HC Deb 26 February 1833 vol 15 cc1166-70
Mr. Thomas Attwood

rose to present a Petition from members of the Political Union of Birmingham, complaining of the interference of the Military Force during the late elections, and praying the House to declare all elections null and void which took place under the control of the military force. He would only say, that he had seen gross cases of interference on the part of the military. He had seen bodies of Infantry clear the streets, and troops of Cavalry ride up to the hustings, while the polling was going on, and where no breach of the peace had been committed, or any act which could warrant such conduct. He had seen good and peaceable persons attacked by the ferocious soldiery, and honest electors cut down by the cavalry, and die of the wounds which they received. He hoped that the House would do its duty, and protect the rights of the people of England from such uncalled-for and unconstitutional interference; but if that House refused to interfere, he hoped that the people of England would protect their own rights. He trusted, that the people of England would remember, that if their Representatives in that House refused to protect their rights, they could bear arms in their own defence. He hoped that if the House did not do its duty now, the electors would, on the next occasion when they were called on to exercise their rights come up to the hustings with loaded pistols to protect themselves. He repeated it, he hoped that if that House refused to do their duty to the people, the people would not forget theirs, but come to the hustings with loaded pistols and loaded rifles, prepared to protect their rights.

Mr. Spring Rice

concurred with the hon. member for Birmingham in one observation which he had made. He hoped, as well as the hon. Member, that the people of England would never forget their rights. But he protested against the observations made by the hon. Member, which seemed to mean—if, indeed, they could be said to mean anything—that that House neglected the protection of the rights of the people of England. He objected, likewise, to his observations, because they assumed, that in case of improper military interference, either by order of the Magistrates or any other persons in authority, the people had no remedy. Now, it was known to all, that the proper quarter was always open to such complaints, and that, when made, they were never neglected. There was therefore, a constitutional remedy for such offences, and he thought it would be better and more becoming in the hon. Member to suggest to the people that constitutional remedy, than to suggest to them that that House neglected its duty to the people, and on that account that they should go to the hustings with loaded pistols and loaded rifles in defiance of the law of the land. Such doctrines, and such advice, were calculated to do much mischief out of doors. He thought it necessary to make these few remarks, as none of his Majesty's Ministers were present; and he could not permit the remarks of the hon. Member to pass unanswered.

Mr. Wolryche Whitmore

was not aware in what part of the country the elections to which the hon. member for Birmingham had alluded, and the circumstances he had stated had occurred, but he must say, that it would have been impossible, without the protection of the military, for the electors of Wolverhampton to have conscientiously recorded their votes in the late contest. The usual protection afforded on such occasions was through the instrumentality of the police, but if that was found insufficient, he must declare, that it was absolutely necessary that the electors should have the protection of the military. He trusted that the people of this country would never be induced by hints thrown out in that House, or by instigation elsewhere, to resort to those means which had been shadowed forth on the present occasion. He must also beg to add, with reference to the election to which he had alluded (Wolverhampton), that if the military had not been called out it was his full and firm conviction that not only would the peace of the town have been endangered, but that the scenes which had been already enacted at Bristol would have been again performed in Wolverhampton. He must also state that no praise could be too great to give to the Magistrates for their conduct on the occasion to which he had referred.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

said, that in making the observations he had addressed to the House he had not alluded to the late election at Wolverhampton. [Name, name.]

An Hon. Member

As the hon. Member had said that such transactions had taken place, he ought in justice to mention the name, otherwise it would be impossible for Members to have an opportunity of contradicting his assertions.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

The place to which I alluded, in which the infantry charged the people, and the cavalry rode up to the hustings, at a time when no breach of the peace had been committed, was the newly enfranchised borough of Walsall, in Staffordshire.

Mr. Forster

said, that as member for the borough of Walsall, he craved the indulgence of the House while he offered one or two observations upon the present occasion. He had heard with surprise the remarks which had been made by the hon. member for Birmingham, and he was the more astonished to hear those remarks applied to the contest for the borough he (Mr. Forster) represented, as the whole facts and circumstances of that election must be well known by the hon. Gentleman, who had himself been present and of whom it might be said "quorum pars magna fuit." He (Mr. Forster) could state, that it had been announced by two persons deputed to attend at Walsall by the other candidate for the representation of that borough (who was no other than the son of the hon. member for Birmingham himself), that 100,000 men were to come from Birmingham to attend the election at Walsall. He could also state, that nearly 20,000 men did come headed and preceded by men in military uniforms, though belonging to no corps; that those men made an attack on the inn in which the electors in his (Mr. Forster's) interest were congregated for the night; that upwards of thirty persons were apprehended for the riot, and that great numbers of the electors in the popular interest had been seriously injured. It was true, that on the following day the military had been sent for, but not until the election had virtually closed. The mililitary had not, however been called in in sufficient time to preserve those who had voted conscientiously from injury, though happily they did arrive time enough to save the town of Walsall from the fate of Bristol. The Magistracy and authorities of Walsall and its neigh bourhood had on that occasion acted with great moderation, strict impartiality, and not only with a painful vigilance to preserve the town, but also the uninterrupted exercise of the elective franchise. He (Mr. Forster) was ready to try the merits of the question before any tribunal that the hon. member for Birmingham might choose.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

was prepared to come to the bar of the House to show that the whole of the disturbances which had occurred had originated in the interference of the special constables, who had themselves broken the windows, and had also attacked children, and thereby excited the irritation of the parents.

Mr. Hume

stated, that he had himself received a petition from Walsall to the same effect as that which had been presented by the hon. member for Birmingham and which he (Mr. Hume) had delayed in bringing forward until he was aware that the hon. member for Walsall was in his place. The petition staled that the military were in the town before the polling, so that the statements now made were somewhat at variance. He should now abstain from saying more than to state that he should present the petition with which he had been intrusted to-morrow.

Mr. Buckingham

supported the prayer of the petition, namely, that all elections where military interference had been used should be declared null and void. Every Member knew, and each constituency must know, that the law provided for the removal of military to a certain distance from the place of election, in order that no such interference might take place; but the question now was, whether in many instances, such interference had been necessary; and he thought no person could deny that in Sheffield, on the late election, the interference was improper. In the case of Sheffield, before anything had transpired to warrant the introduction of a military force, the military were sent for, and were met ten miles from the town by the Magistrates, who ordered them to load; they did so, arrived in Sheffield, and were not ten minutes in the town when, without any interference with them by the people, they issued from the inn yard in which they were congregated and fired upon the people; a poor watchman on duty in the preservation of the peace was killed, several children who were passing by were wounded and innocent blood had been shed. It had been said, that constitutional means were provided for the redress of such grievances, but he begged to remind hon. Members that an inquiry at the bar of the House could not be instituted or carried on at an expense short of 2,000l., and therefore, how, he would ask, could poor persons who were the majority of the sufferers on such occasions, proceed? He considered that prevention was at all times better than cure, and he hoped that when the subject of Vote by Ballot was brought under the consideration of the House, some provisions would be made for taking the poll at elections in such a way as to make the interference of the military unnecessary and unknown.

An Hon. Member

had heard from persons who had been present the circumstances attending the military interference at Sheffield, and from what he knew he could say that if any such interference was justifiable it was at Sheffield, for by it the town had been saved.

An Hon. Member

begged to be allowed as one of the Representatives for Ireland, to observe that the injurious effects of military interference at elections had been there felt, and that in the county with which he was connected, not only had the military been marched into the town, but brought before the Committee Rooms of some of the candidates.

The Petition to lie upon the Table.