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Agricultural Labourers Meeting At Leighton Buzzard—Alleged Disturbance—Questions

Volume 217: debated on Monday 28 July 1873

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether, in consequence of a question by the noble Lord the Member for Calne (Lord Edmond Fitzmarice) on Wednesday last, relative to an alleged disturbance at Leighton Buzzard, county of Bedford, he has received any information on the subject; if so, whether he would be good enough to state the purport of that information, especially as it affects the conduct of the police on the occasion?

Sir, since the Question was put by the noble Lord I have received a Report from the Chief Constable. One of the allegations made by the noble Lord on the information he had received, was that a policeman had challenged one of the speakers at this public meeting to fight. That and other statements were explicitly denied by the Chief Constable. I am further informed that the irritating language used by the speakers caused great excitement, and that the police experienced great difficulty in defending them from violence. Indeed, the safety of those gentlemen was due to the exertions of the police.

asked the noble Lord the Member for Calne, Whether he would state the authority on which his statement was based and on which he accused the Magistrates of conniving at illegality?

Sir, in reply to the hon. and gallant Member, I wish to state that the evidence on which I based my Question was private information and newspaper extracts. As regards the names of my private informants, while having every wish to oblige the hon. and gallant Member, I do not think that I am under any obligation to mention them. At the same time, as the evidence was of an ex parte character, I, for that reason, purposely framed my Question so as not to imply any personal guarantee of the accuracy of the account sent to me, though I have no reason to doubt the veracity of my informants. I wish to add that I had been informed, and I now find correctly informed, that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had had his attention called to the occurrences at Leighton Buzzard, and I was consequently under the idea that he might be able to give the House some authentic information as the result of inquiry on his part. It was, I have no doubt, owing to an oversight that he stated he had no information. I only allude to that part of the question as a personal justification. With reference to the charge that I accused the magistrates of conniving at illegality, I think the hon. and gallant Member will find if he looks at my Question, that I did not do so. What I said was, that that imputation was being disseminated in the country, and that it was desirable to take whatever steps were necessary to remove any apparent justification for it. I did not say I believed the imputation myself. I hope this explanation may be satisfactory to the hon. and gallant Member opposite.

said, that the Question was put down for Tuesday night. He came down when the House met, and was there until nearly three in the morning. It was impossible to make inquiries, and he was unaware of any such communication having been made as had been referred to. It was possible that the Under Secretary had communicated the information; but he (Mr. Bruce) had desired all the information to be sent to himself.

said, he was quite sure it was purely an oversight; but he was astonished when the right hon. Gentleman said he had received no information. As a matter of fact, he held in his hand the answer of the Home Office, which was entirely at the right hon. Gentleman's disposal.