rose to move that the bill for more effectually preventing seditious meetings and assemblies be referred to the consideration of a committee. After all that had passed in the course of the session, he was unwilling to suppose that there could be any opposition to the present measure. He could indeed with confidence say, that notwithstanding all the measures which had already been adopted, their lordships would very imperfectly perform their duty, unless they added to them the present, which was calculated to avert one of the greatest dangers to which this country was exposed. Considering, however, the discussions which the measures proposed by his majesty's government had already undergone, and considering the manner in which the public attention had been called to them, he should feel himself warranted in taking up but a small portion of their lordships' time in explaining the details of this bill. The principle of the measure was founded upon the preservation of one of the most important rights of the people—a right which he hoped would ever be maintained—and to secure its exercise in a manner consistent with the free constitution of this country. He could not better describe the evil which it was the object of the bill to prevent, than by referring to the words of its preamble, which stated, that "in divers parts of this kingdom assemblies of large numbers of persons collected from various parishes and districts, under the pretext of deliberating upon public grievances, and of agreeing on petitions, complaints, remonstrances, declarations, resolutions, or addresses, upon the subject thereof, have of late been held, in disturbance of the public peace, to the great terror and danger of his majesty's loyal and peaceable subjects and in a manner manifestly, tending to produce confusion and calamities in the nation." It was matter of 1235 perfect notoriety, not only that meetings of such a description had been held, but that for the last few months scarcely a week; or even a day had passed without some of these meetings being assembled. Supposing therefore that their lordships should approve of the principle of the bill, which proceeded on the admission of the danger described in the preamble, their next consideration would be, whether the existing law were sufficient to prevent it. He had a right to take it for granted that their lordships would admit the principle. Assuming, therefore, the danger, they would have to inquire what regulations were necessary, and whether the provisions of this bill were capable of answering the end proposed. Those who had inquired into the state of the existing laws on this subject were satisfied that there were many dangerous features in the meetings referred to, for which no remedy could at present be found. The existing law did not prescribe any mode of giving notice or superintendence by magistrates. It in no way regulated the manner of attending meetings; it did not prohibit going to meetings in military array, or carrying to them weapons; it did not prevent simultaneous meetings, nor the continuance of meetings by adjournment; it did not prevent assembling with flags and banners: if seditious or treasonable language were spoken, it did not, besides empowering a magistrate to order the person offending into custody, also enable him, in the case of resistance, to declare the meeting illegal; it did not provide against a great abuse, the evil effects of which had been extensively experienced, namely, that when the inhabitants of a particular town or district, were summoned to a meeting, so many strangers attended, that the majority of the meeting did not consist of such inhabitants. Neither did it provide against the most pernicious practice of itinerant orators attending public meetings and collecting vast multitudes to hear their harangues. Now their lordships would find, that all these great evils for which the existing law had no remedy, were provided against by this bill. It required that six days notice of the intention of holding any meeting should be given to a magistrate, and that that notice should be signed by at least seven householders. It forbade all military array bearing of arms, and the display of banners and flags. It put in the power 1236 of the magistrate, under certain limitations, to alter the day and place of the meeting. It prohibited the holding of meetings by adjournment. But what was most important was, that this bill, in reserving to the subject all his rights, the better secured them. It established by law, what had hitherto been only matter of practice. It sanctioned the free assembling of the people to petition the throne or either House of Parliament, and to discuss any public grievance of which they might have to complain, it guarded however, against simultaneous meetings, and other abuses of that important right. In all these guards the existing law was deficient, and the deficiencies were supplied by the present bill. He therefore could not but persuade himself that while their lordships would admit the existing law to be inadequate, to meet the present danger, and to require amendment, they would think the provisions in the bill contained satisfactory remedies for the evil which was to be corrected. There were two points with regard to which objections had been urged against the present measure. Upon these he should not say much. The first regarded its locality; whether the bill should be general or limited. On this subject he should only remind their lordships of the bill brought into parliament for regulating meetings in 1796. The introduction of that bill followed the meetings at Copenhagen-house, which were supposed to have a connexion with the atrocious attack made on his majesty at the opening of that session. But if a general measure were thought necessary to meet the evil in 1796, how much more requisite must it now be to bring in such a bill as the present, when their lordships recollected the state of the country, and all that had within these few months occurred; when they knew that meetings, against which it was then thought necessary to guard, now took place, week after week, and day after day, in different parts of the country. Whether the bill ought to be permanent, or of shorter duration than that to which it was now limited, was the other point. As it at present stood, it was limited to five years. He should think that he acted disingenuously with their lordships, if he did not state that he thought the measure ought to continue beyond that period; and he must express his hope, that the time would never arrive when the legislature, 1237 let the government be in whose hands it might, would permit the country to be without the means of guarding against danger which this bill afforded. In the mean time, he was persuaded that their lordships would allow the bill to go into the committee, in which all its details would come under their consideration. In stating the great difficulties and dangers against which their lordships had to provide, he never was one of those who despaired of the country; but feeling, as he did, great anxiety for the public safety, his mind was much relieved by perceiving, that their lordships, and the, other House of parliament, had proceeded to investigate the evil, and to apply remedies with an energy suited to the occasion. Their lordships, he was confident, would not temporize, but would meet the crisis with the firmness and energy, which the times required; for, by so acting, the country would overcome all, its difficulties. He would not detain their lordships longer than to move that the bill be now committed.
The Earl of Carnarvon
, in rising to address their lordships on the motion, observed, that from the hurried manner in which the measure had arrived at this stage, little time had been allowed him to decide in what way he should proceed. He considered the bill so objectionable in all its parts, that if he consented to its going into a committee, that consent would arise from the necessity in which he was placed by the previous proceedings of their lordships. He could not, however, allow the measure to be any thing else than an evil which ought not to be acceded to, unless farther limited. It was only upon that condition that ministers ought, if the state of the country required it, to have the advantage of such enactments. He was aware he could not apply the principles of the old law of the country to every new emergency. Although he was cautious of every proposition which might appear to modify that law, he could not deny that, within the century which followed the revolution of 1688, when the principles of the constitution were settled, the situation of the country had undergone considerable change, and that not a little difference had taken place in the state of society. He felt himself, therefore, bound to admit, that some difference might be necessary in the details of the laws, in order to make them answer the great purposes for 1238 which the revolution was accomplished; but when he came to this admission, it did not follow that he should agree to severe and restrictive measures without proof of their necessity. If he admitted the principle at all, he could not but the more strongly feel the necessity of great deliberation in carrying it into practice. In the present case their lordships would do well to recollect, that they were called upon to sanction the measure without having had sufficient time afforded them for its consideration; and that this call upon them was accompanied by the expression of a hope, that the time would never come when the law should be repealed. If the danger to be provided against arose from delusion, the cause of that delusion ought to be the first object of their lordships' attention. Under these circumstances, although he did not mean to oppose the bill's going into the committee, because he was ready to allow that some measure might be necessary, it was his intention to move, that it be an instruction to the committee to restrict the duration of the bill to the 1st of July, 1822. To that period he would consent, though it was his wish, if he could carry it into effect, to render the time of its duration as short as possible; but considering the state in which the country was represented to, be, he was willing that one session more should pass away before the law expired. When he looked at the bill, he could not agree with the noble secretary of state in wishing it permanent. It appeared to him, that it could only be endured, as a, particular remedy to meet a temporary evil. Viewing it in quite a contrary light from the noble viscount, he sincerely hoped that, when it expired, such enactments would never again become the law of the land. By this bill their lordships were told, that no county meeting could be called except by the lord-lieutenant, the sheriff, &c., or by five or more magistrates. Cities and large towns could have no meetings except in parishes, unless under the authority of the mayor. Indeed, with regard to large towns, it appeared to him very doubtful, whether, in any one consisting of more than one parish, a general meeting of the inhabitants could be assembled. In a large town like Manchester he was not sure that, under this bill, any meeting, having for its object the general interests of the place, could be called. It was not to be presumed that every meeting in that 1239 town must necessarily be a political one. It might be desirable to call one with reference to local interest and trade. The inconvenience thus created by the bill would alone be a strong objection against it. When he observed that by the clause, no meeting could be held in any county, stewartry, or place, except by the authority he had already mentioned; he could not but strongly, feel the difficulty that was thrown in the way of county meetings, that ancient and constitutional mode of assembling. It was said however, that if the lord lieutenant and the sheriff refused to call a county meeting five magistrates were empowered to can it When the jurisdiction given fey the bill was conferred in this manner, it was necessary for their lordships to look at the magistrates who were to possess it. He had already expressed his doubts whether in a town which had more than one parish, any general meeting could be held; and their lordships would do well to consider, whether such partial restrictions might not tend to create the disaffection it was wished to repress. He would not discuss whether parish meetings would be advantageous for political purposes or not. They might be beneficial, or not but that could only be seen by the result. This, at least, appeared—that the division into small portions was likely to give less weight and energy, to public meetings. Their lordships, in viewing this question, should consider whether it was not possible that a time might come when it might be necessary for meetings to be called to defend their own privileges, and whether they might not then have reason to regret the having done something which deprived these assemblies of all consideration and importance. To return to county meetings—with respect to them, all their respectability was destroyed. In the first place, the lord-lieutenant was an officer of the crown, and their lordships had been recently shown; that if ministers were not satisfied with a lord-lieutenant, he was to be immediately dismissed. If he simply differed from ministers on a constitutional question, he was no longer to hold his office. So much for the situation of one of the persons authorized to call a county meeting. The next officer was the sheriff, and with regard to his appointment, considerable influence was always understood to be exercised. It was probable, therefore, that few instances would occur of county meetings called 1240 either by a lord-lieutenant or by a sheriff, for any object not agreeable to ministers. What remedy did the power given to five magistrates afford? As the magistrates were at present constituted, he was ready to admit that it was difficult to suppose that in any, except perhaps some small counties, five justices of the peace could not be found willing to put their signatures to a requisition for any purpose for which a county meeting ought fairly to be called; but when the law in which this power was given was to last for five years, and when their lordships were told that it ought to be made permanent, it would be well for them to consider, not only what the magistrates, to whom the people must at last have resource for the exercise of a constitutional right, were, but what they might become. Their lordships, doubtless, knew that the whole of the magistrates were nominated by the lord chancellor, on the recommendation, but not exclusively so, of the lord-lieutenant of the county. What a lord-lieutenant was, their lordships very well knew; what a chancellor might be, they had yet to learn. If the noble lord who now held the seals were always to make these appointments, he should fear no partiality. But it was not by the lord chancellor of the present day their lordships were to judge. They had to look not at the individual, but at the office. If this measure were to be made a part of the permanent law of the land, their lordships must look to this consideration, that at some period or other it might very probably be wished to call county meetings to arraign the conduct of the ministers of the crown, and that the lord chancellor, who had the appointment of magistrates, was one of those very ministers of the crown of whose conduct it was sought to complain. It might therefore happen that hereafter the magistracy would not be selected in the manner they had hitherto been. This view of the subject afforded strong reasons against the adoption of a measure which might have a tendency to alter the character of the magistracy Their lordships all knew the laudable manner in which the unpaid magistracy discharged their important duties. The institution was one peculiar to this country; for in no other state of Europe could the materials for composing it be found. Consisting, as it did, of gentlemen of property and character, the country were indebted to it for the transaction of great part of its judicial busi- 1241 ness, and of much of its public business, and that too in a manner the most satisfactory, and the most, beneficial to the public interests. It was, therefore, of the greatest importance to keep this most respectable body of men as much as possible out of the vortex of the influence of the crown, and to prevent their conduct from being liable to the operation of party feeling, which might injure their character in the eyes of the population of the country. As it was a most important duty of magistrates to avoid carrying their political feelings with them to the bench, he objected to the power given to a single justice of the peace to put an end to meetings. This might be done too by under-sheriffs, who were very often merely attornies, and sometimes ready to become the tools of power. He objected also to the clause making persons liable to fine and imprisonment who might from mere curiosity go to a public meeting in a place of which they were not inhabitants. But what would the House say to another clause which had been introduced into this bill—a clause which he thought demanded their serious attention? This clause provided, that if any one magistrate present at a public meeting, should hear any speech made at such meeting which should appear to him "to propound or maintain any proposition for altering any thing by law established, otherwise than by the authority of the King, Lords, and Commons, in parliament assembled," he should have the power of committing the person who delivered such speech to prison; that was to say, that a single individual, upon his own authority, and unsupported by any other magistrate, perhaps acting from ignorance perhaps from malevolence, should have the power of taking into custody any individual, however great his talents, however high his rank, or however distinguished in virtue, whom he might Suppose had said something at variance with the principles laid down by this act. He would ask, could any thing be more preposterous or less consistent with those rules of action by which society had hitherto been governed? Would not, under such a provision, many of the noble lords whom he then saw around him be liable for the expression of sentiments which had hitherto been permitted without an observation, to be ignominiously seized and thrown into a dungeon; and this too at the discretion of a single ma- 1242 gistrate, perhaps incapable of drawing a fair inference from what he had heard? He would suppose that such a sovereign as James 2nd now occupied the throne, and that a meeting was called under his sanction for the purpose of passing resolutions to overturn the Protestant religion, which he, believed, if that sovereign had continued to preside over these realms, he would have attempted; would not the people, in such a case, be justified in resistance? In such a case, would any of their lordships say that the people had been guilty of treason? And yet, such was the nature of the power which this act vested in the magistracy, that any hot-headed individual of that class mighty upon a supposition that he had heard alterations proposed otherwise than with the consent of King, Lords, and Commons, take the supposed offender into custody The clause, however, did not stop there; it proceeded in this strain:—"or if any person shall wilfully and advisedly make any proposition, or hold any discourse, for the purpose of inciting and stirring up the people to hatred or contempt of the person of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, or the government and constitution: of this realm as by law established, he shall be taken into custody, and dealt with according to law." So that any thing which a man said, even to bringing into contempt the government of the country, was to render him equally liable to incarceration; and this too upon the judgment off; one individual, who would be thus entitled to draw a conclusion as to what was, and what was not a libel, although that House, after repeated discussions upon the same subject, had been unable to come to any practical definition of it. He could only say, that if this law were to pass, it would not be safe for any individual, however elevated inflation, or independent in principle, to trust himself at a public meeting. He was willing to admit, that the exercise of some coercion was necessary, and with that feeling he should not object to the bill going into the committee; but he should make a motion, that the committee should be instructed to limit its duration. He thought that he had a right, from what had been proved by the returns on the table, to assume that a great part of the mischiefs which had been described were attributable to the supineness of the government during the year 1818; and he also thought, that, if the present distresses 1243 were great, they were aggravated to a greater degree than really existed, with a view to justify the measures upon the character of which he had so repeatedly spoken. If this were not the case, why were their lordships told that these measures were absolutely necessary to be adopted, and that measures of conciliation would be of no possible avail? Had this, spirit been acted upon throughout? Had not his majesty's ministers yielded to arguments in favour of conciliation, the force of which they were in the first instance prepared to deny? That clause in the misdemeanor bill for limiting the period during which a prosecution could be brought against an individual to one year, was, in his opinion, a concession of infinite importance: it at once relieved the subject from the incertitude in which he must exist under the previous state of the law, which empowered the attorney-general to suspend a prosecution over his head to an indefinite period. A few years ago, when a similar concession was demanded, they were told they were asking for that which was in direct opposition to the prerogative of the Crown; and yet, within the last few days, this doctrine had been exploded, and the prerogative of the Crown on this subject, if it had ever existed, was abandoned by the ministers of the Crown themselves. With respect to another bill which had been before that House, and which contained the monstrous provision, that a person convicted of a second political libel should be transported for seven years—a provision which both himself and other noble and learned lords had laboured in vain to have excluded, and which the House had at length decided in deference to his majesty's ministers, was a provision which was absolutely necessary. After their lordships House had been dragged through the mire for the purpose of attacking a most obnoxious punishment to political libel, in what state was the, bill about to be returned to them? It was about to be returned to them with that obnoxious clause expunged, and this, too, by the concession of one of those ministers by whom it had been introduced. He was happy therefore to perceive that ministers were at length, and in some respects, disposed to conciliate That disposition had been tardily evinced; but, "Dum vita spes est." He believed that, by judicious conciliation, the spirit of discontent which prevailed 1244 in the country might yet be altogether subdued; and he was happy to find that in another place, a first effort of this description had been made. He had seen that, in the other House, leave had been given to bring in a bill upon that question of parliamentary reform, to which the noble lord opposite never heard any allusion without dismay. Leave had been given to bring in a bill to destroy one of the most venal and corrupt boroughs in the kingdom, and to transfer its right of representation to one of those populous towns which had hitherto existed without that advantage; and this too, he was told, for he had only read it in the reports, was a concession which had been made by one of the ministers of the Crown. Upon the question of parliamentary reform, he hoped he might be permitted to say a few words. He thought it was intimately connected with the state of public feeling at this moment. He had long been a member of parliament, but he was not aware that he had ever given a vote on this question; if ever he did, he was sure he must have given it against any general question for a reform of parliament. He was far from thinking that any part of the difficulties that existed in this country were to be ascribed to the construction of the other House of Parliament: still less did he believe that any of those difficulties could be removed by a reform of any description. It appeared to him, that the excellencies of our constitution consisted in its anomalies, all descriptions of persons who were at all essential to public business finding their way to the House of Commons; ministers and their opponents, financial man, lawyers on each side, all found their level in the House of Commons, and any ill consequence from the, ambition of individuals was thus prevented. As to war, he was satisfied that were the House of Commons more popularly elected, there would still be a greater disposition for war than that House had hitherto displayed. He had read on this subject an article of considerable merit in a number of the Edinburgh Review, about two; years ago, in which it was plainly demonstrated that the great practical excellence; of the British representation arose from its diversity and that if we adopted any one system of general representation, it would be found defective in its result in as much as it Would, give excess of power at particular times to particular, interests. The great practical benefit of a constitutional||1245 parliament, as it now stood, was, that it placed the talent of the country upon an equal footing, and the ministers of the Crown were at all times met by persons of equal ability, in whatever course they might think proper to proceed. This principle, he trusted, would ever be most studiously preserved. But while he entertained these feelings on the subject, and while he did not wish to advocate any specific principle of change, still he could not extend this principle so far as not to feel the necessity of admitting, that where they found any parts of the constitution practically bad, it was their duty to proceed to the amputation of such tainted parts. In this view, he conceived that if a system of corruption were found to exist under local circumstances, it would be wise to transfer the right of representation to some of those great commercial towns which had hitherto been excluded from that right. To that extent he was willing to concede; and he believed that this was the true spirit of conciliation which was calculated to suppress the discontents of the people. It was temperate, and it was all they could rationally ask for. It was peculiarly worthy of remark, that this important concession had been made by one of his majesty's ministers; and from that he was induced to come to the conclusion, as he had said before, that the discontents which prevailed were more the consequence of bad government than of any other definable cause. He had now only to say, that if the situation of the country really demanded the adoption of these measures, his motion would only go to limit the necessary duration of this bill. If the bill went into a committee, should move that its duration should be restricted to the 1st of July, 1822.
said that every thing he had heard from the noble viscount tended confirm his objections to the bill. He objected to it as part of a system of coercion of the very worst nature, the effect of which was to alter the constitution of the country, without even the formality of an examination. After the speech from the throne at the commencement of the session, in which parliament were told that it had been necessary to make a large addition to the military force, and in which the existing distresses and discontents had been so strongly insisted on, he had expected that ministers would come down to the House, in order to move for a commit- 1246 tee to inquire into the state of the country, and the propriety of adopting the measures which they considered necessary for its protection. To his surprise, however, he found that the general practice of parliament was in this instance to be departed from that no committee was to be appointed; and that ministers having committed themselves by a rash approbation of the transactions at Manchester, were resolved, upon that account, to prevent parliament from the exercise of one of its most important and necessary functions. The fact was, that it was impossible that any examination could take place without their conduct becoming a subject of reprehension. If a disease was of such a nature as to require a strong remedy, he thought it was first incumbent to examine the patient, and to see to what extent that remedy should be applied. When their lordships were called upon to pass such bills on the ground of the prevalence of discontent they were bound to inquire into the cause of that discontent; they were bound to inquire whether it had its origin in the distress of the people, or whether it arose from their distrust in parliament itself? If it arose from distrust, the passing of such measures by acclamation, and merely on the notoriety of the case, was calculated to aggravate the evil, by furnishing new proof of the subserviency of parliament. It was possible that strong measures might be necessary, but they could not be necessary without examination, and without the accompaniment of a conciliatory spirit on the part of government. He was glad to find that some concessions had been made, but it was to be observed that they did not originate with ministers who so far from manifesting a disposition to conciliate the people, had taken advantage of the panic into which the country was thrown, to alter the constitution. One of the greatest dangers existing at the present day was this disposition of the government to adopt measures of severity and coercion. The ministers had forgotten or confounded the distinction between a free and an arbitrary government, which was, that the one rested on conviction and affection, while the other relied upon the strong arm of force. If they acted an the bona fide intention of protecting the constitution, they would pass those measures as a temporary experiment, and limit their operation by the extent of the danger. In his opinion, even a stronger measure would 1247 be less objectionable, if confined to a limited period. To abstain from taxation was, after all, the best mode of restoring tranquillity, and therefore he should vote with his noble friend, for limiting to the shortest possible period the duration of an act by which the constitution was violated.
The Duke of Athol
declared it to be his firm persuasion that the situation of the country was most dangerous—a circumstance which he thought was mainly attributable to those scandalous libels which had found their way into every part of the kingdom. It was the duty of parliament in this state of things, to exercise their wisdom, in adopting measures calculated to meet the evils which existed. Upon such measures only, did the salvation of the state depend. On the first division which had taken place in that House on the address to the Prince Regent, the overwhelming majority by which that address had been carried, in his humble opinion, justified the apprehensions which had arisen in the public mind; and the subsequent overwhelming majorities upon the measures which had followed that address, confirmed him in the wisdom by which those measures had been dictated. He was glad to perceive the facetious spirit with which a noble baron attended to his speech; but though he had great respect for the talents displayed on that bench, he might say, that the measures to which he alluded had been approved of by men as wise and as constitutional. He had never interrupted the noble baron, and therefore he hoped the noble baron would not interrupt him. He firmly believed that the measures which had been brought forward by his majesty's government had already produced a most salutary effect, and had tended greatly to diminish the mischievous spirit which was abroad. They were measures which had been called for by the country, by the parliament, and particularly by that House; and ministers, in obeying the call had done their duty, and he hoped would continue to do so until all was accomplished which the situation of the country required. Whatever differences might exist upon other points, they were all agreed in one view—that the constitution of the country ought to flourish, and to be handed down unimpaired to posterity. The noble lords who had proposed to limit the act to two years instead of five, had, by declaring that in such a case they would 1248 have no objection to the bill, admitted that the other clauses were not so objectionable as was sometimes represented. He thought, however, that two years was too short a period, and that there would be much inconvenience in being obliged to fight the battle over again at the expiration of that time, if the circumstances of the country should require its re-enactment. He believed in his conscience that the recent effusion of British blood which had unfortunately taken place, was owing to the want of such bills. The prevention of the meetings at Manchester, Glasgow, and Paisley, was owing to their adoption, and he trusted the time was gone by when the enemies of the constitution could hope to intimidate the government. That the alarm was not unfounded there was sufficient proof; and he hoped that when the flame was extinguished by the operation of these measures, some course would be taken to relieve the distress which was unhappily too general throughout the country.
§ The Earl of Morley
regretted that that unanimity which was never so absolutely necessary as it was at the present moment, in consequence of the dangers by which the country was surrounded, did not seem likely to be procured. Facts had been falsified in a manner the most unprecedented, and the characters of magistrates acting on the purest principles, had been assailed by calumnies as gross as they were unwarranted. Many had censured the conduct of the magistrates at Manchester as intemperate: many had censured it as illegal; and not a few had condemned it as originating from the influence of fear. The illusion, however, which had blinded the minds of the people was now however, fast dispersing, and the idea of any impropriety of behaviour on the part of the magistrates would soon be abandoned by men of all parties. This was partly occasioned by that amelioration which had taken place during the progress of these bills through the House, and which was mainly attributable to them. They had been called bills of severity, bills of violence, bills of coercion. Now, he would just call the attention of the House to what they really were. The first of them was the bill against military training, which was already an offence under the existing laws: the second was a bill for the search of arms, which the state of the country rendered absolutely necessary: the third related to the law of tra- 1249 verse, and was of such a nature that his noble friend opposite had declared, that he thought it upon the whole an amendment of the old law: the fourth related to the prevention of tumultuous and seditious meetings; and he would ask whether this was a time for such large meetings as had been recently witnessed—meetings of fifty or sixty thousand persons, assembled together by itinerant orators, meetings which had no parallel either in ancient or in modern history, and which were calculated for any purpose rather than the purpose of calm and tranquil deliberation.—A noble earl who had spoken before him had passed high encomiums upon our unpaid magistracy; but in the objections which he had made to the authority given by this bill to them, he had both done and said much to their disparagement. Happily for this country, its magistracy was of such a character, that no persons could be more safely entrusted with discretionary power. The noble earl had also misunderstood what had fallen from the noble viscount. The noble viscount had never said, that the bill ought to be re-enacted at the end of 5 years, whether or not circumstances should be such as to require it: but whether it was to be so re-enacted or not, it was of importance that the industrious part of the population should not be kept in a state of perpetual alarm by the machinations of those who were so frequently calling these turbulent meetings. The measure might, in some respects, be contrary to the spirit of the constitution; but there were cases, and he thought the present was one, in which all theory was bound to yield to dire necessity. The principle of vitality was, however, so strong in our constitution, that he did not entertain any doubt of the evils under which the country now laboured being soon surmounted, and of our again enjoying that tranquillity which we were entitled to enjoy, from the success of our arms, the civilization of our people, and the excellence of our laws and general institutions.
The Earl of Donoughmore
declared, that though he was glad that the country was to be afflicted by this measure for a shorter period than was at first proposed, he must object to it both as a part of a whole, and upon its own demerits. If it did not absolutely take away one of the most important rights of the people, it certainly limited and narrowed it considerably: it vested in the ministers of the 1250 Crown, or at least in those whom they appointed, the right of calling all public meetings, which was the next thing to taking away that great constitutional right altogether. The people had not been convicted before either House of parliament of any such offence as to demand so severe a punishment. But supposing the facts proved relative to the meetings at Manchester, and in the other northern counties, was that a sufficient ground for divesting every subject of the realm, from one end of it to the other, of the most valuable constitutional right which they inherited from their forefathers? He said to their lordships, "No." The noble viscount who had opened the debate had taken every thing for granted: he had said that every noble lord was convinced of the existence of the evil, and of the necessity of repressing it; and therefore that he would not trouble their lordships with any argument upon it. Now, he would tell the noble viscount, that he, for one, was not conscious of the existence of the evil. But even if he was convinced that the evil did exist in England to as great a degree as was stated, and that the present measure was calculated to repress it, he must be allowed to ask why it was to be extended to Ireland? Ireland did not deserve these severe measures. Was there any proof that the people of Ireland had sinned in any way against the constitution. But even if there was such proof, still he should say, that these were not the remedies which fitted her condition. Ministers had of late been in the habit of panegyrising his unhappy country, and as a proof how well the panegyric was deserved, they now introduced pains and penalties to follow it. Now, the inhabitants of that country must have acted either rightly, or wrongly; if they had acted rightly, they did not deserve to be burthened with enactments like these; if they had acted wrongly, these were not the enactments to produce their amendment. He did not, however, object to the bill now before the House, solely because it was bad in itself, but also because it came, in bad company. It was part of that system which had lately been introduced into the two Houses of Parliament, and by which both of them had been polluted. It was part of a whole system of coercion—of a systematic restriction of the liberties of the people. The country was first frightened by an exaggerated statement of dis- 1251 affection; the most watchful centinels of the constitution were thrown off their guard; and in this state of things ministers came down and proposed the severest measures, without even a pretence of inquiry into the circumstances which called for them. They brought forth witnesses of their own, whom they would not allow to be cross-examined, and had prevented other witnesses from being called forward to contradict the garbled, imperfect, and anonymous statements which they had put forth to deceive the public. In short, ministers had selected such evidence as best suited their purposes; and without allowing the slightest investigation into its character, had proceeded to pass bills of pains and penalties. He felt bound to object to the introduction of a system of coercion without any appearance of legal proof of its necessity. He objected to the unsupported statements laid before their lordships, but he objected to them the more because they came from ministers. A still stronger ground of objection was, that these measures were introduced by ministers in order to protect themselves—they wished to show that they had not been asleep upon their post in the hour of danger. But he must say, that if ministers had wisely and properly exerted the power vested in them, the evil might have been prevented; it might have been stopped before it got to the pitch to which, according to their own statements, it had now arrived. If in times of difficulty ministers, from fear, or from any other motive, neglected the duty imposed upon them for the purpose of putting down disaffection, was it proper that they should be allowed to turn round and claim the assistance of parliament? Were they to allow the vessel to get into a sinking state, and then to cry out for assistance? Were they to be permitted to say: "The laws are inefficient; we can do nothing with them; we have done nothing; we now therefore shelter ourselves behind parliament, and call upon it to support us by passing bills of pains and penalties, in order to control the people." Were they to be allowed to do this without any inquiry into, or censure of their conduct? What were their lordships to think of the attempts made to arrest Harrison at Smithfield, and of the dispersion of the Manchester meeting? Were their lordships not bound to suppose that government were anxious to produce riot 1252 and disturbance, in order to give countenance to their measures. Was it possible that such a state of things could uncontrollably exist in a civilized government? Was it possible to suppose that such practices could be carried on with impunity in the metropolis, and immediately under the eye of government? Could it be imagined that meetings, said to be seditious, should be allowed to be held, bearding the constituted authorities, and subverting the peace and order of society; and this without any timely attempt at prevention on the part of ministers? Was it a want of energy which caused this—was it a want of experience? No. Why then were there no exertions made to prevent such meetings, unless there was a motive for it; unless these meetings were to be made a pretext for the introduction of measures of coercion and restriction? From the manner in which the bill was drawn up, it evidently was not the intention of the original framer of it to include Ireland in its operation. There were directions how it was to be carried into execution in England and in Scotland; but not one for the manner in which it was to be executed in Ireland. But on reconsideration ministers were of opinion, that though there was no necessity to include Ireland in the bill, yet they might as well make one business of it, and throw the whole empire into their system of coercion. He wondered, indeed, they did not include the remote dependencies of the Crown, as well as the more immediate parts of the empire: they had just as much right to do the one as the other. To include Ireland was merely for the sake of insult—it could be for nothing else; for in the state and character of Ireland there was nothing to which this bill could be at all applicable. The Irish, indeed, knew how to plan rebellion much better than the English; the latter had large meetings and paraded the streets with flags and music: the former had private meetings, secret committees, and associations of a nature which he should not describe, as the noble lord opposite knew them very well. It almost appeared as if it was the noble lord's intention to teach the radicals how to do this business—to show them that it was not by marching in large bodies in military array, and in the lock-step; but by proceeding in conclaves of fifties—aye, or even of twenty-fives, for that number in his country had been found effective.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
reminded their lordships, that the question now before them was not on the principle of the bill, but whether they should go into a committee, where its provisions might be discussed. It was pleasing to see that the objections of the noble lords who had opposed the measure applied rather to the date of continuance than the nature of the enactments. But the objections stated by one noble lord to the principle of the bill, and by another noble lord to its duration, rested on the same basis. One of those noble lords said, "I cannot agree to the enactments of the bill, because it is a bad bill; "and the other said, "I must have its operation limited to two years, because it is a bad bill." If it was a bad measure, he called upon their lordships not to pass it at all. This measure did not come before the House like another that had lately received the sanction of parliament, as an invasion of the constitution, and therefore enacted only for a duration commensurate with the period of necessity on which its justification rested It came before their lordships, not as an infringement of long enjoyed privilege, nor as a curtailment of the rights of Englishmen—not, in short, as having any thing in its nature opposed to its perpetuity; but it came before them as a temporary measure, because, though framed to protect rather than infringe the constitution, it contained provisions new to the late practice of the country, and therefore requiring to be brought under the review of parliament at no distant period, when their operation should be known. The noble earl had contended, that the right of meeting ought to be subject to no restrictions; but in doing so he had gone a little too far, and had destroyed the consistency of his speech; for in a subsequent part of his remarks, he had found fault with ministers for not having used military force to disperse those meetings which were said to be seditious ["No," from the earl of Donoughmore.] He was sorry to have mistaken the noble earl.
The Earl of Donoughmore
said, that he had found fault with ministers for not having taken the necessary steps to prevent meetings of a seditious nature.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
continued—He was sorry to have mistaken the noble earl, but what he admitted was sufficient for his argument. The noble earl, then found fault with ministers for not preventing these meetings. There could be no doubt 1254 about the right of the people to petition the legislature, or to carry their addresses to the foot of the throne; and, therefore, there could be no doubt of their right to assemble, so far as was necessary, to agree to their petitions or addresses. This right was usually grounded on the Bill of Rights, but it existed long before. This provision in the Bill of Rights which asserted it, was made to meet a particular case, that of the Seven Bishops who had been persecuted for petitioning; whereas the right of petitioning had always existed; it was grounded on no concession; it originated in no statute; it was founded on the principle that no man ought to be restrained from that which was not prohibited, and that what was not forbidden bylaw was lawful. The bill before the House imposed no restrictions on the legitimate enjoyment of the privilege; it only regulated the meetings at which it was to be exercised; but the noble lord objected to its duration, and wished to limit it to two years, ornandum, laudandum, tollendum. The discussion of public measures at public meetings, he was willing to allow, had been one main cause of producing that manly character, and fostering that national spirit, to which our greatness, our prosperity, and our glory, were owing; but how were these meetings originally, and up to a very late period, composed? Had our rights been asserted and our laws defended by such meetings as those of Manchester, of Spa-fields, or of Smithfield? Was it by assemblies of that sort that the sense of the country had been taken in any of its glorious struggles? No; they were unheard of till the beginning of the long train of revolutions that we had lately witnessed. Great meetings on public affairs began about 1779 or 1780. At no period were meetings more common than then to address the throne or to petition the Houses of parliament on subjects of national interest. The first great assembly of this kind took place in Yorkshire, and it was mentioned by sir G. Saville in the House of Commons, and the marquess of Rockingham in this House, that the rental of the 600 requisitionists who called it amounted to 800,000l. But was that meeting held in the open air, and attended by all persons who chose to attend it? No. It was a county meeting, called by the sheriff, and attended only by freeholders. What was the nature of the meetings to which Mr. Fox addressed himself in Wast- 1255 minster? They were meetings of householders paying direct taxes to government, and convened by the constituted authorities. Such were the assemblies of the people that formerly conveyed their wishes and prayers to the throne and to parliament, before the present mode of assembling was practised. In contending thus against meetings like those of Manchester or Sheffeld, did he wish to deprive the class of persons who attended such assemblies of the means of expressing their opinions? No certainly. Neither did the present bill prevent them from meeting to express their ideas of public matters, and to convey their petitions to the throne or the legislature, if called together by the lord-lieutenant, the custos rotulorum, the sheriff, the grand jury, or five magistrates. It was stated in objection to this, that those officers were appointed by the Crown, and might oppose a meeting to petition against the conduct of the advisers of the Crown; but it ought to be recollected that the meetings formerly held to petition against the measures of government were called by the same constituted authorities with whom the power of convening them was lodged by the present bill. It had been made a strong objection to this measure, that one justice should have it in his power in certain specified circumstances, to dissolve a meeting legally convened, and attended by those who had a right to call it. But that provision applied to such meetings only of which the giving of notice was necessary (which was not the case with meetings called by the constituted authorities); and even at these there must be language of a seditious nature used before the magistrates could interfere to arrest the person; and resistance offered to the arrest of the person, before the meeting could be dissolved. Resistance must be offered before the meeting became unlawful; and after it had thus become unlawful and riotous, it might have been dispersed by the existing law. But the noble earl objected to the bill, because the necessity for such a measure was not made out by sufficient evidence. The noble earl said that it rested on the unproved assertions of noble lords on the ministerial side of the House, and on the authority of the documents on the table. He did not admit that this was all the evidence. But if there had been no one paper brought forward, still he maintained that it only required eyes to see and ears to hear, in order to be satisfied 1256 of the danger which existed. Unless people were wilfully deaf and blind to what was passing around them, they must feel the necessity of resisting and putting down the disaffection which was fast spreading through the country. Was it not notorious that meetings were held at many places, which threw the whole neighbourhood into confusion and alarm? Was it not notorious that two counties on this account were nearly in a state of siege? Was it not notorious that thousands had assembled in military array, under leaders, with flags and music? Did it require any documents to prove these facts? Documents might have been produced; but it was needless to prove to their lordships facts which were self-evident, and on which their lordships could not feel a doubt. He was sensible these meetings took place with the professed object of petitioning, and he was not disposed to deny or undervalue the right; but had British subjects no other rights to protect equally valuable? Was the security of our lives and property to be regarded as nothing? Why did we surrender any of our natural rights but to obtain the blessings of society in the safety of our lives and property? Had not every British subject as much a right to protection as some claimed of petition? But could we be safe if these numerous and menacing meetings were allowed to go on? Could the government maintain one army at Manchester, and another at Glasgow and Paisley; and were those who objected to military establishments to be the individuals who would oppose a measure without which our military power must be increased? It had been stated by a noble lord in a previous debate, that a great change had taken place in the state of this country during the last 50 years. It became their lordships to consider what that change had been with a reference to the policy of this bill. In the year 1750, the whole population of the country did not exceed 7,000,000 of souls. Lancashire alone now contained 1,500,000. In 1750, Lancashire contained only 300,000 inhabitants: the manufacturing population of the hundred of Salford, inclusive of the township of Manchester, now contained upwards of 300,000, or as many inhabitants as the whole county about 70 years ago. In the west riding of Yorkshire the manufacturing population amounted to more than 1,000,000. Let their lordships consider 1257 of whom this population was composed. It was composed of persons whose labour was expended in the production, and whose subsistence depended on the disposal of manufactures, the value of which might be affected, and the sale of which might be interrupted, by a variety of causes over which government could have no control. A change of fashion or the caprice of a foreign state might ruin or throw out of employ whole classes of manufacturers. This tendency to fluctuation had been much increased by the use of machinery. Formerly, if an order came from abroad for a great assortment of manufactured goods, it would have required six months to execute what could now be done in so many weeks in consequence of the perfection of our machinery. These fluctuations were the cause of great distress; and distress and disaffection were often nearly allied. There were instances of disaffection where little distress was felt, but in general they were joined. Unless, therefore, there was some restriction imposed upon the right of holding public meetings in places where the population was crowded, and where the employment of the people was liable to great vicissitudes, these could be no safety or security. The noble earl had charged this measure with being a part of a system by which the constitution was invaded, and had said that it originated in the design of ministers and of parliament to trench on the liberties of the subject. But how was the charge made out against ministers? The army had been reduced as much as was desired by the greatest enemy of large military establishments; at least, he had a right to presume so from no motions being made for a farther reduction. In no other case could it be proved that parliament; had shown a disregard to the wants or interests of the people. This sort of general accusation against ministers and parliament had assumed a serious aspect, and ought to be discouraged, from the effects which it might produce. What prepared the riots which took place in 1780? They were produced by telling the people that neither government nor the legislature would attend to their complaints. This language was held in the beginning of April, and in June parliament was itself treated with disrespect, insult, and violence, by a riotous mob, and on the following day the city was set on fire. Had such a bill as that now before the House 1258 been then passed, these melancholy events would not have happened. For want of preventive laws, such calamities were experienced. The bill allowed all the meetings which in the best times were allowed, and only prevented those that created alarm, or threatened the public peace. Neither he nor any of his majesty's ministers wished to put an end to fair and free discussion. If any subject arose, on which the public might entertain a wish to meet, for the purpose of discussing its merits, the provisions of this bill gave them an ample opportunity of doing so. No unfair restriction, no unjust opposition, was called into action, in order to destroy the privilege of meeting. It should be recollected, that the provisions of the bill were not applicable to meetings in rooms. In former times, with the exception of riotous and tumultuary assemblages, every expression of public feeling emanated from meetings which were never too numerous to be included under the roof of a building. If the public desired to meet for the purposes of fair discussion, the provisions of this bill would be highly favourable to that object, by preventing the congregation of numbers so great as to render all discussion impracticable. He agreed with the noble earl, that if this bill would have the effect of putting an end to public meetings, if it essentially interfered with that great popular privilege, if it prevented the people from expressing their feelings in a just and constitutional manner, it would be highly objectionable, and might lead to the worst consequences; because if those fires were not permitted to blaze above-ground, they would, perhaps, occasion a dreadful explosion. But the right of meeting was not prevented. Those who meant well could still assemble at parish and county meetings. Those only who wished to meet for bad purposes, would be affected by the bill. The noble earl stated, that that part of the empire to which he more immediately belonged, was perfectly free from any taint of disaffection—that the people there were perfectly quiet. He did not doubt the correctness of this statement. He would go farther. He was ready fairly to admit, that the conduct of the great mass of the population of England had been most excellent, most praiseworthy. He conceived that the exemplary manner in which they had undergone the greatest privations—privations that were rendered necessary for the good 1259 of the state—entitled them to the utmost gratitude. But, because he thought so, he felt it necessary that the protecting arm of parliament should be stretched forth to shield those parts of the country which were not yet assailed by the principles of disaffection, from an evil that otherwise would reach them. Had Cornwall, or Devon, he would ask, been disturbed? Certainly not. Yet, upon the principle laid down by the noble earl, they ought to be excluded from the operation of the bill. Was it possible for their lordships to say, that this, which was intended to be a preventive measure, should be marked out for, and confined to, particular counties and districts? What would be the consequence? It would be this—that the principle of disaffection, when put down in one place by the operation of the bills, would speedily arise in another; and thus they would be called on to legislate over and over again. He should be extremely sorry to make any difference or distinction with respect to the operation of this measure. He thought every part of the country entitled to the same degree of protection from government. Their measures intended for safety and security, ought to be alike extended to all. It was for the legislature to render their measures effectual; and, with that object in view, they could not exclude counties situated on the other side of the Channel, because they were not visited by tumult and disaffection, more than they could, for the same reason, exempt districts on this side of it from the operation of the measure. He hoped their lordships would pass the bill in its present state. He did so, because he felt that, so far from its being part of a system of coercion, it was, in fact, part of a system of protection. It was introduced, not with reference to any body of men, or to any district, but for the good of the entire country, of the whole community. It was introduced in behalf of the quiet, peaceable, and loyal inhabitants of the country, who formed the infinitely greater portion of our population, Not alone would he have the bill passed for the safety and security of the quiet, peaceable and loyal; he would also have it passed for the sake of those very men, against whom, as the noble earl asserted, it was peculiarly directed. He would pass it, that those persons might be deterred from adding to their own distress by debating on political topics, when they should be attending to their business; he 1260 would pass it, that such persons might be deterred from attending meetings in such vast numbers as rendered it necessary to call out military force in order to assist the civil power. Although it might be the duty of government sometimes to call out the military force, it was, he would declare, a most painful duty; for he could assure their lordships, that the present government was as unwilling to recur to the employment of a military force, if they could possibly avoid it, as their ancestors were. But if it were found necessary to use that force, if the exigencies of the time demanded it, he trusted government would not be deterred, by attacks from any quarter, to do their duty firmly and vigorously, for the decisive and vigorous protection of the state, and the constitution of the country. He felt that the system of coercion, as it had been called, unjustly as he conceived, had already produced a very good effect. The measures which had been submitted to parliament, had wrought much benefit to the country. He believed that popular discontent was fast subsiding; but that it would subside within the short period to which the noble earl wished the bill to be restricted, he was not sanguine enough to suppose. He was firmly of opinion, that the House would protect themselves and the country from some of the greatest dangers by which a kingdom could be visited, if they passed this measure. Many persons revolted at the idea of a military despotism. The fear was groundless, because, if a military force was employed, it was in defence of the laws, and not with an intention of destroying them. But even military despotism was better than the despotism of a mob. The despotism of the mob was in itself worse than military despotism; in addition to which it invariably led to military despotism. If anarchy were allowed to prevail, that anarchy must end in arbitrary government. If, therefore, life and property could be secured only by an arbitrary government, it would be better to go to it by a direct, than by that dreadful road, to which the path that led to the gates of hell was alone superior in horror. But he was persuaded that to no such danger would the proposed measure tend. It would merely aid the executive authority in the suppression of that evil, the continuance of which was utterly incompatible with private happiness and public order. It was a love of rational freedom which prompted him to support 1261 this measure, because he wished that rational freedom to be guarded by the arm of the law; and as the law now stood, it was not sufficient to ward off the danger by which the country was threatened.
said, he should be obliged to detain their lordships longer on this occasion than he had done during the progress of other measures connected with the present through that House, because he conceived the bill of infinite importance, tending as it did to a radical alteration in the frame of the constitution. The noble earl near him who had so ably exposed the true character of the measure under their lordships consideration, had called on the noble lords opposite to exempt Ireland from the operation of this act. That country had been represented by ministers, and by all who had delivered their sentiments on this subject, as being in a state of perfect quietness; and therefore he thought it should not be affected by such a measure. But the noble earl who had just sat down, declared that the bill was a favour and a boon to the people of Ireland. How far he would extend that favour and that boon, he could not say. Was it to be extended to the settlements abroad? There were one or two places to which perhaps ministers might suppose the favour would peculiarly apply. Would they extend it to the Cape of Good Hope, to which they were exporting so large a proportion of the population of the country? Would they also extend it to the inhabitants of Botany Bay?—A noble duke had congratulated himself and those around him, on the overwhelming majorities by which the measures of ministers were supported. If great majorities always proved the truth, then indeed would the excellence of the system now introduced be decidedly made out, and ministers might be considered as the best and wisest of all human beings. But in the course of his own experience he had found, in one or two cases, that positions, supported by overwhelming majorities were in the course of six months afterwards overturned by majorities as overwhelming. Therefore he inferred, that great majorities were not always an undeniable proof of the excellence of measures; and he doubted very much whether, in this case, the large and overwhelming majorities by which ministers were supported would be a satisfactory answer to those who viewed the measures under consideration with distrust and suspi- 1262 cion. The noble earl rejoiced in the effect which the introduction of these measures of coercion already had throughout the country. He stated his belief that it was owing to them that the late meeting at Manchester passed off without mischief. He felt very differently. In his opinion, those measures were likely to excite discontent—to excite a strong feeling of indignation in the minds of the people, instead of producing good humour and quietness. The noble lord spoke of an army at Manchester—he spoke of an army at Glasgow; but if a military force were thus employed in every part of the country, must not the inference be, that these meetings were put an end to by violence, and not by the operation of the law? Instead of curing the evil, would it not render it necessary to keep on foot, in a time of peace, still more immense armies? It was not by measures such as these—it was not by means of violence and oppression—it was not by employing large armies—that the people would become quiet and contented. It was by measures of conciliation, and not by acts of violence that the affections of the people were to be won. Those who proceeded in a different course would, in the end, perceive that it led to results very different from those which they expected. The noble earl had adverted to the French Revolution—a subject perhaps too much touched upon in their lordships' debates. If that event could at all be quoted with effect, it went to prove that by timely conciliation, and not by violence, the feelings of the people were likely to be soothed. Previous to the French Revolution, meetings of numerous bodies of the people were prohibited; they were put down by force; and this was one of the causes which occasioned that great convulsion. The noble earl said, that meetings of disaffected persons had lately taken place to an extent that could not, without running the risk of great danger, be any longer allowed. Let their lordships, in answer to this assertion, look at the meetings in Yorkshire, and other places. They might there see that persons of large property, as well as those who felt the severe pressure of the times, assembled together. Did the noble earl really mean to say that meetings of this sort were never to take place? Did he mean to declare that persons of this description were never to be heard—that they were never to discuss points of grievance, except when 1263 the meeting consisted of certain numbers? Were their lordships surprised, could they be astonished, at the meetings that had recently been held in Yorkshire, and in other districts, when they considered the impoverished state of the country? If the country was, as all persons must acknowledge, in a state of distress and suffering, was it not likely that persons who were affected by the pressure of the times, would meet in large bodies, for the purpose of petitioning? He differed from the noble earl in his opinion that it was not expedient that public, meetings should in any case be attended by any but freeholders and persons of property. When the inferior classes were distressed, was it fitting that parliament should turn short on them and say, "No! you shall not meet, because you are poor! you shall not meet, because you are that portion of the people who are most likely to be distressed! you shall suffer, but you shall not have the privilege of complaining?'' The people were now in circumstances essentially different from those in which they had heretofore been placed—they were oppressed by circumstances which formerly did not molest them. The mode proposed by ministers was not the fair way of meeting the circumstances of the time—it was not the just way of viewing the question—since the people were now in a situation that was never before thought of. He thought the power now vested in magistrates was quite sufficient for every useful purpose, while, at the same time, it was completely consistent with the rights and liberties of the subject. The bill then before the House did, on the contrary, fritter away the rights of the subject; and when it was passed, it was easy to see that no meetings would be called except such as would enter into resolutions complimentary to ministers. Democracy was unquestionably to be deprecated. But it would be well for their lordships to take care, that while they avoided the rock of democracy, they were not drawn into the whirlpool of arbitrary power. The increase of the military establishment was one of the most appalling features of the new system. They had at present an army of 20,000 men, which cost the country 4,000,000l. a-year, and to that force a large addition was about to be made. Were the finances of the country capable of supporting such a burden? Were not the finances, on the contrary, in such a*1264 state as rendered it impossible to boar this additional expense? Did not they see the yeomanry cavalry rising in all parts of the country? Were they not sufficient to preserve the peace, if a military force were at all wanted? Did not one troop of cavalry disperse the meeting at Manchester? It would be well worth their while to consider, whether the danger was not increased by the proceedings that took place in the north. He would not say much more, because he should have other opportunities of considering the general nature of all those measures; but he must observe, that he certainly was not one of those who approved of the system which was acted on towards the people,—a system which, throughout its whole progress, betrayed an utter contempt for conciliation. He was a friend to wise and salutary regulations, but not to such measures as those now proposed. They ought to take care that neither the ultra-zealous loyalist, on the one hand, nor the pestilent reformer, on the other, should be allowed to force parliament to the adoption of measures injurious to liberty. It was their duty to devise the best means for correcting any thing that was wrong in the frame of society: but they ought to be cautious and more especially with reference to the most valuable of our privileges, the freedom of the press, that, in rooting out the poisonous weed, they did not destroy the wholesome and valuable plant which flourished near it. He believed that no bad spirit existed in the country; he did not think that a bad spirit had been generated by political causes. He was of opinion, contrary to what many noble lords asserted, that an evil revolutionary spirit did not prevail throughout the kingdom. If he believed that such a spirit was in existence—if he imagined that a bad feeling towards the constitution was operating throughout the country, he would not be found debating about this bill or that. If a revolutionary spirit were manifested, he would at once endeavour to subdue it. In his opinion no spirit of the kind existed. On the contrary, it appeared to him that if there ever was a period when the minds of the people were more particularly enlightened than they ever before were—if there ever was a period when they were more deeply impressed with the purity of the great precepts of the Christian religion than they had ever previously been, it was the time at which be was speaking. 1265 He knew no case in which juries had not conscientiously performed their duty. The case of Hone had often been adverted to. He referred their lordships to that case, as a proof of the truth of what he asserted. The jury, he was quite convinced, viewed the pamphlets which that individual was prosecuted for publishing, as matters of a political nature, and therefore acquitted him of any intention to revile the Christian religion. Again, if they considered the case of Carlile, they would see that the jury acted justly. They decided as every religious man must nave wished them to decide—as every honest man must have rejoiced that they did decide—against that individual. To prove still farther the feelings by which the people were actuated, he begged leave to mention the way in which a posthumous production, "The bones of Thomas Paine," had been treated in this country. The person by whom that vile experiment had been tried found that he had a little mistaken the feeling and the character of the people of England. Was there ever any subject treated with more laughter, contempt, and derision, than the introduction of those miserable bones—whether the bones of Tom Paine, or not, he would not undertake to decide. From every circumstance which had come under his observation, he had a right to contend, that there was nothing in the present state of affairs, that there was nothing in the feelings of the people, nothing in the frame of society which called for such bills as those which were now under consideration. Measures of this nature did not tend to the security of the subject, but gave rise to one general feeling of suspicion and distrust. Where was the danger that threatened the country at this moment? For his own part, he could not perceive where it existed. They all knew that mankind were surrounded with dangers. For instance, they could not tell but that meteoric stones might fall on their heads as they passed through the streets. They did not, however, on account of such a remote possibility, live always in a state of fear; neither would he consent that severe coercive measures should be put in force, because ministers were apprehensive of dangers from the ferment of popular feeling. He believed that there were dangers of another sort—dangers meditated against the constitution, which it would be well for the legislature to guard against. They were told 1266 of persons who wished to overturn the present state of things. Some of them were, in derision, called radicals. What he would ask their lordships, did the conduct of these people proceed from? It might be traced entirely to their distress, out of which discontent and dissatisfaction had naturally grown. There were various causes to which that distress might be attributed, although those persons declared it was entirely the fault of the legislature—They stated that it would be peculiarly proper that the voice of the people should be more distinctly heard in the House of Commons. Then, they argued, there will be a better chance of real efforts being made for the benefit of the people, and that a reduction would be effected in the expenditure of the country, which was now weighing heavily on all ranks of society. He believed, if the wishes of the people were fairly met and considered, if their claims were attended to, instead of being opposed by measures of this kind, that the whole mass of the population would be conciliated, not even excepting those radicals of whom ministers appeared to be so much afraid. He was convinced that whatever danger threatened the country was not lessened by the events of the 16th of August—It appeared clear to him, on the contrary, that the conduct of the magistrates on that occasion greatly increased the peril. When the meeting was dispersed, the people endeavoured to obtain legal redress, but they were in the end satisfied that they could not procure justice. Then came their last, their only hope, that justice would be done to them in parliament—that there their case would be sifted to the bottom—that there their grievances would be properly redressed. In that hope they were most grossly deceived: they were deceived because it was not found convenient for ministers to undertake such an investigation. He believed that if the transactions of the 16th of August were inquired into, it would be found that the whole was a matter of police—an affair that lay entirely between the police and the home department. It would be found that the persons employed by the police on that occasion, under what immediate direction he could not say, were the first to create tumult and alarm. What did the principal officer do on that occasion? He proceeded to execute his warrant, and when he came near the crowd that sur- 1267 rounded the platform, which he described to be so close that he could not get through it, he immediately returned and called for military force; whereas he contended, that the officer ought, in conjunction with the constables, to have endeavoured to open his way to the hustings. He did not, however, struggle to get through the press of the people He retired without making an effort, and then stated to the magistrates that it was necessary to employ military force. He could prove, if necessary, at their lordships' bar, that long after the removal of those unfortunate persons who were Wounded and mangled on that melancholy occasion:—and he begged to say that this was the evidence of those upon whom he could most implicitly rely—a large crowd collected round the hospital to which they had been conveyed, anxious to inquire as to the fate and sufferings of their friends and relatives; and whilst they so stood near the hospital gates, a party of yeomanry cavalry rode over, and injured many of them. Much exaggeration appeared to have discoloured the statements which their lordships had heard, relative to the many thousands of men who were said to have been under arms. He had the satisfaction, on the other hand, of stating to their lordships that a great number of county meetings had been held, at which resolutions had been agreed to, abundantly testifying the loyalty of those who subscribed them. As to these "loyal meetings," as they were called, they always appeared to him to be, to say the least, very insipid meetings, for those who did not join in the resolutions were considered as of course disloyal. They had the further disadvantage, that they were very impolitic things; as in the case of another set of resolutions—not that originally proposed—being carried by, as it might happen, "an overwhelming majority."—At a late meeting of this sort, certain resolutions of so very strong a character were moved, that it was found impossible to pass them; several others were proposed, and a gentleman observed, that the least which could be done with those who refused to support such loyal resolutions, would be to transport them; another gentleman declared that while he could not approve of those which had been first submitted, he was ready to sign any other declaration whatever. A noble earl had declared, that he felt less alarm at the "vultus instantis tyranni," than at the 1268 "civium ardor prava jubentium." For his own part he could not help observing to their lordships, that when they looked at our foreign allies, and remarked the close and near connexion which subsisted between this government and governments abroad, they must, view with indignation and astonishment, and at the same time with distrust, the ingratitude of those powers who had promised, m their hour of adversity, a free and representative government to a valiant people; but who, in their season of prosperity, had forgotten to redeem their sacred pledge. What were they to think when they saw governments alarmed at the diffusion of knowledge, and hostile even to, the practice of those gymnastic exercises in schools and villages, which had always, been considered the best adapted to the improvement of the strength and spirit of mankind? What were they to think of our own government when they saw them assisting the court of Spain in all its measures of tyranny and oppression; when they looked at the horrible state of that devoted country, and saw her bravest patriots, with Arguelles at their head chained in dungeons and languishing in darkness? When their lordships beheld; those brave and noble champions of freedom, of whom their country should have been proud to boast, and each of whose little fingers should have been more dear than the whole flesh and sinews of their oppressor, tortured by a man who had once so noble a part to take; and who might, in the moment of his restoration to the throne of his ancestors have given to his people a glorious constitution; when they beheld this close, this intimate connexion subsisting between him and his majesty's ministers; and, above all, when they coupled this last circumstance with the exertions made to pass the foreign enlistment bill, they could not but concur with him in thinking, that there was more of the "vultus instantis tyranni" in the government of the country, than of the "civium ardor prava jubentium" in the spirit of the people. But most especially when they adverted to France, the only free nation of the continent, and, as he feared, it would very speedily prove, in Europe, and found, that immediately upon the return of the duke de Richelieu to it from the congress, measures were adopted tending to destroy, or at least, to restrict the existing state of things there as regarded political liberty, it was impossible not to anticipate the 1269 greatest dangers to political liberty. He would refer their lordships to some of the features which the internal policy of the government exhibited; to the attempts made for the renewal of the income tax; to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; to the enormous military establishment maintained in time of profound peace; and particularly to one act, on behalf of one of its members, which had done more harm to the royal family than any other measure he could remember, however unadvised; and he would then ask their lordships, whether they were not far more strongly impressed with the "vultus instantis tyranni," than with the "civium ardor prava jubentium?" He had one word to say upon a subject of very deep importance—the distresses of the people. It had been always declared by the noble lords opposite that they were not to blame if the people were distressed. It was not less remarkable, that if any appearance of prosperity manifested itself in any part of the country, the same noble lords directly took to themselves the credit of it. Why, then, it was but reasonable to assume, that they, by their conduct, were the great causes of that distress. Time was, when the poorest class of the people brought home to their families, the honest and productive earnings of their daily labour; when that which had been acquired by toil was shared with joy; and when the industrious labourer might view with pride the comforts which rewarded his daily exertions. Those comforts, that subsistence, however, were now to be obtained by other means—means at which their indigent but manly ancestors would have blushed. It was impossible not to revert, in the contemplation of the general distress which pervaded so large and invaluable a portion of society, to those beautiful lines which Goldsmith in his boundless acquaintance with the feelings of the human heart, had so felicitously introduced in the "Deserted Village. He would beg their lordships permission to quote the passage; premising; that the mournful necessity under which so many of his countrymen had lately found themselves compelled to leave the country of their birth, was exactly imagined in them—Ah no! to distant climes, a dreary scene,Where half the convex world intrudes between,Through torrid tracts with fainting steps they go,Where wild Altama murmurs to their we.1270Far different there from all that charm'd before,The various terrors of that horrid shore.Far different these from every former scene,The cooling brook, the grassy-vested green,The breezy covert of the warbling grove."—Good heaven! what sorrows gloom'd that parting day,That called them from their native walks away;When the poor exiles, every pleasure past,Hung round the bowers, and fondly look'd their last;And took a long farewell, and wish'd in vain,For seats like these beyond the western mainAll this, he feared, was but the poetical anticipation of a scene which would but too soon be realised. He could not forbear adding two lines, which contained a precept, the truth of which was too unfortunately felt at this moment, to make it necessary for him to enlarge upon it;That trade's proud empire hastes to swift decay,As ocean sweeps the laboured mole away.When they heard of 300 wretched beings being "massed" together, as it was emphatically termed, in transports destined to distant and almost unknown shores; upon the uncertain chance of finding there the subsistence which they could not procure at home; and packed and "massed" like so many bales of indigo or tobacco, what were they to think of the government under which their misery had accumulated to such a height? Could they acquit ministers of all blame? Good God! they would not surely have the audacity to say, that it was brought on by Providence! No; it was brought on by the measures pursued by the noble lords opposite; the human means were to be found in their conduct. The sole escape for the vessel of the state, the only chance of her preservation among the rocks and perils which encompassed her, was in that moderate reform, which would advance and increase the purity, without endangering the health and vigour of the constitution. Before he sat down, he would observe, that the magistracy were now vested with powers, so increased, that he might say they reached to the farthest verge of the island but he sincerely thanked God that there still remained to Englishmen, even when the Crown itself had enlarged its prerogative, one means, and one only, of legally resisting, to a certain degree, the power of the Crown; 1271 by those means, he meant, not adverse force; net the sword, nor the dagger; but one small thing (in his idea, however, a most powerful one)—the influence of public opinion. It was that which, when arrested, compressed, and confined, would in its expansion carry all before it; it would break opposing bayonets and bolts, and bars to atoms; and still more powerful gold would vainly endeavour, to restrain it. Let them heap Pelion upon Ossa, it would dash them in its struggles to fragments. If it held that national freedom was the right of a people, they would become rationally free; if it deemed that moderate reform was necessary, moderate reform would prevail; if it considered that abuses should be rectified, abuses would cease. All history proclaimed the triumph of public opinion. What, he would ask, put down the tyranny of James 2nd? A single shout, the echo of the public opinion, which resounded from Westminster-hall at the acquittal of the Seven Bishops. What accomplished the French revolution? Not, surely, the small handful of men who stormed the Bastile; but the sentence which public opinion had pronounced upon the tyranny of the government, the vices of the state, and the condition of the nobility. What brought back Napoleon Buonaparté from Elba? Was it any expedition, any armament? No, but some opinion; and what was that?—That after his restoration the king had sacrificed his sincerity; and, indeed, the French had reason enough to think so Nobody could respect more than he did the king of France; but at that time he had been guided by bad advisers. The king of France had since acted in such a manner as all in his situation should do; and that circumstance alone had kept him on his throne if ever he departed from those principles the loss of the affections of his people must prove his overthrow. For himself, he wished all nations to be free, whatever the consequence might be. If the liberty of France straitened our own means somewhat, or even detracted something from the glory of Great Britain, he should still be most happy at the event. The noble earl had been boasting that night of the course pursued by himself and his colleagues; of retrenchment of expenditure, of the abolition of sinecures. But it was to public opinion that any alteration of the system was owing. As long as ministers could resist public opi- 1272 nion, they had resisted it: among its warmest opponents were the noble and learned lord (whom he did not blame for the interest he took in the question), and the noble earl opposite. The abolition of sinecures, however, they coupled with pensions to an immoderate amount—a way of proceeding which considerably detracted from the merits of their retrenchment on the other side; for instead of effecting a saving of 280,000l. their pensions reduced the amount to between 30,000l. and 40,000l. What produced an alteration in the traverse bill? Certainly, it was not due to the noble lords, but to public opinion. In the other House, not all the great eloquence of the noble lord who had brought forward the Grampound business; not all the talents which had distinguished his conduct in that instance (and great, he understood, they were); not all the abuses in the elections which himself and his hon. friends had so forcibly described, would ever have caused any thing like a successful termination to their labours, but for the influence of public opinion, which his majesty's ministers must have felt. Even to those who advocated annual parliaments and universal suffrage, he would say, rest on your oars; if you are right, by public opinion you must succeed: if you are wrong, by public opinion you will fail; and then you must be satisfied with defeat. As to the subject of the distress which prevailed throughout the country, he well knew that a noble lord, in his eye, would turn round and say, "What we do for them, we do as a favour: we cannot help their distress; but we will extend to them our protection from plunder and outrage." Protection! Yes; such protection as Pizarro extended to the Peruvians: and as for plunder, he was not quite sure that they were not in almost as much danger in that respect from other quarters as from the radicals. There was not much prospect of increasing the property of those who already complained of burthens, by the additional expense of 10,000 additional men; and it was pretty clear that, so far from relieving those who suffered most, this expense was another tax upon those who had not yet experienced the same extent of distress. He begged leave to apologize to the House for the length at which he had detained them.
The Earl of Westmoreland
called the attention of the House to the real question, namely, the object of the bill, which 1273 he contended was no invasion of the privileges of Englishmen, or of the Bill of Rights, but only a regulation of the right of petition, although it had the misfortune of meeting with the severe disapprobation of the noble lord. After the many and able speeches which their, lordships had heard, he should not detain them very long, but observe, that this bill was framed with a view of preventing those seditious meetings of which they had heard so much, and which were so greatly to be deplored. The effect of the humane principle of the present measure would be to disperse tumultuous meetings by the operation of the law, and not by force; and it was drawn with that care in its provisions, that no meetings which could reasonably be wished for, were prevented by its operation. There were none, if acting under constituted authorities, but what it permitted to take place, whether summoned by lord-lieutenants, sheriffs, or magistrates. With respect to the regulations of the bill, he defied the noble lord to point out any meeting that ought to assemble, which was prevented from doing so by the present enactment: it regulated those only that were calculated to excite intimidation and terror. He would not, at that late hour of the night, pretend to argue on the legality or illegality of the meetings that had already taken place. Independently of the statute law, he took it to be the common law of the land, that all meetings which gave terror and alarm to the king's subjects were illegal. It was no matter how the alarm was produced, whether by numbers, threats, devices or arms; still, if alarm was excited, the meeting was illegal, and it was in the power of magistrates to disperse it. This he conceived to have been the law of the land before any statutes were made on the subject. The first statute relating to public meetings was the 16th of Henry 4th, which declared, that all routs and riots were to be dispersed, and that the magistrates were to arrest the persons causing them; it went even further, for it inflicted heavy penalties on the magistrates if they were within reach, and did not disperse such routs and riots. The next act on the subject was that of Henry 8th, which gave magistrates the power to disperse riotous meetings by force and violence. This act lived till the time of Elizabeth, when it was allowed to expire. Its provisions, however, were renewed by the Riot act of George 1st, which was in 1274 fact nothing new; it only warranted magistrates to disperse riotous meetings by law, while formerly they did so at their own discretion: now the present law was simply to follow the course of former statutes, and to enable magistrates to disperse dangerous meetings by law; and its object was to save the lives of persons who might attend those meetings without knowing that they were unlawful. As to the duration of the act, he should not take up the time of the House in arguing on the propriety of not limiting it to a shorter period than that proposed. All he should say on the, measure In general was, that it appeared from the communications of lord-lieutenants, justices of the peace, and others, that the country was in a state of discontent, disturbance, and alarm, and that his majesty's loyal subjects looked to government for protection, It had been said by the noble earl (Grosvenor) that these discontents proceeded from distress, and from the misconduct of government and the noble earl had prescribed a simple cure for the evil; first, by an inquiry into the transactions at Manchester; secondly, by a change of measures; and thirdly, by a reduction of the army. He (the earl of Westmoreland) should briefly advert to the evil and to the remedies proposed. It was well known, that in those parts of the country where the most distress existed, the people were suffering with the greatest loyalty and patience. On the other hand, it did not appear to him likely that persons under the pressure of great distress could afford to pass whole days and nights in drilling; that they could afford to purchase seditious pamphlets, or that they could go about the country attending seditious meetings. This conduct surely did not indicate great distress; for he could not conceive how persons in a state of want could either have the pecuniary means, or the physical strength requisite, for such, proceedings. But allowing that it was distress—if such were the results, and that parliament saw capital withdrawing from the north and the west, was not that an additional motive for the interference of the legislature, to recal the people to peace, order, and loyalty, by dispelling the, delusions that prevailed. But the remedy, forsooth, was an alteration in the frame of the government. Did they forget that the frame of that government which they would alter made England the envy and admiration of surrounding nations; that made the name 1275 of an Englishman more respectable than that of the ancient Roman; that gave them the Bill of Rights—the Habeas Corpus act—and the proudest privileges of a free constitution? This would be considered at least a set-off against the noble lord's assertion, and would perhaps induce him to advance his proposition with some limitation. These privileges, notwithstanding all the clamour raised elsewhere, it now appeared, from the language of the noble lords opposite, ministers were entirety acquitted of any attempt to violate. Nay, these noble lords accused them of a dereliction of duty, not only because they did not institute more criminal prosecutions against the press, but because they did not, of their own authority, order the dispersion of all the large meetings which had taken place for the purpose of exercising the privileges conferred upon the people by the Bill of Rights. The next proposition of the noble lord was, that distress indicated misrule, and a misconstruction of the government of the country, and that therefore there should be a change of system. [Here lord Grosvenor interrupted the noble lord, and said he had never used the expression, 'a misconstruction of government']. He begged the noble earl would allow him to proceed with his argument, and when he had done the noble lord would have an opportunity of explaining. This country was the first in the world for the employment it afforded to the labouring classes, and for the provision it made for the poor, and he would defy any person to show another country in which the security of property to the rich was so combined with the protection of the poor. These were his reasons for desiring the noble lord to pause before he proposed any alteration in the frame of the government. There were two periods within which it was proposed to review the conduct of ministers; the first with respect to what took plaice previous to the last prorogation of parliament, and the second, as to what occurred since that prorogation. The noble earl gave an historical detail of the proceedings of administration during each of those periods, maintaining that no censure could attach to them, as they had acted throughout, in concurrence with the opinion of parliament and the prescriptions of the law of the land. He ridiculed the idea that 48 yeomen at Manchester could have 1276 produced such an effect as was stated upon a meeting of 48,000 people at Manchester, observing that if this small band could have performed such an achievement it must have done more even than was ascribed to the warriors of Cressy and Waterloo. Those who complained of suffering at Manchester were, he observed, very clamorous for inquiry, and yet when it was proposed to bring the case of any individual to trial in the ordinary course, that individual traversed to avoid inquiry [hear, hear!]. But with respect to the parliamentary inquiry, proposed upon the subject of those transactions, he was satisfied that great injustice would have been done if such an inquiry had been acceded to, for there must have been one of two results, namely, either that the meeting would have been declared, and the magistrates and yeomanry consequently wrong, or the meeting would have been declared illegal, and the parties against whom bills had been found would be pronounced partakers, or rather leaders in that illegality. So that in the one case, the magistrates and yeomanry would have been liable to prosecution with a public declaration of the opinion of parliament against them, while on the other hand, Mr. Hunt, Mr. Harrison, and others against whom bills of indictment, had been found would be brought to trial with the weight of a parliamentary denunciation to operate against them. It was clear then that the proposed inquiry could not have been gone into, as the result in either case must be so injurious to public justice, and however he disapproved of the conduct of Mr. Hunt or Mr. Harrison, he could not but wish as an Englishman that they or others should enjoy the benefit of a fair trial without any of that undue prejudice against them which was too likely to result from the authoritative declaration, of a parliamentary committee.
, in explanation, apologized for having interrupted the noble earl in the progress of his speech. He had never used the words "misconstruction of government." He trusted that he could not possibly be comprehended among persons wishing to disturb the frame of government; his only object being to promote such a reform in the system of the representation in the House of Commons as should make the voice of the people more distinctly heard.
The Earl of Lauderdale
expressed his surprise and regret that the noble duke, who appeared to be in so much doubt as to the causes of the present state of the country, had not supported the inquiry, which would have enabled the House, as well as the noble duke, to ascertain the real cause of the existing evil. He acknowledged that he differed from his noble friend near him in thinking that the sinecures or pensions upon which his noble friend dwelt, formed any material cause of the present distress of the country. On this subject he would admit that a great deal had been done by the noble lords opposite. He would, however, assert, that a great and almost unparalleled distress did exist, and he would endeavour to point out its cause. If the noble lords opposite denied the existence of such, distress, they would be stating that which would not be believed in the country. He maintained that such distress and privation extended over a great part of the land, and the real cause of that distress was to be found in the policy of the government which involved a departure from every sound principle of political economy, by allowing the national expenditure to exceed the revenue. The House had lately heard so much of the question of political economy, that he would not then enter into it, but would state generally, that it was impossible for any country not to suffer, whose expenditure had for a length of time been suffered to exceed its revenue. What was the state of the country in this respect under the system of the noble lords opposite? The excess of expenditure had been such, that from the year 1794 to the present period, an amount of debt had been imposed upon the country of no less than 670 millions. From the year 1794 to the year 1819 there had been a nominal debt contracted of from 700,000,000l. to 800,000l.; and if only 75l. was received for every 100l. of debt, it would be found there had been an extra expenditure of 670,000,000l. in that time; which if divided by 24 would give an annual expenditure of 28,000,000l., besides the usual taxation. Now while this excess of expenditure was going on, an additional demand was created for labour, and when the excess ceased the labourers were left without employment. Through the additional demand for labour an increase of population naturally arose, and upon the cessation of this demand the country be-║1278 came liable to its present embarrassments. But the other nations of Europe had suffered also from the same cause, and their suffering produced an aggravation of our calamity. The natural consequence of a diminished demand for labour was a reduction of wages.—While the demand consequent upon, the war prevailed, and the wages were high, the operative manufacturers generally worked only four days in the week, reserving the remaining days for relaxation; but when wages were reduced, they were compelled for subsistence, to work the whole of the seven days, and thus the produce of their labour was increased, while the demand for it was comparatively reduced. Hence arose another cause for the distress of the manufacturing classes. "The whole of these evils, he maintained, arose out of the system which had been pursued by the noble lords on the other side. A part of them had been charged on noble lords at his side; for his part he felt no uneasiness under that charge, and he was convinced as little would be felt by his noble friends around him. He had never given a vote which sanctioned the measures or the general policy out of which those accumulated evils arose. Those evils had been the result of the long and ruinous system of warfare in which we had been engaged; but he trusted that we should at least derive this lesson from them—that it was impossible for any country to continue long in a state of war with safety or prosperity to itself. It had been said, that labour in Lancashire was as well paid now as some years since—that was, that the proportion existing between the price of those necessaries which the working classes consumed, was such as to render the present wages equal in effect to the former. But there was a fallacy in this: the manufacturer did not and could not receive the same profit as before. In looking to the price which the manufacturer received for a piece of goods, consideration should be given to the time which it was on hand before it was disposed of, and the additional hours of labour which were devoted, to produce that price, supposing it to be the same but he denied that there was any thing like a fair proportion between the means of subsistence enjoyed by the working; classes now, and those they possessed in the period to which he had alluded. If it were so, whence arose all that distress which existed in the manufacturing dis- 1279 tricts. What was the opinion of the five magistrates, whose letter to the noble secretary of state was among the papers on their lordships' table? Was it not that a great portion, if not all the discontents to which they had referred, had arisen from distress and hunger? Was it not also the opinion of earl Fitzwilliam that the want of employment was generally and most severely felt in his district? Indeed, it was impossible to deny the fact. If there was any doubt left on the subject, it would be removed by the document which had been published by the principal master-manufacturers of Lancashire. In this they declared, that they felt obliged to reduce the wages of their workmen, and they expressed their fears that a farther reduction would be rendered necessary, to the great injury of the weavers; but they added a hope that the circumstances of the country would so improve as that they might be enabled to raise their prices. They could not have meant by that, to raise their prices higher than those of former years, but so comparatively high as to be suited to the means of procuring adequate subsistence for those whom they employed. When one looked at the respectable names by which that document was signed, it was impossible not to feel that they would raise their prices if they thought they could do so with safety. From these facts then it clearly appeared, that severe distress existed in various manufacturing districts. He himself knew that it existed to an almost indescribable extent in the west of Scotland. Indeed, he might at that particular moment make use, in support of his argument, of an opinion which he had often heard on other occasions—that there was an authority behind the throne greater than the throne itself. [His lordship here alluded to the circumstance of several ladies who were then seated behind the throne, where they had been the greater part of the evening listening to the debate;] for there was not a woman in the country who could not state from experience the great depreciation which had taken place in the prices of the articles of manufacture, of the places which he had named. There was not a woman in the country who now went into a retail shop, who must not know that she bought those articles of cotton, &c. which she had usually required upon such terms as could not enable the manufacturer to pay high wages. The assertion, then, that there 1280 had been no reduction in the wages of the operative manufacturers, could never be seriously maintained. With respect to the measure before the House, he should for himself say, that he would have no objection to support any measures deemed necessary by government to meet the supposed danger of disaffection, if such measures were accompanied by propositions evincing a due degree of sympathy, for the sufferings of the people. But he could not endure the idea of being told that the House should pass such bills as that before the House, while no hope even was held out of any measure for the relief of the distress of the people. It was at least to be expected, that measures of coercion should be accompanied by some proposition of benevolence and conciliation. But no companion of the kind appeared—while the House was called upon to impose restrictions on the people, ministers did not afford it any means of mitigating the severity of the infliction by the slightest offer of beneficence. There was no proposition to soften the ungracious task which the House was required to perform—there was not even an intimation of any pecuniary grant to relieve the severe distress of the operative manufacturers. It was said, no doubt, that such a grant—that to take from one class of the people for the relief of another—would be contrary to the principles of political economy. But did it become those ministers to be so tenacious of the principles of political economy at present, who had been violating those principles in their general conduct for no less than twenty-four years? Were they to tell the country, that although they discarded the principles of political economy, while they were squandering the public resources in war, they would pertinaciously adhere to those principles when the most industrious class of the people required sympathy and relief in distress. But would the means which had been spoken of be a departure from the abstract principles of political economy? He denied that they would. If the land-holder and the fund-holder were taxed for the means of employing the manufacturer, he should be glad to know what principle of political economy would be violated, particularly when it was not denied that the persons who would be so relieved were at present in a state approaching to starvation. He did not mean to say that capital should be laid out, in giving employment for the sake of manu- 1281 facturing articles, of which the produce already exceeded the consumption, and thereby overstocking the market, and throwing others out of employment. But there were other ways of affording employment to the thousands who wanted, and who would be glad to embrace it. Could no public useful works be engaged in? Might not the distressed be employed in labouring on the highway, or in canals, or in cultivating the forests, or in agriculture of any description? But in whatever way they were employed, these poor interesting people should not be left in their present melancholy condition, and no bill of this nature should have been brought before the House without some plan for their relief. While no such means of relief were afforded, he would not support any measures of severity; for severity alone would, he was convinced, be found wholly unavailing. The bill before the House he thought was ineffectual for the object which it proposed; but suppose it succeeded in putting down large public meetings, would it not in the same ratio create private cabals? As a measure of government, he thought it highly impolitic. The proper instruments of a good government were reward and punishment. Reward those bills could not be said to be; or, if they were looked upon as such, they should be considered a cruel one for the patience with which the nation had borne its long privations and distress; but he would ask whether they were as a measure of punishment against a starving population? The object of the bill, if he understood it was, to destroy one of the ancient rights of Englishmen, that of free public discussion in large bodies. It was said to be to prevent the abuses of that right, by prohibiting large bodies to come together for discussion, except under particular circumstances; but if men wished to assemble in small bodies, and in private (and it was from such meetings that there was most to fear), what clause of this bill prevented such assembly? His noble friend had described the most mischievous meetings in Ireland, in the period preceding the rebellion, as having been held in private. According to the statement of his noble friend it appeared, that no meeting in that country, previous to the insurrection, was numerously attended. Let what had occurred in France be referred to, and what appeared? Not that meetings of large bodies were held in the fields or other public places; no, but that small 1282 assemblies, of from twenty to thirty persons, were held within-doors and in secret, and that it was in such assemblies that all the mischiefs of the revolution were hatched. What was there in this bill to prevent the people, if they were ill-disposed, from assembling without discussing any political topic, and still to show their physical force, from which so much was now apprehended? Provided they came together without flags or music, they might assemble and produce all the mischievous effects which it was now wished to be got rid of. So much as to the inefficacy of this measure. But again he said, that he should not so much object to its adoption, if it were accompanied by any proposition for the relief of the distressed manufacturers. And if the principle of political economy, to which he had before referred, were pleaded against the grant of pecuniary relief to these poor people, he would ask, why should they not have that relief as well as other classes of the community, to whom, on some occasions, it had been extended? But why should that principle of political economy, which was set aside when the public money was voted for the relief of the people of Prussia, Saxony and Russia, be so tenaciously insisted upon when relief was required for the extremely distressed manufacturers of our own country. He implored the House and the government to consider the propriety of promptly granting the relief to which he had alluded. There were but two ways of governing mankind—namely, reward or punishment, conciliation or coercion; and as reward and conciliation were best adapted to a free state, he trusted that course of policy would be pursued which was most congenial to the constitution of England and the feelings of Englishmen, as well as best calculated to secure the stability of its institutions. Let them recollect, that if they did not evince a disposition to feel for the poor, the poor would not be disposed to have any respect for them or for the tranquillity of the country.
The Earl of Liverpool
assured their lordships, that it was not his wish, at that late hour, to trespass long upon their attention; but as the noble earl who had just sat down had adverted strongly to those principles of policy which his majesty's ministers had adopted, he felt it necessary to offer a few remarks. He should also trouble their lordships with a very few observations on the bill then be- 1283 fore them. The noble earl had not followed the example of another noble earl on the same side, in attributing the distresses which now existed to the continuance of particular places and pensions. It certainly did seem impossible for any man, competent to judge of the relation between cause and effect, seriously to maintain the position, that the present state of this country was owing to sinecures and pensions, or that a cause so inadequate could have been followed by such an effect. But the noble earl who had just sat down had disavowed that position. The noble earl had, however, maintained that the distress of the country was owing to the general policy of ministers, and that this distress was the cause of the disaffection to which the present bill was meant to apply. When he heard this charge, he was anxious to learn the grounds upon which it was made; as all allusion to those minor topics which had been so strongly referred to on other occasions had been disclaimed, he wished to know what particular line of policy which had been pursued by his majesty's government was fixed upon as the cause of the distress. He had at former periods, and would now again shortly state what he conceived to be the cause of the distress complained of. But first a word or two as to the disturbances which existed in particular districts. He denied that these disturbances were caused by distress alone, although he allowed that those who were most active in exciting them could not have effected their object so well, if such distress had cot existed. With the information which he possessed, he did not, nor ever could believe, that the distress of the people was the sole cause of the disturbances; for in England, and in Scotland also, the disturbances were the greatest in those districts where the distress was felt the least. He was enabled, upon the best authority, to state, that the persons most forward at the late public meetings were by no means among the distressed part of the people; that on the contrary, indeed, they were persons in the receipt of full wages, and in the enjoyment of adequate comforts. Hence he controverted the noble earl's position, that distress was the sole cause of the disaffection. Then as to the other position of the noble earl, that the present distress was the consequence of the policy of the king's ministers. What was his proof for this assertion? That a war had been engaged in, and prosecuted with 1284 little intermission for more than twenty-four years. Now, assuming that as a fact, he conceived it was also necessary to prove, that that war could have been avoided by his majesty's ministers; that it was a matter of choice, and not of necessity, on their part. But what was the fact with respect to that war? There might be, he admitted, doubts as to the policy or propriety of commencing the war; but as to its continuance—as to the impracticability of concluding it with safety or honour, he never heard a doubt expressed in that House for ten years previous to its termination in 1814. For the last ten years there was no person who had conceived that the war was not necessary. Not a word concerning peace was heard from any body during that time. He remembered that in the year 1806, when some noble lords opposite guided the councils of his majesty, a mission was sent to France to negociate a peace; and the noble earl himself was employed in that mission, and conducted it with that ability, for which all who knew him must give him credit. What was the result of that mission? Was it peace concluded? No such thing. The noble earl found peace unattainable; he returned with that conviction on his mind; and however desirable a termination of hostilities might have been at the time, all hope of effecting it was then given up. He recollected also, that in the year 1810, a motion was made by a noble earl, whom he did not then see in his place, and the cause of whose absence he regretted as much as any man. In that motion, which was for an address to the throne, peace was alluded to as a most desirable remedy for the public pressure; but the noble earl confessed, that he did not see how it was to be prosecuted. In justice and fairness then he would say, that if the war was the cause of the distress which the people now laboured under, it was not fair to ascribe that war to any party in this country. He knew that there were periods of the war when the policy of its continuance might admit of doubt; but during the greatest period, and during that period more particularly when the greatest exertions were made, there was no difference of opinion as to the propriety of its continuance. But the noble earl had objected to the scale of expenditure on which the war was conducted during the last years of the war. If any man was responsible for this, it was certainly himself. But would the country 1285 have ever brought that war to a conclusion, had that expenditure not been made? Their lordships remembered the great and extraordinary efforts which were made by this country towards the end of the war—efforts which proved decisive, and which while they terminated the war with the most splendid success, reflected a glory and renown upon this country which could never be effaced. When the war was brought to a successful conclusion, was there any individual in that House, or the other House, or throughout the country, who thought the peace had been too dearly bought, or who regretted that the exertions had been made which led to it? If the distress was to be ascribed to war, for God's sake, let them lay aside party—let them not bandy from one side of the House to the other charges of impolicy and injury in the conduct of the war—let them consider the war as the decree of Providence; let them consider it as the necessary result of the unreasonable and ambitious spirit of the enemy. Let them at the same time consider the glory which this country had derived from it. They had effectually protected themselves from insult, if not from destruction, by an insolent enemy; they had saved Europe from slavery and lasting oppression. The poorest man in this nation had his share in the glory of oar triumphs, and in the advantages of our success. The long continuance of the war and its disastrous effects in this country, but more particularly in other countries certainly made the transition from war to peace the cause of great distress. But not only was this distress more felt in other countries than in this; but the distress in this country was principally occasioned by the distress of other countries. At this moment the distress complained of did not prevail in the agricultural districts; it did not prevail in all the manufacturing districts. It prevailed in those districts which were necessarily affected by the foreign demand, and principally in the districts whose manufactures and commerce depended upon the demand from the United States of America. In the United States of America great distress was felt arising, not from, the war, but from the presence of other, and he hoped temporary difficulties. Very often it was extremely difficult to trace distress to its cause. But if ever there was a case of distress which could be traced to its cause, it was the present distress in this country, 1286 when they saw all those places which depended upon the internal resources of the country flourishing, and when the places that suffered were necessarily affected by the distresses in foreign countries. He repelled as utterly unauthorized and unwarranted the imputations of the noble earl, that the noble lords on his side of the House were callous and unfeeling towards the distressed. He felt as much compassion as the noble earl could feel for the suffering poor and distressed manufacturer. With respect to the observations of the noble earl upon principles of political economy, it might be very proper for the noble earl and for him to investigate those principles in their closets. Such an investigation might interest and amuse them; it might qualify them, too, to edify others. But this was a practical question, and only a practical question. It was the opinion of the greatest statesmen that ever lived in this county, that in applying a practical remedy, or in attempting to apply a practical remedy, to such an evil, there was the utmost danger of increasing it. In 1793, when great commercial distress was occasioned by the first breaking out of the war, a practical relief was administered by issuing exchequer bills. Two years ago, in 1817, a similar relief to pressing distress was had recourse to. Great objections had then been urged against the measure, and particularly by a noble marquis, and he felt the force of those objections. The noble marquis had argued that that temporary relief added to the cause of the distress. If the distress arose from overtrading, it unquestionably would have that effect, as it did not allow the natural cure to operate. He undoubtedly had favoured that measure, however, when there were reasonable hopes that the distress was only temporary, and that the relief might be attended with the advantage to the distressed parties of enabling them to get over their present difficulties, and thus diminishing their distress at the moment. But he never had considered it possible for any minister who resorted to that plan to say he would give away the public money without any security. It would be absurd and ruinous, if it were practicable, to establish a public poor-box or poor-purse, and to deal out money right and left, without security, without a fixed principle, without a limited and qualified object. It was obviously necessary to appoint commissioners for the issuing of it, and to§1287 frame rules by which its proper application and ultimate re-payment should be effected; otherwise, it would do more harm than good. Perhaps the noble earl had principally referred to Scotland, a country where distress to a great extent certainly existed; and which was in a situation in some respects different from this. With respect to England, he asked, if it appeared that the great and the rich regarded with indifference the distresses of the poor, when so much of the revenue was appropriated to them? This revenue was applied in the best and most beneficial mode. If there was any thing that could ruin this country, it was that government should take upon itself the support of the poor. Did not every person who had ever looked into the principles of political economy, say that a more ruinous doctrine could not be established than that which would make government support the poor of the country—that the poor-rates would be the greatest of evils, were they not under the superintendence of local interests, by which their injurious tendency was at least diminished? The whole system was now local in its character, and the supplies were consequently collected with greater security and lenity, and applied with greater discrimination and effect, than it would be possible to do, if government managed the whole arrangement. If, by an ill-judged attempt at amelioration, they were to impoverish men of property to support the poor, the consequence would be, that the means of employing labourers would be cut off, and thus the evil would be greatly increased. The only difference which this short-sighted policy would make, would be to injure the laborious poor, in order to benefit the lazy and the dissipated. He knew, however, that in this respect Scotland was in a different situation from England. When the noble marquis on a former night had alluded to the exchequer bills issued in 1817, he had told the noble marquis that of the million and a half at that period assigned by parliament for the relief of the unemployed, 500,000l. were still unappropriated, and that the commissioners were ready to distribute it upon proper security. Applications had been made to him from Scotland for the appropriation of a part of tin's money to the relief of the distresses in that part of the kingdom; and he had replied, that every possible aid would be afforded, if securities were given for repayment. Although no poor- 1288 rates existed in that country, yet the heritors possessed a power of assessing for the support of the poor. In many places however there was no assessment. Would it be proposed, would it be borne, that England should advance money to places in Scotland where no assessment had been made? What would this be but giving the money of England to the support of the poor of Scotland; the gentlemen of Scotland not being willing to assess themselves for their own poor. He had accordingly told those who had applied for the application of public money in that country, that if they assessed for the security of its repayment, they would obtain it. If extraordinary distress required extraordinary relief, let that extraordinary relief be given; but let it be given with the securities which would render it safe and effectual, and without which the mass of distress would be infinitely increased, and the prospect of real relief wholly destroyed. In England or in Scotland the means of relief would be afforded. But it could not be denied that such means could never be properly afforded without the security which would render them consistent with the safety of the country. A noble lord had recommended emigration. He was ready to admit, that it was not only the dictate of political economy, but the dictate of natural law, that whenever the wages of the labourer became insufficient for his support, whenever there existed a disproportion in any country between the people and the demand for labour, one way of reducing this disproportion was to remove a part of the excess to other countries, where the same state of things did not exist. From the origin of mankind up to the present time, when the individuals of any one country were too numerous, part of them had always removed elsewhere. But emigration could only come into operation gradually—if it was attempted on too large or extensive a scale, it would only tend to the ruin of the individuals emigrating. Government would afford every proper facility to emigration. But if encouragement were given to emigration beyond the means of fairly supporting those who left their native land, it would multiply greatly the evils attempted to be avoided, and occasion injury instead of benefit. He should now make a few observations upon the measure under their lordships consideration. He considered it the most important measure that their lordships had 1289 to consider; more important, indeed, than any of the other measures which had been brought before them. The noble earl had objected, that it would not put down treasons, conspiracies, and plots. He knew this; he knew that there were treasons, conspiracies, and plots even now existing in the country; but this bill was not intended to put these down; its object was to prevent large and tumultuous meetings, which threatened the public security, and injured the peaceable and well disposed. He had been prepared to support this measure as a permanent measure. He did not, however, lament or complain that its duration was limited to 5 years, because he thought it might be proper and convenient that the bill should again come under their consideration, after it should have been in operation throughout the country for some years. But he should not be for this measure at all, either permanently or for a limited period, if it affected the constitutional right of meeting, discussing, and petitioning. But this measure not only did not materially affect these constitutional rights, but it did not affect them at all. The great use and the decisive effect of petitioning had been mentioned. It had been said that the public opinion always ultimately prevailed, and several instances were cited when the expression of public opinion had effected a change in the opinion of parliament. But, he would ask, had this been accomplished by meetings held in the open air by persons who marched in martial array, with colours flying and inflammatory devices exhibited? Yet those meetings, which were characterised by such mischievous inventions, were the exclusive objects of this bill. When his noble friend brought in a bill which was supposed to be an infringement on the principles of the toleration act (though in his opinion the apprehension was unreasonable), petitions poured in from the dissenters throughout the country. There was not a parish, and scarcely a village, from which petitions had not been presented against the bill; yet not one of those petitions had come from a meeting in the open air. The dissenters, though they were as jealous of their liberties as any class of subjects, were not anxious for meetings in the open air. The abolition of the slave trade was in like manner effected by general and continued petitioning from all parts of the kingdom; yet not one petition had come from a 1290 meeting in the open air. The meetings, then, to be put down by this measure, were meetings which would only serve to counteract their own purpose. The effect of the bill therefore, would be, not to prevent, but to promote deliberation: not to prevent, but to promote petitioning. The effect would be to put down and to prevent those meetings only which were too large and too loose for any good purpose, and which were calculated only to create alarm, and to menace parliament with the show of physical force. In 1779 and 1780, many public meetings were held in this country; but not one of them was held in the open air. The meeting in Yorkshire in 1780, which agreed to a petition, to which 80,000 names were afterwards signed, had been a meeting of five or six hundred persons in a room. In fact, there was nothing prohibited by the provisions of this bill which the common law at present did not prohibit. A noble earl was mistaken when he supposed that at these county meetings magistrates had the power of seizing individuals or dispersing the meeting. This was only the case with respect to meetings called by notice. He certainly doubted whether, at any meeting even under the existing law, it would not be the duty of a magistrate who heard treasonable sentiments uttered to arrest the individual holding such language, and if obstructed, whether he had not the right to disperse the meeting by common law. This bill might be considered as a sort of memorial to magistrates for their instruction and guidance in the various circumstances in which they might be called on to watch or to prevent meetings. Under this measure, the poor of all descriptions were allowed to meet, but they were not allowed to meet in the open air; and they were secured from the intrusion of strangers. Therefore there was nothing in this bill which threw shackles upon the right of public deliberation, or upon the right of petitioning. They owed a duty to those who wished to petition, but they also owed a duty to the peaceable and industrious, who would be affected by the improper use of the right of petitioning. Let them look at what had taken place in London, in Manchester, in Glasgow; and let them say, whether public meetings, such as were to be prevented by the bill, were not great and dangerous evils. Was it no evil to Manchester to be kept in a state of alarm for weeks before such a meeting was to be 1291 held, and to require a constant military force for protection? He was therefore fully entitled to say not only that this measure did not shackle the right of deliberating and petitioning in the only way in which that right ought to be exercised; but that it gave additional value to the right, by securing it against gross and dangerous abuse.
The Marquis of Lansdowne
allowed that the bill certainly came recommended by alterations in its character, which made it very different from its original form, and from the intentions of its authors. It came before them much less objectionable than it had come to the other House. In the opening speeches in that House, and in the other House, and in the original state of the bill, no limit to its duration was even once alluded to, and none of the exceptions which were now contained in the bill were admitted to be possible. Those alterations had removed many of his strongest objections, although he still felt great objections to the machinery which this bill would employ. He could not help expressing at the same time his satisfaction, and offering his congratulation, that important changes had also been made elsewhere in almost all the bills which had been under the consideration of their lordships—changes which had not been contemplated by their framers, and which were not admitted in that House to be compatible with their object. He cared not from what causes those changes had proceeded, but while the bills were in that House, why should their lordships have maintained that such changes Were inconsistent with the grounds on which all the measures were brought forward? Their lordships had agreed, that unless a punishment due only to felons were as signed to persons a second time convicted of libel, seditious and blasphemous libels could not be put down, and all the enactments against them would be useless. Yet only a few days had passed and they now found that punishment changed. The bill, with this odious and unjust punishment in its bosom, had made its way to the other House, and there it had received some sound and salutary changes It would soon return to their lordships, when a noble duke upon cross bench, who had expressed his conviction of the necessity of all the terms and clauses of all the bills brought in by his majesty's ministers, would be required to change his views and his praises of those measures, 1292 and to follow the meandering course which the bills were destined to run. This necessary accommodation would also, there was no doubt, be recommended to the noble duke by his majesty's ministers. He would not enter into the question of the nature and extent of the distress which existed in the country. His noble friend and the noble earl opposite had agreed on the point, that distress did prevail, and that the machinations of the evil designing had been successful principally by means of that distress. Those machinations, in truth, would have done nothing without the aid of the general distress. Distress was the lever which moved all the schemes and agitations so much feared. The noble earl had dwelt with great complacency, and seeming triumph, upon the admitted necessity of continuing the war at this and that particular period. But was that any defence of the commencement of the war? If a war wantonly begun, and unfortunately conducted for some time, should afterwards become necessary, in order to find the means of returning to a secure peace, were those who admitted the necessity of the continuance of the war to be precluded from censuring its unnecessary origin? He did not mean to give any opinion upon the necessity of the war, to which the noble earl had alluded; but he apprehended there were other causes than those resulting from a long and expensive war, connected with the policy of the present government, and sanctioned by that House, to which the distresses which prevailed were to be traced. Would not the noble lord admit the effect of the paper Currency? If it were true that the effect of a paper currency was to give a different direction to the capital of the country, and that different direction had a more systematic effect in forcing the capital into new channels, thereby exciting an additional demand for labour, that demand creating in its: turn an increased population, which were afterwards to be turned adrift, it was evident that the abandonment of that paper currency must, as a matter of course, become an additional cause of distress. He did not wish to go further into this subject. The noble earl had stated that he should feel a difficulty in granting any very large sum towards the relief of the manufacturing part of the country. He should not deal fairly with the House if he were hot distinctly to say that the adoption of any 1293 such plan without due inquiry, would be impolitic. The House ought to have instituted an inquiry into the state of the country, and from that they could have been able to form a judgment whether, in point of fact, such a grant would be productive of any beneficial result. He was of opinion that if they should once commence a system of relief, and could not afterwards continue it permanently, they would leave the country in a more distressed situation than it was before. But when the noble earl referred to abstract principles of political economy, he only stated an additional ground for the appointment of a committee, for the purpose of seeing how far those principles were applicable to our situation, and whether any real relief could be extended to the people from their application. The question of distress, however, still remained undecided. The noble earl was of opinion, that it was through the existence of distress in a great measure that sedition and disaffection had been promoted; but he would ask whether the bill then before the House was in any respect calculated to diminish that distress? All it professed to do was, to close one vent through which discontent appeared; but whether it might not appear at another was left as a matter of speculation. On the subject of public meetings to the great and alarming extent to which they had lately been carried, he felt the same difficulties as many other noble lords who had given information on the subject to the House; and he was of opinion, as far as he could judge, from all he had heard and seen, that if it were not necessary to enact new laws, it was at least necessary to give a more distinct and efficacious character to the old laws on this subject. No less than six acts had been passed at different periods, and some so far back as Henry 4th, and Henry 8th, for regulating the duties of magistrates on the subject; but still there was a want of that perspicuity necessary to guide them in the correct exercise of their duties. That which he should propose, therefore, was, that those acts should be consolidated into one plain, distinct, and intelligible law, designating what was a legal and what was an illegal meeting, and pointing out to the magistrates the precise course which they were to pursue. Although he was ready to admit the right of every Englishman to meet for the purpose or petitioning, yet when those meetings assumed a character 1294 which threatened the peace of the neighbourhood he thought they ought to cease. The objection which he had to the present act was, that it imposed a duty upon magistrates not alone of the greatest difficulty; but a duty which was calculated to produce odium towards themselves and heart-burnings in the country. When their lordships observed the difficulty which juries laboured under, to decide what was sedition or not, they must easily perceive the still greater difficulty under which a magistrate would be placed by his being called on to decide at once in the midst of a numerous assembly what was seditious in any of the speeches which might be delivered. Rather than accede to such an invidious power, he would prefer that meetings were prohibited altogether. He must also say, that there was a most extraordinary provision in this bill, including Ireland in the sphere of its operation. This had been introduced into the bill in a way which he thought peculiarly whimsical. When the bill was first mentioned it was spoken of as a permanent measure for the improvement of the constitution of the country. Ireland was not then included [lord Liverpool here said, across the table, "always"]; but when a change took place, and its permanent operation was altered into a temporary existence of five years, then, for the first time, Ireland was spoken of; so that it would seem that Ireland was to be excluded from a participation in a permanent benefit to our constitution, while, when that benefit was to be only temporary, she was to be included. The noble earl, too, had given a singular reason for including Ireland. He said that it would be extraordinary indeed that Ireland should be omitted, when so many counties in England which were not disturbed came under the provisions of the bill. So that, because it was thought necessary to place restraints on the people of England, it followed as a matter of course, that the people of Ireland should, although perfectly peaceable, be subject to a similar measure. The obvious rule of legislature, which had subsisted since the union of Ireland, he understood to be, that St. George's channel created a distinct division in their internal management; and that where a law became necessary by circumstances for the preservation of the one, it did not follow that the same law should extend to the other. It might as well be said, if it were necessary to place 1295 Ireland under restraints because the county of Down, which was perfectly peaceable, was included in these restraints, that England must be so likewise. He could not consent to Ireland being exposed to the operations of this bill, unless the same necessity was proved as in this country. It was admitted that Ireland was peaceable, but he supposed his majesty's ministers formed their judgment on the words of Dryden;Your tranquil looks deceive me not good man;I know you mean the murderous works you can.Although Ireland held no meetings, and her aspect was perfectly serene, she must, because England was holding meetings in all directions, be subject to the same restrictions! The grounds shown even by the noble lords opposite, proved that no such radical meetings had been held in Ireland, and he should therefore hope some noble peer of that country would move in the committee, that Ireland should be omitted. In conclusion he observed, that he objected to the bill, because it did not profess to cure the distress, which, after all, was the cause of its necessity. It was not the miserable leader of the radicals, who was as desperate a character as he was contemptible in means, nor was it his wretched and misguided followers that they had occasion to fear; the real enemy and the real difficulty was the amount of the debt—and the fact, that while taxation was increasing, the revenue was diminishing, and the capital daily going out of the country. These were the grand levers of discontent and distress; and unless they were removed, discontent and distress must still exist. He would give his vote for the House going into a committee, from a hope that the machinery of the bill might there be improved; but he again must implore their lordships to recollect, that unless relief was afforded, discontent would prevail, notwithstanding all which might be expected from legislative measures. Succeed, perhaps, they might in suppressing disaffection in one place, but it would only be to witness its bursting out with increased violence in another.
§ The Earl of Blesington
fully concurred in the observation of the noble marquis on the injustice of extending this bill to Ireland, and he should move in the committee that Ireland be left out. There 1296 was not the slightest ground whatever stated to the House for accusing Ireland of seditious and tumultuous practices, and for subjecting her to the infliction of the measure. He objected, however, generally to the principle of the bill, and should vote in favour of its being limited to the shortest time of duration.
said, he felt so much repugnance to the present bill, that he could not leave the House, notwithstanding "the overwhelming majority" with which it would, no doubt, be carried, without delivering his sentiments in a few words. He did not intend to divide the House, and should reserve the more detailed expression of his sentiments to a future occasion. He considered this bill as an unconstitutional, foolish, and mischievous measure; unconstitutional, because it went to fritter away the inherent right of Englishmen to meet and express their opinion, and to make the exercise of that right a crime punishable in the most ignominious manner; foolish, because it did not go to prevent tumultuous meetings, unless they met for discussion, as he would show when he came to consider the question more minutely, and therefore it did not prevent the evils it professed to destroy; and mischievous, because for the reasons stated by his noble friend it would convert open tumult into secret conspiracy, and would substitute for clamour and nonsense the dagger of the assassin.
§ Their lordships, without a divison, resolved to go into a committee on the bill on Monday next. The earl of Carnarvon then moved, that the committee be instructed to limit the duration of the bill to the 1st day of July, 1822. The House divided: Contents, 20, Proxies, 18–38; Not Contents, 57, Proxies, 78–135: Majority against the motion, 97.
|List of the Minority.|
|Duke of Grafton||Holland|
|Somerset||Saye and Sele|
|Marq. of Lansdowne||Calthorpe|
|Earl of Essex||Lord Erskine|
|Cowper||Duke of Roxburgh|
|Grosvenor||Marq. of Downshire|
|Carnarvon||Earl of Suffolk|