HL Deb 24 February 1817 vol 35 cc551-88

The order of the day being read, for the second reading of the Bill to empower his majesty to secure and detain such persons as his majesty shall suspect are conspiring against his person and government,

Lord Sidmouth

rose and observed, that whatever differences of opinion might exist as to this and other measures in contemplation, he was confident that no noble lord could have read and reflected upon the report of the committee upon the table without the deepest regret, calculated as it was to shock every feeling of loyalty to the throne and of affection for the illustrious individual exercising its functions, and to cast a loathsome stigma upon the character and disposition of the country. Twice had a noble earl complained that the report had been presented unaccompanied by any evidence or documents to support it; but he (lord S.) trusted that the House, instead of censuring its committee for neglect of its duty, would applaud the regularity and the prudence of its proceedings. The committee had thought fit to present to the House the conclusions and results at which it had arrived, instead of detailing information, necessarily of a secret nature, and producing documents which would put to hazard the safety of individuals, from whom the important evidence had been obtained. These were motives that the House could not fail to approve; and, actuated by the same feeling, his lordship held it to be incumbent upon him to observe the same restraint. To that evidence, which the committee had declined to furnish, he could not, with any regard to propriety, refer.

There were, however, in the report, three prominent features to which it was fit for him to advert in the first instance, and which merited the particular attention of their lordships. The first was, that no doubt was left in the minds of the committee, "that a traitorous conspiracy had been formed in the metropolis for the purpose of overthrowing, by means of a general insurrection, the established government, laws, and constitution of this kingdom, and of effecting a general plunder and division of property." In the second place, that the committee are deeply concerned to be compelled, in further execution of their duty, to report their full conviction that designs of this nature have not been confined to the capital, but have been extended, and are still extending widely in many other parts of Great Britain, particularly in some of the most populous and manufacturing districts." And the third point, inserted at the close of the report, was a declaration that "such a state of things cannot be suffered to continue without hazarding the most imminent and dreadful evils; and although the committee do not presume to anticipate the, decision of parliament, as to the particular measures to be adopted in the present emergency, they feel it to be their duty to express their decided opinion that further provisions are necessary for the preservation of the public peace, and for the protection of interests in which the happiness of every class of the community is deeply and equally involved."

These were the main points adverted to in the report; and it was impossible to read them without the utmost degree of grief and shame, that in this country, distinguished in former periods of its history for its zealous attachment to the laws and constitution, facts, but too indisputable, should have compelled a committee to make such a statement to the House, at a moment, too, when the fidelity and gallantry of the nation had placed it on the loftiest pinnacle of glory and when it had become as well the admiration as the envy of the rest of the world. Was it at such a period that conspiracies to overthrow the government, and to destroy the constitution, were to have been expected? Was it at such a period that parliament could have contemplated being called upon for measures like those this night to be suggested? Unhappily, for a long series of years, but more especially since the commencement of the French revolution, a malignant spirit had been abroad in the country, seeking to ally itself with every cause of national difficulty and distress; it had connected itself even with the dispensations of Providence, and had endeavoured to impute the visitations of God to causes with which they could have no connexion. During the war it had been incessantly busied, not in aggravating our defeats, for we had known none, but in denying our victories, and misrepresenting them as the triumphs of our enemies. On the arrival of peace, its activity had been redoubled; and, while the people were suffering under a heavier pressure of distress than had been felt, perhaps, at any former period, it had employed itself in exaggerating calamity, and fomenting discontent. The purpose of that malignant spirit was, to avail itself of the reduced and burthened state of the country, and to apply it to its own desperate purposes; for evidence had been laid before the committee, by which it unquestionably appeared, that the whole physical strength of the population was to the destruction of the most sacred establishments. That the distress arose, in a great degree, from unavoidable causes, he apprehended would be denied by few; yet this malignant spirit had represented to the ignorant and credulous, that their sufferings were to be attributed not merely to the ministers of the day, but to defects! in the constitution: the efforts that had been made, and nobly made, to mitigate every cause of complaint, had been treated as worse than nothing, and as increasing the evil they were intended to remedy; and this evil agent, whose deliberate purpose seemed to be to destroy all that was valuable, had at length plainly told the people, that peaceable entreaties were vain, and that by open violence alone could their grievances be redressed.

Some noble lords had complained that prosecutions had not been instituted against the authors, printers, or publishers of these infamous libels; but it was but justice to government to state, that they had not neglected their duty with regard to those publications. As soon as they reached the hands of ministers, they were transmitted to the law officers of the crown, who felt that these publications were drawn up with so much dexterity—the authors had so profited by former lessons of experience, that greater difficulties to conviction presented themselves than at any former time. Ministers had, however, strictly enjoined them to file informations in all cases where a conviction was possible, trusting with confidence to the loyalty and integrity of a British jury. Many prosecutions were now actually pending, the law-officers, of whose ability and interest his lordship was fully assured, not being of opinion that any proceeding of the kind could be earlier instituted; the delay had originated in the most conscientious motives. These seditions had been spread over the country with a profusion scarcely credible, and with an industry without example; in the manufacturing districts they had been circulated by every possible contrivance; every town was overflowed by them; in every village they were almost innumerable, and scarcely a cottage had escaped the perseverance of the agents of mischief; hawkers of all kinds had been employed, and the public mind had, in a manner been saturated with the odious poison. Clubs had also been established n every quarter under the ostensible object of parliamentary reform. His lordship would not assert, that some of them had not really this object in view; but he should belie his deliberate conviction if he did not also assert, that a very large proportion of them indeed had parliamentary reform in their mouths, but rebellion and revolution in their hearts.

With respect to the means by which this dreadful purpose was to be effected, the report of the committee said much. Public meetings from time to time had been adjourned until all was ripe for action, and the first disturbance of the peace of the country took place on the 2d of December. On that occasion ministers would have failed in their duty if they had not made preparations adequate to the danger. His object would ever be to employ the civil power, and never to call in the aid of the military but in cases of absolute emergency; but on this occasion the civil power was incompetent to preserve tranquillity; and soldiers were so posted as to be ready on the instant in every part of the metropolis. The consequence was, that the disturbances within the jurisdiction of the lord mayor had been quelled in a few moments by a troop of life-guards which he (lord Sidmouth) had deemed it his indispensable duty to dispatch after the rioters, even without the sanction of the chief magistrate of London. He had directed them to proceed to Skinner-street, and to follow the rioters into all parts of the city: and in one situation a line had been actually drawn up, and some shots were fired, which put a speedy end to the disturbances. The trials of some of the chief actors ensued, and his lordship said, he had not deemed it advisable (and he hoped it never would be thought so) that prosecutions for treason should be instituted but where the clearest case could be made out. He should always prefer proceeding for a minor offence, where it could not be shown decisively that it partook of the nature of a higher enormity.

It had been said by a noble lord (Holland), that ministers were informed at that time of the treasonable purposes of the individuals engaged; in short, that they were acquainted with all the facts contained in the report. The noble lord was in an error; for the particulars of a conspiracy indisputably of a treasonable quality had not been communicated to ministers, and if they had no intelligence the noble lord could not blame them for inactivity. The circumstances that marked the atrocious character and designs of the meeting in Spa-fields did not come to the knowledge of ministers until three weeks before the meeting of parliament, so that no blame could be fairly imputed to them upon that account. The committee had reported that such a state of things could not be suffered to continue without risking the most imminent and dreadful evils. The report referred, not merely to what had been done, but to proceedings still carried on for the furtherance of treasonable purposes; and that not merely in the metropolis, but in various parts of the country, where the seeds of disaffection were most likely to flourish; and the report stated a decided opinion, that some other measures were necessary to secure the good order and happiness of society. It was therefore for the wisdom of both Houses of Parliament to consider and determine what those other measures should be which were required to protect interests in which all classes were deeply and equally involved. That which prominently forced itself upon the feelings and attention of their lordships was, the imperious necessity of affording protection to the illustrious personage, who, on the day of the meeting of parliament, was not only exposed to insult and indignity, but even his sacred person was attacked and endangered. The House would not have forgotten what had been the proceeding on a similar occasion, when a similar attack had been made on the person of the sovereign: the act of the 36th Geo. 3d. c. 7 was passed to afford to his majesty additional protection; and his lordship would ask, if the dreadful and atrocious conduct recently witnessed did not render it fit that that bill should, by amendment, be made applicable to the Prince Regent?

It appeared before the House, that the I enemies of the constitution, in the prosecution of their desperate designs, had made attempts, vain and impotent indeed, to seduce from their duty the soldiers and sailors who had fought our battles and conquered our peace: the legislature had decided by a bill, which expired in August last, that persons guilty of such attempts should forfeit all right to the privileges they were entitled to by birth, and his lordship intended to suggest the revival of that measure—The clubs existing in all parts of the country formed another evil to be corrected, and to these the 39th: of the king, would not apply, unless it could be shown that the clubs were connected together by affiliation: it did not; seem, however, under the present circumstances, necessary that that connexion should be established to render the members amenable. The 39th of the king, by a wise provision, had put down the London Corresponding Society, the so- ciety for Constitutional Information, and some others by name; and although it had been predicted they had never been revived under new titles. It might be proper to adopt the same course with regard to some of the clubs now existing; and more especially with respect to one of them; and if they should endeavour to communicate their infection to the people under a new description, at least the legislature would have given warning by marking the door where the pestilence raged. It was also in the contemplation of ministers to propose the renewal of a measure that had produced many salutary effects in 1795, which had been renewed in 1798, and which had for its object the prevention of seditious meetings.

Having stated thus much, his lordship felt that he should not discharge his duty, and should expose himself to severe self-reproach, it he did not state his conviction that parliament would not perform what it owed to the country if it stopped here. In many parts of the country proceedings were still carried on of a most dangerous nature, and which could not come to the knowledge of ministers but through the medium of persons who could not be brought into a court of justice. On this account yet more effectual provisions were indispensable, since bills to regulate clubs, or prevent seditious meetings, would not reach the most formidable and crying evils of which we had to complain. He was most sincerely grieved to be the instrument, upon this occasion, of proposing a measure, the necessity of which was at all times to be deeply lamented, but more particularly in a period of peace. When we had no foreign enemies, it was the more to be regretted that domestic foes should occasion the suspension of one of the most important privileges of the constitution. Noble lords had much reprobated the communication of extraordinary powers to the servants of the crown; but it was one extraordinary quality of the British constitution, that the powers of the executive government could be enlarged, if by such means that constitution could be better secured. The true question was which was the most dangerous, to give additional strength to the hands of ministers for general protection, or to refuse it, and thereby to hazard every right that was dear and sacred? He required the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, in pity to the peaceable and loyal inhabitants of the country: he required it for the protection of the two Houses of parliament, for the maintenance of our liberties, and for the security of the blessings of the constitution. He asked, that this power should be communicated without delay; for though in other measures the House might delay, here procrastination was ruin. To adopt the measure would be a wise precaution—to refuse it a desperate infatuation. To suspend the Habeas Corpus act at the present moment would be to obstruct the commission of the most flagrant crimes, and check the hands of sacrilegious despoilers of the sacred fabric of the constitution. "Nam cætera maleficia turn persequare, ubi facta sunt: hoc, nisi provideris, ne accidat, ubi evenit, frustràa judicia implores." Under all the circumstances, it was a great satisfaction to him to inform the House, that it would not be necessary to extend the operation of the bill to Ireland. Some time ago he had proposed a measure for suspending the Habeas Corpus act only in the sister kingdom, and it was the more gratifying for him now to declare, that the disaffected and disloyal in this country did not appear to have made a single convert in Ireland. All he asked of the House at present was, not to exaggerate, but not to under-rate the dangers to which we were exposed, and the difficulties with which we had to contend. It was not merely the lower orders that had united in these conspiracies; individuals of great activity, great resolution, and great energy, were engaged with them, and it became the House to meet their attempts with corresponding spirit, determination, and vigour. Such had been the advice of one of the most gifted and enlightened men that had ever lived, and who seemed, with a prophetic eye, to have foreseen, not only the immediate but the remoter consequences of the French revolution. The noble lord concluded by reading an extract from the commencement of Mr. Burke's Reflections; and then moved, that the bill upon the table be read a second time.

The Marquess Wellesley

began by observing, that this was a crisis which at once called for all the fortitude of the people and all the energy of the government. He was ready to allow, that the state of the popular mind was exactly such as had been described by one of the greatest statesmen of any age or country —he meant, that general distress had produced general discontent. The statesman to whom he alluded had said, in language quite as good as any quoted by the noble viscount, whether Greek, or Latin, or English, that "the matter of sedition was of two kinds, poverty and discontent:" and of this matter of sedition he was willing to admit that there was an abundant supply; though, as to the sedition itself, he did not think the proof was so evident. Let it, however, be made to appear, that the country was not merely in a state of discontent, but also in a state of danger; let any man prove that the machinations of the evil-disposed would produce the hazard of ruin to the general constitution; let a satisfactory allegation of necessity be made out for the adoption of extraordinary measures; and he would ask, where was the man who, under such circumstances, would not say that even a great evil ought to be sustained in order to prevent a greater? The wisest patriots had ever felt, that true liberty has its basis in public order—pax est tranquilla libertas. The most arduous struggles for independance, the most furious civil wars, all concluded in establishing this maxim—that whatever was inconsistent with the tranquillity of a state could not be consistent with liberty. But although that principle was true, it was not on every allegation of public disturbance, it was not on every ebullition, even of a treasonable tendency, even though the branches of that treason spread far and deep, that the parliament should be called upon to alter the existing laws of the land, or suspend for a moment the great bulwarks of the constitution. There should be before them a plain distinct case, founded on powerful and irresistible evidence, in order that parliament should be justified in doing that, which, in ordinary circumstances, would be a direct infringement of the public freedom. He would go farther and contend, that unless the ministers of the crown could prove unquestionably that treason, if it exists, cannot be restrained by the ordinary course of law, they are not warranted in demanding the extension of extraordinary powers.

There remained but one other preliminary point, in respect of which every thing like delusion must be dispelled; but the whole elucidation he feared, would require greater efforts than, under the state of his health, he was enabled to afford. It was, however, so imperative to the just consideration of the present question, that he would endeavour to explain fully the impression of his mind. The noble secretary of state had dwelt long on the precedents of 1795 and 1801. In the former period he had the opportunity of being acquainted distinctly with the circumstances; of the latter he could only speak from report. But this he would contend, that though it could be shown-distinctly that the conspiracy of this day was alike in general character to that of 1795—though the overt acts were of the same complexion and betrayed a similar object, still, unless it was also shown that the condition of the country in its relations foreign and domestic were similar—that the causes of the mischiefs ivere the same, the reasoning in favour of similar measures of government to be exercised now as formerly, was, in his mind, wholly inconclusive. It was therefore necessary to view closely the character of the present times, and in reference to that character, to inquire whether the remedies proposed corresponded with that character.

Proceeding, threfore, to the grand and prominent part of the question, namely, the comparison of the present day with the period of 1795, the leading and undeniable distinction was, that in 1795 all the mischiefs against which the enlargement of the powers of the crown went to provide, mainly sprung from the French revolution; from France the dangers were apprehended, and to the machinations of agents from that country the extraordinary energy of the government was directed. There might have been manifested some partial inclination to public disturbances during two years of scarcity; but in the enactments of that period, they were never contemplated. The principles of the French revolution, and those alone, were the great fountain and origin of the system then pursued. This consideration led to topics that he felt could not be disagreeable to the self-complacency of the noble lords opposite. What, he would ask, then, were the grand principles of our modern policy, when our army in Spain was engaged in its succession of triumphs—when the nations of the continent, in imitation of our example, were resolved to make a determined struggle for their independance? It was this—that we had actually extinguished the spirit of Jacobinism—that whatever original differences might have existed as to the justice of the war, the universal feeling of England and of Europe was, that the war in its progress had assumed a new complexion—that the aggressions of the military government of France had made it a war for liberty, for justice, for the rights of nations. That the experience the people of Europe had felt of the tendency and result of the principles of the revolution—of the sanguinary excesses in which they terminated, and the tremendous despotism by which they were succeeded, had at length recalled the people of the continent to sounder views and made them feel, that they, the people, had also, with their sovereigns, whom they had before deserted, a common right in legitimate government and public order. In one word, that our successes had completely extinguished Jacobinism for ever, But then came the peace—that settlement of Europe as it was called—a peace never equalled in the production of more cruel wrongs—a settlement that has directly, and with every disregard of justice, laid prostrate every principle that heretofore characterised the law of nations that transferred nations without regard to sympathy or interests—that tied people together, not even connected by the most remote affection—that outraged all those principles and declarations on which the powers of Europe professed to act. When these things happened, then it was that the subdued spirit, that had so long desolated the earth, again arose—then it was that Jacobinism spoke again, and had something to speak at, and hydra-headed resumed its pristine strength. Were there no other circumstances that tended to give life and strength to its exertions? We were told on a former occasion by the noble lord that by the ordinances of Providence war was favourable to certain pursuits of commerce. The converse of that proposition went to prove, that under the Christian dispensation, peace must be destructive in the proportion as war was beneficial to our trade. Yet had England no claims upon the nations of Europe? Could she not have said, after the glorious successes of the war, when she had in her hands the means of securing her demands—"We have purchased for your governments, existence—for your people, independance. It was British means that rescued you—it was British arms secured your release. Our resources arise from our commercial prosperity—it was that prosperity restored your strength and supplied your treasury with subsidies; and now, before those great benefits are ratified, we demand that commercial preference and intercourse, the resources of which have been so available to your own security, and on which the means of oar own resuscitation after such sacrifices depend." The minister that omitted such demands, and such an opportunity, had to answer in no light degree for the aggravated distresses of his country. The result has been general discontent. The people, recollecting all the efforts they had made, and aware of the sources from whence these efforts flowed, have looked with astonishment and indignation at an arrangement in which no one stipulation in favour of British prosperity was guaranteed. No other commerce has followed this settlement of Europe, save the African slave trade.

Thus, from the foreign policy that characterized the peace—from the positive injustice that the neglect of all demands for our commercial advantage entailed on this country, Jacobinism was again enabled to raise its front, and speculate with its inveterate hopes on the increasing distress and sufferings of the people. To these sources of discontent other circumstances might be added, flowing from accidental causes, but which could not be attributed in the way of crimination to his majesty's government. Under this state of affairs, disaffection, to what extent, in the want of all information, he could not take upon himself to assert, had taken a turn that it was almost natural to anticipate. But he must be allowed to ask, how came it, that ministers, when they had ascertained the existence and extent of this presumed traitorous conspiracy in the metropolis—when they were aware, as they now profess, that the existing provisions of the law were incompetent to control it, did not at once resort to decided measures to put it down. What was the obvious remedy? To have had recourse to parliament: first, because parliament was the legitimate place, where the delusions progressively gaining an influence on a large description of the population could be fully canvassed and dispelled: secondly, because it was there, if disaffection was increasing, and treason in progress, the additional strength, if required, could be alone and seasonably supplied. But the noble secretary of state had assured the House, that it was not until within three weeks of the meeting of parliament, that his majesty's government were apprized of the atrocious character of the conspiracy. What did their lordships committee in their report communicate? It asserted that the first overt act of this traitorous conspiracy took place at the first meeting in Spa-fields on the 15th of Nov.—that the most inflammatory and seditious language was there indulged—that the grossest attempts to vilify the most venerable institutions of the country were at that meeting carried into practice—that tri-colored cockades and revolutionary symbols were without any disguise triumphantly displayed—and yet from that meeting, thus conducted and thus described by the committee's report, his majesty's secretary of state for the home department received and acknowledged a deputation—was in the habit of correspondence with its principal agitator, whom, it was learned from the petition of that night, he received with all that courtesy for which the noble viscount was distinguished, and with his hand upon his heart [Hear, hear!]. Next came the second meeting on the 2d of December, where again appeared the same agitator "opening the proceedings, almost, as if the assembly were convoked in the name and behalf of the noble secretary for the home department, with a correspondence, which he stated, he was authorized by the noble secretary of state to communicate [Hear, hear!]. That night, however, the noble secretary, in recounting the splendid triumphs he had gained in Skinner's-alley or Skinner's-street on the very 2d of Dec, had taken great credit for the bold manœuvre by which the advanced division of these conspirators, headed by a drunken surgeon and a shoemaker, was signally defeated in the early part of the campaign under the auspices of field marshal lord viscount Sid-mouth [Hear, hear ! and a laugh].

But in viewing this question seriously, the parliament had a right to know from his majesty's government, why they hazarded, by their previous conduct, these unjustifiable outrages on the public tranquillity. Why did they not apply to the evil, growing, as it was, under their eyes, the sure and early and constitutional corrective? Why did they not assemble the two Houses of Parliament? It was to be kept steadily in the recollection of the House, that they not only did not assemble the Parliament, but with their know- ledge of the state of the public mind, with their acquaintance of the general complaints of the nation, in full possession of all that transpired at Spa-fields on the 2d of December, a meeting, now described as the first overt act of treason, they actually on the 25th of the previous month prorogued it. By the act of prorogation in such an exigency, they, the ministers of the crown, gave their authoritative sanction to all the calumniating delusions, so perversely circulated against the character of parliament—they became parties to all the misrepresentations of those Spa-fields meetings—they declared in effect to the country, that those who traduced its services, were correct—that the king's government considered it but as a useless engine or only to be convoked for the purposes of the minister. Instead of recurring to the uniform practice of consulting the constitutional organs of the nation, in a crisis of confusion and embarrassment, they almost went out of their way to bar the doors of both Houses.

The report of the committee, in adverting to the late atrocious attempt on the illustrious personage in the exercise of the royal authority—dear, as he must ever be to those who know his personal qualities, and reverenced by all who feel the monarchy to be inseparable from the constitution, justly states it as a part of the same conspiracy. They infer it, however, as a matter of reasoning. Why, then, were precautions wholly overlooked until the outrage was perpetrated? Could any other result be expected when the ministers of the crown allowed discontents and sedition to grow under their view, indeed, in corresponding with it unchecked, but that such proceedings would terminate in that detestable outrage that at length had occurred? That, continued the noble marquis, would lead him to the opinion he wished to express upon the subject of the propositions brought forward by the noble secretary. He had no hesitation in avowing, that the atrocious outrage committed upon the person of the Prince Regent, when returning from parliament, would alone justify ministers in taking every requisite measure for the future security of his royal person. He had heard (he knew not how correctly), that certain doubts existed whether the provisions of the act which was passed for securing the person of his majesty, could, in the strict construction of the law, apply to the Prince Regent. For his own part, he thought they could not; and if they could not, what should be thought of the supineness of ministers, who, from the day when his royal higness assumed the functions of sovereignty, down to the present moment, had never even attempted to give him the same protection as his majesty enjoyed. There was hurry, indeed, in arresting suspected persons; there was hurry in suspending one of the palladia of our constitution; while a grave and serious omission in their duty had been continued from year to year. He perceived a noble earl smile at what he said. He could tell that noble earl he valued not his scoff: he repeated, that it was a most serious consideration; if the noble earl could answer him by argument, he should be happy to hear him; if not, let him repress his insult [Cries of Order, order!].

The Earl of Aberdeen

observed, that he did not smile at what the noble marquess had said; at the same time, if any thing which that noble marquess might utter should seem to him to deserve it, he would not manage his smiles from any respect to such feelings as the noble marquess had evinced.

The Marquis Wellesley

in continuation, insisted that he must think the omission demanded a very serious consideration. With regard to the other points, the bill for regulating public meetings, he did not think it likely he should offer any opposition to it. He considered that bill essential, not only to the public security and the tranquillity of the country, but essential to the liberties of the people. Such meetings, he firmly believed, had been abused in a manner most hostile to the liberties of the subject; and it would be well for his majesty's ministers to consider, whether, it might not be expedient to prevent those meetings from assuming a shape of constitutional authority, which they would assume, if by adjournments and prorogations, they were allowed to hold their sittings indefinitely, and, as it were, menace the legislature. He thought, also, that other provisions of a very salutary character, might be introduced into the bill. But although agreeing so far, he must confess that the specific proposition, which the noble lord had submitted that night, was one in every respect ill adapted for the case and ill adapted to the temper and condition of the nation. He objected to it, because it put into the hands of unskilful power, the personal liberty of every man in the country. He knew, that if a person was unjustly imprisoned, he might have his redress by an action at law; but what redress was that to a man who might perhaps be doomed to linger in a prison for years? Besides, he knew also, there were such things as bills of indemnity; they had been passed on former occasions; they might be passed again; and was it not a lamentable consideration, that the subjects of this realm should be placed in such a condition, that their personal freedom, their birthright secured to them by Magna Charta should depend upon the remedy of an action at law, after sustaining an unjust imprisonment? In former times, when such a violent measure was resorted to, the country was in a state either of actual war, of actual rebellion, or of both. In 1795 we were not only in actual war, but the state of Ireland was dreadful to contemplate. In 1798 and in 1801, the Habeas Corpus act was again suspended, and at both those periods we were at war with France, and rebellion prevailed in Ireland. He did not know whether their lordships would concur in his opinion, but he considered the circumstances of a war with France, and a rebellion in Ireland, as greatly aggravating our danger at those periods. Would the noble lords say that their "glorious" peace had now reduced England to a condition of equal peril and alarm? The noble viscount had said that Ireland was now perfectly quiet. It might be so, but he remembered the answer which a facetious friend always gave upon his arrival in London, when asked respecting the tranquillity of Ireland, "Oh! yes," said he, "they are as quiet as gunpowder there" [a laugh].

Such he apprehended, was the present quiet state of that country. But with respect to England, it was affected that she was now reduced, by various causes, to a condition little better than that of Ireland in the worst times. In that state of discontent, however, which had not sprung merely from the machinations of seditious persons, but from totally different causes, did not their lordships perceive a marked distinction, as contrasted with former periods of trouble and danger? Hence whatever remedies it might be deemed expedient to employ, they should at least be adapted to present circumstances. They should be framed with a view to the effect they would produce upon the temper and condition of the country; a temper and condition which should be treated with the greatest delicacy, with the nicest hand, so as not to outrage in the smallest degree the feelings of the people.

After the most deliberate consideration that he could give to the whole subject, he must conscientiously declare, that up to the moment he was then speaking, he had not seen such evidence as convinced him the danger was so alarming as had been represented. Great discontent undoubtedly existed; seditious practices evidently prevailed; yet he was not satisfied they existed in that shape, form, and character which justified the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; and being unconvinced (although ready to concur in all the other measures proposed, and perhaps, when those bills were introduced, he should suggest extending their operation), he was not prepared to go so far as to place the personal liberties of the subject at the discretion of ministers, under the pretext of maintaining public security. There was an observation attributed to an illus-strious statesman, the late lord Mansfield, and which if not his, was worthy of falling from him, which he would recommend to the attention of the noble lords opposite. That distinguished person alluding to the great sages and heroes who had achieved the Revolution, and who afterwards applied for a bill of indemnity, observed, that so well did they love the constitution they had saved, they would not suffer the act by which it was saved to have even the appearance of giving it a wound.

He had only a few words more to add. He trusted in God, that while passing, as they ought to pass, some regulations to restrain seditious practices, they would not forget another piece of advice, given by that able statesman lord Bacon. His counsel was, that if you would really remove sedition and trouble, you must remove the matter of sedition. And what did he call the matter of sedition? Much poverty and much discontent. How would he remove them? By applying every energy of the state to the reduction of charges, which would lead to the reduction of tributes. Whatever they might do, therefore, the true remedy for our present danger was to apply themselves vigorously, steadfastly, and determinedly, to the great work of diminishing the national expenditure; and not fortify the persuasion, vainly felt, he hoped, that all those propositions, all those rumours of peril, were merely meant to divert the attention of parliament from the duty of retrenchment and economy, which it had to perform. If that course were adopted, he was satisfied those emotions of loyalty, that attachment to order, that firm determination to uphold the constitution, would continue to prevail, which were the only basis upon which true British liberty had ever existed.

The Earl of Liverpool

allowed that it was perfectly just in the noble marquess who had last spoken, to consider, in one comprehensive point of view, all the circumstances which had apparently led to that situation of the country, which made the present regulations necessary; but, at the same time, he could not help observing, that some of the topics touched upon by the noble marquess had just as much to do with the particular topic then before their lordships, as with any that was ever discussed in parliament. Without following the noble marquess, therefore, through all his arguments, he should endeavour to reply to those which more immediately belonged to the question of that evening. Their lordships were aware, that some years ago (1812), the manufacturing parts of the country were in a distressed and dangerous state, in consequence of which certain papers were laid before both Houses of Parliament. Those papers were referred to a secret committee, and upon the report of that committee some new laws were framed to meet the evil; but it never was in the contemplation of government to adopt any measures similar to the present, because it was the firm conviction of that committee, that political opinions were not the foundation of the evils that then existed. There might, indeed, have been some remote connexion, but it was so remote as not to call for the kind of proceeding which it was now proposed to adopt. He would take another instance in which, though much mischief was meditated, yet it had not been thought necessary to pursue the present course. When a noble friend of his was at the head of the treasury, a most wicked and diabolical conspiracy was formed against the life of the king, by colonel Despard. That conspiracy was foiled, however, and the chief mover in it, with some of his associates, taken up, tried, condemned and executed. But, upon the discovery of it, neither his noble friend, nor the other members of government, thought that they ought to bring in a bill for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. Why? Because, though the conspiracy in itself was as malignant and horrible a one as ever entered the head of man, yet, it was entirely an insulated transaction, and the moment the conspirators were arrested, they considered the whole affair at an end.

He had mentioned those cases to prove that ministers did not, on all occasions, though there might be danger, deem it expedient to recommend the adoption of such measures as were now proposed. The noble marquess however, had said, show us a case equal to that of 1794, when the liberties of the country were suspended. He was aware, that in the history of the world, no two cases of political necessity could be produced exactly alike. The noble marquess seemed to think, that a necessity like that which existed in 1794 was the only one that could justify such an extreme proceeding; but if he looked back to other periods, he would find precedents established, when parliament, in its wisdom, sanctioned measures analogous to the present, though the country was menaced neither by a foreign nor an internal war; and he contended, that though the present situation of these realms was not precisely the same as in 1794, yet it was such as imperiously demanded the precautionary system now recommended.

The noble marquess affirmed, that the distresses and discontent under which we laboured, were attributable to the peace of 1814 and 1815. He denied the truth of that allegation. When the different articles of that peace were before their lordships, he stated the grounds upon which they had been concluded, and he was prepared now to meet any objections which could be made to them. He believed, however, it had never before entered into the mind of any one (though he knew it had been made an engine to inflame the discontented, by those who professed not to dislike the peace, but the war, and all the great efforts of the last twenty years) to seek for the cause of our present difficulties and distresses, in a peace concluded under more glorious circumstances, and leaving, he contended, more political happiness and liberty to other countries, than any former peace that was ever concluded [Hear, hear!].

The real causes of the distress would open too wide a field of discussion, if he were to attempt to argue them; by some, they were considered as belonging to a transition from a state of war to a state of peace; by others, they were referred to our paper currency; and by others, to the great extent of taxation. But he must own, of all causes that could be assigned, the last he expected to hear, was the peace of 1814 and 1815. The noble marquess had strongly alluded to what he considered as the obstruction experienced by our commerce and manufactures? He (lord L.) was ready to join issue with the noble marquess upon that subject, and to deny the assumption entirely. So far from the fact being as stated by the noble marquess, our trade and manufactures were never so extensive as during the two first years of peace; what he said was not merely matter of assertion, but proved by documents on their lordships table. Our trade and manufacture, since the peace, were greater than on any former occasion; and the real cause of the present depression was the immense exportation that had taken place, and the consequent glut of the foreign markets. In fact, the origin of our distresses was to be traced to a cause totally different from our foreign trade; it was to be traced to the distress of our agricultural interest, which had no connexion whatever with our foreign trade. The fall in the value of agricultural produce, and the effect which that had upon our internal trade and manufactures, was the main spring and source of our difficulties? As to the restrictive measures adopted by other countries with respect to our manufactures, before we condemned that policy in our neighbours we ought to look at home? Had we imposed no restrictions upon the produce of foreign states imported into our harbours? We certainly carried the system as far as any other nation, and ought not, therefore, to be the first to complain.

The next topic adverted to by the noble marquess was, the meeting of parliament, and he asked why it was not earlier assembled, when ministers must have known the dangers and difficulties of the country? It did not follow, however, that because there were clubs of a dangerous nature, because there were meetings of a dangerous nature, because there were publications of a dangerous nature, therefore there were within the knowledge of government disinct proofs of a conspiracy, upon which they might proceed capitally, in a court of justice, against the conspirators, or with which they could come down to parliament. In fact it was not till within three weeks of the actual meeting of parliament, that they were in full possession of that knowledge; and it was still later before they could produce it in that shape of complete evidence as it now appeared in their reports. It might be imagined, indeed, from the language of the noble marquess, that parliament had been prorogued to some unusual season of the year, or to some period particularly inconvenient. He did not mean to say, that under extraordinary circumstances it might not have been prudent to assemble parliament earlier; but he believed the time at which it was generally summoned, namely, after Christmas, was found by the members of both Houses, to be the most convenient. The whole circumstances of the case, in fact, had been gradually growing and developing themselves. Even since the period when the committee began to sit, some new and most important information had been acquired. If, therefore, ministers had decided wrong, it was not from want of due deliberation, but from an erroneous judgment formed upon the fullest and most mature consideration. It was his decided opinion, however, that more danger would have resulted from calling parliament together earlier, and thus withdrawing gentlemen from their country residences, than good. He knew, indeed, at that instant, some most respectable individuals, members of both Houses, who implored that they might not be required to quit their seats in the country, as it was of the utmost importance, that they should continue among their tenants under existing circumstances; any one who knew the state of the country at present, and reflected upon the sort of influence which the presence of the nobility and gentry exercised, especially at that season of the year which had just elapsed, when the kind hospitable intercourse of Christmas subsisted between them and the peasantry, would allow that if ever there was a time when it was justifiable upon those grounds not to assemble parliament earlier, it was the present.

He should now proceed to touch upon the question more immediately before their lordships. He agreed with what had fallen from a noble lord, that the act of Habeas Corpus was not to be considered merely as an act of Charles 2d (though the conditions were then rendered more perfect), but as a part of the ancient law and constitution of this kingdom. It should be remembered, however, that laws though provided with the most unerring wisdom and sagacity, would not always be applicable to the circumstances of a country. Where a government was established, it must proceed upon one of two principles; either to frame it in concert with permanent and immutable laws, or in connexion with laws that might be altered and modified according to particular exigencies? The former system, he apprehended, would not be very conducive to the happiness of mankind; on the other hand, if as much liberty were granted to the subject as could be conceded consistently with the safety of the state; there must be a power somewhere competent to the temporary suspension of that liberty, when such a measure becomes necessary for the protection of it ultimately. He might refer to the practice of the best times of our history, in support of that doctrine. Even in the very year of the Revolution, it was found necessary to suspend, for a time, the act in question. The real point therefore to consider was, whether a sufficient cause existed now for its suspension; and it should be remembered, that it had been suspended in times of peace as well as in times of war. Domestic treason, indeed, might assume a character quite as desperate as foreign treason; nay, there might be circumstances attending the internal state of the country during a period of war, which would afford a security against sedition and rebellion which could not be enjoyed in peace. On the present occasion, they had the fullest proof (if they believed the report) of a treasonable conspiracy in the metropolis, to overturn, by a general insurrection, the laws, the government, and the constitution of the kingdom. It was also, a matter of perfect notoriety, that the same system was spread over a great part of the country. There was a double engine at work; the operation of the one, was evidently aiming at what every person must agree would overthrow the constitution; the operation of the other (he alluded to the Spenceans) was calculated to produce a complete convulsion in the elements which composed the system of social life.

Was it too much, then, to contend, under such circumstances, that it was fitting and expedient to resort to that course which our ancestors had pursued when alarming dangers menaced the state? Let any person read the publications which had been put forth, during some time, of the most seditious, the most licentious and the most blasphemous nature, and let them say, whether in the most dangerous periods that had been alluded to, any thing equal to them was then issued? In 1794, the danger of the country was great; but the danger of the present moment exhibited features of a more desperate and malignant character. Never was there a more determined and avowed design to sap all the foundations of morals and religion, and more assiduity in the prosecution of that design. The conspirators of the present day had learned a lesson from the conspirators of the former, and they proceeded with more caution and management in their nefarious schemes. He would go further, and state, from information which he knew to be authentic, that in some parts of the country, the caution and secrecy of the conspirators were so great, that even though it was known conspiracies did exist, yet the nature of the evidence that could be procured was such as would not be sufficient to send them into a court of justice. With so much circumspection and cunning did they conduct their plans. He felt all the importance of the measure that was now proposed: but he would not allow any imputations that might be insinuated to preclude him from discharging what he conscientiously believed to be his duty. His only object was, to support the throne, to support the constitution and to protect the peace, the happiness, and the confidence of every private man in the kingdom; his only view was, to preserve our morals, our religion, our establishments, and to secure to every man the tranquil enjoyment of his fireside. He asked of parliament to entrust the Prince Regent's ministers with that power for a short time—a most odious one, he agreed—and one which ought not to be confided to any man, or to any set of men, except in cases of the last necessity, except in such cases as, he apprehended, now justified him in calling for it [Hear, hear!].

Earl Grey

said, that at an earlier hour he might have been tempted to enter into all the circumstances of this most important question; but now it was utterly out of his power to acquit himself satisfactorily, even according to his humble abilities, in defending the cause of the people of England against the most unnecessary and most uncalled for attack upon their liberties which any minister of the crown, in any period of our history, had ever attempted. Though he thought his noble friend had strictly confined himself to the question then before their lordships, in the view which he had taken of the effects produced by the late peace, it was not his intentien to follow the noble earl much at large in that part of his speech, which was to be considered as a reply to his noble friend. He must, however, contend, that in his belief a very considerable portion of the dissatisfaction and discontent which pervaded the more rational and thinking part of the community, was the result of that peace; and he should be sorry to think otherwise. He should be sorry to think that Englishmen, enjoying all the blessings of a free constitution themselves, had no sympathy for the rest of mankind to whom these blessings were denied; he should be sorry to think that the cause of liberty, whenever pleaded, was a cause foreign to the hearts of Englishmen; he should be sorry if Englishmen could coldly and passively behold other nations subjugated by military force, especially when they reflected that those evils emanated, in a great degree, from our own government.

The noble earl bad talked of the glory with which the war was concluded, and the liberty and happiness which the peace had conferred upon Europe. In proportion to the glory of the war, which he was far from denying, the character of the peace was so much the more disgraceful. Where were they to seek for that liberty, and that independence, of which the noble earl boasted? Was it to Genoa they were to look for the due regard that had been paid to the rights of an independent state? Was it in Lombardy they would find that happiness and comfort which the peace was asserted to have: produced? Was it in Venice, now blotted out of the map of independent nations in Europe, and consigned to a power which he would not describe? Was it in Saxony, whose troops, deserting their sovereign, placed themselves in the ranks of our own armies, to fight for the common cause, whose whole population united to assert the rights we asserted—was it to that devoted country we must look for the verification of the noble earl's assertion? But the noble earl contended also, that the interests of our commerce and manufactures had not been neglected in the negotiation of a peace. If the noble earl was really of that opinion, let him go to the Exchange, and ask what benefits were secured to this country, in return for the sacrifices we had made for the whole of Europe, and hear the answer he would receive. He was ready to admit, indeed, that one great cause of our difficulties was the depression of our agriculture, but did not the state of the foreign market also contribute to them? The noble earl had indulged in a curious argument upon that subject. After maintaining that our commerce during the last two years had been as great, if not greater, than at any former period, he arrived at the unexpected conclusion, that the foreign markets were now glutted, and hence the stagnation of our manufactures at home. Whence did that glut arise? Was it not true that every power on the continent had manifested the greatest jealousy of our commercial system? Had they not imposed restrictive regulations, in a spirit scarcely less vindictive than that which produced the Berlin and Milan decrees? He contended, that with so many opportunities, with so many claims upon the friendly dispositions of the continental powers, his majesty's ministers had not entered fairly into those arrangements; they had neglected the interests of the country in that respect, and to that neglect the present embarrasments and distress were in some degree attributable.

The noble earl had endeavoured to justify the not calling parliament together earlier; and he begged their lordships attention to his arguments. What! said the noble earl, would you have us summon parliament before we had sufficient evidence to require coercive measures? Were coercive laws, then, he would ask were penal statutes, the only duties which parliament had to perform? He should have thought it might have found other duties. He should have imagined that its most natural and beneficial duties would have been to conciliate the nation, by showing a disposition to do all in its power for relieving the existing distress; by listening attentively to the complaints of the people, when they referred to proper objects; and by an early adoption of that systematic and comprehensive retrenchment, which could alone provide a substantial remedy for the present difficulties. Those, he conceived, were the first duties of parliament, and the performance of them was infinitely more important than any advantage that could accrue from leaving the members of that or the other House, at their country seats a few weeks longer. Not that he meant to insinuate that under certain circumstances, it would not be desirable to attend to such a suggestion; but, on the present occasion, the comparison of advantages and disadvantages appeared to him against its application.

The noble earl, however, had certainly put the question then before their lordships, upon its true ground. A free government could not constantly possess those powers, which it might be necessary to grant in extraordinary emergencies. If they had it at all times, it would be found too strong for freedom; while, on the other hand, if they were without it, in cases of extreme urgency and danger, there would be no safety for the throne, the constitution, or the country. He was ready to admit also, that in the best periods of our history there were instances, when the principles of our constitution sanctioned the temporary suspension of it; but then it was under circumstances of undeniable danger, and the wisdom of granting such a power, at such a time, was proved even by their lordships being assembled that night to deliberate freely upon the present question. He was entitled therefore to ask, was the danger now so great, so urgent, as to require the application of this law, and was it of such a nature that it could not be repelled without it? Upon that ground he was willing to argue the point. The noble earl had said, that "even in the very year of the Revolution (uttering the word even" with an emphasis that clearly indicated his triumph at the discovery) the law of Habeas Corpus was suspended. He certainly could not deny the fact, but he wholly differed from the noble earl in his inference, that suspension was permitted at a time of unquestionable danger and difficulty, when the crown was unsettled, when the sovereign was newly seated on his throne, when his claim was not generally recognised, when his enemies were daring and active, and when the exiled family was fomenting cabals and stirring up enterprises for the recovery of their lost dominion. Such a period was, of all others, the one most likely to be fertile in conspiracies and plots; but even then, our ancestors, jealous of their freedom, would not consent to part with it for more than a month at a time. What comparison, however, was there between those dangers and the present?

But if precedents were to be resorted to, let their lordships look a little further. In 1695, when the life of king William was threatened by foreign emissaries and domestic traitors, when there was an avowed plot to assassinate him, and when the country was menaced with invasion, in that very year, in the midst of all those dangers, our ancestors passed the celebrated statute for regulating trials of high treason, securing to persons accused of that enormous crime, every facility of defence, and which now formed the brightest page of our legislative code. He wished, therefore, when precedents were quoted, in justification of the present measure, that the spirit which animated our ancestors should be followed throughout, and not imagine that every thing was done when the power of government was secured, without remembering that the people also had an interest in the preservation of their own liberties and freedom. The instance he had alluded to was the first, and with one exception the only time, in which the law of Habeas Corpus had been suspended, without the existence of foreign war or domestic rebellion. In 1715 there was a rebellion; in 1745 there was a rebellion; in 1794, in 1798, and in 1801, there was a war with France and a rebellion in Ireland. The single exception to which he had referred was in 1722, when a plot was discovered against the sovereign, connected with the schemes of the Pretender, who modestly offered George 1st permission to retire to his German dominions with the title of king, and abetted by some of the first persons in this country. Some of the conspirators belonged to that House, and many of them were actually seized and imprisoned; the first duke of the realm was sent to the Tower upon suspicion; and it appeared that many foreign officers were engaged to take the command of the troops. Was that a danger like the present? He apprehended no one would venture to compare the two cases. Yet, under such circumstances, even the proposition for suspending the Habeas Corpus was thoroughly resisted, and in the House of Commons the minority was 193 to 246.* At that time, too, it should be recollected that the Crown had an army which did not exceed 20,000 men, while now we had a standing army, for Great Britain alone, of four times that amount. Nor was that the only difference. There was *See New Parliamentary History, Vol. 8, p. 41. a pretender to the crown, who still retained numerous and powerful adherents. Now both kingdoms were under the sway of an undisputed and legitimate succession. Besides, what was the influence of the crown, compared then with its present influence? Fortified and entrenched, therefore, as they were, to the very teeth, by that influence, and by a large military force, he would ask, had they no other securities still? Let them look at their laws. There were enactments which restrained the liberties of the press—which regulated popular meetings—which punished illegal oaths—and yet they came to ask for a suspension of the Habeas Corpus [Hear, hear!].

He did not wish to under-rate the danger that might exist; he could have no interest in doing so. Whatever of rank or: of property he possessed, he was anxious, like every other man, to transmit unimpaired to his children; and if the schemes mentioned in the report of their lordships committee were capable of being carried into effect, he could not be so foolish as not to know, that he must be among its victims. Whatever, therefore, he might do or say in resisting the present motion, could only be from what he considered his: paramount duty. In the first place then, he contended that any conspiracy attended with an utter improbability of success, as the present was allowed to be, was not a case that called for a suspension of the Habeas Corpus. What was the nature and character of this conspiracy? They knew the chief actors in it; for the report distinctly stated, that they were the persons who attempted to excite an insurrection on the 2nd December. Who were they? Persons of great consequence and connexions in the country, whose co-operation gave a formidable character to the attempt? No. They were miserable wretches reduced to the lowest poverty; and distress, who would probably have been driven to seek relief upon the highway, if there had not been a prospect that the discontents of the country were such as might prompt many to follow their wild schemes. What was their object? To produce insurrection, by calling persons together under the pretence of seeking parliamentary reform, without any previous concert and design, and trusting wholly to chance for the means of stimulating their instruments in the work of sedition. That was the whole extent of deplot; and the attempt was made in the way that was projected. The mob assembled at Spa-fields; they were addressed in inflammatory language; to be sure, they were provided with ammunition, having about twenty or thirty balls and a pound of gunpowder concealed in the foot of an old stocking. They were not followed by more than two or three hundred persons, who plundered a few gun-smiths shops, and a gentleman received a wound, from which he sincerely hoped he would recover. Such excesses ought, undoubtedly, to be repressed and punished, but in order to do so, was it necessary to suspend the Habeas Corpus? Those formidable rioters fled even at the very mention of a dragoon; they did not wait to see their horses heads at the top of a street, so admirable were the military arrangements of that able commander, general lord viscount Sidmouth [a laugh].

The noble earl then took a review of the different societies designated in the report, and the circulation of seditious and blasphemous publications, as there described, observing that there were acts of parliament, chiefly of modern date, under which all these offences might be prosecuted and punished. With regard to the statute to which he had before alluded, respecting societies having secret committees and secret correspondence, he had read the act that morning, and he thought it as strong as it could be made against societies of the description mentioned in the report. With respect to what they had heard of profane parodies upon the church service, there was little that could be called new in them, however reprehensible. They must all be aware that at a former period a parody upon the Litany was written, even by a dignitary of the church, which had never been selected as any object of marked reprobation. As to the blasphemy that there might be in these modern productions, were there not laws to punish it were there not equally laws to punish sedition? The members of societies, associated for the purposes of unlawful combinations, might, as he had already stated, be punished under statutary enactments. With all these provisions, therefore, already in existence, surely it ought to be distinctly proved that they were insufficient to meet the evil, before new and extraordinary enactments were resorted to. It was not because they happened to have an incapable attorney general, or a negligent and inattentive secretary of state, that the liberties of the people were to be suspended, nor were ministers to call upon that House to repair the consequences of their own laches, by enacting laws oppressive upon the community. Would it not have been a much wiser policy in the ministers of the crown to have resorted only to those measures which were strictly called for by existing circumstances, and which would have met with an unanimous support? How much would this have added to the real strength of the government; how much would it have tended to keep down the spirit of discontent. Much of that spirit arose from the extreme pressure of distress, and surely it was of no small importance to satisfy the people that nothing more was wished to be done than what was actually necessary for the security of the state, and the welfare of the community. He, for one, would have consented to a new law for preventing meetings in the open air without a previous notice to a magistrate, signed by seven respectable householders, and for preventing them from adjourning such meetings from time to time, with a sort of menacing expectation, as his noble friend had happily expressed it, of the proceedings of parliament, or he would have consented to a measure for preventing such meetings within a certain distance from the two Houses during the meeting of parliament. He would have agreed to such a measure, because he conceived such meetings called by unauthorized individuals, as productive of great evil, in the spirit to which they gave birth, and the riot and turbulence they tended to Produce. He would also have most willingly and cheerfully consented to a bill for the better security of the person of the Prince Regent. These two measures would, he conceived together with the existing laws, have been amply sufficient to meet all the evils of the sedition or the traitorous conspiracy dwelt upon in the report. Had these measures only been resorted to, the unanimity of parliament would have been secured in their support—an advantage unquestionably of the greatest magnitude, for would it not tend rather to increase the discontent, when it was found that the measures proposed by the government, met with opposition in parliament, on the express ground that they unnecessarily infringed upon the liberties of the people. What was, in fact, the danger? Was it not clearly proved, that whatever was the spirit that existed, or the projects entertained, they were confined entirely to the lower classes of the people? None of the higher, or scarcely any of the middle ranks, were implicated. What then, could be effected? Those who had the best means of judging of the true character of the French Revolution were decidedly of opinion that had not the system that led to it been supported by the wealth and influence of no less a person than the duke of Orleans, and by the talents and means of persons in the higher ranks of society, that revolution could not have been effected. The danger, therefore, was not of that imminent nature that the ministers of the crown would have the House believe. It might, he was persuaded, be effectually met and guarded against by the enactments already existing, with the addition of those he had alluded to, and in which he was ready to concur.

How came it, besides, that all this danger was not seen long since. The noble secretary of state seemed to have had no apprehension of danger from the first meeting in Spa-fields; or did the abuse that was then lavished upon the opponents of ministers in a greater degree than upon ministers themselves, serve to shut the eyes of the noble viscount to the danger which he professed afterwards to discover. It was really impossible to contemplate, without the most ludicrous sensations, the interview which had taken place between the principal orator upon that occasion and the noble secretary of state. The contrasted manners, the opposition of character, the mildness of the noble secretary and the tone assumed by the other, was altogether a scene which would have been highly diverting to a by-stander. Nothing, however, of danger at that time seemed to have been discovered; it was only on a sudden some time afterwards that all the danger seemed to have bust upon the ministers, and now, without any proof of the insufficiency of the ordinary laws, they were to be called upon to suspend the liberties of the people. He was glad, however, to find that it was thought not necessary to extend this measure to Ireland. He trusted it would therefore be deemed unnecessary to keep up so large a force in that part of the United Kingdom, and that thus a considerable saving would be effected. He also trusted that this acknowledged state of tranquillity, this admitted loyalty in Ireland, would induce a favourable consideration on the part of the ministers of the crown of the claims to civil rights of a large portion of his majesty's subjects in that part of the United Kingdom, and that they would at length receive what they had so long and anxiously sought for, and what they were justly entitled to—a free participation in the common rights of the subjects of the realm. He could net conclude without again expressing his deep regret that ministers had not rather chosen to ensure the unanimity of parliament by moderate measures, than thus to increase discontent by measures for abridging and suspending the liberties of the subject—measures, unfortunately, which by the increased discontent they generated, tended, to others still stronger, and thus ultimately to the utter subversion of the constitution. Upon these grounds he should give his dissent to the second reading of this bill; and should not have thought himself worthy of a seat in that House, if he had not raised his voice against a measure which, in his conscience, he thought would be one of the most fatal in its consequences that had ever been adopted by parliament.

The Duke of Sussex

said, that differing as he did from the noble lords opposite, he felt it his duty nevertheless to say, that he believed they acted from the purest motives; he believed that what they proposed, was from a regard to the constitution, yet he could not avoid saying, that from personal knowledge, he saw no grounds to believe that such a conspiracy ever existed as that which the noble lords over the way attempted to persuade the House. He was present at the examinations which had taken place before his worthy friend the present lord mayor, at the Mansion-house; he could not lend himself to support the idea of any conspiracy ever existing, and in this opinion he was the more confirmed, when he considered the amount of the subscription raised preparatory to the far famed 2d of December. That subscription, would their lordships believe it, amounted to no less than the formidable and enormous sum of ten pounds sterling! For the waggon hired on that memorable occasion, 1l. had been first of all paid, and 2l. afterwards, and he believed there was at this moment 10s. of the hire yet to pay. With respect to the ammunition with which this waggon was loaded, that ammunition had been placed in the waggon at the head of Chancery-lane, and was contained—in what? Why, in an old stocking and it consisted of 50 bails, none of which would fit a pistol. There was a tremendous cannister in the waggon containing no less than one pound weight of powder! Really when such were the mighty facts of this case—when such were all the proofs of this conspiracy—he would ask, were their lordships prepared to say they would go beyond the limits of the present existing laws? Were they really disposed to magnify such molehills into mountains? Attached to the venerable, the sacred fabric of the British constitution, no man would ever feel more anxious than himself to take every precaution to prevent that fabric from being dilapidated, but never could he consent to the adoption of measures for abridging the liberty of Englishmen, for depriving them of their legitimate rights, when there was no case made out to justify such measures being adopted. Glorying in the name of Briton, because that name was connected with every thing dear to the human heart, be could only say, that while he lived, he should ever consider it his highest honour to maintain, unimpaired, the sacred rights of Britons. His royal highness concluded by expressing his ardent hopes, that before proceeding further, their lordships would consider the necessity of hearing evidence on this most important question. Venerable as the constitution was, and sacred as the free born rights of Englishmen were, he could not consent to their being infringed on without sufficient cause to justify such an infringement.

Lord Grenville

said, he considered the question now before their lordships, to be one of the most important that had ever engaged the attention of parliament, and while he was fully aware of that importance, he trusted their lordships would give him credit when he said, that no man in that House or in the country could have more hesitation than he had in sanctioning the measure now proposed for their lordships adoption. It was not a light consideration at any time, but more especially in a time of peace, to suspend an act which was justly considered as the palladium of British liberty; and nothing could justify such suspension, but a deliberate conviction, that the amount of the necessity was really such as to justify, for the shortest time possible, this inroad upon one of the bulwarks of our constitution. His noble friend had well observed, that the proper question before their lordships was, whether, at this important crisis, there was such a case made out, as would justify their lordships in suspending the Habeas Corpus act. That, and that only, was the question for their lordships consideration; and he, for one, was prepared to say that he considered that case to have been completely made out.

On looking at this subject, he did not think it necessary to go into a sort of comparative scale of the dangers of the present moment with the dangers of former periods; because, in the fluctuating state of society and nations, he thought it hardly possible to select one or two striking circumstances, and to say that the absence of some circumstance in this case, which there was in another, must put out of consideration those evils which it was necessary to guard against. He was old enough to remember the riots of 1780, when the metropolis was for five days in the hands of an infuriated mob, which at first consisted of as few persons as those collected at Spa-fields, but which, as their lordships knew, was soon increased by immense numbers. If their lordships would look to more modern occurrences, they would find sufficient in the history of ill-fated France, to show the baneful consequences resulting from attempts to undermine moral and religious habits. For one, he was decidedly of opinion, that the revolution of that country had been accelerated by nothing so much as the publication of pamphlets of a most irreligious and seditious nature, which were given to the lowest and most ignorant of the people, whom the want of education rendered, to a considerable extent, savage. But never, he believed, till the present moment, was the hope entertained in this country, of detaching the minds of the great mass of the people, not from this or that religion, but from all religion whatever. This, however, was the most effectual mode employed in France in 1788 and 1789, to detach the people from the government, and to destroy the whole frame of society under which they enjoyed security and peace; and in England it might lead to the same dreadful consequences. The seditious writers of the present day, who deluged the country, and filled the air with their wicked and blasphemous productions, did not make it a question by whom the government should be administered, but whether a government should exist at all; whether the whole frame and constitution of the country was not so corrupt as to call not for a mere reform of parliament, but such a reform as would amount to a complete revolution.

He would not now enter on the question which had of late been so much agitated, namely, whether some alteration in the constitution of parliament might or might not be practicable, but he would give it as his opinion, that the manner in which that question was at the present moment agitated throughout the empire, deserved their lordships most serious attention; for he was persuaded, that the name of parliamentary reform was now employed to cover projects of the most visionary nature, and which, if successful, must inevitably terminate in the destruction of the constitution of this country. These projects of universal suffrage and annual parliaments were not submitted to individuals capable of judging of their propriety, but on the contrary were directed to the poorest and most wretched classes, who were thus taught to look to the constitution, which they were told had formerly sanctioned annual parliaments and universal suffrage; but, unfortunately for the supporters of this ridiculous doctrine, the period they referred to was some hundred years prior to the very existence of parliaments in this country. Thus were the most insidious attempts made use of to subvert the minds of the poor, and to cherish ideas which had no existence, excepting in the visionary heads of those who promulgated them.

It was not, then, for the security of the higher classes alone—it was not for the security of the middling classes—but it was for the security of the whole community that he thought it necessary that parliament should interpose to arm ministers with those powers which, he feared, were the only means left to protect the safety and security of the nation at large. How it was that the evil was allowed to reach so great a height, without any measures having been adopted to check its progress, he was unable to say; but it was sufficient for him, for the present purpose, to be convinced, that the evil had in fact advanced to a magnitude which required the present measure. He certainly thought that the experience of the last six months must have convinced every man that it was the duty of government to protect the peaceable part of the community, and that it was absolutely necessary to secure them against the evils that existed; for it would be a mockery to speak of the protection we enjoyed under our laws, when it was seen by experience that the peace of the country could be disturbed whenever it was the pleasure of these desperate madmen to call together their mobs, to attack the houses, persons, and property of his majesty's peaceable subjects, under the shadow and pretence of a constitutional reform of the representation in parliament. The facts that had come out before the committee had clearly shown, that however strong the provisions of the existing laws against corresponding societies and clubs ma)' be, there are ingenious modes by which the craft}' and designing may evade those laws, and render them altogether inefficient. He felt it his bounden duty to declare, that he considered the present situation of the country to be one of extreme danger, and that some extraordinary legislative measures were absolutely necessary. At no period in the history of the country did he believe the danger to have been greater. Never would the revolution in France have been accomplished, had the morals and religion of the community not been subverted; and he begged to assure their lordships, that when once the religious habits of a country were attempted to be undermined by the sophistry, or ridicule of the profane,—when once her sacred institutions were turned into scorn, there existed but little hope for that country. Such being the serious conviction of his mind, he felt it to be his duty openly to declare his opinion, and to give his cordial, though reluctant support, to the passing of a bill for the temporary suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. He deeply regretted that such a measure should be necessary even for the shortest possible period; but, since that was unhappily the case, he thought the Prince Regent's ministers had done right in limiting the period for the duration of the act, to the first of July, by which means the subject might be reconsidered during the present session of parliament. It would then be the duty of their lordships to consider, whether or not it would be necessary to continue the suspension longer than the earliest period mentioned. If, unhappily, the same state of things should exist, he should think that he did not discharge his duty to the country, if he were not to give his vote for its further continuance.

The Duke of Gloucester

said, he was sorry to detain their lordships even for a moment longer at that late hour, but he could not reconcile it to himself to give a silent vote on this most important question. No man could possibly be more unwilling than he was to support any measure for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act; but he was convinced of the necessity of the measure, under the present circumstances of the country, and would therefore join his noble friend in voting for the second reading of this bill, regretting, at the same time, that he was compelled to differ from so many other noble and respected friends.

Lord Holland

did not mean to discuss the subject at any length in the present exhausted state of the House, and rose to say a few words, merely because, on a question of such magnitude, he could not rest satisfied with giving a silent vote. The general subject had been so well explained on both sides of the House, that it was unnecessary to recur to it. The only question was, whether the necessity existed for resorting to extraordinary measures; and then, if the necessity did exist for some extraordinary proceeding, whether the present measure was that which was best calculated to answer the intended purpose? His lordship then took an in-view of the crisis of 1795, and contended, that there was not the least similarity between that and the present period. He implored their lordships to look to France, and remember what had taken place there, in consequence of their Habeas Corpus act being suspended. He contended, it had not been proved that the present laws were inadequate, and he further maintained that they had not been duly and properly exerted. No man was more convinced than himself of the good motives by which the two noble lords opposite were actuated, but he cautioned the House to beware of giving them or any class of men, too much power. His lordship concluded an animated speech, with imploring their lordships to remember the sacred duty which they owed to themselves, their country, and posterity. The present measure was one which might be productive of more serious consequences than perhaps their lordships were aware of. Every time this act was suspended, was a stepping stone to doing so again, and its frequent suspensions might gradually convince the then existing government how mighty convenient it was to suspend it whenever their measures were attacked. Upon the whole, he could not think himself justified in voting for the second reading of the bill, because three previous requisites were wanting. In the first place, it had not been shown that the existing laws were inadequate to answer the purpose: secondly, it had not been shown that they had been enforced, such as they were: thirdly, it did not appear to him that this was the proper mode of meeting the present evil.

The House then divided on the motion for the second reading of the bill: Content, 84; Proxies, 66:—150. Not Content, 23; Proxies, 12:—35. Majority, 115.

The bill was then read a second time, committed, reported, read a third time, and passed.

List of the Minority.
Sussex Darnley
Somerset Lauderdale.
Argyll. Torrington.
Wellesley. Say and Sele
EARLS. St. John
Derby Montfort
Thanet Holland
Essex Foley
Albemarle Auckland
Grosvenor Alvanley
Rosslyn Erskine.
DUKES. Darlington
Devonshire St. Vincent.
Leinster. VISCOUNT.
Downshire. Clifden.
Jersey Byron
Cowper Ponsonby.