HC Deb 04 August 1843 vol 71 cc237-40

On the motion that the Order of the Day for a committee of supply, be read,

Mr. T. Duncombe

rose to call the attention of the House to the petition presented by him on the 9th of May, from the inhabitants of Hull, complaining of the illegal manner in which a public meeting, convened in that town for the purpose of petitioning Parliament, had been dispersed by the police. On the 13th of April last, a public meeting of the inhabitants of Hull, assembled for the purpose of petitioning Parliament with reference to the case of William Jones, who had been sentenced to transportation by Mr. Baron Gurney, on a charge of sedition. The meeting was composed principally of the working class, but its proceedings were, in the highest degree, orderly and peaceable. There was no obstruction whatever of the highway, no alarm occasioned to the inhabitants, as could be proved by hundreds of respectable witnesses; yet all of a sudden, a large body of police bore down upon them, and without any notice to them, or provocation from them, drew their staves and began a brutal attack upon them, wounding many of them in such a manner that they were unable to resume their ordinary occupations for several days. No redress whatever was given by the magistrates, and it was the bounden duty of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to permit an inquiry into this very gross case. The inquiry would not occupy any length of time. If a committee were granted, two days would suffice to prove the petitioners' case. It was the undoubted right of Englishmen to assemble to consider and discuss and complain of their grievances; it was a right sanctioned by immemorial practice, and by the declared opinions of the highest law authorities; yet here a meeting, proceeding in the most orderly and peaceable manner, which, in a quarter of an hour would have dispersed of itself as peaceably as it had met legally, was furiously broken in upon by a large body of police, and brutally assaulted, and no redress whatever had been afforded, while other meetings, more numerous, and of a very disorderly character, in the same place, had been allowed to proceed without interruption. After the right hon. Baronet's Corn Bill passed last year, when it reached Hull it excited such general dissatisfaction among all parties in Hull, Corn-law men and free-traders, that at a much later period of the evening than the present, petitioners met, at eight or nine o'clock, immense bodies of men assembled together in that town, to the confusion of order, and the alarm of the inhabitants, and amid the utmost disorder, burnt the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government in effigy; but of that disorderly meeting no notice whatever was taken, by either police or magistrates. The hon. Member concluded by moving as an amendment to the Order of the Day, that the petition be referred to a select committee, and that the committee report thereon to the House.

Sir J. Graham

said, that the official statement which after hearing of this petition, he had procured upon the subject, from the authorities at Hull, was at variance with the more important allegations advanced by the petitioners. He was at all times indisposed to interfere unnecessarily with public demonstrations of opinion, and he had every reason to believe, that the magistrates of dull like himself, would not unnecessarily interfere, unless there was actual danger to the peace. As to the facts stated by the magistrates they were these. The meeting took place on the 12th of April, in the evening at eight o'clock. Now, at eight o'clock on the 12th of April darkness had commenced, and he had the authority of the magistrates for stating, that till darkness had set in, the meeting was not dispersed. The magistrates added, that on the following day, when an investigation was made, the parties concerned did not complain that a single blow had been given. With regard to the obstruction caused by the meeting, the market-place at Hull was a square into which several streets led; and the magistrates assured him that some of the principal thoroughfares were obstructed. Great excitement existed before the police and the magistrates thought it necessary to disperse the meeting. He had directed an inquiry to be made into the subject, and he was satisfied, from the information he had received, that there was no reason to condemn the conduct of the magistrates. Under these circumstances, he could not acquiesce in the motion for a committee, for he was satisfied that no injury had been inflicted on the people, and that no blow had been struck.

Mr. Gisborne

thought the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman was far from satisfactory, and justified neither the conduct of the magistrates, nor that of the police. Darkness was no reason for dispersing a meeting. In his opinion, the police were not the proper judges of the legality of a meeting, notwithstanding the startling doctrines laid down by the right hon. Gentleman not long ago on that subject. There were, in his opinion, good grounds for an inquiry, and he should support the motion of his hon. Friend.

Mr. Hume

thought the right hon. Gentleman had made a very poor defence of the magistrates. That the people were not to meet in darkness was quite a new doctrine and a new law. While the meeting was quiet and peaceable it was not a good ground for dispersing it that darkness had commenced. If, on such grounds, the magistrates might disperse public meetings, a great inroad would be made on the liberties of the subject. Neither was it a reason for refusing the inquiry that the occurrence took place so long ago as April. If the right hon. Gentleman extended his doctrine to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, as well as England, he would have enough to do. Why, all the meetings in Wales were held after dark; it was natural when the people were in distress that they should meet to petition Parliament, and he thought it was proper and desirable. But when could the working classes meet except after dark, for they were at work as long as it was light? He hoped, if the committee were refused, that his hon. Friend would, at some future time, move a direct censure on the magistrates, which they deserved.

Mr. Hutt

was understood to defend the magistrates, and Mr. M'Manus, the head of the police; and he contended that they had exercised their power with great discretion and prudence. There had been no blows struck, and no interference with the meeting till interference was necessary. At the same time, he was sure that the magistrates courted inquiry, and if the committee were to be appointed without implying any censure on the magistrates, He should support the motion.

The House divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question. Ayes 83; Noes 29; Majority 54.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Grimston, Visct.
Allix, J. P. Harcourt, G. G.
Arkwright, G. Henley, J. W.
Baillie, H. J. Hodgson, R.
Baldwin, B. Hope, hon. C.
Beckett, W. Hornby, J.
Boldero, H. G. Howard, P. H.
Borthwick, P. Irving, J.
Botfield, B. Johnstone, H.
Broadley, H. Lincoln, Earl of
Broadwood, H. Lockhart, W.
Bruce, Lord E. Lowther, J. H.
Buck, L. W. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Bunbury, T. Mackenzie, W. F.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Manners, Lord J.
Cardwell, E. Marsham, Visct.
Chapman, A. Masterman, J.
Chelsea, Visct. Morgan, O.
Chetwode, Sir J. Neeld, J.
Chute, W. L. W. Newdigate, C. N.
Clive, Visct. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Corry, rt. hon. H. O'Brien, A. S.
Cripps, W. Palmer, R.
Damer, hon. Col. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Denison, E. B. Pollock, Sir F.
Dickinson, F, H. Reid, Sir J. R.
D'Israeli, B. Round, J.
Douglas, Sir H. Rushbrooke, Col.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Scott, hon. F.
Douglas, J. D. S. Sheppard, T.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Flower, Sir J. Smythe, hon. G.
Follett, Sir W. W. Somerset, Lord G.
Forman, T. S. Stanley, Lord
Fuller, A. E. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Thornhill, G.
Gladstone, Capt. Trench, Sir F. W.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Waddington, H. S.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Wall, C. B.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Yorke, hon. E. T.
Greene, T. TELLERS.
Gregory, W. H. Clerk, Sir G.
Grimsditch, T. Pringle, A.
List of the NOES.
Barnard, E. G. Brotherton, J.
Berkeley, hon. C. Colborne, hn. W.N.R.
Bowring, Dr. Crawford, W. S.
Duncan, G. Ross, D. R.
Elphinstone, H. Scholefield, J.
Esmonde, Sir T. Scott, R.
Ewart, W. Smith, J. A.
Forster, M. Strutt, E.
Gibson, T. M. Wakley, T.
Hill, Lord M. Wallace, R.
Mangles, R. D. Wilde, Sir T.
Napier, Sir C. Williams, W.
Pechell, Capt. Yorke, H. R.
Plumridge, Capt. TELLERS.
Ponsonby, hn. C.F.A.C Duncombe, T.
Pulsford, R. Hume,. J.