Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Birmingham Police Bill.
wished to make a few observations upon this subject, which, perhaps, it would be more convenient for him to do now than when in Committee. There were some suggestions which he had to offer, and which he hoped sincerely the noble Lord would adopt, for the alteration of the details of this bill. If, however, the noble Lord should reject these suggestions, he should feel obliged to take the sense of the House upon some of them, when in Committee, with a view of trying the question. The suggestion which he had in the first place to offer to the noble Lord was, that the noble Lord should, in the present position of affairs in Birmingham, take to himself for a time the power of appointing a salaried magistrate to superintend the police of that town. He asked that the noble Lord should do this only for a time, say for three years, until it should be decided under whose control the police force of that town should hereafter be placed. His intention was to give such support as he could to the proposal of the noble Lord, for increasing the military force of the country; and he confessed, that he should have felt bound to do so, if the noble Lord had proposed a larger increase, on account of his firm conviction, that looking both at the external and internal relations of the country, more especially our operations in the East, there was a likelihood of greater burthens being imposed upon our present military force than was consistent with the due execution of the functions and the safety of the country. He intended, also, notwithstanding the advanced period of the Session, to give his support to the measure which the noble Lord proposed for putting the civil force of the country in a more efficient position, He conceived that it was not a wise policy to recur too hastily to measures of coercion; but he did not think that the provision of an efficient civil force was a measure of coercion, all parties in the State being equally interested in the maintenance of peace and the preservation of their property. He regretted, however, that the noble Lord, looking at the state of the country, had not called the attention of the House to this subject at an earlier period. He also cordially concurred in the proposal for appointing a permanent civil force in the town of Birmingham, and he believed, if this force was appointed with the general concurrence and with the confidence of all parties, it would prove of great advantage not only to the town of Birmingham, but to the country in general; for the events passing in that town undoubtedly exercised a very strong influence over the surrounding country. There had been three methods proposed respecting this police for the town of Birmingham. His proposition was, that for a temporary duration the police of Birmingham should be placed upon the same footing as the police of Westminster, Lambeth, and Southwark, to the universal satisfaction, he believed, of their inhabitants; for amongst them a universal conviction prevailed, that the power of the police was not given for the purposes of tyranny, but merely, as far as was necessary, for the maintenance of peace and the preservation of property—two ingredients essential to every man's welfare. He now asked the noble Lord to apply the same principle to Birmingham as had been so successfully acted upon with respect to nine-tenths of this great metropolis. It might be said, in opposition to this proposal, that Lambeth, Westminster, and Southwark were not municipal corporations, and that therefore their case was different from that of Birmingham. But in Dublin there was a corporation, and yet in Dublin the same principle had been acted upon as in Westminster, Lambeth, and Southwark; and they had a police force there, which the hon. and learned Member for Dublin said had given universal satisfaction; adding, that he should deprecate any proposal to transfer the control over that force to any new municipal body. The hon. and learned Member said, that he had greater confidence in a number of officers appointed by the Crown, and responsible to the House, than in any local authority whatever. It had been proposed to place the police of the City of London upon the same footing, and nothing but the violent, and as was considered the universal opposition, of the corporation of that city, had induced her Majesty's Government to desist from that intention; and the power was therefore left to that corporation, unfortunately, as he thought, of appointing officers, and the power of removing them. Now, he asked the noble Lord to extend to Birmingham the principle of the Crown appointing a Police Commissioner. If, indeed, there had been a corporation of ancient foundation in the town, having the power to impose a rate, the case might have been different. But here they were asked to advance 10,000l. for this very purpose; it was a special case, and for that very reason he thought they were fully justified in imposing any conditions to the grant, which they believed to be essential to the good government of the town. The hon. Member for Birmingham said the other night, that there was no necessity for this grant, because the local police had generally given satisfaction in the performance of their duties, and moreover that the Street Commissioners had the power of appointing police, and that they were now proceeding to make such appointments, and to levy a rate for that purpose. Now he did not think it would be advantageous that this body should have the appointment of the police; he thought it highly desirable that no local body should have these appointments. He objected to the interference of local authorities in these matters for the present; he thought that for a time they had much better rest with the noble Lord. He did not think that the appointment of these officers by the town council would give general satisfaction in the town itself. To the establishment of the town council itself there had been great objections raised, a great number of the rate-payers having petitioned the Government not to grant a charter. He believed that the number of inhabitants who opposed this step was nearly equal in number, and paid an amount of rating at least as great as those who were in favour of it. Great excitement and dissension consequently now existed on the subject, which would be diminished in course of time. Then, again, he thought it was evident that the Birmingham charter had been conceded with great haste, and without sufficiently mature consideration as to the consequence and effect of such appointments. For instance, it appeared doubtful whether the town council would have the power of levying a rate. There was so much doubt upon this point that it was thought necessary to insert a clause in the present bill distinctly conferring it. But if that was the case with respect to Birmingham, how was it with respect to Manchester and Bolton? What would become of them? But, again, did this very power conferred, by this bill go further than to give the power to raise a rate to repay by instalments the present advance? Did not this very clause imply that they had not the power to raise a rate for any other than this specific purpose? What was the case of the overseers, who were doubtful whether they were warranted in obeying a precept of the town council, for levying a rate, and who submitted their case to the opinion of certain high legal authorities of which Sir William Follett was one? The opinion of Sir William Follett he would beg to read to the House:—
He thought this opinion of Sir Wm. Follet was sufficient to show the necessity of not granting these powers until the whole question had been more maturely considered. He wished to add nothing to the difficulties of the magistrates in the maintenance of peace in Birmingham; but at the same time he could not help thinking that the state of the town, and the party animosities which existed there, were sufficient to recommend the course which he was now proposing to the noble Lord. He believed that the town council consisted exclusively of persons of one shade of politics—that there was not one person of Conservative principles amongst them. He could not think that that arrangement could prove satisfactory to the inhabitants, which excluded altogether from any influence in the preservation of the peace of the town, every one who held a certain line of politics. It might be said, that the town council would not abuse their powers. All that he could say was, that the town council had shown a very strong partiality for those with whom they had politically co-operated, and that those who had taken an active part in the Political Union, had been appointed to office. He did not ask the Government to take part in local disputes of this kind; but that means should be taken to afford the inhabitants of every shade of opinion a feeling of confidence in those who were appointed to protect their lives and property. He put it to them, whether the inhabitants of the town who differed from the town council in politics, could feel confidence in the exercise of local authority, by a body which thought it consistent with its duty to make a delegate to the national convention, a registrar of the Mayor's Court? Though he wished to avoid all references to the public conduct of individuals on a subject of this nature, yet he must ask the Government whether, if they found a person delivering language of the description which he should prove, they would consider him a proper recipient of local authority? Hon. Members must bear with him while he read the whole passage to which he referred, lest he should be charged with making partial extracts:—"The question now raised on this charter is one of very great doubt and difficulty; the existing corporation and town-council of Birmingham have been formed in a manlier altogether different from that provided by the statute 5 and 6 of William 4th. c. 76. in respect of the ancient corporate towns, and although the Crown, in virtue of its common law prerogative, might grant the charter in question, and might thereby incorporate the town of Birmingham, and create the mayor, town-councillors, &c, who might legally perform all the ordinary functions of a corporate body, it certainly does not necessarily follow that the crown could vest in the corporation, or any portion of it, powers beyond the reach of the prerogative of common law, and which could only be legally conferred by the act of the Legislature. The mode of creating and originally forming the new corporation contemplated by the 141st section of the statute 5th and 6th William 4th., and the 49th section of Statute 1st Victoria, cap. 78, and of dividing the towns to be incorporated into wards, has been altogether unprovided for by these statutes. This omission was no doubt an unintentional one on the part of the framers of these acts, and has left, therefore, in very great doubt the degree of power vested in the new corporate bodies; for it may very fairly be contended, that, although the Legislature were willing to give those extraordinary powers of rating, &c., to councillors elected under the provisions and subject to the guards and restrictions provided by statute, they did not intend to vest such powers in a body con- stituted under a different authority, and elected in a manner different from that provided by the act, and that, therefore, the omission in the statute respecting the original formation of the new corporations, and more especially that most important, because permanent, provision regarding the divison of the borough into wards, could not be sufficient for this purpose by the prerogative of the Crown; and as the Crown could not extend to the inhabitants of this borough all the powers and provisions of the statute, it could not extend in part only and give to the new town-council, elected and formed as this is, the power of taxing the inhabitants of the borough. I think, therefore, in the state of doubt and uncertainty in which the power of the town-council has been left by the Legislature in this respect, it would not be prudent for the overseer to obey this precept, without the direction and sanction of the Court of Queen's Bench, it is very well known that those doubts do exist, and I should think the better course for both parties would be to arrange to have the point raised and settled by an application on the part of the town-council for a mandamus to the overseers. Assuming the rate to be valid, and the present town-council of Birmingham to have the power granted by the 92d section of statute 5 and 6 William 4th., c. 76, and the statute of 1st Victoria, c. 81, the overseers might be distrained upon, if they refused to obey the order of the council; but if that course were adopted by the council, the overseers might raise the question of the legality of the rate and of the distress by relieving the distress, or bringing an action of trespass against the magistrates who should sign the warrant."
He did not wonder at the astonishment manifested by the hon. Member for Birmingham at such violent language, but what would the hon. Member say, when he told him, that the person who delivered that address, was appointed clerk of the peace by the town council? What must the people who had been the deluded instruments of agitators think, when they saw the man that told them that "moral force was of no effect, and that he was the advocate of physical force," named by the town council of Birmingham as clerk of the peace? Was that calculated to give satisfaction? Was it wise and likely to conduce to public tranquillity? He must ask the noble Lord, whether, since this individual was appointed clerk of the peace, he had been engaged in defending the Chartists? He was told, that on July 15th, the day on which the riot broke out at Birmingham, in the Bull-ring, on which property to the amount of 30,000l. or 40,000l. was exposed to destruction, and on which the peace of the town was so seriously endangered—he was positively assured that Mr. Edmonds, the clerk of the peace, from his official seat, appeared as agent for the Chartist prisoners? Now, was that calculated to remove from the minds of the people the delusion under which they laboured, that they were encouraged in these proceedings by persons of higher ranks in society than themselves? It could not be denied, that the intimate connection betueen the Political Union and the Chartists induced this opinion. He did not mean to say that the Political Union partook in the designs of the Chartists—he did not mean to say that they did not repudiate them; but their original connection naturally led the Chartists to suppose that the Unionists entertained friendly feelings towards them. And if the town council appointed one person who held such language to be clerk of the peace, and another who was a delegate to the Convention, to be a registrar—he asked what assurance those who differed from them had, that the town council would not adhere to their own partisans, and appoint them to the high and subordinate offices of the police force? How could they believe that the parties, kept in a state of alarm every eight or ten years by periodical agitation, would feel perfectly satisfied and contented, when they saw powers of a local body charged with the preservation of public peace so exercised? Those who formed the Political Union must take on themselves the responsibility of having established the institution of the Chartists. They might now say that they differed from these bodies as to the right of arming; they might repudiate any present connection with them; but those who encouraged the institution of such societies, those who lent them the sanction of their name and authority, were morally, if not legally, responsible for the acts which they committed when those bodies outstripped the dictates of the authority which called forth, and when a storm burst out which it was beyond the power of those who raised it to direct. The hon. Member for Birmingham, in an address to the Political Unionists, thus spoke of the Chartists:—"They were aware that there was no man who had more strongly urged the right of the people to resort to physical force than he had. For twenty years he had been telling the people, that if they could not get rid of their grievances by one means, they must by another. At a late town's meeting, in the Town-ball, over which Sir Eardley Wilmot presided, he (Mr. Edmonds) had stated it as his opinion, that men in power would not be moved by any sense of justice, to do what was right for the people, unless they were afraid of something else. In fact, he stated that physical force was nothing less than what was represented by moral force. They would, therefore, see he had gone as far as any man in maintaining their right to resent their wrongs. But suppose he was to say to them, their wrongs were so great that they could not, and ought not, any longer to endure them, and that they ought to strike that night [cries of no, no, that won't do!']. Suppose he was to tell them that they must proceed forthwith that night to arm themselves [cries of 'no, no!']. Why they might as well that night as any other ['no, no']. They were as well prepared as that night month ['no, no!']. If it would not be wise that night, why would it be wise next week? ['no, no!']. He would say to them, be men of sense, and let them not he hurried into mischief. If he proposed to them to arm that night——[cries of 'no, no, it won't do!] Well, was there a man there, a man who would come forward and tell them when they ought to arm, and resort to physical force? [A person in the meeting; No, but we ought to be prepared.'] Well, but if he wanted to resort to physical force, would it be good generalship to tell his enemies the time and the manner? Would it be wise of him to tell them—'Now, if you will only come on a certain day, to a certain meeting, we will be prepared to take your arms from you, and use them against you?' He remembered Mr. O'Connor, in that room, saying, that the man who proposed physical force was a traitor. If a man said, that if on a certain day they did not obtain what they demanded, they must fight the next day, that man was a traitor. He would say, the man who would lead innocent men into danger was a traitor [disapprobation]. He had stood before them twenty years; he had suffered in their cause, and he had a right to advise them [Hear!] He would say, if any countenance were given by that union to the plan of fixing a day for the attainment of their rights, he would instantly resign his seat in the council, and if the union approved of such a plan, he would not have anything more to do with them again. They had carried the Reform Bill by peace, law, and order, and they——"
He apprehended the forty-nine delegates disappointed the expectations of the hon. Gentleman. As might naturally be expected, they had exceeded the powers which the hon. Gentleman proposed to entrust them with, and when the hon. Gentleman said they must adhere to law, order, and tranquillity, but that a national convention should be appointed which should be obeyed in any legal order, the hon. Gentleman might repent of the advice which had been given; he might consider the course taken by that body tantamount to their own dismemberment, and the annihilation of their political strength, but he never would believe that the hon. Gentleman could divest himself of the measure of responsibility which properly belonged to his inculcation of the views on which the Chartist body was originally constituted. The hon. Gentleman might disclaim any identity between the present objects of the Unionists and the Chartists, but he must admit, that it was a fact calculated to shake the confidence of those who differed from both, to have a public force controlled and directed by a body comprising both Unionists and Chartists. He had discharged his duty in delivering those sentiments, not for the purpose of obstructing the Government in their efforts to restore order and maintain the public peace, but because he was perfectly convinced that he had recommended a measure more calculated to provide for the public peace, and to give satisfaction to Birmingham, the metropolis of a large district, than devolving such powers on a town council which could not relief itself from the imputation of having appointed to public offices a delegate to the Convention, and an advocate of physical force. He agreed with the noble Lord, that they should not show any eager distrust of the people. He had never pressed the adoption of hasty measures of police. He thought it wise to trust with confidence to the common law or salutary customs of the country. He could never believe that the loyalty, property, and respectability of the nation, particularly when encouraged by the Government, would not, if necessary, instantly assemble and frown down any efforts of the Chartists to produce an open public rupture. Though they might succeed in interrupting the public peace—though they might endanger the property and lives of individuals, he never could believe that this country was so debased as quietly to permit the violence of men who recommended physical force to prevail, and tacitly acquiesce in the subversion of all law and authority. He was perfectly willing to coincide with the forbearance of the Government, carried to its legitimate extent, but he implored them not by any act of theirs to sanction those combinations which now existed, or to pass a measure which must be committed to delegates to the convention for its enforcement. He thought the noble Lord's confidence in the loyalty of the people of England just, but the moment he lent an indirect sanction to those doctrines of physical force, by not taking proper precautions to prevent their being carried into operation, he became a party to the delusions practised on the people, he would forfeit the confidence of England, and disappoint the natural expectations of the inhabitants of this district in particular, should they find that the Government abstained from interposing with authority—not from any disinclination to set aside the established laws of the country, but because they had not the manliness to say, "We feel bound to interfere for the maintenance of public tranquillity, with the corporation privileges of Birmingham. When we find that the local authority has abused the trust reposed in it, no consideration of political partisanship shall induce us, on a question which intimately concerns the public peace, to invest it with the necessary power for the constitution of a police force.""My friends, I repeat to you, if we are not strong enough to succeed by moral means, we are not strong enough to succeed by physical means. The latter will require a hundred times more labour, a hundred times more sacrifice, and a thousand times more expense and endurance than the former. Our interest, therefore, and our duty both combine. We must hold fast to the law. We must gather up the masses of the people. We must unite them all as one man. We must teach them to act under leaders, and at the proper hour we must precipitate the weight of their moral influence in one grand, legal, united, and overwhelming mass upon the Government. It is with this object, that we have recommended the assembling of the forty-nine delegates of the industrious classes in London. These honest representatives of the people will as- semble under the sanction of the law. They are chosen under the principle of universal suffrage. They roust be instantly cashiered if they neglect their duty. But they must be obeyed in all things under the law, so long as they discharge their duty. It is in this way only that we can obtain unity. Through unity we shall obtain liberty. Through liberty we shall obtain prosperity. Nothing can resist the force of public opinion, when they ought to act universally, unitedly, and centrically upon the Government. Here, then, is our rock of strength. We must support and obey the forty-nine delegates in every just and legal measure which they recommend. We must shrink from no labour; and, without crime, without expense, without blood, without injury to trade, we shall gain quickly more for the people than a hundred battles, and a 100,000,000l. sterling, and twenty years of civil war could obtain for them."
wished to say a few words in defence of the body on whom the right hon. Gentleman had vented so much of his displeasure. It was perfectly true that the Town Council of Binningham belonged to the party which was diametrically opposed to Toryism. Indeed they might be called Radicals; but being chosen by the ratepayers in a fair fight, their political opinions could not be charged on the electors or the elected as constituting a very henious offence. These men might be liberals, they might be radicals, they might not have as much money as other men belonging to that town; but he felt satisfied there were in that Council as honest men as were to be found in Birmingham—aye, as honest as any that sat in that House. He could bear testimony to the upright and conscientious discharge of their duty. He differed from the right hon. Gentleman in his supposition that the Charter of incorporation was not demanded by a majority in point of wealth and numbers. The moment, however, the council proceeded to levy a rate they found their power disputed. It was not, in his opinion, wise to leave a doubt upon such a question. He maintained that the Council had a perfect right to claim a control over all local concerns; and he for one would sooner quit Birmingham for ever than relinquish his title to such a privilege as that of providing for the public peace of his native town. The right hon. Baronet had quoted a speech of Mr. Edmonds. That Gentleman was obnoxious to the Tories, for he had always taken a most active part against them. He might have taken a lead in the present agitation, and gone further in the expressions which he used than was warrantable, but his appointment was unanimously agreed to by the Town Council. It was not perfectly consistent with good taste, perhaps, that Mr. Edmonds should act as agent for the Chartists, but he did not find the Attorney-general censured for defending men who ought to be hanged. He had heard the Attorney-general defend a man for piracy, who escaped through his able advocacy, and he was not aware that Mr. Edmonds acted in any way unbecoming a professional man. There was very little doubt that an union now existed between the Chartists and the Tories, in opposition to the present corporation; and the tools of Tory malice were, he dared to say, well remunerated for their services.
thanked the right hon. Baronet for the quotation he was pleased to make from his speech. He should be glad if the right hon. Baronet had extended his quotation, for he had never written anything of which he was ashamed. Had his humble labours been properly brought before the public mind, instead of there being a contest going on between masters and men, between the middle and the lower classes, and instead of finding physical force arrayed in opposition to the profit-mongers who had so long sucked the blood of the labouring classes, the people would have been placed in such a commanding position, that the Convention (which he admitted to have originated) would by lifting a finger have directed them in one peaceful, legal, and overwhelming onset. If they looked to the towns, nine out of every ten were Chartists. If they looked to the villages, nine out of every ten were rick-burners. He asserted with confidence that the labourers of England were alienated from that House, and that nine out of every ten who heard of a fire felt a melancholy pleasure at the intelligence. They had better apply themselves in securing the peace and contentment of the people. Let the right hon. Gentleman go his own way to work if he pleased, but do not let him suppose, that the people cried out for relief without cause. He had always deprecated violence—had never recommended it to the people even as a last resort. During the time that the Reform Bill was under discussion, when he thought, that the King, the Ministers, and the great majority of the House of Commons were bearded by the Lords, he had certainly used much stronger language than at any other period of his life; but even then he only recommended the middle and lower classes to hang together for the purpose of securing to themselves a proper representation in the House of Commons. His wish had always been to prevent anarchy, and he had done his duty to the best of his power, by endeavouring to unite the middle and lower classes of the community for just and righteous purposes, to be obtained only by just and righteous means. He hoped he should live to see the people recover the full tale—the full measure of their rights—rights purchased by the blood of their ancestors—rights which the people dearly cherished—but which of late years had been violently twisted out of their hands. The magistrates of Birmingham, at least the greater portion of them, were undoubtedly attached to the Liberal party; but they were all of them highly respectable in character and station in life. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had complained of the manner in which the corporation of Birmingham had been nominated. It was very remarkable, that the first political act of the corporation so nominated had been to petition the Queen to call such Ministers to her Councils as should give a thorough reform to the House of Commons. They did not in direct terms ask for the dismissal of the present Government, but they implied as much. This was done before the recent fires at Birmingham. The petition was agreed to by the mayor, aldermen, and other members of the corporation. There was not one dissentient voice—not one voice raised in support of the present Ministry. Be thought, that the mention of this fact was sufficient to vindicate the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) from the charge advanced against him by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) of having constituted a party or partizan corporation in the town of Birmingham. With regard to the town-clerk, Mr. Edmonds, a more worthy, upright man never lived. He had certainly been what was called an agitator; but he was not an unjust man, and had never attempted violence. He suspected, that bad men had been at work at Birmingham, and, indeed, throughout the country generally—men not sincerely attached to the cause of the people, but mischieviously and wickedly urging them on to acts of violence, in order to injure and destroy the cause which they falsely professed to serve. When he saw the successful working of the plot which had been laid to make the people the instruments of their own destruction, he sometimes thought that Nicholas of Russia must be at the bottom of it. It must either be Nicholas of Russia, or else some of the partizans of the right hon. Baronet. With regard to the bill now before the House, all he could say was that, if the mayor and corporation wanted 10,000l., and applied to Government for it, he could see no objection to the loan of it; but he deprecated the police force, whatever it might be, being placed under the control of the Home Secretary or of the Government; for that, he was confident, would not be borne. It was to the presence of the London police that he attributed much of the violence shown by the people at the late disturbances in Birmingham. He trusted, therefore, that the House would not sanction the formation of a body of police which should have any analogy to the London police, or which should be placed under the control of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He was satisfied that no police force would be allowed to exist in Birmingham which was not entirely dependent upon the mayor and corporation.
could wish, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and who represented the town of Birmingham, would a little pause from carrying his fears of danger to such a distance as he was wont to do, and that, instead of being alarmed at Prince Polignac's overturning our laws, and the Emperor of Russia interfering with our domestic politics, he would rather direct his anxiety and care to the condition of those fellow-townsmen of his, and some who, a very little while ago, had their property deliberately destroyed by a riotous mob. He certainly thought, that the hon. Gentleman, as well in the letter which he addressed to the people of Birmingham a short time after the riot, as in the speech which he had that evening delivered to the House, had shown a want of that which he should have expected in him—a strong and decided sense of disapprobation of the acts which had been committed; for in his letter the hon. Member made hardly any mention of the violent and riotous character of the proceedings which had disgraced the town; and, in his speech that evening, he had only spoken of them with reprobation, because he considered that they tended to injure the cause of political reform, and of those other measures of which he was the advocate He trusted, however, that the House was unanimously of opinion, that evils such as these—the shopkeepers and inhabitants of Birmingham having their property destroyed, and their houses committed to the flames—he trusted the House would be of opinion, that evils such as these were deserving of most serious consideration; and that they should direct all their efforts, without respect to any minor motives, to provide the means by which similar evils might in future be arrested. In addressing himself to what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, with respect to the present state of Birmingham, and the necessity for this bill, he wished, before he stated the conclusion to which he had arrived in considering the proposal made by the right hon. Baronet the other evening, to point out what he conceived to be a material difference with regard to the town of Birmingham, and the still larger and more important town of Manchester, as compared with almost any other town in the kingdom. The right hon. Baronet said, that there certainly appeared to have been some haste and precipitancy in granting a charter to Birmingham. Upon that subject he need only refer, in the first instance, to that clause of the Municipal Corporation Act which explained the circumstances and prescribed the conditions under which a charter of incorporation should be granted. [The noble Lord here read the clause at length.] Attending to the words of the clause, and having before the Privy Council the petition of many inhabitants of Birmingham, and many inhabitants of Manchester, it did not appear to the Government, that there was any other than one course which could be taken to ascertain, in the first place, whether it was the actual wish of the great body of the people of Birmingham; and, if it should appear to be so, to direct a charter to be framed. It was obviously the intention of Parliament, that if the inhabitants of any of these great towns expressed a wish to be incorporated, the expediency of conferring a charter should be assumed. Manchester and Birmingham had grown up with very insufficient institutions—were governed only by some local Acts, procured from time to time, and having, perhaps, no great reference to each other. They had no institutions suitable to their importance, to their population, and for the preservation of peace, order, and good government. He could not now enter into the question of the number of the inhabitants who had signed the petition praying for the incorporation of the town of Birmingham, neither could he state what was the amount of their assessment to the rates; but, after a very careful investigation—after sending more than once to Birmingham to ascertain whether the signatures to the petition were real, and whether the parties who signed it were rated inhabitants of the borough—it appeared to the Government that a sufficient case had been made out to show that-it was the wish of the people of Birmingham to have a charter of incorporation. The right hon. Baronet had read an opinion given by Sir William Follett upon a case transmitted to him, and the right hon. Baronet inferred from that opinion, that there was some precipitancy in the way in which the charter was granted: but Sir William Follett did not express any very decided opinion, either one way or the other, as to the legality of the charter, still less did he say that it was ill constructed and ill suited to the purposes for which it was intended. Sir William Follett only doubted whether the Act of Parliament contained such detailed and minute provisions that a charter granted under its provisions, and conforming as nearly as possible to the conditions mentioned in the clause he had read, would carry with it that power of rating which it was obviously intended should be conveyed by a charter granted under the act. Upon that question, he wished not to give any opinion. But he must say, that he thought the opinion of Sir William Follet absolved the Lords of the council and all persons concerned in drawing the charter from the charge of haste in the advice which they gave. But the practical question upon this occasion was of a very different nature from the manner of granting the charter. Here doubts had been raised—they had been sanctioned by persons of legal authority, and the opinion of a person of the highest legal authority—namely, Sir William Follett—went to show that these doubts involved matters which could not properly be decided without a reference to the Court of Queen's Bench. Now, as a practical question, these opinions and these doubts bore most significantly upon the peace of the town. In times of perfect quiet—of little party violence, when no tumultuous meetings were held—this question, like any other legal question, might occupy for years the subtlety and ingenuity of the different counsel who might argue it, and the deep and attentive consideration of the judge who might finally decide it, without affecting the peace or tranquillity of the country. But at the present moment these doubts were of great importance. What had taken place at Manchester? There they had proceeded according to one of the courses recommended by Sir William Follett. The council applied for a distraint upon the goods of the churchwarden and overseer; this was met by a replevin, and it was proposed to carry the case (which, as he understood, could not be done in less than six or seven months) before the judges of assize. It was stated to him, in a letter from the Mayor of Birmingham, that at every meeting of the magistrates the opinion was gaining ground that there was no prospect of permanent peace in the town, until they were provided with an adequate police force; but he added that whilst the doubt remained as to the power which existed in the corporation to impose rates under the charter, it would be impossible for them to obtain the requisite funds. Now the right hon. Baronet contended, that the Birmingham town council, being constituted under a charter, the extent and power of which was not clearly defined, a police force raised by that body would be regarded as a force brought into existence by a party whose power was disputed, and consequently would not be a force calculated to preserve the peace of the town and the adjacent country. Since the right hon. Baronet first stated that objection, he (Lord John Russell) had seen various parties connected with the town of Birmingham, and hearing from them their different opinions, he was obliged to come unwillingly to the conviction that there did not exist even at the present time—when it might be hoped that all parties would co-operate with each other to preserve the peace of the town—any prospect or probability of the continuance of harmony and good feeling if any police force that might be raised should be placed under the direction of any known local body. One party in the town wished the power to be vested in the hands of the town council—another wished it to be placed in the street commissioners: neither party had the slightest confidence nor reliance in the decision, the orders, or the regulations of the other. During the time that the charter was in dispute, there must be a difference of opinion as to the manner in which a police force should be framed and governed. In this respect Birmingham and Manchester were in a totally different position from other towns which had ancient corporations. For instance, the other day at Newcastle there occurred in the middle of the night a riot, in which some 500 or 600 persons committed many acts of great violence. It did so happen that the mayor of that town had taken a more extreme part in politics than the gentleman who was now the mayor of Birmingham; but the corporation of Newcastle had been long established, its powers were undisputable, and therefore the police there, acting under the council of the town, were able to put down the disturbances, and to maintain the peace. But with respect to Birmingham the case was very different. The right hon. Baronet stated another ground, in which he could not express his general concurrence. The right hon. Baronet seemed to think that this town-council, being of extreme politics, and some of its Members having expressed extreme opinions were for that very reason unfit to control the police, and to manage the local affairs of the town. Now he must say, as far as he had seen with respect to these magistrates, and more especially with regard to the mayor, that he had never seen persons more anxious, more zealous for the public benefit, or more desirous of faithfully and conscientiously performing the duties which attached to them in their new office. And with regard to one of them, whose opinions were more notorious than those of his fellows, he found, that there was no difference of opinion in the town as to the ability and energy with which he had discharged his duties—not shrinking in the least degree from a manly and stright forward performance of them on account of any obloquy that might attach to him in consequence of previously expressed opinions. With respect to Mr. Edmonds, the clerk of the peace, it certainly appeared, that he had on one occasion acted as the agent of certain parties who were accused of having taken part in the disturbances. He owned he was very much astonished when he saw a statement to that effect in the newspapers. He could not believe it to be true; but, when he ascertained, that it really was true, he immediately wrote to the magistrates and stated, that he thought such conduct ought to be reproved. The reply he received was not quite satisfactory. The magistrates did not defend the conduct of Mr. Edmonds, but remarked, that the parties whom he appeared to defend were not tried at Birmingham, but elsewhere. He thought the explanation was unsatisfactory. It must have the effect of weakening the authority of the court, and of giving encouragement to those parties who were promoting disturbances and the most mischievous projects, if the person who was seen sitting in the court as the clerk of the peace was found acting as the agent of those who were accused of similar offences. He had stated his opinion already to the magistrates of Birmingham, and therefore on that point he agreed with what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman. However, upon the whole, he did not think there was any ground for not entrusting the town council of Birmingham with this power, on account, generally, of their political opinions, or of any general delinquency in the manner in which they had performed their duties. With regard to the other ground stated by the right hon. Gentleman, that the town council were not likely in the present disputed state of the charter, to obtain the general confidence of the different parties of the town, and that they were not likely to form the police force which should be recommended altogether impartially, he owned that the result on his mind was, that it was better that the plan suggested by the right hon. Gentleman should be substituted for that which he bad himself proposed. He had come to the opinion, that at Birmingham, if required, and at Manchester also, if desired by the people of Manchester, it would be desirable to provide—but for a period only—say for a period not exceeding two years, when this question it might be hoped would be able to be decided calmly and impartially—that the police force which should be formed should be placed not under the immediate direction of the Home-office, but under the direction of some competent person residing in the town or neighbourhood of Birmingham, and who should have the sole power of conducting that force independently of the disputed authority of the corporation. At the same time he felt, that the propriety of this proposition was very liable to be questioned. He was aware, that many people in Birmingham might consider that a council having been elected by the rate-payers under the charter, in those persons ought to be placed the power of nominating, choosing, and directing the police of that town. He felt it might be difficult to obtain for a police force otherwise appointed that degree of confidence which many would be well disposed to place in a local police. But upon balancing all the difficulties on the one side and on the other, he thought, if it were agreed to by the House, that a police force should be formed at Birmingham, that that force should be under the direction of some commissioner named for the purpose, who should have the direction of the force for a period of two years. He thought upon the whole, that the peace of the town of Birmingham would be more likely to be preserved by the adoption of such a plan, than by adopting the course which he had himself first proposed. In concurring with the right hon. Gentleman, he did not wish the House to come to any decision upon it to night. He was, therefore, ready to postpone the further consideration of the bill, with a view to modify its provisions in such a manner as to carry the plan he had stated into effect.
had heard with great regret the latter part of the noble Lord's speech, who was about to take a step which was little likely to produce the effect desired. The right hon. Baronet had made it a matter of complaint against the town-council of Birmingham, that they had observed a system of partiality in the appointment of their officers. Would the right hon. Baronet name a single corporation existing before the Municipal Corporation Bill was passed, and in which the majority of the corporation were Tories, that ever elected a Liberal to fill any office connected with it? He, however, rejoiced that the right hon. Baronet was at length convinced of the impropriety of that system, and he hoped that in future the right hon. Gentleman would discountenance all partial and one-sided elections. Great stress had been laid by the right hon. Baronet on certain expressions said to have been used by certain persons connected with the corporation of Birmingham, and which he conceived totally disqualified them from holding any official situation under it. This had not always been the opinion of the right hon. Baronet. He (Mr. Hume) recollected at more meetings than one which took place in Ireland, that language much more violent than was ever used by Mr. Edmonds had been uttered by persons connected with the party to which the right hon. Baronet himself belonged; and yet the right hon. Baronet never objected to those persons continuing to act as magistrates; nor did he scruple at a subsequent period to their being made privy councillors. [Sir Robert Peel: Who were they?] One of them was the hon. Member for Sligo (Colonel Perceval). The right hon. Gentleman had recommended that an individual should have the management of the police in Birmingham who should be wholly independent of the corporation. [Sir Robert Peel: in every other corporation.] Did the right hon. Gentleman mean in every other corporation—in Dublin for instance? True, there the corporation had no control over the police. But did not the right hon. Baronet know that they had the appointment of the sheriffs and of the juries? Did he think it a power of less importance to strike the juries than to conduct the police? Did the right hon. Baronet mean to say that for the future the police should not be under the management of any corporation, provided any party in such corporation were opposed to it; or did he mean to take away the management of the police from every corporation of the country? He would ten times rather see the charter of the corporation of Birmingham withdrawn altogether than see the men who were appointed town-councillors by the unanimous voice of their fellow citizens degraded in the manner in which they appeared likely to be; and he would tell the noble Lord that if he listened to the recommendation of the right hon. Baronet, so far from producing peace and concord, it would produce results the very reverse. Let but this violation of the rights of an independent corporation—let but this attack upon the principle of self-government be once commenced with respect to the town of Birmingham, and it would become a precedent and an example which he was quite satisfied would be attended with very disastrous consequences. It' the noble Lord wished to see a constabulary force introduced into this country—and he (Mr. Hume) was in favour of a constabulary force—he would entreat the noble Lord not to give the Secretary of State any power to interfere with that force, but leave it to the control of the borough and county magistrates. If he did, there was no doubt that the constabulary force of the country would be properly directed.
rose for the purpose of noticing one or two observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Attwood), and which he thought the House must feel ought not to pass uncontradicted. The hon. Member had stated that an immense majority of the working classes in towns were Chartists, and that nine-tenths of the rural population were rick-burners. Having long lived in a country where some acts of that description had unhappily taken place, he felt it peculiarly incumbent on him to give the assertion of the hon. Member a positive contradiction. Would the hon. Member seriously say, that there was one in ten of the rural population guilty of the crime he had spoken of? Would he say that rick-burning had occurred in one parish out of ten, or out of twenty, or out of thirty? Such an assertion could not for a moment be maintained. Whenever a fire did occur, instead of that apathy which the hon. Member had described as marking the conduct of the labouring classes, being evinced by the people, or instead of their rejoicing over an occurrence of so disgraceful a nature, it was with the utmost promptitude and good will that they came forward to extinguish it. There might be a few exceptions, but this was the general rule. The hon. Member sometimes exhibited an inconsistency in his language which was rather remarkable. There was hardly ever a person who challenged to himself more credit for feelings of benevolence and love towards the labouring classes than the hon. Member for Birmingham; but how could be reconcile such professions with what he had stated to-night respecting those labourers? Were men, merely because they were poor and employed in agricultural labour—were they because at some former time a few bad men had disgraced the country by incendiary acts—were they all to be charged as capable of such wicked, such diabolical conduct? Was it consistent with charity and Christian benevolence to charge the whole rural population of being capable of such crimes.
thought, that the doubt which was thrown upon the charter granted to Birmingham was not as to the validity of the charter itself, but as to the power of raising rates; that was to say, as to the power of taxation. The object, however, for which he principally rose was, to notice the objection which had been made with respect to the conduct of Mr. Edmonds. That Gentleman was his personal friend. He was a most respectable and honourable man, and also a thoroughly honest reformer. He had been charged by the right hon. Baronet, and censured by the noble Lord, for having engaged in defence of a Chartist. What was the situation in which that Gentleman was placed? He was, to be sure, the clerk of the peace for Birmingham, but he was also a practising attorney. If the House thought it right to make it unlawful for a clerk of the peace to practice as an attorney, then, should Mr. Edmonds continue to do so, he would be liable to punishment. But all that the law now said was, that he should not be at liberty to to practice at the Sessions in Birmingham; it did not deprive him of the right to practice away from those Sessions; and the charge against the parties for whom he had acted was triable at the assizes at Warwick. Therefore it was perfectly plain, that Mr. Edmonds was justified in defending—nay, was bound to defend those par- ties. Did ever any man reproach Sir Charles Wetherell for defending Thistle-wood, or Sergeant Copley for defending Watson? It had occurred to himself to be called upon to defend an Orangeman in Ireland, who was charged with murder, and the acquittal of the prisoner was attributed chiefly to his (Mr. O'Connell's) exertions. He therefore submitted to the House, that Mr. Edmonds was free from blame on account of that charge. He (Mr. O'Connell) was one of those who thought that the police had much better be placed under the authority of some person that did not belong to any party. He did not, however, like abandoning the intention of putting the police under the superintendence of the corporation of Birmingham—for this reason, that it appeared to be an unjust disparagement of that corporation. He was thoroughly convinced that the excellent body of men who composed that corporation, if they had the police force under their controul for a short time, would be themselves the first to ask the Government to take the management from them, and assume it themselves. He was rejoiced at this police plan. He was not one of those who had joined in the cry against them as being gend'armerie; but he knew that in Ireland, and in Dublin particularly, the system had worked well. In Dublin, all party feelings on the part of the police had ceased, since Major Miller had put an end to the plan of selecting political partisans to form that body. Take them for all in all, there could not be a better constabulary force than that which now existed in Ireland, and he had no doubt that a constabulary force would ultimately become popular in England. It would be found that they would protect life and property, and would not act as partizans. He was also glad that the Government were going to increase the army at the present moment. But while he wished to see the Government possess strength enough to put down the Chartists, he was not one of those who thought that the Chartists had been created so much by political unions, as by a refusal to do them justice. He believed that there was not a greater stimulant to Chartism, than the utter abhorrence evinced by the House of Lords of all salutary reform. Had not the House of Commons recently passed a miserable bill about the trifling matter of not depriving men of their votes, who, after the registration, should remove from one house to another, and was not that bill rejected in the House of Lords? When so unhappy an indisposition was evinced by the Lords to all salutary reform, what prospect had the working classes, who had no votes for electing Members of Parliament, of finding redress? Who took any care of their interests? They had no representatives. They had not any persons to sympathise with them; they had none in their confidence. No; you have deprived them of the franchise, and you suppose that they will be contented and satisfied under that system. They would not deserve to be Englishmen if they were satisfied. They are a slave class, and you a master class; and so long as this state of things existed, it was their right and duty to be dissatisfied. Many plans were held cut to them for their relief, and they might for a while be led astray by some of them; but this he knew, that, they were looking to the legislature for relief; they were desirous of having the Parliament their friend; but of this they were now deprived, because they were denied the right of voting. Let the right hon. Baronet speak as much as he pleased of the Radical council of Birmingham. Who made them Radicals? Did not the right hon. Gentleman, and his party, refuse to give up Gatton and Old Sarum for Manchester and Birmingham? It was their injustice that created Radicalism; it was their injustice only that gave strength to Chartism at the present moment; and stronger still would the Chartists have been, if they had not misleaders among them. The right hon. Baronet had talked of the impropriety of having corporations composed of political partisans. Had he never seen partisan corporations before? Was Birmingham the first? How long was the right hon. Baronet himself a defender of those corporations? He knew, when a majority of that House passed the bill, to put an end to partisan corporations in Ireland, that the House of Lords would not receive it. It was a mockery that they did not throw it out on the second reading. There were only eight against it, because they had not the manliness to throw it out all at once; but a sneaking and pitiful manner was adopted to defeat it. The Chartists had become formidable; insurrections had taken place in the towns. If calumniated Ireland had two or three months ago given, or were at the pre- sent moment to give, the least favour or countenance to Chartism, by a Chartist movement in Ireland, would not that have been a somewhat dangerous encouragement? But they had not the guile of Ribbonism. The frightful calumnies uttered in that House, and in the other House of Parliament, against the people of Ireland had been demonstrated to be false, even by the evidence that had been produced against them. Ireland was tranquil—there were no Chartists in Ireland. The people of Ireland knew their advantage. If it was their design and purpose to foment disturbances in England, they would have encouraged Chartism. But the people of Ireland saw that there was nothing to be obtained but by a peaceable demeanour, and by submission to the law. Ireland had never for the last 500 years been so free from crime as at the present moment. The judges on the circuits bore testimony to this, In the county of Kilkenny only a single felony was to be tried at the last assizes. In other counties the offences were almost as insignificant. That was the situation of Ireland, and yet the claims of her people were treated with contempt by the House of Lords, and with scarcely more favour by those whom he was then addressing. The way to put down Chartism in England was to vindicate the law, but at the same time to attend to the real and just complaints of the working classes. The working people of England were suffering severe distress, increased by the weight of taxation, while they were excluded from any share in the representation of the country. Support the law—he was for doing that—but he protested against that injustice and cruelty which excluded them from the franchise and left them in a state of inferiority to their fellowmen. The honest working men of England were the strength and sinews of the country, the producers of the national wealth, and yet they were excluded from sharing in the franchise. Lamentable as the disturbances at Birmingham were, he could not admit that they exceeded the scenes which took place when towns were taken by storm. The scenes at Birmingham never equalled in atrocity the occurrences after the siege of Badajos and St. Sebastian; still they were afflicting and disgraceful, and those who had committed them deserved to be punished; but those who had excited others to commit such outrages deserved the severest punishment.
said, the working people were suffering great privations, and he hoped nothing harsh would be done to them. The noble Lord had justly stated that Birmingham and Manchester had remained for a long time under institutions not suited to their increased population and wealth, nor to the changes in civilization and society. When the Municipal Corporation Act was passed, it was considered necessary that Manchester should receive a charter. The leading men, accordingly presented a petition praying that a charter might be granted; but certain persons interested in the abuses of the old system opposed the application, and every other attempt at improvement which in their opinion was likely to interfere with their pecuniary interests. None of the magistrates of that town were men of extreme opinions, and he challenged any one to deny that they had been chosen from the most respectable portion of the inhabitants, and having the greatest stake in the prosperity of the community. The aldermen and council of that town had applied to their political opponents to induce them to accept office along with them, being desirous to carry on the business of the corporation peaceably, and to the welfare of all the inhabitants. But acting under an infatuated principle the other party had refused. In Manchester they had stipendiary magistrates; in Birmingham there were none; and if the House would assimilate the two towns in that respect, and do away with all doubts as to the validity of their charters, he had no doubt that course would be attended with the best results.
hoped the noble Lord would not be induced to accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet. The noble Lord last week had pressed the subject of this bill on the immediate consideration of the House—and from the earnestness of his manner he felt convinced that the noble Lord had perfectly made up his mind, and that he was quite prepared with his plan. But now, on hearing the objection of the right hon. Baronet opposite, the noble Lord proposed to withdraw the bill he had thus introduced and to bring in another. The noble Lord should recollect that he obtained an unanimous vote of that house for 10,000l., on the condition that the money was to be distributed and managed by those having civic rule in Birmingham. Was it fair, he would ask, that the noble Lord should get the money under that condition, and that he should now alter the plan, and place the administration of that money under the charge of an agent solely appointed by the Government, and that the town-council should be relieved from all responsibility The right hon. Baronet had much to say in that House, and he led the other House; and the noble Lord takes suggestions, not from Members on the Ministerial side of the House, but from the right hon. Baronet who merely represented a minority—the Conservative portion of the inhabitants of Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman really directed the Government without incurring any of the responsibility attending the adoption of his advice. He knew that the plan suggested by the right hon. Baronet would produce great dissatisfaction in the town of Birmingham—dissatisfaction to the corporations of that and the other towns throughout the country. He would ask if there was a single corporation in England that was not a political body? Why, then, make that objection to giving the town council of Birmingham the control of the police of the town? He objected to the appointment of a Government-commissioner in this case, because it would be laid hold of for an example, and hon. Gentlemen would point to it and say—see how well it works in Birmingham. If it be such a good system, why did the right hon. Baronet not introduce it in the year 1829 into the city of London? He was too cautious to attempt it; he knew he should bring a hornet's nest about his ears, and he would not persist in a plan which he knew would violate the opinions of the great body of the people. But now, at the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet, the noble Lord was prepared to abandon his original plan (which was a very excellent plan, and approved of generally by the House, with the exception of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, who appeared to advocate something like the introduction of the Irish constabulary force;) and thus to apply a principle to Birmingham, which had not been adopted in London, because the public opinion was against it. He approved of the constitutional nature of the plan first introduced by the noble Lord, and hoped that, instead of withdrawing the bill, he would endeavour to amend it, so as to suit the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and not commence the introduction of a Government police into the internal districts of this country.
was not disposed to accede to the suggestions of the right hon. Baronet opposite on this question. He understood that the noble Lord merely intended the present plan to continue till the question as regarded the validity of the Charter was settled. The right hon. Baronet and the noble Lord had lately opposed him (Mr. Hawes) in his endeavours to extend the metropolitan system to the city of London, in consequence of the strong manifestation of public opinion against that extension. He was quite sure there would be a considerable manifestation of opinion in Birmingham against this plan of a Government commissioner, and he thought the plan of the London Bill might have been adopted with effect.
wished to postpone going into Committee till Thursday next. In regard to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Lambeth, with reference to the principle of the London City Police Bill, he thought the situation of Birmingham and London was so different that it would not answer. The hon. Member for Finsbury, Mr. Wakley, seemed to think it was a sufficient objection to the proposed change in the plan, that it had been made by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, Perhaps the adoption of the suggestion might expose him to the imputation of acting on the advice of the right hon. Baronet; but if he thought the peace of Birmingham could be secured by following that advice, he would not for a moment hesitate from acting on it by any such considerations.