HL Deb 02 June 1848 vol 99 cc235-40

presented a petition, and said, he would take that opportunity of drawing their Lordships' attention to what had recently been going on in the streets and squares of the metropolis. He had been led to the serious consideration of these turbulent demonstrations by the events of the last two days; for it was difficult to conceive anything more intolerable, anything more hurtful in its nature, both to the trade of the peaceful and honest and industrious inhabitants of this metropolis, and also which was a great grievance in itself, although it perhaps could not be counted in pounds, shillings, and pence—anything, in fact, more utterly and entirely vexatious to the peaceable inhabitants of London than those alarms—alarms to which the population was constantly exposed, without the possibility of telling or of knowing to what they might lead—he alluded to the lawless processions which had been recently got up—anything, he repeated, more alarming, more vexatious, and more injurious, in all respects, than these processions, he, for one, could not imagine. Now, he could understand a public meeting—he could comprehend why a meeting should be held, peaceably and not tumultuously, and in such moderate numbers as to permit of fair discussion taking place—all that he could understand. But the practice of meeting in public was a civil right, and required to be regulated as all civil rights required to be regulated, without which they might produce abuse—degenerate, indeed, into abuse—so that the right might absolutely become a wrong. But that persons—not once, or twice, or as it might be by chance, but regularly and systematically, and at the expense of the industrious and the well-disposed portion of the community—should be minded to introduce a system which now prevailed in Paris, to the scandal not only of all France, but absolutely of all Europe—that some 20,000 or 30,000 men should he minded to devote the whole of their time to processions, to the production of alarms in the minds of the whole community, and not only the whole community, but, as in the case of Paris, in the minds of the whole Government; so that the Government there were absolutely fain to address manifestoes and proclamations to the evil-minded, not requiring or demanding, but humbly imploring them to remain tranquil—requests, by the by, which the rioters did not at all seem disposed to comply with; for there was but little understanding between them and the Government—that people here in London—industrious, rational, sober-minded London—that our English people should be beginning that system of processions, where there could be no discussion, or should be trying to make themselves a species of peripatetic discussers—though, after all, it was idle to talk of discussion in the matter—that such a system should be apparently beginning to be introduced here, was a circumstance which struck him with the utmost degree of surprise and of indignation. But they had gone further than mere impromptu processions. The town had been long ago placarded with bills bearing the words, and nothing but the words, "The 29th of May;" and then, after the lapse of some weeks, without any other notice, their Lordships heard of meetings, of processions—on that very day, let it be observed, of 2,000 men marching from this point, of 3,000 men marching from that, uniting their forces at a certain spot, and then proceeding from the eastern to the western end of the town, where it was not their fault or their leaders' fault that more mischief had not been done than was actually committed. But although there was no actual outbreak, was there no injury inflicted upon the community? Why, all trade had been interrupted. Several traders had come to him on Wednesday last to complain upon the subject. He at first said, "Why, these processions cannot much affect you. They take place at night, when your shops are shut." But they replied, "You don't know the nature of customers; for when there exists any alarm in the community, customers will not come to our shops in the numbers in which they come when everything is quiet. "All he had said was, that he was quite confident the law would be vigorously though mildly administered. Then, again, his visitors said, and he agreed with them in saying, "What is the use of these processions? They do harm to us, and good to nobody." Now, he replied, and what he said then he repeated now, "Whatever the object of those who march in processions may be, by marching in processions they will not get it." He repeated, even although the object might be the most commendable possible—even though it might be an object in which he himself was particularly interested—say, for example, the amendment of the law—still that object would not be attained, and it ought not to be attained, if sought in an illegal manner. He wished, then, to show the people—to show those who took part in these illegal demonstrations—to show both the doors of wrong and the sufferers from wrong—that the eyes of Parliament were upon them. He wished it to be known that Parliament was aware how sorely the patience of the troops, of the police, and of the special constables, had been tried. He did not mean to say that proper attention had not been paid by the Government to the evils in question. He believed that proper attention had been paid, and that arrangements had been made for the suppression of an outbreak; not, however, that he had any fear of an outbreak; be, did not believe that anything of the kind would be attempted; but what he did fear, what he did know, was, that these constant processions had the effect of interrupting trade—of harassing, to the last degree, the voluntary forces, as well as the police, the troops, and indeed the whole of the tranquil and sober-minded portion of the community, without any one person, in any one quarter, entertaining even the shadow of a belief that these processions could possibly serve for the attainment of any object whatever.


was glad that his noble and learned Friend had brought this grievance under their Lord-ships' notice. The whole town had been under arms for the last four nights, since Monday, the troops, the police, and inhabitants of all descriptions being kept in a state of readiness. He trusted that their Lordships would turn their attention to some mode of preventing the recurrence of an evil which had now been felt for about half a dozen of times since the commencement of this Session of Parliament. Two modes of preventing it occurred to him one mode was to prevent the assembly of these large bodies of persons, too numerous for the civil power on the spot to deal with, and at the same time too numerous for the purpose of discussion, if discussion was the object of their assembling. Another mode of dealing with this evil, was to make the persons who called these meetings together, under any pretext whatsoever, responsible for the evil consequences attending them in the spoliation of property—the destruction of windows or other property. Let such persons be held responsible for the damage in their own pockets. If that were done, their Lordships would find that these gentlemen would not be so ready to call these meetings together for no purpose whatever, excepting to make orations, exciting the people to the assassination of all who might have promoted the punishment of a felon, including the illustrious Lady on the Throne, and all the servants of the Crown and of the public who might have lent their and to the conviction and punishment of the felon.


agreed with the noble and learned Lord in thinking that, if large bodies of persons were to continue to walk about in organised processions to procure the amendment of the law, which the noble and learned Lord stated he was desirous of seeing effected, they would be successful at least in this respect, in proving that the law required amendment, at any rate, as regarded their proceedings. Of course, there could not for a moment he a second opinion that processions having a tendency to disturb the public peace ought at once to be dispersed; and, as their Lordships knew, such processions had yesterday and the day before been arrested in their progress, and the public peace preserved; their progress had been effectually resisted, and the purposes of those engaged in them had been signally defeated. At the same time, he was ready to admit that the proceedings of those parties had been attended with a degree of success which ought no longer to he tolerated; but as to the 29th of May, and the placards annoncing that date, he must he allowed to remind the House that the original announcements of that kind had no reference whatever to the holding of public meetings in this metropolis; they were issued long before the intended processions, and merely consisted, as he understood, of an invitation to be present at the opening of Cremorne-gardens. He was perfectly ready to admit that, putting the affair of Cremorne-gardens completely out of the question, and setting aside altogether the announcement of the 29th of May, the subject of these processions demanded the serious attention of Her Majesty, and required the advice of Parliament. It was not to be borne that this most industrious metropolis should be exposed to disturbances of such a nature, and that the pains-taking and anxious tradesmen of London should be exposed to a loss of property the amount of which it would be exceedingly difficult to calculate with accuracy, but respecting the magnitude of which there could not be a shadow of doubt.


said, it had been suggested that those persons who called such meetings as occasioned the disturbances to which reference had been made, ought to be held responsible for the results. Now, it was well known that in several of the provincial towns a great deal of disturbance had taken place, and he confessed he saw no reason why the parties with whom those proceedings originated should not be made amenable to the law; they had committed an offence well known to the laws of England, and he thought it would be an extremely judicious course to put that law in force against them. The police had behaved remarkably well; and it was due to that force that every means which the law afforded should be taken for the purpose of insuring their protection in the due discharge of their duty. Upon these grounds, he did not hesitate to say that the wrong-doers in those cases ought to be indicted. For example—in London, if some twenty or thirty of them were sent for trial to the Central Criminal Court, much advantage might be the consequence. He took the liberty, then, of suggesting to his noble Friend opposite, that in the early part of these proceedings it would be highly important that the Queen's Government should show a determination to put them down. He thought it highly important that the attention of his right hon. Friend at the head of the Home Department should be called to this subject. At the same time, he was fully sensible of the great exertions made by his right hon. Friend in maintaining the public tranquillity, and of the ability which he had displayed; but he did believe that some activity shown in the matter of prosecutions and indictments might possibly prevent the necessity of calling out the soldiery. If necessary, they must be called out; and if the disturbers of the public peace assembled with arms in their hands, the soldiers must be called on to act. They had already been too long kept under arms, and if they were frequently called out, and at length obliged to act, it might be no harm to remind those persons who were active in forming processions that soldiers were but men, and that it would be difficult to esti- mate the consequences of once putting them in motion: under certain circumstances, it might be extremely difficult to restrain them.


said, he would not advert to any particular facts, as such matters might come judicially under his notice; but he might inform their Lordships that when the grand jury recently assembled in the Court of Queen's Bench, the learned Judge (Mr. Justice Patteson) who then presided, very properly thought it his duty to lay down the law distinctly upon this subject. Mr. Justice Patteson had stated the dangers which those persons who took any part in these disturbances were incurring; he warned them not to underrate the consequences which any attempt to resist the dispersion of the mobs of which they formed part would bring upon them. He did not himself hesitate to say, that if the statements put forward upon these subjects were not exaggerated, such insufferable insults as the law was now exposed to could no longer be tolerated. Assuming that the speeches at those meetings were reported in the terms that they were delivered, then such speeches, exciting the hearers to felony, might be visited by the severest penalties of the law. In one sentiment dropped by his noble and learned Friend opposite he fully concurred, namely, that if the object which those parties proposed to themselves were of the most laudable character, yet that the mode by which they sought to accomplish those objects being illegal and criminal, the object itself ceased to be justifiable. As an old reformer, he would earnestly dissuade his fellow-countrymen from engaging in those questionable proceedings; to get up petitions and agitate the public mind at a period like the present, would do more injury than service to the cause of reform; and he doubted not that such proceedings would prove as dangerous to the parties agitating as they were inconvenient to the rest of the community. As an old friend and well-wisher, he should earnestly hope that all agitation would be for the present suspended, as otherwise there would be great danger of putting an end to all attempts at constitutional reform, even to the sacrifice of the principles of constitutional freedom.

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