said, that before the House went into a committee, he would, with the leave of the House, make a few observations. In the first place, then, he would again express his astonishment and surprise at the intention of the noble lord to extend the provisions of the bill to Ireland. He did not mean to look on this 817 subject in a narrow point of view. He could assure honourable gentlemen, members for England and Scotland, that no one more heartily entered into their feelings than himself—that no one would be more anxious to assist them in protecting the well disposed and the loyal, if they wanted protection. Having unfortunately witnessed disturbances in his own country —having seen how far the zeal and the fears of men carried them — he was willing to make every allowance for gentlemen on this occasion. But measures of this kind were measures of pains and penalties much more likely to violate the constitution, than to put down the disaffected. Differing as he did from gentlemen who thought these bills necessary, he was yet willing that every protection should be given to the public peace, and even with his purse he was willing toassist—but the assistance he would render, would be very different from the support of measures calculated to overturn the constitution of England. He rose principally to say a few words in favour of that part of the empire from whence he came, and of which he ever felt proud. He did not recollect the precise words that fell a few nights ago from the noble lord, but he recollected, and the House recollected the matter of that speech. He would remind the noble lord of the description he had given of the present state of Ireland—he had described that country as in a state of peace, of tranquillity, and prosperity: he had even gone further—he seemed to have taken credit to himself for the present tranquillity of that country, and he had contrasted her situation with other parts of the empire. From the opening speech of the noble lord, then, there was no reason to conjecture that these bills of pains and penalties were to be extended to Ireland: no one could suppose that her loyalty, her tranquillity, her patience under sufferings, were to be rewarded by a fresh aggression on her liberties. True, the noble lord had stated that the bills were to extend to parts of England not disturbed, but from no part of his speech could it be conjectured that it was his intention, or that it was at all necessary, to extend the provisions of these obnoxious bills to Ireland. If the noble lord had fairly stated such to be his intention, he would have been ready to enter the lists with him, and to convince him,—if his mind was at all open to conviction,—that the bill was not at all necessary for Ireland; that it was 818 uncalled for, that it was unwise, as well as unjust. He would ask the noble lord to recollect the days of the Irish parliament —the days of her glory and of her disgrace—yet even in the most disgraceful and degenerate state of that parliament would the noble lord, ac the very moment that he boasted of the tranquillity and prosperity of the country, have dared to go to the Irish parliament and say, "You have been tranquil, you have been prosperous, and I now come down to propose for you a system of pains, of penalties, and of degradation—I propose to disarm your people, to invade the liberty of the press, and to prevent public meetings—I come down to prepare gagging bills and measures which innovate on your constitution." Would the noble lord have ventured to make such a proposal to an Irish parliament? Would an Irish parliament lost and degraded as it might be, have endured so great an outrage? He would ask the noble lord, then, did he mean to dissolve the union—did he mean to disgust the Irish people, more than they were with that odious measure? The noble lord had done enough to disgust that country since the union. He had not, indeed, given any specific pledge—he was too cautious to do that; but he had done enough to shew that it was not intended to observe the spirit of the act of union. He pot it to the noble lord, did he mean to outrage, more than they had been, the feelings of that oppressed and insulted people? Was it because some parts of the manufacturing districts of England were discontented, that therefore Ireland—inoffensive and peaceable as she was acknowledged to be by the noble lord, for which she received the praise of the noble lord—was to be visited with a bill of fresh pains and penalties? Ireland, after suffering for ages under the bad, the ungenerous policy of England—Ireland, whose oppressions words could not describe, had yet proved superior to her misfortunes, and had shown a rare and excellent example of good conduct. Why would not the noble lord allow her to remain in this state of peace and repose?— Did he mean to drive the people into rebellion? He might rest assured, that no measure would be more mortifying to Ireland than the extension of this bill. The bill went to prevent public meetings, unless under certain sanctions. It went, then, to prevent Catholic meetings—meetings which had been ever marked by order 819 and decorum; yet, under the provisions of this bill, the Catholics of Dublin, and of other cities, would not be allowed to assemble in their accustomed meetings, without the permission of the aldermen, the sheriffs, or the lord mayor—men generally speaking, of bigotted principles; they would be then driven to parish meetings, or not to meet at all; and thus, would that feeling of disgust which suffering and injustice must ever create, be greatly increased by a wanton and insulting prohibition: he really did not believe that the noble lord intended to extend the bill to Ireland, when he made his opening speech. Indeed, it was a fact, that some Irish members had voted with the noble lord under the belief that the bill was not to apply to Ireland. He could say more: that inquiries were made by an individual whether the provisions of the bill were intended to be extended to Ireland, and he was informed they were not. He believed it was quite an after thought, to meet the objections of those who might ask, why this abominable measure should be applied to England, to Wales, and Scotland, and not to Ireland. The noble lord seemed to have a second sight on the subject, and he how intended to put this bill down the throats of the Irish. The bill was clearly not necessary by his own statement; yet he would venture to turn round to the Irish members, and say, you must consent to it. The noble lord had said a great deal about the prosperity of Ireland. It was a description to which he could not bear testimony: there was no part of the world where the peasantry endured greater misery and distress—the trade and manufactures of the country were so low, that the chancellor of the exchequer had declared, a few nights since, that it was necessary to continue the protecting duties settled at the time of the Union, for some years longer. And why was it necessary? Because the manufactures of Ireland were in such a state as would end in ruin, if they had not the benefit of these protecting duties. Twenty years of trial had passed away since the Union, and the Irish manufactures were in a state of ruin, and the Irish people in a state of the utmost distress. It was then very strange that the noble lord should talk of the prosperity of a country which required only to be visited to show its poverty and wretchedness. Such was its real situation, and the assertion of the noble lord must have been made in ignorance, or 820 with a wish to deceive. So fully was he impressed with the unhappy situation of that country, that should no other member be found to do so, he would in the course of the session, move for a committee to take the state of Ireland into consideration. Before he sat down, he would for that country, implore the protection of the House: he was sure they would not outrage the feelings of the Irish people. To the principles of the measures, as they affected the rest of the empire, he had objections not less strong. He had seen measures of a similar character tried in Ireland before the rebellion. What could be their object now but to gag the people—to put down their free meetings —to prevent public opinion from showing its front against the ministers—to disarm the people—to expose their houses to be entered at night—and to subject females to brutal insult, or brutal violation!— These things had occurred in Ireland. The noble lord might wish to forget them, but' they could never be forgotten there. What would these measures effect? They would drive the people to madness. The system which the noble lord and those who acted with him had pursued for many years, had involved the country in misfortune, and had left the people oppressed with an intolerable load of taxation—and now the work was to be completed by gaining a surrender of all their liberties? The hon. member concluded by saying, that though he was not then prepared with any amendment, he would, in the course of the discussion propose, that Ireland should be exempted from the operation of the bill.
said, that the hon. member would have several opportunities of bringing on the discussion he had in view. He might do so in the committee, or on the report.
The House having gone into a committee, the chairman began to read the bill, paragraph by paragraph. When he arrived at the clause, which enables lords-lieutenant, or custodes rotulorum of counties to convene public meetings,
Sir C. Monck
objected to this new provision, on the ground that it was desirable that different authorities should be as little confounded together as possible. But if it were proper to maintain, in any case, a distraction between the functions of particular offices, it was between those of a civil and military nature. 821 The lord-lieutenant was a military officer, not of very ancient institution, although, in point of fact, he was sometimes also custos rotulorum. This was not, however, uniformly the case; for instance, in Durham, the bishop, on account of his palatinate rights, was the custos. He could see no good reason for this innovation. If at all admitted, he should prefer seeing the custos only mentioned, or should not object to the authority being confined to the sheriff. This last was always forthcoming, generally resident, and could always act through his deputies. The custos was no other way distinguished than by being at the head of the commission of the peace. In this character he sometimes corresponded with government, but no otherwise held a higher rank than the rest of the magistracy. He now proposed, therefore, to leave out the words "lords-lieutenant."
observed, that this clause would not interfere with another, which provided, that the old law should continue in all respects, except only as certain new regulations were added. The sheriff would still have the power of convening the county, and he could not conceive what objection there was to the lord-lieutenant possessing a similar authority.
§ Mr. G. Lamb
did not think a satisfactory answer had been given to his hon. friend's objection. His own objection indeed went still further, and he wished to see the names both of the lord-lieutenant and the customs rotulorum struck out of this clause. The power of calling public meetings ought to be confined to persons not under the direct influence of government. Both lords lieutenant and custodies rotulorum had lately received a pretty plain lecture as to what they were to expect, if they attended against the wishes of his majesty's ministers at public meetings. They now well knew, that if they granted them in such a case, a loss of office would be the probable result. He objected in particular to the creation of too many authorities. It was a vulgar but just observation, that what was every man's business was no man's business. If one officer should refuse to hold a meeting, another might feel disinclined to take a different course. So it might be said with regard to that further provision which extended the same power to grand juries. They would not choose to inter- 822 fere where others had refused. He wished to sec this important authority in the hands of those whose offices were not dependent on the mode in which they excercised it.
§ The amendment was negatived.
wished some provision to be made applicable to towns in the situation of Manchester, otherwise no meetings at all would take place, except such as were agreeable to ministers. Even on such a question as the continuance of the income-tax, the boroughreeve had refused to call a meeting.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he was sure the noble lord must see the necessity of yielding to this demand. By the bill, as now drawn up, there could be no meeting of whole towns, except they were cities, boroughs, or towns corporate.—Was it known to what extent this exclusion would operate?—They would exclude not only Manchester, more important perhaps than any other town, but several other most populous and important cities; for cities they were, though not so in a legal sense. They were to exclude Birmingham, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, which, though in law only market towns, or villages, had grown, by means of the trade and manufactures of the country, to exceed in importance those places which were called cities. It was to exclude also, he believed the borough of Southwark— [The solicitor general signified his dissent.] — He was informed, at least by persons acquainted with the constitution of the borough of Southwark, that it did not come within the description of a borough corporate.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, that the words of the bill were "city, borough, or town corporate," which, in the ordinary interpretation of the phrase, would lead to suppose that it was necessary that the place should be a borough corporate. It was not, however, on the case of the borough of Southwark that he meant to rely, but on those of the great towns which were obviously excluded. He addressed him-self particularly to the independent part of the House (there were, persons who in every other sense might be called independent, who were connected with the parties which divided it, but) he meant those who kept themselves aloof from any 823 party:—could they, he would ask, find any solid reason why towns, like York or Exeter, which were cathedral towns, should be allowed to have general meetings, under the same circumstances under which Manchester, Birmingham, and other places, which only differed from the cities he had named by being more populous, more wealthy, and every way more important, portions of the community, could have no meetings? He could not help also agreeing with his hon. friend, in the objections made to the naming of lieutenants and custodes rotulorum, and he thought the power should be given to freeholders of certain qualifications to call meetings of their own authority.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
said, at present it was the undoubted right of the subject to petition; the clause before the House deprived them of it. What, for instance, would be the case in the city of Bath, where a small corporation of twenty or thirty persons were elected by one another, and who were altogether unconnected with the people, so that the members who took their seats for that place were as secure as if they had possession of a freehold estate. In the city of London also, requisitions, signed by eighty and one hundred persons, had been refused, and when the citizens had taken the only opportunity that had occurred to state their sentiments, they had been prosecuted by the attorney-general. It was better to say at once that the bill was to repeal the Bill of Rights, or to confine the meetings of the people to those parochial ones which alone it would be possible to be held. As to the six days notice which was made necessary, what would become of the right of petition, when the noble lord followed the example which he had now set of hunting through the House bills against the constitution? What petitions could overtake him? If a bill was brought in to repeal the Habeas Corpus altogether, and Yorkshire or Devonshire, or any other distant county was to be called upon, the bill might be passed before the petition, with the utmost expedition which this new law admitted, could be decided upon. He wished to have a clause inserted to compel the magistrates, when called on by a certain number of persons, to call meetings. The bill, if passed in its present state was a repeal of the Bill of Rights, and a subversion of the constitution.
§ Earl Compton
said, he had to propose an amendment, which was in accordance with the principle on which he had supported the bill. That principle was, that the right of meeting was a valuable part of the constitution, though the limits within which it should be confined, had of late been overstepped- He wished to grant the power of convening a county meeting to twenty freeholders possessed of at least 100l. per annum, in the county; or, if the number of twenty was deemed too small, to thirty. He wished to lay down the principle, that property had a right to be heard, and also to relieve the magistrates from the odium of refusing meetings, when the sanction of that number of respectable persons could not be obtained—when it could be conceived there could be no danger from the meeting. If this bill was to continue, which he hoped it would not (though the suggestions of his noble friend were rather ominous), some such clause as that which he proposed was the more necessary. He had consulted many of his friends who were not in opposition to ministers, and they saw much objection to the bill as it stood. He had, therefore, offered this amendment as not being attached to any party, but if to any, rather to that of the ministers, he had thought it would come with a better grace from him than from those who opposed the bill altogether.
§ Mr. Maxwell
referred to the power to be granted for calling meetings in Scotland. In Scotland, he said, the sheriff, being an officer appointed by the Crown, was in some measure an objectionable; person in whom to repose the right of refusing or sanctioning public meetings. The same observation might be made with respect to the lord advocate. He should therefore propose, as an amendment, that after the words "or any meeting called by the convener of any county or stewartry," the following should be inserted— "or ten persons legally qualified to be commissioners of supply." These were persons of respectability, who had a great stake in the country, and therefore were not likely to give their countenance to meetings which were calculated to place that stake in danger.
said, that this amendment was the same in principle as that proposed by his noble friend, and, if it were adopted, would at once go to destroy the very end which the bill was 825 framed to secure. The object of the bill was to prevent those tumultuous meetings which had heretofore taken place, and at which so much pains had been taken to subvert the constitution. The ordinary practice was, for the sheriff' of the county to convene public meetings; and it was now proposed to associate with him a certain number of the magistrates of the county, in whom a confidence might be reposed, for the preservation of the peace, and the suppression of those acts which might be injurious to the public welfare. If, however, power were given to twenty freeholders, in such a county as York, to convene a meeting, no such confidence could exist; for the House very well knew; that there would be no difficulty whatever in gaining the consent of twenty freeholders, qualified as his noble friend had described, countenance proceedings which might be altogether at variance with the principles of this measure. In refusing to accede to this proposal, too, no real injury would be done to the right of petitioning; for the inhabitants, although not permitted, unless under certain restrictions, to meet in large bodies, would still have the means of meeting in their respective districts, and of coining to such resolutions as their supposed grievances might warrant. It was the meeting in military array, and under circumstances of strong disaffection, that had induced his majesty's ministers to propose this bill; and it was as a security against such alarming assemblages, that it was proposed to make the presence of responsible persons necessary. If meetings were to be called by twenty freeholders, no such security would exist; and it was with this conviction on his mind, that he should set his face against the amendment of his noble friend.
§ Mr. J. P. Grant
said, the bill was altogether of such a nature, that he could not even attempt to improve it without some degree of pain. At the same time he could not help observing, with regard to both amendments, that the observations of the noble lord who had just addressed the committee only showed the excess to which he was willing to carry that principle in his own mind which bad led to the proposal of this measure—be meant a principle of distrust towards the people of this country. His distrust was not merely directed towards those wild and visionary politicians of whose doctrines the House had heard so much, nor 826 even to the lower classes of society; but was directed towards those country gentlemen who, from their situation and character, were least likely to excite suspicion. That which the noble lord meant to insinuate was, that twenty freeholders, of 100l. a year each, were so blind to their own safety, or so ignorant of what was due to the safety of the country, that they would unite in calling a county meeting under circumstances which must necessarily be productive of great danger to the community. The same observation of course, applied to the persons to whom he had referred in the amendment respecting Scotland. The qualification legally required in Scotland for a person holding the situation of a commissioner of supply, was 100l. a year; and could it be supposed that those persons would unite to call a meeting which they must know from the state of the country would be attended with danger? He begged leave to say, too, without meaning to detract from the rights of the gentlemen of England, that in Scotland this would be more justly conceded than in this country. In Scotland there were no grand juries; and to this was to be added the fact, that the sheriff was an officer appointed by the Crown, holding his situation for life, and looking to the Crown for his promotion to some high judicial situation. If the people were to look to him alone, therefore, for calling them together, it was scarcely necessary to say, that circumstances might occur in which his inclination might be in opposition to their wishes. While he was on his legs, he would call the attention of the House to the state of the boroughs of Scotland. It was well known that the large cities there were governed by corporations; and it was likewise well known that there was not a single city in Scotland in which the corporate body, the head of which was to have the power of convening meetings, had the slightest connexion with the population of the country. They were appointed by one another, and invariably elected their own officers.
said, that though be had felt it necessary that some steps should be taken with respect to public meetings, he had felt great repugnancy to the continuance of the bill for a long period, which repugnance had been much increased by the objections which he had heard the noble secretary of state offer to 827 the amendment of the noble earl. He found now that meetings were to be prohibited, not merely when called by demagogues, or by the lower classes, but when called by persons of property. They were told, however, that the people might meet in smaller divisions, but even in those cases the magistrates, by frittering away the time, might render the privilege in many cases nugatory. This opinion had actuated him in voting on the last night for making the duration of the bill as short as possible, and the rather, because he felt that he could not vote for limiting the bill in point of space. He should most willingly support the amendment, but would suggest that the number of freeholders should be greater than twenty.
The Lord Advocate
said, that if the amendment of the noble lord were adopted with respect to England, he should have no objection to its adoption towards Scotland. But he apprehended that, with respect to Scotland, it was not at all necessary. The persons authorized to call meetings in Scotland were, in the first place, the sheriffs or the stewartry. It was very true that the sheriff was appointed by the Crown, but he was not removable by the Crown; and he believed he might with perfect confidence state, that there was no instance in which this officer had ever sacrificed his duties from any influence used on the part of the Crown. The conveners of the county were appointed for the express purpose of convening public meetings; and he believed there was no occasion on which a convener had been called upon, in which he had refused to call a meeting. He thought those persons fully adequate to all the purposes of assembling the people in Scotland. He might add, that from the nature of the commission of the peace in Scotland, all persons qualified for becoming commissioners of supply were included, whether they were in favour of government or not.
§ Mr. Mansfield
considered that if this amendment were adopted, the bill might as well not be passed at all. This bill was intended to protect the loyal and peaceable inhabitants of the country, and if the restrictions proposed were agreed to, it would, prove fatal to those who wanted to put down sedition and rebellion. He believed twenty freeholders 828 might be got in any county, who would call a meeting for improper purposes. What reason was there for confining all the virtues of the community to freeholders of 100l. a-year? Why not extend them to freeholders of forty shillings a-year? Were they not as loyal as those of 100l. a-year? He thought the proposed amendments were extremely absurd, and calculated to destroy the object of the bill.
§ Mr. Brogden
reminded the committee that the amendment of the noble earl was not under their consideration.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the amendment of the noble lord, and that of his hon. and learned friend, were the same in principle. His only object in rising was, to state that the qualification proposed by his noble friend, to entitle 20 or 30 freeholders to call a meeting, was precisely the same as that which qualified an individual to become a justice of the peace. The only difference was, that the noble secretary of state made 5 freeholders of 100l. a year each, sufficient to watch over the safety of the public peace, while his noble friend proposed that that number should be extended to 20. He did not conceive that there was any danger in this regulation, and therefore he should vote for the amendment.
The Attorney General
appealed to the experience of the committee, whether the mere fact of holding a freehold of 100l. a year was considered a sufficient qualification for appointing a magistrate. It was true, that a qualification of that nature was considered necessary; but there were other qualities still more important that it was requisite he should possess. The principle of the present bill was to prevent those meetings which were so frequently called without legal authority. It had often been doubted whether a sheriff had, in point of fact, the power to call the county together. This doubt the present bill would set at rest. It should be recollected too, that the grand juries of counties, to whom a power was also given to call meetings, were almost all magistrates. [Cries of "No!"]. During his experience on the circuit which he had been in the habit of going, this had been the case; and in addition, to this, the same power was given to the lord-lieutenant, and custos rotulorum; so that no restrictions could exist which were not in all respects necessary to suppress meetings, which no man who had looked to the state of the country for some time 829 past could deny were highly dangerous to the public peace. He denied that the sheriff was an officer of the Crown; it was true that he was appointed by the Crown, but then the names of three persons were sent by the county as fit persons to hold the office, and the Crown only selected one of them. In his opinion, however, no sheriff who valued his own character, would merely from political differences refuse to call a meeting of the county. With respect to the amendment, he conceived that it struck directly at the principle of the bill, and if it were adopted, the House might as well not pass the measure at all. It could not be denied that in such a county as York or Lancaster, twenty freeholders qualified in the way which had been stated, might be found capable of giving their sanction to proceedings directly at variance with the good order and peace of society.
thought, that even if the amendment proposed with respect to England were rejected, yet that the amendment respecting Scotland ought to be adopted. In Scotland, the people would labour under greater disadvantages than those in England; while in justice both countries should be placed on the same footing. In the first place, Scotland had no such person as a custos rotulorum. In the next place, the lord-lieutenant was a military officer, and therefore one upon whom the people could not rely for affording them the means of political discussion. Then the sheriff was an officer appointed by the Crown, and held a judicial situation, with which it would be extremely improper to mix up political animosities. It would be highly injudicious to impose upon that officer a duty which was calculated to diminish the universal respect in which he was held. As to the convener of the county, it was true that that individual was liable to be removed from his office, if he did not act according to the pleasure of those who appointed him; but he was one of the people themselves, and had only the power of calling together the commissioners of supply. It was customary, indeed, for that officer to summon meetings of the county; but he had no right to do so.
§ Mr. Denman
supported the amendment of the noble lord. This provision, if inserted in the bill, would be expressly the same in principle as the clause relating to parish meetings; for, supposing notice to be given in the one case, as was required║830 to be done in the other, there would clearly be no difference between them. The attorney-general had said, that the clause as it now stood was consistent with the other parts of the bill, which required the sanction of some legal authority to a meeting; but this he denied altogether, for there was, in fact, nothing in the principle of the bill that said the constituted authorities must be present. It appeared to him, that the proposition of the noble lord coincided perfectly with the other provisions; and the argument of his learned friend was clearly unfounded, because, of all the authorities mentioned, the sheriff was the only one that could be considered legal; and the lord-lieutenant, if he attended at all, must do so in the character of a military officer. As to the argument of another hon. member, that this provision was intended to support the right of the people to meet, he could not see on what view it was founded, unless taking away the rights of the people was synonymous with supporting them.
, in reply to the argument of the hon. and learned gentleman, said, he would mention, with submission to the learned gentleman, that there was a difference between the principle of the amendment proposed respecting county meetings, and that which in the bill was applied to parish meetings; and that difference consisted in the notice of meeting which was required in the latter case. His hon. friend had said, that in Scotland there was no custos rotulorum; but it should be considered that in that country the lord lieutenant had, in some degree, the appointment of the magistracy. The next security provided in the bill was the sheriff of the county. An hon. and learned gentleman, however, had described the sheriffs of Scotland as persons who looked to the Crown for preferment, and therefore not likely to act in opposition to the wishes of ministers. He doubted whether this was generally the case; but at all events, admitting it to be in some instances true, it did not universally apply to the sheriffs of Scotland. The matter, however, did not rest with the sheriff; for the convener also might call a meeting, and though the convener was entitled only to assemble the commissioners of supply, still it was known that county meetings were generally called together by that officer. As to saying that magistrates would not be found who would call a meeting contrary 831 to the will of the minister, it could not be denied, whatever gentlemen might say for the sake of argument, that there were as many magistrates attached to opposition principles as there were to ministerial.
observed, that it had been asked whether in such counties as York and Lancaster, the requisition of twenty freeholders of 100l. a year each could be called a sufficient security: in reply he would state, from his knowledge, of the fact, that there was no class of his majesty's subjects better disposed towards the constitution than that description of persons—the independent yeomanry. If the object of the noble lord was to put down dangerous meetings only, the proposition of his noble friend, if adopted, would have that effect; but if the original clause were carried, it would take away the right of meeting altogether. He should therefore give his hearty support to the amendment.
said, that no meetings were touched by this provision, but those that were held out of doors; and, therefore, the question was narrowed to, this—whether the House would have the security of the magistrates for the safety of such meetings, or throw them open to the will of evil-disposed persons."
§ Mr. Boswell
suggested, that by omitting that part of the 25th clause which, preceded the words "within that part of the united kingdom called Scotland," the power of calling a meeting would be reserved to the same magistrates in Scotland as in England.
Sir Robert Heron
wished to set the Attorney-General right in what he had said respecting the sheriffs. He himself knew an instance in which a sheriff had been hired by the Crown after the person appointed to the office had refused to accept it. [Cries of name, name.] He should not name the gentleman who accepted the office, because he did not wish to hold him up to public view; but the person who refused it was Mr. Calcraft, of Lincoln.
begged leave to inform the hon. baronet, that Mr. Calcraft did serve the office of sheriff.
Sir R. Heron
said, that was perfectly true, but it did not in the slightest degree contradict what he had asserted. Mr. Calcraft did serve the office of sheriff for the county of Lincoln last year, but the proposition to which he had alluded had been made to him several years ago.
said, the hon. baronet did not seem to know that if the person appointed to the office of sheriff made an excuse, the Crown had no power to appoint another, except from the list of those nominated. It was evident, therefore, that if Mr. Calcraft refused thin office, the person who did accept it could not have been appointed by the Crown, except according to the regular forms.
§ Mr. R. Martin
declared, that if the amendment was passed, he would immediately apply for leave to return to Ireland. He thought it very likely that twenty persons of the description proposed by the noble earl might be disposed to call a meeting for a very improper purpose. He would appeal to the committee, whether the sense of a county might not be better taken in small sections than by assembling large meetings. He protested, against such meetings as the noble earl proposed to call by his twenty freeholders, at which no person would be able to make himself heard by his lungs, or in any other manner than by banners and flags. [A laugh.]
Sir C. Monck
said, that if the object of the noble earl was only to regulate these meetings, and not to prevent them altogether, he ought to state what would be a proper amount of the tenures of freeholders to constitute a sufficient security for the proper conduct of a meeting. If this were specified, the requisitionists might send the requisite security to the lord-lieutenant, and the latter ought then to be bound to call a meeting. If this was not to be the case, parliament was taking away the right of meeting.
§ Earl Compton
suggested, that if twenty freeholders did not afford a sufficient security, the number might be increased to thirty, in those counties which were supposed to be in a disturbed state, such as York and Lancaster.
said, that if he understood the noble lord, he had now three distinct propositions before the committee. Finding that the first was not tenable, the noble lord had told them to throw the bill over the table, and thus send his hon. friend off to Ireland. The noble lord had said, that it should be compulsory on the sheriff to call a meeting; that because the people were not pleased to meet in parishes, and because twenty persons could be found in the county who wished to call a meeting, the magistrates should charge themselves with the public peace, 833 The noble lord, however, seeing that this proposition was no more palatable than the other, came at last to his strong hold, and proposed to take away the principle of the bill, and therefore he (lord Castlereagh) considered his last position the most untenable of all. He was of opinion, that unless the noble lord wished to render the bill entirely nugatory, he must withdraw all the three propositions.
Sir C. Monck
was surprised that the noble lord considered it a new proposition, that a sheriff or a magistrate ought to comply with a requisition to call a meeting. Whenever an officer was intrusted with authority, any person subject to that authority might call on him to exercise it for the protection of his rights; and if, under such circumstances, a magistrate refused the protection required, the court of King's Bench might issue a mandamus to compel him. He wished to know whether the sheriff should be compellable to call a county meeting on the requisition of twenty freeholders of 100l. a year. He had no objection to raise the qualification to 200l. or even 500l., but he was anxious to know the terms of the amendment precisely.
wished the House to understand the proposition of his hon. friend behind him (Mr. Maxwell), which he was sure was not generally understood as the situation of the commissioner of supply in Scotland was confounded with that of freeholder in England. He begged the committee to remark, that county meetings could be convened in England by officers who did not exist in Scotland, or who could not by this bill exercise the power of calling meetings. In Scotland there were lord-lieutenants as well as in England; but in England they could call meetings, while in Scotland they could not by the present bill. In England there was a custos rotulorum who could call county meetings; in Scotland there was no such officer. In England the sheriff could call county meetings, and the same power was lodged with the sheriffs in Scotland; but in that part of the kingdom, looking to the Crown for preferment, sheriffs could not be expected to be very friendly to meetings called to complain of grievances. In England five justices of the peace could call meetings; in Scotland, if he rightly understood the bill, they could not. In Scotland there was an officer who could call county meetings unknown in England—he meant 834 the convener of the commissioners of supply; and this officer was said to have the singular property of never refusing to assemble the county upon a requisition properly signed. The noble lord wished there were such officers in England. Some difficulties, however, might be thrown in the way of meetings if they depended solely on the convener, who might be out of the county. The convener of Renfrew was a member of the House, and in attending his duty in parliament, might find it impossible to comply with a county requisition in Scotland.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
differed with his noble friend who had last spoken, on the construction of the bill. It gave to lords lieutenant and five magistrates, the same power of calling county meetings in Scotland as in England. If this were not the case, he wished the attorney-general to declare so.
The Attorney General
said, the act, applied to Scotland in the same manner as to England, with the difference only of the denomination of the officers.
§ Mr. Brougham
allowed that the attorney-general might mean to apply the bill to Scotland, but he had not used sufficient words. The law should be precise, and not taken on the interpretation of the attorney-general.
§ The committee divided — For the amendment of Mr. Maxwell, 81; Against it, 261: Majority, 180. Lord Compton then withdrew his amendment, in consequence of seeing the sense of the committee against him, by the previous decision on the amendment applicable to Scotland. On the clause for convening parochial or district meetings,
Mr. Alderman Wood
proposed as an amendment, that the power of calling the meetings should not be limited to aldermen in the city of London, but extended to three or more of the common council of the ward. If the power was confined to the aldermen, there were many wards that never would be permitted to hold meetings. They had no halls. The churches were, on the Manchester business, refused, and therefore unless the power was given to the deputies, or some of the common council, as was now the practice, a great proportion of the inhabitants of the city of London would be denied the right of expressing their complaints by petition.
did not think the objection of the worthy alderman war- 835 ranted any special regulation. There were rooms sufficient in the wards where they could assemble; and if any difficulty on that head existed, he could recommend them a very convenient place in his neighbourhood, namely, Willis's Rooms. He must object to the amendment, as it was directly opposed to the principle of the bill.
Mr. Alderman Wood
believed the noble lord would not be much pleased at meeting ten or twelve thousand persons marching up to any meeting in his neighbourhood. He was determined to take the sense of the committee.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
believed that the amendment would destroy the principle of the bill; for as its object was to destroy the right of petitioning altogether, therefore any amendment that went to give a facility to the exercise of that right was at variance with the principle. The measure itself was so hateful that he was not disposed to recommend it by any modification. Let it go out with all its imperfections on its head, to meet that public reprobation which it would experience.
§ Sir W. Curtis
opposed any alteration in the old practice. He thought the aldermen of London fully entitled to confidence, and it was not to be presumed that they would abuse it. For his own part, as an alderman, he should not like to be interfered with by the common council.
Mr. Alderman Wood
said it was notorious, that many of the aldermen constantly refused to convene ward meetings. It was better at once to declare that three fourths of the inhabitants of London should not meet at all.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
rose, but was received with loud laughing on the ministerial benches. He said the reception he met with was too often tried to have the effect of dismaying him. It was undeniable that many of the aldermen of the city of London uniformly refused to convene ward meetings. In his ward, which contained one-fifth of the population of the city of London, his predecessor never would call a meeting: it was uniformly done by the deputy, or some of the common council.
The gallery was twice cleared for a division, but none took place. On our return we found alderman Wood contending for the insertion of words calculated to extend the powers given to corporate 836 bodies by the bill, to the livery of London. It was understood that a clause to that effect would be subsequently proposed.
proposed the insertion of words, for the purpose of bringing all meetings in the open air, called for the purpose of deliberating on questions of trade, manufactures, wages or professions, within the operation of the bill. The noble lord founded the propriety of his proposition on the abuse which had been practised on such meetings, where person assembled for the avowed purpose of discussing the interests of their trade, or the state if wages, were diverted from that subject, and led to consult on resolutions of a wholly different nature, such as annual parliaments and universal suffrage.
referred to the meetings of merchants, bankers, and traders, of the city of London, which, on occasions of great emergency, had been held on the Royal Exchange, no room being large enough for the purpose. Two meetings of this description had taken place within his recollection; one when so much danger was apprehended from the propagation of French revolutionary doctrines, the other on the suspension of cash payments by the Bank. The resolutions passed at those meetings had been productive of the happiest effects; had strengthened the hands of government, and given confidence to public credit; but as this bill now stood, no such expression of the sentiments of that great and respectable body could in future take place. In his opinion, all restrictions upon the meetings of commercial men were unnecessary. They could only be too numerous for any room to contain them, in a few large cities; and where that was the case, their opulence, and consequently the stake they had in the public welfare, must be commensurate with their numbers.
replied, that he had the highest veneration for meetings of the character alluded to by the hon. member: the last thing he should apprehend would be, that sufficient authority could not be obtained for the assembly of the merchants and bankers of the metropolis.
§ On reading the clause empowering magistrates or justices of the peace to allow meetings to be held in parishes,
§ Mr. G. Bankes
suggested the propriety of making some provision with respect to extra parochial places. The principle of the bill was to give to all ranks of people a right to meet somewhere or other 837 for the purpose of petitioning, and therefore it was necessary that persons who resided in extra-parochial districts should be distinctly recognized. A provision similar to that contained in the militia acts would answer every purpose.
said, he had clauses to bring up at the close of the bill, which would meet this and other objections.
On reading the clause which directs that the notice of an intended meeting shall be personally served on some justice of the peace residing near the parish or township in which such meeting is intended to be held,
objected to it, and contended, that the notice ought to be considered sufficient, if it was left at the usual place of residence of the justice.
The Attorney General
said, the clause was framed for the purpose of preventing persons who wished to hold a meeting for an improper purpose, from purposely leaving notice at the residence of the justice, when they knew he was absent.
§ Mr. Bernal
said, that as the clause stood, a magistrate, not wishing to have a meeting in his parish, might absent himself purposely. In that case, what power had those persons who were desirous to call the meeting of effecting that object?
defended the clause as it was framed; which, after a few words from lord Compton, who argued that the alteration proposed was unnecessary, was agreed to, without amendment.
When the clause was read which enacts that there shall be no adjournment of meetings held for the purpose of deliberating upon any public grievance,
§ Mr. J. P. Grant
objected strongly to it. He conceived it was a great hardship, where individuals were unable to bring to a conclusion at one meeting the business they had met to transact, that they should not be allowed to adjourn to a more convenient time.
The Solicitor General
defended the clause, which was, he said, framed to prevent the unnecessary extension of pubic meetings.
The clause was agreed to. On the clause being read pointing out the description of persons who should be deemed eligible to attend county meetings,
stated, that he had an amendment of some importance to propose. The alteration was, to allow persons 838 holding freeholds of the amount of 50l. per annum, in any county town, being in itself a town and county, to attend county meetings. He proposed this sum, because it was possible, if the sum was very trifling, to create fictitious freeholders; but when the freeholders was of this amount, the notoriety of the fact would prevent spurious t freeholders from making their appearance. Persons who were legally entitled to attend a meeting would thus be enabled to detect and take into custody, individuals who might wish to intrude themselves, and whose presence would give such meeting a character of illegality. If freeholders of the lowest grade were admitted, their numbers in many county towns were so great, that persons who did not possess any claim whatever to the character might mix amongst them, without detection; but a fifty pounds freehold had attached to it sufficient notoriety to prevent the chance of an intruder of that kind passing without discovery.
Sir R. Fergusson
said, he despaired of improving or rendering palatable a bill which was so highly unconstitutional. As it applied to Scotland, it was exceedingly defective. Unless the word "heritor" were introduced, as well as "freeholder," a great body of respectable men, men possessing considerable landed property in that Country would be prevented from meeting. He begged leave to advert to what the noble lord had lately said with respect to certain manufacturers of Scotland, which, although perhaps it was not intended, conveyed a severe calumny against that body. The noble lord had stated, that a meeting of manufacturers had recently been held for the purpose of considering the rate of wages; but that a few radicals got amongst them, and they immediately forgot the subject they had met to discuss, and proceeded to debate on a political question. In the name of a large body of people in the county to which he belonged, he believed the noble lord's statement to be totally with foundation. There were a great number of manufacturers in the county of Fife, and to their honour he could state, that although their wages were reduced to a mere pittance—a pittance not sufficient for their subsistence—they behaved with moderation and propriety. A radical meeting took place in that part of the country about a month ago. Very few attended it. The parties by whom it was projected passed through a populous town 839 containing from 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants; but scarcely more than 100 persons joined them. There were said to have been 500 persons present on that occasion— of these he believed very few were radical reformers; and he was convinced that even those who were, harboured no designs again the state, but were merely following up the foolish notions of major Cartwright. He, wished farther to state, that, while the manufacturers were thus peaceably conducting themselves, the wages which some of them obtained for labouring fifteen hours a day, amounted to but 2s. 6d. per week, and the best manufacturers did not receive more than six or seven shillings per week.
observed, that his only object was to make the reality of the freehold so much a matter of notoriety, that it could not be mistaken.
§ Mr. W. Smith
adverted to what he conceived the groundless fears of the noble lord, as they regarded the facility with which the qualifications to attend at these meetings, might be transferred to radicals by actual freeholders. They would surely be more eager to retain their qualification in quietness, than to be at the trouble of vesting others with it.
, in alluding to the fourth clause of the bill, said, that he did not see, as it was at present worded, how it would be in the power of the magistracy to exclude a great number of persons, who, without being freeholders, might attend all meetings to which freeholders were summoned by name, and insist upon overhauling their proceedings.
Sir R. Heron
observed, that in the county to which he belonged, it had never been the custom or practice to confine meetings called by the sheriff to freeholders only.
§ Lord Althorp
wished to ask, whether it was the intention of the hon. gentleman to say, that every person, not a free-holder, but attending such meetings of freeholders, would be guilty of a misdemeanor?
certainly did mean to affirm, that any inhabitant, or house-holder, had no more right to attend such meetings, provided they were summoned as meetings of freeholders, than any other description of persons whatever.
The Solicitor General
said that the object of the clause to which the hon. gentlemen alluded, was, that any meeting, whether of householders or freeholders, 840 which was attended according to the limitations of the act, should be held to be a lawful meeting. But it did not take away the same right which was before secured to freeholders, of excluding from their meetings any other persons.
§ Mr. Primrose
said, that if he understood Mr. Wynn correctly, he meant to make the act more severe than had been intended even by ministers themselves. The hon. gentleman's intention seemed to be, that an inhabitant or householder attending a meeting of freeholders, would become guilty of a misdemeanor, and be liable to to two years imprisonment.
§ Mr. Honywood
wished to ask whether the clause was intended to apply to the county which he represented. The election took place always in the public road, so that no traveller could help mingling with such an assembly, and rendering himself by consequence liable to the penalties of the bill. He needed not observe, that this would be a most flagrant violation of the constitution.
apprehended that it would be necessary to protect meetings against improper intruders by a police much stricter than had hither to been employed for that purpose.
Sir C. Monck
hoped the hon. gentlemen on the bench below him would not forget to remind the noble lord, at a future stage of the bill, of the proposed admission of copy holders, as well as freeholders, to these meetings.
, member for Hull, wished to suggest the case of a meeting called for the purpose of putting in nomination a new member to represent a town or county in parliament, a parliament having been just dissolved. In such a case, would the old member have a right to attend his constituents, to render an account of his past conduct in their service? His reason for asking the noble lord this question was, that he happened to represent a town of which he was neither a freeman nor a householder. There might be other honourable gentlemen similarly circumstanced with himself. He was not, however, anxious about the fate of any one clause in particular of this bill, for he objected to its principle altogether.
had supposed that meetings for the election of burgesses could net be imagined to fall within the scope of this bill; and it seemed impossible that any difficulty should be started upon the case put by the hon. gentleman.
§ Mr. Brougham
contended, that the difficulty of his hon. friend was perfectly natural and well founded. That some difficulty, in whatever degree it might have been anticipated, was pre-supposed by ministers themselves, was clear from a part of the clause which concluded thus— "Provided always that nothing herein contained shall be construed to extend to any member of the Commons House of Parliament attending any such meeting, as aforesaid, in any county, city, borough, town, or place, for which he shall be serving in parliament.'' But this provision only extended to members actually serving; not to those gentlemen who had served.
observed, that if a meeting was convened for an innocent purpose, to discuss whether it was a fine day, for instance, or to debate upon an election, the law did not interfere; but if they proceeded afterwards to topics leading to the overthrow of the constitution, that was the case in which the penalties would be incurred. But as he had already stated, he was willing to put the cases of elections entirely out of the bill.
§ Mr. Brougham
declared, that the noble lord had not removed the objection by any thing he had said, and pledged himself to show, when the clause was brought up, that it was far from being an answer to it.
proposed as an amendment, to enable all persons who had a right to vote for members of parliament in corporate towns to attend at meetings for the discussion of any matters arising out of the conduct of their representatives.
After a few words from lord Castlereagh, the gallery was cleared, but the amendment was negatived without a division. Lord Althorp proposed an amendment, which went to confine the operation of the clause, which makes it a misdemeanor for non-residents to attend public meetings, to those who spoke.
said, that one of the most valuable properties of the bill was, that it put the magistracy in the situation of ascertaining that most difficult of all points, the exact state of circumstances under which meetings were liable to be dispersed by the powers of the law. If it was not a misdemeanor to attend such a meeting, any person might come to it— there might again be assembled meetings of 100,000 men, and therefore no object, would be gained by passing the present 842 bill. Casual comers to these meetings were kept free from harm by the words, "knowingly and wilfully," which had been added to the clause.
§ Mr. W. Smith
maintained that the clause, as it now stood, was contrary to the practice of the constitution as it existed from time immemorial. He could suppose a case, which was not at all an improbable one. A member on vacating his seat and going into the country, might pass through some town with which he was totally unconnected and in which a public meeting might be convened. Anxious to hear how the good people of the town argued on political questions, he might go to the meeting, and then, according to this clause, he would become liable to all the severe penalties which this bill created. This was a sufficient reason to induce him to vote for the amendment.
considered the provisions of this clause unnecessarily severe; The curiosity which the noble lord on the treasury bench had inveighed against in such strong terms of reprehension, and was so desirous of repressing, had been hither to considered not merely as innocent, but laudable; being nothing more than a desire to gain information on those political topics, in which every subject in a free country had a direct and legitimate interest. When the noble lord expressed his apprehensions, that such numerous assemblages of the people as had lately taken place at Manchester, might again occur, he forgot the other clauses of the bill which effectually guarded against that danger. Surely if the meetings were divided and subdivided into sections of parishes, if the magistrates had the power of regulating them both as to time and place; if parties were prohibited from coming to them in military array, or with arms or weapons of every description, or with drums or any kind of music, or with flags, banners, emblems, or other insignia, ample precautions were taken against their being too numerous. The truth was that nineteen people out of twenty who attended the meetings in question, went there out of mere idleness or curiosity, and not from any interest they felt in the political questions that were to be discussed there. They went as they would go to a fair to a fight, to a race, to a review, or to any public exhibition; but now all the attractions that had led them there were taken away, they would go no longer. The other clauses of the bill not only 843 guarded against these meetings being numerous, but against there being dangerous, for even if ill disposed persons did attend, they must come without weapons and consequently without the means of doing mischief; and if any proposition was propounded, or a single syllable uttered, which the magistrate thought might tend to bring his majesty's government into contempt, or excite the people to sedition, he had the power of immediately dissolving the meeting. For these reasons, he considered this clause wholly unnecessary. The committee should recollect, that they were legislating, not for the radical reformers alone, but for the well affected and loyal classes of his majesty's subjects, and therefore they might not go farther than the necessity of the case actually required. If they adopted measures of unnecessary harshness and severity, they would run the risk of alienating those who were entitled to be treated with every degree of tenderness and conciliation, and might aggravate the evils they intended to avert. He should, therefore, feel himself bound to vote for the amendment of the noble lord.
said, that hon. gentlemen appeared to misunderstand this clause entirely. If they considered it attentively, they would see that it was absolutely necessary in order to give effect to the intentions of the bill. Unless some provisions were made to prevent the inhabitants of one parish from attending the meetings of another, the entire population of different parishes might flock together upon any meeting called in one of them, and all those evils be created which the country had so much reason to deplore.
§ Mr. Primrose
thought that the right hon. member when he stood up so vehemently for this clause, had forgotten the penalties which were contained in another part of the bill. The enactments of the present bill were far more severe than those of the Riot act, and yet owed, their origin to a state of affairs much less dangerous. Indeed, the clause which punished, with transportation for seven years any person who not depart after proclamation was made to disperse, was so severe that it would inevitably destroy itself. To attend a meeting in a district to which an individual did not belong, was also to be punished with two years imprisonment: a strong necessity ought to be shown before such a punishment was 844 inflicted upon an action which in itself was innocent. The haste with which it was attempted to carry these bills through the House was extreme; as that time was not allowed to the people for petitioning against them, which was generally allowed them on a common tax bill. If it had not been for the recent discussions upon them, which had occasioned the delay experienced in forcing them through the House, this bill would have passed in all its original deformity, and would in the language of the noble lord who introduced it to their notice, have been "a permanent beneficial bill for the people." As to the present clause, it would not affect those who were engaged in any treasonable conspiracy; it would not affect those who, to use another of the noble lord's phrases, were in a state "almost bordering on rebellion;'' but it would affect, and it was passed for that purpose, the independent part of the community, and would prevent them from assembling in such numbers as were necessary to give effect to the object of their petitions or remonstrances.
supported the clause, on the ground, that if the amendment were passed, it would render the whole bill ineffectual.
did not know whether he could make that subject clear on which his noble friend had endeavoured, but apparently in vain, to enlighten gentlemen on the other side. But with what justice could it be said, that it was intended, by this amendment, to render the whole bill nugatory, when it left so many of its penalties in full force? One of his reasons for voting for it was, because he did not deem it right that any person who went by chance and innocently to a public meeting in another district, should be rendered liable to an imprisonment for two years, and, what was still worse, to a discretionary fine of an unlimited amount. The intention of the bill was, it was said, not to suppress discussion, but to put down itinerant orators. Did not his hon. friend's amendment provide as strongly as any clause now in the bill for that object.
§ Mr. Brougham
rose, and after commenting on the arguments against the amendment, proceeded to state, that even under this bill great county meetings might be regularly called. Now, it was evident that great and important affairs might occur, which, even in the opinion of a lord lieutenant, a sheriff, or any of║845 the other bodies who were to be empowered with authority to convene meetings, might require a meeting to be convened. It might be of the very greatest importance to call such a meeting, and it might be of no, less importance that the proceedings at it should be accurately and correctly given to the public. How was this in future to be done? Not by those who usually gave the reports of such proceedings; for an hon. and learned gentleman opposite had treated those individuals as if he considered them far below his, notice. Nay, if it were not for the free constitution of the country, which the attorney-general was using his every endeavour to subvert, he did not know whether he would allow them to exercise their functions at all. The attorney general had said that it did not signify whether they were allowed to attend public meetings or not. He (Mr. B.) was of a very different opinion: it signified much to the country; it signified much also to themselves. It was their trade, it was their profession, just as much as it was the profession of the attorney-general to appear in a court of justice to defend his clients, or in that House to defend the rights of his constituents. The wording of this clause, therefore, was of much importance to the reporters, and also to the country; for if the country had not these men to perform these duties, how would it have, what was of the last importance, correct accounts of public proceedings? The country might indeed still have reports; but how must these reports be obtained? The attorney-general, who stood on such an eminence, might not know the manner in which these reports were obtained; but he who was not so elevated, he who was nearer in station td those who gave them, knew it well. He would say it confidently, that the reporters would not come under any of the exceptions mentioned in the bill. They were not freeholders of counties, they were not freemen of boroughs, they were not resident inhabitants or householders within them: how, then, could they attend public meetings under such restrictions as were now contemplated? No, the country must be left without any intelligence from them, let the subject on which a meeting is called be ever so momentous. There had been at former periods meetings to inflame the loyalty and patriotism of the country—meetings which were attended to by the Houses of Parliament. 846 Those meetings for general purposes would have been rendered useless and ineffectual by such an exclusion as was contained in this clause—an effect which he acquitted the noble lord of having intended, for he was convinced that the noble lord's object was only to exclude Mr. Hunt and his columns. The proceedings, therefore, at meetings, how important soever, could not be known to the public. Who could, he would ask, give an account of their proceedings to the public? The first personage there was the lord-lieu-tenant; but he was not likely to be an accomplished short-hand writer. The next was the high sheriff, a very respectable person, but not likely to be an adept in stenography. There were besides the freeholders, the yeomen, and the country gentlemen, and admirable reporters they would make! These, if the member for Montgomeryshire obtained his object, would be the only persons allowed to attend county meetings. He would ask, then, what tolerable chance of an accurate account of the proceedings could exist, if this exclusion formed part of the bill?
The Attorney General
hoped the committee would excuse him for saying a few words in reply to the most unprovoked and most undeserved attack which had been made upon him. He had not said a syllable on the subject of reporters', and yet the hon. and learned gentleman had said that he had treated them as if they were unworthy of his notice. He asked, what had called forth such an attack upon him? He had been paying all the attention in his power to the noble mover of the amendment, and to the hon. and learned gentleman, and had intended to reply to their arguments; as well as his humble talents would enable him. But there was nothing said or done by him which could relate to reporters, but as they might come within the provisions of the act. What right had the hon. and learned gentleman to suppose that he had so treated reporters? But how did the hon. and learned gentleman himself propose to treat them? He would heave them within the reach of the clause making it felony to remain after proclamation to depart. He hoped the committee would excuse him if he showed some warmth, because the attack made upon him was most undeserved, unprovoked and, he could not help saying, with a view to mate him obnoxious to that respectable class of persons with whom he 847 did not expect to stand on the same footing as the hon. and learned gentleman. He would now offer some remarks upon the proposed amendment. The clause would prevent the attendance of strangers. It was therefore necessary, in justice to those who legally attended, to make it a misdemeanor in others to attend. Such a clause would ensure the legality of the meeting, and prevent persons from incurring the harsher penalty of felony.
§ Mr. Brougham
explained. He had been led to make the remarks he had made, not merely by the cheers, but by the attitude of contempt with which his hon. and learned friend had received the first mention of reporters [Cries of No, no! from the back seats of the ministerial side.] The hon. gentlemen behind might easily say no, no; but they could not possibly have seen his reason for misunderstanding his hon. and learned friend. He admitted that he had misunderstood him. He thought that he had even heard his hon. and learned friend contemptuously repeat the word "reporters." At least, this was not the first time in which notice had been taken by members, not only of words spoken, but of cheers and gestures.
The Attorney General
said, it was for the committee to form their opinion, whether any cheers or gestures on his part had deserved the remarks made by the hon. and learned gentleman. He had no recollection that he had cheered at all. He had been remarking upon the arguments used, to his learned friend who sat next him.
The Solicitor General
said, that his hon. and learned friend had remarked to him, that the clause would have the effect of excluding reporters, but had not cheered. The hon. and learned gentleman ought to have been satisfied, and throroughly satisfied, before he had replied in the style he had done.
§ Mr. Denman
lamented the interruption which had arisen from this altercation; and regretted the warmth into which the attorney-general had suffered himself to be led. He regretted the tone of the attorney-general, produced by the altercation to which he had alluded, because he thought he had opposed the amendment in consequence, with greater vehemence. His objection to the clause was, that it kept alive quarrels at meetings. Why should it not be left to the discre- 848 tion of the magistrates to suffer strangers to remain to the conclusion of the meeting? Strangers might be present, properly and meritoriously, as at meetings when the distinguished candidate at Liverpool delivered speeches, and might listen for the purpose of improving their minds. The amendment would have been so much for the interest of the other side, that he had hoped the clause would have been withdrawn, but for the personal altercation which had taken place.
said, there had been nothing in the gesture or manner of his hon. and learned friend to justify the remarks that had been made. If any thing had occasioned those remarks, it had been on his lordship's part, not from disrespect for the persons alluded to, for whom he felt no disrespect, but because he had said that the amendment, if introduced for the purpose of admitting reporters, would alter the whole frame of the bill. The noble lord then defended the clause against the objections urged by the opposite side.
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
said, that in his opinion there was a great deal in what had fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman on the other side, of the importance of admitting reporters. He thought it of very great importance that we should know what was done at public meetings. Publicity had been of the greatest service during the late meetings; it had opened the eyes of the country to the views of those who agitated it. But he was aware of the difficulty of admitting the amendment, because a great number of persons might attend in the first instance, and occasion much inconvenience and mischief, if the clause were withdrawn. He, therefore, did hope that provision might, in some other way, be made fop those whose object was reporting.
§ Mr. Maxwell
agreed in the importance of giving publicity to the proceedings of public meetings. He opposed the amendment, because persons had come from Manchester and Leeds to tell those who conducted meetings in his part of the country, what they should say, and how they should act. The radicals had also availed themselves of the attendance of persons from mere curiosity, and had represented them as friends of annual parliaments and universal suffrage. He was decidedly against the radicals, though a sincere reformer, and representing a part of the country abounding with sincere re- 849 formers; yet he thought that free discussion ought to be permitted to the radical reformers, and he considered it of great importance that reporters should be present at their meetings, and at all other meetings.
§ Mr. R. Martin
thought it prudent to prevent reporters from attending meetings-It would be dangerous to let publicity be given to the seditious nonsense of parish parliaments.
§ Mr. S. Wortley
said, that if the object, which he thought a great one, should be adopted, it ought to be introduced in a clause by itself.
said, that if at all introduced, it should be in a specific clause; but he thought it a very serious question whether reporters ought to be allowed to attend.
The amendment was negatived. Mr. W. Smith said, he conceived it was highly improper to proceed further at so late an hour (past one) and moved that the committee should report progress. Lord Castlereagh observed, it was not an hour usually considered inconvenient for business. Mr. W. Smith said, he felt it a public duty to prevent matters of such consequence to the public from being proceeded in at that hour, and he should take the sense of the House on the question. The committee then divided: For the adjournment, 34; Against it, 166: Majority, 132.
§ Mr. Brougham
trusted it was not intended to go into any of those clauses which were likely to produce discussion. The result of the division, he presumed, would only be to agree to those parts of the bill on which no controversy was expected to arise. This, indeed, he took to be the understanding of many who had voted with the majority; and he must be permitted to add, that it was in this view only that he and his friends could consent to give the committee no further trouble.
knew that there were certain means by which a minority might protract the passing a measure, and retard the course of business in that House. But it was a great error to suppose that those on his side had understood, that, after such a division, any hon. members would think it consistent with their public duty to put in force this power of renewing motions for adjournment. In his conscience he believed that the public safety was deeply involved in the immediate progress of this measure. The hon. and 850 learned gentleman, who was thus induced to oppose it in every way, had, a few nights since, risen at a much later period, and had spoken two hours, not certainly confining himself with much strictness in any part of that lengthened address to the question before the House. Yet now, such was the feebleness of that circle of friends by whom he was surrounded, that he appeared determined to throw every obstruction in the way of a bill that went to provide a remedy for as great an evil as any with which this country had ever been threatened. At all events, he felt satisfied that the House and the country at large would think that he had only done his duty in bringing the question to an issue with the hon. gentlemen on the other side.
§ Mr. Brougham
remarked, that he had been represented as having troubled the House on a late occasion for two hours, upon a subject still more general and various than the present. He begged leave to say, that he had then addressed the House, and at that length with great and unfeigned reluctance. The reason was not, that he was reluctant to discharge a public duty. The pain he felt arose from perceiving that he addressed himself to so many members who seemed determined to hear nothing that differed from those views which they had already taken. He grieved to say, that he had then found himself in a House of Commons ready to pass the most severe measures against their constituents, and which would hear nothing in their defence—a house, that while it was dwelling upon the tumult and confusion of other popular assemblies, and regarding all other popular assemblies as a rabble rout incapable of any deliberation, was itself an audience which had given him a reception not often experienced at the most stormy meetings. He must confess he had felt ashamed. The reason for the length at which he had troubled them on the occasion alluded to, was the speech of the noble lord's right hon. friend (Mr. Canning), whose speech had occupied three hours in its delivery. No doubt, it would have been very convenient to the noble lord, that that speech should have been left unanswered. This, however, had not squared with his own notions of public duty. His impression was, upon the present subject, that the numerous clauses of this most important bill could not be properly discused or investigated at that hour. On its future stages, he could assure the 851 noble load, that he and his hon. friends would not refuse their assistance in rendering the bill more effectual for its purposes; as in its present shape it was not adapted to the ends professed to be had in view. And he implored the House, if immediate alarm had not utterly indisposed them to all candour and deliberation, not to press forward such an alteration of the ancient law as this bill was about to introduce.
§ The motion for reporting progress was then renewed, and carried unanimously. The House then resumed; and the chairman reported progress.