said, he had given notice of an intention to move for certain Returns relative to the trials and convictions of several men in the county of Kent, for riots and assaults which had been committed by them, and which, he believed, would never have happened, had they not been injured by the provisions of the new Poor-law Act; but as he found that the same papers had been moved for in the House of Commons, he should suppose that there would he no objection to his Motion. He should, however, proceed as briefly as the subject allowed, to inform their Lordships of the consequences that were likely to arise from the feeling which pervaded the minds of the agricultural labouring classes. He should not detain their Lordships longer than he could possibly help. He had given notice of his intention to move for the documents he had referred to, in consequence of the strong feeling entertained in the county of Kent on the subject of the convictions of those poor men who had opposed the unconstitutional proceedings under the Poor-law Act. The trials of those persons had taken place at the sessions, and he would venture to assert, that the severity of the punishments inflicted upon them was without a parallel. In the county of Kent, some of the persons who had offended against this Act had been 716 sentenced to two years' imprisonment; whilst, in another part of the country, a person had been sentenced to but one month's imprisonment for a similar offence. The convictions were as numerous, too, as they were unprecedented. In proof of this, he might read a letter which he now held in his hand, from an extensive farmer—a most respectable inhabitant of the county. The feeling in the county was very strong on the subject, as that letter showed; and he was sure that the noble Viscount at the head of the Government would not refuse to listen to the representations of those people, however humble they might be, or however humble was the individual who brought the matter under the notice of their Lordships. It was his intention, when these Returns were produced, to move an address to the Crown on the subject of the conduct of the Magistracy of the county of Kent. All the evils which it was the object of his Motion to disclose, had been the consequences of the Poor-law Bill. He had ever reprobated and used his utmost endeavours against it. He had been fully convinced, from the first, that the operation of this Bill would destroy the character of the people of the country. If the character of the peasantry and working people of this country were destroyed, their Lordships would have the less resource to throw themselves back upon in the hour of need. Let the noble Lords opposite remember that; for they might soon be obliged to fall back upon the people of England. The ignorant and unfortunate were punished under this Bill. Many of the people who had been convicted under it of rioting, had not read this Bill, and were not able to read it; and he appealed to the Bishops to look after the state of the people, and the improvement of their morals and education for it was owing to the want of moral education that the riots and the other offences with which they were charged, had been committed. The noble Baron concluded by moving for—first, a Return of the number of persons committed, in England and Wales, upon charges of riot, assault, and other offences, under the Poor-law Amendment Act, from the 1st of June, 1834, to the 1st of June, 1835; secondly, a Return of all persons charged with such offences within the like period, specifying their names, employments, and other material particulars, together with the result of the charge.
§ The Marquess Camden
said, that from the tenor of the noble Baron's observations, 717 the Poor Laws themselves, and not the conduct of the Magistrates of the county of Kent, seemed to be the object of his censure.
§ The Marquess Camden resumed, but was again interrupted by
, who said, that he complained that the offences under the new Poor Laws had received punishments in other counties completely trivial as compared with those which had been inflicted in the county of Kent.
§ The Marquess Camden
still thought that he had rightly described the object of the noble Baron's speech, however the noble Baron might now complain of the conduct of those particular Magistrates.
, again interrupting, said, that when these returns were on the Table, he should move for an address to his Majesty to inquire into the business.
§ The Marquess Camden
remarked, that to grant or refuse that inquiry would be the business of the Government. He understood that the principle on which the noble Baron now proceeded was, to show that there had not been as severe punishments for these offences in other counties as in the county of Kent. Whatever might be the ultimate result of this Motion, he left to the discretion of his Majesty and of their Lordships, so far as that result would be the consequence of the specific or general Return now applied for by the learned Baron. The noble Baron now charged the Magistrates of the county of Kent [Lord Teynham; Of East Kent] with having misconducted themselves in this matter. He (the Marquess Camden) should be able to satisfy their Lordships that there was not the slightest ground for the charge which the noble Baron had chosen to throw on the Magistrates of the county of Kent. All the evils against which the noble Baron had declaimed, all that he had said about destroying the character of the people of the country, were evils that were arising under the old system of the Poor-laws and from the bad administration of them. He was glad that he had been one of those who joined in grappling with those evils, and with the mischief which caused them, and was heartily glad that there had been so general a desire to provide against them. In consequence of the notice given by the noble Baron of this Motion he had thought it right to inform himself afresh of the particulars of the cases referred to, for those 718 circumstances had not passed at the time without his being acquainted with them. He had looked, however, into papers to refresh his memory, in order the better to be able to address their Lordships on the subject. He was sorry to say that there had been serious disturbances in the county of Kent; but after having carefully informed himself of the facts, he must say that, so far from attaching blame to the Magistrates, they were, in his opinion, fully entitled to his thanks for the promptitude and firmness with which they had acted. The punishments chiefly objected to by the noble Baron were those inflicted upon two persons of the names of Merton and Robson. Of the former, it was proved that he went from parish to parish creating disturbances, that he prevented men from going to their work, and one particular instance of that kind, in the case of Daniel Goodyer, had been distinctly proved against him. The second person, Robson, was also proved on various occasions to have used most violent and ferocious language, such as saying that "he would have blood or money." On one occasion, the Magistrates could not quell the tumult till they sent to Chatham for the military, and for a time, indeed, they might be considered to have been in the hands of the rioters. The Magistrates felt, that this was the first effort, by violent means, to put a stop to the working of the Amendment Act: they deemed it the more necessary on that account to act with becoming firmness; and felt that they were called on to extinguish the riots by active exertion. He believed, that whatever the noble Baron might say, there was a general feeling of thankfulness in the country for the manner in which the Magistrates had conducted themselves, and had succeeded in putting the law in operation. As to the mode of the trial of these men he could assure their Lordships that the Quarter Sessions at which they were tried was a most numerous and respectable assemblage of the Magistrates of the county. The right hon. Baronet (the Member for the county) Sir Edward Knatchbull was not the Chairman as had once been supposed by the noble Baron, for upon his appointment to the important office which he had lately held, the right hon. Baronet had resigned his office as Chairman of the Sessions. If there was a general feeling among their Lordships that these Returns should be granted, he should bow to the decision, but he trusted there would be no such course adopted, as it would, in his mind, 719 be passing a most undeserved censure upon the Magistrates.
§ Viscount Duncannon
said, he had not till now heard of any complaint as to the conduct of the Magistracy of the county. He was not fully aware what was the circumstances alluded to while the noble Baron was addressing the House; but now that he had become aware of them, he was prepared fully to support the opinion expressed by the noble Marquess opposite. At the time in question, he transacted the business of the Home Office in the absence of his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) in Devonshire; and he was happy to say, from the knowledge he then obtained of this matter, that he fully concurred in the opinion of the noble Marquess, and thought that in speaking of the judicious conduct of the Magistracy he had not made use of terms sufficiently strong. He did not know how they could have been too severe in such a case, for, if he mistook not, one of the Magistrates was actually in the poor-house when it was blockaded by these rioters. The conduct of the Magistrates was most praiseworthy—it could not have been better. He should certainly not consent to the production of these papers.
§ The Duke of Richmond
said, that it was hardly necessary for him to say anything after what had just fallen from his noble Friend. He begged, however, to observe, that he did not conceive, because a paper had been laid on the Table of the other House of Parliament, that therefore, it should be laid on the Table of their Lordships' House as a mere matter of course. He had listened to the speech of any noble Lord who moved for papers, and he had examined it to see if that speech justified their production. In the present instance it did not. It appeared here that the men who had been convicted, did not reside in the parish where they had committed the offences, but had gone from parish to parish, stirring up the people to riot. He thought that the Magistrates had acted most properly. In 1830, he knew that they had been abused for pursuing a different course. He believed, that if they had not shown too much lenity then, the riots which took place would not have extended as they did to Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, and Bedfordshire. What was the conduct of the Magistracy on the present occasion? Why it marked their determination not to allow the law to be outraged by suffering men to go on in this manner. The noble Baron had 720 shown in his own speech that these Returns ought not to be produced, and if they had been produced in the other House of Parliament, it was perhaps because there had been no one there at the time capable of explaining the matter. At all events, he should say to the present Motion Not Content.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
understood, from the whole tenor of the speech of the noble Baron, that this was a Motion for what was in fact an actual inculpation of the Magistrates; and in order to prevent a misrepresentation from going abroad—a misrepresentation which it was in all cases of infinite importance to avoid, but which was more than ever important in the present instance, he considered it his duty to express his opinion on the subject. He concurred fully with his noble Friend near him that this Motion should be negatived lest it should be imagined here or elsewhere that this House had adopted with regard to the conduct of the Magistrates a censure which in his conscience he believed to be most unmerited, and which ought rather to be the subject of a vote giving them the approbation and support of their Lordships.
was still resolved to call for the Returns. He was not to be intimidated by what was said there or elsewhere. If they carried this Act into effect, they must be prepared to immure two millions of people in work-houses. He was not sorry for bringing this subject before their Lordships; but he was sorry for their sake for the manner in which it had been received.
§ Motion negatived.