§ The Earl of Warwick
wished to put a question or two to the noble Viscount respecting the accounts that had been published, respecting the proceedings at Birmingham, which were of so alarming a tendency. Should he be premature in introducing the subject, he should be happy, upon the slightest instructions from the noble Viscount, to delay bringing it forward; but, it appeared to him, that the importance of the accounts seemed to press for immediate attention. Standing in the situation of lord-lieutenant of the county, still he had not received one word of communication on the subject from the magistrates or any other authorities of the town, or even from the Home-office. Had it been so, he should have been very glad to have given immediate assistance and attention, for the purpose of securing the public peace. He wished to ask the noble Viscount, whether he could give any information as to the actual situation of the large town he had named, and whether there was a sufficient force of police down there, and whether there was also the military assistance on the spot that was required, to enable the authorities to preserve peace and order? It was a matter of the greatest surprise to him, if the public accounts that were given were correct, that so much mischief had been done, and that the mob had been allowed to proceed almost without interruption, after so much time had been given to the authorities of the place to make preparations, as they must have been aware of the state of excitement the population were in. He was unwilling to say more on this part of the subject at present, and therefore should abstain from alluding to it further. The people, however, who had carried on these Chartist outbreaks against the respectable people of the town were neither more nor less than a portion of the Political Union that had been established in that place for some years, and which Political Union, although declared by the Government to be illegal, had, nevertheless, been connived at and supported by them to the present time. The individuals who formerly directed it now found, that they could no longer direct or control the classes composing it. But having been sup posted by his late Majesty's Govern- 371 ment in all their previous conduct and proceedings, the people expected, with some degree of justice, the support of her Majesty's Government in their ulterior proceedings. He thought, that for a long time, these persons had been allowed to go a great deal too far, and he could not help expressing his surprise, that as the lord-lieutenant of the county, he had had no communication made to him by the magistrates on that subject. He should also be glad to know by whose advice it was, that so much apparent apathy existed last night, so that neither the police nor the soldiers were called upon to act for a considerable time after the riots prevailed. He was given to understand that the soldiers were only summoned at between ten and eleven o'clock at night. He should be very glad to hear what the state of Birmingham was at the time the Government received the last information. Although he very much questioned the policy of the proceedings which suffered this matter to go on so far, yet he should be very glad to give every support in his power to the magistrates of the place, and, if it were deemed necessary, he would willingly go down that night to Birmingham. Very nearly the same language which was used at the meetings of the Political Union had been used at the recent meetings there, and he regretted that some prompt step had not been taken before this to stop it. The magistrates also that had recently been appointed under the new corporation in that town were, many of them, taken out of the of the class connected with the Chartists, to fill those most responsible and respectable situations, and some of them were actually Political Unionists and Chartists. There could be no doubt, that they were placed, at the present time, in a very difficult situation with regard to preserving the peace of Birmingham, when buildings were burnt and houses were attacked with fire and sword, and he believed some of them had encountered personal danger. He hoped and trusted that her Majesty's Government would give that attention to the state of affairs there which the situation of the town required, and that all concerned would exert themselves to prevent a repetition of those outrages.
§ Viscount Melbourne
The noble Earl has asked, if I understand him right, whether I can give him any information as to the present state of the town of Birmingham, and as to the riots and distur- 372 bances that have taken place there. The accounts that have been received by her Majesty's Government are of a very general nature, but I very much fear, from what I have heard, that the accounts that have been published in the public papers on the subject are too true. I understand that accounts have been received, station that some houses have been burnt, and that some have been pillaged and plundered, and that the persons who did this mischief, and who committed this outrage, had been disperse, and that the town is now in a peaceable state. Hew the riots had been permitted to break out, is a question which I will not enter into at present; nor am I able to state whether the authorities of the town are to blame for allowing these things to go so far. The noble Earl has asked whether there were a sufficient police force, and also whether there were a sufficient military force at hand for the maintenance of the peace of the town? I apprehend, unquestionably, that there is an ample force both of police and military for this, to effect so desirable an object. The noble Earl has also stated that he, as lord-lieutenant of the county, has not been applied to on the present occasion—that no application has been made to him, either by the magistrates of Birmingham, or any of the authorities of the place. Why that course has not been taken, I am unable to state at present, or to give any explanation of it. The noble Earl then proceeded to state what he conceived to be the cause of the present outrage, and in referring to that, he stated that the Political Union had been connived at by the Government. I will not go farther at present than deny, that the Political Union, or its proceedings, had been connived at by the Government of his late Majesty, or by that of her present Majesty, or that anything has occurred to justify the noble Earl in saying, that the conduct of those persons has been so entirely supported by the Government, that people naturally entertained that belief and conviction, that the conduct of those who have disturbed the peace of the town, upon the occasion the noble Earl has referred to, was upheld and supported by the Government. I can only say with respect to the meetings that have been held in the town of Birmingham, and with respect to the language used at those meeting, and to the opinions that have been expressed at them, 373 that I have always, in the highest degree, disapproved of them. I have always felt, and have always given it as my opinion, that sooner or later it would lead to such results as have taken place; and, so far as I am concerned, instead of being surprised at them, my only surprise is that these results have not taken place much sooner, and upon a much more extensive scale. At the same time, I contend that her Majesty's Government has acted with perfect propriety and prudence in the course which they have pursued, and I think it would have been extremely injudicious if it had acted towards the Political Unions in any forcible manner. I believe the evils do not arise from the formation of these Political Unions, but that the evils arose from other meetings that had been held, and from language which other gentlemen had given themselves the licence to use at their meetings, and which they had been undisguisedly holding forth to the people, that it is by force and violence they are to carry their objects and their designs. I have always seen the danger of such proceedings at their meetings; but in the state of the law and the present state of the country, I have not seen, nor do I yet see, the means by which these proceedings can be put an end to, and I never knew a time or an occasion on which it would have been so extremely inexpedient to resort to stronger measures than have been taken. With respect to what the noble Lord has said relative to those persons having been supported in their proceedings by some expression of the Government, I can state with the utmost confidence, that they never had been supported in anything that was illegal, or that can be considered an infraction of the laws, or in anything which it was unbecoming a Government to support them in; and with respect to what was imprudent or dangerous, it was impossible for the Government to do more or take any stronger measures than expressing their disapprobation of the proceedings at the meetings.
§ The Duke of Wellington
in answer to what fell from my noble Friend near me, it appears from what fell from the noble Viscount, that there was no deficiency of any description—that there was no deficiency of either police or military, but it appears to me that there was a great deficiency of authority, a deficiency on the part of the magistrates to keep the peace; 374 and I should like to know who are responsible for these magistrates. There was a corporation formed in the town when engagements had, as I understand, been entered into, that no corporation should be formed in that town without further investigation, and without the consent of Parliament. This was directly contrary to the advice that was given at the close of the last Session, that a corporation should not be formed there without having the express consent of Parliament. But not only has the corporation been formed, but magistrates have been appointed—not by the Government, not by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in consequence of recommendations in a manner, in my opinion, contrary to the laws and constitution of the country, and, as I believe, contrary to the wishes and intentions of Parliament, who, when they passed the Corporations Bill, understood and recommended that the magistrates should be appointed in the usual manner by the Crown, and not recommended by any party or any body of men residing within the corporate district. What has been the consequence? After a riot—a most disgraceful riot had existed for more than a week—for, I believe, upwards of ten days—this large town, one of the largest and greatest manufacturing towns in the kingdom, containing property to an immense amount, and one of the most respectable populations in the country, has been treated like a town taken by storm—houses have been burnt down, others have been pillaged, and property to an immense amount has been plundered and destroyed. I have been in many towns taken by storm, but never have such outrages occurred in them as were committed in this town only last night, and under the eyes of magistrates appointed, not under the Great Seal, but by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. In their presence, property was taken out of many houses and burnt in the public streets, before the faces of the owners of it, notwithstanding the presence of the police and troops, with ample means of putting an end to these disgraceful disorders. This state of things ought not to have been allowed to go on under the eyes of the magistrates, and also under the eyes of troops, without anything being done to prevent these outrages. It would have been impossible 375 formerly, that these things could have gone on in this great country, once so peaceable and happy; but the peace, the honour, and the best interests of the country have been sacrificed by these disgraceful proceedings.
§ The Earl of Warwick
said, that the noble Viscount denied that the Government had given any countenance to the Political Unions; but they appointed the very men who formed these unions to the office of magistrates; and they had even appointed delegate chartists of that town magistrates. He had written to the Secretary of State on this subject, and had remonstrated on the appointment of such persons as magistrates of the town. Such were the persons to whom the power of keeping the peace was delegated. On his applying to the Secretary of State, he was told that time would be taken for consideration; but these persons had at last been appointed. He could give, if it were necessary, a list of the names of the parties he had alluded to; but he did not wish to mention them unnecessarily, but he could assure the noble Viscount that six or eight of these new magistrates were political unionists, and there were three or four chartists now discharging the office of magistrates in that town. He had no wish to go on with this subject, but the noble Lord had almost compelled him to do so in self-defence. He could prove satisfactorily the statement that he had just made as to chartists being magistrates, from the account of the examination of one of that body that had been taken up at Birmingham. He alluded to the examination of Lovett, the chartist secretary, who was proved to have put out this statement as to the riots in that town:—That this Convention is of opinion that a wanton, flagrant, and unjust outrage has been made upon the people of Birmingham by a blood-thirsty and unconstitutional force from London, acting under the authority of men who, when out of office, sanctioned and took part in the meetings of the people; and now, when they share in the public plunder, seek to keep the public in social and political degradation; that the people of Birmingham are the best judges of their own right to meet in the Bull-ring, or elsewhere; have their own feelings to consult respecting the outrage given; and are the best judges of their own power and resources to obtain justice; that the summary and despotic arrest of Dr. Taylor, our respected colleague, affords another convincing proof of the absence of all justice 376 in England, and clearly shows that there is no security for life, liberty, or property, till the people have some control over the laws they are called upon to obey.It went on a great deal further, but he would not trouble the House with more of it. As for the language used at the meetings of the political unions, from the position which he held in the county, he paid particular attention to it, and he had no hesitation in saying that it was as strong and violent as that used by the chartists. He did not find fault with many of those individuals himself, but he thought they were unfit men to be magistrates, and they ought not to have been selected for the appointment by her Majesty's Government, under the circumstances of the case.
§ Viscount Melbourne
the noble Duke said that there was a deficiency of activity and a want of zeal on the part of the magistrates, but he must excuse me for saying that that is begging the whole question. The noble Duke after making this complaint, said, that he could find no parallel case with it. Has the noble Duke forgotten the unfortunate affair at Nottingham, where a large building was burnt, while two troops of yeomanry were standing round, and within sight. No doubt they acted under mistake, as to the law, but they thought they could not act without the authority and under the orders of a magistrate. This was a mistaken view of the law, for it was out of the question that they should stand by, and see a felony committed before their faces. But these things arise suddenly, and I am informed that the police waited in this case also for the orders of the magistrates, who were not quite prepared, not expecting any tumult or disorder that night. I am not fully informed on the subject, and cannot explain the matter either clearly or satisfactorily. I can easily conceive and understand that a serious riot might arise without any fault attaching to the conduct of the magistrates. It might be attributable either to error or a mistake. I do not know whether that is so on the present occasion, but it has been so in former times. As at present informed, I know not what term to apply as being most appropriate to it, and I am not prepared to say, that it arose either from timidity, and still less from any indisposition on the part of the magistrates to do their duty, There can 377 be no doubt that the proceedings at Birmingham are very lamentable, but at the same time, I cannot help thinking that the noble Duke greatly exaggerated the matter, when he said that he found no parallel for the treatment of this town in any place which he had seen taken by storm. This was going a little too far, when it appears that only two houses have been burnt.
§ Viscount Melbourne
I have not seen the statement alluded to, but the noble and learned Lord will have an opportunity of addressing the House presently. There can be no doubt but that the circumstances that have occurred are sufficiently lamentable; but I should think that in a town taken by storm more houses and property would have been destroyed than was the case at Birmingham. But I repeat, the thing is sufficiently lamentable, without persons of the authority and station of the noble Duke indulging in violent exaggerations on the subject. Then, as to the magistracy—in appointing the magistrates every thing has been done with the utmost fairness. The persons appointed are persons of great respectability, who either reside in the town or near the town, and who have a fair share in the business of the town. Such, I am assured, has been the composition of the magistracy, and with respect to the other matters of complaint that some of these persons have been members of political unions, and have used violent language, my opinion on that subject is, that it ought not to be a disqualification to serve as a magistrate. The use of strong language should not operate, in my opinion, as a disqualification. This opinion I have always entertained; and I am afraid, if we were only to appoint those who have acted prudently, that we should be put to very great difficulty in finding magistrates, and, above all, if they are to be confined to persons of certain opinions. If I had to look in particular to the town of Birmingham for persons of sound discretion, for persons who had never committed errors, who have never used violent language, or have never broached dangerous or extravagant theories, I confess I should not know where to find them, or to whom to apply to find them for me.
§ The Duke of Wellington
I am rather 378 surprised that the noble Viscount should bring a charge against me of having indulged in exaggerated statements; but I am still more surprised that the noble Viscount, considering the situation he holds, should only have known the state of things in Birmingham by the public accounts which he has seen, and that he should not know anything about the matter, or whether the riots were owing to the absence of magistrates, to the absence of troops, or to the fault of the troops standing by, or to anything similar to that which happened at Nottingham some years ago. In short, the noble Viscount knows nothing at all about the matter; and I confess that I could not hear him make his statement without some expression of astonishment. This is not the way in which a country should be governed. I said that I had seen several towns taken by storm, and that I had never known one so treated as the accounts state that Birmingham was treated last night. The noble Viscount now says he knows little about it, but he believes that all that happened was, that two houses were burnt. But was the noble Viscount aware that a great many others were what is called gutted, and the property and furniture taken out and burnt in the street. This, my Lords, is an outrage which I never before knew to be committed in this country, nor to my knowledge, at any siege that I have been present at. It is really horrible to think that such scenes should occur in a town like this, and that other events of a very similar character should be taking place in some parts of the North of England, and that the Government should have taken no notice of them. They do not seem even to intend to do anything.
§ Viscount Melbourne.
Why does the noble Duke say that. When did these things happen? The night before last! [A noble Lord—last night]—last night! How is it possible that the Government could have hitherto done anything in the matter. Why does the noble Duke say that nothing has been done? What right has he to suppose that no measure is intended by the Government? I say, my Lords, that during the time these disturbances and gatherings together at night have occurred in Birmingham, every step possible has been taken by the Government to prevent outrage and danger to life and property. What reason has 379 the noble Duke for imagining the Government will neglect their duty on the present occasion? My Lords, I say the Government have never neglected their duty with regard to the preservation of the peace of the country, and the noble Duke has no right to assume that we shall neglect our duty now.
§ The Duke of Wellington
What I said, my Lords, and what I now repeat is, that these riots have prevailed for the last ten days, and no steps have been taken to put them down effectually—to punish the magistrates, who have neglected their duty—or those who have taken part in the riots, although several of them are in Warwick gaol for it at the present moment. I repeat, nothing has been done.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
thought the noble Duke was going much too far when he asserted that nothing had been done, and when he called for the punishment of the magistrates. What right had the noble Duke to assume that they had not clone their duty? It was merely an assumption on the part of the noble Duke, and he (Earl Fitzwilliam) and their Lordships had as much right to assume the contrary. It appeared to him that the noble Duke, in his desire to make charges on this occasion, had lost sight of what was just to the parties. If they had been criminal, that they ought to be punished there could be no doubt; but it savoured somewhat of injustice towards the magistrates of Birmingham to say, that it was a charge against the Government that they had not punished the magistrates for that neglect of duty which the noble Duke at the present moment was incapable of substantiating against them. But let him recal the recollection of the noble Duke and the noble Lord the lord-lieutenant of Warwickshire to the fact, that this was not the first riot which had taken place in the town of Birmingham that had been attended with consequences quite as disastrous as those which had now taken place, which, on comparison with those to which he had alluded, were not worth mentioning. And let noble Lords consider under whose auspices and under what Government this had taken place. He would call to the recollection of the noble Lord, who must be better acquainted with the history of Warwickshire than he could possibly be, that of 1789 or 1790. The noble Lord did not like to have that recalled to his recollection, when the high 380 church mob destroyed the houses of Dr. Priestley and those who entertained opinions similar to those which Dr. Priestley held. If his noble Friend were to be blamed for what had now occurred, let the same test be applicable to the ministers of that day, and he should like to know if the noble Lord would try and condemn them on the same test. All he asked was, that noble Lords who were so anxious to seize this as a favourable opportunity for making charges, would recollect that similar occurrences had taken place at other times, and that if any charge was now made, a similar one ought to recoil on those who were in authority at that time. He trusted that justice would be done to all parties who had been guilty of this outrage, and if it could be proved that there had been any criminal negligence on the part of the magistrates, that these magistrates had connived at the outrages of the people, had wilfully and intentionally connived at them, then let them be tried and punished; but not at the present moment when nothing whatever was known of the real facts of the case.
The Marquess of Londonderry
could not help being struck with the degree of lightness with which the noble Viscount had treated this subject, and also with the nature of the answer he had given to what had been stated by the noble Duke. The noble Viscount also had surprised him by charging the noble Duke with being morose on this subject. [Viscount Melbourne: I never used the word "morose."] Yes, you did [Cries of "No, no."] Yes! and the noble Viscount did this at the very time when he admitted total ignorance of the details of these occurrences at Birmingham. These riots had been going on in Birmingham for days, and yet the noble Viscount could not tell in what state the town was at this moment. There was not a noble Lord in the House who was not equally as well informed upon that point as the noble Viscount. It really did seem to him to present a lamentable instance of ignorance and want of interest on the part of the noble Lord and the Government. But, after so much had been said about Birmingham, he would ask the noble Viscount, if he had any accounts from Newcastle and Sunderland? Had the noble Viscount any information of the number of pitmen that were now assembling in those places, as the Chartists were doing in Birmingham; and were any preparatory 381 measures being taken to prevent an outbreak of such conduct as had been shown at Birmingham? These things were not to be treated in the light way the noble Viscount would attempt to get over them. It might be very well for the noble Viscount to treat his statements of the atrocities that were perpetrated in Spain with lightness, and in the noble Viscount's usual good-natured way; but he might rest assured that such a mode of dealing with outrages like these, commenced in a large manufacturing town, would not do for the people of England.
§ Viscount Melbourne
did not remember ever having treated any statement of the noble Marquess of the atrocities in Spain, or any other atrocities, with lightness. He had certainly had information from the towns which the noble Marquess had mentioned, that a great deal of alarm existed there; and, of course, measures would be taken to preserve the peace of those towns.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
could not feel surprised at the want of authority on the part of a magistracy, such as those constituted by the Municipal Corporation Act. At the time that Act was pending, the noble Viscount and his Colleagues were warned of the consequences that must ensue—that the magistracy in such a corporation as was then proposed to be given to Birmingham, and other towns, would necessarily be elected on mere party considerations, and that from the nature of their position with regard to the populace of those places, they would not possess that amount of moral weight that was necessary to secure efficient magisterial authority in the event of any outbreak. He was surprised that the noble Viscount should suppose that the people of Birmingham, who had been all their lives used to agitation, should all at once calm down and obey the authority of the law. He need scarcely advert to the case of a Mr. Muntz, one of these Birmingham magistrates, who was engaged in agitating the people up to the very moment of his appointment. How was it to be expected that such a person could command the respect and obedience of the people as their magistrate? How could it be expected, that when he had been all along leading them on, they would all of a sudden turn round and obey him when it happened to be his duty to recommend a contrary course? It was his firm belief, 382 that the manner in which the magistrates had been appointed in all the towns that had received corporations, and the party course they had adopted, had very much increased, if they had not led to, all the disturbances that had taken place.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
did not rise to offer any opinion as to what had occurred at Birmingham, because he was confident—and in that he begged wholly to differ from the noble Duke—that it was impossible for either the Government or the House, or any individual, to form a correct opinion as to what had passed at Birmingham, and that, if the Government were rash, or to use the expression of the noble Marquess "light" enough to form an opinion, and act upon it in the present state of the case, and upon what had already transpired, they would be in the highest degree criminal, and would make a most improper exercise of their public functions. Entertaining these sentiments, then, and, therefore, without entering at all into the question, he rose merely for the purpose of stating a few facts, which would prove to their Lordships how extremely improper it would have been for the Government to have announced any opinion, or to have acted upon any partial account of the circumstances. The last accounts received from Birmingham were dated half-past twelve last night; these were from the mayor of Birmingham; and at half-past two that morning from the superintendent of police. Both the mayor and superintendent of police stated, that it was impossible for them to bring the whole facts in that dispatch under the consideration of the Government, because they were at that time actively and unremittingly engaged in the preservation of the public peace. Were they or were they not right in thus devoting themselves to that object? By their exertions, the public peace had been subsequently preserved, and it was for them afterwards to make known the circumstances to the Government, and for the Government to act on those facts—duly weighing and considering them when fully, not partially, known—but it certainly was not the duty of Government to proceed to punish the magistrates, or any other of the parties concerned, merely upon imperfect accounts of the transactions received only ten hours after the events had occurred,
§ The Duke of Wellington
Notwithstanding what has just fallen from the 383 noble Marquess, I must repeat what I before said. It appears clear that her Majesty's Government knew that some disturbances had taken place at Birmingham; yet, when the noble Viscount was appealed to, he knew nothing at all of the matter. I read the accounts of all these matters in the newspapers, and I concluded the noble Viscount would have plenty of information on the subject. What also led me to suppose the Government would know all about the matter was, that it appears that troops and police were actually in the town while these outrages were occurring. As the noble Marquess has got up to correct me, I am obliged to him for his correction; but what I said was, that although there were troops in the place, a very gross outrage was committed; houses were burned and plundered; they were even gutted, and property was taken out and destroyed. Very likely the noble Marquess may have other authority; my authorities are the newspapers; and it seems clear that what I state is the fact—that the houses were gutted, the property brought out into the streets, and there burned. I say again this peaceable town, this rich manufacturing town, was worse treated than any town ever was treated when taken by storm. I say this from my own knowledge. I have received the correction of the noble Marquess, and I bow to it, but notwithstanding that correction I shall venture to draw another conclusion, and I hope this will be correct. It appears from the newspapers, for of course ministers know nothing, that the mayor and the police superintendent did not interfere with the troops and police until after these outrages had been committed—not until after the town had been burnt and plundered and the property destroyed. The conclusion I draw is, that the magistrates who acted in this way were highly culpable. The noble Earl called our attention to former outrages at Birmingham. Why, my Lords, if Birmingham is so liable to these misfortunes, it is another reason why her Majesty's Ministers, on the first intimation being received of these riots—and it seems they knew of there being disturbances ten days ago—should have taken the hint from that information and those disturbances, and have taken some steps to prevent outrage, and preserve the peace there. I have no hesitation in saying, that the former disturbances at Birmingham were 384 well deserving the attention of Government. There are means (such as issuing a special commission) of making known the sense of the Government in regard to those transactions. There might be an inquiry instituted into the conduct of the magistrates—the noble Marquess knew something of this manner of proceeding—at all events something ought to be done to mark the opinion of Government relative to this important subject. But it appears that we are all wrong—that nobody has any right to notice any of these things. It seems your Lordships must take care what you are about, lest you should fall under the lash of the noble Marquess; and if a town is burned and plundered, you must not mention anything about it, because the noble Marquess will attack you for being so unjust as to say wrong has been done. I fully acknowledge the justice of the correction I have received from the noble Marquess: all I hope is, that I may not have another for having made these observations.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
had not denied the right of the noble Duke or of any other noble Lord to advert to the circumstances of this outrage, or to form an opinion on them; but what he did say was, with great submission to the noble Duke, that her Majesty's Government were not wrong in abstaining from forming, within seventeen hours of the occurrence, an opinion on the circumstances which had taken place in the town of Birmingham; and still more were they not wrong in abstaining from punishing individuals in the present imperfect state of information; and he still adhered to that opinion. The noble Duke stated that wrong had been done. Nothing was more easy than to ascertain that fact; but it was not quite easy within seventeen hours after the events happened to ascertain who were the doers of the wrong. He maintained that it was not a hasty opinion that was called for from Government, but an anxious and mature deliberation before they proceeded to act.
§ The Duke of Wellington
was sure the noble Marquess would not willingly or knowingly have misrepresented what he had said. He had not alluded to the magistrates, but to another set of men, to those who had been guilty of riots a few days ago. Might not those persons have been brought to trial, by means of a special commission, or by some other mode?
§ Discussion dropped.