MR. G. THOMPSON opposed the Motion. For centuries no measure so deeply affecting the rights and interests of the people of this country had been proposed in that House, and he contended that much longer time should have been afforded to the country for its consideration than had yet been given to it. Admitting the necessity of this Bill—admitting that it contained no violation of the constitution—admitting that offences were rife throughout the country, demanding the penalties which were assigned to the commission of those offences—granting all that freely, and giving credit to the Government for the best motives, still he contended that sufficient time had not been given to the country, or to Members of that House, to consider even the grammar, much less the provisions, of the Bill. In the midst of surrounding revolutions this country had been tranquil, but the Government seemed to have been panic-stricken. Granting that they did not mean rashly to assail, or largely to abridge, the liberties of the people, the best excuse he could find for them was, that they had been stricken with fear by the events which were taking place around them, and had all at once come to the conclusion that Her Majesty's Throne was in danger from the widespread and deep-seated disquietude which prevailed throughout the country. If Her Majesty had not been advised by evil counsellors, she ought to know, what she has ever known, that she could not plant her foot on any spot within her dominions where she would not find a warm and hearty welcome at the hands of all classes of the British community. He accused Her Majesty's Ministers deliberately with charging by implication, in bringing forward this Bill, the people of this kingdom at large with disloyal designs towards Her Majesty and the State. What did the right hon. Baronet do when he introduced the measure? Did he make out grounds for a Bill which should comprise the people of the United Kingdom? He did not. Did he read one extract from an English newspaper? Not one. Did he make one extract from speeches delivered in Scotland,
England, or Wales? Not one. He merely quoted from speeches delivered in Confederation Hall, in Dublin, and confined his newspaper extracts, without exception, to the Nation and the United Irishman. But as far as Ireland was concerned, it did not follow, because one man had raved in that hall, or another had trenched on the borders of treason in a newspaper, that therefore all Ireland was disloyal. There were already in existence laws for sedition, and penalties for treason, with all the machinery of a strong Government for enforcing those penalties; and there could be no urgent necessity at this time, and least of all with such precipitation, to place such a measure upon the table of the House of Commons. But, crossing the Channel and coming to this country, could the right hon. Baronet point out one county, or section of a county, or town or village, in which there had been any manifestation of such designs as the proposed Bill was intended to frustrate? Let them rave at the Chartists as they would—let them rave at the working classes as they would, and whilst they did so eulogise the middle classes, and try to set one against the other, yet he challenged them to point out one case of the description to which he had alluded. He knew manufacturers who had in their employment hundreds of Chartists; they were trustworthy, they were men of intelligence, they were loyal men. Her Majesty's Government had not made a concession to their just demands; but had met them with an un-English and unconstitutional law, and sought to deprive them of those privileges which all the Governments of Europe of the present day were guaranteeing to their subjects. He denied, therefore, altogether that Government had made out a case for this Bill. He was not here to say that some alteration of the law might not be necessary as to particular individuals; but he denied that Government had any right, by implication, to cast a false accusation in the teeth of the people of this country at large. It might be said that if expressions were used hostile to the style and title of Her Majesty, and the integrity of Her dominions, that there was no guarantee that they would not be made the instrument of wide-spread operations throughout the country. Let a man be obnoxious to those in whose neighbourhood he lived; let him be reported by an illiterate person: he might be instantly committed; no bail could be put in; and when
he came to take his trial, he was in an infinitely worse position than if he had been accused of high treason. This law was either wanted, or it was not. If it were wanted, for whom was it wanted, and for what particular ends and purposes? With regard to the people of Ireland generally, they were not employing this language. Let the House know that the Chartists assembled on Kennington Common were but an insignificant fraction of the Chartists throughout the country. Where were Chartists not to be found? You could not travel east, west, north, or south, without finding them. He had never taken a Chartist aside into a room, that he had not found him as docile and teachable as any other member of the community. Who were the Chartists? The men who made the Members of this House what they were—the creators of their luxury—the men without whom the country would be nothing—the men whose value could not be computed with the value of any other class of the country. If he were called on to say which was the most valuable class, he should say the working classes. They did not yield in intelligence to any other class of the community. They read the speeches of Members in that House with as much attention as any one; they weighed the value of every measure brought before it; they were skilled in mechanical arts, and trusted by their employers. These were the men whom they were branding by the present Bill. How would the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the noble Lord, and the Attorney General, whose names stood at the back of the Bill, answer to the working classes of the country for this Bill? Let them catch their men in Dublin; but let them not do it at the expense of the character of the people of this country. Do not outdo Mr. Pitt in his hostility to the privileges and rights of the people. Do not outdo Lord Castlereagh, who never dreamt in the days of the Manchester massacre of introducing such words as were in this Bill. He asked for delay. If this law were passed, a man might be visited by a magistrate's warrant, and told he had committed a felony, by an Act which the people's representatives in the House of Commons had passed without taking time to read it. A more monstrous Act was never meditated in the Legislature, than passing such a Bill in so short a time. When he heard that the Govern-
ment had summoned their adherents to come down to the House to make this Bill law, he despaired for any one who looked to the Government for the smallest instalment of their political rights. Upon what principle did the American colonies revolt, and justify that revolt in the eyes of the civilised world? On the ground of taxation without representation. On the imposition of the Stamp Act and the duty on tea, they flew to arms, and finally won their independence. The people who had come to that House, by their petition, stood in precisely the same relation to the Government of this country now, as the people of America stood to the Government of England in 1786; and the petitioners whose signatures were appended to the petition were more in number than the inhabitants of the North American colonies at the time of the declaration of their independence. Whilst the words to which he objected remained in this Bill, he would obstruct it in every stage. The House was not the friend of the people in passing it. Gather their troops together as they might; garrison Somerset House; glory in the majestic attitude of the metropolis for a day—
[...] - - - "But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach Bloody instructions, which being taught, return To plague the inventor. This even-handed justice Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips.
They were alienating from the Sovereign millions of the people by passing such a Bill as this. Her Majesty's Ministers would take the Bill to Her Majesty, and ask for her sign-manual, and commit Her to the Act of treason; but although the people were despised by the House of Commons, and looked upon with scorn, the day would come when they would have that which every man was entitled to—a right to elect their own representatives in that House.
MR. OSBORNE very much feared that Ministers were resuming the course of policy of 1795, with this difference, that the descendants of those men who resisted Mr. Pitt in his policy of 1795 were now installed in office, with much less excuse for passing Acts which Mr. Pitt dared not carry into execution. He was not one of those who found fault with the Government for the precautions which they had taken on the late occasion; he thought those precautions wisely taken, because great responsibility rested upon
the Government; but he took an exception to the course they were pursuing as to the present Bill. They were trading upon a panic. Some old lady had got into the Cabinet of the noble Lord, and was exciting him to acts of terror. What was the principal circumstance which, in 1795, induced Mr. Pitt to bring forward his Bill? In 1795, the Tories got the country into a war of opinion with France. In 1795 there was great scarcity of bread, and the King in passing to the Houses of Parliament was exposed to an attempt at assassination. Was that the case in the present day? The Foreign Minister of this country had told us that he would not interfere in a war of opinion with any other country, and the Queen had not been exposed to insult. His own impression was, that there never was a time when the Queen reigned so securely and firmly in the hearts of the people. The people found no fault with the Sovereign; and it was a cunning device on the part of Her Majesty's Government to put the Queen in the front rank, when the fact was that it was the measure of the Government. When Mr. Pitt brought forward his Bill, it was resisted in every stage of the proceedings. The Government of that day was not so imperious as the present. They did not attempt to thrust the Bill on the House without giving time for consideration. What a contrast was now presented! Here were men, the descendants of the Opposition of that day, persisting in a Clause which was withdrawn in 1796 by Mr. Pitt. The hon. Member for Oxford had said, in reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Montrose, that he had no sympathy with Mr. Muir, the Reformer; but he would ask the hon. Baronet if he knew what Mr. Muir had done? Did he know what Mr. Muir had been convicted of? He was convicted, on the evidence of his servant maid, of having said that the present system required reform, and that he had lent a copy of Tom Paine's works to a third party. On that evidence, and for those acts, he had been convicted, sent to the hulks in irons, and transported to Australia for fourteen years. In 1796, Mr. Pitt, in the climax of his power, did not persevere in introducing the words "open and advised speaking;" he withdrew the words at the suggestion of Lord Grenville. He (Mr. Osborne) wished that we had some of the Whigs of the old leaven, some of the Greys and Foxes of former times, who would request the Government to withdraw
the words from the Bill, in order that a measure might not be adopted which would render the air of this country like the atmosphere of Russia. What was constructive treason? It had been held in the reign of Charles II.—a monarch whose laws some persons were fond of referring to—that it was constructive treason because the mob had risen and put down certain brothels in the metropolis. There was no saying what might be held to be constructive treason. The Member for Westminster, who said he would go down to the House of Commons with 100,000 men, might be indicted for constructive treason; and Mr. Macaulay might for some of his writings be indicted for constructive treason, and, if found guilty, sent to Australia, perhaps to Norfolk Island. What had been the gist of Mr. Macaulay's writings? Had it not been to excuse the conduct of the Puritans in bringing Charles I. to the scaffold? He thought that this was a slavish Bill, for circumstances might arise in this country which would make it the duty of every man to make war on the Sovereign. If they shut up the safety-valve, as it had been well called, which freedom of speech gave to the people, the tendency of such an unconstitutional measure would be to drive the people to secret and armed confederacies. He would direct the attention of the gentlemen of the Fox Club to the language which Mr. Fox had used when speaking of the freedom of the press and liberty of speech. He said—
The power and influence of the Crown are so great that all the liberty of this country is preserved by freedom of speech and liberty of the press; and if those great barriers of liberty are destroyed, though men may speak less they will feel more, and arms will be the only resource left them, either for redress for themselves or for vengeance upon their oppressors. If such a Bill is passed, if such a line of conduct should be adopted, resistance to it would be but a matter of prudence.
That was in 1795; but he would not go into any comparison with the man who made those observations and the Whigs of the present day—give them rope enough, and that was all they required. The present Government were confirmed invalids, and it was known that confirmed invalids lasted the longest. They first leant on one party and then on another: the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth was a crutch at one time, and the noble Lord the Member for Lynn was a crutch at another—but the real party upon whose support the Whigs came into office, namely, the
people, were thrown over by them. What would be the effect of letting the people see that the House of Commons was in a hurry only to pass laws of coercion, and that they displayed no alacrity in passing laws of amelioration? It had been said that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland had spoken in an excellent tone, and that was quite true; but did the people of Ireland care for the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, or for his gentlemanly manners, in the absence of any practical measures to improve their condition. From what had occurred in another place, it would appear that it was probable Ministers would bring in an Alien Bill; and why?—because one noble Lord saw three or four Frenchmen in the Strand. Did Ministers know that Mr. Pitt brought in an Alien Bill, and did they know the effect which it had produced? Let him remind noble Lords and panic-struck persons what the French Government would say if an Alien Bill were introduced. They would say, "You received the French King and his Ministers, but yet you bring in an Alien Bill to keep out the French people." He looked with suspicion upon the course pursued by the Foreign Minister; and when he looked to what had taken place in Portugal, he could not say what influences might be brought to bear, and what circumstances might occur, if we interfered with France. He thought it his duty to give his opinion of the policy of the Government; and he called upon all those who had been returned by liberal constituencies not to be carried away by a temporary panic; and he would call upon the shopkeepers, because a few windows had been broken, not to give up constitutional principles or to relinquish those liberal feelings which the right hon. Gentleman had so disgracefully deserted.
§ MR. F. O'CONNOR: The proceedings of Monday showed that the people were loyally disposed, and consequently that no such measure was necessary. The prosecutions which had taken place in 1839, 1840, and 1841, were quite sufficient to show that the existing law required no strengthening; yet this measure was brought in by the Whigs. It was the pride of the Whigs of former days to be opposed by the Tories; but it was the guarantee of the Whigs of the present day to be supported by the Tories. This measure, if passed, would be a disgrace to the Statute-book, and a dishonour to the Go- 230 vernment. Let them pass this Bill, and that which was the safety-valve of the constitution being fastened down, discontent would at once explode; there would be no more an opening for the expression of public opinion. Vulgar men would be allowed to preach throughout the country what doctrines they desired; of them no notice would be taken; but as soon as any one man, opposed to the Government, spoke advisedly, they would mark him out their victim. Well; and if they were to fill the hulks with martyrs, he would tell them that for each martyr ten thousand new men would arise eager and willing to step into his place, and to bide the event. It was impossible that they could maintain Ireland in her present position. Something must be done for her, and that speedily. This Bill would not put her down—this Bill, which he denounced as treason against the Crown, and the person of the Sovereign. Such a Bill he never expected would have emanated from a Whig Ministry; in consequence of it, they had become the most unpopular Government that had ever possessed the reins of power in this country. Was it not well known that the Government had the power of selecting the judge and the jury? What chance, then, was there for the liberty of the subject? He entreated the House, he entreated the Government, to give the people an opportunity of expressing their opinions upon the Bill. He besought the noble Lord not to disgrace the high name he bore by thus pressing such an unconstitutional measure. He did not mean to taunt the present men in office with the treatment which he had personally received at their hands. He considered that it was but right that those who led the people should suffer any penalty which might attach to their position. He protested against a reformed Parliament thus stealing a march upon the people; he protested against the Bill, because he was a loyal subject, and because he objected to Her Majesty's becoming tinged by the disloyalty of Her Ministry. He could not find language sufficiently strong to denounce his abhorrence of it. If folly or treason were spoken at a public meeting, the good sense of those present would put the surest extinguisher upon it. He had never allied himself to secret societies—he never would; but let them pass that law on that day, and on that day week hundreds of secret societies would be organised throughout the kingdom, which sooner or 231 later would result in a storm that would swamp the Government, and shake the empire to its foundations. Let not the noble Lord despise his warning—to be forewarned was to be forearmed.
§ MR. PHILIP HOWARD would not have risen, were it not for an observation which had fallen from the hon. Member for Middlesex, which he considered calculated to raise a feeling of hostility upon the part of another country. It was well known that England at all times was the home of misfortune. It was well known that every refugee by reason of political opinion—every one who had to leave his own land for the vigorous assertion of liberty—fled to England for a home. They were received with open arms; but at the same time, while England shielded misfortune, while they never interfered with the foreigner in his trade or profession, they were not bound to sanction agitation which might be formed and fostered under foreign influence. It was perfectly well known that upon a late occasion foreigners took an active part. The Government had not given notice of an Alien Bill exactly like that of Mr. Pitt; they desired a registration of aliens, which would enable the police force to discriminate between those engaged in lawful pursuits, and those who took an active part in promoting the disaffection which unhappily had arisen. Such a course would be merely protective, and not directed against any particular class. And he must be allowed to correct an error which seemed prevalent. It had been asserted that there had been a panic upon the part of the Government. This he distinctly denied. The precautions taken were only such as became a nation long inured to freedom. He trusted that the Government would accede to the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cockermouth, namely, that it should be in the power of the court to mitigate the penalty to three years' imprisonment; he was, however, prepared to support the Bill in its integrity.
§ MR. REYNOLDS said, the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, in speaking upon the Government measure, used words to the effect, "Oh catch these Dublin men if you can, but do not impose such a law upon the people of England." The hon. Member for Oldham the other night expressed himself very similarly; and such, indeed, was the feeling entertained by many Members in that House. Now, he wanted them to act upon the broad 232 principle of justice. The Bill was eminently calculated to destroy the liberty of the subject, by depriving him of the liberty of speech and the liberty of the press. They had tried to put down liberty of speech in France; and what had been the result? Why, the tyrant had been hurled from his Throne, and was with his family a wanderer upon the world. How a Whig Ministry could support such a Bill—such an unconstitutional and Algerine measure—after the appeal made to them by the hon. Gentlemen the Member for Middlesex—he could not conceive. Did they mean to throw entirely overboard the doctrines and the examples of their great prototype, Fox? He, for one, cautioned the Government against retaining the obnoxious words. If they did, they would be multiplying sedition in Ireland, for they would find no juries to convict under such a Bill. He disapproved of the principles and the doctrines of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick; but that hon. Gentleman, and those with whom he acted in Ireland, were but straws floating upon the surface of society, and showing by their movements the way in which the current flowed. He much doubted whether there were ten men in all Ireland who would be consenting parties, under any circumstances, to the transportation for life of the hon. Member for Limerick; and he implored the Government, if they valued the peace, the prosperity of Ireland, and the integrity of the empire, to modify this Bill. He repeated that if it passed it would greatly increase the strength of the turbulent and disaffected in Ireland. Why was it that only coercive measures were extended to the sister country, and that measures of amelioration were so often confined to England? Let the Government remember who were their opponents on this occasion. The most uncompromising of these would not be found amongst the Members for rotten boroughs, or the representatives of small constituencies of one, or two, or three hundred electors. No; among the opponents of the Bill would be reckoned those who represented constituencies the largest, the most independent, and the most thoroughly unpurchaseable in the empire. Surely, and speaking without egotism, his own opinion, representing as he did a quarter of a million of the loyal subjects of the Crown, ought to have some weight with the House. And so ought the opinions of men who represented such constituencies as the Tower Hamlets, or the county of 233 Middlesex. Again, then, he implored Government not to be guided so much by the number as by the character of the votes which would be recorded on this Bill. He objected to leaving the liberties of the people to be dealt with by any Government, either Whig or Tory, upon the oath of paid informers. Why, under the measure before the House, a paid incendiary could go to a public meeting and make a speech infringing the provisions of the Bill, in which ease any one of his hearers would be committed by his acts. He contended that it was possible for a hired informer to make a speech that would render every man who heard him amenable to the law. Let them look to the 7th Clause. There was no doubt about the matter. Under the 7th Clause, any man who was at a meeting at which such a speech was made—although he might have been present merely from motives of idle curiosity—was liable to be indicted, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, with hard labour. He did most earnestly trust, then, that the Bill would be most extensively modified. In its present shape, it was a most objectionable, unconstitutional, and arbitrary measure.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY observed, that it would be more regular to take every clause seriatim, and in proper order. It would be certainly more for the convenience of the House—now that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cockermouth was present—to go on with the discussion of the clause on which that hon. Gentleman proposed to move an Amendment.
§ MR. HUME observed, that the hon. Member for Middlesex had made an appeal to the Government as to whether or not they intended to carry out the principles of their party, or to fling them over, and adopt the views and policy of Mr. Pitt, and perhaps go further than even he did. If such were the intentions of the Government, let them say so; let them declare at once that they intend to fling to the wind the opinions of Mr. Fox, and take up with those of Pitt and Dundas. He (Mr. Hume) had heard the noble Lord say that he was a disciple of Mr. Fox. Let him now then reply to the appeal of the hon. Member for Middlesex. Were Government in possession of facts which they could declare were of such a nature as to endanger the peace of the country, then let them come down to the House and ask for some temporary measure. In that case, he, for one, should have no hesitation 234 to grant for a limited time the extraordinary powers demanded. But now they were called upon to pass a measure without any such limitations or safeguards—a measure assimilating the law to what it once was in Scotland, at the time of the trial of Muir; Palmer, and Skirving—a state of the law which would render any man liable to be dragged from his own table for sentiments uttered there, and be ultimately transported as a felon. Why, this measure outraged and went beyond everything ever proposed in that House; for even under the old Scotch law, its victims, although they were thrown into irons and sent on board convict ships, were not actually accounted felons. Muir was charged with exciting, by seditious speeches and harangues, meetings which assembled by no lawful authority; but the real ground of offence was, as Lord Grey stated subsequently, that he had established two reform societies, and was an advocate of a reform in Parliament. But had those who subsequently agitated in the same cause received any opposition from the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who now filled the Government benches, though language had been used in the cause of that reform agitation fully as strong as that of Muir? No, they had not received even the smallest opposition from them. He had addressed meetings of 40,000 men, who on one occasion passed resolutions to the effect that they would pay no more taxes; and when the Attorney General told him he was acting illegally in presiding at such a meeting, he (Mr. Hume) told him he knew it. During Lord Melbourne's Administration large meetings took place in the metropolis, and on being asked whether he would allow them to march in procession, he replied he would not interfere, as he was convinced of their peaceable intentions; and the result had proved the soundness of his judgment. Those who saw the procession to which he referred would remember that for three miles the streets were filled with men eight abreast, who having delivered their address, passed on in peace and order. The Ministers now in office had countenanced, had profited, and had been benefited by these meetings, to which they had more than once tendered their thanks; but they now altered their course of policy. Disappointed in a great degree as he had been in the expectations he had conceived of the advantages to be derived from the Reform Bill, he considered nevertheless that it constituted the means by which 235 England would stand firm while other States were falling around her. If the Parliament would but act honestly to the people, all might yet be well. It was not constitutional to say in the House that Parliament did not represent the people, and therefore he would not say it, but such was nevertheless his opinion. In his conscience he could not say it represented them, any more than he could say that that Parliament represented them in which Mr. Canning got up and, stamping his foot, declared, "I take my stand against Reform—I stand on Old Sarum." If this Bill were passed, the indictment against Muir, wherein he was charged with having recommended Paine's Rights of Man, and with using certain language within the walls of his father's house at Glasgow, would be a sample of those which they would find directed against parties who sought for constitutional liberty. He had advised the Government not to hurry the Bill through the House, and to allow the country a week to consider its provisions; but they, as if panic-stricken, pressed it on at once to a discussion. In every word which had been spoken by the hon. Member for Middlesex he cordially agreed. He hoped every man in the country would read it, and he was sure not one of them would be found to disagree with him, or to deny its truth and justice. The hon. Member for Carlisle said his constituents approved of the Bill; but if so, they were the only popular body in England who would be found in its favour. Again he entreated Government to pause before they brought about a state of things which this island had witnessed before, when secret societies arose all over it, when party was divided against party, and man against man. They should, at least, allow them till Monday next to consider it. It was proposed to bring in an Alien Act also—at least so he heard it stated. When they recollected the unanimous feeling against the last Alien Acts, which led to their repeal, he could not think it was really their intention to revive such an unpopular measure. After the speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) some nights ago, in which he declared his hope that England would ever remain the refuge of the unfortunate, he at least could not vote for such an enactment. When they had admitted unfortunate Sovereigns and unfortunate Ministers to their shores, it would be unjust to pass an Alien Act against other unfortunate foreigners not so exalted. He trusted all this was a 236 mistake, and that the noble Lord would, in answer to the speech of the hon. Member for Middlesex, tell the House on what principles he intended to carry on the Government.
§ MR. P. HOWARD explained: He had spoken strongly in favour of the Government acceding to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby), for mitigating the clause relating to transportation for life, and stated distinctly he regretted the insertion of the words on which the discussion arose; but generally he believed his constituents in favour of the principle of the Bill.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL said: I certainly, Sir, should have been better satisfied if the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and those who have spoken before him, had been contented to go into Committee and to hear the reasons which might be urged in support of the clause which he and they so loudly condemn. But as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose has asked me on what principle we propose to act, I say now, as I have ever said, that with respect to the general principles of politics, and with respect to the great maxims of the constitution, I believe Mr. Fox to have laid down the true doctrine. But, Sir, we are now living under extraordinary circumstances—we are living in times when persons think it right and think it their duty to call together councils and confederations in which they declare that war ought to be made against the Sovereign; in which they declare that the armed forces of the Sovereign ought to be seduced or bribed; and, if seduction or bribery do not succeed, that they should be suppressed by force of arms—when persons are advised to arm themselves, and are told if they procure those arms they will gain a signal victory—when they are told that the soldiers and the police will not be able to withstand them; and when persons think it advisable, even in this House, Sir, to show in what manner they mean to proceed, and how they will advise their countrymen to devise the measures necessary for the success of rebellion. I, Sir, believe that, according to the spirit of this constitution, great latitude of discussion should be allowed—that inflammatory language should be permitted; that language which may incite to alienation from our constitution—from our monarchical constitution—should be permitted to proceed to great lengths, because I know, without the allowance of some abuses of this kind, that 237 the free liberty of discussion cannot be maintained; but instead of being reproached with having interfered intemperately and hastily, I believe the general opinion of the country rather is, that we have waited too long in doing so. But having come to the opinion that it is necessary to take measures of precaution—in order that those measures of precaution may defeat the designs of traitors, and that those measures of precaution may prevent part of the United Kingdom from being deluged with blood by those who have advised the commission of acts the most atrocious, and who have sat down quietly in their closets to show how by various infernal engines, how by the pouring of cold vitriol, and by other means, they may procure the death of their fellow-subjects—I say, under those circumstances, Sir, I should be ashamed of myself if I said, "There is danger approaching, but I am so awed by the authority of Mr. Fox—I am so afraid of having his words quoted against me—that I will desert my duty, and will not take those measures of precaution which I believe to be necessary." This, then, is my answer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, when he asks me on what principles we propose to proceed. But, Sir, I think the hon. Gentleman has shown he will not come to this discussion, having fully understood the nature of the Bill we are now introducing—I mean the particular part which relates to "words." The hon. Gentleman has taken pains to refer to the indictment in the case of Muir and Palmer, which charged those persons with having used words calculated to incite to disaffection, to alienate persons from the constitution of these realms, and which were of a very inflammatory character. I should, Sir, agree with the hon. Member, that to transport persons for offences of this kind—offences which, though they may be very mischievous, do not, I think, go beyond the offence of seditious language, may be very oppressive and unjustifiable. I have, for my own part, ever considered the condemnation of Muir and Palmer unjustifiable; but there is a great difference between using language of this kind and language which directly tends to the levying of war against the authorities, and to the promoting of insurrection. That, Sir, must be the intent according to the Bill proposed by us; that must be the design, or otherwise the words cannot be prosecuted under the Act. The hon. Gentleman talks of the atrocity of condemning 238 "words!" Does he know there are cases in which words may be brought in evidence in trials for high treason, and may be considered overt acts to prove the treason? It is stated in Hale's Pleas of tire Crown, that "any device, advice, or persuasion to incite, encourage, or procure others to make attempts against the King's person, is a plain overt act of compassing the King's death." And yet all the objections made by the hon. Gentleman to "words," are, that they may have been misunderstood, that they may have been misreported, or that they may have been spoken with another intention—all these objections apply to the law of treason as it now stands. Perhaps, then, the hon. Gentleman objects to the law of treason? That may be so; but, at all events, do not let the hon. Gentlemen condemn us because we introduce a similar law with milder punishment, affecting the offence of intending, designing, and compassing the levying of war against the Queen. The hon. Gentleman is aware, Sir, that there is now an Act on the Statute-book by which, if any person in this country prints and publishes any writing with intent to cause the levying of war, he may be found guilty of high treason, and may be capitally punished. That is the law of the country by statute; and I ask the hon. Member, is it fit that one person who sits down and writes a newspaper afterwards published, in which he commits this offence, should be capitally punished; and that others—his confederates and his allies—should advisedly, and with preparation, make, day after day, speeches, with reporters from the newspapers before them, who will, they know, repeat every word they say—that these words shall be of equal or of greater malignity than those published by his confederates and allies—and that the one shall be found guilty of high treason, and capitally executed, while the other can only be brought up on a charge of seditious language, may get bail, and then be tried for a misdemeanour? Is that equal and fair justice? Let the hon. Member, if he will, propose in Committee that the intent to levy war, as expressed by publication, be reduced to sedition, or left altogether unpunished. If he is satisfied that the peace of this country and of Ireland will not be disturbed, let him propose to do so; but let him not say we are proposing any such unconstitutional change in the law, when, reducing the penalties with respect to one offence, we raise the penalties with 239 respect to another—considering them to be offences equal in amount and in guilt—the one offence showing as great a disposition to disturb the peace of the country and to overthrow the Government as the other, which is now high treason. I admit that the proof is difficult. But if there is a newspaper or a book before you in which by consent of the author or publisher words have been published, the jury must readily admit, if publication be proved, that they are the words which the author or publisher intended to be printed and published. With regard to the words spoken, there is not the same proof; therefore I do admit that the jury might require, and I have no doubt would require, fuller proof with regard to words thus spoken, even though they might be spoken with preparation, than with regard to words published. This is a question, however, which may fairly be considered in Committee. Sir, I will say further to those who approve of the law as it now stands, that while we think that all that part of the Bill which tends to mitigate the penalty of high treason, and to alter the character of the offence from high treason to felony, and the punishment from death to transportation, and that part of the Bill which extends the whole Act to Ireland, should be maintained as we propose it; we are ready to propose that those other parts of the Bill which are new, and which refer to advised speaking, should have only a temporary operation, and come again under the consideration of Parliament. For my own part, I believe that the enactment will be a right one; but that which I am intimately convinced of, and I think the House will also be of the same opinion, is, that such an enactment is necessary if we mean to cope with the danger which surrounds us. The hon. Gentleman has alluded to subjects into which I will not follow him. He has alluded to the precautions that are being taken against aliens. Now that measure will not be introduced in this House for some few days, when I shall have an opportunity of speaking upon it. Therefore, I will only say this, that any measures that may be introduced now, are introduced under a deep conviction that the peace of this country is worth preserving—that the institutions of this country—its monarchy and constitution—are not to be lightly given up; and while that trust is in our hands we will endeavour to prevent it.
§ House in Committee.
§ On the 3rd Clause,240
MR. HORSMAN said: He was sure that all the House must have heard with great satisfaction one part of the speech of the noble Lord. He had heard it with a satisfaction he could scarcely express. He would own that he had approached the consideration of this question with very great anxiety and with very great alarm; for he believed that this was the most important question that had been brought under the consideration of Parliament since he had had the honour of a seat in that House; and whether it was on account of the importance of the question, or whether from the haste with which it appeared to him a great portion of that House were prepared to pass it, he would not say, but he looked upon the measure with very great anxiety and very great alarm. He considered that the Bill of the noble Lord was a very dangerous innovation. It was for the first time doing away with the difference between words spoken and words written, in opposition to all authority, and in defiance of all precedent. His right hon. Friend yesterday proposed a proviso, which was considered as some improvement to the Bill which had been introduced. That, however, did not meet the wishes of those who opposed the Bill. They had no wish whatever to restrict any powers with which the Government might think it necessary to meet the present danger. But their objection was, that in a measure which had been called for by sudden and temporary circumstances, of which measure they had heard for the first time on Friday, and which they were to have read a second time, and go into Committee upon on Monday, a permanent enactment was introduced. He thought he could show that every constitutional authority condemned the provisions which the Government were endeavouring to introduce. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford quoted the other night the authority of Blackstone, who distinguished between words set down in writing and words spoken, holding that the latter were clearly not treason. Blackstone said—
For they may be spoken in heat, without any intention, or be mistaken, perverted, or misremembered by the hearers; their meaning depends always on their connexion with other words and things; they may signify differently according to the tone of voice with which they are delivered.
Judge Foster, in his Discourse on High Treason, said—
Mere words are always liable to great misconstruction. [...] Seditious writings are permanent things, and, if published, they scatter
the poison far and wide; they are acts of deliberation, capable of satisfactory proof, and not ordinarily liable to misconstruction; at least, they are submitted to the judgment of the court naked and undisguised, as they came out of the author's hands. Words are transient and fleeting as the wind; the poison they scatter is, at the worst, confined to the narrow circle of a few hearers; they are frequently the effect of a sudden transport, easily misunderstood, and often misreported.
Sir Matthew Hale, a still higher authority, said—
Regularly words, unless they were committed to writing, are not an overt act within the statute of Edward III.; and the reason given is, because they are easily subject to be mistaken, or misapplied, or misrepeated, or misunderstood by the hearers.
The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) said, that it was not the words alone, but that they were evidence of the intent or design of the speaker; and, quoting East, he said that any one who encouraged or commanded another to levy war was guilty of a misdemeanor. But in this Bill the words were not "encourage or command," but "compass or imagine," with respect to which Sir M. Hale said—
The words 'compass or imagine,' are of a great latitude. Compassing or imagining, singly of itself, is an internal act, and without something to manifest it could not possibly fall under any judicial cognisance, but of God alone; and therefore this statute (25th Edward III.) requires such an overt act as may render the compassing or imagining capable of a trial and sentence by human judicatories.
Here it was proposed, by spoken words, so difficult of proof, to prove the design. He challenged the Attorney and Solicitor General to show that this Bill was not contrary to all precedent and all authority. He had therefore two objections to this measure: the one was, that there was no authority for introducing the words "open and advised speaking" in any permanent Act; and, in the next place, that the only precedent for the measure was that of a temporary Act. The constitutional authorities which he had quoted were not living, and he would now direct the attention of the Government to a great living authority, to whom the Government could not but pay respect. One of the most interesting and instructive works of the present age was the Lives of the Lord Chancellors of England, by a noble Lord a Member of the Cabinet. Now he would not ask whether that noble Lord had been consulted by the Attorney and Solicitor General on this occasion, or whether his concurrence had been given to this
measure, because he had the opinion of the noble Lord recorded in the work to which he had just referred. Lord Campbell, in his Life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, after stating that Lord Eldon, when he brought in the Act of 36 George III., called it "a legislative exposition of the Statute of Edward III., remarked—
It greatly extended the provisions of that famous law, which for many centuries had sufficiently guarded the safety of the Throne and the liberties of the people. Instead of the simple enactments against 'compassing the King's death,' or actually 'levying war against him,' the penalties of high treason were applied to the vague charges of 'imagining' to levy war against him, or 'imagining' to intimidate or overawe both or either Houses of Parliament, such imaginings being expressed by publishing any writing, or by any overt act or deed. The Whig leaders, although with a very slender following, made a noble stand against these encroachments on public liberty.
Lord Campbell added—
The object seems to have been to include such cases as those of Lord George Gordon, Hardy, and Horne Tooke, so as by this 'legislative exposition' to establish the doctrine of constructive treason, which juries and the whole nation had repudiated. Upon a strict construction of the Act, I doubt very much whether the proceedings of Mr. Cobden, praised so highly by Sir R. Peel, might not be brought within it, in a speech of nine hours from an ingenious counsel. It still remains on the Statute-book, but may be considered a dead letter. When I, as Attorney General, prosecuted Frost and his associates for high treason at Monmouth, in 1840, I proceeded entirely on the old Statute of Edward III., and I obtained a conviction against them without difficulty. I will venture to say, that every offender who ought to be prosecuted for high treason may easily be brought within this Statute.
Yet the present Government, of which Lord Campbell was a Member, now proposed to revive that 36th of George III. There appeared to be in the Ministerial circles a feeling of considerable panic and alarm, for which nothing that he had seen afforded, in his view, any justification. The year 1796, when this Act was passed, was a period of greater and more just alarm; and what said statesmen then? Mr. Pitt, who was in the zenith of his power, did not press for such a measure as that now before the House. Mr. Erskine, in the discussion at that time, quoted Chief Justice Eyre's words:—
That human laws ought not to interfere, nay, could not interpose to prevent the communication of sentiments and opinions in voluntary assemblies of men.
Mr. Fox said, November the 10th, 1795—
We have seen and heard of revolutions in different States. Were they owing to the freedom of popular opinion? Were they owing to the fa-
cility of popular meetings? No, Sir, they were owing to the reverse of these.
In the reign of Charles I., the most interesting period to which we can look in the history of this country, was freedom of speech indulged to any latitude, or were libels suffered to pass without notice? On the contrary, were not both at that time punished with an extraordinary degree of rigour?
Speaking of popular discussion of grievances, he said—
If you preclude these political humours from having a vent, you then leave no alternative but unconstitutional submission or actual violence.
Unrestricted freedom of speech was the best possible police; no spies were needed when men published their own designs. But when you adopted such restrictions as were proposed by this Bill, you showed that you feared discussion; and when you feared discussion, it was a proof that your system was unsafe. Of all the speeches made recently, he believed the only effect had been to call forth strong feelings of disapprobation in all the well-regulated portion of the community. Nothing but disgust had been created by them; and at the end of the last century, when all those Bills were passed, there was no indication of a state of feeling so wholesome or so safe as had appeared within the last few days. We might ask, what is it that places us in this wholesome state, amidst the crash of systems on the Continent? What was it but that we had anticipated those events, and granted by gradual and timely reforms what others were striving to seize by revolution. Contrast the effects of the system in favour on the Continent with that followed by ourselves. It was known that on the one day the Minister of Austria told a friend that he was never so secure, or with so little cause for apprehension; yet on the next he was driven out of the Austrian capital. There were those in the metropolis at this instant who could tell us that on the eve of the decisive day at Paris, the King of the French remarked to English guests in the Tuileries that he was perfectly secure, and that his arrangements for keeping order were perfect, so that he could laugh at all that was going on beyond the walls of his palace; and that next day he was driven from his throne and palace into exile. All this was a lesson that the strength of a Government did not depend on majorities, but on the opinion of the public. Here was a danger which he thought he saw at this moment—in disregarding that truth, the Govern-
ment did not sufficiently feel the impotence of Parliamentary majorities, or the omnipotence of public opinion. Considering the wholesome feeling which existed in the country, he could not understand why such a panic should prevail, or why the Government should call upon Parliament to pass a measure which Mr. Pitt in the zenith of his power did not venture to press, and which Lord Castlereagh in the height of his unpopularity did not dare to propose. However, as the noble Lord now proposed to give a temporary effect to that part of the measure which related to words spoken, he should not be disposed to carry his opposition to it so far as he should otherwise have felt it his duty to do. He knew that the main object was to extend the English law in a modified form to Ireland; he agreed at once to that proposal, but not with the same alacrity and willingness as he had heard some hon. Gentlemen express, for he could feel no joy at a proposal to extend fresh measures of restriction to Ireland. He could not assent to the new doctrine propounded with regard to that country—that all its grievances proceeded from social causes, and not from bad legislation. For the first ten years during which he sat in that House he was a party to telling the people of Ireland that bad laws had a large share in producing their grievances and distresses; and he was still of that opinion. As to the state of circumstances in which this Bill was proposed, and the tone of alarm which accompanied it, he must say at once, though there might be some serious indications, such as the existence of distress in the country, yet he believed there never was a period in our history when there was less ground for alarm, or less cause for extraordinary measures.
§ MR. SAMUEL MARTIN said, that he would propose that the words "by open and advised speaking" be struck out, and would take the decision of the Committee upon that point. A great constitutional principle was involved in the question. Hitherto a distinction had always been maintained between words spoken and words printed; and he was prepared, to the utmost of his power, to prevent that distinction from being destroyed, and to maintain the old common law of the kingdom and legislation in the current in which they had uniformly flowed. The common law of the country had always drawn a distinction between spoken slander and written libel; and the whole current of legislation 245 from the earliest periods had been founded on the same distinction. The distinction was maintained in the Act of Anne, upon which the Secretary for the Home Department professed to model the present Bill; and the same distinction was also maintained in 36th George III., the third section of which made writing a felony, whilst the following section made spoken words a misdemeanour, except for the second offence. All our great authorities, from Holt and Hale down to Blackstone, had upheld this distinction; ought we, in 1848, for the first time, to destroy it? Setting aside the current of law, and the weight of authority, and testing the thing by the rules of common sense, the inquirer would come to the same conclusion. The effect of spoken words was necessarily confined to a few persons; the human voice could not reach beyond a limited number of persons. If the words spoken were afterwards printed, the sphere of their influence would be greatly extended; and, in that case, you could get at the printer and publisher under the existing law. Montesquieu said, that if words spoken and words written were placed upon the same footing, "there would be an end, not only of liberty, but of its very shadow." Hitherto he had been speaking upon the mere abstract question; he was now about to touch upon a point as to which he could speak practically; and he invited the attention of his learned Friend the Attorney General to it. His profession had led him for many years to hear statements professing to be accounts of conversations, and the result of his experience was, that no confidence whatever should be put in them. He saw before him a Gentleman who was formerly Attorney General (Sir F. Thesiger), who was as capable of forming an opinion on the point as any man in the kingdom, and he appealed to him as to whether what he was now stating was not the fact. The declaration which he had made as to the untrustworthy character of parole evidence of words spoken, referred not to spies and informers, but to witnesses honestly intending to speak the truth. There was not a Gentleman in the House, who, if he were to attempt to repeat a conversation, would be able to do so in the terms used by the parties. If that were the case with honest witnesses, what exaggerations and distortions of fact might we not expect from spies and informers! It was said that reliance might be placed on the discrimination of juries. Now, he be- 246 lieved that in ordinary circumstances a jury was one of the best possible tribunals for the determination of matters of fact; but he could place no reliance on a panic-stricken jury. Only think of a jury empannelled on Monday last! He thought that the Government were justified in all the precautions they took on that day; but he would as soon have asked for the opinion of a parcel of insane men as have taken the verdict of a jury on Monday last upon words spoken. It might be said that the Government would have shorthand writers to attend meetings, and that they would not prosecute unless they were satisfied that the words on which they proceeded had actually been spoken. He gave the Government credit for intending everything that was fair; but, for his own part, he had no great faith in shorthand writers' notes. In the course of his experience he had over and over again heard persons say that they had been misrepresented by the statements attributed to them by shorthand writers. His hon. and learned Friend knew that Judge after Judge had made the same complaint; and one of the ablest Judges on the bench had avowedly objected to the shorthand writers' notes being made the ground of legal proceedings, because they had over and over again misrepresented his charges to the jury. If shorthand writers committed those mistakes in the stillness of a court of law, what blunders might they not be expected to make when they took notes amidst the confusion and excitement of a public meeting? With the permission of the House he would refer to a case which illustrated the difficulty of obtaining correct parole evidence of words spoken. Two attorneys got into a squabble at the chambers of a learned serjeant, out of which arose an action for defamation. The learned serjeant was examined on the trial, and it was found impossible to extract from him an exact account of the words spoken; he remembered, he said, that a great deal of bad language had passed, but could not undertake to repeat the exact words. The counsel thereupon asked him whether he had not heard persons in a low condition of life repeat circumstantially in courts of law conversations which had taken place in their presence? The learned serjeant's reply was—"Yes, but I never believe one of them." He (Mr. Martin) was entirely of the same opinion. The Amendment he intended to propose was to omit the words "by open and advised speaking" from the third 247 clause; but as importanoe seemed to be attached to the preventing of persons from making such speeches—trash and rubbish as they were—as had lately been brought under public notice, he would propose a clause to this effect—that if any person at any assembly or meeting of twenty persons or more should by public and advised speaking suggest, advocate, or advise, the three matters in the third section of the Bill, it should be made a misdemeanour. [A laugh.] He was aware of the cause of the merriment in which some hon. Members were indulging; he knew that it was already a misdemeanour at common law; but at the present time it might be useful to define the offence particularly, as well for the guidance of parties who were liable to commit it, as of the Judges before whom they would be tried. In taking that course, he would be acting upon an opinion which Lord Tenterden expressed on the trial of Thistle-wood. He had no objection to the introduction of a clause to prohibit the taking of bail in the particular cases of misdemeanour to which the Bill would refer; but it would be necessary to accompany it with a provision to insure the trial of parties within one month of their arrest, for the Government had no right to lock up a man without taking steps for his trial within the shortest possible space of time. By adopting the alterations which he suggested, Government would attain the end it had in view without infracting the sound constitutional law which established a distinction between words spoken and words written. He would ask the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government—upon this point, upon which he (Mr. S. Martin) felt strongly—that he would do for those who were his sincere friends what Mr. Pitt did in 1795 for his opponents. If it was right for Mr. Pitt and Lord Grenville, in 1795, to give way to their opponents, when the King's life was in danger, he thought he was not asking too much of the noble Lord to follow that precedent.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL said, he would reply as shortly as he could to the observations of his hon. and learned Friend, and state the reasons which induced him to support the clause in its present form. His hon. and learned Friend had advanced two arguments in support of the view which he took on this subject. His hon. and learned Friend said, first, that it was unsupported by any authority to make the speaking of words the subject
of a criminal proceeding. [Mr. S. MARTIN: No, no; to make it felony.] He meant to say—felony; and, secondly, his hon. and learned Friend said the offence ought not to rest on parole evidence, because, from his long experience in criminal procedure, he had no confidence whatever in parole statements of words spoken. To meet, therefore, his objections to the present clause, his hon. and learned Friend had proposed a remedy, but of the inefficiency of which he (the Attorney General) hoped to be able to convince his hon. and learned Friend. If there were any real force in the argument as to the non-efficiency of parole testimony in the case of words spoken, then it appeared to him (the Attorney General) that, instead of his hon. and learned Friend proposing the rejection of these words from the clause, he ought rather to follow up the general outline of his argument in favour of public liberty by introducing a law to prevent any prosecution for seditious language in any case whatever; because the quality of the offence could not alter the nature of the evidence; and, if parole evidence was not to be relied upon at all, then it by no means altered the case whether the offence itself was of the gravest or of the most mitigated description. No emergency whatever could justify the remedy which his hon. and learned Friend proposed, after urging as he had done upon the House that no reliance was to be placed upon parole evidence. But what kind of evidence did his hon. and learned Friend require? Did he, as a lawyer, mean to say, that a man who, at a public meeting, advisedly counselled, by speech, the compassing of the death of the Sovereign, or the levying of war against the Crown, or the speaking in favour of the King's enemies, and in aid of invasion of the King's territories, could not, according to the law as it now existed, be indicted for sedition? Did he mean to confine sedition within such narrow limits? Unquestionably not. What, then, would be the effect of applying the remedy proposed to those three particular points? It would cast a doubt upon the general law of sedition. His hon. and learned Friend admitted, that offences of this sort required immediate punishment; that the promulgators of sedition ought not to be at large; that no delay should be allowed in prosecuting with vigour such offenders—and he even proposed that new criminal courts should be established. [Mr. S. MARTIN: No; a special commission should issue.]
They were to have a special commission within a month for the trial of misdemeanants. Such was the plan proposed to be introduced by his hon. and learned Friend, who nevertheless declared that experience justified him in having no confidence in parole evidence. He could not but think that, if it were necessary that any new remedy should be introduced, the remedy proposed by his hon. and learned Friend was not the most applicable to cases of sedition. He would now proceed to discuss the question as to the words proposed to be omitted. His hon. and learned Friend objected to the words in this clause, because no Act of Parliament had yet sanctioned the making of words written and words spoken an offence of the same degree. Now, one of the main objections as to offences against the Crown and Government was, that there was no intermediate offence between the high crime of treason and the lower crime of misdemeanour. By the law as it formerly stood, parties indicted for treason had counsel assigned to them, and so also had parties indicted for misdemeanours; but parties indicted for felony were not allowed counsel; it was therefore argued that it would be a gross hardship to make those Acts which were deemed treason or misdemeanour to be thereafter acts of felony, by which the accused parties would be deprived of the benefit of counsel. But that objection no longer existed—every person indicted for felony had the full benefit of counsel; and as to the forfeiture of goods—which was incident to a conviction of felony—that was a consequence applying almost equally to all three offences. There were several statutes which made the speaking of words of a certain tendency advisedly felony. The Statute of Anne enacted, that the party convicted should be deemed guilty of prœmunire. What was the effect of that sentence? It subjected the party to imprisonment for life, and to a forfeiture of all his goods. Under the 13th of Charles II., chap. 1, the same case took place in respect to a certain description of misdemeanours; and there was a third Act, which was passed in the reign of George III. His hon. and learned Friend was mistaken in saying that there was no Act of Parliament which made the speaking of words felony, because by the Statute of George III. it was enacted, that if a person should have been previously convicted and imprisoned for such an offence as a
misdemeanour, and should repeat the offence, then he should be deemed guilty of felony, and be subjected to a higher degree of punishment. [Mr. S. MARTIN: There must be some overt act.] It had been made the subject of grave discussion whether the speaking of words in the case of compassing the death of the King was not itself an overt act; and, whatever might be the opinion of Mr. Justice Blackstone on that point, it was quite certain that the highest authority on criminal law, Mr. Justice Foster, laid it down distinctly that spoken words which were intended to persuade to the commission of overt acts did amount to an overt act of treason. ["No, no!"] It was so laid down by Mr. Justice Foster, in his work on Crown Law:—
As to mere words," said that learned Judge, "supposed to be treasonable, they differ widely from writings in point of real malignity and proper evidence. They are often the effect of mere heat of blood, which in some natures, otherwise well disposed, carrieth the man beyond the bounds of decency or prudence. They are always liable to great misconstruction from the ignorance or inattention of the hearers, and too often from a motive truly criminal; and therefore I choose to adhere to the rule which hath been laid down on more occasions than one since the Revolution, that loose words, not relative to any act or design, are not overt acts of treason; but words of advice or persuasion, and all consultations for the traitorous purposes treated of in this chapter, are certainly so. They are uttered in contemplation of some traitorous purpose actually on foot or intended, and in prosecution of it.
He (the Attorney General) admitted, that other writers had held a different opinion, Lord Chief Justice Hale among the rest; but Mr. Justice Foster was of opinion (and cases had been decided in concurrence with that opinion) that words spoken with a design and intent to some treasonable overt act, such as that of compassing the Queen's death, amounted of themselves to an overt act of treason, and were to be construed as such. The distinction which had uniformly prevailed in civil cases between written and spoken slander, had been very much slackened of late years. It had been over and over again maintained by counsel, that though in some cases spoken words if reduced to writing might be more permanently injurious, yet in other cases spoken language was often more injurious to the parties, and was much more frequently made the subject of civil action. In his view of the case, it was a great defect of the criminal law of this country, that there was no intermediate charge between treason—the highest offence—and misdemeanour, the lowest offence. The
consequence was, that there was in the Statute of George III. many cases made the subject of treason, which more properly should be reduced and made matters of felony; while there were many aggravated cases of sedition, which ought to be increased from the crime of misdemeanours, and be made felony. This was the object of the present Bill. It reduced some cases now deemed treason down to cases of felony merely, while it made cases of malignant sedition also felony which were now only deemed misdemeanours. But all this was accompanied with every security to the parties accused, by requiring almost instant proof of the offence to be made before the magistrates, and which proof was not to be deemed sufficient unless established by two witnesses. If, therefore, the House should be of opinion that every case of sedition should not remain as it now stood, but that it was prudent to have some intermediate case between treason and misdemeanour, guarded by all the securities he had mentioned, then he apprehended they would not adopt the remedy proposed by his hon. and learned Friend, but would consider that the safest, best, and most prudent course would be to retain the words as they now stood in the clause, even if it were proposed to make the measure permanent, which, however, it was not intended to do.
§ MR. S. MARTIN explained. He did not say that no parole evidence could be trusted; all he intended to say was, that it was a species of evidence which was liable to many misapprehensions and mistakes.
MR. MONCKTON MILNES said, that by the merest accident he had found out a mistake in the quotation made by the Attorney General as purporting to be the opinion of Mr. Justice Foster. It was not the opinion of Mr. Justice Foster at all, but it was a commentary made by Sir Frederick Pollock, when Attorney General, on that portion of the quotation only which were the words of Mr. Justice Foster. The real words of Mr. Justice Foster terminated at the close of the third sentence of the passage quoted by the learned Attorney General, and then commenced the following comment of Sir Frederick Pollock:—
And therefore I choose to adhere to the rule which hath been laid down on more occasions than one since the Revolution, that loose words, not relative to any act or design, are not overt acts of treason.
§ MR. AGLIONBY said, the more he thought of this measure, and the more he had reference to constitutional authorities, the stronger was his objection to this part of the Bill; but he would content himself with stating the grounds upon which he should support the Amendment. He did so upon this plain principle, that in the year 1848, and in the present state of education and feeling of the people, it was his firm belief that they could never be persuaded to believe that there was no difference between written and spoken words. He did not mean to impeach the accuracy of the reports; on the contrary, his experience of the ability of shorthand writers convinced him of their marvellous accuracy, giving, in fact, everything of the speaker, save his tone and manner. But the difference was inherent in the nature of the two things. He proposed that the three principal offences enumerated in the Bill as acts of sedition, which were to be henceforth made felony, should still be called misdemeanours, and not felony; but they should be visited with additional punishment, and not to be made bailable.
§ SIR F. THESIGER begged to correct an error into which the hon. but not the learned Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes) had fallen, in stating, that language had been attributed to Mr. Justice Foster by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General which was not his language, but which was, in fact, the language of Sir F. Pollock. It might have been convenient before the hon. Member for Pontefract had made that statement to the Committee, that he should have looked to the works of Mr. Justice Foster to see if it were well founded; and, as his hon. Friend might have some curiosity to ascertain whether his statement was correct or not, he would take the liberty of referring him to page 200, of Foster's Crown Law, and his hon. Friend would find, that the words cited by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General were literally contained in that work, in the manner in which his hon. and learned Friend had stated. Now he would turn to a mistake of more gravity and importance, for it was the mistake of the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract (Mr. Martin). As the basis of his argument, the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract had stated the effect of this clause to be, that for the very first time it was proposed to make persons indictable as felons for words spoken. Now, he would venture to 253 say, with all deference for the opinion of his hon. and learned Friend, that was nothing like the effect of the clause. The indictment under that clause would not be for words spoken, but the indictment would be for compassing and imagining. If he were in error, he was sure his hon. and learned Friend would correct him; but as he (Sir F. Thesiger) read the clause, most unquestionably an indictment framed under that clause must be an indictment for compassing and imagining the different objects which are there specified; and an indictment properly framed under that clause should then go on to state either that there was something published, or something spoken openly and advisedly, which would be the proof of an overt act for the compassing and imagining which would be charged upon the indictment. Now the words "compassing and imagining" are words that are familiar and intelligible, though they might not so appear to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, who only understood when it was convenient for him to understand. If the hon. Member for Montrose would have the kindness to turn to the debates which took place in 1796, upon the introduction of the Act 36 Geo. III., he would find that Lord Erskine, then Mr. Erskine, no mean authority on the subject, had said, that the words "compassing and imagining" were words that were as clearly understood and intelligible as any words in the law; and he would tell the hon. Member what he believed to be the meaning of these words. They meant a settled, formed, deliberate design and intention, which were to be manifested and proved by some overt act. Therefore the clause in question would require an indictment, not for the words spoken—as his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Pontefract supposed—charging that as a felony, but charging the compassing and imagining the different objects which were there specified, and stating that treasonable and seditious words were used. He did not think it would be necessary to put in the indictment the very words that were used; but it would be necessary to prove the words as an overt act, showing the intention of the parties. His hon. and learned Friend had said they could not trust to the memory of persons, and that it was dangerous to have a provision of this kind, which applied to words spoken. Why, if there be any authority for the work of Mr. Justice Foster, which was 254 cited by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, he (Sir F. Thesiger) would take it, that words which led to any acts or designs might amount to treason; that where words of advice, of persuasion, or of encouragement were used, or words of consultation for the purpose of accomplishing treasonable objects, that, according to his notion of the law, amounted unquestionably to overt acts of treason. Therefore, the very same objection would apply to the proof of those words as overt acts as that which his hon. and learned Friend brought against this clause, in the more mitigated character in which the parties offending are to stand. He apprehended that in every case the question would arise from the circumstances under which the words were spoken. It was not every idle, hasty, or intemperate expression (no matter what number of persons were assembled), which would render persons amenable to the effects of the clause; the question must be decided according to the circumstances of each particular case; and he (Sir F. Thesiger), for one, felt that confidence in juries which his hon. and learned Friend did not seem to entertain, and which led him to believe that a man might feel perfectly secure in trusting himself to a jury when he was charged merely with the use of intemperate language, and where there was no proof of any deliberate intention or design to accomplish the objects stated in that clause. He must confess he very much regretted that it was the intention of the Government to give way upon this occasion, and to make that which he certainly wished should be a permanent measure, merely a temporary one for a limited time which was not with certainty specified. Let them see the condition in which they were placed. The 56th Geo. III. did not apply to Ireland. It was made perpetual by 57 Geo. III., under circumstances in which he conceived the Legislature in its wisdom thought it necessary that that temporary measure should be converted into a permanent one; circumstances had occurred, to which it was unnecessary for him to do more than to allude, which not only had called upon the Government to apply this measure to Ireland in a mitigated form, but also to introduce a provision into it which might meet the peculiar emergencies of the times, and enable them to reach those persons who, with the power of inflaming the minds of their deluded followers, assembled together large masses 255 of the people to make seditious and inflammatory speeches to them. It was absolutely necessary that some law should be introduced for the purpose of preventing such proceedings. The Government in its wisdom had deliberated on the subject, and it had decided that a law should be introduced with this peculiar provision to meet the exigencies of the case. It had also considered it was necessary that that law should correspond with the 57th Geo. III., and should be made perpetual. The Bill was introduced to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department with this clause in it, and without any intimation at all that it was the intention of the Government to make this most important provision merely a temporary expedient. But opposition was offered to the provision, great resistance was made to it; and he (Sir F. Thesiger) deeply regretted to think that the Government had yielded. It appeared to him that they destroyed all the vigour of this Bill by reducing this provision and qualifying it in this manner. He could not sit down without expressing his regret that this course should have been pursued by the Government. He acknowledged that he did not now feel the strong interest that he did in the carrying of this measure. He thought it was one which should not only be useful, but permanently useful; and he regretted the Government had thought proper to make the alteration to which he referred.
§ MR. HUME begged permission to make one observation, as the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir F. Thesiger) had mentioned his name. The hon. and learned Gentleman had given them the legal interpretation of the word "imagining;" but when he (Mr. Hume) looked to Johnson's Dictionary, which was his authority, he found the meaning given for "imagination" was "fancy."
§ The ATTORNEY GENERAL would suggest that for the purpose of ascertaining the meaning of legal words, the hon. Member for Montrose had better look to Blackstone. He (the Attorney General) begged to refer him to that authority, where he would see what was the meaning given of the words "compassing and imagining the death of the king."
§ MR. W. P. WOOD would not have risen to address the House, had it not been from a fear on his part that some portion of the observations which were made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the At- 256 torney General, and the hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General, might create a misunderstanding which, would be deeply to be deplored in legislating on such a question as that now before them. He should be far from attempting to correct either of the hon. and learned Gentlemen in their statement of the law; but he desired to add to it such supplementary observations as would enable the House to understand the state of the law. However, so tar as they went, he should not contradict the statements of the hon. and learned Gentlemen. He begged to call attention to the fact, that any words spoken of the seditious character described in this Bill, would be a high misdemeanour, punishable by law, without any new measure on the subject. That punishment would be very severe—imprisonment without any very defined rule as to duration, and fine without any defined rule as to the amount. Their attention had been called to the opinion of Mr. Justice Foster, with respect to which the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes) had been a little misled by the inverted commas of a quotation not being carried far enough. It appeared, however, from that authority, that to constitute the offence, the words of advice or persuasion should be used for a traitorous purpose, and intended to aid in the prosecution of it. They could not get at the full meaning of Mr. Justice Foster, without studying that chapter; but the Attorney General had the book before him, and he (Mr. Wood) could from memory assert, that Mr. Justice Foster concurred with Lord Coke and Judge Hale in a positive opinion that words alone were not an overt act; and, therefore, he heard with surprise Mr. Justice Foster quoted as an authority, that words alone could constitute treason. It was said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General of the late Government, that the indictment would not be for words; but the indictment would be (and he was perfectly correct) for compassing and imagining those different acts. That would be the indictment, and the words would only be the manifestation of it. The words, no doubt, would be in the indictment as manifestation of the traitorous act of "compassing and imagining;" for how could it be punished without being manifested? The "compassing and imagining" must be rendered capable of trial by human jurisdiction; for, as Sir M. Hale had truly said, God, and God alone, could 257 punish the "compassing and imagining," without proof of the acts. He thought, that in the course of this discussion a most remarkable proof was given of the difficulty of relying upon spoken words. He referred to the misrepresentations they had heard of the admirable argument of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Martin). That hon. and learned Gentleman did not say he distrusted juries. On the contrary, he remembered his hon. and learned Friend had said that he had the highest faith in juries; but he said, also, that he mistrusted juries in a moment of excitement. He thought the phrase was "panic-stricken juries." He was not, perhaps, inclined to follow the precise words his hon. and learned Friend had used, for instead of having panic-stricken juries, his apprehension was, that the danger would be of a different description. On Monday last they had witnessed no proof of panic; but they had witnessed a noble indignation. There was no alarm exhibited by any person, but there was displayed a feeling of indignation at the conduct of those who would create disturbance. But they should guard themselves against that nobler feeling no less than against the more dastardly feeling no fear. A moment of excitement, whether arising from fear or indignation, was not the best time for a jury to deliberate on its verdict. Nay more, it was not the fittest moment for the House of Commons to legislate on the subject. They ought to be careful how far they proceeded to alter the law, and how far they created a sympathy in a wrong direction. Several hon. Gentlemen had said to him, how was it possible he could feel sympathy for those individuals? Of course he had no sympathy for the persons who had uttered such wretched and ferocious stuff as was uttered in this country and in Ireland. He showed he had no sympathy for such men by recording his vote against any measure being taken in favour of a dastard of that description, Frost, who having urged numbers of his countrymen into rebellion, was one of the first to fly; but there were several Members of the House who seemed to sympathise even with that individual, and this showed the danger of inflicting equally severe punishments on a minor political offence. He (Mr. Wood) was thoroughly rejoiced the measure was confined to a limited period; and so far from regretting, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General did, 258 that the Government conceded this point, he was rejoiced at it. He hoped, before the expiration of two years, the cause of this state of things would be put an end to. He trusted by that period the Chartists would be rallied round the constitution, by the extension of the franchise and other reforms, and thus their time would be occupied in elections, and similar business. Quackery had been a term applied by one hon. Member to our treatment of Ireland. He trusted, that the disease and not the symptoms would soon be treated; and he was glad that as a blister was about to be applied to the present symptoms, it at least was not to be a perpetual one.
§ MR. MAURICE O'CONNELL had no faith in the alterations proposed by the noble Lord. He would appeal to the recollection of every Irish Member, as to what had been the conduct of the Government of this country in the case of every Coercion Bill which had been introduced. Such Bill was always introduced for a limited period; but it always happened that five or six months before its expiration, a continuation Act was brought in for a further period. So they went on. What dependence also could be placed upon the conduct of a Dublin jury in political maters?
§ MR. GROGAN protested against the observation of the hon. Member for Tralee as to the Dublin juries. It was particularly ill-timed, at a period when political libels were about to be tried in Dublin. If the hon. Gentleman felt so strongly on the subject, let him propose a clause enacting that those trials should take place in this country, and let him allege as the ground that he had no confidence in an Irish jury.
§ House resumed.
§ SIR G. GREY moved that the House should meet to-morrow at Twelve, to go on with the Bill.
§ MR HUME objected, as many Committees were sitting, and it was not decent to proceed with such haste.
§ MR. MOWATT moved that the debate be adjourned till Monday next. He did not wish to offer any factious opposition to the Bill. When a large majority decided that a measure was necessary, he was, on ordinary occasions, willing to give way; but this was an exception to the rule. When Her Majesty's Ministers brought the Bill forward, which was intended to give a fatal blow to the liberties of Ireland, 259 they had before their eyes the bugbear of the Chartist meeting. There never had been an instance of such indecent haste in passing a Bill.
§ MR. FAGAN rose to address the House when the clock struck Six, and the Speaker left the chair.