§ On the question that the Order of the Day for a Committee of Supply, be read,
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
rose, in pursuance to notice, to move the following resolution—Whereas, in the month of July last, two respectable working men, named William Lovett and John Collins, were convicted of publishing a seditious libel, and for the same offence was sentenced to one year's imprisonment in Warwick gaol; and whereas, a large number of persons have since been convicted of offences of a similar character, and the greatest portion of those persons, contrary to custom, are, as well as the above-mentioned William Lovett and John Collins, placed on the criminal side of the gaols to which they have been respectively sent, and are there treated after the manner of persons convicted of the most heinous and detestable crimes; it is the opinion of this House, that such mode of carrying out sentences of imprisonment for political offences, being as uncalled for as unprecedented, ought to be discontinued; and that no greater restraint should be imposed or degradation inflicted upon this class of offenders, than their safe custody requires, and long usage sanctions.''The grievances that had been complained of by many petitioners relating to the treatment of persons convicted of political offences were cruel, inhuman and unprecedented. He had many well authenticated cases to establish this proposition, and when he had laid the facts before the House he hoped they would agree to the resolution he intended to propose. Before adverting, however, to the statements connected with the parties now suffering punishment for political offences, he would briefly call the attention of the House to cases of a similar character, that had occurred in former times. He would not, however, go further back than 1792, during which year a very great number of political prosecutions were instituted. The hon. Member then stated the cases of Ridgway and Symonds, in 1792, that of Cross, an attorney, in 1793; of the rev William Winterbottom, who during the time he was in prison, wrote his History of America, and was allowed to get married; the case of Mr. Redhead Yorke; of Mr. Gilbert Wakefield; of Mr. M'Cleod; and William Cobbett, who carried on his Register while in Newgate; and of Messrs. John and Leigh Hunt. All these parties were convicted of political offences, either by publishing libels, or uttering treasonable and seditious speeches, but they were 619 none of them subjected to any further restraint, while undergoing the different periods of imprisonment to which they were sentenced, than was absolutely necessary to the security of their persons. In 1819, Major Cartwright and others were convicted of seditious practices in assembling to elect persons as members of a National Convention; but they were all imprisoned on the debtor side of Warwick gaol. Subsequently Henry Hunt was convicted of a conspiracy and an attempt to subvert the Government, and was imprisoned in Ilchester gaol, where he experienced rather harsher treatment than previous political offenders had been subjected to, and for which he afterwards obtained redress against the gaoler. The first time that this rule of distinguishing political offences from ordinary misdemeanors in the mode of treatment of the parties convicted was broken through was in the case of Lovett and Collins. Now in every word of the libel for the publication of which Lovett and Collins were found guilty, he entirely concurred. The words were—1st. That this convention (Mr. Lovett was secretary to the National Convention) is of opinion that a wanton, flagrant, and unjust outrage has been made upon the people of Birmingham by a blood-thirsty and unconstitutional force from London, acting under the authority of men, who when out of office, sanctioned and took part in the meetings of the people; and now, when they share in the public plunder, seek to keep the people in social slavery and political degradation. 2. That the people of Birmingham are the best judges of their own right to meet in the Bull-ring or elsewhere; have their own feelings to consult; and are the best judges of their own power and resources to obtain justice, 3. That the summary and despotic arrest of Dr. Taylor, our respected colleague, affords another convincing proof of the absence of all justice in England, and clearly shows that there is no security for life, liberty, or property till the people have some control over the laws they were called upon to obey.Since the publication of these remarks on the metropolitan police, an inquiry with regard to the conduct of the police upon that occasion had been instituted by a committee of the town council of Birmingham, Mr. Joseph Sturge being the chairman. The result of the inquiry was expressed in the very words used by Mr. Lovett himself. They declared that it was proved that a brutal and bloody 620 attack had been made upon the people of Birmingham, and it was their opinion that if the police had not attacked the people, no disorder ever would have occurred,; and they considered that the riot was incited by the London police. The committee of the corporation of Birmingham stated that it was the practice of the police to assail men with blows who might have been easily apprehended. Why not, after this, prosecute Mr. Joseph Sturge? This was language quite as strong as that I used by Mr. Lovett. The committee went on to say that it was matter of deep regret that the magistrates should have deemed the services of these men (the London police) matter for complimentary notice, I and that such a proceeding on the part of the magistrates was altogether uncalled for and unwarranted. At all events, then, there were two opinions upon this subject, I and he would ask, were Mr. Loveit and Mr. Collins to suffer degradation in Warwick gaol for having expressed an opinion with regard to the conduct of the police in which a great part of the people throughout the country concurred. Mr. Joseph Sturge and the town-council of Birmingham ought to have been sent to Warwick gaol just as well as Mr. Lovett and Mr. Collins. What did he find boldly asserted in the papers of the day? The following strong remarks appeared in one of the daily papers on June 24th last:—We call public attention to a police case, which appears under the head of Worship-street this day. In the course of the last six months we have been compelled to make animadversions on the illegal, tyrannical, and intolerable conduct of the new police force, and every fresh occurrence only confirms us in the belief to which that conduct has given rise, that the metropolitan police is the greatest curse that ever afflicted a free people.This was pretty strong language; it appeared in the Sun newspaper of the 24th of June, and had the government dared to prosecute the Sun for that publication? No. If any prosecution were instituted the Sun newspaper would be supported by two-thirds of the people of this country. But to go back to the case of Lovett and Collins: representations were made by them to the magistrates of the county of Warwick of the privations and hardships those persons were enduring in Warwick gaol, but they were told that the only source whence any relief could be obtained was the Secretary of State for the 621 Home Department. From time to time applications were made to the Secretary of State, who referred the complainants to the visiting magistrates, and the magistrates sent them back again to the Secretary of State; so, between one and the other, no progress was made in ameliorating the condition of these men until nearly one-half the period of their imprisonment had expired. Much improvement in that tretament ultimately took place, but they were still kept on the felons' side of the gaol, and were subjected to various other harsh and degrading regulations, that could never be justifiably applied to political offenders, who, in the opinion and judgment of society, had committed no moral offence. On the 25th of this month the term of imprisonment to which Mr. Lovett and Mr. Collins were sentenced would expire; and he believed that it was the desire of Certain individuals that these injured men should assume a better and fatter appearance when they came out of gaol than they had borne during their confinement there. The consequence was, that every day for the last ten days they had had port-wine negus, in order, no doubt, when they came before the public, that they should appear in good condition. In a letter, dated 22d June last, which Mr. Lovett had addressed to a friend, describing the nature of the treatment he had experienced since his incarceration in Warwick gaol, and the effect it had produced on his mind and health, Mr. Lovett said,—You can form but a very imperfect idea of the feeling and tone of mind which the restraint and monotony of the discipline of a prison entail on those persons who have been used to activity and the exercise of the body, to cheerful conversation, and to all the varieties of political and literary excitement. I possess very little descriptive powers, but I will endeavour briefly to describe the melancholy routine in which I have passed the greater number of days I have been here, varied only by exchanging the loneliness of my cell for scenes of vice and crime, where I have been compelled to mix with persons of the worst description. In the midst of such circumstances you may easily suppose that even books begin at last to lose their attractions. At half-past five in the morning the prison bell rings; at six in the morning you are expected to have your bed rolled up and your room cleaned. Formerly we were obliged to go instantly down to the yard to answer our names when the roll was called, but that has lately been dispensed with. We have to wait some time before we can get a 622 fire, for we are not allowed to have flint or steel. We then retire and sit in our dark cell to read or wile away the time.That was written on the 22d of June. Since then it appeared that Mr. Lovett had seen a statement with respect to his sleeping with Collins; on the 24th of June he wrote a letter stating the representation was not quite correct. It was true that Collins and himself did sleep together in the first instance; but Lovett. being rather a restless and sleepless man, Collins preferred sleeping with the other inmate of their cell. And here Mr. Lovett made a statement, which demanded the serious attention of the House; for, if correct, it was too atrocious to be endured. Mr. Lovett stated, that Collins had had four different persons to sleep with him since he had been in prison; the first was convicted of a rape, two others were imprisoned for assaults, and his present bed-fellow was convicted of passing bad money. Fortunately, said Mr. Lovett, he and Collins had escaped catching the itch; but their fellow political offender, Edward Brown, was not so fortunate, and he was obliged to undergo the itch bath. [The hon. Gentleman read a letter written by Collins to his wife, describing the injurious effect his confinement had produced upon his health, and more especially the very serious encroachments it had made on the less robust constitution of his fellow prisoner, Lovett.'] This, then, was the hard treatment which these two men had experienced for a political offence which had never been considered in the estimation of society to cast a stigma on the moral characters of those who were convicted of it. What would have been said by the present Government if any among those whose cases he had referred to in the commencement of his speech had been subjected to similar treatment by the Tories of former days? But he wished it was only Mr. Lovett and Mr. Collins that had been so treated. If Gentlemen would take the trouble to read the petitions that had been presented to the House, he might refer them to Fisherton Gaol, Ilchester Gaol, York Castle, Oakham Gaol, and Wakefield House of Correction. Mr. Roberts, an attorney of Bath, had been recently discharged from Fisherton Gaol, and had returned to Bath, having been released by the Secretary of State. A person who was a member of the town council of Bath, had 623 written to him on the subject, and very naturally asked why Carrier and Potts were not equally released. The ground for liberating Roberts must equally apply to the cases of Carrier and Potts, for all three were tried at the same assizes for the same offence, and the judge said, when sentencing them, that he saw no difference in their degrees of guilt. He, however, made a distinction in the punishment, for Potts being a poor man was sentenced not only to imprisonment but to hard labour. Mr. Carrier, he believed, could not boast of the same high connexions in life as Mr. Roberts, who he understood was a near connexion of Chief Justice Tindal. But, notwithstanding neither Carrier nor Potts could claim any high connexions, it equally behoved the House of Commons to take care that justice should be done to their case. In llchester gaol there were two persons confined for political offences, named Bartlett and Baldwin; and if they passed to Oakham gaol they would find three individuals, Vincent, Shelhard, and Edwards. They were convicted at Monmouth, and sent to Monmouth gaol. They remained there some time, and were then sent to the Penitentiary. Notice was taken of the removal, in consequence of a discussion upon the subject in the House of Commons, in the course of which it was contended, that their removal was illegal, and that the Government had no right to send them to the Penitentiary. Since then they had been removed to Oakham, and their petition deserved the attention of the House. After having been imprisoned for nearly nine months, on one charge, on account of an offence committed in June, Mr. Vincent was again indicted for an offence committed in the January previous. This appeared to him nothing more nor less than a vindictive proceeding. Had it occurred during Tory times the country would have rung with the indignation of the public. The next case to which he would call their attention was that of the prisoners at Wakefield. They had heard the petitions of Richard White and Joseph Crabtree. White, an old man, aged sixty-two, petitioned on the part of his son, one of the convicted party, who had been originally confined in York Castle, but was removed to Wakefield without his (the father's) knowledge. From another person, however, who had been confined in Wakefield gaol, the pe- 624 titioner had heard that his son was reduced very much in health—that he was compelled to work on the treadmill with felons—that he had twice fallen off the mill in a state of exhaustion—and that when the petitioner went to the gaol, the gaoler would not allow him to see his son. Now this man was sentenced to imprisonment only, not to hard labour. The case of Joseph Crabtree was perhaps the worst of all. In his petition he stated, that he was locked up in his cell from six at night until six in the morning, the cell being a small room, eight feet by six—that while so locked up he was not allowed to make the slightest noise, not even to walk about his cell—that on being liberated in the morning he was placed among convicted misdemeanants, obliged to hold his face in a particular position, so that the gaoler might see it, and prevented from holding the slightest communication, either by look or by word, with the other prisoners. In this state he was kept until the evening, not being allowed to stand up, or even to look another prisoner in the face, under penalty of subjecting himself to solitary confinement in a dark room for three days, on a diet of bread and water only. The prisoner had been convicted of having been present at a meeting of a seditious character at Barnsley, but in his petition he solemnly declared in the presence of God that he was not there present—a fact which could be proved by another prisoner, named Owen. He could have proved this on his trial, but was told that his case would be looked upon as one of entire unimportance, and that he had better take no steps of the kind. The only other case with which he would trouble the House was that of Mr. Feargus O'Connor, which was not one-fifth as bad as the others which he had referred to. The treatment which that gentleman received was at first outrageous and disgraceful to the country, but it had recently been much improved. Still it was what, as a political offender only, he ought not to be subjected to. The avowed object of it was to prevent him from continuing to publish his paper. But Mr. Cobbett and Mr. Hunt were allowed to continue to write their papers under similar circumstances, and why should not Mr. O'Connor? He was not allowed to see his friends, except in the presence of his gaoler, and then only across a passage six feet wide, and through an 625 iron grating, in order that he might not transmit any writings to the public. He knew that he should be told that all these things were the acts of the visiting magistrates; that the Government was not to blame; and that the amendment recently made in the Prisons Act would set all to rights. But the alteration in question was a perfect delusion. That alteration in the Prisons Act did not make the law of the land different from what it had been before. The Secretary of State, as had been evidenced in the case of Mr. O'Connor, had before the power to alter the regulations of the visiting magistrates; for he had been transferred from the felons' to the debtors' side, in consequence of the interference of the Secretary of State. The new act still left it to the visiting justices to make the regulations of the prison, and whether the prisoner was confined on the debtors' or the felons' side, still he would be subject to those regulations. What guarantee had Parliament as to the nature of those regulations? If they were to be any thing like what they now were, the only effect of the alteration would be, to leave it in the power of the Secretary of State, by whom the regulations of the magistrates were liable to be revised, to treat political offenders, who might possibly be personally offensive to him, in a manner never hitherto contemplated by the law. He called, then, on the House to affirm, by resolution, the principle on which those prison regulations should be based; that there should be only so much restriction as was necessary to secure the safe custody of the person of the prisoner. But what were these persons convicted for? For attending seditious and illegal meetings. What was an illegal meeting? Very different sentiments had been entertained by those who now formed part of the Government, or who supported it at other periods, from those upon which these individuals had been convicted. In December, 1819, after the Sedition Bill had passed the House of Lords, a protest was entered upon the journals, which contained these sentiments:—First. Because the laws of England, when duly enforced, have always been found sufficient to prevent any confusion arising from popular meetings, or to punish any disturbers of the public peace; and a too ready acquiescence in the suggestions of Ministers for imposing new restraints upon the rights and usages of the people—even if the provisions of the bill were in themselves neither harsh nor unreason. 626 able—appears to us more calculated to add weight to calumny, and to exasperate discontent into hostility, than to defeat the designs of turbulent men, or to reclaim the alienated affections of a mistaken multitude.Secondly. Because the powers entrusted by this bill to magistrates are liable to great abuse, and those who disobey them exposed to dreadful and disproportionate punishment. On the surmise that a stranger is present in a crowd, or on the application of a vague definition to the words of a notice, or to the language of an orator, a justice of peace may proclaim a meeting to be unlawful, and an Englishman may become a felon for continuing, even through inadvertence, half-an-hour in a spot where no breach of the peace has been committed.Thirdly. Because the numerous assemblies alleged in the preamble to be the occasion and justification of the bill, have been confined to particular districts; but the restrictions and penalties thereof are generally extended to the whole kingdom, and even to Ireland, where no such practices have ever prevailed.Fourthly. Because this bill, combined with the restrictions of the press which have already passed, or have been announced in this House, is obviously intended to fetter all free discussion, and to repress, if not stifle, the expression of public opinion. Large meetings in periods of political ferment furnish the means of ascertaining the designs and measuring the strength of the malcontents; they tend to disunite and discredit the rash and mischievous agitators of a mistaken multitude, and they not unfrequently serve as a vent, comparatively innoxious, of that ill-humour and discontent, which, if suppressed, might seek refuge in secret cabals and conspiracies, dangerous to the safety of individuals in authority, and subversive of the peace and happiness of society.That protest was signed "Vassal Holland, Augustus Frederick, Thsnet, Donoughmore, Grosvenor, Erskine." Similar sentiments were expressed during the last recess by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies. He wished that, with regard to these unfortunate men, the noble Lord had acted upon the doctrines so laid down by him at Liverpool. He complained also of the different mode of punishment which was observed with regard to different offenders. While Messrs. Lovett and Collins, and the other persons to whom he had referred, were treated in the manner that had been described, the Rev. Mr. Stephens, who had been convicted of a similar offence, was actually living in the gaoler's house, and enjoying the society of his friends. Mr. Bronterre O'Brien and Mr. M'Douall were also treated, in Chester gaol, with much less severity than was 627 observed towards Messrs. Lovett and Collins, though not so well as the Rev. Mr. Stephens. As an instance of the petty severities that were inflicted on Mr. O'Brien, he would mention that his snuffbox was taken away from him. This might appear to some hon. Members an absurd ground of complaint; but those who were in the habit of taking snuff would tell them that to be forcibly prevented was a source of much annoyance and inconvenience. The sort of treatment which he had described as being inflicted on these prisoners was not sustained by public opinion. The effect which it would have, if continued, on the minds of the lower orders was deserving of the attention of the House. He implored those connected with the rural districts to lend their aid on this occasion, for they might depend upon it that there was scarcely a village or a hamlet in which the reports of the sufferings of these prisoners did not penetrate, and where there did not exist a strong feeling that these prisoners were unjustly detained, and treated with undue harshness. The address which he was about to move did not in any way trench on the prerogative of the Crown. He did not ask for a curtailment of the imprisonment of the parties, but only that an end might be put to a system of treatment which, thank God! had never been heard of in this country since the days of the Star Chamber, and which was very little. exceeded by the worst cruelties of the Spanish inquisition. The hon. Member concluded by moving the address.
§ Mr. Wakley
seconded the motion. He would not enter into many topics which had been adverted to by his hon. Friend, conceiving as he did that their business was to consider the treatment which these unfortunate prisoners had received while in prison. With their sentences they had nothing to do. They had been duly tried according to law, by juries to whom they did not object. The question was, how had they been treated in gaol? The system of punishment which by our forefathers had been intended to operate as a check upon crime, had been, in the case of these prisoners, converted into a torture which was calculated to turn them into savages. It was calculated to make them the worst beings that ever existed in the human form—to eradicate every feeling of virtue, and substitute one universal feeling 628 of revenge. By inflicting torture of this kind the whole institutions of the country were endangered. He could not believe that the House would sanction such a system as his hon colleague had described in the case of Crabtree. He could not believe that the Government were desirous to continue such a system. He hoped, for the credit of the Government, that it would be proved that no application had been made to the Government before the presentation of these petitions. He strongly deprecated the system of leaving the prison regulations to the discretion of the visiting magistrates. Those who had the responsibility of those regulations ought to sit in that House and be ready at all times to answer questions on the Subject. The subject, however, having once been brought before the Government, they were henceforth responsible for whatever might occur in these gaols. It would no longer avail them to say that they left those things to the visiting magistrates, they had now ample evidence that the visiting magistrates were not to be intrusted with the power of making them. This being the position of Government as regarded the subject, he could not help expressing a wish that his hon. Friend would not divide, trusting as he did, that the Government would make such a declaration, as would satisfy the House of their determination instantly to ameliorate the condition of those uhfortunate persons who were now confined for political offences. There were nearly three hundred persons confined for political offences at the present time. The hon. Member concluded by seconding the motion.
Sir George Strickland
observed, that as allusion had been made to the prisoners confined in the House of Correction at Wakefield for political offences, he felt bound to observe, that he should have felt it to be his duty to bring the subject before the House had not allusion been made to it by the hon. Member for Fins-bury, and also if he did not believe that his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Home Department would give such an explanation on the subject as would render it unnecessary to proceed further in the matter. He believed that the treatment of those persons confined at Wakefield, if it were as it had been described in the petitions laid on the table of the House, was so contrary and inconsistent with everything like law in the former treat- 629 ment of persons punished for similar offences, that the authorities would merit every censure, if it could not be shown, that it had arisen from casual and accidental circumstances. It was not for the House to consider the sentences that had been passed on these persons; the only question before the House was, whether the treatment which they had met with in prison was humane, and consistent with the usage which former prisoners had experienced who had been punished for similar offences. It appeared also that some of those persons who had been so harshly treated were punished merely for being present at political meetings, where some one had used seditious language. The magistrates alleged that the Home-office made the rules for the prisons, and that they were not responsible; while the Home-office said that all the additional punishment inflicted on these unfortunate men was attributable to the magistrates. He hoped that his hon. Friend, the Under Secretary for the Home Department, would show that this was the case, and that he would give an explanation to the House on the subject. At the same time, he felt bound to say that he thought that the only explanation which could prove satisfactory, was to show that the proceedings were strictly legal. If they received a promise from his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Home Department, that these abuses should be remedied for the future, he trusted that his hon. Friend would not go to a division on the motion.
§ Mr. Fox Maule
, before he proceeded to reply to the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, felt bound to observe, that nothing that had been said that night, would induce him to alter the course which he had intended to pursue. As to the treatment of these political offenders being severe, unnecessary and unusual, and not consonant to the former practice that obtained with respect to that class of persons, he would state a few facts to the House, and would rely on public opinion for the conviction that the Government had not pressed upon any individuals convicted of political offences, or crimes as they had been termed, in a way which the law would not sanction. His hon. Friend stated, that in certain cases, the parties were treated with much attention and consideration, because they were in a higher station in society. In all those cases, whatever punishment was 630 inflicted, it was accompanied with the, imposition of heavy pecuniary fines, which if they had been imposed upon those now undergoing punishment for political offences, would be followed by certain ruin. The cases of Lovett and Collins had already been fully discussed in that House. He not only had admitted that the treatment that they had experienced was harsh, but as far as the department to which he belonged possibly could, it had done all in its power to relieve them; and since they had been sentenced, the Government had shown every disposition to ameliorate and to alter the nature of the punishment to which those convicted of political offences were exposed. But, dealing with the cases of Lovett and Collins, his hon. Friend went beyond the limit of his resolution, for he went to the extent of justifying the offences for which these persons bad been condemned, not by any extraordinary measures brought forward by the Government to meet the circumstances of the case, not by any recent law that Ministers had introduced, but by the long-established law of the land. They had been tried by the ordinary tribunals of the country, had been convicted by impartial juries, and had been condemned and sentenced for an offence which his hon. Friend now stood up in his place in Parliament, and justified. He was surprised that such observations should escape from any Member of that House. Was the hon. Gentleman aware of the period when this placard was published, and the circumstances under which it was sent forth, as well as the state of the place in which it was promulgated. He begged the House to recollect that this took place after serious riots at Birmingham, and also that the publication of this placard was followed by riots of such an extensive and dangerous nature as to place, according to the opinion of competent judges, that great town in a situation of imminent peril.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
The publication took place on the 5th of July, and the serious riots and the burnings did not take place until the 14th.
§ Lord John Russell
, the publication of the placard took place after the first riot and previous to the second.
§ Mr. Fox Maule
felt that the case was even stronger than he had stated. The publication of the seditious libel took place after the introduction of the London police to Birmingham, and its tendency 631 was to excite the minds of an assembled multitude in that great town to the greatest pitch of indignation against those who were sent down to protect the lives and property of the inhabitants of that place, who had not then the advantage of an organised police. In consequence of the excitement which was thus created, and in consequence of the speeches which were made in other parts of the country, the greatest apprehension was created in the minds of the inhabitants of Birmingham, and there were few persons of respectability living there who did not believe that, had it not been for the excitement occasioned by those speeches and placards, the serious riots of the 16th would not have happened. His hon. Friend had quoted an extract from a speech of Mr. Sturge, as chairman of a portion of the corporation, with the view of showing that it was the opinion of that meeting that the introduction of the London police was the cause of those riots. He appeared to answer for the conduct of the London police at Birmingham. But what was the course pursued by that body? They were sent down in consequence of the disturbances there, that they should protect the lives and properties of the inhabitants of that place. So strictly were the orders given to prevent any thing like an excuse for the outrages that occurred after the riots on the 4th had been put down, that the police were not allowed to leave their quarters or to go out into the town, and they did not do so until their presence became absolutely necessary to put a stop to the riots and devastation that prevailed in the town. This appeared in the evidence taken before the learned Gentleman sent down to investigate the matter, and could be referred to if hon. Gentlemen wished. Whatever, therefore, might be the feelings of certain persons in that place, and however desirous they might be to excite a collision between the London police and the crowd, the magistrates gave such strict orders, that the former body were not called upon to act unless in case of emergency, and in the riots in the night of the 18th of July, when their services became absolutely necessary, they manifested the greatest forbearance, and did not resort to any proceedings which were not absolutely necessary. On that occasion, when the rioters were setting fire to the houses in an important part of the 632 town, they were called upon to act, and they did so in such a manner as to put a stop to the serious disturbances that then prevailed in a comparatively short time; and they did so without inflicting any injury on individuals. Although many of the police were injured themselves, they succeeded in dispersing the multitude with such a degree of moderation, that not a single person in the crowd was taken to the dispensary, or was injured. This was a primâ facie case in favour of the conduct of the police. Allusion had been made to the proceedings in the case of Sir Francis Burdett; but it should be recollected, that at that time there was no organised police force, but the military were called upon to act. So much, then, for the observations which the hon. Member had thought it proper to make on the conduct of the police, and he would add, that he believed if any intelligent class in any part of the empire was consulted on the subject, that it would at once admit that that body, by its energy, had saved the town of Birmingham from destruction. Such was the feeling of the inhabitants of that place, for these men carried, at the present day, the honorary memorials conferred upon them by the citizens of Birmingham for what they then did. The hon. Member also stated, on the authority of a statement in a daily newspaper, that the police were employed as spies; but he would defy the hon. Gentleman, or the editor of the newspaper to which he had alluded, to show an instance in which any members of the metropolitan police had been employed as spies; unless as far as was absolutely necessary for following up or tracing out crime. It was an easy thing to throw a certain odium on the police force of the metropolis; but he was sure that the House would not sanction any such unfounded charges; and, above all, he would ask the hon. Member whether it was an easy task to answer for the results that might be produced. He did not believe that any part of the aspersions which his hon. Friend had thought proper to cast upon the police, would have any weight with the public, for they were too well aware of the value and the importance of the services of that body readily to adopt such charges. He recollected that his hon. Friend, the Member for Kilkenny entertained an impression in the first instance against that body, but on investigation, he stated repeatedly to 633 the House, and to the country, that all the suspicions which he had entertained were dissipated. As for the cases of Lovett and Collins, their period of punishment was now rapidly drawing to a close, and he could not help saying that he was sure that the insinuation of his hon. Friend, that their treatment had been mitigated, that they might fatten up before they came out of prison, that they might not appear in a lean and starved condition was rather to be imputed to that somewhat jocular mode of debate which he sometimes indulged in, than to the conviction of his mind. Some time ago they were offered their freedom on terms which he thought they might easily have accepted of, on the understanding that they should enter into their personal recognizances to keep the peace, and to be of good behaviour for twelve months. He believed that this was the mildest form in which they could be liberated under the circumstances of the case; they, however, refused to accept the offer. His hon. Friend then alluded to the cases of George Morse Bartlett, and Charles Boswell, who were prisoners at Ilchester, the former on a charge of sedition, and the latter of conspiracy. These persons had presented a petition, which was on the table of the House, and they petitioned, not because they wished to make any grievance known, or that they complained of the too great severity of the sentence, or of the manner in which it was carried into effect. He did not think, however, that either the Crown or the Ministers were to be charged with inattention, when they were not made acquainted with the circumstances of any of these cases, until they were put in possession of them through the petitions presented to the House. The two persons to whom he had just adverted, had complained to the House, not of the sentences which had been imposed on them, but of the different treatment that others met with, who were under sentence of imprisonment. These two men had not been convicted of political libels: the first, George Morse Bartlett, had been sentenced to nine months' imprisonment, not for libel, but for sedition; and the second, Charles Boswell, was sentenced in a similar punishment for conspiracy. These men, in the petition which they had presented, did not complain of the severity of the sentence which had been imposed on them, nor as to any peculiar hardships in the gaol where they were confined; but 634 they stated, that Feargus O'Connor, esq., and other incarcerated Chartists, have been granted the privilege of maintaining themselves, and that "therefore they prayed the House to grant them the same privilege." He would proceed to notice the statement and petitions of the three persons who were in the Penitentiary. He had made a point of inquiring into the allegations of those petitions, and had referred to the keeper of the gaol; and he found that the separate petitions of Edwards, Vincent, and Shellard, did not emanate from their own free will; but they had sent them in answer to an application made to them by a Member of Parliament, that they should send three separate petitions against the treatment they had experienced in gaol, or against the keeper of it, if they had any subject of complaint. [Mr. T. Duncombe had written to them.] He should not have mentioned the name of his hon. Friend, had his hon. Friend not mentioned it himself; but in that letter his hon. Friend stated, that he thought that one petition would not be of much use, and there lore requested that three separate petitions should be got up, complaining of the treatment they experienced. His hon. Friend, then, had acknowledged the correctness of the statement of the keeper of the gaol, that he had asked for petitions from Edwards, Vincent, and Shellard, if they had any complaints to make against the gaoler. He admitted, that the removal of these parties from Monmouth gaol, to which place they had been sentenced, to the Penitentiary was an oversight; but it was never intended to make the punishment more severe, only to remove them so that they might be separated from other misdemeanants. The moment, however, that it was found that the imprisonment in the Penitentiary was beyond the pale of the law, and was harsher than was intended, steps were taken to send them to another prison, namely, Oakham. It appeared also, that when they were first sent there, they were not allowed the use of knife and fork, but had to divide their food by means of a wooden spoon. On their making a representation to the Home Office on the subject, immediate instructions were sent down, directing that such a rule should not be enforced, but that they should be allowed knives and forks. With respect to the allegations made as to the health of these petitioners, Edwards says— 635That your petitioner sustained considerable injury in his health; and is perfectly convinced that, had he not been removed to a more healthful locality, death would soon have put a period to his existence, in spite of the kind treatment he experienced from the Governor, and officers of that establishment.Now he found, on referring to the authorities of the Penitentiary, that Mr. Wade, the surgeon of that establishment, declared that, "while there, he was in good health;" and the surgeon of Oakham Gaol stated, that he presumed his health to be good, as he had heard him make no complaints whatever on the subject. So much for Edwards. As for Vincent, he found that the great ground of complaint was his being deprived of the use of a knife to cut his food: this ground of complaint, as he had already stated, was at an end. With respect to Shellard, that person statedThat while in the Penitentiary your petitioner made a minute statement of his case, in writing, to the authorities of that place; and your petitioner has every reason to believe, that her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department is in possession of the facts stated by your petitioner.It was quite true that Shellard drew up such a statement, but the governor of the prison, for reasons of his own, did not forward this document, and in answer to a notification which he (Mr. Fox Maule) had felt it to be his duty to make, the governor of the Penitentiary returned the following answer:—In addition to the ordinary examination taken upon the prisoner's reception, there was a minute statement of his case drawn up, not by the prisoner, who was incompetent to the task, but by myself. It originated in the following manner.—Having in one of my visits to the prisoner's cell observed him to be depressed in spirits, I entered fully into conversation with him, when he represented himself as a much-injured man, the victim of private malice and gross perjury. His story was told with much apparent artlessness, and contained several substantial features capable of investigation and indicative of innocence. I mentioned the case to one of the visitors of the prison, who in consequence had an interview with the prisoner, and being also much struck with his narrative, requested me to procure a statement of the leading facts. In compliance with the visitor's request, I sent for the prisoner to my office, and from his representation drew up a statement of such facts as appeared to bear materially upon the question of his innocence. Mr Farrer, to whom I delivered this paper, entertained considerable doubts as 636 to its effect, and under these circumstances nothing further was done.The result, therefore, did not justify an accusation against the Government. It was quite true that when Shellard was brought up to the Penitentiary he was in a state of ill-health, but when he left he was much better, and at Oakham he received every attention which the circumstances of his case required. With regard to the cases of Crabtree and White, he was not aware of some of the circumstances which had been stated, but if the magistrates carried their sentence into effect, surely this was no ground of charge against either the magistrates or the visiting justices, or the Government. The case of Crabtree was under investigation, and if any unnecessary restraint had been put on him, the attention of his noble Friend would be immediately directed to the matter. On the general question, he would merely ask the hon. Gentleman if he really meant to cast the imputation on the Government that they encouraged or promoted any unnecessary degree of punishment, or, as he called it, torture, being inflicted on the individuals now under sentence for political offences? Could any person be justified in drawing such a conclusion? While the disturbances were going on, he believed that had his noble Friend come down to the House for increased powers to suppress them, the House would, by an immense majority, have armed him with any power he might have thought proper to demand, yet the noble Lord had asked for no power beyond the law, relying on the good sense, the loyalty, and justice of the respectable classes, to judge of the nature of the offence, and relying on the law to punish those who should be found guilty. The manner in which Government had conducted itself throughout the whole of the affair, sufficiently proved that it had sought to take no vengeance upon individuals, but only to restrain within the bounds of the law those who resisted it, and those under whose advice such resistance was carried on. It would, indeed, be unjust, that while their ignorant and deluded dupes were punished, the exciters of tumult and sedition should, by their skill in keeping apparently within the pale of the law, be allowed to escape with entire impunity. The slur attempted to be cast upon the Government by the hon. Gentleman, was utterly unmerited, nor 637 would it be sanctioned by the majority of that House. He was quite aware, that in carrying the law into effect, Government must entail on itself a certain degree of unpopularity; but this the Government was prepared, in the execution of its duty, to submit to. Acting upon principles of strict justice, and entirely free from the slightest degree of personal malice, if the Government had not the courage to carry out its authority, and the authority of the law, it would be unworthy of the confidence of that House, and of the people in general. Whatever popularity might be temporarily gained by supporting the present motion, he for one was ready to sacrifice it, believing it to be his duty, both as a Member of that House, and as a Member of the Government, to support the law.
said, the question was, whether there had not been a change of punishment for political offences. Was it denied that persons convicted of political offences had been treated as felons, and as felons convicted of infamous crimes? The hon. Member for Finsbury had shown the House, that since 1792 there had been no instance of persons convicted of political offences being treated in the same way as such persons had been treated by the present Government. He would go farther back, and he invited the hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. Maule) to consult authorities of more ancient date, and he would find, that at no period of our history, not absolutely barbarous, had persons been so treated for political offences. The imprisonment of such persons was only for the security of the state, not for the infliction of punishment. The present Government could not find a precedent for its conduct with respect to the prisoners at present confined for political offences even in those times most remarkable for arbitrary rule. No, not even in the time of the Star-chamber, and of high commissions, for even in those times the rights of prisoners were acknowledged. Did the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) deny that the prisoner had rights? It would appear from the course pursued towards the persons whose cases were then under discussion that he did, and that he refused to acknowledge what even the Star-chamber had admitted. [Laughter.] The noble Lord might laugh, but he would be glad if the noble Lord could show a precedent even in the conduct of the Star- 638 chamber, which, as contra-distinguished from the spirit of the times, surpassed in severity his own proceedings. After the speech of the Under Secretary of State, so remarkable for its undescending defiance, the hon. Member for Finsbury would not perform his duty if he did not take the sense of the House upon the question. He did not by any means impugn the verdict of the jury or the sentence of the judge. The character of the offence was not denied, but the question was, whether or not the punishment was excessive, and beyond that imposed in all former similar cases. The punishment inflicted in England for such offences did not in any case exceed three years' imprisonment, but was not an imprisonment of this kind, so severe and so galling', of much more than the nominal duration? Look, for instance, at the case of Roberts, did not the circumstances attendant upon his imprisonment aggravate the punishment so as to render it equivalent to torture? There was no other place in Europe, nor even in Siberia, where such punishment had been inflicted. But then his treatment had been altered. Why? Not because the punishment was deemed too severe, but because the prisoner had broken a blood vessel. What, he would ask, was the reason why the same conduct which in England was called sedition passed unpunished at the other side of the channel under the gentler terra of agitation? Was it because the Ministry had the countenance and support of those who were engaged in it? If the English people found that those at the other side of the channel were permitted to do, for the purpose of acquiring political power, that for which they were so severely punished at this, a feeling would be raised in this country which no speech of an Under Secretary of State could by possibility put down. The people of England would not brook Ministerial connivance at a system which stimulated the feelings of a people, that those who wrought upon them might profit by the passions of their dupes. He hoped that hon. Members on his (the Opposition) side of the House would not resist this motion because of its being brought forward by one, to whose line of policy they were generally opposed. They were the natural leaders of the people. Yes, he repeated, the aristocracy were the natural leaders of the people, for the aristocracy and the labouring population 639 formed the nation, and it was only when gross misconception and factious misrepresentation prevailed, that a miserable minority, under the specious designation of popular advocates, was able to pervert the nations order. They commenced by gorging themselves with public prey, and ended by assaulting the best and most valuable rights of person and property—such was the course pursued by the present administration.
§ Mr. Warburton
gave credit to the Government for having relied on the ordinary law of the land for suppressing the late disturbances; but thought their error consisted in carrying out the sentences on those convicted with too much severity, and contrary to all former practice. How, for example, was the treatment of Lovett and Collins, conformable with the views propounded by one of the officers of the Government on this subject? A bill for the regulation of prisons having been sent down from the House of Lords before Easter, he then proposed to introduce some amendments respecting those imprisoned for seditious libels, seditious speaking, or attending seditious meetings. When these amendments were under discussion before Easter, the hon. Undersecretary of State for the Home Department described their treatment in the following language, on a motion for papers which immediately preceded the bringing in of the bill:—I have no objection," said he, "to this motion, which has been brought forward for the purpose of making some observations, which 1 admit that my hon. Friend is justified in making, on this occasion. In passing the Prisons Act, I willingly admit that the Legislature was guilty of negligence in not making some regulations for the treatment of those who might be imprisoned for political offences. So far I agree with my hon. Friend, the Member for Bridport, and, when we go into Committee, I shall not have any objection to adopt his amendments.Now, what were those amendments? They were to the effect, that the severe provisions of that bill should not apply to those found guilty of speaking, writing, or publishing seditious words. Who moved these amendments? Not he, but the hon. Under Secretary of State, who actually took the amendments out of his hands, and proposed them himself. Here, then, he had the opinion of the representative of the Home-office in this House condemning the existing regulations. But 640 that was not all. He found, in the correspondence which had been published respecting the treatment of Mr. O'Connor in York Castle, the following language used by Lord Normanby. The passage occurred in a letter dated the 27th of March, 1840, and addressed to the visiting justices of York Castle:—Lord Normanby desires me to observe that there ought to be nothing of degradation or personal indignity in the treatment of Mr. O'Connor, nor anything which may operate as an unusual or disproportionate severity, with reference to his state of health or former habits of life.Let them apply this to Lovett. He had been accustomed to all the moderate comforts of life, and was then in a delicate state of health, yet he was subjected to the same dress and food and treatment as the common felons. But the real question was, whether, looking to the mode of treating this class of prisoners some years ago, previous to the passing of the Prisons Act, and subsequently to the adoption of the -prisons regulations, you were now to introduce a system of treatment that would make every humane man's blood run cold. Looking over the debates in Parliament at various periods, on this subject, who were the parties that interfered with severity of treatment, both at home and abroad? They had Mr. Whitbread and Sir Samuel Romilly continually bringing cases under the notice of the House, in which persons were treated with unjustifiable severity. Who were the parties, then, who paid most attention to the subject? The Whigs. They came forward as the defenders of the people; not to justify their offences, but to curb the undue severity of punishment. Who were to blame in the present case? He would acknowledge that the prison regulations had taken away from the Government, in a great measure, the power of alleviating the treatment of prisoners; but as by those regulations they had the power of transferring prisoners from one gaol to another in the kingdom, and in the prisons of the metropolis a milder system of treatment was pursued, whenever they found the discipline in the provinces unusually severe they might remove them to one of the metropolitan prisons. Though the prison regulations might have been fixed under the Prisons Act, the 4 Geo. 4th, c. 54, gave a power to the magistrates of making exceptions to the general rules, 641 and giving some alleviation to the sufferings of the convicts, such as confining them in a separate part of the prison, and subjecting them to different treatment from that pursued towards the great mass of the prisoners. Even the keeper of the gaol could exercise the same discretion, till he should receive the instructions of the visiting justices, who would say whether the reasons offered by him warranted the deviation from the general rule. Thus, although the Prisons Regulations Act had passed, the visiting magistrates had the power of alleviating the treatment of prisoners till their case should be brought before the Quarter Sessions, and he thought it would certainly be more to their credit had they more frequently exercised the discretionary powers thus entrusted to them. The Government, who must have approved of the regulations in every gaol in the country, and were, therefore, responsible for them, when it reached their ears that such extreme severity was exercised, should have reminded the magistrates of the powers confided to them by 4 Geo. 4th, c. 64, and recommended some mitigation. The hon. Under Secretary had made some remarks to the effect that, antecedent to the passing of the Prisons Regulations Act, if the treatment of this class of prisoners was less severe than since, it was then the custom to impose heavy fines. But did the hon. Gentleman mean to say that, when heavy pecuniary fines were not imposed, severities of this kind were inflicted? The hon. Under-Secretary thought that he was treating Lovett and Collins with great leniency, in allowing them to go out of prison on giving security, after enduring ten months out of the twelve months imprisonment, to which they had been sentenced. But after they had suffered during those ten months a greater degree of punishment than had been intended by the judges who sentenced them, it would have been only a reasonable indulgence to let them out without any stipulation. He would say, in conclusion, that as the regulations of the gaol must be first approved of by the Home-office, the Government should give a pledge that they should be such as the feelings of the public would also approve of, and as he saw no intimation of their giving such a pledge, he would recommend his hon. Friends to persevere in dividing the House on this question, in order to mark their sense 642 of such treatment, in the strongest manner.
§ Mr. Ward
expressed a hope that, before the House came to a vote on the question, the noble Lord, the organ of her Majesty's Government in that House, would make some announcement calculated to induce his hon. Friend to withdraw the motion. Although he wished and expected that this announcement would be satisfactory to his hon. Friend, he still must take the liberty of saying that he thought there was room for much improvement in the system of prison discipline. The motion if pressed to a division should have his support.
expressed much surprise that the hon. Member for Bridport had not admitted that the statements contained in the petitions of Mrs. Roberts were wholly unfounded. It was quite apparent that these petitions were got up by other persons than those who professed to sign them. As to the motion, which in terms related to persons confined for political offences, it should be recollected that political offences varied in degree as much as offences against the person, and therefore it would be unjust to apply the same punishment in all cases. The offences of which these men had been guilty were of a very serious character. They had collected together and harangued seditious meetings, advising the people to arm themselves and take away the property of the rich, and telling them that there were at Bolton 50,000 and at Birmingham 150,000 men armed and ready to join them for that purpose. These were called political offences merely because the offence had a political object, but the consequences were serious in the extreme. The prisoner Carrier said,There is such a thing as a box of lucifer matches. A box of lucifer matches costs one penny. Talk of physical force! You may have more physical force for a penny than is to be found in a whole regiment of soldiers.The result was several incendiary fires. He thought that political offences should be punished according to the degree of criminality which belonged to them, and the consequences which were likely to result from the commission of the offence.
§ Mr. Serjeant Talfourd
complained that, when imprisonment was all that the law-awarded for crime, other means should be silently adopted, by which the imprisonment was turned into something very dif- 643 ferent from the punishment contemplated by the law. It might be that the punishment to which the hon. Member for Bath had alluded was not a sufficient punishment for the crime committed, but if that were so, let the law be made more stringent. While, however, the law remained in its present state, it was the duty of the House of Commons to step in, and take care that moral torture was not silently inflicted. In the case of Mr. Vincent, where the sentence expressly declared that there should be nothing more than imprisonment, he had been transferred by the Government to a place where he was subjected to the correctional discipline observed in transportation cases, and had suffered indignities, the effects of which must last much longer than the imprisonment, and which, indeed, he must feel as long as memory and consciousness remained. The system of prison discipline required the vigilant superintendence of Parliament. Let it be recollected, also, that the same punishment might be inflicted on persons convicted of other than political libels. At this moment many of the Conservative booksellers in Manchester were exposed to proceedings for publishing in a collected form the words of one of the greatest poets that ever adorned this country. Such proceedings were disgraceful to those who had instituted them; it would be disgraceful to the Attorney-general if he did not put a stop to them; and it was disgraceful to the law that they should ever have been begun. He should be disposed, if this motion were pressed to a division, to support it unless he received from the Government an assurance, that in future the letter of the law should be adhered to.
§ Lord J. Russell
was rather surprised to hear that his learned Friend intended to vote for this motion, or that he wished to receive from the Government some vain and unsubstantial declaration, as a substitute for it. The hon. Gentleman wished to have some declaration that the law should be executed in a certain manner, which he did not devise; and the hon. Member for Bridport said, he hoped the Government would assure the House that the punishment of political offenders should be executed in a manner which the public would sanction. He felt, however, that he was incapable of giving any such assurance. How could he say that the law would be executed in any other manner than that 644 in which the law pointed out? How was he to know the variations which public feeling were to undergo on this point? The petition which his hon. Friend presented, and which was printed, with another petition which contradicted it, that contradiction might remain unknown, and that petition, full of unfounded statements, might greatly influence the public on that subject. As to this motion, he would first ask, what were the words?A large number of persons have since been convicted of offences of a similar character, and the greatest portion of those persons, contrary to custom, are, as well as the above-mentioned William Lovett and John Collins, placed on the criminal side of the gaols to which they have been respectively sent, and are there treated after the manner of persons convicted of the most heinous and detestable crimes.What did that mean, but that no person convicted of political offences should be hereafter placed on the criminal side of the gaol. If there were any sense at all in the resolution, that was the meaning of it. The hon. and learned Member for Reading said, it was unfair to enter into the nature of the offence; the real question was, whether persons convicted according to law should be punished according to that law, or that something should be added to the system of prison discipline; but that was changing the whole question. The motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury was, that political offences were different from others, and that the treatment ought to be different. If that were applicable to all cases, then the course was to bring in a law to alter prison discipline in respect to such offenders. That was the true remedy. But the object was, to have some great sympathy excited for these political offenders. It was no easy matter, when the country was in a state of very great disturbance, and, in places, on the eve of a riot—when they heard of houses destroyed in one place, parties marching in arms in another, and persons from all sides asking for protection of troops and a more rigorous enforcement of the laws—it was no easy matter to meet all those dangers and to enforce the law, without bringing before the proper tribunals, and obtaining the punishment of those persons, who put in jeopardy and alarm the persons and property of the well-disposed part of the community. But, after that was executed, when those persons were imprisoned, and the country 645 was in peace, then to bring, for ward the cases of those persons, because one had not got the diet which he thought suited him, and another sat on a stone floor, was not very difficult; and it was made to be: a great grievance, that persons convicted of misdemeanours only should be treated, after the same manner as persons who had been convicted of the most heinous crimes. He had observed the first petition of Mr. F. O'Connor, and he thought there appeared to be a readiness in it to make whatever plan adopted a grievance. The magistrates first put him into one particular class of misdemeanants. He complained of that. They then told him, he should not be confined with those persons, and that he should have separate confinement; but he then complained of suffering solitary confinement. With regard to the case of Lovett and Collins, he thought it was necessary to show, that there was great distinction between common seditious libels and the offences of which those persons had been guilty. He thought persons writing newspapers, and using in the course of that discussion seditious language, and were then convicted of seditious libel, that might not be a very grave species of offence; but what was the offence of these persons? They had resisted the London police at Birmingham, and had aroused the people against them, calling them bloodthirsty police; telling the people they were the best judges of what was their own strength and their own resources, and clearly implying that persons ought to use force to resist those who maintained the authority of the law. What were the circumstances? A great mob was collected, great outrages were committed, two or three houses were set fire to, and they were only resisted in their course by the military. What was the consequence of that? First, a great loss of property, and danger to innocent persons; next, that persons were found guilty of breaking into those houses, convicted of a capital offence, and it was only by the mercy of the Crown that they were saved from execution. Now, would they say, that persons exciting the people of Birmingham to rise against the lawful authorities were to be compared to ordinary seditious libellers? Therefore, when he saw a complaint of one of those prisoners who were confined for such an offence, of a number of petty details, no doubt annoying in themselves, but all of which did not amount to much, he must 646 say, that the attempt to excite great sympathy was somewhat out of place, and that the innocent and peaceable inhabitants of Birmingham, who suffered in their property in consequence of those outrages, and even those persons who were led into crime by such instigations, were far more deserving of pity than those who had suffered one year's imprisonment in consequence of offences which were called simply sedition libels. The hon. Member for Bridport had read a paper, containing an account of the regulation of gaols formerly, when all prisoners followed their own amusements, and there was a great relaxation of prison discipline. But if rules of prisons were made more severe, without special exceptions, he believed it would be difficult to give the same indulgence now. He thought that as these cases had arisen, they had been treated by his noble Friend, Lord Normanby, with all the attention they could require; and the hon. and learned Member for Reading did not deny that, in the case of Vincent, where it was made clear that there had been undue severity towards him, he was transferred to another gaol; and when a complaint was made of this treatment in another gaol, the magistrates, in conjunction with the Secretary of State, paid immediate attention to that complaint. The hon. Member for Bridport had adverted to another bill, which had been sent in last year to the other House, and when his noble Friend Lord Normanby saw a clause in it respecting political offences, he said, there were cases of political libels, as well as other kinds, such as being concerned in a duel, by which persons might be guilty of misdemeanour, and in which it might not be proper to enforce all the rules of the prison; and, therefore, proposed that persons committed for misdemeanour should be divided into two classes. He thought that met the justice of the case. He thought, also, that the character of political offences did contain other cases to which the full extent of prison discipline ought by no means to be extended. They had seen, in one case, that the judge had thought proper to sentence one of those persons to hard labour; that could not be a case to which such indulgence could be applied. Upon the whole, he trusted that the House would not agree to this vague resolution. It was impossible to say what would be the effect of it; but it seemed to him to be one of those reso- 647 lutions, which made a complaint of the general administration of justice in the country, and without answering any beneficial end.
§ Mr. Hume
said, the noble Lord seemed to vindicate the severity which had been exercised, and the degradation which had been practised towards persons who were now confined for political offences, and the noble Lord defended it boldly, and said the magistrates were not to blame, but that it was the Government that was to blame. What was the crime of these persons? They had endeavoured to bring forward the charter of the people, and to produce a change in the Government. Now, in 1833, what was the state of public feeling, and what was imputed to him, and others on that occasion, when they wanted an extension of the suffrage and an abolition of the abuses of the representation in this House? Did he not recollect the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke, saying they had gone to the very verge of the law? Every charge that was made against them in 1832, was the same as the charges now brought forward by the noble Lord against these persons on this occasion. The noble Lord had mixed up meetings which were held for obtaining the charter with burning of houses and other offences, and what was the fate of these men, guilty only of political agitation? They were treated like felons. But he asked the House to look at the course pursued by the Tory Government in the cases of Sir Charles Wolsley and Mr. Edmunds. Were they treated as felons? Certainly not. The noble Lord, and those who sat upon the bench with him, were quite as culpable as Carrier, Potts, and Roberts, in getting up public meetings. The noble Lord, in the course he was taking, was acting a most ungenerous part. He did not look at the state of the country, nor the state of feeling naturally excited by the desire to obtain constitutional reform. It was very easy to charge persons with calling a seditious meeting, for if the meeting failed in its object, there was no difficulty in accusing all who attended that meeting with sedition. The noble Lord had not treated the motion of the hon. Member with fairness. If the noble Lord had attended to the tone of public meetings of late, with reference to the treatment of political offenders, he would find there was no necessity to excite public feeling, 648 for the feeling on the subject was already sufficiently acute. The treatment of political offenders at the present day was infinitely more severe than in former times. He regretted the speech of the noble Lord, for he considered that to the noble Lord was mainly to be attributed that additional harshness with which political offenders were now visited. He reminded the noble Lord that it was by public meetings and by public feeling that he was introduced to office, and retained in office.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, in the last and preceding Sessions, when the country broke out into disturbance, he had strenuously advocated the propriety of trying the efficacy of the old laws, before the Government resorted to new laws. On that, as on other occasions, he had noticed a disposition to underrate the real vigour of the existing statute laws of England; and when he gave the advice which he did on those occasions, it was in the expectation that the laws as they then stood, would be carried into effect with vigour and impartiality. He expected that two classes would be found on whom it would be necessary to enforce the law. The first class consisted of ignorant persons who resorted to physical force to carry out their objects; and the next class were those who had deluded those ignorant persons—who, by means of superior art and the power that the press afford them, brought physical force into action—themselves remaining in the back ground in safety. He had sympathy for those ignorant and deluded men who broke the law by overt acts. He repeated, he had more sympathy for those poor men than for those who perverted the public press—an engine that ought to be used only for the purpose of spreading sound information—to mercenary and wicked objects, thereby deluding others, and, if successful, coming forward and reaping, as assuredly they would—the whole of the harvest; but in case of failure, leaving their dupes to sustain the whole weight of punishment. He had no sympathy for that seditious class of libellers who worked on popular feeling by putting forth exaggerated statements—who dealt in falsehoods or perversions of facts. For such persons, he confessed, he felt no sympathy; but at the same time those persons ought not to be subjected to any punishment which the law did not sanction. But the question now was, did the law, asit at present stood, authorise the infliction which 649 the complaining parties had sustained? If it did not they had their remedy, for the law would never tolerate any species of illegal imprisonment. If the law was broken in this instance, why did not those who professed sympathy for the sufferers appeal to the courts of law? If the sentence were such as the law warranted, let them try to alter the law; but if the law were violated, the aggrieved parties were entitled to redress. He was the person who, in 1824, introduced the present law. Not the magistrates, not the gaolers he contended, nor the executive government, but the House of Commons, he contended were in fault. From the time when the law was first introduced, a great change of feeling had taken place. In 1824, complaint was made that a distinction was made between the rich and the poor. It was urged, that persons committing the same offence were treated differently. That severity was exercised towards the poor, and laxity practised towards the rich; that the poor were kept strictly, while the rich were permitted comforts, and to have the visits of their friends. On account of that state of feeling the law was altered. The argument then was—if those offences were committed by educated men, they deserved less sympathy than ignorant men. On that ground the House of Commons called upon the executive government not to make a distinction between the rich and the poor, alleging that though the punishment might be heavier on the first class than on the second, yet this was but just, as the educated and rich man had not the same temptation to break the law that the poor man had. The poor man's want of knowledge formed a partial excuse, but the rich roan's education left his fault without palliation. This doctrine, however, ought not to be pushed to an extreme, for there could be no doubt, that the same degree of punishment operated with greater severity on one class than on another. If, however, they now, from the altered state of feeling, complained of the law which the state of feeling in 1824 rendered necessary, the remedy was not by resolutions against magistrates or gaolers, but in the alteration of the law. He objected to the resolution proposed by the hon. Member on another ground. The whole of the debate on the subject had left an impression on his mind, that the House of Commons was not the proper place to discuss the matter the proper 650 place was a court of law. If Mr. F. O'Connor had been punished for a political offence, and the subject of punishment for political offences was brought before the House, why was the matter confined to that particular question?—why did they not go further? If one person was punished for a political offence, that ought not to be the foundation for altering the law. If the House proceeded on such a principle of legislation, the whole four days would not be adequate to get through the business, nor did he know any species of machinery which would be sufficiently effective to do what was required. Then, again, he objected to dealing with this case by resolution. The only effectual way of dealing with it was by a law. The introduction of the word "political offences," must have convinced the hon. Member for Finsbury, that it was impossible for the House of Commons to agree to the resolution in its present form. The resolution declared the opinion of the House, that such a mode of carrying out the penalties of the law for "political offences" was unaccustomed. Yes; but it did not say seditious libels. "Political offences" was a more general designation than was applicable to the case. The resolution said, that the practice was contrary to custom. He admitted it to be contrary to what the custom was before it was altered, but the intention was to alter the custom. He admitted, that the punishment dealt out to political libels (distinguished from overt acts of violence) was more severe, but there were parties who had not committed overt acts of violence, but who gave instructions to a mob how to meet a military force. Such instructions had been sent to Birmingham and Newport, not saying, "I advise you to rise, and I will share your danger and lead the attacks," but giving extracts from foreign publications, showing the more effectual means, by the aid of pikes and other weapons, of resisting a military force. Detailed instructions were given how this should be done, partaking in a great degree of the nature of the philosophical treatise upon Lucifer matches. Could any one doubt, that it was the intention of the persons who sent these instructions to excite the people to violence, and that they were more dangerous persons, and less entitled to sympathy than the poor peasant, earning nine or ten shillings a week, who read the treatise, 651 and then placed the Lucifer matches under a hay-rick. He would not be a party to the House of Commons expressing any sympathy for seditious libels. If the House thought proper to pass a law, it could declare what seditious libels should be exempt from severity or degradation, and what should not; but if they merely came to general resolutions, no one would know what was meant; but the time would come when the resolutions of the House of Commons would be appealed to, and when the country was in a state of excitement, interested parties would say—"the opinion of the House of Commons is in your favour—the House of Commons, passing by murder and arson, show sympathy only in favour of political offences." Then the resolutions went on to say, that no restriction or degradation should be inflicted beyond what the safe custody of the prisoner required. Who was to be the judge of this? There must be a different rule in every gaol in the kingdom. The gaoler of one gaol would say, "There must be greater restriction in this gaol than in others, for I am responsible for the safe custody of the party, and therefore the degradation which is inflicted is not for the sake of degration, but for safe custody." Who was to judge of this—the House of Commons? How could they? If they differed from one gaoler and the magistrates, were they to bring the parties before them—not for a breach of the law, but a violation of their resolution? Suppose the gaoler said his measures were not at variance with the law, but only with the resolution of that House. It appeared to him, that the hon. Member was claiming by resolution to lay down a law in prison matters. He believed, that it was of importance that punishment should be so meted out as to carry the public sympathy with it. But he had yet to learn that the public sympathy was with those offences, and he believed if such offences should occur again at Birmingham and Newport—if they adopted a misplaced lenity, so far from the public sympathy being with them, the public indignation would be directed against the House of Commons. If the law were in a bad state, let them apply themselves to its consideration, and calmly and maturely altering it where it required alteraation, but let them not pass equivocal resolutions which might be at variance with the law, which the subordinate offi- 652 cers of the law could not understand, which would be a delusion upon the people, and which would show that the House of Commons sympathised with a class of persons who were entitled to no sympathy, and met with no sympathy from the public.
felt it his duty to vote for he motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury. The returns on the table were quite sufficient to justify that vote; and there was no want of precedents to show that such motions had before now been entertained, as they certainly were most fit subjects for the consideration of the House. He repudiated all sympathy with those who infringed the public peace by inciting the people to arson, or any attempt that could endanger life or property; but he had a strong feeling that punishment ought to be apportioned to the offence, and that the more it carried public feeling with it, the more certain it was to be effectual.
§ Mr. C. Buller
said, that strongly as the resolution was worded, he should vote for it, because it expressed the feeling which he believed the great majority of his countrymen entertained, that there had been a most unjust severity of treatment towards those persons who were imprisoned for seditious libels. But what was the punishment which Sir Francis Burdett, who was charged with having—when a mob had been put down by the lawful exercise of the law of the land, and when blood had been shed—with having chosen to write an inflammatory letter, exciting the people against the constituted authorities of the country? That was held to be an offence in the eye of the law, whether justly or not was another question; but he contended, that the same principle ought to be applied to these same persons as had been applied to Sir Francis Burdett and others. Sir Francis Bardett had never been doomed to be washed in a common bath with felons; he had never been made to trot round a ring with felons "for exercise" as it was termed. Sir Francis Burdett had never had inflicted upon him the illegal punishment of the itch. It was the basest and most stupid system of arbitrary power to attempt to confound the two descriptions of offences, and to treat political offences like those of felons.
supported the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. He 653 thought it was clearly shown by this debate, that a different classification of prisoners was required. All the arguments that had been used by hon. Members on both sides, confirmed his previous conviction that it was most unwise to place prisoners convicted for misdemeanours and those incarcerated for political offences in the same wards, and subjected to the same discipline. He was no advocate for offences of this kind, but where so much freedom was used in debates in this House, he thought some allowance ought to be made to those who followed their example, and he should therefore vote for the resolution.
rose to move, that the debate should be adjourned to Friday next, but in compliance with the wish of the House, proceeded, and contrasted the treatment of former political offenders with those whose case was now before the House. Would the right hon. Baronet have suffered Sir Francis Burdett to be imprisoned and treated in such a manner? He was certain that he would not; and, moreover, that if he had been in power, he would not have suffered it in the case of these persons. The question was not whether these men had been guilty of seditious offences of greater or less magnitude, but whether their treatment in prison was such as it ought to have been? He thought the conduct of the Government had been highly reprehensible, and he should, therefore, vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury.
§ The Attorney-General
said, no one regretted more than he did, any unnecessary harshness that might have been shown to those convicted in the recent prosecutions. He believed, that when such cases were brought before the consideration of the Government, they had been corrected as soon as the information had been received. But when he found attempts made to excite sympathy in favour of those convicted by exclaiming against the new hardships of instituting these convictions, he felt it his duty to enter his protest against it. In former times, political offences were understood to be attacks upon the Minister of the day. Whatever gave offence to the feelings of individuals was a libel, and the Attorney-generals of former times used to file informations ex officio for such publications as libels. He was not then going to enter into an invidious distinction between the present and past Govern 654 ments, but the prosecutions for what were now called political offences, were for direct incitements to crime. He had had the honour of being Attorney-general longer than any individual during the present century, yet he had filed only one ex officio information for a libel, and in conducting that prosecution, he had told the jury that unless they believed the defend and intentions was to incite to insurrection and plunder it would be their duty to acquit him. That question was put by the judge to the jury, who, without hesitation, found a verdict of guilty. Now, he said, the individual thus found guilty ought not to be treated with unnecessary harshness, but was this person to be considered as guilty only of what was called a political offence, and to have the sympathies of mankind called forth in his favour as one who was persecuted and oppressed? He was engaged in prosecutions at Newport, Bradford, and Sheffield, in which the prisoners were convicted, and were now undergoing the sentences of transportation or imprisonment. Mr. Feargus O'Connor boasted that he had not appeared in any of those transactions, but he said, that the publication of that which had a direct tendency, and with the intention to excite to crime, was one equal to that of which those persons had been convicted. This was the only ex officio information he had filed. He had presented bills to the grand juries, and it was owing to these, and the petty juries having done their duty, and taken a different view of the case to some hon. Gentlemen, that the peace of the country had been preserved. He thought it his duty to protest against exciting sympathy in favour of those who had violated the law, and committed offences which the safety of the country required should be visited with severe punishment.
§ Mr. Muntz
said, some hon. Members had expressed surprise that he had taken no part in the debate, but at the period the disturbances which had been adverted to occurred in Birmingham, he was 200 miles distant from that place, and all he knew on the subject was from hearsay. But with respect to the motion before the House, whether the blame—for there was blame somewhere—attached to the Government or to the magistrates, was the same thing to him, and to Lovett and Collins, and as the resolution only stated there was blame, he should support it.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
rose to explain, with reference to the petition which he had presented, and to which allusion had been made. Vincent wrote to him, informing him of the hardship he endured from the severity of the prison discipline, and added:—If you think that a petition would have any effect, and will make it known to us by letter, we will immediately forward one for presentation.Whereupon he wrote him;—I have received your letter, and think the best thing you can do will be for each to send me a petition, setting forth all the circumstances connected with his case, taking care, that the allegations are short and clear, and above all, that every fact touching your treatment is rather under than over-stated, and I will again to call the attention of the House to the subject.There was, therefore, no ground for saying he sought the petitions, for the petitions sought him, and he felt it his duty to present them, as he now did, to take the sense of the House on the motion.
§ The House divided on the original question:—Ayes 117; Noes 29: Majority 88.
|List of the AYES.|
|Abercromby, hn. G.R.||Gladstone, W. E.|
|Adam, Admiral||Gordon, R.|
|Anson, hon. Colonel||Goulburn, rt. hn. H.|
|Archbold, R.||Graham, rt. hn Sir J.|
|Bailey, J. jun.||Greene, T.|
|Baldwin, C. B.||Greenaway, C.|
|Baring, rt. hn. F. T.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Grimsditch, T.|
|Bewes, T.||Hale, R. B.|
|Blackburne, I.||Hamilton, Lord C.|
|Blake, W. J.||Hawkins, J. H.|
|Botfield, B.||Heathcoat, G. J.|
|Broadley, H.||Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Hodges, T. L.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Hodgson, R.|
|Brownrigg, S.||Hogg, J. W.|
|Bruce, C. L. C.||Holmes, W.|
|Bruges, W. H. L.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Hope, G. W.|
|Burrell, Sir C.||Horsman, E.|
|Busfeild, W.||Hoskins, K.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Howard, hn. E.G. G.|
|Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.||Hughes, W. B.|
|Clay, W.||Hurst, R. H.|
|Cochrane, Sir T. J.||Inglis, Sir R. H.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Jackson, Mr. Sergeant|
|Darby, G.||Jones, Captain|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Kemble, H.|
|Eliot, Lord||Knight, H. G.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Labouchere, rt. hn. H.|
|Estcourt, T.||Lemon, Sir C.|
|Farnham, E. B.||Lowther, hon. Col.|
|Fitzsimon, N.||Lushington, C.|
|Macaulay, rt. hn. T.B||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Mackenzie, W. F.||Slaney, R. A.|
|M'Taggart, J.||Smith, R. V.|
|Marshall, W.||Sotheron, T. E.|
|Melgund, Visct.||Stanley, hon. E. J.|
|Mildmay, P. St. J.||Stansfield, W. R.|
|Morpeth, Visct.||Steuart, R.|
|Morris, D.||Stewart, J.|
|Norreys, Sir D. J.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Palmerston, Visct.||Strutt, E,|
|Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.||Style, Sir C.|
|Pendarves, E. W.W.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Perceval, Colonel||Tancred, H. W.|
|Pigot, D. R.||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Price, Sir R.||Tufnell, H.|
|Protheroe, E.||Villiers, Viscount|
|Pryme, G.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Rae, rt. hon. Sir W,||Vivian, rt. hn. Sir R. H.|
|Rawdon, Col. J. D.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Rolleston, L.||Westenra, hon. H. R.|
|Round, J.||Williams, W. A.|
|Rundle, J.||Wood, G. W.|
|Russell, Lord J.||Wrightson, W. B.|
|Scrope, G. P.||Young, J.|
|Seale, Sir J. H.||TELLERS.|
|Seymour, Lord||Maule, hon. F.|
|Sheil, rt. hn. R. L.||Parker, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Redington, T. N.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Salwey, Colonel|
|Brotherton, J.||Scholefield, J.|
|Buller, C.||Somers, J. P.|
|Collins, W.||Talfourd, Mr. Serg.|
|Ewart, W.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Fielden, J.||Villiers, hon. C. P.|
|Finch, F.||Wakley, T.|
|Hamilton, C. J. B.||Wallace, R.|
|Hector, C. J.||Warburton, H.|
|Hindley, C.||Ward, H. G.|
|Hume, J.||Williams, W.|
|Jervis, J.||Wood, B.|
|Muntz, G. F.||Duncombe, T.|
|O'Brien, C.||D'Israeli, B.|
§ Order of the Day read.—Estimates presented.—Committee of Supply deferred.