HC Deb 13 March 1848 vol 97 cc458-60

I am anxious to take an opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade a question with regard to a body of labourers in whom the House has taken a great interest, for whom it has been called upon to legislate, and who are engaged in an occupation which imposes very severe labour—that of discharging the coal vessels in the river Thames. It may be in the recollection of the House that about six years ago an Act of Parliament was passed with the view of relieving those men from the very peculiar and degrading state of thraldom in which they were then held. A material change has been brought about in their social condition—a fact which is as gratifying as it is obvious to all those who are in connexion with them, It has recently been stated that these men have tendered their services to the Government, expressing their readiness to be sworn in as constables for the preservation of the public peace. Perceiving this statement in the public journals, and believing it to be substantially true, I thought it expedient to put a question to Her Majesty's Government on the subject, not for the purpose of drawing any invidious contrast between their conduct and that of any other classes, because I should thereby do injustice to such other classes, but for the purpose, first, of rendering them their due, and secondly, of bringing their conduct in a marked manner under the notice of Parliament, to show the encouragement given to all classes of labourers by the tribute of approbation which, on our part, such conduct will never fail to receive.


I have great satisfaction in answering the question of the right hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly true that the coalwhippers on the Thames, of whom there are 2,500, have tendered their services as special constables to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Their services were accepted. About 300 of their number were sworn in on Saturday, and the magistrate is in attendance to swear in more if necessary. With regard to the measure for the benefit of those persons which the right hon. Gentleman introduced, I am bound to state that it has fully met the views and intentions of the right hon. Gentleman. It has greatly conduced to the improvement of the moral habits and general condition of the coalwhippers.


Allow me to confirm the statement made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. In the course of last week an offer was made on the part of the coalwhippers, to the number of 2,000, to be sworn in as special constables, and that offer was accepted. But I am anxious, in consequence of what fell from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), that he disclaimed, and very properly, drawing an invidious contrast between one class and another, to express the conviction that such conduct presents one of the most valuable results which has been developed by the recent attempts at disturbance. I am happy to say that those attempts have elicited from the great body of the community of all classes, both in the metropolis and in the large towns throughout the country, the strong expression of their resolute determination to give their cooperation and aid for the suppression of disturbance and the maintenance of order, which is necessary for the protection of the property and comfort, not only of one class, but of all. In Glasgow a great number of special constables were sworn in, including a large body of operatives, and that in the course of one day. I am assured by the Lord Advocate, who proceeded immediately to the spot on receiving intelligence of the disturbances, that in Glasgow 20,000 special constables could have been sworn in, had it been necessary. The accounts from Liverpool are of the same gratifying description; and everywhere the same feeling prevailed in favour of giving every support to the authorities against those whose only object is plunder.