called their Lordships' attention to a subject of very great importance, growing out of a petition he had to present, because involved conduct the most shameful he had ever heard of, reflecting the greatest disgrace on all the parties connected with it, and at the same time most discreditable to any Government. He had two petitions in his hand: the first did not so immediately refer to this object as the second. The first was the petition of William Lovett, of North-place, Gray's-inn-road, and Joseph Collins, of Birmingham, and he should shortly state the facts to which he wished to call the attention of the House, and more particularly that of his noble Friend near him. It appeared, petitioners were apprehended in Birmingham by some constables in that town, on the 6th of July, and taken before the bench of magistrates, charged with publishing and circulating a seditious libel, calculated to lead to a breach of the peace. He had read those alleged libels, which were in the form of resolutions agreed to at a meeting in that town, called respecting the conduct of the police in the town. He would not give any opinions about this alleged libel, suffice it to say, that the language used in it was very strong, and it might be a question as to the propriety of putting the men on their trial or issue. He had no complaint to make as to the putting these men on their trials, but he had to complain of the mode in which these petitioners had been treated. They state, that after they had been taken before the bench of magistrates they were lodged in a gaol in the town; 438 that at half-past eleven o'clock, on the morning of the 7th, they were removed to the country gaol of Warwick, having been finally committed for trial; personal bail to the amount of 500l. having been demanded, and two securities each in the sum of 250l. The petitioners justly complained of the exorbitant amount of bail demanded, and as they were only working men, it would be almost impossible for them to procure the bail among men in their own sphere of life. They stated, that when removed to the country gaol they were stripped stark naked in the presence of two turnkey, and examined all over to discover if there and examined all over to discover if there were any marks on their bodies, an indignity which they emphatically remonstrated against. If Sir F. Burdett, who in the same county was, within our recollection prosecuted, tried, and convicted of the same offence, viz. of publishing a seditious libel in that county—if he had been incarcerated by warrant of the Birmingham justices, and carried to Birmingham gaol, the treatment which the petitioners had undergone must, of course, have been the lot of Sir F. Burdett. He confessed, that he did not believe the statements in the petition when he first read them, but a most respectable inhabitant of London, who had applied to him to present the petition, had made the most strict inquiries on the subject—he had subjected the parties petitioning to the most scrutinizing investigation and to the most rigid examination; and no man that he was acquainted with was better qualified, out of the profession to which he belonged, therefore, having received the assurance of this person, had no hesitation in saying, that he would pledge himself, as far as he possibly could, to the accuracy of this extraordinary statement. The petitioners, in allusion to the further in dignities to which they were exposed, were taken into a room in which there were no less that eight prisoners some of whom were in a filthy state; that they were complled to strip themselves naked, and to bathe in the same cistern of water with those men, and to dry themselves with same towel, and that a common felon was ordered to cut the hair off their heads—an indignity to which they had been compelled to submit—[Laughter.]—He was astonished and extremely mortified to find that such a statement as this should produce, in any part of the House, tokens of merri- 439 ment. He deemed it to be the most disgraceful conduct he had ever known; and he felt ashamed to belong to a House in which such a statement could excite a smile. He really was ashamed to belong to any place where any set of men were, who could hear a detail of such indignities offered to their fellow-subjects, and who could consider such details as a source of merriment. It could only, however, be with a very few of their Lordships. The petitioners then stated, that their shirts were taken from them, and marked with the initials of their names, in characters almost an inch in length; that they were put into a room in which there were twenty-two other persons on various charges, and one of them was infected with the itch; and under these circumstances, they were kept in confinement for eleven days in the county gaol of Warwick. They also state that they were compelled to fall into ranks in the open yard with other prisoners to receive their food, and to be examined by the doctor to see if they had taken the itch; that they were exhibited to persons who came to the gaol from curiosity; that they were confined to the common gaol allowance, a small loaf, which they believed did not weigh more than one pound and a half, one pint of oatmeal gruel, without salt, and two ounces of cheese each day, except Sundays and Wednesdays when they were served with one pint of what was called beef soup, but in which there was not the appearance of anything like meat, but it was so offensive that they were obliged to abstain from eating it. In addition to the common gaol allowance, they were allowed, with the untried prisoners, to spend three-pence a day on butter, eggs, and bacon, but they were not allowed any fire to cook them, and were obliged to eat them raw; that during eight out of the twenty-four hours, they were locked up in a cell, and that they were compelled, under the pain of solitary confinement, to make their own beds, and to roll them up in so compact a form as totally to exclude the air, the result of which was that when they were unrolled the smell was most offensive. In addition to this they were prohibited from seeing any person but the gaoler;, except at certain hours, their watch money, and every thing were taken from them, and they were not allowed to use either knife or fork. No books were allowed them, or pens or paper, anti they 440 were not allowed to read any letters that were addressed to them until they had been previously read by some officer of the gaol. In making these statements, the petitioners did not complain of the personal conduct of the governor, but prayed the House to take their case into consideration. The result, therefore, was, that the petitioners were detained eleven days, upon the ground that they had not offered sufficient bail, although they had in vain urged, that it was difficult for men in their situation to find it in a place where they did not reside. Bail, however, was tendered, but it was refused without any inquiry being made as to its sufficiency. Two Members of the other House then went down to offer bail for one of these petitioners, who, he was told, was a most respectable man, but with whom he was not acquainted. Instead, however, of its having been found necessary to call for further bail, inquiry was made, and then the magistrates discovered that the bail offered at first was perfectly sufficient, and these persons were then allowed to go out. Why were these persons confined for eleven days? Why was not the sufficiency inquired into for this long period, while the petitioners were treated as common felons, when they had not been apprehended upon any charge that called for rigorous treatment. He contended, that no man charged not merely with a political offence, but with felony, or even murder, should be treated in this way. No right existed to treat any felon before trial in this manner, according to the law of any civilized country, nor was power given to do more than detain a man in save custody. Here, however, were men not charged with any serious offence, exposed to every indignity, their persons exposed, their property torn from them and themselves drawn up in the tilt-yard of the gaol, to be made a show of and spectacle to the visitors of the prison; and this merely because they were unable to put in sufficient bail, when, in fact, the bail they offered on examination was found to be ample for the purpose; and this, too, when non constat a bill would be found against them—when non constat that further proceedings would be carried on—when non constat that they would be tried—when non constat, that even in case of conviction, they would not be discharged on paying the fine of a shilling. He appealed to his noble and learned Friend, the Lord Chief Justice, as to whether he was not right in the view that he had taken 441 of the law of the case. He had seen what was called the libel for which these persons were served, and hardly a day passed that he did not see a worse libel in the newspapers. With respect, however, to the treatment that these; petitioners had experienced, he would only say, that it was impossible that they should not go out of gaol degraded and irritated men, and with feelings not becoming loyal subjects of the Crown, nor was it likely that they could have feelings of respect for the laws and the magistrates who administered them. He was sure that men who had had such indignities passed on them in a common gaol would feel themselves disgraced men the whole of their lives. He had also a right to assume that these persons were innocent of the charge brought against them, on the ground that all persons before their trial were presumed to be innocent. With respect to the conduct of the magistrates, it was not at all surprising that persons who had been too active in the first instance should afterwards become too supine when they saw danger approaching. Indeed the general feeling was, that when there was over-activity in the first instance, a want of activity would follow. The other petition was from the chairman of the Working Men's Association in Birmingham, and alluded to the violent proceedings of the police at a public meeting held on the 11th instant in that town. They complained that they had been attacked by an armed body of the London police, headed by the mayor of Birmingham, and men, women, and children were most severely and inhumanly beaten. He had not made any inquiry into this, but he took the statement in the petition as he found it, and it was possible that it was somewhat exaggerated. This, however, bore him out in what he had previously stated, namely, that the magistrates who were too active before the 14th July, would become too supine afterwards. This was an occasion on which those who had always taken a part on behalf of the rights of the people, and on behalf of free public discussion, and on which it was the bounden duty of the Parliament of this country, and of those anxious to extend the political rights of those who did not at present enjoy the Parliamentary franchise, to express their firm and decided opinion in reprobation of all acts which even tended to a breach of the peace. There could be no enemy more implacable, 442 no opposition more perilous, none likely to prove more fatal to the establishment and extension of the rights of the people, than those men who urged the people on to breaches of the peace, in which violent and guilty operations those very men were too often themselves not found to be engaged. Very active and forward to urge others on, they shrank from the danger which their machinations created. Those who, by their pens and pamphlets, and still more by their tongues at public meetings, had done the work of sedition and mischief, were not found in the hour of danger at what they were pleased to call their posts, at which, in their writings and their speeches, they were fond of saying they would always be, but were skulking in the dark, and leaving tie suffering and the danger to the victims of their seduction. One such occurrence as this which had taken place at Birmingham would do more towards putting back reform, than any act or omission of either Government or Parliament. For these reasons, and in mercy to the people themselves, he hoped that vigorous measures would be taken to prevent a recurrence of such scenes. He remembered a frequent saying of a most gallant Friend of his now no more, the late Lord St. Vincent, a nobleman as much distinguished as a statesman as naval commander—that no error could be more fatal than theirs, who, from misplaced humanity (which he often called timidity), abstained from taking immediate measures to put down mischief and preserve the public peace; and that the true humanity was to be vigorous in season. No one who knew the individuals who held at the present time the office of magistrates at Birmingham, would think of imputing to them more than an error of judgment, and a mistaken feeling of humanity; but however amiable and venial such errors and such motives might be in private life, yet when a man takes upon himself the office of magistrate, it should be with the determination to brace himself up to act as a magistrate was sometimes bound to do. He hoped, however, the investigation that he understood was to be entered into, might lead to their acquittal of even that venial offence; and pending that investigation, it would be manifestly improper to say one word in accusation of them.
§ The Earl of Warwick
felt himself bound to state to the House what he knew with 443 respect to the recent unfortunate occurrences at Birmingham; especially as insinuations had been thrown out elsewhere, that in the high office which he held, as Lord-lieutenant of the county of Warwick, he had not fully discharged his duty towards the Government in respect of these events, and had held back from the Government that support to which they were entitled from him. With regard to that accusation he felt quite sure that he need not call on any noble Lord then present, nor refer to anybody, nor to any authority but his own declaration, when he stated that such had never been his practice. No one could be more aware of that fact than the noble Viscount himself, with whom, when filling the office of Secretary of State, he had had repeated communications, some of them with respect to occurrences very similar in their origin to those which were now under consideration. It had, however, been insinuated in another place, that he (the Earl of Warwick) had withheld from communicating with the Secretary of State on the late events at Birmingham, and he had been in a manner animadverted upon for it; but he could assure their Lordships that he had had no reason for doing so until the moment when he rose on a former evening to address their Lordships on the subject; and he could further assure their Lordships, that in the course which he took on that occasion he had not had the slightest wish to interfere with a single arrangement which the Government might have had in contemplation. He felt that it would be unbecoming in him to enter into any further statement with respect to these unhappy occurrences at Birmingham, as some investigation was about to take place—an investigation which he hoped would prove satisfactory. If, however, his information was correct, and he had no reason to doubt it, it would appear that no magistrates were present at the scene of outrage until after the houses were burned and plundered. He was far from desiring to prejudice the case of the magistrates, but that there was cause for blame somewhere was indisputable, and the question was, on whom to affix that blame. He had been found fault with for having said that these Birmingham magistrates were many of them members of the political union, and there was only a shade of difference between the political unionists and the Chartists. Why, some of these very magistrates had been 444 accustomed only a short time since to walk arm in arm with the men now in gaol on account of these disturbances. These political unionists had been taught that, some time or other, force must be used before the people could attain their rights. Many meetings had been held, at which sentiments of this kind were publicly stated, but the magistrates having gone as near the wind as they could, were at last obliged to state that those meetings must be held no longer, when up started half a dozen of these Chartists and argued, "if what they wanted could not be got without force, then they would be justified in using it." He maintained, that those who by their presence at such meetings countenanced such opinions were quite as culpable as the individuals who had been taken up for their participation in these riots. Yet the political unionists called themselves Whigs—and Mr. Attwood maintained he was no agitator, though for the last ten years he had been engaged in agitating the people of Birmingham. He could not feel surprised that those who had been agitating Birmingham for so long a time past, should find themselves now unable to control the people and prevent them from appealing to that physical force which, by some of their leaders, they were told was their only means of obtaining a concession of what they conceived to be their political rights. The mode in which the magistrates in the different borough towns in Warwickshire had been appointed by the government was not calculated to preserve the peace of the country under the Municipal Corporation Act. With regard to Birmingham, in particular, the Secretary of State for the Home Department had not sufficiently regarded the claims of individuals professing Conservative opinions in his appointment of the magistrates. Of the old magistrates of Birmingham ten out of twenty-two were retained, four only being of the Conservative party, while the remaining six were of the other party, to whom were added no less than thirteen persons, more or less connected with the political union, thus leaving only four Conservatives to nineteen of the other party. This was a species of fairness which he could not understand, the more so as it was volunteered by the Secretary of State, and was not the result of any particular application. He thought what he had stated afforded ample reasons why some inquiry should be instituted into 445 the appointment of magistrates in the borough towns; and he should, therefore, certainly take an opportunity of moving for a return of the magistrates appointed under the Municipal Act in the corporate towns in Warwickshire.
§ Viscount Melbourne
felt himself called upon to say a few words on the subject of this petition, and on what had fallen from the noble Earl who had just sat down. It must, in the first place, be quite evident to their Lordships, with reference to the petition that had been presented by the noble and learned Lord, that it was utterly impossible for him on the present occasion either to contradict, deny, or give any explanation of the charges and statements which it contained. If the noble and learned Lord had informed him of the circumstances stated in the petition, it would then have been possible for him to make himself master of them. Undoubtedly, the petition of these persons confined in gaol in default of bail complained of much treatment that was very harsh and severe. The noble and learned Lord, although he acknowledged that the alleged libel was a violent writing, urged that writings equally violent appeared every day in the newspapers here, and that nobody thought for a moment of prosecuting the writers; but surely the noble and learned Lord would make some allowance for the different state of society here and in Birmingham. There were many matters which might be very well passed over in times of peace and tranquillity which in times of violence and danger, it was quite justifiable to prosecute. Whether the magistrates improperly refused to take bail, or whether they did not sufficiently inquire in to the bail, or whether they kept the petitioners too long in confinement, were all questions that might be quite worthy of being inquired into; but surely it was not too much to ask from their Lordships a little calmness and deliberation—that they should not be quite transported by the mere statements they received—that they should not pronounce upon the conduct of magistrates when they were only attacked on ex parte statements, and were not in a situation to be heard in their own defence. With respect to what these individuals were said to have suffered in gaol, by being bathed and having their hair cut, he did not know whether it might not be considered that such gaol regulations were very wrong and a great hardship, where persons were lodged there merely for the 446 purpose of awaiting their trial; and certainly it did appear to him that some of our gaol regulations were rather strict. And as to what the noble Lord had said about Sir Francis Burdett, that had he been convicted of the libel in Leicestershire, he might have been subjected to the same treatment; why, was not the object of all our laws, and particularly our penal laws, to equalize as much as possible punishment to persons of all ranks. Whether we did not push this equalizing principle too far, and in our eagerness to secure justice and equality, run the risk of producing injustice and inequality, was another question; yet to attain this equality had been the object of all our modern legislation. With respect to the petition itself, he could only say that the matters in question would be inquired into, and if the grievances complained of had actually been suffered, unquestionably the utmost possible remedy and redress should be applied. If, however, these proceedings in gaols were so very harsh, their Lordships must not forget what a great number of persons were necessarily subjected to them, whose sufferings were never heard of at all, and that it was only when the parties were confined for political offences that the attention of Parliament was excited towards them. He now came to what had fallen from the noble Earl the Lord-lieutenant of the county of Warwick. The noble Earl had commenced his statement with some vindication of his own conduct. He knew nothing of any observations made in another place with regard to the noble Earl, and he had had no reason to speak of him otherwise than with praise and approbation, while he (Lord Melbourne) was officially in communication with him as Secretary of State for the Home Department. His noble and learned Friend seemed in some observations he had made to countenance an opinion expressed in this House on a former occasion—that there had been supineness, want of attention to their duty, neglect, and inactivity on the part of the magistrates of Birmingham. Without desiring to enter into any detail on the the subject, he nevertheless felt bound—the charge having been so strongly brought forward, and supported by such high authority—to put the House in possession of a statement which had been addressed to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, by the Mayor of Birming- 447 ham himself. It was received by the Secretary of State this morning, and it stated the course which had been pursued by the magistrates, and the circumstances which had taken place in the recent melancholy occurrence. The noble Viscount read the following letter:Birmingham, July 17, 1839.Wednesday Night 11 o'clock, P. M.My Lord—The hurry in which I have been compelled to address your Lordship during the two last nights, has prevented my sending any details of the existing disturbances—details now rendered necessary, not only by the directions in your Lordship's letter of yesterday, but by some statements of a most unfounded character, which the magistrates understand have been lately sent to your Lordship.The magistrates, after several days of perfect quiet (from Tuesday the 9th, to Sunday the 14th inst., both inclusive), thinking Monday the 15th a day very likely to need protection, on account of its holiday character, sat at the Public Office till five o'clock, P.M., to consult as to the means of defence in case of any outbreak. Although their sittings on former days had been marked by the production of numberless reports of the most alarming character (scarcely one of which proved true) they received at their sitting only two reports of any moment; one, that a meeting was to be held at half past twelve (noon) at Holloway-head; the other, that the mob intended to arm themselves at night. With regard to the first, if a meeting were designed, none took place; and with respect to the second, it came before the magistrates, backed by evidence no better, or more specific, than that which had characterised all previous rumours, and was, like them, too vague, even if true, for definite action. At five o'clock the magistrates adjourned, leaving word at the Public Office, that if any the slightest appearance of disturbance arose, they were to be sent for forthwith—an arrangement adopted for one or two evenings since the town had resumed its wonted appearance of quiet. At seven, one of the magistrates was at the Public Office; he found all tranquil, and went home. At half past seven a gentleman saw the close of the meeting held, without the knowledge of the magistrates, at Holloway-head, and observed the members of it move towards the centre of the town. He arrived at the Bull-ring at eight, and declares, (so little did he anticipate any evil effects from this meeting) that even at a quarter past eight, when he was in the Bull-ring, and after seeing so much more than was then known by the magistrates, he had not the slightest fear or expectation of riot or disturbance. At a quarter past eight one of the magistrates was in New-street, a very short distance from the Bull-ring, and although engaged in conversation for some minutes in that street, neither saw any symptoms, nor heard any rumours of 448 disturbance. At about the same hour another magistrate passed through the Bull-ring, and, seeing no semblance of disturbance, went home. About half past eight it appears that the Bull-ring began to fill—the upper part of it being especially crowded, when a body of men, women, and lads, appeared at the lower part of the Bull-ring. This body, there is every reason to believe, came from the Warwick-road, where great numbers had congregated to receive two "convention delegates," who were to have been released from Warwick gaol that evening on bail. The delegates did not arrive so soon as was expected, and the mob moved towards the town. On its arrival, the attack was begun by a party, consisting chiefly of women and lads, on the shop of Mr. Bourne; after assailing it for some minutes, breaking in, and commencing the plunder of it, many of the assailants moved higher up the Bull-ring, and deliberately attacked other shops, on both sides of the place, breaking their windows. In the mean time, the chief of the police started on the first material symptom of disturbance (at about half past eight) for the house of the nearest magistrate (Dr. Booth), whence he immediately drove up to my residence, about a mile and a half from the Bull-ring. He reached my house about nine o'clock. Without a moment's loss of time, we returned to Dr. Booth's, when we were informed that the crowd were breaking the windows of the Public Office. Dr. Booth and myself instantly gallopped to the barracks, about a mile on the other side of the town, and by twenty minutes before ten, had brought to the Bull-ring a considerable number of the military (dragoons), who were immediately employed, some in guarding the Bull-ring, and others in scouring the streets for a great distance round. By this time many other magistrates had arrived at the Public Office. We found Mr. Bourne's house in flames, as also the house of Mr. Leggett (the only two fired, or materially injured by fire). Several bodies of soldiers were dispatched to guard the fire-engines on their route to the Bull-ring, and in a few minutes the first engine appeared, and was followed in rapid succession by others. All were immediately set to work, and by dint of the indefatigable exertions, at once of the firemen, and of all the spectators, the fires by twelve o'clock (midnight) were mainly overcome, although they continued to burn with diminished fierceness for about an hour longer. A question has been raised, whether it was not perfectly within the power of the London police force to put down the disturbance at the first outbreak. The general opinion I find is, that it might have done so; but, it is said, the London police were ordered not to act without a magistrate. Such, in fact, is superintendent May's statement of the instructions he received from the magistrates through myself. I can only say, I do not remember having either sanctioned or conveyed any such instructions. At the same time, I am sure that if such instructions were given, they were 449 meant to be conditional upon the number and force of the mob they would have to encounter. If small, and within their power to overcome it, it is manifest the magistrates could not have desired to keep the police inactive; but if the mob were large and dangerous, assuredly the magistrates would have been most culpable had they allowed the police to attack it, until, by the presence of a magistrate, such a military force had been collected as would have prevented the possibility both of needless injury to the police, and of the more fatal effects of a repulse. From the evidence of Superintendent May, however, it appears that there was no period, from the moment the outbreak began, at which the police force could with safety and discretion have interfered with the mob in the Bull-ring; all they could do was, to clear the street in the immediate vicinity of the Public Office, and this they did before the military arrived. Thus far, my Lord, I have stated facts; from these I think I am fairly entitled to draw the following inferences—that the magistrates were duly in attendance at the Public Office on Monday, as on the other days, since the commencement of the disturbances—that they left the Public Office on Monday evening only when they were satisfied there was no just ground of fear that the peace of the town would be disturbed—that no riot could be anticipated from the information given to the magistrates, and it was so sudden, that the requisite summons so especially enjoined could not have been conveyed at an earlier moment—that the instant it reached them, its call was obeyed; and that the troops, with admirable alacrity, were on the spot in the shortest time that, under the circumstances, was practicable.It is not for me, my Lord, to eulogize the body to which I belong, however warmly I may and do approve of the conduct of its members; during the distressing scenes of Monday night; and though, as an individual member of it, I feel that I should, by no implication, permit such eulogy to apply to myself; but my entire confidence in the proofs that can be adduced of their readiness, their untiring zeal, and the prudence as well as the firmness and personal courage which characterised their acts throughout the whole of the recent disturbances, makes me share most largely in the anxious wish of my brother magistrates, that at the earliest convenient moment, a commission of inquiry may test their proceedings, and try the correctness of the disparaging statements which have been so abundantly urged against them. It is, perhaps, not a little remarkable, that, though throughout the disturbances every outbreak has been promptly suppressed, this has been done without the loss of a single life.I have the honour to be, my Lord,Your Lordship's obedient humble servant,(Signed) "WILLIAM SCHOLEFIELD, Mayor.The rt. hon. Lord J. Russell.450 Therefore, in answer to the question put to him by the noble Earl, and in compliance with the wish expressed by the writer of this letter, he begged to state, that it was the intention of her Majesty's Government to institute art inquiry into the conduct of the magistrates of Birmingham. At the same time, however, he trusted that their Lordships would upon this, as upon all other occasions, consider the difficulty of the situation in which both the Government and the magistrates were placed by an occurrence of this description. If they were one moment too quick, as they were accused of having been in a former instance, by those who instructed his noble Friend—if there was any doubt with respect to the line of conduct which they pursued—they were assailed with a torrent of invective, condemning them for their haste, their rashness, their precipitancy, and their unnecessary violence, and with allegations that they had provoked that violence on the part of the people, of which they would never have been guilty but for their indiscretion; while, on the other hand, if they were what was deemed too late to check those mischievous and dangerous consequences which might be produced by the conduct of the mob—and much might be done in a very short time—they were invariably subjected to reproaches of the most violent character. He considered then, that the best plan which their Lordships could adopt, would be, as far as they could, to support and maintain the magistrates in their efforts to obtain peace, and not to thwart them, and by that means weaken their authority—not to consider their acts in a party point of view—not to be always inquiring what was their former political conduct or opinions, but to remember that they were now placed in authority—that the peace and safety of the country was committed to their hands—and that the manner in which they discharged their duties, and the effect which was produced, must be, in a great measure, determined by the degree of support which they should receive from the Government, and from Parliament.
§ The Duke of Wellington
was not at all surprised that his noble Friend, who spoke from that side of the House, should have felt a little anxious respecting what was stated from authority with regard to his not being present in the county of Warwick on the occasion of these dis- 451 turbances; and he must say, that however right the noble Viscount who had last spoken might have been in offering his explanation of the conduct of the magistrates of Birmingham—however he might have, with great reason, deprecated any blame on the part of their Lordships in reference to the conduct of the mayor of Birmingham, and of the magistrates of Birmingham upon this occasion—the noble Viscount had been so much taken up with that part of the subject, and with the justification of the magistrates and of the Government, and with his observations upon their having seized the exact opportune moment for their interference, neither a moment too soon nor a moment too late, and he was so desirous of having credit given for the course of conduct which had been pursued, that he had really totally forgotten to do justice to his noble Friend, as to the part which he had taken with regard to these disturbances. Now, he must, in justice to his noble Friend, take leave to remind their Lordships, that his noble Friend, although lord-lieutenant of the county of Warwick, had really, in consequence of the measures which had been adopted by the noble Viscount, no more to say or to do with those disturbances in the town of Birmingham than he had at this moment. Her Majesty's Ministers, in the course of the last Session of Parliament, when certain friends of his entreated that the charter of incorporation might not be granted to Birmingham, until a full and fair inquiry respecting the acceding to the application made for it had taken place, had stated, in a discussion which took place in that House, that he had understood that the matter should be fully and fairly investigated, and that it should not be made the subject of party consideration—what he understood by that was, that it should be inquired into by the Privy Council—that was, the Privy Council consisting of the noble Lords opposite—that there should be a full and fair inquiry. Whether the inquiry which took place would have been sufficient to satisfy any one else, he knew not; but the noble Lords thought proper to grant to Birmingham the charter of incorporation. The town of Birmingham was, therefore, now a corporate town, and as such the appointment of its magistrates rested with her Majesty, according to the Act of Parliament; and being so appointed, the issuing of the commission would 452 be with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, on whose discretion in the selection of proper persons to fill the office of magistrates every one would place the greatest reliance. But it happened unfortunately, that a noble Lord in the other House of Parliament, when this Act of Parliament passed, declared in his place that so long as his Majesty's existing Government was in office, he should consider it to be his duty to consult the town-council in respect to the appointment of the persons who were to be the magistrates in these corporations. He mentioned this as a matter of history of what passed four years ago, and that declaration was made at the time when the clause now in existence was agreed upon, and when another clause which had been proposed was rejected, the effect of which was that the town-council should elect the persons to be recommended to his Majesty to be magistrates. Of course, when that declaration was made, the effect of it would be that the town-council would proceed by election, and that the noble Lord would recommend that the Lord Chancellor should appoint the persons so elected. Thus, then, the King, Lords, and Commons declared that the town-council should not elect the magistrates. Her Majesty must appoint, according to the law of the kingdom, the persons who were to be magistrates, but the effect of it would be that although the Parliament declared that the magistrates should not be elected, the very persons elected by the town-councils would be appointed by the Government. This was the way, then, in which the magistrates were appointed to this corporation, and the noble Earl had no more to do with it than he had. He was not at all surprised, that the noble Viscount should be so exceedingly anxious that the House should pause before pronouncing any opinion against these magistrates for their conduct in these proceedings, or that the noble Viscount said that it must be inquired into, for in reality the noble Lord and his Colleagues were themselves responsible for these appointments, and for the conduct of those persons who had been appointed at their recommendation. The noble Viscount said that the matter must come under investigation, and he was sure, that the less that was said about it now the better. On a former occasion the noble Viscount had found fault with him, because he had said, that there was 453 no blame to be attached to the troops, but that it was the magistrates with whom the difficulty rested, and the noble Viscount did not scruple to intimate, that the blame might be due to the troops or to the police, and he censured the conduct of some yeomanry, who had acted, some years ago, when the castle at Nottingham was burned, in consequence of those very troops having obeyed the law, in refusing to interfere until they were ordered by the magistrates. There was no scruple on the part of the noble Viscount, though he desired, that nothing should be said of the magistrates, a few nights ago to hint, that it might be the troops who were in the wrong. He did not think so, but his information was derived from the newspapers, and it might be, that the police had not acted rightly; but it appeared now that the magistrates had given an account of this transaction, and they said, there was no reason to interfere, for there was nothing from which a not might be apprehended. Now, he had heard from a person who was in Birmingham, that a man went through the town in the middle of the day, ringing a bell, guarded by men, armed with bludgeons, giving notice, and this, too, very near the Public Office, of an intention to assemble that afternoon. It was very easy to cast blame upon persons who were incidently called upon to act, but their Lordships knew that those were most to blame who had deliberately made a party appointment of magistrates, not only in Birmingham but in all parts of the country. He just begged leave to mention one circumstance to the House, in respect of this appointment of the magistrates and of the bench of justices of Birmingham, and to say, that the clerk of the peace, and they all knew what the clerk of the peace was, of this very bench of magistrates, was the person who defended one of the persons taken up for these disturbances, before the magistrates. He would not now say any more upon this subject, except that he hoped, that this inquiry would take place at no distant period, and that the House would be acquainted with its result, and with the manner in which it was carried on, as soon as possible.
§ The Earl of Warwick
said, that the accounts which were given in reference to the interference of the magistrates were certainly contradictory. There were four or five statements which he had heard, 454 and which were diametrically opposed to one another. In one of them, however, and he believed a true one, it was stated, that during the not the people of Birmingham were crying out for assistance, and asking where they should find the justices. He hoped, that the inquiry would be made and that it would terminate successfully.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
could not suffer this discussion to pass without making a few remarks; but, at the same time, he did not think it right to enter into any detail with respect to the conduct of the magistrates. They were upon their trial, and therefore he thought, that it would not be fair to enter into any detail upon this subject, but he must say, with reference to what had taken place, that he thought her Majesty's Ministers were deeply responsible for the transactions which had taken place. He begged to be allowed to remind their Lordships of circumstances which were past—which had taken place in September and October last, when meetings were held in every part of the country, of which no notice, or at least no unfavourable notice, was taken by the Government. They all knew, that on those occasions great multitudes assembled together, and that most inflammatory language was used—language of a most seditious nature—and that the parties who were met threatened publicly to make use of physical force for the purpose of obtaining the redress of what they were pleased to term their grievances. The inhabitants of this great city at that time blame the supineness of the Government, but there was another circumstance which called for still further observation. At the time when these meetings were being held day after day, and particularly in the northern part of the island, a Minister—a Cabinet Minister—who was presiding over the domestic transactions of this country, at a public meeting at Liverpool made a speech which, in its scope and tendency, was calculated to encourage these meetings. At that public meeting a Minister of the Crown thought proper to advert to those transactions to which it was his duty to allude in terms of strong condemnation. But instead of using such terms—and he thought that noble Lords would agree with him on his reading the speech—the words used by the noble Lords, and the whole scope of his speech, ware calculated to give encouragement to, 455 and to incite those persons who were engaged in this transaction. He did not mean to say, that if that speech had been addressed to a private meeting in the time of calmness and of peace, it might not have been considered as free from blame; but the noble Viscount had said in this discussion, that everything depended on the circumstances under which a publication was made, or under which a speech was pronounced; and when he had called the attention of their Lordships, as he should do, to the terms of that speech, he should ask whether it had not a direct tendency to influence and to incite those who were engaged in this transaction? He held in his hand an extract from that speech, which was published at the time of its being delivered, and which had never been disputed, and which he was sure would justify him in what he had said. The noble Lord, her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department, at a public meeting held at Liverpool, at a time when Chartist meetings were daily held at places around him, expressed himself in these terms:—"He would not," he said, "before such a party, enter into the field of politics; but there was one topic connected with his own departmet"—(Let the House mark that: his was a department in which he had to provide for the safety of the country)—"on which he might be allowed to dwell for a few minutes. He alluded to the public meetings which were now in the course of being held in various parts of the country." The noble Lord, therefore, alluded in terms to these Chartist meetings. "There were some, perhaps, who would put down such meetings; but such was not his opinion, nor the opinion of the Government with which he acted. He thought, that the people had a right to free discussion." [Cheers.] But what sort of free discussion? The noble Marquess (Lansdowne) cheered, but of what was the noble Lord speaking when he said this? He was speaking of Chartist meetings, where physical force had been spoken of, and where language of the most inflammatory nature had been used. Was that the ideal entertained of free discussion by a Minister of the Crown. The noble Lord then went on: "It was free discussion which elicited truth." [Cheers.] There was another cheer from the noble Marquess. "If they had grievances they had a right to declare them, in order that they might be 456 known and redressed." Now he begged to ask, whether a Minister of the Crown, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, presiding at a public meeting, in a district much agitated, in which torch-light meetings were frequently held round him was right in using such language, or whether his doing so was not calculated to encourage feelings of discontent, and to produce the most disastrous consequences. What did the noble Viscount say? He said, that he deeply deplored the occurrence which had taken place; that he had foreseen the consequences of what was going on, that he had anticipated the result which had taken place, and that he was surprised that it had not come sooner; and yet here was a Minister of the Crown, the colleague of the noble Viscount, making use of language tending to excite and encourage the discontented. Was he right then in saying that the Ministers of the Crown, that the Government of the country were deeply responsible for what had occurred? But was this all? Let him advert a little to the appointment of magistrates. The noble Viscount had said on a former night, that he did not think that the proceedings of the people should be put down by force, or by violent means; that such was the state of the law and of public feeling, that he thought it would be better that the inconvenience of these meetings should be submitted to, rather than that they should be put down by forcible means. Granted; but should not the Government have abstained from giving them direct encouragement? They had selected to fill the office of magistrates, to superintend the maintenance of the peace of Birmingham, persons who were directly implicated in these transactions. Among others they had appointed one who was said to possess considerable talents, who was a member of the Political Union, afterwards a member of these Chartist associations, who was appointed by the Chartists as one of their delegates in London, and was one of their co-trustees to enable them to manage their financial concerns, who was a delegate sent to Scotland to incite the people there to agitation and tumult; and, if what was said by his coadjutors were true, who had said that moral force was a mere farce, and that it must come to physical force, and that he would advise his friends to provide themselves with rifles to be ready for the occa- 457 sion—this was one of those persons who were appointed to hold the high office of magistrate in Birmingham. The Ministers would not put down these proceedings by force—the law in its existing state might not permit it; but would they select persons like the individual he had referred to, whose being connected with these transactions in the manner he had described might lead the public to believe that the opinions which he held were not altogether disagreeable to the Government? This species of agitation which they permitted might be for the purpose of advancing party views and party objects. But it was more extraordinary still, that, in a proclamation issued by the Government, of which the noble Viscount and the noble Lord to whom he had referred were Members, in the year 1831 or 1832, these meetings were declared in express terms to be unconstitutional and illegal, and all his Majesty's subjects were warned to take no part in them, for that they by so doing would draw upon themselves the penalties of the law; and yet in opposition to this proclamation, and in direct defiance of its terms, some of the actual members of the associations by which those meetings were held were not only not subjected to prosecution, but were elevated to a situation of the highest trust and importance, in which it was their duty to keep the peace of the town of Birmingham. The House and the country had seen the consequences of that proceeding. He agreed with the noble Viscount; he was not surprised at those consequences; and he still further agreed with the noble Viscount in being: surprised that such a line of policy as had been pursued by her Majesty's Government had not sooner led to such an event as had recently occurred. With respect to the transactions of the last few days he would say nothing. He had no doubt that a sufficient force, both military and police, was collected to preserve the peace of Birmingham. There was ample notice given of what was going to take place, and he thought that it was impossible to suppose that the Ministers of the Crown could have been so supine and so inactive after that warning as to have omitted to take this precautionary step. If they had neglected to do so, they would have been guilty of a high misdemeanor, and of a gross dereliction of duty, This however was quite certain, not to enter into detail, that there was a force sufficient to keep 458 the town in order, and to repress any tumult which might arise; that persons began to assemble soon after seven o'clock, and that it was not until a quarter before ten that any force was collected to offer any opposition to their proceedings. These facts, he thought, spoke for themselves. If there was a sufficient force, then those who had the command of it, having suffered the time to pass when they should have interfered, without taking measures to repress the tumult, had been guilty of a gross dereliction of duty. A country like this, so extensive, so powerful, so intelligent, being placed in the situation in which it now stood, must regret the supineness which had been exhibited on the part of the Government, It lad had its interests and its faith compromised, not by the supineness of the Government alone, but by what must be considered as an improper stimulus which had been directed to that class of persons whom they should have repressed, restrained, and checked, but whom, by their own conduct, they had contributed to encourage and support.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
said, that the outrage at Birmingham was one which every person must deeply deplore, and there could be no doubt but the case must be the subject of an inquiry hereafter. The noble and learned Lord who had just sat down at the moment when he recognised the unfitness of the present time for any discussion as to the conduct of the magistrates of Birmingham, had shown, by the course which he had pursued, that he considered this a convenient and fit opportunity to bring a charge against the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department, not for any part of his conduct on this occasion, but for a speech which he had delivered some time ago, and which, for reasons brought forward by the noble and learned Lord, but which reasons were unfounded in fact, he attempted to connect with these disturbances. He begged to state, however, to the noble and learned Lord, and to the House, that although he laboured under the disadvantage of not being possessed of the documents which the noble and learned Lord had brought down in his pocket on this occasion, and from which he had read extracts, and extracts only, to the House, for the purpose of endeavouring to fix upon those sentences which he had quoted a meaning which they did not bear, he took upon himself to affirm that 459 the meaning attempted to be given to them was not that which they really conveyed. [Lord Lyndhurst had read all that related to this subject.] Then, he said, that what the learned Lord had read could not bear the construction that had been put upon it, inasmuch as the phrases in it had no reference to the Chartist meetings, and inasmuch as it contained no expression except that in favour of that for which he had incurred the indignation of the learnedLord—an expression in favour of free discussion in this country, which the noble and learned Lord thought ought not to be approved of in that House—but an expression which he concurring with the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department, hoped would ever be the maxim of this country, that on every subject of grievance there should be free, fair, and open discussion; and for himself, he thought that no man was fit for office in this country who did not recognise the justice and necessity of free discussion. But the noble and learned Lord insinuated that by free discussion his his noble Friend lent his countenance to that spirit of violence, of disorder, and of outrage against property, which was totally alien to free discussion. He challenged the noble and learned Lord to produce one word to countenance a course which his noble Friend had disclaimed again and again. There was not, he asserted, one word in his noble Friend's speech, bearing upon those proceedings, with which the learned Lord had used all his ingenuity and all his astuteness to connect it. When words were quoted as having been used in one place, he begged to quote others used in another place, to explain his noble Friend's views. He found in the expressions of his noble Friend, referred to by the noble and learned Lord this explanation. His noble Friend had said—My opinion is, that whatever may be the number of persons assembled, and however large the meeting may be, yet if they really meet for nothing more than discussion—Was that the case of the Chartists of Birmingham did that encourage the Chartists of Birmingham—did this let in the employment of that brute force which unhappily appeared to prevail among the Chartists? His noble Friend said—My opinion is that whatever may be the number of persons assembled, and however large the meeting may be, if they really meet 460 for nothing more than discussion, no attempt should be made to prevent the expression of public opinion.His noble Friend went on to say, that this was more particularly the case with regard to the Poor-law, in reference to which subject at that time many meetings had been held. Did the learned Lord object to that? Did the noble and learned Lord think that meetings on the Poor-law were the sort of meetings to be put down by that insane energy which the noble and learned Lord had invoked? Was the Government to inflame the country by putting down these meetings? That was the sense which his noble Friend gave to the expressions which he had used upon that occasion. He would assert again that there was no one assertion in the document which bore out the insinuation of the learned Lord. What part of it, however, had the noble and learned Lord omitted? His noble Friend the Secretary of State went on in the same speech to say, which the learned Lord took care not to quote, that—He thought that it was not too much to expect that those who took advantage of free discussion would not abuse it by exciting others to the violation of the law, and to the injury of those who were employed in its execution.That was the countenance his noble Friend gave to Chartist agitation—that was the countenance he gave to the employment of brute force—that was the invitation which he gave to the people, according to the gloss which the noble and learned Lord had put upon the speech—to have recourse to those acts of which not only his noble Friend near him (Viscount Melbourne), but his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department had taken every occasion, both in public and in private, to express his detestation of and his determination to repress them. With regard to the exact point, and the exact degree of discretion when it was proper for her Majesty's Government to interfere to enforce the law against violence—short of those actual outrages, which left no doubt—that must be a question to be left to the sound discretion of any Government, and of any Parliament to determine. He thought that the noble and learned Lord, as he well knew all that had been passing in this metropolis during the last five or six months, would admit that a certain degree of for- 461 bearance, on the part of the Government, had been of good use; that when there had been a disposition to take a violent course, it had had no mischievous effect, and that the efforts of the Chartists had recoiled against themselves in the Metropolis. Whilst the Government did not look upon their proceedings with indifference, it was a satisfaction to see that they had wasted their power; it was a satisfaction to find, from the declarations of the misguided persons themselves, that whilst they were unopposed by the Government, they were unable to affect the sound spirit of the people of this Metropolis, which repudiated their advice; and that though there might be some recommendation of a violation of the law, those plans were not adopted, and that the whole ended in leaving this great city free from apprehension, peacefully continuing that commercial tranquillity on which its happiness and its security depended. If the noble and learned Lord had seen in the speech of his noble Friend anything that was inconsistent with his duty, or anything that encouraged a violation of the law, either against the Government of the country, or against its peace, it was the duty of the learned Lord to have made a substantial and direct charge against his noble Friend at the first meeting of the Parliament. If his noble Friend had used language which the learned Lord deemed inconsistent with his situation, he ought to have made this charge; but although the learned Lord had not thought proper to bring it forward, it had in another place been the subject of discussion, and had produced the explanation to which he had referred. And now the noble and learned Lord revived the accusation, but to the explanation made not a single reference. Having said thus much, he hoped that he might detain their Lordships a few moments whilst he set them right upon a few facts, or a few supposed facts, which had been stated. In the first place, with respect to the charter of incorporation for the town of Birmingham—he had never given any pledge that the question of that charter should be subject to any other or different tribunal than the ordinary tribunal of the Privy Council. A pledge was given, that as circumstances had been stated which led to a fair doubt whether a majority of the inhabitants, including both the majority of the population and a majority of 462 the rate payers, was in favour of such a charter, that no charter should be granted without a reconsideration of the question, and without the most detailed inquiry. That detailed inquiry was gone into; it was conducted by persons of business unconnected with any party, who had been sent down to Birmingham, and it was after minute inquiry, and after a report from them, that the Privy Council became satisfied, that both a majority of the inhabitants and a majority of the rate-payers, of those who had signed any petition expressing any opinion, were in favour of a charter; and after having been greatly blamed for the delay, the council did come to the opinion, that there was such a majority of the inhabitants in favour of a charter as required the Privy Council, according to the terms of the Municipal Act, to issue a charter of incorporation. In his opinion, and in the opinion of the Council, it was the intention of the Parliament that a charter should be granted where a majority of the inhabitants had expressed a wish for it, and when the population and circumstances of the town were such as required a corporation. In the next place, the noble Duke had stated, that in violation of the Act of Parliament, the Secretary of State had felt bound to act upon the opinion of the town councils with respect to the appointment of the town magistrates. Now, he assured the noble Duke, that such was not the case. In almost all the cases his noble Friend had not taken that course. There was nothing to prevent him, as there was nothing to prevent the Lord Chancellor or Lord-lieutenant, from collecting by inquiry from persons in the neighbourhood, evidence of the fitness of persons about to be appointed. In this particular case, however, his noble Friend had not taken the opinion of the town council exclusively, and he knew cases in which his noble Friend had rejected the whole of the lists furnished by that body, and had appointed the whole of the magistrates from his own inquiries of other parties. It could not be fairly said, therefore, that his noble Friend had taken only the opinions of the town councils, and had rejected the rule laid down expressly in an Act of Parliament. On another point he could not sit down without saying a few words, although he felt, that there were others in the House much more competent than he was to give an opinion ripen it, and if he was wrong, 463 he trusted that they would set him right. He meant the point of law put by the noble Lord, the lord-lieutenant of the county of Warwick, when he entertained a doubt whether the magistrates of the county were entirely excluded, by the grant of a charter, from acting within the limits of the chartered town. He apprehended that there was no such exclusion. [Lord Lyndhurst: They were excluded when there was a separate quarter sessions.] He believed, that they were not excluded by the Municipal Act, except by the rate-paying and rate-imposing clauses, and there was nothing to prevent their interference in criminal affairs. In such cases, he apprehended that their jurisdiction was co-extensive with that of the local magistrates. As to a communication between the towns and the lord-lieutenant, it did exist. By the Act authorising the swearing in of special constables, it was required that communication should be had with the lord-lieutenant of the county; and he had himself, as lord-lieutenant of one county, received such communications from places having corporations with regard to the appointment of special constables. This established that there was communication between the lords-lieutenant and the places so incorporated; and he believed, that their relative position remained the same, except with respect to recommendations for the magistracy, although, doubtless, if even in that matter the opinion of the lord-lieutenant should be given to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, it would meet with due respect.
§ The Duke of Wellington
knew nothing of what the Secretary of State had done, but he supposed that the Secretary had done as he said. By the Act of Parliament, the nomination of the magistrates was vested in the Crown, and not in the town council; but the noble Lord had expressly said, that "he had no hesitation in saying, that so long as his colleagues and himself should be the advisers of the Crown, they would feel it their duty to adopt the most natural mode of appointing the justices, by requesting the town councils to send in a list of persons on whom they thought the magistracy ought to be conferred." With respect to the other parts of the case, he bad only to say, that the Act of Parliament requiring the magistrates nominating special constables to send their names to the lord-lieutenant was an Act passed 464 long before these local magistrates were appointed. In Birmingham there was a corporation having magistrates of its own, and that he believed, that as there was a local magistracy, with a grant of quarter sessions, the magistrates of the county of Warwick had nothing to do with any transactions within the precincts of the corporation of Birmingham. With respect to the lord-lieutenant, up to the 15th July, his noble Friend, the lord-lieutenant, had not been called upon any way to go, or to give any opinion. He had nothing to do with these transactions. Her Majesty's Ministers were alone responsible for the conduct of the magistracy, and that responsibility they must bear.
§ Viscount Melbourne:
It was not necessary to call upon the lord-lieutenant to go there when he was at a distance from his county; he ought to go there of himself.
§ The Earl of Ripon
said, that whatever might be the duty of the magistrates, if the Lord-lieutenant had anything to do with their town, it was their duty to make communications to him, and to afford him every information; and if they did not do this, it was not the Lord-lieutenant who was responsible. So much for the wisdom of those magistrates. But the object for which he rose was to refer to one point of the observations which had been made connected with the grant of a charter to the town of Birmingham. It happened, that with respect to this subject, the discussions in that House had originated with himself. The persons in Birmingham who were opposed to the charter, feeling, that it was called for by a small number of rate-payers, and by those who contributed but a small amount to the whole rates of the town, and that the town would be liable to be heavily taxed by the corporation if it should exist, had petitioned the Privy Council not to grant the charter. The noble Lord had heard the statement courteously, and he had afterwards under. stood, that it was the intention of the Privy Council to give the charter, notwithstanding the representations of those who were opposed to it. That opposition was not confined to the proportion of ratepayers, who were for or against it, but to the general question of policy. The parties then again petitioned that House to take such steps as might be thought necessary to procure the Privy Coucil to enter upon a further consideration of the case, because it was understood, that the 465 representions which had been made to the Privy Council had given an inaccurate report of the balance of opinion in Birmingham, for or against the grant of a corporation. He had presented the petition, and upon that occasion asked his noble Friend, the Marquess of Lansdowne, whether he would give an assurance, that there should not be any charter till the petitioners had had an opportunity of being again heard. His noble Friend did give that assurance. He certainly did not say, that no charter should be granted; but he said, that the Great Seal should not be affixed to it till the persons opposing it had had an opportunity of being re-heard, of proving their own case, and of disproving the case of the other persons. The noble Lord did send down persons to Birmingham perfectly fitted for the duty to make the inquiry, and he did not make any further application, because he felt the inconvenience of any interference on the part of that House with the prerogative of the Crown. The inquiry was prosecuted, but from some parts of the inquiry which he had seen he was astonished beyond measure at his noble Friend's stating, that there was such a clear preponderance of opinion in favour of the charter, that her Majesty's Government had found, that they were bound by the wording of the Act of Parliament to give the charter. In the first place, the Government was not bound to give it even if there was a majority of inhabitant ratepayers in its favour, and next he believed, that those who had applied for the charter were but a small proportion in number of the rate-payers, and next, that a great number of persons had petitioned against it, almost equal in number to those who had petitioned for it. The amount at which the respective parties were assessed was an important ingredient for consideration before giving a charter, and he believed a great preponderance of the ratepayers was on the side of those who had petitioned against the grant. If he were wrong, the papers when they were laid upon the table would correct his error. For himself, he thought, that the Privy Council had come to a most unfortunate decision, and he doubted whether it had contributed, or whether it ever would contribute to the well-being of that important town.
§ The Duke of Wellington
again said, that when he spoke, he spoke only of the 466 altered relation which the noble Lord, the Lord-lieutenant, had with the town of Birmingham, in consequence of a corporation having been granted by her Majesty. The noble Viscount, in reply, had taken the opportunity of making an insinuation against his noble Friend (the Earl of Warwick), as if it was his business to go down to Birmingham, and not the duty of the Government to state to his noble Friend their wish that he should go down, if his services were required. The noble Viscount would give him leave to say, without getting into one of those towering passions without any cause—if the noble Viscount would allow him without incurring the noble Viscount's ire—he would remind the noble Viscount, that a short time ago, whilst addressing that House, he was very anxious to avoid any aspersions on the character and conduct of the magistrates, and on the character and conduct of the Government, but the noble Viscount was rather light in making aspersions against other parties, and against his noble Friend. His noble Friend was as ready to do his duty upon the present occasion as he had done upon others; but considering the state to which the town of Birmingham had been brought by her Majesty's Government, he thought, that it was better for his noble Friend to abstain from going to Warwick, holding himself, however, ready at all times to go to Birmingham, or to any other part of the county of Warwick in which his presence might be required.
§ The Lord Chancellor
said, that it might be in the recollection of the House, that there had been petitions for, and that there had been a petition against the grant of a charter; and that the question was, on which side was the preponderance? His noble Friend, the President of the Council, caused an inquiry to be made, not only as to the proportion of population that had signed these petitions respectively, but also as to the proportion of the rate-paying persons. The result of that inquiry was communicated to him; and looking at the report of the gentleman who had been sent down to inquire, it appeared to be not altogether satisfactory. He found, that a great part of those who had petitioned against the charter were fictitious signatures, for the commissioner could not find the parties where they were said to reside. He thought, that the inquiry had not been sufficient, and instruc- 467 tions were given for an accurate inquiry into many circumstances. The commissioner again went down; he took the petition for the charter, and examined into its accuracy. He then took the petition against the charter to see that it was accurate, and he found that there were whole streets of fictitious signatures; and when he called upon the persons who opposed the charter, and told them, that he was ordered to investigate the names, and was ready to go into the inquiry, they declined to enter upon it. The commissioner pursued the inquiry so far as concerned the persons who had petitioned for the grant, and as those against it had declined to give him a similar opportunity, the Privy Council had, consequently, come to the decision, to which he had no doubt their Lordships, under similar circumstances, would have come, as to which side the preponderance really was.
§ The Earl of Ripon
said, that this was a serious charge against all persons who had entrusted the petition to him, and it was their Lordships' duty to see whether the report was sufficient to prove those persons guilty of a fraud, in presenting a petition to that House with fictitious names. He believed that it would turn out to be far otherwise.
§ Lord Denman
was unwilling to take part in that discussion; but the House would allow him to say, that nothing was so inconvenient as for noble Lords to refer to doubtful facts, which were afterwards to become the subject of inquiry in courts of law. He would venture to suggest to them, that nothing was more likely to excite strong feelings beforehand, and to cause persons to form preconceived opinions, and to come to the consideration of the facts with biassed judgments. He would venture also to offer this suggestion to the House, that if noble Lords pledged their personal characters to facts which were likely to come before the courts for decision, it would only produce injurious effects to the course of future inquiry. He was unwilling at all times to give legal opinions in that House, but he thought one of the matters which had been stated was so erroneous in point of law, and might have such a prejudicial effect in the country if it were not set right, that he thought he ought to notice it. He believed that the subject was without doubt, and that all his learned Friends in the House would concur with 468 him in opinion, and it was, therefore, better for him to state the law than that it should go forth to the public that there should be any doubt whether the magistrates of the county had a concurrent jurisdiction when a charter had been granted, and when there was a separate Quarter Sessions. When a separate Court of Quarter Sessions was appointed by the Crown for any borough, it was clear that the jurisdiction of the county magistrates was at an end. If it were thought that they had the jurisdiction they might be required to exercise it; and if they had the power, and did not use it, they would be placed in a situation as serious as the Gentlemen into whose conduct the noble Viscount intended to institute an inquiry. Therefore, it was of great importance that it should be understood clearly, that the county magistrates could not be called upon to act within boroughs having a separate Court of Quarter Sessions upon such an occurrence as the present; but that the peace of the town must rest with the town magistrates, who, however they might be appointed, must take upon themselves the responsibility of preserving the peace of the town, and must answer for it when called to account. The Lord-lieutenant of the county, as the head of the military, had the power of calling on the yeomanry to act in any part of the county he thought proper, for the purpose of putting down riots and breaches of the peace, and one could only wonder that any doubt could exist in the minds of any of the Queen's subjects of their right to act and put down riots whenever and wherever they might occur.
§ The Lord Chancellor,
in explanation, said that the applications made by Manchester and Birmingham to the Privy Council for charters were under the consideration of Government at the same time; and, upon reflection, it struck him that he might possibly have made a mistake by applying that to Birmingham which really had reference only to Manchester.
entirely agreed with his noble and learned Friend in the construction he had put upon the Municipal Corporations Act, and that its provisions confined the concurrent jurisdiction of the county and borough justices to those corporate towns where there were no Corporate Sessions. There were Quarter Sessions at Birmingham; which consequently 469 brought that town within the rule excluding a concurrent jurisdiction. He also entirely agreed with the position laid down in respect to the noble Earl (the Earl of Warwick) having no right to act in the town of Birmingham quasi custos rotulorum—the head of the justices of the peace; but that, quasi Military Lord-lieutenant, he was not excluded from acting in that town. He wished also to notice another mistake of a practical nature. It appeared by the statement which their Lordships had heard to-night, and of which he would say not a word, as he understood that the whole matter was about to undergo a strict investigation—but it appeared by that statement that the authorities in Birmingham had proceeded upon a supposition as erroneous in point of law, and as likely to be attended with as mischievous consequences, as any man could imagine. It not only seemed to have been thought that without the presence of the magistrates the police could not act, but also that without the presence of the mayor, one justice of the peace—in the present case Dr. Booth—could not act—Now, he begged leave to inform those worthy magistrates—if they would be pleased to take the law upon the subject from him—that Dr. Booth was just as good as the Mayor, and that there was no occasion whatever for him to have waited for the Mayor. If any delay took place before the authorities acted, it no doubt arose from that mistake. He entirely agreed with the observation that had been made as to the improper appointment of one of the magistrates of Birmingham. If it were true that the gentleman in question had thought proper to go to Perth and preach the doctrine of physical force, and talk to the people of arming, advising them not to trust to moral force, but to fire-arms and rifles, he should no more consider the public peace to be in safe custody, if such a person were appointed a magistrate, than if its keeping were entrusted to one bereaved of his mental faculties. It was not that such a man would not be disposed to do his duty properly, that he should object to his appointment, but it became necessary to consider what the effect of such an appointment would be on the minds of the people who were placed under his magisterial control. He was glad he had brought this petition before the House, because he was quite sure the effect of the 470 present conversation would be to correct many mistakes both as to the facts of the case, and the nature of the law that bore upon them. He also rejoiced at having had the opportunity of bringing the subject forward, inasmuch as it had been the means of enabling his noble and learned Friend (Lord Denman) to declare what the state of the law really was; and to whose opinions, from his position and great and eminent talents, the utmost weight would unquestionably be given.
§ Petition laid on the Table.
§ The Earl of Warwick
then moved for a return of the names of all the magistrates appointed under the Municipal Corporation Act in the different boroughs in Warwickshire. If he had gone down to Birmingham on hearing of the disturbances, he should not have had the least knowledge of what his situation would have been there. He knew that as Lord-lieutenant he would have had the right of acting in a military character; but he would appeal to the noble Viscount, whether he thought it would have been proper for him to have gone down and exercised that right. He never knew, till he saw an account of the fact in the public papers, that the yeomanry had been called out. He naturally supposed that the Home Secretary, if the magistrates had regularly applied to him for assistance, would have informed him of it, and then he should certainly have gone to Birmingham.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, that if the noble Earl asked his opinion upon the subject, he most unquestionably thought that the noble Earl ought to have gone down. It should be recollected, that there had been disturbances in the town of Birmingham for eight or ten days, and he certainly thought, that the Lord-lieutenant of the county ought to have gone to the spot. It would not do for the noble Earl to say, that he should have had nothing to do at Birmingham if he had been there, because a disturbance at Birmingham was calculated to produce mischievous effects in other parts of the county; a great portion of which was under the jurisdiction of the noble Earl, as a magistrate.
§ The Returns ordered.