HC Deb 27 May 1873 vol 216 cc501-2

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been called to a statement in "The Times" newspaper of the 23rd instant, to the effect that sixteen women were on the 21st instant committed to the gaol at Oxford by the magistrates sitting in petty sessions at Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, some for seven days and some for ten days, with hard labour, on a charge of coercing or interfering to prevent men from going to their work, on the farm of one Mr. Hambridge; and, whether he will cause to be laid upon the Table of the House, a Copy of the depositions or evidence taken by the magistrates in the case, together with a Copy of any record or memorandum of record of the conviction of any one of the said women, and also a Copy of one of the warrants of commitment made out by the officer of the court to be delivered to the governor of the gaol to whose custody the prisoners were committed?


in reply, said, he informed the House yesterday that he had received no communication on this subject either from the magistrates or on behalf of the imprisoned persons, nor had any such communication yet reached the Home Office. He had seen the statements referred to in the Question of the hon. Member with respect to these women, and he had thereupon written a letter to the magistrates which they would have that day. As to the Papers for which the hon. Gentleman asked, he had not yet seen them; but he did not anticipate there would be any objection to their production if they were moved for. He might, perhaps, be allowed to add that it was a mistake to suppose that the convictions had been made under the Masters and Servants' Act, nor was it so stated in the public Press. They had been made under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and it had been affirmed that that Act visited with exceptional severity offences committed by the working classes. The fact was, however, that it limited and defined the cases in which the action of masters or workmen could be punished, and was greatly less severe than the previous law. The charge against the women in question was one, he supposed, of intimidation for having proceeded in large numbers and used violent language with the view of preventing workmen from going to their work. Under the Law as it stood previously to the passing of the Act any person who was convicted of preventing a man from working by threats, molestation, or intimidation was punished as for a criminal act; but the Law as it now stood very considerably narrowed the scope of the criminal law, for unless the offence was such as to justify the magistrates in binding the parties to keep the peace, or was "molestation" in one of the forms described in the Act, there could be no conviction.


said, he hoped, as the sentence would expire during the Whitsuntide Recess, the attention of the right hon. Gentleman would be directed to the subject.


said, it was not his custom to wait until Questions were put to him in that House before taking the necessary action in any matter, after he had received the requisite official information.