abbott, a Magistrate, from the door of the inn, and who afterwards went on horseback and again read it amongst the mob; and it had also been read by Mr. Garstang, the bailiff, in other parts of the town. Even after this had been done, the attacks upon the military were continued, and he conceived that not the slightest blame could attach to the commanding officer for the course which he had felt it to be his duty to pursue. The Magistrates had said it was time to disperse the mob, and on that authority the commanding officer had acted. He did not believe that the troops had been guilty of any violence, but he thought that the great damage had arisen from the persons who, in the course of the tumult, had been trodden under foot.

Mr. Hume

asked how soon after the Riot Act had been read did the troops charge?

Mr. Lamb

That was one of the points which required further explanation. He believed it was not long after, in consequence of the excessive ill usage which the troops were receiving.

Mr. Hume

said, that the statement made by the hon. Member (Mr. Irving) was so much in accordance with the account he had received of the transaction, that he had no doubt of its accuracy. He regretted very much that attempts had been made, not only at Clithero, but in various other places, to raise a prejudice against Members by connecting them with the West-India interest. Such a course, he admitted, was not likely to lead to a reasonable or satisfactory adjustment of the slave question. With respect to Dr. Bowring, the hon. Member had really thrown out aspersions which were wholly unfounded, and ought never to have been made. Dr. Bowring, in his speech, after his triumphal entry into Blackburn, might have called the hon. Member a slave proprietor; and if that tended in any degree to cause the hon. Member to be treated as he afterwards was treated, no doubt Dr. Bowring would very much regret having used that expression. But what was now the hon. Gentleman's conduct? He now came down coolly, and charged Dr. Bowring with being an Atheist, a Deist, and a Republican. Now he (Mr. Hume) did not belive that any of those words were correctly applied to Dr. Bowring. That learned person was a friend to every measure calculated to improve the happiness of mankind, and he was most enthusiastic in his desire to put an end to slavery; but that was no ground for throwing such aspersions on him as those in which the hon. Member had indulged.

Mr. Cust

, being a member for Clithero, would make a few observations in vindication of the Magistrates of that place. He had known the Magistrates who acted upon the occasion referred to long and most intimately, and he could venture to assert that, from the Chair to the Bar of that House, there were not more respectable men. He spoke from a long acquaintance with them. In judging the conduct of the people of Clithero, it should be borne in mind, that upon the entrance of the hon. Member (Mr. Irving) it was not the inhabitants of the town only, but of the neighbourhood, who had flocked in in great numbers for the purpose of giving that hon. Gentleman a hostile reception. The House should be informed that the neighbourhood contained many factories, mines, &c., the persons employed in which were always ready to take part in any outrageous or riotous proceedings.

Sir Edward Sugden

could not refrain from expressing his regret at what had occurred at Clithero. He not only regretted that the inhabitants of that place and its neighbourhood should have been guilty of such conduct under any circumstances, but more particularly did he lament that an individual so honourable and worthy as was his hon. friend (Mr. Irving) should have been selected as the victim of such disgraceful outrage. The people of this country had now got a reasonable, full, and fair right of Representation. If ever they had it, or could have it, they had it now. Let them then set the example of enlightened conduct becoming the trust reposed in them, and act as it was expected that freemen should act. He (Sir Edward Sugden) had been among the first to declare that he would obey, and inculcate upon others the duty of obeying, the Reform Bill, as soon as it became the law of the land; and he was most sincere in his wish that it might be productive of all the benefits expected from it. With respect to the particular transaction at Clithero, he was of opinion that if the soldiers had gone alone into the town, the riot would have been quelled. He did not pretend to say, that if a candidate went into a town with the view of canvassing the electors upon principles contrary to the popular sentiment, he must not expect to encounter the popular opposition of the place, and ought patiently to bear with it so long as it was confined within proper limits. He for one should most patiently submit to all the demonstrations of popular disapprobation, provided they were so limited. It appeared, however, that the opposition encountered by his hon. friend did not express the genuine sentiments of the electors or of the inhabitants of Clithero. Great numbers, it appeared, flocked in from the neighbouring places not at all connected with the town, and solely for the purpose of obstructing a candidate in the exercise of that right which, under the Reform Bill, he was entitled to. There was only one way in which the people of England could show themselves worthy of the new trust reposed in them, and that was by acting temperately and legally in the exercise of it. By some it was supposed that his hon. friend had done wrong in returning to the town after he had been driven out of it. To him (Sir Edward Sugden) it was quite clear, that had not his hon. friend so acted he would have been stigmatized as a rank coward. "That coward Irving" would have been the expression of those who now complained of his having dared to show himself a second time. He was of opinion, that before a sudden ebullition of political feeling, the party who was the object of it ought to retire, for the purpose only of giving time to the assailants to deliberate upon their conduct, and return to a state of cool reason. Here, however, there was nothing in the nature of an ebullition, which was always sudden and unpremeditated. It was quite evident that this attack was premeditated. Could it be doubted by any reasonable mind? The people would not otherwise have returned to the charge against his hon. friend, having already driven him out of the town. It was impossible not deeply to regret the injuries which had been committed in the conflict between the military and the people; but, at the same time, he must say that, had not the promptitude shown upon the occasion been evinced, greater mischiefs might have ensued. With regard to his hon. friend (Mr. Irving), if he represented him as one of the highest and most respectable merchants that this or any other country could boast, he believed he should not be thought to say too much. No man could stand higher in the scale of society than his hon. friend. Was it not then too bad that one who had so deep a stake in the country, one who was connected with a most important branch of the national interests, and who was in himself so respectable and exemplary a character, should be assailed by tumult and personal outrage in the exercise of a just and undoubted right, and one which partook of the very essence of the Bill which the assailing parties pretended to be an object of their worship? He believed it was only necessary to address the people of England in the language he was then addressing to the House, and they would respond to the sentiment. When an appeal was made to their cool reason, the result was not doubtful.

Lord Althorp

said, that if such outrageous proceedings as had taken place in this instance should be resorted to in the case of other elections, he was afraid that there would be an end to the freedom of election altogether. He hoped, and trusted, however, that this would be a rare instance of such an occurrence. If it had been the new constituency in Clithero, to whom the Reform Bill had just given the right of voting, that had acted in this manner, the circumstance would have been to him a subject of much sorrow and regret, and he should at once protest against such a proceeding on their part, as one of the grossest outrages that could have been committed against the freedom of election; as, however, even the new constituency of Clithero would be small in amount, this riot, occasioned by a mob of upwards of 10,000 individuals, could not be attributable to the constituency, but was attributable, as in the case of many former election riots, long before the Reform Bill, or any thing like it, was thought of, to other persons who had nothing to do with the Representation of the places in which riots had occurred. In fact, it appeared that the riot was occasioned by an assemblage of the people from the neighbouring country. Now he believed that any borough situated, as Clithero was, in the middle of an extremely populous district, might be liable to the occurrence of riots of this description, whether its constituency amounted to 20 or to 300, which was the actual number at present in that place. He would not discuss the question as to the prudence of the hon. Member in returning to Clithero. He was satisfied, that if the hon. Member could have foreseen that the effect of his returning there would have been the necessity of dispersing the people by force, the hon. Member, like any other honourable and feeling man under similar circumstances, would not have taken a step likely to be followed by such consequences. He did not mean to deny that the hon. Member was justified in going back to Clithero, but the question here was one of prudence, and as to whether the hon. Member could have foreseen that the calamity of dispersing a mob of persons by force would have been the result of his return there. He was quite sure, that no one for the sake of maintaining his reputation for courage, would have taken such a step, if he could have foreseen that it would be attended by such consequences. He must, in conclusion, repeat what he had already said, that if outrages of this description were to take place at elections, there would be an end to the freedom of election.

Mr. Hunt

said, that he was far from justifying the outrage which had taken place in this instance, but he would maintain, that such proceedings must be the inevitable consequence of the present state of things, when they found 10,000 persons, as the noble Lord acknowledged, in the neighbourhood of this place, totally unrepresented. It was a very fine farce to talk of the Representation of the people of England, when they found, as in the present case, only 300 voters and 10,000 people.

Sir John Byng

thought the Magistrates had a perfect right, under the circumstances, to bring the military into the presence of the people. He doubted their discretion, however, in bringing them into so narrow a town as Clithero, where it was impossible that cavalry could act with effect, and where they would be exposed to the most galling and irritating treatment. The office of the Magistrates upon such an occasion was one of great delicacy he knew; but he could not help wishing that they had merely brought the troops in sight: that alone would have given great force to the civil power. He made these observations in a precautionary spirit, because similar occasions might arise before that House met again. Every means of repression should be adopted before recourse was had to military force. It was a serious trial of temper to bring an armed force into the presence of a multitude, and in all cases where troops were called out, they should be accompanied by some one to direct them of a dispassionate and calm temper.

Mr. Robinson

hoped that this discussion would have the effect of preventing similar occurrences, not only in Clithero, but everywhere else. If the people were left to themselves, such things would not take place. But when they were stirred up by itinerant politicians, who went about exciting the passions of the ignorant, and telling electors whom they ought to reject, and whom also they ought to elect, such outrages as they had witnessed at Clithero were to be anticipated. He condemned these mountebank orators as well for the mischievous intent of their labours as for the impertinence which made them presume to dictate to others how they were to exercise their rights. If such interference were permitted, riot and tumult only could be the results. If left to themselves, the electors of England would not disgrace their characters by such conduct.

Mr. Irving

returned his sincere thanks to the noble Lord opposite, and the hon. Gentleman, for the sentiments they had been kind enough to express respecting his personal conduct and character.

Bill read a third time.