The Solicitor General
moved the order of the day for taking into consideration the Lords Amendments to this bill.
wished to ask the Speaker whether the bill to which the House of Lords had thus made amendments was not a money bill, to such an extent, at least, as to induce the House, in maintenance of their ancient privileges, altogether to reject the measure thus amended?
§ The Speaker
had no difficulty in replying, that in the sense in which the House understood the term money bill, the bill then before them was not a money bill. In this bill, as well as in other bills not actually money bills, there might be clauses relating to money, to which the House could not permit the Lords to make any amendments. In fact, in the very first clause of the bill a penalty had been extended by the House of Lords, and therefore when the bill came under the consideration of the House, he should suggest to them the expediency of rejecting that amendment.
§ The order of the day being read,
§ The Speaker
observed, that it was his duty to call the attention of the House to an alteration made by the House of Lords in the bill, pr. 3. 1. 38. As the bill passed the House of Commons it was declared, that any person refusing to deliver notice to a justice of the peace, should forfeit 50l. The House of Lords had extended the penalty to any person refusing to deliver the notice to a justice of the peace, "or the mayor, or head officer of the county, city, town or place respectively." This was an amendment to which the House, consistently with its privileges, could not agree.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
, in consequence of what had fallen from the Chair, moved that the House should disagree with the Lords in this amendment; which motion was agreed to.
On the next amendment pr. 4. 1. 34. and 35, being read, viz. "after 'holden,' insert, and such notice so given by such means as aforesaid, shall be as effectual to all intents and purposes, as if the same had been given by public advertisement inserted in any such newspaper' as aforesaid.'"
said, that it was so essential to the best interests and privileges of the country, that the bill should not pass into a law, that he held it to be his indispensable duty to object by every means conformable to the customs and rules of the House, not only to the bill in toto, but to every alteration that had been made in it. With respect to the present amendment, it was not only unnecessary, but actually destroyed the sense of the passage in which it occurred. He should therefore divide the House on the motion for leaving out of that amendment the words—"by such means as aforesaid."
§ The gallery was then cleared for a division, but the noble lord not having a fellow-teller in favour of his motion, no division took place.
§ On the amendment pr. 6, 1. 28, to leave out "being" and insert "shall be,"
said, he felt it his duty to state at once the general motives which actuated his conduct on the present occasion. Why was any mention made of danger to the courts of justice in Westminster-hall from public meetings? Was there not equal danger to courts of justice in Guild-hall from public meetings there? The fact was, and he said it without hesitation, it was that House which was afraid. It was the ministers who felt that they deserved the reproach, and perhaps the indignation of the people. He told the right hon. gentleman, and he told his majesty's ministers generally, that the consciousness of their bad measures made them afraid to meet the people. They were afraid to meet the people in the place in which the people had been accustomed to meet for more than a thousand years. They were afraid to meet the people, because they knew the general indignation excited against them by their wicked and abominable measures, and by the determination which they had 1280 manifested to establish a military despotism in the country, and put down freedom here as they had already assisted in putting it down all over the rest of Europe. The assertion about the courts of justice was a mere false pretence to cover these apprehensions. There was no pretence whatever for removing the Westminster meetings to the distance of a mile from Westminster-hall (with the exception of Covent-garden), where it was well known no public meeting could take place without the sanction of the duke of Bedford. Were they afraid that the people would meet in Waterloo-place? and did they wish to prevent their voice from reaching the ears of his royal highness? He was convinced that, with all the military force in the country, and with these bills at their backs, the present system of governing this free country could not be long pursued. He should have thought that the page of British history contained sufficient warnings on the subject. It was there recorded, that whenever ministers sat themselves in defiance of the people, to bear down their rights and liberties, such proceedings always ended in their disgrace and ruin, if not in circumstances which it was painful even to recollect. In former times, bad ministers had lost their heads, when they made such flagrant attacks on the rights and liberties of the people. He had thought it his duty, at the very commencement of this discussion, thus fully to state his opinion. He had also thought it his duty to declare, that he would take the sense of the House on every one of the amendments; but as on the last proceeding of that nature he had not been so fortunate as so have a seconder, he should not persevere in his intention.
§ The amendment was then agreed to; as were several others.
§ Mr. Brougham
could not help wishing, that when the clerk came to any amendments which were not merely verbal, some of his majesty's ministers would notify the fact, and briefly explain the nature of the particular amendment. It was very easy to say, after such a word insert such a word, and so on; but it was not equally easy to catch the meaning of the sentence so altered. Now his case was this, and he was sure it was the same with many other gentlemen. He had left home early this morning on professional business, and did not get the printed amendments until late in the day on his return; he was then 1281 so occupied, that he could not look into them until past four, and he was now called on, without one moment's opportunity of consideration or reflection, to say yea or nay to a question which, for aught he knew, effected a total change in the law of the land. Amendments thus hastily read, though they appeared at first sight but verbal transpositions, might be the means of making new legislative measures.
§ Mr. Bathurst
admitted, that where any alteration was not of a verbal, but substantive nature, it was not too much to call upon that side of the House for proper explanation. The greater part of the amendments were of an immaterial character: that before the House was for the purpose of adding the words "or magistrate," after "justice of the peace."
read the clause containing, "and he and they are hereby required to make, or cause to be made, proclamation, &c. commanding all persons there assembled to depart," and contended that its structure, according to the plain reading, was not that the people assembled should disperse, but the magistrates themselves. He read the remainder of the sentence, to prove the correctness of his observation. He had looked at it every way, and the only sense in which he could understand it was, "that it should be lawful for the justices to disperse themselves."
§ Mr. Bathurst
could not concur in the noble lord's reading. He thought the wording plain and designatory enough.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, they were about to involve themselves in a situation of great difficulty, by risking an unintelligible measure, which ought, above all others, from its character, to be sent out in the most perfect state. The only satisfactory way of proceeding would be to have the clauses as amended, inserted in their proper places in the body of the bill, and the whole reprinted in a collected shape. With this view he would move as an amendment, "that the debate be adjourned till Monday next."
stated, that there were fifty-five amendments of one sort or another, made by the lords in this bill. The House was in the dilemma of having agreed to some pans of these amendments, the after parts of which were now found to be nonsense. The right hon. gentleman opposite wished the House to agree to the parts which were correct, and to dissent from the others. They must proceed 1282 with the measure as a whole, and they were bound to do so deliberately. Let them then proceed with calmness, for the sake of the people against whom they were about to enact such terrible penalties. He stood precisely in the same situation as his hon. and learned friend, not having, from the pressure of professional business, been able to look into the bill until after he entered the House. They ought not to allow themselves to be betrayed into the enactment of such ambiguous clauses as would throw the necessity of putting different constructions upon them on the courts of justice of the country. The law in this case ought to be so decided, that no fluctuation of opinion, as to its meaning, ought to be suffered to exist; he would, therefore, vote for the amendment.
§ Mr. Sturges Bourne
observed, that the printing of amendments was only a practice of modern terms. It was too much to say, that the consideration of the amendments ought to be postponed in order to adopt the novel course of printing the whole bill with the amendments of the Lords. It surely could not be difficult to alter the latter part of the clause, so as to make it grammatical.
observed, if the printing of amendments was a modern practice, he believed the returning a bill of no great length, with no fewer than fifty-five amendments, was a practice never known before the present day. He did not believe that on the other side of the House there was at that moment one man who would not in his conscience be better pleased, if the House were to adopt the course proposed by his hon. and learned friend. Surely there was no pressing necessity for this law; and having already obtained the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, they might wait a little while, that the House might give the bill that attention which a sense of its own dignity required.
thought the insertion of the words "to command," in place of the word "commanding," would obviate every objection.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
saw no necessity for hurrying on this measure with such undue haste, especially when he called to recollection what was now taking place in another part of the country, alleged to have been in a disturbed state, namely, Manchester, where persons were committed under the 5th Charles 2d, which prohibits meetings for the purpose of petition- 1283 ing to alter any thing by law established, without the consent of three magistrates, on a requisition signed by twenty householders, under the penalty of 100l.
§ Mr. Bathurst
declared, that when he stated the amendments to be generally immaterial, he did so at first view. On subsequent consideration, he found that some of them were liable to misconstruction; but these could be explained without waiting for a reprint of the bill.
§ The House divided:
|For the adjournment||31|
|List of the Minority|
|Abercrombie, hon, J.||Lyttelton, hon. W.|
|Atherley, Arthur||Martin, Henry|
|Babington, Thomas||Martin, John|
|Barnett, James||Newport, sir John|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||North, Dudley|
|Brand, hon. Thos.||Ossulston, lord|
|Brougham, Henry||Piggott, sir A.|
|Burroughs, sir W.||Ponsonby, rt. hon. G.|
|Calcraft, John||Prittie, hon. F. A.|
|Carter, John||Scudamore, R. P.|
|Cavendish, lord J.||Sefton, earl of|
|Cochrane, lord||Sharp, R.|
|Curwen, J. C.||Teed, John|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Wilberforce, Wm.|
|Fitzroy, lord John||TELLERS.|
|Folkestone, visc.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Gordon, R.||Monck, sir Chas.|
§ On the question for agreeing to the amendment on the clause, declaring it lawful to disperse meetings held under any notice "which shall express or purport that any matter, by law established may be altered, otherwise than by the authority of the King, Lords, and Commons, in Parliament assembled," to which the Lords had added, "or to such effect,"
observed, that this was an amendment of a most sweeping nature, as it left to the interpretation of a magistrate, not only whether a notice purported the alteration of the constitution, but whether it was "to such effect." They had lately heard of a requisition which had been sent to the mayor of Bristol to convene a meeting for the purpose of petitioning for parliamentary reform, the mayor had objected to such a meeting, because he conceived that under reform was meant rebellion, and he was supported in this construction by many reverend and learned persons: and there were few pulpits in Bristol, from which the Sunday before the meeting exhortations were not put forth that people should not attend the meeting, because rebellion was the object. They 1284 had heard also of a requisition to the sheriff of Cornwall, signed by some of the most respectable gentlemen of that county, and the sheriff had refused to call the meeting, because he was persuaded it could mean nothing less than the overthrow of the constitution. When they knew that such a construction had been put upon the most innocent requisitions by some magistrates, it was too much to give them a right to interfere with meetings called by others, by words so sweeping as those introduced by the Lords amendment, and to dissolve any meeting, persons disobeying their commands being subject to the penalty of death. He should propose therefore to amend the Lords amendment, by leaving out the words "or to such effect."
said, he had objected to the clause as it at first stood, but it was now rendered doubly objectionable by the Lords amendments. The magistrates would now have the power of dissolving meetings not only in consequence of words which tend to the subversion of the government, but for words which have "such effect." It was surely not fit that parliament should give a discretionary power under words so extensive and vague to a single magistrate; for if such a clause were passed, he could hardly conceive that any political discussion could take place, or that any public meeting could be held.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that if the right hon. gentleman had attended to the place where the amendment was introduced, he would have perceived, that it was not open to the objections he had made. The right hon. gentleman was inaccurate in the supposition, that the amendment alluded to words spoken at a public meeting, as it only referred to the words in a written or a printed notice, which of course would be the subject of more mature consideration than, words spoken at a meeting could be. Neither did the amendment refer to notices which shall tend to stir up the people to hatred or contempt of the government, &c.; but merely to notices purporting that any matter of law can be altered except by authority of parliament, to which the Lords had added, "or to such effect." The amendment had undoubtedly extended the sense of the clause, to prevent the possibility of notices impeaching the authority of parliament even though they might not do it in a direct manner.
observed, that the loose-ness of the expression "to such effect" 1285 was objectionable in a penal law, and a law so highly penal, in which the utmost attention should be given that the offences created should be as accurately described as possible.
wished to know whether the words government and constitution, in the clause before the House, were synonymous, or whether it was penal to bring his majesty's ministers into contempt? If that were the case, he thought the gentlemen opposite him would fall under the penalties of the law, for no persons laboured so incessantly and effectually to bring the government into contempt as they did. He assured the House, that he had that morning given his undivided attention to the amendments as they were printed, and he could not yet understand in what places they were introduced. He implored the House therefore, if it wished to stand well with the people—if it regarded the good opinion of the country — not to pass such a measure in so indecent a hurry, and enact laws in so objectionable a form. If this bill passed into an act, and if, enforcing it, blood should be spilt, or murder committed, a heavy responsibility would lie on the heads of ministers. They might be accused of being accessory to the crime which their vague, tyrannical, and, indefinite laws, hurried with such indecency through the House might occasion.
objected to the amendment, as being capable of dangerous constructions. A meeting called for the purpose of petitioning for reform might by some magistrates be thought to have "the effect" of bringing the government and constitution into contempt, or of overturning the legal authorities.
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, the Lords had, by a previous amendment, substituted the word "express" for the word "purport." Some word of larger extent was therefore required to take in notices, which might not in an open, but in an indirect way, impeach the authority of parliament. It was to be observed, that it was much more likely that the notices which had for their object meetings to impeach the authority of parliament to enact laws, would be given in an implied, rather than an open manner. But was it to be supposed for a moment that a meeting for the purpose of petitioning respecting parliamentary reform, or even to draw up resolutions (though he did not see how such resolutions could be framed without involving a petition to the King, or one of the Houses of Parliament) 1286 would come within the clause. What the ultimate effect of parliamentary reform might be, was another question. But suppose notice was given that any question should be discussed, not in words expressing that the power should be taken out of the hands of the parliament; as for instance, whether the time was ripe for the people to take the government into their own hands, it would require the words in the clause to comprehend such a notice. He acknowledged, that if the clause had stood as it originally had stood, viz. with the word "purport," he should not have objected to it; but the intention of the Lords amendment evidently was to prevent notices being issued, which, though not in words but in meaning and intent, impeached the authority of parliament.
§ Sir J. Newport
said, that the Lords had not struck out the word "purport," but had added the word "express" to it, so that they had given it all the latitude which could fairly be contended for, even by those who approved of the clause. They had, however, added the words "to such effect," which in effect would give the power to magistrates to prevent meetings at all. There were very few populous places, where one justice of peace might not be found to disapprove of any meeting of the people. This was not merely his theory; there was an hon. and very respectable member of the House, who had said, on a former night, alluding to the conduct of the magistrates of Glasgow, that he thought no popular meetings at all should be held at this time. It was utterly useless to introduce the words "to such effect," after the word "purport," unless it were intended to countenance the supposition, on the part of magistrates, that no meeting should be held for any political purpose whatsoever.
said, that he concurred with his right hon. friend in thinking, that the amendment of the Lords was highly improper. If the word "purport" implied all which "such effect" could convey, the latter words were useless, and if useless, were pernicious. For if words were introduced to express notices which had been already sufficiently provided for, officious persons, or persons of heated imaginations, might be found, who might say, that something farther was meant than the first words could be construed to signify. He was friendly to the measure before the House. Though he was not present when it was first introduced, he 1287 should not now shrink from the responsibility of supporting it; but when penalties such as those inflicted by the bill before them were introduced, it was the duty of the House to see that they were involved in no ambiguity. Such was the latitude, laxity, and unmeaningness of the words introduced by the lords, that he was compelled to object to it. He could not consent to allow any magistrate to act under a discretion so wide and unlimited.
§ Mr. W. Elliot
also objected to the amendment of the lords, as entirely unnecessary, and tending rather to impede than facilitate the execution of the law.
§ Mr. Wetherell
said, the words introduced by the lords were nearly synonymous to those which before stood in the clause; but he saw no objection to their remaining, as they were words usually inserted in legal instruments.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, the arguments against the Lords amendment remained unanswered. The insertion was useless; and if useless, pernicious; and it remained to be shown, that the word "purport," meant something less than "to such effect." A right hon. gentleman had put a case:—If a meeting were called for the purpose of discussing, whether the people should take the government into their own hands, would such a notice have been comprehended in the original words of the clause? Most certainly it would. It would be a proposition to alter, not any thing, but every thing, without the authority of parliament. Did the right hon. gentleman seriously mean to say, that a proposition for the people to take the government into their own hands, and consequently out of the hands of the parliament, did not purport—nay, did not even strictly express, an alteration of the law without the authority of King, Lords, and Commons? The reason why he objected to the words "to such effect," was because the word "purport" had been before introduced. He would ask the right hon. gentleman, whether, if a meeting were called to pass resolutions on the distresses of any district, without mentioning petitions to the king or parliament, it would not be taken to come within the clause as it now stood? On the answer to this might depend some of his farther arguments.
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, it was not very regular to question any member on his opinion as to the operation of any clause. If the House understood that the word 1288 "purport" would comprehend all notices in substance as well as words, impeaching the authority of parliament, the amendment of the lords would be surplusage; and if so, he acknowledged it would be mischievous.
The motion for leaving out the words "to such effect" was then agreed to, and the amendment thus amended was agreed to.
The clause added by the Lords to the bill, referring to public meetings held within a mile of Westminster-hall, was then read; viz.
"And whereas it is highly inexpedient that public meetings or assemblies should be held near the houses of parliament, or near his majesty's courts of justice in Westminster-hall, on such days as are hereinafter mentioned; be it therefore enacted, and it is hereby enacted, that it shall not be lawful for any person or persons to convene or call together, or to give any notice for convening or calling together any meeting of persons, consisting of more than fifty persons, or for any number of persons exceeding fifty, to meet in any street, square, or open place, in the city or liberties of Westminster, or county of Middlesex, within the distance of one mile from the gate of Westminster-hall, save and except such parts of the parish of St. Paul, Covent-garden, as are within the said distance, for the purpose, or on the pretext of considering of or preparing any petition, complaint, remonstrance, declaration, or other address to the King, or to his royal highness the Prince Regent, or to both Houses or either House of Parliament, for alteration of matters in church or state, on any day in which the two Houses or either House of Parliament shall meet and sit, or shall be summoned or adjourned or prorogued to meet or sit; nor on any day on which his majesty's Courts of Chancery, King's-bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer, or any of them, or any judge of any of them, shall sit in Westminster-hall; any thing hereinbefore contained to the contrary not withstanding: And that if any meeting or assembly, for the purposes or on the pretexts aforesaid, of any persons, shall be assembled or holden on any such day, contrary to the intent and meaning of this enactment, such meeting or assembly shall be deemed and taken to be an unlawful assembly, by whomsoever or in consequence of what notice soever such 1289 meeting or assembly shall have been holden: provided that nothing in this enactment contained, shall by any construction whatever be deemed or taken to apply to or affect any meeting convened, called, or holden, for the election of members of parliament, or any persons attending such meeting, or to any persons attending upon the business of either House of Parliament, or any of the said courts."
§ On the question, that the clause be agreed to,
§ Mr. Curwen
said, that he was compelled, though with regret, to give his most strenuous opposition to this clause. He did so, not for the purpose of delay, but that the whole country might see the dangers which threatened their rights. When this measure was introduced, necessity was fixed upon by all parties as the only ground on which it was defensible— those who opposed it denying the existence of the necessity, and those who supported it endeavouring to prove it. As necessity was its justification, all agreed that it should not go beyond it. Any abridgment of the just liberties the people was disclaimed by the defenders of the bill. No proper meeting for petitioning, it was said, would be prevented. All legal meetings would take place as formerly, without hindrance or obstruction. In the Commons House of Parliament, all attempts to interfere with the rights of the people were disclaimed, and the bill had passed without any exclusion of any body of men from their usual places of meeting. The right of petition was sacred, and ought to be protected with peculiar care by the House of Commons; to which, as holding the public purse, and watching over their interests, the people particularly applied for the redress of their grievances, or the maintenance of their rights. The office of the House of Commons, as representing the people, was to support their rights, both against the influence of the Crown and the privileges of the Peers. This clause, prohibiting the people of Westminster from meeting in their usual place to petition, was proposed by the other House of Parliament, and ought to be viewed with jealousy. The smallest attempt to infringe on the right of petitioning, should be met with the most decided opposition by the House of Commons, as aimed against itself. He felt the objection to the clause the more, as its alleged purpose was praise-worthy— the protection of parliament and the 1290 courts of justice from disturbance or outrage. He had heard of nothing that could make out to his satisfaction the necessity of such a provision. The jealousy of the House ought to be the more alive upon this subject, on account of the amendment coming to them from the other House. No evidence of its necessity had been produced; and they would be justified on no constitutional principle in legislating to this effect, one iota beyond the dictates of necessity. No disturbance had taken place in Palace-yard, at any public meeting, which could inspire the slightest alarm. He often heard innovation deprecated, but he had observed, for some time, that every innovation that was made upon the constitution, was some infringement of the rights of the people. The danger, it appeared to him, was rather against than from the people. It was, however, often argued, as if nothing was to be apprehended, except from popular violence. Was there, then, no danger from the extension of the prerogative, or from the influence of the Crown, which had been quadrupled within the last thirty years? The present clause appeared to him to be an unjust and uncalled-for invasion of a right hitherto exercised by the inhabitants of Westminster, and, with this view, he should certainly take the sense of the House upon it.
The Hon. J. W. Ward
declared, that he could not see that such importance belonged to this proposition as the last speaker laboured to attach to it. If it were the object of the clause to prevent those inflammatory or insolent, or foolish discussions which generally prevailed at these Westminster meetings—if it were desired to put an end to these offensive, and often long and dull speeches, so pregnant, however, with libellous attacks upon the principles of the constitution and upon the character of that House, which were usually heard at those meetings, he could understand the motives of the opposition the House had heard:—if it were intended to interfere with the right of petition, or to prohibit the electors of Westminster from being entertained with those insulting experiments upon the patience of that House, there might be some alarm for the enjoyment of their favourite privileges; for a practice had prevailed at those meetings which was equally new in the history of this country, and inconsistent with the dignity of parliament, as that practice involved a system of detraction 1291 and contumely upon the reputation of that House. Heretofore it was the principle of popular leaders to raise a clamour against particular measures; but the uniform object of those who usually took the lead at these Westminster meetings was to depreciate, by every means in their power, the proceedings and character of that House, to point it out, indeed, as the great grievance which ought to be removed. It was indisputable that the harangues of the leaders of those meetings were mainly directed to excite hatred and contempt against that assembly. The people were not immediately called upon to put an end to the existence of that assembly; but that call was perhaps reserved for the eve of the grand reform [Hear, hear!]. But it was the duty of parliament to guard the people from such acts of outrage as the system of their leaders had an obvious tendency to provoke. For the sake of the people themselves, he called upon the House to accede to the clause under consideration; for if they should be guilty of that misconduct to which the system of their leaders would prompt them, that House would be a party to the guilt if it rejected the proposed amendment. The meetings of these people, so liable to be misled by those who, it appeared, were but too willing to mislead them, ought to be removed from the place where the great temptation to outrage was convenient. This was the best provision that could be made to protect the deluded people from giving immediate effect to those feelings, to excite which so much mischievous industry was employed. Persuaded that the clause under consideration was approved by the greater part of that House, and that it was also approved by many of those who usually opposed any measure originating with his majesty's ministers, he should vote for its adoption, convinced that it had no tendency to interfere with any constitutional privilege, and that it was calculated to guard against great mischief.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he was anxious to submit a few plain considerations to the House, before the approbation so confidently anticipated of the majority was declared. It must be conceded to him, he imagined, that there ought to be some limits within which the orders of the House ought to be confined, with regard to the number and the nature of the amendments which the Lords might pass upon a bill originating in that House; it 1292 being supposed that the lords established no limits to themselves. For what could be more inconvenient than that the Lords should, by the addition or substitution of new clauses, alter the whole character of the proceeding, and send back to them, not an amended, but an entirely new bill? The amendment in question did not even apply to the title of the bill, which was "an act for the more effectually preventing seditious meetings and assemblies." Here, then, they had legislated on a subject not before them, a subject to which the bill had no reference; and whilst they professed to be legislating on one particular description of meeting, had legislated on a principle affecting all assemblies, however, regularly or legally convened. Why was not this made the subject of a separate bill? But another objection was, that this was not a public, but a local enactment; a provision affecting only the people of Westminster. Now, in all cases of private bills, numberless guards were established for the protection of personal rights and property. Not the most puny right, not a single penny, could be taken, from any citizen of Westminster by art act of the legislature, without inviting his scrutiny and opposition, and without passing through a variety of stages. He would ask, was this fair dealing on the part of the lords, either towards the people of Westminster, or towards that House? To what an extent did not the House always carry their jealousy upon the least alteration attempted by the other House with regard to the provisions of a money bill? Would they now, then, when an attempt was made of a different kind, but for which he believed no precedent could be found, bow to the usurpation, and surrender their privileges to the Lords? As to the nature of the proceedings which took place at the meetings alluded to, this was not a proper opportunity for considering them; but let them be what they might, a sufficient power for repressing the evil already existed, in the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act and the trial by jury, as well as by the other provisions of the bill before them. If this farther enactment was necessary, it ought to be brought forward as a distinct and substantive measure. It would then be canvassed and discussed upon its own independent merits. There was no instance of an amendment so foreign to the whole scope and purpose of the bill on which it was engrafted. Could it be said that time 1293 pressed, and that therefore it was necessary to pass it in this irregular form? What reason was there for entertaining alarm at the possibility of an immediate meeting, when they were about to adjourn for a fortnight, during which period none of the courts would sit in Westminsterhall? Practically speaking, no inconvenience or interruption had ever been created to the proceedings of parliament or the administration of justice in the courts, by these meetings in Palace-yard. Expressions might have been used ungrateful to the ears of hon. gentlemen, and perhaps improper in themselves; but the objection to which the enactment referred, was Hot to the sentiments, but to the proximity of the place in which they were uttered. The mention made of the courts, in particular, excited his jealousy, for if this was the bona fide intention of the measure—if its object was chiefly to secure the free and dignified administration of the laws, why was the security confined to a few supreme courts in Westminster-hall? Why not extend it to the courts sitting in vacation at Guildhall, in Lincoln's-inn, the Old Bailey, and Doctors-Commons. These were all situated in the most populous parts of the metropolis, and the most exposed to the contagion of popular phrensy and delusion. Palace-yard was much farther distant from the courts in Westminster-hall, than the place of meeting in the city from those in Guildhall; which was, in fact, within the same gate, and under the same roof. The clause besides, appeared to him to be most clumsily drawn, considering the high authority from which it proceeded. He had never seen one so ill calculated to execute its own purpose. In the first place, it limited the number to 50 persons, as if any public notice was ever published in Westminster for the purpose of calling together that number of inhabitants, and exempting a meeting composed of 49, whilst it applied in all its rigour to the number of 51. Another piece of nonsense was the insertion of the word "declaration" after the words "petition, complaint, remonstrance," and before "or other address to the king." But the clause still left a loop-hole from which a public meeting might escape, if it should be called to consider of the distresses of the nation. He apprehended, if called for such a purpose it would not be within the meaning of this prohibition. It might be supposed that the clause would be the more acceptable to him on this account; 1294 but he opposed it on the principle, that it was inconsistent with the dignity of their own character and deliberative capacity. He was the more strongly inclined to condemn it for its inefficacy, because, notwithstanding the blunders with which it swarmed, it would at least indicate the disposition, if it did not manifest the ability, to injure. He conjured the House to pause before they committed an abdication of their own functions and not to suffer themselves to be taken in (he could call it nothing else), by the expressions-relative to the courts. There was, perhaps, once a time when they were in jeopardy from the conduct of a profligate man, whom persecution alone could have lifted into importance. What was the conduct at that period, of the venerable judge who then presided in the court of King's-bench? When Mr. Wilkes brought his tumultuous assembly into Westminster-hall, lord Mansfield did not apply to parliament for assistance, but trusted to the efficacy of those laws of which he was so faithful an administrator. When the day; appointed for the trial arrived, universal agitations prevailed with respect to the result. Westminster-hall, and its avenues, ware crowded by an overwhelming mob, of which we had now no examples. Lord Mansfield saw this, and instantly made up his mind. He ordered the doors and windows of the court to be thrown open, so that the whole of the vast multitude might see and hear what was going forward. In one instant a dead calm reigned over that tumultuous assembly, and the chief justice then delivered that wonderful address, which might be compared with the most noble productions of ancient eloquence. He told them, that all their clamour and threats were to him but idle air; that he valued only that popularity which accorded with the satisfaction of his own conscience; and that even in the last extremity, if his life should be sacrificed to their fury, it would be some consolation to him to think that such an outrage might have the good effect of stunning them into sobriety. This was the conduct and language of a man who might confidently appeal, not as the phrase now was, to impartial posterity, but to his own contemporaries, even when most deluded and most infuriated.
rose and said:—
There are few occasions, Sir, on which by a little forethought and meditation, one may not in some degree presume the 1295 course of argument likely to be followed in this House on any questions brought before us for discussion. I do not mean to say, that it is within the scope of any one man's imagination to anticipate all the variety of illustration with which wisdom may illustrate, or genius may embellish, every subject, however ordinary, or hack-nied, or dry; but the most prominent arguments—the general tenour of reasoning—may usually be imagined beforehand. On the present occasion, however, I must confess, that my anticipations have been completely disappointed. Many obvious arguments which I expected to hear repeated and enforced in this night's debate have been omitted, and most of those which were threatened apparently forgotten; but in their room topics have been introduced so wholly novel and unexpected, that if their force were equal to their ingenuity, I must have abandoned my view of the subject before us in despair.
The hon. member (Mr. Curwen) who spoke from the other side of the House, and who appears to see farther than any one else into the business of the clause, Las described it as a direct infringement upon the rights and privileges of this House,—an infringement not merely formal and fortuitous, such as that, Sir, which you pointed out in the first amendment on the bill, and which we, under your authority, instantly rejected,—but originating in a deep design of the other House of Parliament to steal a march upon the House of Commons, to usurp its functions, to annihilate its powers, and to legislate alone for the country! Truly, Sir, this is a very atrocious project on the part of the House of Lords; and happy are we to have among us a statesman perspicuous enough to bring to light so dark and intricate a conspiracy! I derive some hope indeed, and some consolation under this alarm, from the circumstance of this plot not having excited your suspicion, Sir;— alive as I know you to be on all occasions, and as we have seen you this evening, to every thing which can be construed to interfere with the privileges of this House.
As to the objections urged by the hon. and learned gentleman who has just sat down, I must take leave to say, that the hon. and learned gentleman is in error in supposing that the clause under consideration is at all at variance with the object of the bill. In the preamble of the bill, the whole intention and scope 1296 of the measure is described to be this,— to prevent such meetings as are called for (or under pretence of) the purpose of petitioning, from being turned to the purposes of sedition,—to prevent what is in its origin legal, from being perverted to what is unlawful and mischievous. Surely, it is perfectly consistent with the scope of such a bill to engraft upon it such a clause as that now under consideration. The clause is not directed against the disposition of these meetings, but against their liability to be perverted to mischief. This liability is not likely to arise from any circumstance more than from their peculiar locality. It is this circumstance which brings the meetings which are the object of this clause more particularly within the scope and intention of the whole enactment.
It cannot be too often repeated, that it is not the general disposition of the body of the people which parliament calls in question. None of these measures are founded on an assumption of evil disposition in the people: they are founded on the principle that, in times when it is well known that the distresses of the country have produced uneasiness, ferment, and irritation, the passions and the feelings of the people may render them, more easily than at other times, the instruments of designing and seditious men. Will it be said that this rule, though it may be applied to the mass of the people, ought not to be applied to the inhabitants of Westminster?
It may be true, and I believe it is true, that nine-tenths of the people usually assembled in Palace-yard, are perfectly innocent of any illegal purpose; still, are they less liable than other men in these times to be misled by inflammatory demagogues? Suppose that the Spa-fields meeting on the first day of the session had been held in Palace-yard. Suppose that, as in that case, objects of attention had been pointed out to them; and that, instead of rushing to the plunder of gunsmith's shops in the city, they had been excited to turn at once upon the courts of law, and the Houses of Parliament,—uponthose courts to whose justice they were rendering themselves amenable,—upon that parliament which was enacting laws to quell this turbulence and sedition.—If so inflamed, and directed to such a course, the mischiefs on that day might have been irreparable. It is not to suppress—not even, in this instance, to discountenance—but simply to remove 1297 the meetings of Westminster to a convenient distance from that spot where great mischief might be most suddenly perpetrated,—mischief at once most fatal in its consequences, and most awful in the atonement which it would demand,—that the clause sent down to us from the Lords has been proposed. This is the real character of the amendment; which does not prevent nor circumscribe the exercise of any legal right, but merely changes the scene of its operations.
Surely the lion, and learned gentleman is not serious when he compares this clause to the case of a private bill, and claims for the parties with whose proceedings it may interfere, the right of being heard by counsel against it! As little can he seriously mean to infer, that the sanctity of courts of justice is a sufficient safeguard against such proceedings.
The hon. and learned gentleman asserts that no instance can be named in which parliament was ever in danger; but did the hon. and learned gentleman never hear of lord George Gordon's riots? or has he so soon forgotten the riots on the discussion of the corn bill? It is true that on this latter occasion there was a mob without a meeting; but it is no less true, that a meeting is a very likely prelude to the proceedings of a mob.
The magnanimity of lord Mansfield has been much extolled by the hon. and learned gentleman, in pronouncing in the court of King's-bench the sentence against Wilkes; when the population of London and Westminster poured down into the avenues of the court. Lord Mansfield, says the hon. and learned gentleman, caused the doors and windows of the court to be thrown open, in order that the multitude might hear him pronounce the sentence. But I think the hon. gentleman forgets one slight circumstance, which, whilst it takes nothing from the praise of heriosm and fearlessness with which the hon. and learned gentleman has loaded lord Mansfield, accounts, in some degree, for the harmlessness of the intruders on that occasion. The judgment which lord Mansfield had to pronounce on the outlawry of Mr. Wilkes was in unison with the passions of the mob that surrounded him. The outlawry of Wilkes was reversed. It was, as the hon. and learned gentleman well knows, a day of justice no doubt as far as the court was concerned) but of triumph and gratulation to the mob and their tool.
1298 And this, Sir, reminds me of one part of the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman which, above every other, excited my surprise, when I consider his extent of reading, his depth of judgment, and his actual accuracy of reasoning. I cannot understand the hon. and learned gentleman's astonishment, though I give him full credit for the disgust he has expressed,—that a character so blasted in all its moral qualities as that of Wilkes, should have become, for a day, the idol of the people of England. When, let me ask the hon. and learned gentleman, was it otherwise? Let him search the history of all times, from the agitations of ancient democracy down to the more sanguinary excesses of modern Jacobinism, and where will he find the man who stimulated popular phrenzy into tumult and sedition, who was himself a blameless character? Let him search the beginnings of those revolutions which have overturned monarchs and states,—let him look amongst the secret incendiaries, the dark plotters of mischief who lurk in base concealment, watchful of their own safety, whilst they urge on the deluded people as their instruments of crime. Is it amongst these Catalinarian conspirators, he would select instances of honourable feelings, of exemplary domestic conduct, of moral worth, and virtue? If so, then indeed might Wilkes be held forth as an exception. But till all history is reversed, and the experience of ages contradicted, Wilkes must be considered not as a solitary phœnix of seditious demagogues, but as a fair specimen of a gregarious tribe,—asKnight of the shire who represents them all.It is to guard against the evils which such men seek to produce, and which, if unchecked, they are capable of producing, that the whole of the present measures are devised. It is to guard against sudden attacks upon the very temples of justice, and upon this the very cradle and workshop of our laws, that the present clause has been introduced. To this clause, therefore, I give the same support,—and on the same principles, as to the whole of the bill to which it is appended, and to the whole system of measures to which that bill belongs, as calculated to protect the sound and rational liberties of Englishmen, and as believing them in my conscience to be called for by the pressing and peculiar exigencies of the times.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, that the right hon. gentleman was mistaken in what he had 1299 stated with respect to Mr. Wilkes. Part of the judgment in that gentleman's case was favourable to him, namely, the reversal of the outlawry; but the sending him back to prison was very far from being a popular measure; therefore it was clear that some danger attached to the judge; and yet he threw open the doors and windows of the court.
was no more disposed than some gentlemen on the other side to defend the whole of Mr. Wilkes's political conduct: but he would venture to say, what in his heart he believed to be true, that Mr. Wilkes did deserve from the people of England the support which he received during a great part of his life. Could those who now heard him forget that Mr. Wilkes had put an end to the practice of general warrants? Could they forget, that Mr. Wilkes, on other occasions, had been the intrepid and successful defender of the constitutional liberties of the country? As to what the right hon. gentleman had said respecting the judgment of the court of King's-bench, he believed, that the judgment for reversing the outlawry was never disapproved of by any of the lawyers of that day, or since; but lord Mansfield was just as right when he passed sentence on the conviction, as when he reversed the outlawry. He also believed, that the great body of the people thought the court of King's-bench had discharged their duty faithfully. The right hon. gentleman, in the course of his speech, bad made an allusion to jacobins, and demagogues, and incendiaries, and a great deal of other matter, that had nothing to do with the question. The simple point of inquiry was, had any danger really existed from these meetings? Sir, said Mr. Ponsonby, "I am surprised that none of us ever perceived the danger we were in. I am perfectly astonished that you, Sir, were never aware of this danger. I must conclude, however, that no danger whatever surrounded us, or you would have thought it your business to communicate our alarming situation to this House; and not have left it to the Lords to provide for our safety. What, are we so ignorant of the duties we owe to ourselves that the House of Lords must enact this clause for us, and send it down to us in a moment for our concurrence? I know not, Sir, why the House of Lords are to extend the shield over us for our safety, when we ourselves have not thought our safety in danger. I should be glad to hear any 1300 gentleman on the other side get up, and state a case where the House of Lords have ever sent down a clause of this kind to be debated in one evening. I complain of this clause, Sir, not as an attack on our privileges, in the common and technical sense of the word, such as infringing the power we have over the public purse, or any of those things we justly call our privileges, but I complain of it as being like a new bill, and as being sent down to us to debate at once. I disapprove the connecting the courts of law with the proceedings of parliament. You talk of lord George Gordon and the corn-bill, but in none of those cases were there any meetings. What, then, have they to do with the question? It is idle to state, that the riots on the corn-bill, and in the case of lord George Gordon, can justify the House of Lords in sending down such a bill to us. If all public meetings are liable to abuse, we may as well enact at once that no meetings shall be permitted. Had any of those parliamentary reformers against whom this clause was levelled attacked the peerage? I have never heard that they have meditated the least attack on the House of Lords. It will not be asserted, that their lordships were in danger; neither, Sir, did you consider that we were in danger. I do firmly believe that no danger threatened us, nor is likely to threaten us; and therefore, considering this clause as an unnecessary violation of the liberties of the subject, I feel it my duty to oppose it.
§ Sir W. Burroughs
declared his firm belief of the existence of a treasonable conspiracy against the government and the constitution, by mischievous leaders of the distressed people. No man could doubt this fact who had read the reports. The extent and nature of the danger were fully before us on unquestionable evidence; and every man who regarded the constitution ought to consent to strengthen the hands of government, that we may be defended against the projected mischiefs. He therefore approved of this bill, and those that had passed in connexion with it before he had a seat in that House, though not of the bill for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; but he was of opinion, that much of the danger was imputable to the neglect of ministers, who, knowing of the deep distress that pervaded the country last Autumn, had not called parliament together at an earlier period.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
said, that having been 1301 prevented by indisposition from attending the progress of the recent measures in that House, he was very anxious to seize that occasion, however late, of expressing his approbation of them, because he thought they were most necessary for the preservation and security of the liberties of the people of England. He well remembered former periods in our history, when similar measures were adopted; but there was one feature in the present crisis, peculiarly malignant, and which stamped the proceedings of certain individuals with peculiar atrocity. It was not sufficient now to attack civil and political liberty, but they attempted to sap the very foundations of our faith, and to scoff at the religion of the land. The most solemn parts of our liturgy were treated with ridicule and contempt; and being turned into profane and disgusting parodies, formed the amusement of the licentious orgies of those whose practices threatened so much danger to the constitution. It was the duty of government, therefore, to do what it had done, with the view of checking such abhorred designs. He anticipated the happiest results from these measures, the enacting of which, he had no doubt, would terrify the seditious from their evil designs. With regard to the particular clause which they were then discussing, he confessed, if he spoke his feelings honestly, that he thought too much importance had been attached to it on both sides of the House. At the same time, if there were reasonable grounds to suppose, that the mob might be worked upon so as to direct their fury immediately against that House, surely it was desirable that they should not hold their meetings so near. He was therefore induced to acquiesce in its propriety, though not satisfied as to its indispensable necessity.
said, the House must know, that public meetings were held in the Guildhall of London, and why was more danger to arise to Westminster-hall, than to a court of justice sitting in Guildhall? The courts of justice ought to be expunged from this clause, or Westminster-hall should be omitted. This clause stated that "it should not be lawful for any persons, &c. to meet on any day in which the two Houses, or either of them, should meet and sit, or shall be summoned, or adjourned, or prorogued to meet or sit." Now this, he conceived, must include the whole septennial parliament. [Cries of No, no! only the days of sitting.] However, 1302 his main objection went to the whole of the clause. In the proceedings in Palace-yard there had been no tumult, no outrage, no obstruction, no appearance whatever indicating even so much warmth as had been manifested that night by a right hon. gentleman who had lately returned from an embassy to Lisbon. He believed the House would find, not only that this clause was faulty in these respects, but that there was no necessity whatever for adopting it; and that it was a gross violation of the privileges of the citizens of Westminster.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
said, that faulty and exceptionable as he considered the clause to be, he was yet inclined to regard it as necessary, when he considered the great abuses which had lately prevailed at popular assemblies, and especially at those meetings which were held in Palace-yard. He could wish, however, that it were made a temporary measure, as he did not see why they should presume there would be a perpetual exception of the people of Westminster from that general good order to which the people of England were expected to return. The other parts of the bill, relating to public meetings, were intended to be temporary, and if the present clause were limited in duration in a similar manner, he, for one, should assent to it. With that view he would beg leave to move, as an amendment, That the clause should continue in operation only until the 1st of July 1818.
§ The House then divided: For the Amendment, 34; Against it, 113.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercrombie, hon. J.||Macdonald, J.|
|Atherley, Arthur||Monck, sir C.|
|Astell, W.||Moore, Peter|
|Babington, Thos.||Newport, sir John|
|Barnett, J.||North, Dudley|
|Birch, Jos.||Ossulston, lord|
|Brand, hon. T.||Piggott, sir A.|
|Brougham, H.||Ponsonby, rt. hon. G.|
|Baring, sir T.||Portman, E. B.|
|Calcraft, John||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Carter, John||Russell, lord G. W,|
|Cavendish, lord J.||Russell, R. G.|
|Cochrane, lord||Scudamore, R. P.|
|Curwen, J C.||Sefton, earl of|
|Evelyn, L.||Sharp, Richard|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Teed, John|
|Folkestone, visc.||Wilkins, Walter|
|Hill, lord A.||Bennet, hon. H. G.|
|Leader, Wm.||Lyttellon, hon. W.|
§ A second division then took place upon 1303 the clause itself: for it, 113; againstit30. A conference was then appointed with the Lords to-morrow, to procure their assent to the alteration made to the amendments.