HL Deb 22 August 1839 vol 50 cc483-4
Lord Brougham

had also a petition to present from Henry Vincent, W. Edwards, and J. Dickinson, complaining of the hardships under which they still suffered, during their confinement. They stated, that they were only allowed the gaol diet—2 qts. of gruel, 1½lb. of bread, and 11b. of potatoes daily, and they called on their Lordships to relieve them from this hardship, by which they were deprived of all animal food whatever. Mr. Baron Alderson, they said, who tried them, expressed it as his opinion, by a letter to the Home Secretary, that they should not be subjected to any unusual deprivations; and yet they were denied the use of pen, ink, and paper. They further alleged, that their object in attending the meeting (for their speeches at which they were convicted) was the discussion of the People's Charter; and that they were perfectly justified in their conduct by the best constitutional authorities, both ancient and modern. He (Lord Brougham) thought they were right in this opinion, for it was sanctioned not only by the best writers on the constitu tion, but by a noble Friend of his in another House, who, not in his place certainly, but by an address to what he presumed was a constitutional meeting, maintained the right of the subject to meet for the free discussion of political questions. This view was confirmed by another high constitutional authority—his noble Friend, the President of the Council, who, though not now in his place (for he had gone abroad) had declared, in that place, in the most strenuous manner, and with a vehemence of language which he never heard exceeded—I seldom equalled—that it was the right and duty of the people to attend public meetings, in order to complain of their grievances; and then his noble Friend broached an opinion—from which he (Lord Brougham) differed, by not going so far—that numbers were no test of the illegality of a meeting. He preferred abiding by the sounder doctrine of the Secretary of State, I who watched over the police and peace of the kingdom, when his noble Friend said, that all lawful meetings were legal; or, in other words, that it was the right of the people to attend meetings which did not break the peace, or put the peace in jeopardy. The petitioners, backed by such authorities, naturally expressed their surprise, that the attempt to violate this right, ("one of the most important," in the language of the President of the Council, I "which the subject enjoyed") should be made by her Majesty's present advisers, who were the active promoters of, and principal actors in the public meetings of 1831 and 1832, of a far more alarming character than those for their attendance at which they had been confined. They could not allude to him, for he had pronounced the meeting of 150,000 men at Birmingham illegal. He did not know I whether his noble Friend attended any such meetings. [Lord Melbourne: No.] He supposed, then, that such practices were confined to the Members of the other House.

Viscount Melbourne

said, that he understood these parties were subjected to the same regulations as all other prisoners in the same ward. Whether those regulations were proper or not was a distinct question; but he did not see any reason why there should be any extraordinary interposition in favour of these petitioners.

Petition laid on the Table.