HC Deb 29 July 1839 vol 49 cc932-5
Mr. Mackinnon

rose to put a question to the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department on a subject of considerable importance: but he must in the first place read a communication which had been sent to Lord John Russell, and his Lordship's answer. The communication stated, that in April last, in consequence of the violent conduct of the Chartists, a letter was addressed to Lord John Russell by the magistrates of Cockermouth, stating that a considerable number of pikes had been made, and were still making, in Cockermouth and the villages adjoining; that the makers were known; that language was held out of a general rising; that the magistrates had no power to keep the arms which might be seized; that they therefore were compelled to solicit the advice of the Government with respect to the search for arms, and also such instruct lions as might exonerate them from being charged with supineness and neglect of duty on the one hand, or illegal rashness on the other. The magistrates also sotlicited his Lordship that a company of infantry might be stationed in Cocker, mouth, otherwise, being entirely without police, it was feared that life and property I would soon be in an insecure state. The application was made to Lord John Russell on the 9th of April last, and his Lordship in his answer refused to give any as- sistance, or even any advice, how they were to act. Since then repeated applications had been made, all of which had been treated with neglect and indifference. The alarm of the inhabitants had greatly increased, and, at a meeting at which all the magistrates attended, they unanimously resolved to put themselves under the direction of any person the Government might select. An application was made to the Government for arms, which were peremptorily refused. In the mean time, from the excited state of the town, and there being no troops within twenty-six miles, it was deemed expedient by the magistrates to send for the militia staff from Whitehaven, consisting of eight men, as a nucleus round which they might rally. They received a rebuke from Lord John Russell for incurring the additional expense of these men, the total amount of which was 3s. 6d. a-day. On the 15th July the magistrates clerk received a letter to the following effect:— Sir, I am directed by Lord John Russell to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 13th inst. In one part you remark that there is co doubt that the evil has arisen from the impunity with which these men, the makers of pikes and daggers, have been allowed to proceed since the month of March last, owing to the magistrates having no force at command to prevent a breach of the peace, which would have arisen in executing any warrant for their apprehension. Lord John Russell directs me to observe that this is the first time he has received any information from Cockermouth, and Lord John Russell regrets that earlier information as to the alledged state of Cocker-mouth has not been communicated to him.

This letter was signed "S. M. Phillips."

Lord J. Russell

said, that with respect to the state of Cockermouth, he could not think it was proper to endeavour to draw him into a discussion as to all the transactions that might take place with respect to particular parts of the country. He had to consider several points before in such cases he came to a decision. First, he had to consider the representations made to the magistrates by different persons who, in the present instance, did not agree; he had next to consider the representations made by the Lord-lieutenant of the county, by the general commanding in the district, and the commander-in-chief; Now, with regard to the state of Cockermouth, he had consulted not only the Lord-lieutenant, but the general commanding the district, and the commander-in-chief; and the House, perhaps, might see that there were reasons both civil and military, why it might not be expedient immediately to comply with every request to disperse the troops under the command of the officer of the district into the various places from which demands might be made. And it was on consideration of these various matters that he did not think it desirable to send a military force on the 9th of April to Cockermouth. As to subjects which it was said he had neglected—the making of arms, the distributing of weapons, and the training of men—he had asked and obtained the opinions of the law officers of the Crown, and he had endeavoured to make those opinions known in every district of the country where such authorities might be required. He felt confident that there were authorities connected with the county of Cumberland who had received these opinions. When further complaints had come from Cockermouth, so far from disapproving, he had sanctioned the use of the small staff of the militia, and he had since agreed that there should be a small body of infantry sent to the town. He did not wonder that magistrates, finding themselves surrounded by a population, a portion of which was constantly exciting the people to outrage, should feel a great desire for some sort of military force. On the other hand, there were considerations to be weighed before it could be determined to send a military force into a particular town or district. It was only the day before yesterday that he had received a strong remonstrance from the general commanding the district, complaining of the too great facility with which he had complied with the requisitions from magistrates for a military force.

Mr. Aglionby

said, since the subject had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Lymington, a great portion of whose statements were founded on misconception, he would ask the noble Lord to permit that correspondence to be laid before the House. He also wished to know whether the noble Lord had received any information respecting the conduct of one of the magistracy, an account of which he (Mr. Aglionby) had read in a Liverpool newspaper.

Lord J. Russell

must decidedly object to the production of the correspondence. In answer to the second question of the hon. Member, he had to say, though he had seen the report in question, he had no authentic information upon the subject.

Subject dropped.

Back to