HC Deb 25 June 1847 vol 93 cc947-53

said, that if the right hon. Gentleman opposite would consent to the production of the correspondence he asked for, it would be unnecessary for him to trouble the House; but otherwise he must trespass upon them with a short statement. He was about to move— That there be laid before this House a Copy of the Correspondence which has taken place between the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the convicting magistrates, relating to the illegal imprisonment of Mary Dawson in the West Riding of Yorkshire Gaol. The girl, whose case he was about to bring forward, was hired by a manufacturer in Keighley to weave. When she went to work she was placed at a loom in which there was a warp partly woven. She finished that, and was placed at another, where there were two or three warps. Being unable to weave it herself, she hired another girl of the same age to assist her, but finding she could not complete the work and make the wages, she left work. Her master summoned her for leaving work in the loom. The magistrates dealt leniently with her case, and tried to persuade the girl to return to her work. She refused. The foreman of the manufactory appeared against her, and pressed for a committal to prison; but the magistrates at that time declined to commit, and expressed the hope that she would return. The girl at once said, "I will not return; and I would rather be imprisoned if the foreman wishes me to be sent to gaol." The girl then went to another manufacturer, and obtained employment. Mr. Hattersley, her former master, wrote to her second employer, and asked him to discharge her, and compel her to go back to his mill. Mr. Mitchen, the second employer, refused, expressing his opinion that the girl had committed no offence. Her late employer then applied to another person to finish the warp; but she was unable, on account of its badness. Another weaver then attempted the work, but gave it up in despair. A third at last completed the weaving. These circumstances occurred soon after the 10th of March, on which day the girl left her first employer. She continued to he employed by her second master until the 13th of April, on which day a constable entered the mill, and without giving her time to change her clogs or working clothes, hurried her through the streets of Keighley to the railway station, put her into a carriage, and conveyed her to the house of correction, where she was delivered over to the gaoler, who placed her on the treadmill. She was worked on the treadmill for three weeks. Her father—she was a girl under age—was as respectable a person, although a labouring man, as any in that part of the country, went to the magistrates who signed the commitment, and asked for a copy of it. It was refused. He then went to the magistrates' clerk to ask for a copy, and was prepared to pay for it, but it was refused. But when he went before the magistrate, he said, "Ah, John, is that you? I did not know that you were servant to Mr. Bus feild, the Member for Bradford; if I had, I would have dealt leniently with your daughter." The reply was, "If my daughter has committed any offence, she ought to be punished like any other person. But I only want justice, and I ask for a copy of the commitment." This, however, was refused, and the father then wrote a letter to him, and he advised him to present a petition to the House of Commons, and promised to state the case. He (Mr. Ferrand) then went to the Home Office and saw the Under Secretary of State on the matter, who had paid him every attention in his power; and he was requested by both father and daughter to tender their grateful thanks for the release of the girl from prison. And in justice to the right hon. Baronet opposite, the Home Secretary, he was bound to say that that right hon. Gentleman had offered him a private view of the correspondence, hut had informed him it was contrary to the usual routine to place the correspondence on the Table of the House. But he believed he should succeed in inducing the House to order the production of the papers. The right hon. Gentleman had ordered an inquiry to he made; and the result was that the girl had been released from prison, hut not until she had been illegally confined and worked upon the tread-mill for three weeks amongst vagabonds and prostitutes; and when released she was so weakened by the labour on the mill that she could not walk without assistance. What the defence of the magistrates was he knew not; but this girl had committed no offence against the law of the land, or against any rule founded on the law. If the magistrates were going to protect themselves under the Worsted Embezzlement Act—one of the worst that had ever passed the Legislature—he contended that that Act did not apply to the case, for that Act was passed to punish those who received wool to comb, or warps to weave, at their own dwellings; whereas this girl was working in the factory of her master. He did not mean to charge the magistrates with improper motives. He had acted with them for several years, and had seen them inclined to err on the side of leniency rather than of severity. But having had this case put in his hands, he was bound to fulfil his public duty in bringing it before the House. He should be happy if the magistrates justified themselves. He might be told that the girl could have redress in a court of law; but it was ridiculous to talk about a power-loom weaver bringing an action against magistrates who could back their defence with an expenditure of 200l. or 300l. The only chance of justice was in that House; and it was his duty to state, that in the manufacturing districts there were other magistrates who were adopting the same course, and committing to prison persons who had left their work in the same way this girl had. Unless the House acted in a manner to convince these magistrates that such conduct would be visited at least by a vote of censure from the House, if not by the punishment of the law, there was no chance for the redress of the grievances of the working classes. The hon. Gentleman concluded by submitting his Motion.


said, the explanation which he had to give of the circumstances of the case which was brought before the House by the hon. Gentleman, was a very short one. The hon. Gentleman had correctly stated, that the case had been brought under the notice of the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, and that immediate attention was given to his communication, as was always the case where any representation was made with reference to a case of illegal commitment. A communication was immediately addressed to the magistrates, calling on them for a copy of the committal in this case; and on a copy of the committal being furnished by them, he was advised by the most competent authority, that the commitment was—with reference to the facts as they were—an illegal commitment, on the ground that the magistrates having committed this girl under a certain Act of Parliament, the committal ought to have been taken under another and a different Act of Parliament. With regard to the facts of the case, he was bound to say it did not appear that there was the slightest misconduct on the part of the magistrates. The case having been brought before them, they were bound to adjudicate upon it; and he was satisfied they had acted with the greatest consideration and leniency towards the girl. They did not proceed to commit her until they had used every other means to induce her to return to her employment, and complete the warp at which she was engaged. The evidence was, that having been engaged to weave a warp of a certain length she had left it unfinished, and engaged herself to another employer; and she was told by the magistrates that she had no right after her engagement with Mr. Hattersley, to take an employment, with higher wages, until she had in the first instance fulfilled that contract. He (Sir G. Grey) was of opinion, on the face of the facts as they appeared to him, that there was not the slightest misconduct attributed to the magistrates. They had merely proceeded under one Act of Parliament instead of another; and he (Sir G. Grey) understood that considerable doubt existed as to whether the one Act or the other applied to the case. He was bound also to state, that the magistrate, Mr. Ellis, to whom a certain conversation with this girl's father was attributed, had distinctly, and in the most unqualified manner, denied that such a conversation as was represented had taken place. He did say, he did not know that she was the daughter of this person; but observed "that that would make no difference—that he had hut one course to take, and that was, to execute the law to the best of his judgment." With respect to the allegation that this girl had been placed on the treadmill, it was stated by the gaoler of the House of Correction that she had not been on the treadmill even for an hour. lie held in his hand a statement with reference to her daily employment during the whole period, from which it appeared that during some days she had been employed in sewing, and other days in washing, and that she had not been on the treadmill.


observed, that he knew the gaoler of the Wakefield house of correction to be a highly respectable person, and no doubt he had spoken the truth. He (Mr. Ferrand) had, however, been told that the girl had been placed upon the treadmill; and that she was lame when she left the prison. He must state most distinctly that no agreement had been entered into by the girl with Mr. Hattersley; that she was not twenty-one years of age; and that her father had not entered into any contract for her employment. Under these circumstances it was clear the girl had been improperly convicted. Would the right hon. the Home Secretary state under what Act of Parliament she had been committed?


Under the 17th George III., c. 56.


believed, that the magistrates who had acted in this case were most upright men, and there were no men whom he would he more willing to trust to in a case of his own. The committing magistrates had written to him a statement of what took place, from which it appeared that twelve pieces were delivered to the girl, that she had woven nine pieces and one-half of the tenth, leaving two and a half pieces unwoven. She then absented herself and went to another mill-owner, where she got better wages and work. She was sentenced to one month's imprisonment, the period of imprisonment under the Act being "not more than three months, and not less than one month. "So that the magistrates were obliged, if they thought her guilty, to commit her for a month. He was not there to say what was the right interpretation of the Act; but he was bound to say, that, since this proceeding was brought under the notice of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the magistrates had been informed that the committal was legal. They had resorted to the best advice they could get; they had laid a case before an eminent counsel on the northern circuit, and it was his opinion that the committal was in exact conformity with the law. If a doubt could be entertained in such a case, he should be sorry that the girl suffered any unnecessary confinement; but he also contended for it, that the magistrates had acted from pure motives; and there was reason, also, to think they might have acted in conformity with the existing law.


replied to a question by Mr. Wakley that he would have no objection to the production of the copy of the committal, but would not consent to the production of the correspondence.


wished to hear from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester whether such was the practice when he was Home Secretary? His belief was, that on several occasions the right hon. Baronet had, without opposition, furnished such correspondence. If a magis- trate acted correctly, it was right that the Home Secretary should shield him in that House; hut when, as in this case, and on the acknowledgment of the Home Secretary, a magistrate had acted unlawfully—had committed a girl illegally—who had been dragged through the streets as a criminal, and subjected to the odious punishment of the treadmill—["No.no!" Sir G. GREY did not admit any of these facts.] It was the statement of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, and the Home Secretary did not deny it. The right hon. Gentleman did not deny that the girl was committed to gaol—he did not deny that on his interference she had been liberated; and he admitted that the commitment was illegal. ["No!"] The right hon. Gentleman stated, that, from the best information he could obtain, he believed the commitment to be illegal; and, therefore, ordered the girl to be liberated; but, at the same time, stated, that he believed the magistrates had been guilty of no misconduct. It was proper when magistrates had acted rightly, that they should be protected by the Home Secretary; hut when they acted illegally, he was placed in a painful position if he refused to produce the correspondence. The House ought to see the correspondence, and also a copy of the warrant of committal. He must say, that when an illegal act like this had been committed, he regretted that it should be in the first instance brought before that House. If, as the right hon. Baronet had admitted, there had been a violation of the law, a remedy must be supplied, not in this House, but in a court of law. The hon. Member for Knaresborough asked how it was to be obtained? Why, if it was quite clear that the act of the magistrate was illegal, the magistrate was a very good mark for some skilful attorney to aim at; and he had no doubt that there were plenty of attorneys who, when they saw the report of to-night's proceedings in the public journals, would feel considerable commiseration for the poor girl. In conclusion, the hon. Member expressed a hope that the practice of refusing correspondence of the description required by the hon. Member for Knaresborough would no longer he continued.


thought the House ought not to he satisfied without the production of the correspondence; and the question at present was not in the situation in which it ought to be left.


feared that after the speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury a very wrong impression with respect to this case might go forth. Now, in the first place, the facts stated by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ferrand) were denied; and he did not impute any improper motives to the magistrates, or say that they behaved harshly to this girl. [Mr. FERRAND: I said I had no proof of it.] The hon. Member did not impute any harsh conduct to the magistrates: and, in fact, the statement made by his noble Friend (Sir Gr. Grey) showed they did their best to induce this girl to do what was right before they committed her; and the statement that she was put on the treadmill was denied by the keeper of the bride well. Every statement made by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ferrand) was denied, with the exception of the single fact that she was committed to prison. [Mr. FERRAND: She told me herself that she was on the treadmill.] But that does not prove it is true.


observed, that the statement with respect to being placed on the treadmill was asserted strongly by the girl, hut was denied by the gaoler; and if the papers were produced, it would then, probably, be seen who was right and who was wrong. Then, it was stated that eminent counsel on the northern circuit had said the committal was legal; but the Secretary of State for the Home Department had said, he had received an opinion the commitment was illegal; and if they had the correspondence, they would possibly see who was right and who was wrong. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department appeared to think it was contrary to all precedent that such papers should be returned; hut the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury said that his experience did not bear out that statement at all. The hon. Member had then appealed to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, as to his opinion of the practice; and some light might be thrown by the production of the papers upon that part of the question; therefore he thought they were justified in asking for the production of the papers.

Amendment negatived.