HC Deb 06 April 1848 vol 97 cc1353-5

Seeing the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department in his place, I beg leave to ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the first place, whether Her Majesty's Government have received information of the intention of a body of persons called Chartists to meet on Kennington Common in very large numbers on Monday next, for the ostensible purpose of proceeding through the metropolis in procession, and of presenting this House with a petition in favour of what are called the six points of the Charter? In the second place, I beg leave to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, the attention of the Government having been called to these circumstances, they are prepared to take those measures which may be necessary to secure the independence of this House from being overawed by any meeting calculated to intimidate it; and likewise, I will add, to protect the peaceable and loyal inhabitants of this metropolis?


Sir, in answer to the question of the hon. Baronet I beg to say, that now I hold in my hand a notice, published yesterday, signed by three individuals, one of whom styles himself "secretary"—as I presume, of the Chartist Association—in which notice it is stated, that a convention of forty-nine delegates, elected at public meetings held in different towns in the empire, will assemble on given days, their purpose being to superintend the presentation to this House of a petition, and to devise such other measures as they shall deem to be necessary to secure the enactment of the People's Charter. The notice proceeds to state that a great metropolitan demonstration would accompany the petition in procession to the door of the House of Commons; and the men of London who wish to take part in the demonstration are invited to assemble on Kennington Common on Monday, the 10th instant. A route is then prescribed, by which, arranged and superintended by marshals, they should proceed to the House of Commons. Sir, the attention of Her Majesty's Government having been called to this notice, and other information having reached them with respect to the intended proceedings on Monday next, they directed a notice to be issued, which, I trust, will be published in half an hour throughout the streets of London, and circulated over the country, pointing out that by the statute and common law of these realms this intended procession is illegal, and warning all loyal and peaceable subjects of Her Majesty to abstain from taking part in such procession, and calling upon them to give their best assistance to the constituted authorities in maintaining order, preventing disturbance, and preserving peace.


was aware he was not strictly in order in addressing the House, but trusted for their indulgence while he remarked that the right hon. Baronet by the course he proposed would certainly be taking the people by surprise; for, he must remind the right hon. Gentleman, in 1831, when many of his Colleagues were in office, 150,000 men, having given notice of their intention at the Home Office, marched down and deposited their petition for reform; that in 1837 a procession of 100,000 men marched with the petition in favour of the Dorchester labourers; and that, very lately, a procession consisting of a very large number of sailors had accompanied a petition. Why, the persons against whom the notice of the Government was directed, had passed a resolution that every single man should himself be a special constable, and they had pledged themselves not only to preserve the peace themselves, but to take every individual into custody who violated the rights of property. It was not the intention of the people to come to the door of the House. They proposed to cross Westminster-bridge. There was no ulterior object in view; and if he thought that a single breach of the peace would be committed, he would not sanction the proceedings. The liberty that was sought for had been always granted once in every Session on the occasion of presenting the people's petition; and, moreover, he believed it was a constitutional right, and he had precedents for it both before and after the era of the Reform Bill. He hoped that the right hon. Baronet would reconsider his determination, and that the people would be allowed to come down with their petition, containing from 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 signatures—to come down and present that petition, but not with any intention of overawing that House. He should hold himself unworthy of filling a seat in that House, if he could lend himself to any demonstration calculated to overawe the House.


With reference to what the hon. Gentleman has said about taking the people by surprise, I can only say that at the earliest moment at which the Government could enter into deliberation upon the subject after seeing the announcement of the meeting for Monday next, they gave directions for the notice to be issued to which I have referred, and which will be printed and in the possession of the hon. Member, I hope, this evening. That notice will contain the opinion of the law advisers of the Crown, without reference to precedent. I assure the hon. Gentleman I give him full credit for being the last man to encourage any persons to join in violating the law of the land.


submitted that it might be dangerous to interfere with the procession. He was not of opinion that the meeting together of a numerous body of persons—however numerous it might be—a million, for example—was illegal, so long as the people were peaceable and quiet. He was sorry the Government had taken up the matter so seriously, and advised them to rescind their determination.

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