HC Deb 13 August 1833 vol 20 cc582-3

On the Order of the Day for the House resolving itself into Committee on the Factories' Regulation Bill,

Mr. Cobbett

took occasion to refer to the case of an individual whom he stated to have been convicted for selling unstamped newspapers, and fined 20l. by the Magistrates, and, in default of payment, sentenced to six months' imprisonment. This person was very harshly treated in prison, being sent into the felons' yard amongst criminals of the worst description, and condemned to hard labour. His hair was cut off; and, permission being refused him to provide his own bed or food, he was obliged to be content with the prison allowance. He (Mr. Cobbett) was satisfied, that the law had been transgressed in the treatment of this individual; that the Magistrates were to blame; and that although Attornies General could pinch pretty sharply, as he had good reason to know, the Stamp-office could act with still greater severity. He believed that the Stamp-office had prosecuted and caused the conviction of upwards of 300 individuals since the present Ministry came into office.

Lord Althorp.


Mr. Cobbett.

—Well, then, take the number at fifty.

Lord Althorp

again dissented from the statement.

Mr. Cobbett

wished to hear from the Solicitor General a disclaimer of the cruelty with which the party to whom he referred had been treated.

The Solicitor General

denied, that the Government, or any one connected with them, had instituted the prosecutions complained of, which, as far as he knew, were the work of common informers. With respect to the case mentioned by the hon. member for Oldham, he thought the hon. Gentleman must be misinformed. He could not believe that the person had been either sentenced or put to hard labour; neither did he imagine it possible that the other acts of severity complained of should have been committed. If the hon. Member could make out such a case of oppression, he (the Solicitor General) pledged himself to do his utmost to redress it.

Mr. Hume

believed the Solicitor General to be correct in stating, that these prosecutions had not been instituted by the Government, but it should be recollected that they arose out of the Stamp Act, the severity of which it was the duty of Ministers to mitigate, more especially after the opposition offered by the noble Lord (Althorp), the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, to the passing of the Six Acts, under one of which some of these convictions had occurred. The last returns showed, that 276 persons had been proceeded against for violations of the Stamp Acts—a number of prosecutions for those offences unparalleled in the entire history of the country. It mattered little to the people whether this prosecution was set on foot at the instance of the Government or of common informers; it was the duty of Ministers to put a stop to so unjust and arbitrary a proceeding by in immediate alteration in the law. In addition to the other evils of the system, the law was unfairly administered: the Magistrates would not convict for selling Tory publications, but the moment an unfortunate liberal was accused, he was clapped up directly by the Tory Magistrates. The case of an individual named Hodgson, who was prosecuted for publishing a paper called "A Warning Voice," had been mentioned to him, and he had applied to the Stamp-office for information on the subject, which, the instant he received it, he would take care to place in the hands of the noble Lord.