HC Deb 01 August 1842 vol 65 cc898-921
Mr. T. S. Duncombe

rose to move, pursuant to notice, That the petitions of Peter Murray M'Douall, and of the chairman of a meeting of inhabitants of Deptford (presented 29th July), complaining of his arrest, and of the conduct of the Metropolitan Police in preventing a public meeting of the inhabitants of Deptford, on the 26th day of July last, be referred to a select committee, and that the said committee do report their opinion thereupon to the House. In calling the attention of the House and tine Government to this subject, he thought he should be enabled to prove that a serious violation of the liberty of the subject had been committed by the metropolitan police, sanctioned by the magistrates, and that the doctrine of the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in regard to the power of constables in preventing public meetings, was contrary to the law of the country. He believed, also, that in asking the House to consent to the motion, he should be able to show that there was sufficient precedent for the inquiry. It appeared that the public had been invited to hear a lecture, to be delivered by Mr. G. Thompson, in a dissenting chapel at Deptford. The meeting took place. Dr. M'Douall arrived, and found chat a chairman had not been appointed, and he retired to a neighbouring house. When he returned, he found that some disturbance had taken place, in consequence of a gentleman in the gallery having made some objection relative to the appointment of a chairman, and expressed his wish that there should be a free discussion. It appeared that the persons connected with the chapel had sent for the police, who arrived; but, as had been stated by one of the witnesses, instead of allaying they had increased the disturbance. Dr. M'Douall, it appeared, had sent a message to the proprietors of the chapel, desiring to know if the presence of himself and his friends would be objected to, and whether the discussion was to be an open one. Dr. M'Douall said, " If I do come, I think I can put an end to the disturbance." When he arrived, however, the disturbance was over, the lecture had concluded, and it was then proposed to adjourn to a place called the Broadway, where the inhabitants of Deptford were in the habit of meeting. To that place Dr. M'Douall and another person connected with the proprietor of the chapel went. He stated this to show that no objection had been taken to the conduct of Dr. M'Douall in the chapel. Now, in the Broadway there was a pump, and he believed that there was nothing unconstitutional in mounting a pump to address the people. Dr. M'Douall had addressed the meeting for about a quarter of an hour, when he was interrupted by a party of the police. He was arguing, at the time the police interfered, in favour of free discussion. He was stating that a hearing should be given to every man, whether archbishop or chimney-sweeper, landlord or labourer, shopkeeper or scavenger. When asked by the magistrate as to the language used by Dr. M'Douall, the policeman (Mallalieu) said he heard him use the words— The tyrant aristocracy of the country, who are trampling on the rights of the poor. That was perfectly consistent with the account given by Dr. M'Douall himself. Dr. M'Douall stated that Mallalieu, the policeman, said to him, Come down, or I will knock you down; you are holding an unlawful and illegal meeting, and using exciting language.

Dr. M'Douall

asked him by what authority he was interrupting a meeting which was assembled peaceably, and would disperse peaceably. Mallalieu said. I hold no conversation with you;—you must come down; And he was then pulled down by two policemen, and desired to leave the place. It should be recollected that at this time Dr. M'Douall was under recognizances of 500l., in consequence of an indictment for sedition two or three years ago, and that he was little likely, therefore, to say or do anything to excite a breach of the peace. The inspector, when he offered to disperse the meeting, told him to go away, pointing out to him the way he should go. Dr. M'Douall,— That is not my way; my way is towards London, and that is the way to Greenwich. Upon which he was arrested by the police, and taken to the station-house. What was the treatment which he experienced there? In the first place, good bail was offered and refused. One of the bail offered was a trustee of the chapel, and the other a Corn-law lecturer, who were the parties, if any, that had been injured by the proceedings of the Chartists. But the reply was If you will lay me down 1,000 guineas I won't let him go, And giving as a reason, that the town was excited. The gentlemen offered to take him three or four miles out of town in their own carriage, but nothing would satisfy the policeman, and Dr. M'Douall was left all night, and until eleven o'clock on Wednesday in the station-house, which had in it an offensive privy, an unglazed window, and which was full of vermin. Here he was denied the use of bedding; his property was taken from him, and all communication with his friends was refused. No common felon, no murderer, no miscreant, could possibly have been treated worse than this individual, who was attending, as he was prepared to show the House, a meeting lawfully assembled. Dr. M'Douall requested that he might be allowed to communicate with his friends previously to appearing before the magistrates, in order to prepare evidence that the meeting was not unlawful, but he was told that no interview would be allowed, except in the presence of a policeman. Was it fitting that those policemen, who were to be his accusers, should know what was to be his line of defence? The next day he was called before the magistrates, and who appeared as witnesses against him? Why, these very policemen; not a single inhabitant of Deptford came forward to state that there had been anything like a breach of the peace. There was no person but the policemen to uphold such a statement, who were interested in procuring a conviction. If any breach of the peace was committed, it was on the part of the police, and no one else. Now what, he would ask, had been the conduct of the inspector when before the magistrate? In his opinion it had been most improper and indecent. He had called the parties who surrounded Dr. M'Douall " the scum of the parish." Had the magistrate rebuked this Mallalieu? The report said, Mr. Jeremy:—Oh, Mr. Mallalieu, you should not make use of such language. Dr. M'Douall: Did you fear that scum, as you call it? Mr. Mallalieu: Am I to answer that questions? This may go on all day. Here the magistrate called the policeman to order, and said, Then it must go on all day, or for several days;—the line of cross-examination seems to be a fair one. The evidence went on thus:— Cross-examination. During the course of the evening, hail was offered. I refused it. The person who offered bail offered to escort you a considerable way home. I refused it on my own responsibility. I said that, in the excited state of the town, I could not discharge you. There was no damage done to property or person in Deptford, that I know of, last night. Two persons offered bail. I should have taken it under ordinary circumstances. One said he offered it from respect to your principles, and another because lie thought you a well-meaning man. Bail was first offered about ten o'clock. As soon as the examination of the policeman was concluded, Dr. M'Douall said :— I will summon twenty witnesses to prove that there was no riot, nor the apprehension of a riot" but the magistrate replied, "You may call 2,000 people, if you will. So it appeared evidence could not affect the magistrate, who expressed his Opinion that Dr. M'Douall had created a disturbance in the chapel, and then bound the accused over, himself in 50l., and two sureties in 25l. each. After that Dr. M'Douall asked Mallalieu for a copy of the charge, which was refused. Dr. M'Douall then applied to Mr. Jeremy, who said he might have a copy, and told Dr. M'Douall to say that he (Mr. Jeremy) had ordered it. Dr. M'Douall then returned to Mallalieu, who said, " I don't care what the magistrate says," and still refused a copy of the charge, and Dr. M'Douall had been unable to obtain it, so he had not been able to insert it in his petition. The inhabitants of Deptford met the following evening to the number of 4,000, and agreed to the petition, complaining that the constitution had been violated. Now he did not hesitate to say that such an act as this would not have been perpetrated in the worst days of Sidmouth and of Castlereagh, and that previous to the passing of the six Acts there bad not been so flagrant a violation of the liberty of the subject as had been committed at this Deptford meeting. He maintained it was riot law, nor any thing like law, and he had the authority of the most eminent lawyers to support him in that view. What was the law as laid down by Mr. Justice Bailey at the trial of Mr. Hunt at York?— On the subject of unlawful assemblies " (said Mr. Justice Bailey) " he would quote what Mr. Sergeant Hawkins (perhaps the best writer on the question) slated, as necessarily constituting an unlawful assembly. He said, any meeting whatever of a great number of people, with such circumstances of terror as cannot but endanger the public peace, and raise fears and jealousies among the King's subjects, seems properly to be called an unlawful assembly; where, for instance, those great numbers having some grievance to complain of, met armed together for the purpose of discussing the best way of ridding themselves of that grievance; because, under these circumstances, no one can say what may be the event of such a meeting.' Mr. Sergeant Hawkins's opinion then was, that a greet number of people meeting under such circumstances as cannot but endanger the public peace, and raise fears and jealousies among the king's subjects, was an unlawful assembly.' Hem (Mr. Justice Bailey), therefore, hail no difficulty in stating that in all cases of unlawful assembly, they were to look to the purpose for which the people met, the manner in which they came, and the means which they were using to effect their proposed object. He wanted to know whether there was anything illegal in the meeting of the inhabitants of Deptford; anything illegal in the object for which they met; anything illegal in the meeting itself? Unless this could be shown, it. would be impossible to justify the conduct of the police. If the doctrine of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) with respect to the interference of constables were right, he wanted lo know what was the use of the Six Acts? If the constables really had the power which the right hon. Baronet wished to give them, what was the use of the Seditious Meetings Bill— a Bill which the right hon. Baronet, to his honour and credit opposed in 1819? What was Lord Sidmouth excuse for that bill ! On introducing it to the consideration of the House, Lord Sidmouth said:— He could not better describe the evil which it was the object of the bill to prevent, than by referring to the words of its preamble, which staled that in divers parts of this kingdom, assemblies of large numbers of persons collected from various parishes and districts, under the pretest of deliberating upon public grievances, and of agreeing on petitions, complaints, remonstrances, declarations, resolutions, addresses, upon the subject thereof, have of late been held, in disturbance of the public peace, to the great terror and danger of his Majesty's loyal and peaceable subjects, and in a manner manifestly tending to produce confusion and calamities in the nation.' Assuming, therefore, the danger, they would have to inquire what regulations were necessary, and whether the provisions of this bill were capable of answering the end proposed. Those who had inquired into the state of the existing laws on this subject, were satisfied that there were many dangerous features in the meetings referred to, for which no remedy could at present be found. The existing law did not prescribe any mode of giving notice or superintendence by magistrates. It in no way regulated the manner of attending meetings. It did not prohibit going to meetings in military array, or carrying to them weapons. It did not prevent simultaneous meetings, nor the continuance of meetings by adjournment. Its did not prevent assembling with flags and banners If seditious or treasonable language were spoken, it did not, besides empowering a magistrate to order the person offending into custody, also enable him, in case of resistance, to declare the meeting illegal; it did not provide against a great abuse, the evil effects of which had been extensively experienced, namely, that when the inhabitants of a particular town or district were summoned to a meeting, so many strangers attended, that the majority of the meeting did not consist of such inhabitants. Neither did it provide against the most pernicious practice of itinerant orators attending public meetings, and collecting vast multitudes to hear their harangues. Now their Lordships would find that all these great evils, for which the existing law had no remedy, were provided against by this bill. Such were the grounds upon which Lord Sidmouth defended the Seditious Meetings Bill in 1819. According to the doctrine of the present day, any constable or police-officer might go to any meeting and disperse it according to his will and pleasure, knowing that his conduct would be supported by the magistrates, and the magistrates, in their turn, would be supported by the Home Department. That was the new doctrine of the present day. Rather than that such a doctrine should continue to obtain, he said it would be better to revive the Seditious Meetings Bill. Anything in the shape of a definite and positive jaw would be better than that the sacred right of the people should be left at the discretion of such inferior officers as parish constables or officers of police. He had stated that he could give precedents war the inquiry which he proposed in this instance to institute. He might mention two—first, the inquiry granted by Lord Althorp into the conduct of the police at the meeting in Coldbathfields, on the 11th of July, 1833, when one or two policemen were killed; and, secondly, the inquiry granted upon the motion of Mr. Cobbett into the conduct of the police, who were charged with having acted as spies. In the first instance it was said that no disturbance would have taken place if it had not been for the interference of the police themselves. The dispersion of the meeting at Coldbathfields created a very strong sensation at the time, and many petitions were presented praying for inquiry. What did Lord Althorp do? Why he came down to the House and moved, himself, for a select committee to inquire into the conduct of the police in dispersing the meeting. The right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) being at that time First Lord of the Admiralty, agreed to the inquiry so proposed by Cord Althorp, and the only individual who objected to the appointment of the committee was the right hon. Baronet the Member for Kent (Sir Edward Knatchbull). What was Lord Althorp's answer to the right hon. Baronet's objection? Lord Althorp said— He believed the police force had conducted themselves with propriety since their establishment. But he said— I apprehend that every man who knows what the constitution of that force is, must admit that it is a power in the hands of the Government which ought to be watched closely. It is upon this ground, and knowing that a strong sensation (as Mr. Hume asserted) exists in the public mind upon this subject, that we think it right that the public should have the satisfaction of an inquiry before a committee of this House. So the committee was appointed, and thus he had afforded a direct precedent for the inquiry he proposed to institute in the present instance. He hoped he should not be told, as he was the other night, that any inquiry into the matter would be an interference with the prerogative of the Crown. He maintained that these petitioners had very great reason to complain. They had submitted their complaint in a very respectful and becoming language, and it now became the duty of the House to institute the inquiry which was prayed for. He believed that every one of the allegations set forth in the petitions could be proved to the very letter. If the committee were granted, respectable persons would come forward and state that nothing could be more monstrous, tyrannical, and oppressive than the conduct of the police, whilst nothing could be more peaceable than the conduct of the people who were assembled. The right hon. Baronet might think that the law would support him in the license he extended to policemen and constables, but he did not believe that such was the law. He believed that the right hon. Baronet was encouraging the constabulary to exceed their legitimate power. Under all the circumstances he hoped he had made out a primâ facie case for inquiry, and that the House would support him in the motion which he begged to offer to its adoption.

Sir James Graham:

I am sorry that it will be necessary for me to detain the House for a short time, whilst I state the grounds upon which I shall resist the motion just proposed. Relying upon the information which I have received from Mr. Jeremy, the magistrate before whom the case was heard, I shall confine myself strictly to a statement of facts. The most important point to bring under the attention of the House is the character of the meeting itself. The hon. Member for Finsbury has repeatedly called it a peaceable meeting. I will state what are the facts of the case with respect to the meeting in the chapel, which was the origin of the assembly, and of which the subsequent meeting in the Broadway was only a continuance. I held in my hand the original summons for the meeting, in which it is described as a meeting to be held in the dissenting chapel at Deptford, for the purpose of hearing a lecture by an Anti-Corn-law delegate against the Corn-laws. The clergyman of the chapel, and the trustees, were parties to that summons; and it appeared that they had invited a person named Thompson, one of the paid lecturers of the Anti-Corn-law league, to attend on the occasion, and deliver a lecture. I have not one word to say with respect to the known respectability of the clergyman and trustees; although I may entertain an opinion of my own, that it is unfortunate that a chapel should be selected as the place of meeting for such a purpose as that set forth in the summons under which the assembly was convened. I am not disposed, however, to lay any stress upon that point. Almost immediately after the meeting commenced, the influx of persons became very great. As I have stated, the original in. tention of the meeting was that it should be an Anti-Corn-law meeting. However, a large influx of strangers partaking of the opinions of the Chartists, took place, and immediately upon their arrival at the chapel the utmost confusion arose. A wish was expressed by the Chartists that the clergyman and trustees who occupied the platform should not be allowed to preside, and that a labouring man should be placed in the chair. I am told that a scene of the utmost violence and confusion instantly arose; that a rush was made to the platform to displace the clergyman and the trustees; that Dr. M'Douall took part with the Chartists, and endeavoured to obtain a hearing; that the tumult which ensued baffled all description; that the men shouted with rage, the women fainted with alarm; that in the midst of this uproar one of the trustees escaped from the chapel, and sought the aid of the police; that the moment the police appeared there was a shout from one of the rival parties in the chapel to attack the police, to beat them, to serve them as they had lately been served at Kentish town; that a struggle ensued which lasted for some minutes; that the chapel was eventually cleared; that Dr. M'Douall (and this is an important part of the case), finding the chapel no longer tenable, declared that he would have a meeting in the open air; that he immediately set forth for that purpose; that a large multitude followed him (constituting a continuance of the riotous meeting in the chapel); that the utmost tumult and confusion prevailed throughout the whole of the procession, until at length the doctor reached the public rostrum of Deptford, the parish pump, from the summit of which he addressed the throng; that the excitement at this moment was extreme, and the alarm of the inhabitants very great; that the crowd occupied not only the Broadway, but the whole of the public road and footpath, causing a complete obstruction; that the evening was far advanced; that darkness was rapidly approaching; that the meeting was tumultuous, and the language held by the doctor extremely violent. Under these circumstances, it appeared to the superintendent of the police to be indispensable that the meeting should be dispersed. He accordingly entreated Dr. M'Douall to discontinue his speech, in order that the multitude might quietly disperse. Dr. M'Douall refused to cease addressing the people. The superintendent told him, that if he persevered, it would be his duty to compel him to desist. Upon hearing this, the doctor consented to come down, and an offer was made to him by the superintendent to make a clear passage through the multitude for him, if he would go home. This Dr. M'Douall positively refused to do, and then it was that the police took him into custody. He was no sooner arrested, than a violent attempt was made to rescue Jim.' Threatening language was held to the police, blows were exchanged, and three or four other persons were arrested. Under these circumstances, Dr. M'Douall was conveyed to the station-house. It is quite true, that the offer made by a friend to bail him, was refused by the superintendent. Dr. M'Douall, in his petition to that House, 'complainer of the unpleasantries to which he was subjected in his confinement. It appeared, however, that a distinct offer was made to have other accommodation provided for him. Anything that he could reasonably require in the way of accommodation was offered to him; but he positively refused to have anything beyond what the station-house afforded. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Thomas Duncombe) has stated what had taken place when Dr. M'Douall was brought up for hearing before the magistrate; and the hon. Gentlemen relied principally upon the fact, that none but policemen were heard to substantiate the charge against the doctor. I will not trouble the House further upon that point than to read what actually took place before the magistrate. The hon. Gentleman stated, that there had been a difficulty in ascertaining what the charge was, upon which Dr. M'Douall was taken into custody. The charge was in these terms:— Dr. M'Douall was charged with causing a great number of disorderly persons to assemble in the public place called the Broadway, in the parish of St. Paul's, Deptford, and addressing them in language of a violent and inflammatory nature, tending to cause a further breach of the peace The hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. Duncombe) said, that the testimony of the police was not to be relied upon. I admit, that I do not place so much reliance upon the testimony of Mallalieu, who is responsible for refusing to bail the doctor. [The right hon. Baronet then read the whole of the evidence given before the magistrate, including that of the policemen and of a watchmaker, who, he contended, was a perfectly impartial witness of the whole proceedings. From this evidence, it appeared, that the meeting was of a very tumultuous and disorderly character, creating a great deal of excitement and alarm in the minds of the inhabitants, and a total obstruction of the highway.] Under these circumstances, I think it was the duty of the constables to disperse the meeting before it became dark, and that they did not exercise an unsound discretion in so doing. With respect to the character of Dr. M'Douall, it is true, as the hon. Gentleman has intimated, that this is not the first time, that he has been present at riotous and unlawful meetings. It appears, that in August, 1839, he was tried at Chester, for raising a tumultuous meeting, and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. In the present instance, it would seem that Dr. M'Douall did not complain of the manner in which he was treated by the magistrate. On the contrary, he expressed his thanks to Mr. Jeremy for the manner in which he had disposed of the case. The hon. Gentleman would lead the House to infer that some novel course has been taken in respect to this Dr. M'Douall. But I state distinctly that no new power has been given to the constables. The law in that respect has not been changed or altered by the present Government. No orders of any kind have been given to the constables of the police force different from those under which that body has acted from the first moment of its establishment. If any illegal act be committed by any one of the constables, redress is open to the party injured. But it is not the part of the House of Commons to interfere in such cases. The House of Commons may alter the law when it appears necessary to do so; but it is no part of its duty, no part of its proper function, to interfere in the administration of the law. am not, by any means, prepared to say, that great and peculiar circumstances might not arise in which it would become the duty of that House, as the grand inquest of the nation, to institute inquiry; but I maintain, that there is nothing in the present case that would warrant such an interference. There is, no analogy between the present case and that of the disturbance at Cold Bath-fields, in 1833, and the much more serious mob at Manchester, in 1819. The hon. Gentleman said, that the power exercised by the, police ought to be closely watched. I do not deny it; I admit, that, a power such as that entrusted to the police ought to be closely watched. The discussion in which the House is engaged is a proof that their conduct is scrutinized with a jealous eye. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman into the abstract question of the right of constables to interfere. I admit, that that right must be wholly dependant upon time and circumstance. It is, I believe, quite impossible to lay down any general rules with respect to the right of constables to interfere, that could be applicable in all cases. I am bound to state, that as far as I have observed, that power has always been exercised by the constables of police with the utmost caution. It is no doubt highly expedient, that precautionary measures should be adopted as to any meeting likely to prove dangerous, but, at the same time, I think cases might arise in which there might be no time for these precautionary measures, and in which the constable would be justified in summarily interfering. I will not, however, discuss these extreme points. I hope the majority of the House will concur with me, in resisting the inquiry, because I am satisfied, that upon the whole, the parties have been treated not only with justice, but with leniency.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that it was quite a mistake to suppose that his hon. Friend, the Member war Finsbury, directed his motion against Mr. Jeremy—it was of the police, and not of Mr. Jeremy, that he complained. The police were the paid servants of the public, and the House ought to take care that the police did nothing in violation of the law. In the present case an outrage had been committed against Dr. M'Douall, without a particle of provocation. The decision of the magistrate was in his favour—the only thing that Mr. Jeremy did was to demand security for his good behaviour, and this was only done in order to screen the police. But the case assumed a more serious aspect when they viewed it as a denial of the right to petition, and they bought not to forget that two great revolutions had been caused in this country by the attempt to put down that right. It was said that there was great excitement at the meeting, but was this any reason for saying that it was dangerous? He thought it clearly a case of illegal arrest, and an inquiry was called for, in order to satisfy the people.

Mr. Hawes

expected to hear one of the law-officers of the Crown state his opinion on the present question, because a more unsatisfactory opinion could not be given than that which had been given by the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Not long since the right hon. Baronet laid it down as the law, that a constable had the power of dispersing a meeting, and now he told them that when the constable did disperse a meeting, the party aggrieved had his remedy by au action at law. This, however, was so difficult a remedy that, to give the subject no other, was little less than subjecting him to an irresponsible and arbitrary government. With regard to the meeting in question, he did not think that the obstruction of a highway was sufficient to establish a meeting as illegal. He never heard of a public meeting which did not obstruct some highway or thoroughfare, and it was monstrous to suppose that the tact of its doing so was to be considered as a reason why a constable should interfere and put it down. This was indeed going back to the days of Tory ism, and if such a doctrine were passed over unchecked and unreproved, they would no doubt have the right hon. Gentleman opposite very soon proposing the revival of the Six Acts. There was nothing in the language used at the meeting tending to a breach of the peace; and although he did not call for an expression of opinion on the part of the House, he certainly did hope that, an inquiry would be granted.

The Attorney-General

said, that he did not object to the attention of the House being called Ito questions like the present, nor should he ever complain that the House of Commons had been resorted to for the purpose of making known the grievances of the people, and so far, therefore, as that was the object of the present motion, he would not object to it but he objected to the motion if it was brought forward for the purpose of inquiry. With regard to the meeting which took place, he understood, that it had been called for the purpose of hearing Mr. Thompson deliver a lecture against the Corn-laws. It seemed that some disturbance arose, and that one of the trustees sent for the police to clear the chapel, and that then the meeting adjourned to the open air. Now, he would ask whether there was any appearance of legality in that open air meeting? Could any one say, that it was a meeting constitu- tionally assembled for petitioning Parliament? He thought the police were justified, in strict law, in going up to the person who caused the obstruction in the highway, and in desiring him to desist. But, supposing the meeting to be legal, and supposing the arrest of Dr. M'Douall to be illegal, what, he would ask, was his remedy? If Dr. M'Douall had any ground of complaint, his remedy clearly was to have recourse to the law of the land. The hon. Gentleman opposite, wished for some expression of opinion on the part of the House and of the Government; but this might be anticipating the verdict of a jury —for aught they knew, writs may have been served, and actions commenced, and while there was, any probability of this being the case, it would be highly injudicious to express any opinion upon the subject. It would not be right—it would scarcely be constitutional—nay, he thought it would even be mischievous—if the House should interfere in the present stage of the case; and as there was no tumultuous violence at the meeting in question, no loss of life, nothing that called for the peculiar interference of that House, he thought the law ought to be left to take its course in the present instance.

Mr. Shiel

thought, that the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken in supposing that Government had given no opinion upon this subject. The right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who had the whole police under his control, had stated, he thought the police on the present occasion had exercised a wise discretion. The Secretary for the Home Department had, therefore, sanctioned the conduct of the police, and had expressed his approbation of their conduct in his place in the House of Commons. An hon. Member opposite, (Mr. Russell) had told them the other night, that what was innovation to-day was precedent to-morrow, and the next day law. Now he was afraid that, on the next day, they would have the law of the right hon. Gentleman; and this was the reason why he attached so much importance to the present case. It ought to be remembered, that this was not the case of Dr. M'Douall— it was no complaint against Mr. Jeremy—it was the case of a number of individuals who had held a public meeting in the town of Deptford, and who had been dispersed by a constable, a superintendent of police, acting on his own authority. The other day, when the Staffordshire case was before the House, they were told that though the constable may have been wrong, yet that there was the verdict of a jury to justify him, and they were told, that they could not disturb that verdict, because by doing so they would be casting reflections, not only on the jury, but on the judge who delivered the charge. But hero there was no verdict of a jury—here there was no decision of a chairman in favour of a constable. On the contrary, there was a decision the other way, the magistrates having declared that there was no evidence to show, that the meeting was unlawful. [The Attorney-general was understood to dissent.] The Attorney-general shook his head, but he did not think there was much in that. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, had distinctly admitted, that Mr. Jeremy had declared that there was not sufficient evidence to bring Dr. M'Douall to trial. He relied on the decision of the magistrate; let the right hon. Baronet rely on the constable whose conduct he had approved, and who he said, had exercised a wise discretion. He was only sorry, that the example of the constable had not been followed by the right hon. Gentleman. It appeared, that Dr. M'Douall was brought to the station-house, and that the person who offered to bail him was the trustee of the chapel, the individual who is stated to have called in the police to clear the chapel. [Sir J. Graham: No, it was another trustee.] Well, if the hon. Gentleman, to support his case, relied on the trustee who called for the police, he, to support his case, would rely on the trustee who offered bail. Then, with regard to bail. Was it a matter of discretion on the part of the police to refuse bail? It was refused. Well, Dr. M'Douall asked for a copy of the charge. He appealed to the magistrate. What did the magistrate say? He said Dr. M'Douall was entitled to it. Did he get it? No. The police was applied to for a copy in conformity with the direction of the magistrate, but the superintendent of the police said he did not care for the magistrate. It was not to the magistrate, it was to the Home Department the policeman very naturally looked. The right hon. Baronet had said that the second meeting in the Broadway was a continuation of the first. How did he make it out? There was no riot at the first meeting. Parties had assembled together for a legal purpose. Some affray took place amongst them. What ensued? The parties were required to disperse; and they did so. Dr. M'Douall went out of the meeting arm-in-arm with one of the trustees of the chapel, and he then told the people that a discussion should take place out of doors. No riot took place; there was no confusion; but simply an obstruction of the thoroughfare. But was a man to be seized by a policeman because of an obstruction of the public way by reason of a multitude having assembled together? It did not appear that the police exerted any effort to secure a passage through the crowd for the public. That was not done; but because, as the policeman alleged, certain seditious language was used, he took upon himself to disperse the meeting, and to take Dr. M'Douall into custody. Had a constable a right to disperse a public meeting? If a riot had occurred, or if the Riot Act had been read, he admitted that the constable would then have had a right to interfere; but with what caution had the Legislature proceeded in this matter. The 1st George 1st, chap. 50, enacted that the Riot Act should be read by a justice of the peace, and the meeting proclaimed to be dissolved: and then, if the people continued together after a certain time, the power of the constable arose. But the inchoate right existed only in the magistrate. Similar precaution had been taken in other acts of the Legislature the Training Act, for instance. Parliament had always been jealous of confiding to a constable a power that might be so abused. Under all the circumstances, he was surprised that any inquiry should in this instance be refused. The right hon. Baronet had said, " Leave the man to the law;" but he did not leave him to the law: he approved of the constable's conduct. By doing this, the right hon. Baronet gave excitement to the police to repeal these acts. If this were an isolated case, he should not care much about it. But the doctrine which had been broached at the Home Office was what he dreaded, for it was such as might lead to the most vicious and dangerous consequences.

The Solicitor-General

thought the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood the nature of the Riot Act. He seemed to be of opinion that in order to disperse a meeting the Riot Act must be first read by a ma- gistrate. Now, that was not so. The object of reading the Riot Act was to constitute the act of the people continuing assembled after the proclamation made by the magistrate a felony. But according to law, if a constable saw persons assembled together, and acting in a manner which he believed would lead to a breach of the peace, he was at liberty, upon his own responsibility, to disperse them. It was not, however, necessary for him to enter into a discussion of this question. The only thing the House had to consider was, whether upon the facts of this case, any ground had been made out for the House to grant a committee of inquiry. Observe, two concessions had been made. It had been admitted by the hon. Member for Lambeth, that what took place within the chapel was sufficient to authorize the police to clear the chapel and disperse the people; and every one who had spoken admitted that no blame attached to Mr. Jeremy, the magistrate. Let it be recollected that Mr. Jeremy did not discharge Dr. M'Douall. What Mr. Jeremy in effect said was, that Dr. M' Douall had been guilty of a breach of the peace, or at least of conduct that was censurable, but not of that description which authorized him to commit him to take his trial; but, although he would not commit him, yet he would not discharge him, unless he entered into his own recognizance to keep the peace for a certain time. The meeting out of doors was a continuation of the meeting within the chapel; and he submitted to the House that the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury ought not to be acceded to. It was tantamount to asking the House to pass a vote of censure not only upon the police, but upon the magistrate who called upon the party to give bail. He hoped the House would, by a large majority, negative the motion.

Viscount Palmerston

said, it really appeared to him that those who had objected to this motion had given very good reasons why the House should agree to it, especially the Attorney-general, because he had stated that he did not at all object to matters of this sort being brought under the consideration of the House. But then the hon. and learned Gentleman was against any result, he was against any inquiry. What was the character of the present discussion? Here were statements made on the one side, I tending to show great impropriety of con- duct on the part of the police; and here. were statements made on the other side, denying many points in those statements, and alleging that the conduct of the police was wise and discreet. If there could e any cue in which an inquiry could enable them to arrive at the truth, amidst such conflicting stetements, and to ascertain the true from the false, he thought this was the case. He, therefore, thought the premises laid down by the Attorney-general led to a very different conclusion to what that hon. and learned Gentleman had come to. If it were proper that such matters should be discussed in the House of Commons, surely it was proper that the House should be enabled to come to some conclusion as to the facts brought before them. It appeared to him, therefore, that very good grounds had been laid for the committee now moved for. It seemed, fro the statements made on both sides, that the conduct of the police was not very wise or discreet. It had not been alleged, either by the Attorney-general or the Solicitor-general, that the second meeting was an illegal one. He had understood the Attorney-general to say that he would not undertake to declare whether a meeting which led to an obstruction of a thoroughfare might or might not be an illegal meeting. Well, then, if it was not illegal, upon what ground was Dr. M'Douall apprehended? It must have been in consequence of something he said, which in its nature was actionable. But when he was brought before the magistrate, the magistrate did not put him upon his trial for anything done by him illegally, but he bound him over to keep the peace. He confessed that, as far as he understood the case, he was not disposed to go so far as some hon. Members had done in approving of the conduct of the magistrate; for it appeared to him very questionable whether Mr. Jeremy, who, having found nothing objectionable in the meeting, or in the conduct of Dr. M'Douall to render him liable to a prosecution, was justified in holding that party to bail to keep the peace. To him, therefore, it appeared that this matter involved a principle of some importance—the principle, namely, of determining to what de-free, and in what cases, constables were justified in interfering with the proceedings of a public meeting, and arresting individuals who were taking a part in those proceedings. He was of opinion that in the present instance the constable had exceeded his proper line of duty. He might be wrong, but he thought, especially at this moment, when Parliament was about to separate, and when public meetings would no doubt soon take place in the country, and when constables might be induced, from a mistaken sense of their duty, to interfere with the proceedings of the people, he thought that this was a proper opportunity to institute an inquiry to ascertain to what extent the constable had in this case interfered, in order that the fact might be established, not according to ex parte information, but by hearing the evidence on both sides. But this inquiry he did not conceive would necessarily imply a censure either upon the police or the magistrate. When the real facts were known, should any ground of complaint appear against the conduct of the police, then the Government might be able to take steps to prevent similar interference on the part of the police in future. He, therefore, thought the circumstances perfectly warranted the motion for a committee of inquiry.

Sir R. Peel:

Sir, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, under whose superintendence the metropolitan police force generally acts, has intimated to the House that, in his opinion, there is no ground for his interference, upon the subject which the hon. Member for Finsbury has brought before it in this motion. And, Sir, supposing this House, without information before it, was dissatisfied with the judgment of my right hon. Friend, and there was no other alternative to adopt, no other mode afforded of conducting the inquiry asked for, than by the intervention of a committee of the House of Commons, then, in such case, there might be some plausible ground for this investigation. But are there no means of determining whether this constable has acted in a proper manner or not? Is the decision of my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, final upon this subject? The hon. Member for Finsbury is not the only person who may institute proceedings against this person; but, at a very moderate cost, you may compel the legal tribunals of the country to give a solemn judgment on the case. An action for false imprisonment may be brought against him, or an action may be brought against the magistrate for his refusal to take bail in the matter; and, as I have already said, for a very moderate sum, you may have the opinion, upon the ease, of the regular legal tribunals of the country. And which would be likely to be the most satisfactory decision of the two—the decision of a court of law, or that of a committee of the House of Commons? Suppose the committee were to say the constable acted illegally. That could not be accepted as any legal rule upon the subject. Whereas a court of law, hearing both sides on their oath, which the House of Commons cannot do, could pronounce a decision which, I should imagine, would be more satisfactory than any one which we can here deliver. Which decision, I ask, do you think would be the more satisfactory to the country at large? And why not, then, adopt this mode of inquiry into the case—why not take this step for the purpose of ascertaining whether the conduct of this constable has been correct or not? Sir, I, for my part, deprecate the principle of the House of Commons being called upon to exercise the judicial function; and I cannot help thinking, that this House will suffer materially, by being placed in the position of having to decide upon these points of law. I should be the last man in the world to encourage constables to transgress the law, or to bring it into discredit with the country, by a constantly annoying enforcement of its provisions, even, perhaps, where right might be on their side. But let us remember the peculiar position in which these men are placed, and let us forbear from deterring them from the honest and conscientious discharge of their duties, by our censures upon their conduct, and by our immediate and hasty inquiries into it. To take such an inquiry out of the hands of the regular tribunals of the country into our own, does imply a primâ facie case against them. Take the case of the men referred to in this motion, and if, in consequence of their non-interference on the occasion in question, more serious disturbances had occurred, and loss of life had taken place, what would you have said then? What judgment would you have formed then? It appears that, owing to the conduct of one of these constables, whose acts are chiefly impugned, at all events no riot took place, and no one was injured. Suppose the contrary bad been the case, what would then have been said? Why, you would then have set to work to collect together all the facts of the case, and you would have found, perhaps, that there had been a conflict, in which Corn-law repealers were engaged on one side, and Chartists on the other. But there were seats broken, it appears, in this scuffle. Why, we have temper enough in this House, at times. And suppose we were to tear up the seats here, would there be a doubt as to the nature of the contest, or the propriety of interference? Many men take different views of the nature of a scuffle; and the right hon. and learned Member war Cork, I believe, in speaking of the Irish rebellion, said there was a " hurry" in 1798, and somebody else once spoke of the " dispute" in Connaught. Men, as I have said, take different views of scuffles and squabbles; but, at all events, it appears that, in the present instance, the seats of the chapel are torn up, and the meeting, which the religious solemnity of the place did not prevent from taking the turn I have mentioned, was adjourned, at half-past eight o'clock in the evening, when it was already dark, to the open air. With respect lo the power exercised by the police, I acknowledge that it is a discretionary power, which they must exercise on their own responsibility. But, in this case, when a constable hears such cries as these, " Serve out the police," " Bludgeon the police," and so forth, it appears that he says to himself, " If a serious riot ensue, and lives shall be lost, the blame will be severely visited upon me, if I do not interfere to prevent it." He does so; he takes the person in question up, and he goes, in the ordinary way, before a magistrate. Under such circumstances, all I say is, that if you are dissatisfied with the result of those proceedings, it is now open for you to go beware a court of law with your case—the tribunal, in short, to which the decision, in such matters, ought properly to be left.

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

replied. The right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department had quoted reports in opposition to the facts of the case. [Sir James Graham said, that the report he quoted from, was taken on oath before the magistrate.] There were several reports. There were reports published by the newspapers. He should like to ask from what source Mr. Jeremy derived his report? Did he keep a reporter? The right hon. Baronet, at the head of her Majesty's Government, also appeared to rely upon Mr. Jeremy's report; but he would maintain that the greater portion of what Mr. Jeremy had stated (of course, he derived it from others), was a gross misrepresentation of the facts. [" Oh, oh ! "] It was no use their saying oh, oh. Grant him a committee, and he would undertake to prove it. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had adopted the view of his right hon. Colleague, that the meeting in the chapel, and the meeting in the Broadway, were a continuation of the same meeting, and that, as a disturbance had occurred in the chapel, where seats were torn up, and pews broken down, the meeting in the Broadway partaking of the same character. Now, grant him a committee, and he would prove that no seats were torn up, nor any pews broken down. There was the evidence of Mr. John Wade, who was called against Dr. M'Douall. What did he say? He said: I am a builder and shopkeeper, living in Deptford. I am a trustee of the Independent chapel. I drew up the hand-bill produced, and it was published by my direction, in concurrence with the Rev. J. Pullen, the minister. It was not for any discussion that meeting was called. Its purpose was to excite sympathy for the distressed, but not for an immediate subscription. A subscription had been forwarded before the Queen's letter came out. It was to hear a lecture on the distress of the country. The chapel was pretty full at seven o'clock, when I entered it. There was a little disturbance at the commencement of the meeting. Some persons who were strangers, wished to speak and enter into a discussion, which was contrary to the object of the meeting. The person announced as lecturer did not come, but another person was asked to supply the vacancy. The disturbance passed off, and Mr. Taylor proceeded with his lecture, and having concluded it, sat down. There was a little disturbance, and the minister of the chapel dissolved the meeting. There were about one thousand persons present. The hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney-general) seemed to think that the police cleared the chapel. No such thing. The minister and Mr. Taylor dissolved the meeting, because the object for which the meeting had been called had been fulfilled. Mr. Wade went on to say:— After the minister had dissolved the meeting, the place was cleared. The people walked out without any disturbance. The meeting separated peaceably. There were police there. I think they were sent for by my brother. I understood from him that some persons had attempted to get possession of the platform at the beginning of the meeting, and that they had been sent for in consequence. I saw the police remonstrate with some persons who were disturbing the meeting, and endeavouring to get upon the platform. I saw Dr. M'Douall there. He was not invited. He was one of the audience. I saw nothing improper in his conduct. The Rev. Mr. Pullen dissolved the meeting by saying, ' I dissolve this meeting.' This witness was cross-examined by Dr. M'Douall, and he stated this:— I stood beside you on the platform. I saw nothing improper in your conduct whatever. I heard you say that a discussion should take place out of doors. I did not hear the chairman propose any adjournment. There was no right to adjourn the meeting. The meeting had not the power to elect a chairman. No resolution was proposed. It was an invitation for the ministers and trustees to come and hear a lecture. I know nothing about the meeting on the Broadway. I could not gather, from your gestures, that you were likely to create a breach of the peace. Mr. Taylor was invited by me. Mr. M'Douall, Mr. Taylor, and myself, walked away arm-in-arm. This was the evidence of one of the witnesses brought by the police against Dr. M'Douall, and yet the right hon. Baronet was endeavouring to prove that Dr. M'Douall had created a breach of the peace in the chapel. The right hon Baronet had somixed up the meeting in the chapel and at the Broadway, that nobody could tell what part of the proceedings he was talking about. Grant him a committee, and he would prove, that the statements of Mallalieu were false. When he came to Mr. M'Douall, that gentleman said, " If you say that this is an illegal meeting, and if you will allow me to say so to the people, I will immediately disperse them. ' The answer was, " No, come down." Mr. M'Douall came down from the pump, and he was then desired to go home, and was directed towards Deptford. Mr. M'Douall said, " No, that is not my way, I Want to go to London." What followed? He was immediately taken into custody, and conducted to the station-house. What took place at the station-house had already been stated. Mr. Jeremy's report said that Mr. M'Douall had every accommodation in the station-house. Was that true? No. Mr. M'Douall asked for a pillow and some covering, but it was refused, and he remained in the cell on the bare boards. That was not the way in which Mr. M'Douall should have been treated for such an offence. He would not say that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) was inconsistent in refusing this inquiry; but certainly he did think, that the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department, and the noble Lord sitting near him (Lord Stanley), both of whom were once the Colleagues of the authors of the Reform Bill, were acting in opposition to the principle which their former alliances espoused. It was the principle of Toryism to refuse all inquiry; therefore the right hon. Baronet, at the head of her Majesty's Government, was perfectly consistent in doing so on this occasion. But he knew, and his right hon. and noble Colleagues knew, that they had a bad case, and what had been reported to them, and which had been stated by the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the House, he would, if they would grant him a committee, prove to be false. The police was, as Lord Althorp had once said, a formidable power to be placed at the disposal of the Government. They were armed and trained, and were, in fact, equal to soldiers. It was said, that if these things were not prevented, blood would be shed. He told them that blood would be shed. If these things were done, the people would not consent. Let hon. Members read the petition. Your petitioners are all of opinion, that as the meeting was peacefully assembled, so it would have peacefully dispersed, had it not been for the unjustifiable violence of the police, to which, if your honourable House affords no remedy, your petitioners do not feel bound to submit. He told them plainly, that these doings would some day tend to create a disturbance, and if blood should be shed, every drop would be upon the heads of those who held the doctrines that night broached, and who came down to support this gross violation of the people's rights.

The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 89:—Majority 59.

List of the AYES.
Aldam, W. Fielden, J.
Bowring, Dr. Fitzroy, Cord C.
Brotherton, J. Howard, hn. C. W. G.
Bryan, G. Martin, J.
Callaghan, D. Morris, D.
Colborne, hn. W. N. R. O'Connell, D.
Dalmeny, Cord O'Connell, M. J.
Duncan, G. Palmerston, Visct.
Ebrington, Visct. Pechell, Capt.
Escott, B. Philips, M.
Ponsonby, hn. C. F. A. C Wall, C. B.
Pulsford, R. Wawn, J. T.
Scholefield, J. Williams, W.
Shed, rt. hon. R. L.
Thornely, T. TELLERS.
Tufnell, H. Duncombe, T.
Villiers, hon. C. Hawes, B.
List of the NOES.
A'Court, Capt. Hamilton, W. J.
Antrobus, E. Hamilton, Cord C.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Harcourt, G. G.
Arkwright, G. Hardy, J.
Baird, W. Hawkes, T.
Baldwin, B. Henley, J. W.
Bateson, R. Herbert, hon. S.
Bentinck, Lord G. Hogg, J. W.
Blakestone, W. S, Hope, hon. C.
Bodkin, W. H, Jermyn, Earl
Boldero, H. G. Jones, Capt.
Borthwick, P. Kemble, H.
Botfield, B. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.
Broadley, H. Lincoln, Earl of
Bruce, Lord E. Lockhart, W.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Maclean, D.
Chetwode, Sir. J. M'Geachy, F. A.
Clerk, Sir G. Marsham, Visct.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. Morgan, O.
Colvile, C. R. Mundy, E. M.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Courtenay, Lord Norreys, Lord
Cripps, W. Northland, Visct.
Damer, hon. Col. Packe, W.
Darby, G. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Dawnay, hon. W. H. Peel, J.
Dick, Q. Polhill, F.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Pollock, Sir F.
Eliot, Lord Pringle, A.
Farnham, E. B. Richards, R.
Fitzroy, Capt. Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Round, J.
Flower, Sir J. Somerset, Lord G.
Follett, Sir W. W. Stanley, Cord
Ffolliott, J. Stewart, J.
Fuller, A. E. Stuart, H.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Sutton, hon. H. M.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Taylor, T. E.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Thompson, Ald.
Gore, M. Trench, Sir F. W.
Goring, C. Trotter, J.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Vivian, J. E.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Young, J.
Greene, T. TELLERS.
Grimston, Visct. Fremantle, Sir T.
Grogan, E. Baring, H.