§ Lord Sidmouth moved the order of the day for the second reading of the bill for prohibiting training. Their lordships, he said, had made an order, that two of the bills which had been read a first time on Monday, should be read a second time this day; he might, therefore, now allude to bath. The provisions of one of the bills were similar to those of the Temporary act which was passed some years ago, when the midland districts were in a disturbed state; and if their lordships compared the present bill with the act of the 52nd of the king, they would find that its provisions were much less rigorous. The papers which had been laid before their lordships contained instances of training and of the procuring of arms, more than sufficient to prove the necessity of the measures recommended to their adoption. But the evidence on this subject, irresistible as it already was, had been greatly strengthened since those papers were placed on the table. Within these last few clays information had been received that military training was still going on, and that the practice of procuring arms, for purposes the illegal nature of which could not be questioned, was continued. If, then, there was evidence sufficient to warrant their lordships in countenancing this bill, the grounds which would recommend it to their adoption had, instead of being weakened, become much stronger. He should at pre- 579 sent say nothing more, except to move, that the bill which stood first in order be now read a second time.
§ Lord Erskine
contended, that the papers before the House did not afford sufficient ground for the measures proposed, and in particular, that the allegation in the preamble of the bill respecting training was not made out. If their lordships found the enactments of the bill unexceptionable, still they ought not to adopt the preamble as a ground for such legislation. His lordship then argued, that the present measures were in themselves far more objectionable than the act to which the noble secretary of state had referred. He believed they would not have the effect which was expected from them. Transportation he considered much too severe a punishment for the offence of drilling. In the course of his long experience in the courts below, he had always found that severity of enactment defeated its purpose. He was therefore of opinion that ministers would be more likely to succeed in their object by making the penalty less. With regard to the bill for the seisure of arms, though it was only temporary the powers which it gave were so extraordinary, that their lordships would surely pause before they sanctioned it. After the assertion in the preamble, the bill proceeded thus:—"Be it therefore enacted, that it shall be lawful for any justice of the peace, upon the information upon oath of one or more credible witnesses, that he or they believe that any pike, pike-head, or spear, is in the possession of any person or persons, or in any house or place," &c. The clause then went on to say, "or any dirk, dagger, pistol, or other weapon," and authorized the issuing of warrants to seize arms, and search any house by night or by day. From the terms in which this clause was framed, he must contend that the most loyal person in the country, within the operation of the bill, would be liable to have his house searched, and if any arms were found, might be made liable to all the penalties of this severe law. The people were entitled by the constitution to have arms for their defence; and if a measure of this kind were rendered necessary by local circumstances, it was fit their lordships should look carefully to its provisions.
, though aware that the noble and learned lord who had just sat down ought to be better qualified than 580 himself for the discussion of evidence, could not look at the papers in his hand without being satisfied that there was ground, not only for the bills which had been introduced, but for more coercive measures. He referred their lordships to the papers on the table, where they would find a letter from Mr. Marsh, a magistrate at Westleigh, followed by the substance of certain depositions relative to the making of arms. Having communicated with Mr. Marsh, he had had access to the informations relative to the procuring of arms, and he could assure their lordships that he had sufficient knowledge of the parties to state that they were persons who deserved to be credited on oath. He thought it right to say this much, though the noble and learned lord had not, as on the former night, founded any argument on the anonymous nature of the correspondence. Some alterations might be necessary in the provisions of the bills, but if the noble lords on the other side had the opportunities which had occurred to him, of ascertaining the credibility of the evidence, he had no doubt that they would come to the same conclusion as himself.
§ Lord Erskine
gave full weight to the observations which had fallen from the noble lord, but still could not rely on the truth of the evidence generally. He had been taught by experience to place no implicit faith in such informations. Their lordships might recollect, that a great mass of similar informations had in 1794, been referred to committees of both Houses of parliament; and that, upon the reports made by those committees, indictments for high-treason were found against certain individuals. When, however, the persons accused were tried they were acquitted. There was evidence enough to satisfy parliament, but not evidence enough to satisfy a jury of the country. Recollecting these things, he could not place confidence in such evidence as appeared in the papers on the table. The noble lord surely would not say, that anonymous information was to be relied upon by the House with as much assurance as the evidence of persons whose names were made public, and who might be called before them. When testimony was given, he liked to see the witness's face; and if an opportunity for that was afforded, it might be ascertained whether the evidence came from a spy or not. He must say that the mea- 581 sures were altogether inconsistent with the principles of free government. When he looked at all the bills on the table, and thought how little England would be like England, when once they were passed, he could not help being filled with indignation and disgust at such a melancholy prospect. How fortunate would it be for the country if another course were adopt-ed. Conciliatory measures would do more to restore confidence and tranquillity, than all the rigorous enactments that could be adopted.
The Lord Chancellor
, in consequence of what had fallen from his noble and learned friend, thought it necessary to state, that when he found it his duty, in 1794, to prefer charges of high treason against certain individuals, he did not proceed on the credit of any report of cither House of parliament, but upon the credit which he gave to information on oath. His noble and learned friend thought that England would be unlike England when these bills were passed; but he would ask their lordships what they supposed England would be like if they did not pass? It was only by passing these bills that they could preserve the country from destruction. He always paid the highest respect to the opinion of his noble and learned friend, but it appeared that, on the present occasion, he had misunderstood the clause in the act relative to the seizure of arms. It was not the mere possession of any dirk, dagger, pistol, or other weapon, that gave the power of searching a house, but the possession of some such weapon "for any purpose dangerous to the public peace." The overlooking of these words made an important difference in the view of the clause. A man might be possessed of a dagger, not only without any improper, but for a laudable purpose. He recollected being in the House of Commons when a great man, now no more (Mr. Burke), but whose memory was stamped with immortality, threw down a dagger on the floor in the course of his speech. That dagger was still preserved, but the person in whose possession it was, certainly did not hold it "for any purpose dangerous to the public peace," but in order that it might be transmitted to posterity as a memorial of that great man who had been instrumental in bringing about the adoption of the course of policy which had saved the country, and rendered England what England now was. With regard to the constitutional question of 582 the right of the people to possess arms for their own defence, which had been alluded to, the noble and learned lord observed that, in looking at the bill of rights, the principle was not laid down in so broad a manner as it was frequently represented, and that it was accompanied with the strong qualification, that subjects might have arms suitable to their conditions. There was, therefore, little force in the objection urged on this ground. But if their lordships had any doubt of the propriety of passing these bills, it would be removed on giving a fair consideration to the evidence contained in the papers on the table. If the persons to whom that evidence referred, were arming and training with the intention attributed to them, then were they guilty of nothing less than high treason. If their object was to give to meetings, by the collection of great numbers, the quality of physical force, for the purpose of procuring, by the display of that physical force, any alteration in the government, in church or state—if this were done by any individuals, either in this city or any other part of the country, he must declare that such a proceeding was an overt act of treason. With respect to the bill before the House, it never could be supposed that it was wished to render it one of unnecessary rigour. It would be for their lordships, when it went into the committee, to consider all the details, and to render it as lenient as possible.
§ Lord Redesdale
regarded the reports of the secret committees of 1794 as standing on unquestionable authority. There was not a single fact in them, which, when brought before a jury, was disputed or discredited. The attempt to lessen their authority was, therefore, perfectly fruitless. The charges of erroneous statements which had been made against these and subsequent reports were all unfounded. That which had been advanced against the report of one of their lordships committees consisted in an evasion. It referred to a word which had been inserted in the report without a qualification. The word "correspondence" should have been "correspondence by messengers."
, when he saw so many tremendous bills on the table affecting the liberty of the subject, did not think it necessary to dwell much upon the transactions of 1794. He was not now disposed to consider in what manner the noble and learned lord on the woolsack had 583 at that period performed his duty. But another noble and learned lord had asserted that the facts stated in the reports of 1794, and upon which no verdict was obtained, were not disputed. Mark the able reasoner! Did he not know, that all the facts in the reports which were made the subject of charges against the gentlemen tried for high treason, were after the investigation of juries, discredited? How could it be said that they remained undisputed? It was not said, that because the reports of 1794 of 1812 had proved false, the evidence now laid before the House must necessarily be false; but what had occurred with respect to these reports afforded reason for caution now. The noble and learned lord had alluded to the use which Mr. Burke had made of a dagger in the House of Commons. No man had a higher opinion of the talents of Mr. Burke, than that which he entertained; but if he had wished to cite an example either of his eloquence or judgment in debate, he certainly should not have fixed on that particular argument which the noble and learned lord had chosen to select. For his part, he should have preferred some of the profound political maxims which he had often uttered in the House of Commons. The present discussions might have brought to the recollection of the noble and learned lord, what that celebrated statesman had said on popular discontents. He had on one occasion observed, when the people were charged with being discontented, that if that charge was true, this at least must be allowed—either that they were a very bad people, or had a very bad administration. That was a maxim which would keep its place in his mind at least as long as the scene of the dagger. The noble viscount, from the manner in which he had introduced these bills, had placed him in a considerable degree of embarrassment—not on account of any deficiency in the explanation of his object, for that he had given in the most candid manner, of all the bills in the aggregate. But though there might be details to which he did not wish to object, the whole of the measures rested on grounds which prevented him from giving even these details his unqualified concurrence. For instance, he perhaps, with some qualifications, would not object to the measure for preventing secret training, or to the seizure of arms. Though he was no lawyer, he could easily understand 584 that training for a seditious purpose must be a crime of some description or other. This acknowledgment was not, however, sufficient to induce him to agree to the present bill, as it began with an allegation, of the truth of which he was not convinced. The noble lord opposite (lord Lilford) thought the evidence sufficient: he did not, and there they differed. He wished for more evidence, because the experience of former testimony had taught him to doubt the present. He was therefore anxious to have it understood, that in agreeing to any of the details, he by no means sanctioned the preamble of the bill. It was said, that training for seditious purposes was a misdemeanor; but that there was a difficulty in obtaining legal proof; and to remove this difficulty it was necessary to come to parliament. This was a reasonable proposition; but if all that was wanted was to remove a doubt as to the law, why introduce the measure with an objectionable preamble? The details of the bill were not, however, free from objection. It appeared a great inconsistency that the person who drilled should be liable to seven years transportation, and those he trained to two years imprisonment. The purpose of the driller might happen to be more innocent than that of the drilled. Why, then, was there such a difference in the punishments? The noble lord who spoke second in the debate had referred to his knowledge of certain informations; but the noble lord would surely acknowledge that anonymous evidence could not be expected to convey with it the same weight with persons who had not the same opportunities of information which that noble lord had. But he had reason to know that in that part of the country from which the evidence came, there were many Orange lodges, which were a great cause of dissension. If the names of the individuals who had given evidence were disclosed, it would be known what and who they were. If their lordships had them before them, they might ascertain whether or not they were members of these lodges. No man could lay his hand on his heart, and say, that he could rely on anonymous evidence with as much confidence as on that the authors of which were known. He, therefore, could not agree to the preamble, as it asserted that of which he could have no knowledge. But with the qualifications he had stated, he was willing to say "content" to the principle of the present bill.—With res- 585 pect to the second bill, it had been contended, that it contained no violation of any constitutional right. The noble secretary of state had not made such an assertion on introducing the measures. On the contrary, he very candidly admitted, that with regard to the bill on the subject of the press, there was, to a certain extent, a violation of principle. He was astonished that it should be supposed that this bill was sanctioned by the words of the Bill of Rights, which said that the people might have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions. He looked back with gratitude to those great men who, at the period of the revolution, settled the government on the principles of liberty. Was it to be supposed, that by the introduction of these words, they meant to deprive the mass of the people of their right to possess arms for their own defence, to make a distinction between the rich and the poor, and to deprive the latter of the advantage given to the former? The principal record in the Bill of Rights was applicable equally to the rich and the poor, and it was most insulting to the people, to tell them that this measure for the disarming of certain districts was according to the provisions of the Bill of Rights. But if, unhappily, it were necessary to depart from the principle of that great constitutional act, let at least the disarming be done with as much tenderness as possible; let it not be accompanied with any questioning of that principle. He saw with satisfaction, that information on oath, before the arms were seized, was necessary; and though the clause referred to by his noble and learned friend was liable to the construction he had put upon it, yet the bill altogether was better than that of 1812. There were some of the details objectionable, but what he had to say on them would be better reserved for the committee. As the bill was contrary to a great principle of the constitution, their lordships ought to be the more careful to prevent the evil from being aggravated by unnecessary rigour in the provisions. Into the great question of the unconstitutional nature of the measures, he should not now enter, more especially as his noble friend (earl Grey), whose absence from indisposition he lamented, had discussed that part of the subject much better than he could. His noble friend had fully stated all his sentiments and feelings, and he did not wish to weaken the impression which his 586 speech must have made. He must, however, observe, that he believed the whole policy of his majesty's ministers to be founded in error. He would not say of them, or of any other set of men, that their intention was, to subvert the constitution, in order to acquire for themselves unlimited power; but if they had such an intention, he knew no better method that could be pursued, than that of occasional remissness in checking the progress of sedition, in allowing it to grow to an alarming height, and throwing on parliament the duty of putting it down. In such a state of things, many honourable and good men could see no other course left, than to adopt the measure of rigour which were recommended.—But he should say no more on this part of the subject. The two bills under consideration were the least objectionable of the whole series of measures. If he gave any opposition to them beyond the point in which he disagreed as to details, it was because he considered them as parts of an objectionable whole. On the contrary, if he concurred in parts of these measures, he begged it might not be therefore understood that he gave any approbation to the whole. He admitted, as he had said before, that this bill, by disarming only certain districts, and by being limited in its duration to a certain time, did as much to render the measure palatable as it was possible to do. But still their lordships should recollect, that the necessity of disarming the people, if that necessity really existed, implied a will and intention on the part of the people to oppose the government of the country. He believed that the greatest power that could be exercised by any government, either despotic or limited, was to attempt to disarm the people. He stated it, therefore, as one of his strongest objections to all these laws, that if they did not succeed in accomplishing the object for which they were framed, they must prove highly dangerous, on account of the impressions they would make, and the wounds they would leave on the minds of the people. On all these considerations he could not say "content" to the second bill. As to the first, it certainly was better than that passed in 1812, and therefore it was not a measure on which he would express that abhorrence and detestation with which he viewed the system of coercion about to be established.
The Lord Chancellor
, in explanation, 587 denied having said any thing with regard to the principles recognized in the bill of rights, that could admit of the interpretation given by the noble lord. Nothing that fell from him could justify the inference, that it held out one law for the rich and another for the poor. He was as proud of the Bill of Rights as any noble lord could be; but at the same time he considered that it did not hold out a single protection to him, or to their lordships, which it did not equally afford to every class of his majesty's subjects. In alluding to that part of the bill which allows the subject to have arms for his own protection he did not sacrifice a single principle; and while he continued in public life, he would pledge himself, that as far as it could depend on him, the subject should never lose the benefit of a single word or letter which it contained. It was not against having arms for his own protection, but against using them for the destruction of the constitution, that either what he had said, or what the bill before the House provided, could fairly be supposed to apply.
The Marquis of Buckingham
said, he should not object to this bill, because it was one not for disarming the people, but for preventing them from using their arms against the constitution. He had been surprised to hear his noble friend accuse the noble and learned lord on the woolsack, of having misquoted the Bill of Rights, and of having said that there should be one law for the rich, and another for the poor—that the one had a right to keep arms in his possession, and that the other had no such right. He could not conceive on what grounds these charges were founded; for what the noble and learned lord had said was, that every man was entitled to have arms suitable to his protection; and that, the moment he rose in arms against the constitution, it was the duty of parliament to interpose, not, indeed, to prevent him from having arms, but to take care that he should not use them in overturning the constitution of the country. The noble lord had deprecated the interference of parliament by any new legislative enactments. But what had their lordships on the former evening been discussing? What was the question that had then been agitated? Was not the proposition of the noble marquis (Lansdowne) that they should go into an inquiry? And yet the noble lord now objected to these measures, because they would 588 throw upon parliament the onus and the odium of interposing. It was important, considering the nature of the evil for which a remedy was now required, that no time should be lost. They were at present placed between two difficulties. He agreed with the noble lord in thinking that one of the greatest mischiefs that arose from ill-designing persons creating alarm in the country, was the necessity of giving a great preponderance of power to the crown. But they must either make sacrifices to obviate this difficulty, or compromise the safety of the state by not Checking those whose object was to over-turn it. He had heard a great deal about its being the duty of parliament to conciliate the people; and he had waited long to hear in what manner this conciliation was to be accomplished. No doubt the principle was a good one, and parliament ought to adopt it, if it was practicable. The noble lords had all said, that conciliatory measures ought to be resorted to; but they had not told the House till now, what measures would satisfy the people. Now, however, it was said by the noble lord, that nothing more or less than a reform in parliament was necessary, and that nothing else would satisfy the people. He did not wish at present to enter into a discussion on the propriety or impropriety of granting a reform in parliament. He himself had a distinct idea on the subject; but how was it with the noble lords? There were not two of them who agreed in their views of the question. The people at their public meetings had declared, that they would not be contented unless they obtained annual parliaments and universal suffrage; and therefore, the noble lords must either offer the people what they would throw back in their face, or they must agree to the measures proposed.
, in explanation, denied that he had charged his noble and learned friend on the woolsack, with misquoting the Bill of Eights. All he intended to convey was, that he had frittered away a part of it in his version. The noble and learned lord had taken high dudgeon at this. As he had since explained himself, no doubt could be entertained with respect to the meaning of his words; but as they were first delivered, he (lord Holland) being something of an angler, thought he had a good bite [a laugh]. The noble marquis was guilty of an inaccuracy, when he supposed him to have 589 recommended parliamentary reform as the means of conciliation. He had not, in fact, mentioned parliamentary reform at all, or even if he had, the noble marquis, who had certainly formed a distinct opinion on the subject, might allow him the credit of having a distinct one also.
§ The Duke of Sussex
said, he rose in consequence of the speech of the noble marquis who had attacked that side of the House as if, in general, the principles of radical reform were adopted by them; and he wished that noble lords, when they spoke of any individuals, or, indeed, of any matter whatever should be correct in what they stated to the House. He did not agree in opinion with those who approved of all the measures that were brought forward; but he would take that opportunity of stating his acquiescence in the bills then under their lordships' consideration. He regretted to hear from the other side of the House opinions which implied the imputation, that noble lords on his side were inimical to the interests of the state; they felt they were contending for the interests of the country as much as the noble lords opposite; and while he differed very much from them in political sentiment, he should endeavour so to express his dissent as not to inflame the public mind. He should beg leave to advert to what had fallen from the learned lord;—for any subject connected with the Bill of Rights, with Magna Charta, or any other of the great barriers of the constitution, every one must feel to be important. The learned lord would allow him to say, with every respect for his character, and with great deference to his legal knowledge, that when he stated his opinion that certain proceedings were treasonable, he (his Royal Highness) should have wished that the learned lord had been in the situation of attorney-general when these proceedings occurred, because he was convinced that that opinion, if stated and acted upon by the attorney-general, would have relieved the country from a great part of the evil now said to exist. He would state to the noble marquis, that although he was not a radical reformer, he had an opinion on that subject; an opinion as distinct, and, he hoped, as constitutional, as that of the noble marquis himself; and whenever they should enter the lists of argument on the subject, he hoped they should fight fairly and manfully. He agreed with the noble lords opposite, that the House ought not to lose its time; but 590 still he must look to causes, and he would say, that those physicians who did not examine minutely, but took the symptom for the disorder, might kill the patient, but would never cure the disease. He returned his acknowledgments to their lordships for the attention with which they had listened to him. In the situation in which he stood, he was anxious that his opinion should be known, as well from his attachment to the constitution, as from the affection he entertained for the interests of the people.
The Earl of Darnley
thought it his duty to give his support to some of the measures before the House. With respect to the arming bill, it was universally admitted that such a measure could be justified only on the ground of necessity. The only objection which he was prepared to make to this bill he should take the liberty of throwing out at present, for the consideration of the noble lord opposite. He thought it extremely dangerous to give to any man the power of entering another's house at night; and, if possible, it would be expedient to avoid giving that power. He would not waste their lordships' time in arguing on the inexpediency of this provision, or of the present measures in general; but he would take the liberty of inquiring, before he decided, whether the present measures, supposing them to be necessary now, might not have been avoided, if a different course had been adopted by government. He apprehended they all considered the measure to be grounded on the fact, that arms were possessed by individuals for dangerous purposes. From the papers on the table, however, he thought that this measure arose entirely from the transactions at Manchester on the fatal 16th of August. It was, no doubt, to be lamented, that itinerant demagogues were going about the country, and inflaming the minds of the people; but still it was known that meetings of the same description as that at Manchester had taken place in other parts of the country, and had separated without any bad consequences. He maintained, therefore, that whatever evil disposition there was in the situation of the country, it was mainly owing to the unfortunate conduct of the magistrates on that day, and to the subsequent conduct of ministers in stifling inquiry. If government had granted an inquiry, he was satisfied that the evils now to be provided against by these measures would not have existed. 591 Let the people be satisfied that parliament was prepared to do them justice by going into an inquiry, and then it would not be necessary to have recourse to measures of extraordinary severity. The noble marquis had said, that noble lords on the opposition side of the House, talked of conciliating the people, but did not tell how that was to be accomplished; and at last he had come to the subject of parliamentary reform. He was astonished to hear the noble marquis imputing to his noble friend the wish to establish annual parliaments and universal suffrage. Their lordships would do his noble friend the justice to acknowledge, that he had said nothing that could warrant such an imputation. In answer to what the noble marquis had said on the subject of conciliation, it was only necessary to observe, that the measure of inquiry proposed by his noble friend (the marquis of Lansdowne) would have been most conciliating and satisfactory to the country. After some observations against the coercive system of ministers, the noble earl remarked, that in order to govern the people of this country, it was necessary to appeal to their hearts, not to their fears; and that endeavouring to pass such laws as these would excite apprehensions that the object was to govern them by the bayonet, for his own part he must acknowledge, that he would rather be governed by the noble earl and the noble viscount opposite, than by Mr. Hunt and Dr. Watson; for any government however bad, was better than theirs.
§ The Earl of Darlington
expressed considerable diffidence in offering himself to the attention of their lordships, but he felt it a duty which he could not decline to address them for a few moments. He presented himself to their notice not merely as a person possessing some estate in the country, and respecting the laws and constitution under which he lived—not merely as a member of the legislature, in whose dignity and security he was interested—but as the holder of a situation under the Crown, which he had had the honour to fill ever since the year 1792. He had forborne to obtrude himself upon former occasions, but his name had been already introduced to their lordships' notice in the documents which were laid on the table by his majesty's ministers. It might be supposed, from his residence in the county of which he was about to speak, that he 592 had some knowledge of the people by whom he was surrounded. He had taken great pains to ascertain their opinions, and though in the northern part of the county of Durham he considered at one period that they were quiet, he could not help observing that there were some symptoms not indicative of perfect tranquillity. They were silent, indeed, but their silence was of a sullen character. A meeting was held in the neighbourhood of Newcastle, the numbers of which were greatly increased by a difference between the proprietors of the collieries and their workmen. The meeting was conducted quietly, but the manner of its assemblage was such as ought not only to have attracted the notice of government, but of all who wished well to the country. In some time after, it was intimated to him that a rising would soon take place. He had then no fear of such an event; nor should he now have intruded on their lordships, if he had not received intelligence, within these few-days, which confirmed that intimation. From that intelligence he was certain, that at the present moment, while the deliberations of parliament were in progress, a correspondence was going on between the North of Durham and the south of Newcastle, for the purpose of carrying projects into effect for the subversion of the constitution. Under this impression he felt it to be their lordships' duty to unite in the endeavour to find out the persons who aimed at the destruction of the government, or endeavoured to excite tumult and disturbance which endangered the whole property of the kingdom. Here it was that he disagreed from his noble friends with whom he generally acted. They had expressed their dislike and suspicion of anonymous information. The principle was certainly just; but he could say, that he had received intelligence upon which he could place the most implicit reliance, but the authors of which he would not upon any account disclose. As far indeed, as he could form a judgment on the subject, he was with great deference obliged to differ from the notions of his noble friends on that subject. With respect to the bills of which the secretary of state had given the outlines on a former day, he had some hesitation in agreeing to them without qualification. Some objections might be stated, and some alterations might be necessary, but as far as the general tenor of such 593 bills went, he believed they were absolutely required. Though he was far from being an alarmist, when he saw such things pass before him, the existence of which he could not doubt any more than he could doubt his eye-sight, it was his duty to state that ministers were called upon to bring forward some measures extremely strong in order to meet the emergency. It would have been a matter of great satisfaction to him if an union could have taken place between both sides of the House on this occasion; but unhappily that was not accomplished. That inquiry should take place as to the causes which brought the country into this state, was a fact he was ready to admit; but it was foreign to the present question—as foreign indeed as the question of reform, and like that only a waste of the time of the House. Reform was, in his opinion, to some extent necessary; but he should now conclude by stating, that with some trifling alterations the present bills had his approbation, as well as the other measures with which they were connected.
The Earl of Strathmore
rose also to make a statement to the House, which he thought it of importance that they should be acquainted with. He corroborated the statement of the noble lord who preceded him, on the subject of the meetings in the neighbourhood of Newcastle, which he described as inconsiderable in point of numbers at first. The last, however, was alarming, both in point of numbers, and with regard to the flags exhibited. The motto upon one of the flags was, "the day of retribution is at hand," and the device a death's head and bones. Though no mischief was done, he was convinced that they were ripe for mischief. He had certain information, that many persons attended the meeting with pistols, and had that day received a letter from a most respectable clergyman at Newcastle, which would show the extent to which the alarm had reached in that part of the country. The letter commenced by observing, that about twenty factious demagogues, who ought to be hanged or incarcerated, had done all the mischief, and succeeded in preparing the minds of the people for rebellion. It proceeded to state than an hon. and rev. gentleman, a magistrate of the county, the brother of a noble earl whom he did not then see in his place, had with his family taken refuge in that town. What must the state of 594 that county be when magistrates were obliged to fly for refuge. He was glad that the noble lords who sat on the same side of the House with himself, had not objected to the bills under consideration. He hoped that no time would be lost in passing them, for he was sure their lord-ships must see that unless they were carried no man could answer for the safety of the country. Another fact, of which he wished to apprise the House, was, that the colliers were divided into different classes, consisting each of twenty persons, under the direction of a leader. The Black Dwarf, The Republican, The Cap of Liberty, and other blasphemous publications were the constant subjects of their study, and he feared were too successful in corrupting their minds. He trusted, however, that they would soon be convinced of the error of their ways. in addition to this, it was certain that there were 14 or 15,000 men on the banks of the Weir and the Tyne ready for rebellion. After what had been said of the northern part of Durham, he was much gratified at being able to bear testimony to the loyalty of the south-western district. There was little or no disaffection there, and he was persuaded that the great mass of the people were ready to defend the king, the constitution, and the laws. In the north of Yorkshire the same spirit prevailed, and he was persuaded would soon manifest itself in any case of danger. He had said thus much in corroboration of what had fallen from the noble earl, and in explanation of the letter he had received that morning, which he thought it of importance that the House should be acquainted with.
§ The bills were then read a second time.