§ Lord John Russell,
having moved the order of the day for going into Committee of Supply, said, I shall avail myself of this opportunity to state the reasons which have induced her Majesty's Government, at this late period of the Session, to ask for an increase of the military force. In doing so, I shall speak very generally and shortly of the state of our foreign possessions, so far as they require military force to protect them, and I shall then proceed to consider that which is more immediately connected with my department of the Government; namely, the internal affairs of the country. With respect to our 1149 foreign possessions, the right hon. Baronet has just alluded to one question of great importance—namely, the state of affairs in the East. On that question it does not appear necessary that I should say more than that, being a question involving the interests of all the powers of Europe, and on which all must be required to deliberate; it is one, that while it continues, and until it is satisfactorily settled, must naturally produce anxiety and an unwillingness to diminish the military forces of this country. But there are two points of our foreign possessions with respect to which military force has been particularly required of late years. In India a war has taken place, and an alliance had been threatened against the British power, composed of chiefs formidable from their military means, formidable from their connection with Persia, and formidable from the assistance they were supposed to expect, and the implied protection it was said they were to receive from one of the Great Powers of Europe. That apprehension has, however, been dispelled by the total disavowal by the Russian Government of all participation in the views, policy, or confederation of the Indian chiefs. Yet that which has been already done, required that the Governor of India should take steps of energy and decision to free our frontiers from danger with the whole means in his power. I do not wish to follow out the policy of the Governor-General of India in those circumstances, farther than as regards the immediate question before the House, namely, the military force employed in Upper India. The immediate point to which her Majesty's Government feels it necessary to direct attention in the vote of this night is, that the Governor of India has found it necessary to retain in that country a certain portion of our forces, which, in the ordinary course of relief, should have arrived in this country two months ago. The troops so retained consist of two whole regiments, which, in consequence of a special order from the Governor-general, are not allowed to return to this country. With respect to another distant quarter of the world—with respect to the West—every one knows the unsettled state of affairs in Canada; and although there is no appearance of an immediate insurrection in that province, and no immediate occasion for the exertions of troops to repel either a domestic or a foreign foe, yet every one knows that after the events which occurred there last winter, and the winter before, it would be the very height 1150 of imprudence to diminish the number of our troops by a single regiment, or even a single company employed in that quarter upholding the British authority and defending British property and interests. I have stated these things for the purpose of showing how impossible it is to withdraw any portion of military force from our distant possessions, and also to show how still more necessary it is to maintain a considerable military force at home, in order that we may be prepared with an army in a state of efficiency, to furnish any supplies that may be required to be sent on service to our foreign possessions. And when we reflect, that our whole army is so inconsiderable compared to the other great military powers of Europe, that also becomes a cogent reason for keeping up our military force in an efficient and effective state. Another consequence of the necessity of sending reinforcements to distant possessions is to weaken the effective force at home so much as to place it below the strength which is required for the preservation of a permanent organization of our military system. The House is aware, that while a certain number of regiments have several service companies, others at home have only what is termed depôt companies. It is absolutely necessary for the effective strength of regiments, that the companies should not be reduced below a certain number of men, so that their discipline may not be injured, and that they may form a force over which discipline and authority may be maintained as a military body. Some of the depôt companies consist of only 139 men, and others of 180; and in order to be effective, they ought not, in any case, to be less than 200. I think there are hardly means, as matters stand at present, of preserving those detachments in an efficient state, in consequence of other reasons connected with the present internal state of the country. The present internal state of the country requires, that frequent detachments should be made, and this prevents that regular formation and that regular discipline which is necessary in order to make those companies efficient. It is necessary, therefore, that I should now state to the House, that which I think it necessary to state, with respect to the present state of the country, and I am the more compelled to make this statement, because the hon. Member for Kilkenny has given notice, that he will move a resolution which goes in effect entirely to deny the necessity of increasing the military force, 1151 and which points out another course as best calculated to preserve the public peace, while it will be unnecessary to add to the military force of the country. I wish, therefore, to state to the House what in my view is the present state of the country as regards internal tranquillity. Sir, there has been for a considerable time an attempt made, and made with great perseverance, with great industry, and at no inconsiderable cost, to excite disaffection to the laws of the country. That attempt has assumed various shapes. It took, in the first instance, an entirely different shape from that which it has at present assumed. Every one is aware of the agitation which has of late existed with regard to what is called the People's Charter, with respect to the change in the representation, and various other matters affecting the political form of the Constitution; but, as I conceive, that was not the first shape or form which this attempt took. The first attempts were made to excite the people against a law that was enacted but a few years ago, namely, the Poor-law Amendment Act. Sir, it was perfectly competent with respect to that law, or to any other law, with respect to the form of the representation, or with respect to any other political question, to promulgate opinions of a contrary nature to those adopted in legislating, and to seek a change in the law. But a very different course has been taken by many persons connected with this agitation; they told the people that they were so injured by this law, that the law was in the first place so contrary to the Constitution, and in the next place so contrary to the abstract principles of justice, that it was not like ordinary laws, entitled to obedience; but that whenever it was proposed to be carried into effect the people were entitled to resist it. Sir, that is a doctrine fatal to all subordination and obedience. One person in particular, who after wards combined with others, took that course, and avowed openly to persons who were acting in the examination of witnesses on the part of a commission upon another subject, that he had resolved to take that course. I mean Mr. Oastler. Mr. Oastler went further, and stated that although he was not connected with others who were in favour of universal suffrage, although he chose (such was his caprice, for I can call it nothing else) to call himself a Tory—although I say, he chose to call himself a Tory in politics, he was connected with various trades-unions, and various societies and combinations of 1152 the working classes, and told them that the people were entitled to resist a law which contained such enactments as were contained in the Poor-law Amendment Act; and further that they were entitled to have arms for their defence against those who were disposed to enforce that law. This doctrine fell in with the opinions which were held by various persons having influence with the working classes with respect to the employment of factory labourers and the social condition of the country, and they were enforced among other persons by a certain Mr. Stephens, a dissenting preacher, who held forth in his chapel, doctrines which he wished the people to adopt. Among other doctrines which I have seen in these discourses of Mr. Stephens, and I am not alluding at present to those discourses which have become matter of prosecution, but in order to show the length to which he wished to lead his misguided followers, he, professing to be a teacher of the gospel, a preacher of the doctrines of the Bible, held this doctrine, that, with reference to the Poor-law Amendment Act and various other laws, which he held to be oppressive, the divine commandments, "Thou shalt not commit murder," and "Thou shalt not steal," were suspended and were of no force whatever. He told his followers that such was the case, and that it followed that they were entitled, in resisting such a law, either to take the property of their neighbour, or to kill any persons who acted in the enforcement of that law. These doctrines had a very pernicious effect, and hurried a vast number of persons to combine, under the notion that they were oppressed, in order to oppose the general enactments of that law. But to this agitation was, after no very long time, superadded a different kind of agitation, a different kind of proposal for the relief of the grievances of the people, put forth by persons who held certain political doctrines, and who told the people that universal suffrage, and annual Parliaments, and certain other measures which they proposed, were necessary for the welfare of the people at large. Sir, it is no wonder that people, already excited and disposed to listen to doctrines of this nature, should catch very easily and readily doctrines of this nature, which told them, in the first place, with respect to the Poor-law, that all of them—whether industrious or idle, whether young or old, whether they had full employment or little, whether the country was prosperous or distressed— 1153 that they were entitled to full maintenance and support, and that the State was bound to furnish such support; and, in the next place, according to those political doctrines, that every man had an equal right to a voice in the representation, and that by representatives so chosen the country was to be governed, in order that every person should have an equal share of benefit. The meetings that were held in consequence of such doctrines took a shape which was contrary to all law, and which tended to create alarm and disturbance. I allude to those meetings that were held by torch light, and the holding of such meetings under circumstances of alarm and terror to the peaceable inhabitants. A proclamation was issued by Government in order to put a stop to those meetings, and they were immediately discontinued. Afterwards other meetings, like wise accompanied with circumstance of terror and alarm, were held at various places in different populous districts of the country. These meetings were likewise for the time suppressed, by means of a proclamation, and by means of directions given to Lords-lieutenant and magistrates to put the laws in force; and for a time the spirit of agitation seemed to have subsided; but at the same time those who had been the leaders of this movement—those who had been teaching those doctrines—lost no opportunity and spared no pains in order to disseminate those doctrines, and stated them at different parts of the country through which they passed and held meetings. In the agricultural counties they held meetings with no very permanent success—but for a time with some success—telling the labourers that every body was entitled to an equal partition of property, and that the landed property of the country ought to be divided equally among the labourers. In the manufacturing districts they declaimed with the same violence against manufacturers and the proprietors of large manufactories. These things certainly are not unexampled in the history of this country. There has been at various periods similar agitation, and similar excitement among the working classes. Undoubtedly it appeared to me that in such circumstances it would be very unadvisable to make any sudden change in the laws of the country, and to introduce laws, the same as in some foreign countries, of exception for certain parties, because those laws have two bad effects—the one is that they excite the sympathy of a number of persons who otherwise would have no 1154 feeling in common with ill disposed and designing persons; and in the next place, because the people of the country in general, and even those who appear to be the worst disposed, do feel that there is a power and supremacy in the law, to which they are ready to yield obedience; and, if a new law were introduced merely for the suppression of those societies, they would not feel that they were treated with the same justice with which they would have been treated if the ordinary laws of the country had been resorted to for their suppression and punishment. But while I always held these opinions, I, at the same time, thought, before I had myself any experience with regard to this subject, that there was a power in the ordinary law of the country which might be easily resorted to, in order to put down such mischievous projects and such injurious proceedings. I must say, that the experience I have had teaches me that, although the laws are themselves strong and apparently efficient, yet that there is great difficulty in putting those laws in operation. With regard to one instance, with respect to which I have seen many observations made—and at various times violent speeches were made on various occasions—every one has seen in the newspapers, the strongest excitement to violence, rebellion, and alarm of every kind; and it has naturally been observed with regard to such language, that it was seditious, if not treasonable, and that the law ought to be put in force to support it. That was my own feeling likewise; but when I came to any particular instance of such language, the obtaining of evidence and procuring a conviction was not a matter of so much facility as it appeared. In the first place, with regard to reporters, I have heard it asked by many persons, why was not their evidence called for? They cannot be called upon to give evidence of the language they have reported, because they are present upon sufferance, and they cannot be called upon to give evidence, without there is some original evidence which they might be called on to corroborate. In the next place, with respect to other persons from whom they might obtain evidence, persons in the neighbourhood, he had found in more than one instance, immediately directions were given for a prosecution, that those persons became objects of persecution on the part of the Chartists, or other combination or society of the neighbourhood, and their lives were rendered unhappy by being driven from one 1155 employment to another; and even in parts of Lancashire persons who had been known to give evidence were waylaid and maltreated, in order at once to prevent their giving evidence, and in order to prevent other persons from following their example. But then it may be said that evidence could be given by strangers. Certainly, strangers may be sent to different meetings to hear the language used; but, although these meetings are apparently open, although they profess to be meetings of the people in general, they are watched very carefully—that is, those persons who do not belong to the party or society, when they see these persons, they, if possible drive them away, in order to prevent their giving evidence in a court of justice. But when this evidence is procured, there arises a question of whether the evidence is sufficient to make it likely that a verdict would be obtained; and, with respect to some of those speeches, some of the strongest and most violent nature, the law officers of the Crown have advised, and I have no doubt correctly advised, that although there was no doubt of the illegality of the proceedings, yet that it was not a case in which it was likely that a verdict would be obtained in a court of justice, and they, therefore, did not advise a prosecution. I speak now of the difficulty of putting in force that which seems the easy and obvious course of putting the law in force, with respect to the suppression of seditious and almost treasonable language used at various meetings. Those meetings, therefore, have continued, although with respect to some of them, and some of the persons who have committed such offences, I have either desired the law-officers of the Crown, or have instructed the magistrates, to institute proceedings. With respect to certain persons, such proceedings have been taken, and, of course, of those proceedings I have nothing more to say, because they will soon come under the decision of the courts of law. What I am going to state is, that although those proceedings have been instituted, there has not been a stop put to those various meetings; and, far from those meetings having subsided, there has been lately, owing partly perhaps to what has taken place at Birmingham, and owing perhaps to other causes, which I will not enter into, there has been a great increase of excitement and violence on this subject. Various measures have been adopted by those who are disaffected to the law; but it appears to me that their general object has been to excite terror. They have 1156 done everything to assume an appearance of force to make those who are well disposed, but at the same time timid, to think that they are the strongest party in the country, and to induce the great majority of the people, who are no doubt opposed to them, to be quiescent, and to allow them to carry their plans into effect without resistance. Various modes have been adopted for this purpose. One of these is the ostentatious exhibition of arms, the showing of pikes and daggers and knives, and various deadly and dangerous weapons, and appearing much more generally to go armed, as if prepared to act as an armed body. At the same time, although there has been exaggeration in this respect, I have no doubt that a considerable number of pikes have been manufactured, with as great a number of fire-arms, and at the same time a great proportion of cartridges and pistol balls, with a view, no doubt, to create terror and excite alarm. It was but the other day that, by accident, a constable, searching in the house of a person that had been guilty of another offence, found a manufactory of cartridges connected with the society of Chartists. Another mode of proceeding is, to go round from house to house with two books, saying, that those persons who subscribe are put down in one book, and those who do not subscribe are put down in another book, and that the time would come when their names would be remembered. Tickets are given to those persons who subscribe, for which they have to pay sixpence or a shilling, and are told that those tickets will be a security to the persons who hold them; but in a very short time (a month, or some period of that kind), it is found necessary to renew the subscription. These practices are entirely contrary to all law, and the magistrates in some places have very properly arrested those persons whom they found so raising contributions; but on the other hand, many have protected the persons who made these contributions, being afraid, although the fact was perfectly notorious, of giving evidence that such contributions had been forcibly wrested from them. In other places, attempts had been made, although with less success, to carry into operation the practice of training and drilling. The law is very certain and precise on this point, and the magistrates have been generally able to arrest the operation. One other mode adopted, but only within the last fortnight, in order to create terror and to show strength, is to go in great numbers to Church, where they dispossess 1157 the usual occupants of the pews, and appear in great numbers, without committing any offence, or interrupting divine service. This is, as it were, to show the force they possess, and that they are a considerable number. But there is a still more dangerous symptom which has lately appeared. For a very long time their objects were various. Some were connected with the social condition of the country, and the rate of wages was thought a matter of legislation. Others were political, and extended to a new form of government; but there did seem a want of concert and system among the individuals belonging to those societies. But lately, it appears, they have had a more regular organization; and from the information we have had from various parts of the country, as well as information from districts not far from the metropolis, it appears that in these societies a system of organization has been introduced. These societies are constituted in small numbers in the first instance; these small societies elect one of their body to meet some superior body; after seeing which he receives directions from a body of five or seven persons who meet in London and who give general directions. This combination gave rise to a body calling itself the General Convention, and which for a certain time met for the avowed purpose of preparing a petition to be presented to this House. Since that petition was presented, and since this House has decided upon that petition, that body has several times met, and they have issued a certain declaration and advice to the people, evidently intended to procure, by a general combination, an alteration of the law and the Constitution of the country. No one can mistake the words of their recommendations—whether they recommend a sacred month, or whether they recommend to every person to arm, or whether to take all their money from the savings'-banks—their general object is, by means of terror and confusion, to produce a general, total, and entire change in the institutions of the country. I say, that all these are symptoms of very considerable danger, and I will now state in what that danger consists. It does not consist, as far as I see, in any grievance, which it is in the power of this House or of Parliament to redress. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilkenny may tell us that there is some grievance, by the redress of which we can give satisfaction to the people thus combined. My own opinion is, that upon their own statements there is no remedy which this House can 1158 give—that there is no satisfaction which this House can provide which can remove what they suppose to be grievances. It does seem to me, that their complaints in all their placards, and in all their speeches, are complaints against the constitution of society. They complain that society is so constituted that they have not a sufficient quantity of wealth and means of support in that society, and that by a change of the law some new state of society will take place, by which their happiness will be increased and their grievances redressed. I, Sir, do not think that any law can pass that would at all tend to improve their condition. I am not now speaking of any partial law, but of a total change in the society of this country; and my opinion is that, should such a thing occur, it would not decrease the number of the distressed and discontented, but, while it destroyed the property and the means of the rich, it would act still more fatally against the resources and welfare of the people. Seeing that, I do not think that there could be any remedy for what they call grievances, I think it is obvious, that the first effect of any such change as that proposed would be generally to increase the grievances and distresses of the country. If there is anything by which the working classes and the people can hope to live in a state of comfort, it is in consequence of large funds being devoted to the employment of labour, in consequence of there being in this country an unusual artificial quantity of capital devoted to employment, owing to the general belief in the security of our institutions, and owing to the state of civilization which has grown up through centuries of stable and free government. It must be admitted, that the very first effect of any doubt or distrust of the stability of those institutions, of weakening the title to property, of weakening the confidence which we have in the preservation of capital—whether in the funds or manufactures, whether in commerce or whether in land—the first effect would be not so much to injure those who have large fortunes, and a great proportion of fortune which they can remove, but it would be to injure those who are dependent upon those capitalists for employment. In the next place, it appears to me, with regard to this change, that it is a change not arising from any general opinion or general conviction of people the at large. As far as I can perceive—and other Gentleman can judge of their own districts in the same manner, if not in a better manner than I can judge with regard 1159 to the whole—those persons who are making this movement are, in fact, if their number be taken, only a very small minority of the people; and it is only by attempting to terrify and create alarm among the large majority who are attached to our institutions, who seek quiet, and who are desirous of security and peace—it is only by creating terror amongst that class, that they have any hope of success. If, then, I have rightly judged with respect to their statement of grievances, and with respect to their position in the country, in the first place, we cannot hope, by any one measure, or by any measures that we can adopt, to give at once satisfaction to those who are discontented; and, in the second place, we are bound to give, by every means we possess, security and confidence to the great mass of the people who do not sympathise in those attempts at disturbance. I have said that I think we ought, as long as possible, and as much as possible, to avoid the introduction of new laws; but I cannot avoid perceiving, if I reflect on the state of the country, that while our laws, generally speaking, are well adapted to maintain freedom and preserve tranquillity, yet the means by which those two objects are to be obtained are not sufficiently well adapted to the increased population of the country. We have, particularly in the manufacturing districts, and especially in certain parts of the manufacturing districts which I could name, very large masses of people who have grown up in a state of society which it is lamentable, if not appalling, to contemplate. It is not a society growing up under the hand of early instruction, with places of worship to attend, with their opinions of property moulded by seeing it devoted to social and charitable objects, and with a fair and gradual subordination of ranks; but it is, in many instances, a society necessarily composed of the working classes, with certain persons who employ them, with whom they have little connection, regard, or subordination, and unhappily neither receiving in schools nor in places of worship that religious and moral instruction that is necessary for knitting together the inhabitants and classes of a great country. With regard to those classes of society, I should say that they differ; and because they differ from the former constitution of English society, some means are necessary to preserve us from sudden excitement amongst them, and I feel that, by every means possible, we ought to take measures that may in future bring them within the con- 1160 fines and boundaries in which society is generally held, and thus provide for the suppression of any sudden outbreak by which property may be endangered, and from those evils which society, tremblingly alive in its remotest fibres, would feel as the consequence of alarm and outrage. In the particular measure which I shall propose, I shall endeavour to give a better means of taking care that the laws are preserved, by placing at the disposal of the magistrates a better organised constitutional force. There have been, within these few days, cases in which the magistrates have thus been obliged to meet the dangers they have had to encounter, and have only been enabled to meet them, first, by means of having such a constabulary force; and, secondly, by the military support which we have given them. I have here statements which I received only this morning with regard to certain occurrences that have taken place. I might give the substance of my correspondence during the last three months, but that I fear it would be exceedingly irksome to the House, if I were to go into much detail. The first letter which I have received is from Stockport, stating what occurred there. (The noble Lord read a letter from Stock port, giving an account of a successful attempt made by the Chartists there, to take possession of some fire-arms that had been sent from the Tower, of the rescue of those arms by the dragoons, assisted by the civil force, and of an unsuccessful attempt made on the part of the Chartists to rescue nine men who were apprehended). The noble Lord read a similar communication from the Mayor of Newcastle, giving an account of the rising of 6,000 men, armed, and with flags flying, and music playing; and of the manner in which the outbreak had been quelled by the police and soldiers. Now, he thought that these documents showed that when there were constables ready to do their duty, and a sufficient military force to support them, there could be no serious apprehension for the tranquillity of the country, and that the great majority of its inhabitants would feel satisfied and gratified at having, their lives and their property adequately protected. This was the object which he now had in view, in the proposition which he was about to make to the House. The inhabitants of the various great towns throughout the country, not not merely persons of large property, but householders in general, now looked for protection from the Government and the 1161 law of the land. They thought that the law, and the Government, were bound to support them in the peaceable enjoyment of their property, and the fruits of their labour; and they confidently believed that if they were so supported, the sedulous exertions of designing persons to create disturbances throughout the country for bad and selfish purposes, would fail of effect; and that eventually the law of the country, if properly maintained by the executive authorities, would be sufficient to preserve the tranquillity of the country, and that these dissensions and tumults would pass away. But when he was asked for an additional military force to assist in the maintenance of the law, when he considered the inefficient state of the constabulary force, he felt bound to ask the House for that increase, particularly at a moment like the present, when the state of our colonies, and of our general relations, gave no opportunity of withdrawing any troops from their service in those external quarters. Even at this late period of the Session, therefore, he asked, in support of the law, and of the institutions of the country, an increase of the military force of the country, and he felt confident that the Government would meet with the support of the House. At all events, even if it should be necessary, which he hoped it never would, to provide some extraordinary law, and thus subject themselves to the imputation of taking upon themselves extraordinary and undue power, however that might be, he felt that they were bound to maintain the present state of the country and its institutions. At the same time he hoped that every power of free discussion would be preserved to the public with regard to the institutions of the country; and if those institutions could not brave the test of free discussion, by the result of such free discussion he thought they were bound to abide. But this House, and the government of the country should never allow themselves to be overborne by the lawless attempts of conspirators of the worst description, and the most worthless character; and above all things, in the present state of the country, when dangers were before them, they should not shrink from those dangers; but, on the contrary, they should be prepared to meet them with firm hearts, and the most resolute determination to perform their duty.
§ The noble Lord moved the Order of the Day for a Committee of Supply.
§ Sir E. Codrington,
pursuant to notice, called the attention of the House to the petition of Mr. Rowland Milner, presented 1162 on the 1st of March. The facts appeared to be these:—that the petitioner, Mr. Rowland Milner, had been deprived of his commission and his half-pay, in consequence of his being charged with having made out an affidavit for the assignment of his half-pay, and afterwards drawn it himself. The hon. and gallant Officer declared, that there was no document in the possession of the Admiralty which justified his punishment. If there were any such affidavit in existence, he called upon the Admiralty to produce it; for, he said no such paper could be produced, unless it was a forgery. He moved, therefore, that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the allegations contained in this petition.
§ Mr. C. Wood
said, he could add nothing to what he had already so often said in answer to this case. The petitioner, Rowland Milner, had been convicted of a fraudulent transaction, and had therefore been punished in the manner mentioned. Every subsequent board of admiralty had confirmed that sentence, and he submitted, that this House was not competent to entertain appeals of this kind from a constituted tribunal.
§ The House divided on the original quesdon:—Ayes 52; Noes 16:—Majority 36.
§ Order of the day read. On the question that the Speaker leave the Chair,
§ Mr. Hume
rose to move an amendment. The Convention of Delegates was satisfied that they had been misled by the leadership of dangerous men; and they were convinced, that every effort at physical force would retard those reforms which they were so anxious to obtain. The noble Lord had said, the origin of the Chartists' organization arose from the agitation respecting the Poor-laws. He believed, that originally, the most ardent agitators amongst the Chartists were agitators against the Poor-law, and were not Reformers, but, as they themselves stated, Conservatives. He did not think that Messrs. Stephens and Oastler ought to be named along with the Chartists. They had nothing in common with these reformers but their hatred of the Poor-law and of the Factories. That being the case, they now came to the consideration of the claims of the Chartists and Reformers, and he maintained the noble Lord had not done them justice in attributing to them revolutionary and predatory designs. He was sure that the noble Lord's statement was not borne out by any authority ad- 1163 milted by the 1,280,000 persons whose petition had been recently received, when the noble Lord asserted, that the Chartists were anxious to divide the lands, and pillage the property of the country. Where had they made any such declaration? He admitted, that the organization of this body was now complete; but that fact, so far from inducing the House to turn a deaf ear to their complaints, should lead them to take it into consideration, and see whether any rights had been withheld from them, or grievances suffered, or privations endured, which it was in the power of Parliament to remove. He contended, that any man who had not a voice in the representation, and contributed to the taxes of the State, belonged to the slave class. It was this exclusion which created dissatisfaction throughout the country. The noble Lord had stated, that the organization was more complete than he had imagined, and he had also alluded to some individuals who had madly proposed to arm and to use violence in support of their demands. He would observe to the noble Lord, and to that House, that they ought not to be at all surprised at or find fault with Englishmen pessessing arms. Every Englishman might be called on to carry them, and as a freeman he was expected to have them. But as an Englishman was bound to fight for the maintenance of the law and the support of the Government under which he lived, he was entitled to claim as an essential condition of his obedience and service all the benefits which his labour and industry could procure. When he expressed his difference in opinion from the noble Lord, he begged to state that he was as anxious for the preservation of peace and order as the noble Lord could be; but whilst they were called upon to add to the expense of a military force, he was sorry to see that the noble Lord, so far from affording the means of relief to the working classes—so far from making any effort to assuage the dissatisfaction which now existed, aggravated the prevailing discontent by statements which the House, in some degree, seemed to approve of. He begged the House to recollect who the parties complaining were at this time. He found that the petition of the working classes had appended to it 1,280,000 signatures, and at no former period had they so peaceably and quietly put forward their complaints and the remedies which they 1164 deemed requisite. The noble Lord had stated that large masses of people had grown up in this country in a state of ignorance, without moral and religious instruction. Why, whose fault was it that this deplorable state of things existed? Whose, but that of the Parliament who had checked all their efforts to improve and raise their condition? See what the working men themselves thought on this point. In an address from the Working Men's Association to the working classes, they said—Is it consistent with justice that the knowledge requisite to make a man acquainted with his rights and duties should be purposely withheld from him, and then that he should be upbraided and deprived of his rights on the plea of his ignorance? and is it not equally cruel and unjust to suffer human beings to be matured in ignorance and crime, and then to blame and punish them? Let our rulers ask themselves, when they see our prisons filled with victims, our land covered with paupers, and our streets infested with intemperance and prostitution—how much of those terrible evils are occasioned by ignorance, the consequences of their own neglect? and how many of their sanguinary laws might have been spared—how many of their prisons, bride-well's, and hospitals dispensed with—and how many millions of public and private wealth, arrogantly given, and ungraciously received, might not have been better appropriated in diffusing the blessings of education? We are certain that inquiry will convince them of the fact, and lead them to perceive, that knowledge, like the balmy breeze, cheers, and refreshes in its progress; but ignorance, like the tainted air, scourges with disease as it sweeps onward in its desolation. We trust we have, in some degree, succeeded in showing the great importance of education, and the necessity of publicly extending it, not as a charity, but as a right, a right derivable from society itself; as society implies a union for mutual benefit, and consequently to publicly provide for the security and proper training of all its members, which, if it fails to effect, the bond of social obligation is dissolved, and it degenerates into an unholy compact, selfishly seeking its own advantage to the prejudice of the excluded,If two or three years age they had listened to the humble but earnest request of these working men they would not now be in the situation in which they found themselves. He saw that there was not a single Conservative on the benches opposite. This was a better proof than any which he could adduce of the utter indifference of those who usually sat opposite to the complaints and wants of the people. 1165 He was satisfied that the working classes were ready to support the honour and independence of the country, and that they had no desire to take from any other class any portion of their property. All the proceedings which they had taken proved their disposition to demand their rights in a peaceable manner. This was the address of the Convention to the middle classes:—[The hon. Member read a passage claiming the charter, but recommending the people to be peaceable and just.] What was the state of the country at the present moment? Five hundred constables were proposed to be enrolled at Newcastle, and to be drilled. Such a proceeding formerly took place only from fear of invasion. Instead of foreign enemies, our citizens had now to face their fellow-countrymen. In alluding to the constables, he wished to direct their especial notice to a petition from the constables at Colne, which breathed, he thought, the sentiments of the great mass of the working people. [The hon. Member read a passage stating, that the people were driven to despair by privations and sufferings, and that it was more prudent and statesmanlike to relieve their distresses than to risk the peace of society.] If the noble Lord, the hon. Member continued, went on adding insult to the injuries under which the working people already laboured, the peace of the country would be nothing but a hollow truce. The people might be kept down by force; but until they obtained their rights, it was impossible that they could be contented. Was it not notorious that one only out of five in England, and one out of fifteen in Ireland, enjoyed that franchise which was the distinguishing characteristic of a free man? He wished to see the franchise extended, and freedom of choice secured both as regarded the elected and the electors. In the former case, by the abolition of the property qualification; in the latter by the ballot. As the noble Lord had stated that the proposed force was essential to the preservation of the peace of the country, he could not refuse his consent. But at the same time he was anxious that the House should declare that at a fit and proper period they would take into consideration the demands of the people. Though he should not press his amendment after the noble Lord's speech, he took that course not from any belief that it was possible to get up the present 1166 agitation without real suffering on the part of the people, but simply because he could not refuse the demand of a Minister of the Crown for assistance which he declared to be absolutely necessary. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following resolutions:—That whilst this House agrees to increase the military force of the kingdom, it is also of opinion that it is proper to accompany that increase with the following declaration:—That it appears, from petitions that have been presented to the House in the present Session, that great dissatisfaction prevails among large masses of the people, by reason of their inadequate representation in the Commons' House of Parliament; to which, and to the other defects they find in our representative system, they attribute the other grievance of which they principally complain—taxation pressing partially on the manufacturing and working classes, and thereby producing privations and sufferings to a great extent: That it is incumbent on this House to apply itself, with the utmost seriousness, and with the least possible delay, to removing the foregoing causes of dissatisfaction on the part of the people; and this House is of opinion that such course is best calculated to preserve the public peace, and to make it unnecessary to add to the military force of the country.
§ Mr. T. Attwood
seconded the motion. While the noble Lord wished to govern by coercion, he showed no disposition to ameliorate the condition of the people. If the noble Lord had proposed to repeal the New Poor-law, or to redress any other of the grievances that weighed so heavily upon the poor, he would have given the noble Lord some credit for really pitying their miseries. There must be some secret and unexplained reason for the partiality that the noble Lord exhibited towards that bad measure, the New Poor-law, for it could not be denied that that law had been received by the mass of the people with great dislike. He did not know any good it had produced. He had told the Administration of Earl Grey, that that law would have the most fatal consequences. He had asked Lord Althorp, if he was ambitious of the title of Lord Pinch-pauper, and certainly the paupers had been pinched with a vengeance. About 2,000,000l. sterling had been saved from the Poor-rates; but how had the people benefitted by the reduction? The poor creatures had had the bread taken out of the mouths of their families. Why, it would have been better for the agriculturists if the 2,000,000l. 1167 had been allowed to remain in the pockets of the paupers, in order that bread might be consumed. When 1,200,000 men came forward and complained of the sufferings they endured from their unredressed grievances, it was very extraordinary that the noble Lord would do nothing. They cried out for bread, but the noble Lord gave them a stone. They cried out for liberty, and the noble Lord gave them a serpent. In every shape and way the noble Lord gave the people coercion. He would remind the noble Lord of the fate of the last Whig Administration. Earl Grey had brought forward the Irish Coercion Bill, and immediately afterwards the Poor-law Amendment Bill. He (Mr. Attwood) told that Government that they were adopting Tory measures, and worse than Tory measures; that they were seeking to make the condition of Ireland more wretched, and to drag England down to the Irish level. He had told them, that if they yielded to those Tory seductions, they would be reduced to the same state of unpopularity as the Tories, and that instead of having a majority of 200 in that House, they would soon be left in a minority. No sooner had these measures been passed, than the Tories managed to have them kicked back to their constituents, and the result was that their force was diminished by at least a third. The Tories cried out that this was owing to reaction, but nothing of the kind existed; the people knew well that both parties were mutually contaminated. Both Whigs and Tories were damned to equal infamy in the public eye. The consequence of bringing forward coercive measures, and giving the people stones and bayonets instead of bread, would be that the first new election would leave the Whigs, instead of a majority of five or two, in a minority of fifty. If the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had succeeded to office and dissolved Parliament in May last, he would have had a majority of 100, and that not because there was any reaction, not because the people were averse to reform; people were more Re. formers than ever; but, if there was a dissolution (as he thought there must), both parties being before the country equally contaminated, he said, the Whigs would be in a minority. But if they changed their principles of action, and became more liberal—if they pulled up public virtue to their assistance—they 1168 would have a majority of 200 again. But the noble Lord was wrong: he was trying to govern a discontented nation by force; but he could not do it. It was easy to put down a mob, but it was not easy to put down a nation. Let him bring the people up to the fighting point—though all humane men shrunk from blood—yet let him bring the people up to the fighting point, and, as sure as God was in heaven, they would beat him. The people of England were never governed by force, and never would be. The noble Lord Was sending forth (to use Mr. Burke's language with regard to America) a destroying angel; but if he showed no humanity, no liberality, no hope of intended amelioration, he (Mr. Attwood) told him, that the days of his ministry were coming to an end, and not only the days of his ministry, but, he feared, the days of all government in the country were coming to an end. 150 years ago, the London 'prentices had pulled down the power of the courtiers, and they might do so again. He wished the noble Lord would hold out to the people of England a promise that he would adopt some conciliatory measures; as the noble Lord had held out no such hope, as we were going on from bad to worse, and the worst was still behind, he protested against an increase of the army, unless there was a large increase of the social comforts of the people.
§ Mr. Ward
said, this motion was coupled with opinions in which he did not concur. The hon. Member for Birmingham had connected it with the Poor-law; but he was bound to say, that he concurred most entirely in the principle of that bill, and he believed it to be a salutary measure even for the class whose interests the hon. Member advocated; and he did not concur with the hon. Member for Kilkenny on the subject of universal suffrage. The question was, whether, by having given to Government a proof of confidence and approbation (as he wished his vote to be), they should couple it with any assertion of those principles of reform which he had always advocated? With reference to the situation in which the noble Lord was placed, and the difficulties he bad to contend with in this movement in the country, he could not help expressing his sense of the moderation, temper, forbearance, and firmness evinced by the noble Lord, who had declared at the beginning of the movement of the Chartists that coercion 1169 was not the best course, but that forbearance was the wisest policy, and that common sense would come to the rescue; and the noble Lord's prediction had been fulfilled, for even the hon. Member for Birmingham had abandoned the Chartists, one of whose leaders had spoken contemptuously of his "humbug." The leaders of the unhappy men had left them where they found them. He trusted, that his hon. Friend would, in the present temper of the country, not press his motion to a division; but if he did, he (Mr. Ward) could not gainsay the sentiments it contained, and, if he forced it to a division, should vote with him, though with reluctance. The sole object into which all the views of the Chartists had merged—for they now threw overboard all those political lights to which the hon. Member had referred—was the entire and total subversion of the present social system. Had the hon. Member heard of the Bible Radicals, who quoted Scripture for spoliation, and spoke of the walls of Jericho falling down before the people of God, who entered and helped themselves? He thought the noble Lord fully entitled to the support of the House.
§ Captain Boldero
hoped that the statement of the noble Lord was overdrawn. It was true there had been a riot at Birmingham and destruction of property; but what had been the cause of it? It was agreed, that if the magistrates had at the outbreak of the attack exerted their powers sufficiently, they might have suppressed it. They were lax, and the disturbance took place. There had also been a disturbance at Newcastle, but the magistrates there were on the alert, and though there had been a few broken heads, he hoped they would recover. But it had not been shown that there was any combined and organized system; and till that appeared, he did not see why, on that ground, they should be called to vote 5,000 men. There were, however, other reasons, and he should vote for the additional force, because the army at present was not sufficient to perform the ordinary duties of the country. If the House wished to see the army effective, they must grant the additional force asked by the noble Lord.
§ Mr. Charles Buller
thought it unadvisable to divide the House on Mr. Hume's amendment; though, if it were pressed to a division, he, like Mr. Ward, must support the amendment, It was desirable 1170 that the country should see, that whatever difference in political opinions existed among Members, all were equally determined to suppress disorder. In his opinion, the friends of popular rights and opponents of coercion were called upon to acknowledge, with the warmest approbation, the course pursued by Government in the present state of affairs. It had always hitherto been the practice of the Government of this country, to avail itself of emergencies like the present, to call for powers encroaching on the liberties of the people—to take advantage of the alarm and irritation of the middle classes to enable it to enforce the severest penalties of our most arbitrary statutes—to invent constructive treasons, and to stretch to the utmost the vague provisions of our law of libel. From such a course the present Government had entirely abstained; and their wise policy had been attended with the best success. But he agreed with the hon. Member for Kilkenny, that Parliament would have done but a small part of its duty when it had provided the means of putting down the present disturbances. He saw the follies of the Chartists, and he apprehended no lasting mischief from a movement so ill-directed and ill-conducted as the present. But the danger, which he did not apprehend from Chartism, he did apprehend from the causes of Chartism, which seemed to him to be permanent, and to be inherent in the altered state of society, and the character of the English people. They must not shut their eyes to the fact, that they had now to deal with a people far otherwise discontented, and far otherwise capable of manifesting that discontent, than previous Governments have ever had to cope with. They were now face to face with the first generation of working men in England on whom education had begun to tell pretty generally: the men now in the prime of manhood are the first working men whom Lancaster, and Bell, and the Dissenters, and the Church, have taught to read and write. It was, indeed, a miserable modicum of education; it was just enough to leave the people open to bad doctrine; but still it gave power and permanence to the doctrines that circulate among them. The first effects of this change might be observed in the rise of a press addressed to and supported by the working classes. This has taken place during the last eight or nine years. Formerly Cobbett wrote 1171 weekly essays, and other demagogues wrote occasional pamphlets, which had a large but temporary circulation and effect. But now there is established an immense weekly press, containing the same attractions of general news as other newspapers, which diffuses its view of passing occurrences from one end of the island to the other. This is a press, not occasional, but permanent—not dependent on the popularity of a particular writer, or the expenditure by which the enthusiasm of a particular individual, or body of men, gives its product gratuitous circulation, but on the superior lucrativeness of that particular kind of press, and on the general appetite for news. This is the largest, and it is, with two or three exceptions, the most lucrative press in England. The conductors cater for the appetite of its readers; and it finds the food most agreeable to their palate in dwelling on the suffering which is unhappily the lot of the masses, and offering visionary prospects of relief from the application of those doctrines of social and political equality, which are consonant to men's first rude notions of equity. In this press, thus advocating these doctrines, in the consonance of these doctrines to the spirit of an age, and in the suffering of the masses, is the perennial source of Chartism. You cannot, by the rough means which were in use in old times, put down these doctrines or this press. Formerly, when an outbreak took place, and a few people had been cut down, and one or two leaders clapped in gaol for two or three years, and a violent newspaper ruined by prosecutions, the passing ferment vanished at the first improvement of trade, and the people ceased to think of Parliamentary Reform, or the other topics of the day. But now, after such an occurrence, that press would still exist; as long as the working classes present the most profitable market for the newspaper, so long will newspapers be addressed to them; and so long will it be the interest of those newspapers to address to them the doctrines most palatable to them. They might impose on that press a momentary silence or hypocrisy; they might awe it into either suppressing or modifying those doctrines; but in that press will the spirit of Chartism live. Like other party doctrines, it will bide its time amid the vicissitudes of political events; and as our Whig and Tory parties have each repeatedly survived defeats which 1172 seemed to have almost annihilated them and bowing their heads to the storm for a while, have, on the first favourable chance, again emerged into action, and retrieved their fortunes, so they might depend upon it, that these doctrines, which are but the expression of that alienation from the present political institutions which exist among the working classes, not only here, but throughout civilized Europe, will survive any momentary discouragement, will again find partisans and their organs, and, biding their time, will sooner or later find the moment of success in some of those conflicts of classes or of nations, which the chapter of accidents is pretty sure to furnish. Dreading as much as any man the triumph of such doctrines, he wished that he could trust in some panacea for allaying discontent and averting danger. He wished he could think that they could avert it by some simple and safe change in the representative system, or by some possible economy, or by the circulation of one-pound notes. But his only hope was in working gradually and effectually on the minds of the masses, and reconciling their affections to the institutions of the country by the whole course of legislation through a long period of years. He would attempt to conciliate the people by a gradual but constant extension of political privileges; by a general system of education, that should teach them what Government can, and what it cannot do for the people; by every device for extending their amusements and humanizing their feelings; by removing every unwise restriction that our laws impose on employment, and by opening new fields of enterprise to the people; and by such changes in the tone of legislation as should convince the people of the entire sympathy of their rulers. He could not see his way to safety in any specific; but be thought it might be secured by the combination of many remedial measures. At any rate, the attempt must be made. All other questions sank into insignificance by the side of the great problem of the means of reconciling the affections of the masses to the social institutions of the country, and the interests of civilization and order.
§ Sir R. Peel
could not agree with the hon. Gentleman who had seconded the motion that he was under any obligation to vote for the amendment of the hon. Member of Kilkenny. He protested against the doctrine which was thus laid 1173 down; and denied the right of any man, who embodied an abstract principle in an amendment, to call upon those who admitted the abstract principle, to vote for it, whenever he might choose to bring it forward. If so, he might be obliged to record his vote upon the same question, once a week, in order to gratify an hon. Member's whim. However impossible it was to agitate that question without serious injury to the public weal—however inconvenient the time at which it was brought forward—was he to be called on to record his vote merely because on a former occasion he had given it his assent? If a Member of Parliament moved, inopportunely, an amendment of the abstract principle of which he approved, he utterly denied that he could at all times be called on to give his assent to that principle. If misconstruction might arise from such a vote, a Member was entitled to exercise his judgment as to whether he should give it a vote. He might say with perfect propriety:—"Because you have urged this matter at an improper time, and because it may diminish the moral influence to which unanimity will probably give rise, I will not, under these circumstances, vote for your amendment." This was the grounds which he took on the present occasion. He apprehended that the way in which the question would be put, would be "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question." If hon. Members, then, thought that this was a proper time to increase the army, whatever might be their opinions on the subject of reform, of course they would vote for that increase. He could not at all appreciate this new and very effeminate doctrine of submitting their will to that of others; and he trusted that there was manliness and firmness enough in the House to make hon. Members refuse to become parties to an act upon which it was possible that the most dangerous misconstruction might be put. Although he had already determined to support the vote, still he could not say with an hon. Gentleman opposite that it was a matter of entire indifference to him how much they increased the army. But to the proposed increase he gave his assent with reference as well to the foreign as to the domestic relations of this country. He would not shrink from the opinion—although he felt the extreme inconvenience of individual Members of 1174 Parliament pressing for an increase of military force, when her Majesty's Government knew much better than they could the precise circumstances of the country—that her Majesty's Government would have been fully justified in demanding a greater increase, or at all events the power of calling into requisition a greater force. He doubted whether the greater increase would not be found in the end to be the true economy. When he looked at the foreign relations of this country—to the West India islands, to our Indian empire, to Canada, to the boundary between our North American possessions and the United States, although in this latter quarter he trusted that there would be no interruption to the tranquillity which now prevailed—he thought that it would be wise economy not to let our military force fall below such limits as would enable us to assert and maintain, if necessary, the proper position of England. If any misfortune did occur in any of these foreign possessions, on account of the inadequacy of our military force, he feared, that the attempt to recover what we might lose would subject us to a tenfold expenditure. It was but just towards the officers and men, that too much labour should not be exacted from them; and it was as little consistent with sound policy as with justice to demand exertions in the public service greater than their physical strength could endure. With respect to the internal state of the country, he had no doubt that the combinations which existed—the demonstrations of physical force which had taken place in different parts of the country—the determination to resist the civil power—the language held, and the publications circulated, which he supposed hon. Members had seen, counselling the people to resist—compelled him at once to assent to the proposition for increasing the military power of this country, to be employed in aid of the civil power. They were bound to give that protection to the loyal and well-disposed. They were bound, even if those parties were not in immediate danger, to protect them from constant and harrassing anxiety. It was a disgrace to a civilized community that peacefully-disposed men should sleep in nightly alarm—should not be provided by the State with that security without which there was no enjoyment in life. The true wisdom was to demonstrate to the dis- 1175 affected the absolute hopelessness of resistance. Assuredly, they ought not to be tempted to violate the law by observing the inadequacy of the means of protection. He thought the law of the country, if executed with firmness, was a very strong law, and he objected to resort to temporary measures of precaution, which would by like the administration of stimulants in the place of ordinary beverage—the system having become habituated to their use, could scarcely dispense with them, and what ought to be the exception would at last become the rule. It was for this reason, that, whatever might have been the alarm prevailing in different parts of the country, he had always for bone to press upon the Government the adoption of any strong coercive measures, well knowing that their certain consequence would be to relax the efficiency of the administration of the ordinary laws of the country, which might of themselves be sufficient, if properly put in force. He agreed also that it would be hightly improper to treat with indifference, and still more to treat with insult or contempt, the complaints and requisitions of persons comprising among their members many of the manufacturing and working classes. He did not conceive that any extensive combinations had taken place among those classes; and to consent to fundamental changes in the constitution of the country to meet the urgency of the demands on the part of any one portion of the community, would be an absolute dereliction of duty on the part of the House. If extensive changes were to be made, let them be made upon the conviction of the nation at large. By making such changes they would not succeed in conciliating the Chartists, but they would expose the country to peril. He would not resume the discussion upon the Reform Bill, but would only remind the House, that it was now eight years since a most extensive change in the institutions of the country had come into operation. Had not the promises of amelioration in the condition of the country from the effects of that measure proved delusive? He did not urge this now as an argument against the provisions of that bill, but to show that it was impossible to realize the hopes which were held out, and that no ulterior measures could produce the effects which the advocates of these changes anticipated in the actual state and condition of society; and he hoped now, by setting the results 1176 of experience before the Chartists, and not by the bayonet, or by measures of military or civil coercion, to bring conviction to the minds of rational Englishmen as soon as the present excitement had subsided, and to show them how little it was to their interest to take the advice of those who put themselves forth as their leaders. The hon. Member for Birmingham had recommended the formation of a National Convention. What did he say to the National Convention now? The National Convention was a body elected by universal suffrage. Now, he rather thought, that the National Convention thus chosen by universal suffrage was, nevertheless, unable to secure universal confidence, for if he did not mistake, as soon as they met in London they had declared their adherence to the principle of a metallic currency, and had thus ceased to enjoy the confidence of the hon. Member for Birmingham himself. The hon. Member had forthwith disclaimed them, and professed himself ready to lose his right arm rather than abide by the decision of men who had so disappointed his expectations. Now, suppose the hon. Member had succeeded in obtaining a House of Commons returned by universal suffrage, and this House of Commons should act as the National Convention had done, and should not altogether approve of the small note system—that was what the hon. Member called it—but Cobbett had a different name for the same thing, and called it the "little shilling system"—suppose this House of Commons should be wise enough to reject the scheme, why, the hon. Gentleman would then withdraw his confidence altogether from such an assembly. [Mr. T. Attwood: Decidedly.] He thanked the hon. Member for his candid admission. Well, then, what would the labouring classes say, when they found their great leader declaring himself against a House of Commons chosen by universal suffrage, because it did not advise that the working classes should be paid with little shillings? Was not the declaration of the hon. Member a useful and pregnant lesson for the working classes? There could not be a more striking proof of the utter inutility of the changes which were now demanded, than the declaration on the part of the hon. Member that he was now ready to condemn the National Convention, and, it was to be supposed, to advise the election of some body of men chosen on some still more extensive and 1177 popular principle. But it was said, that there was at present an inadequate representation of the people of this country. He again asked what had been the results of the Reform Act? Had the Government been able to diminish the amount of the national debt? He would tell the hon. Member who had brought forward the present motion, that nothing could be done by introducing any little miserable economy into the administration of the affairs of this great country. Such a proceeding might tell, perhaps, in the impression which it might make upon the House on some particular evening, but it could produce absolutely no effect upon the condition of the country. Why, if the hon. Member for Kilkenny were Chancellor of the Exchequer to-morrow, his hon. Friend sitting next to him (Mr. T. Attwood) would be the first to tell him that it was Nicholas of Russia was the real enemy of the working classes, and would be so far from consenting to a reduction of the army or navy, that he would impeach the hon. Member for Kilkenny, if he did not immediately add ten sail of the line to her Majesty's fleet. The hon. Member was certainly one of the most agreeable opponents that he had ever met; he not only acquiesced in the arguments urged against him, but he was good enough to intimate his acquiescence just at the most convenient moment. The hon. Member thought that a reformed Parliament was bound to diminish the amount of taxation, and he, nevertheless, thought that a sound policy required an increase of the army and navy. Then he would ask the hon. Member how he proposed to keep faith with the public creditor, and to increase both the army and navy, and yet hold out a prospect of reduced taxation? The hon. Member meant to have recourse to the little shilling remedy; but on that point he would find himself opposed by the great majority of those by whom he was surrounded, and with whom he co-operated. The hon. Member at length uttered an expression of dissent. [Laughter.] But assuming that the House of Commons was now the organ of national opinion, and that it would still adhere to the principles which it had professed, he (Sir R. Peel) asked how, if it meant to keep its engagements with the public creditor, it could fulfil those expectations by which the public had been deluded, when they expected that the Reform Bill would produce a large 1178 reduction of taxation? All he said with respect to the Reform Bill was, that it had produced no such reduction, and he only urged this to show, that it was unwise to encourage the notion that any further change in the Constitution of the country would be followed by reduced taxation. He had within the last few days seen some of the consequences of refusing to maintain the Constitution of the country in its integrity, and of the agitation to procure a revolution once a-year—an expression which he borrowed from the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department. He had seen papers which had been circulated about, and which proceeded from a society which far outstripped the Chartists in the liberality of its ideas. These papers treated annual Parliaments and universal suffrage with great contempt, and set forth that the real remedy for the grievances of the people was a public division of all the land in the country. They proceeded to lay down, that land, like air, was an element, and that both ought to be enjoyed in common. ["Hear," and laughter.] Now, if the Chartists suceeeded in enforcing their demands, this new society would still be discontented and clamorous for something more. To be convinced that such had ever been the course of popular agitation and commotion, it was only necessary to refer to all past history, which showed, that wherever concessions were made, there would always be some party ready to urge that still farther concessions were necessary to satisfy the just demands of the people. He confessed he was sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham had condescended to use some arguments founded on statements to the effect, that individuals concerned in the Birmingham riots had been set on and instigated by other parties for political purposes. It was dangerous to employ an argument which tended to diminish the indignation which such outrages would naturally excite against those who committed them. The hon. Member had done him the justice to suppose that he had no hand in causing these riots, but the hon. Member had given the House to understand that some of his supporters had been instrumental in causing the mob to commit these acts of pillage. Let not hon. Members be carried away by party feelings as to palliate offences of this description. The hon. Member assured the House that the banners carried by the persons whose cause 1179 he defended had inscribed upon them the words "Peace, law, and order;" that circumstance gave him no satisfaction; no body of men, for whatever purpose they were organized, would dare to approach a great town with banners, bearing upon them the words "Pillage! Anarchy! Confusion!" Notwithstanding they might at first bear pacific inscriptions upon their banners, and although they might be at first organized form no evil purpose, yet evil leaders would soon be found to take advantage of the organization, and under such guidance and such influence, whatever might be the mottoes of their banners, pillage, anarchy, and confusion would be the result. He hoped the population of this country would consider carefully the consequences of the course which they were urged to adopt; that they would see how little hope there was of seizing property by violence, and how great and how certain would be the loss arising from the interruption of peaceful industry but for one day. Let them consider that the ultimate triumph must be that of the authority of the law, and of the exertions of the well-affected for the protection of property. Let them recollect the consequences of the advice which they listened to, when they withdrew their money from the savings-banks in the hopes of producing ruin and confusion. Let them compare them with the certain and sweet gain of honest and peaceful exertions, and let them look at the thousands of persons who, by industry and good conduct, had raised themselves from the lowest conditions of life, and consider that by using the same means they might attain the same end. Such objects would be far more worthy of their aim than any which could be attained by following the evil counsels and evil example of those whose only design was to use the working classes as instruments of their own private gain.
§ Mr. T. Attwood
begged leave to explain. He had not accused the right hon. Baronet, or any political party, of instigating the rioters at Birmingham. He had attributed the riots to the sinister advice which had been given of resorting to physical force, and not to the Whigs or the Tories, or to Nicholas of Russia. As for what the right hon. Baronet had said about public faith, he (Mr. T. Attwood) was an enemy of public faith, if the means by which 800,000,000l. of the people's money could 1180 be turned into 1,600,000,000l. were to be called a fraud, all he could say was, that he approved of such a fraud.
§ Mr. Warburton
observed, that no one, with the exception of the hon. Member for Birmingham, had said anything against the proposal of the noble Lord; but at the same time several hon. Members had stated what they thought necessary to satisfy the people. Amongst the chief causes of the existing dissatisfaction they ought to enumerate the present state of parties. The two great political parties in the state were so nearly balanced that legislation was reduced to something like general anarchy. No good measure proposed by either side of the House was likely to be carried from that cause. Let them take the case of the West Indies—or the condition of the law courts. Everything was at a stand still. Let them even take the police force of the country. If the noble Lord were to propose a measure for the establishment of a constabulary force, what prospect was there of carrying it? See what had been done when the noble Lord proposed an equitable measure for the improvement of the police force of the city of London. The noble Lord had no doubt carried a measure for that purpose, but it was far less efficient than the original bill, and strangely shorn of its beams. Well then, let them look at the municipal corporations in Ireland, or to the state of the emancipated negroes. Or suppose that a general measure for banking was introduced, what prospect was there of carrying any effective and satisfactory legislative measure in regard to any of those numerous complicated and pressing interests, or as to the Corn-laws—the duties on foreign timber—or on sugar and coffee, and so also as to the Poor-laws He believed that this last measure, more than any other, had been the cause of the claims for extended representation, and of the existing discontent among the people; and his apprehension was, that Government having been obliged to bring in a measure for amending the new Poor-law, that in the present state of parties they would not be able to act honestly in that respect, and any government which endeavoured to act honestly on that subject, would be turned out of office. What chance, he asked, was there of being able to legislate well, when the moment that Government introduced any measure really deserving to be entertained, it was immediately made 1181 a party question? and what chance was there that the public could continue to hold Parliament in respect when they thus perceived that they were in such a state as not to be able to perform their functions? He saw in the present state of parties that want of rule—or anarchy, in other words—which rendered it necessary to give predominance to one party or the other. He wished for further reform, and therefore certainly wished for the predominance of the Liberal party rather than the Tory. He wished legislation to go on, and be progressive; and was an advocate for further changes in the Parliamentary franchise. On these grounds, therefore, and thinking that the course adopted by the right hon. Baronet and the noble Lord, of resisting all further changes, prevented the Liberal party from acquiring that majority which they might obtain, he considered the Government was not performing its duty to the Liberal party; and he thought if the noble Lord persisted in that course the result must be to give the Tory instead of the Liberal party predominance in the country.
wished to express his anxiety to concur in the motion of the noble Lord; and if the noble Lord had thought it necessary to increase the military force much more than he had proposed, he would have supported that proposition. He thought the noble Lord well entitled to that mark of confidence in consequence of the constitutional mode he had pursued towards the meetings of the people, even when some of the speakers had perhaps exceeded the due bounds of law. He had listened to hon. Members on both sides of the House. They had spoken of the necessity of increasing the military force, by reason of the disturbed state of Canada, by reason of the combination of chiefs on our Indian frontier, by reason of the discontent now prevailing in England. But they had left out Ireland. On neither side of the House had Ireland been mentioned. He was proud of Ireland. He had a right to be proud, and to boast that Ireland needed no increase of force. The, troops in that country might be safely diminished; yet hon. Members would recollect that five entire days were occupied this Session in discussing whether they ought to support a Government whose policy had been so successful in Ireland. He was quite of opinion that the middle 1182 classes in this country should have safety to life and property; but they were entitled not only to safety but security. They ought not only to be free from apprehension, but from a cause of apprehension. He would support any measure necessary for such purpose to augment the military force. The soldiers of Great Britain were not mercenaries. Nothing could be more praiseworthy than the conduct of the British soldiers in Ireland. They were always respected, and on a friendly footing with the people there, notwithstanding the the nature of the service in which they had been employed. The soldiers in Ireland had done their duty and nothing more. The right hon. Gentleman said, they ought not to make ill-judged concessions, but his argument was to the effect that they should not make any concessions at all. There was no strength in being in the wrong. They had refused to make concessions to America, and they had lost America. They refused for years to remove the penal laws affecting Ireland, and by making those concessions they had ultimately preserved Ireland. They ought to consider whether the Chartists were right in anything. The conduct of their convention had been justly condemned. Was the convention elected by universal suffrage? Nothing could be further from it. Did the wealthy classes vote in the election of the delegates? Did the Conservatives vote? Did the middle classes? Did the 30s. a-week operatives? No. It was the 7s. a-week operative and those who had scarcely anything a-week that alone took part in their election. It was, then, an exclusive body, and, like all other exclusive bodies, they voted wrong in every thing, except that by common sense they had seen the propriety of voting against the "little shilling." But he asked the House whether the people of England had not a right to ask for a concession on the franchise? The people of England were subjected to a variety of useless obstructions in the exercise of the limited right of franchise now possessed by them. So long as the present confinee right of suffrage continued, there would be never-ending discontent and distress—distress not fictitious but real; and that distress would be followed with resentment, and a determination to have it redressed. But he could not believe they ever would resort to such a foolish course as that of a month's cessation from 1183 labour; because they must perceive that a month of idleness would necessarily be followed by a month of starvation. The absurdity of the plan was only equalled by its criminality. Let the Houses concede what was just. Education was spreading—information was spreading—and they might bring thousands within the pale of the constitution who were now excluded. When the hon. Baronet talked of making ill-judged concessions, let him remember that Ireland, which now affords so much assistance to the cause of law and order, is degraded and insulted by a refusal to give her corporate reform.
conceived that there were two questions before the House—one whether the present force of the country was inadequate to the due protection of life and property, and whether an addition was required; the other, which arose on the amendment of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, whether the discontent of the people, which had tended to the insecurity of the country; was founded on any real grievance of which they had to complain. Now, after what he had heard stated and admitted in debate with respect to the state of the country, and the duties imposed at present upon the existing force, he could not but admit that the demand for this additional force, under existing circumstances, was justified, and he was quite ready to assent to the almost unanimous approval that had been expressed of the conduct of the noble Secretary for the Home department, in the forbearance he had shown in not seeking, till a real necessity had arisen, any further power from this House; and he congratulated the Government upon receiving the reward of general approbation for having administered the powers with which they were intrusted in that wise and merciful spirit which every friend to liberal government would approve. But, after admitting the wisdom and justice of providing for the security of life and property, throughout the country, he could not shrink from considering whether the very general discontent that prevailed had not some solid ground for it. He was bound to admit that it had; and, while he joined in condemning the insane and wicked projects of many of the people, he could not but think that much blame attached to the Legislature for its conduct towards the people. What had been the lesson that this House had taught the people, and what were the admissions that were constantly made by the 1184 House? Had they not unfortunately taught the people to expect to obtain much from fear and little from justice? Unfortunately, there was hardly any great concession that had been made to the people that was yielded to justice or to argument and was not extorted by tumult or terror. Let any man look back for ten years and ask, which of the great questions that had been settled within that period that had not, for a quarter of a century before, been argued and peacefully considered, which had not been trusted to the justice and sense of this House, but which had not ultimately been conceded from a very different motive? When the right hon. Baronet talked so rigidly of making no concession, should he not consider what influence he may have exercised himself upon the present agitators, by conceding to fear, what he had refused to justice? Was Parliamentary Reform any new topic? Was there anything new in the defects of the old system of the representation when they were removed? Was there anything fresh in the question when it was carried but the state of the country at the time? Again, why was reform in Parliament demanded? Was it for the mere purpose of change, or was it with the view to obtain that reform in the law to the want of which the people ascribed their suffering? Were not all the objects specified then which the people had been taught to believe they were entitled to obtain? Did they not, then, point to the restrictions on their trade, their industry, and their food, to unequal laws, operating unfairly between the wealthy and the poor, to the difficulties of obtaining cheap and speedy justice; and was it not expected that the reform in Parliament would have enabled the people to obtain redress for these wrongs? Was it not the promise of the Reform Bill that they would, and which of them had been redressed? He asked these things, looking to the hopes that had been raised by the Reform Bill—looking to the disappointment which had been experienced—looking to the mode in which they had taught the people to obtain redress; and he asked whether they could be surprised that they should now be discontented—that they should seek to change the constitution of this House? Did the people ever see that House united, so as to respect its power; or did they ever hear them admit that they were doing all in their power to redress the public grievances? On the contrary, did they not find them in this House, night 1185 after night, employed in villifying each other, and divided into two parties, each accusing the other of doing what the people charged upon both, namely, serving themselves at the expense of the community? He mentioned this, because he really wished it to be avowed that the people, though some few of them were injuring their cause, offending all sense and reason by resorting to violence, were yet not without just cause of complaint. And considering he was in the habit of constantly asking the attention of that House to one of the most enormous grievances which a. people could endure, having a heavy tax upon their food not required by the State, he should be ashamed if he shrank from acknowledging at this moment, when he was assenting to additional power being conferred upon the Government, for the preservation of the peace endangered disaffection. that the people had great cause of complaint. He stated this, because he believed that it was in the power of this House to remedy those evils, and here he differed from the noble Lord in what he had said, when he spoke despondingly of what this House could do for the people; for he did believe that this House, by removing these mischievous restrictions on commerce and industry, which alone existed for the profit of a particular class, might enable the people to obtain more employment, higher wages, and thereby improve their condition. For it was the misery and poverty which the people endured which now entered so largely into the cause of their discontent; and unless they rendered this act of justice, he did not see with what pretence they could oppose a constitution of this House, representing more freely and fairly the wants and opinions of the country. He was glad of this discussion as he did not like that this Session should conclude without something being said to soothe the feelings and raise the hopes of those who deemed themselves so much aggrieved, and he really hoped that the House would consider it a condition of agreeing to the main question, namely, that the Government should have ample power to extend protection to men and property throughout the country, that they should fully admit that the people were wronged, that much of their legislation in this House had been narrow, selfish, and unjust, and that speedy redress should be given.
§ Lord F. Egerton
said, he would vote with the noble Lord opposite, because he 1186 thought the necessity of this measure was fully proved, but he begged to say that he by no means entirely approved of the conduct of her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Scholefield
was understood to say, that distress existed in many parts of the country to an extreme degree, and they ought to try remedial measures before they had recourse to measures of repression and severity.
§ Lord J. Russell,
in reply, said, he was much gratified at the discussion that had taken place. He thought he might assume that, with respect to two points, there was a very general concurrence. In the first place, with respect to the vote to be given for the increase of the military force of the country, there was a general concurrence; and, in the next place, there was a concurrence of opinion that it was not wise, at all events before the present time, to have called for any new law, altering the constitutional safeguards of the subject. He was gratified, because he considered that the opinions of that House so expressed, and the opinions expressed in the course of this debate, by Gentlemen entertaining opinions so widely different upon other occasions, would have very great weight with the country, and would strengthen generally the cause of Government and order. With regard to the amendment that had been moved by the hon. Member for Kilkenny, he should much regret if that hon. Gentleman should think it necessary to take the sense of the House on the subject. The opinion of those calling themselves Chartists, and those opinions which were entertained in that House were widely different. The opinion of the Chartists was, that a very great part of the taxation of the country was unnecessary, and that it might be reduced to a very small amount. But in this House, with the exception of a very few indeed, the general opinion was, in the first place, that the public faith ought to be maintained; and, in the second place, that we ought not to have less establishments than were sufficient to maintain the honour and power of the country. If the hon. Gentleman's amendment were carried, those parties who entertained the notion of taxation that he had just referred to, would look for such a sweeping reduction in taxation as would lead to the total abolition of the national debt and the destruction of the establishments of the country. If then these persons saw the hon. Member for Kilkenny and the hon. Member for Bridport, and others who were the staunch advo- 1187 cates of the public faith and the maintenance of the power of the country, support this amendment, they would be likely to misinterpret the meaning of those hon. Gentlemen on the subject. He would not enter into the subject of the distress that existed, or of the means of relieving it, because these were matters which it was perfectly competent for the House at any time to take into consideration. He would go so far as to say this, that if they agreed to what was called the people's charter he did not know that the change would effect what some hon. Members seemed to look for, such as taking away the restrictions upon commerce and such like. He would not say that parcelling the country into districts, and having one Member returned from each district was very irrational, but he doubted whether the representatives they would send, high Tory or Radical, would entertain very liberal opinions respecting trade and commerce. He recollected that when he supported the motions of Mr. Huskisson in that House, the greatest difficulty he met with arose from the cry that he was an advocate of Huskisson and free trade. That was the most powerful cry that could be raised, for it amounted to saying that he was an enemy to the prosperity of the country, and to agriculture. The hon. Member for Bridport had, on this subject, expressed an opinion that if he (Lord J. Russell) did not adopt a certain plan of extension of reform, he would do a great evil to the Liberal party, and that the Liberal party would suffer in the country by such an action on his part. That opinion was held by his hon. Friend, and, doubtless, the reasons which had induced him to come to that opinion were sufficient to his own mind, but he had happened to come to rather a different opinion. His opinion was, that at this time particularly, when great alarm was raised, and with the knowledge that not many years ago, they had a large and wide plan of reform, his opinion was, that if he endeavoured to make the whole Liberal party go in favour of a large new scheme of reform—his opinion was, that he would not only he doing that which was not advantageous to the country, but he would be doing that of which the country would not approve; and that the Liberal party, instead of a majority, would have a decided minority. This might be quite a mistaken opinion; but, has the hon. Member for Bridport had stated his opinion, the House would perhaps forgive him for doing the same. The 1188 right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had referred to opinions that were held at the time of the Reform Bill respecting improvement of the condition of the people. It was quite true that at the time of the Reform Bill, when a great change was made, many persons believed and trusted that some very great improvement in the condition of the people would be produced by that bill. He must say, that no Member of the Administration which proposed that measure was guilty of holding out any false hope on the subject. All they stated was, that the measure was more consistent with the constitution, and would tend greatly to make the Government more in accordance with the wishes and views of the people. He had himself stated that the same exaggerated hopes which were entertained of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill were also excited with regard to the measure of reform, and that the Reform Bill was the subject of many merely imaginary benefits. Many mistaken opinions were no doubt entertained on this subject, but with regard to the opinions expressed by himself, he did not think that he had held forth any undue advantage as likely to arise from the measure. He remained of the same opinion with regard to those two measures. He thought they might, by improving the representation, greatly advance the cause of good Government, and by judicious measures they might gradually and from time to time, improve the condition of the people. But they ought not to encourage the hope that any change in the persons by whom that House was elected, or any change in the mode of election, would at once produce high wages and a greater degree of comfort to the working classes. The belief of such consequences from change would tend to the total instability of our institutions, and, to expect that such consequences would flow from any Act of Parliament, would induce others to seek for such a change, from which wish it was the duty of that House to save them. For these reasons he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press his amendment.
§ Amendment negatived, on the question being again put.