« AnteriorContinua »
the effects of travelling in this ftate, their legs were very much fwelled, and when lodged in the prison, the Bow-ftreet officers ordered the irons to be knocked off, which was then a very painful operation. They then were thrown into places quite unprepared for their reception, and next day taken before the Privy Council. They were expofed to great inconvenience, as, though feveral of them were manufacturers, they had no opportunity of giving directions about their affairs, nor of obtaining redrefs, as nobody was permitted to fee them. Now, however, he understood, that the fitoation of thefe perfons was much improved, and that they had all the accommodation of which their fituation would admit. Objections had been taken to the word Baftile. Certainly that word was employed merely to denote a prifon; as to any comparison with the Baftile under the old Government of France, that was not the queftion; for whatever might be thought of a power in any Government to arreft without any cause, aud to detain for an unlimited time, it was generally admitted that perfons confined in the Baftile had every accommodation which a ftate of confinement allowed. As to the bill before the Houfe, no grounds had been ftated for it, much lefs was there any caufe for the precipitation with which it had been hurried on. He had come down yesterday to ftate his reafons against it, but he found that, at a very early period of the evening, it had been difpofed of. It was a measure, however, which demanded all the attention of the Houfe; it was more important than any meafure of finance could be, inafmuch as men's perfons were of more confequence than their property. He was the more furprized at this, becaufe when he made his motion for a lift of perfons taken up under the act for fufpending the Habeas Corpus, to which the right honourable gentleman had thought proper to agree for reasons of his own, and not for those which were stated in fupport of it, a kind of threat was thrown out that a renewal of the bill would be moved, and that the right honourable gentleman fhould then unfold the dangers with which the country was threatened, and bring forward the proofs of the confpiracies which had exifted. No ground had, in his opinion, been ftated on which the House could furrender fo important a bulwark of the liberties of. the fubject.
Mr. SPEAKER-I wish to fet the honourable Member right. The bill was not hurried through the Houfe, for a notice of a motion for leave to bring it in was given fome days before by the Secretary of State, and it was not till after the House had gone through fome public bufinefs, being near five o'clock, that the right honourable gentleman (Mr. Pitt) brought in the bill.
Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL faid, that if there were any inftances of improper treatment, the means of redrefs were to be had; but it was fair to infer, that where no grievances had been heard of for any length of time, that probably there was no just caufe for complaint. But whatever complaints might have been made, had ceafed, under proper reprefentation. He thought fuch matters could not be urged now with any ferious view of oppofing the bill before the House, but rather from calumny, and a wifh to court popularity. It had become a frequent method of late to hold out every measure brought forward on his fide of the Houfe as fimilar to the conduct of Roberspierre; and he fufpected that, with this view, the term Baftile had been applied to the New Prison. Such conduct was both ungenerous and culpable. The honourable Baronet had demanded on what grounds this motion was fupported? He (the Solicitor General) should have thought that what had paffed and been disclosed at the late trials at Maidstone, as well as what had taken place in the neighbouring country of Ireland, were fufficient reafons for the House continuing the measure propofed. This was not a bill of novelty; it had been repeatedly adopted in times of danger, not only in the prefent reign, but on former occafions.
The bill for fufpending the Habeas Corpus Act originated in the reign of King William, in confequence of dangers to which he was exposed, and which would have made it necessary to bring to trial perfons confpiring against his Government, had it not been that fuch legal evidence of their guilt was wanting as would have induced a Jury to find them guilty. In the year 1715, when this fufpenfion was renewed, the most falutary confequences had followed. Owing to the firmnefs of Government in apprehending a number of perfons, against whom no legal charge was brought, and who, after the danger was over, were difmiffed, the fafety of the country was enfured. This precaution having been omitted in the year 1745, left the country in a much more dangerous ftate than it was in 1715. Whoever had impartially remarked what had lately paffed in Ireland, as well as in this country, muft have feen that the fociety of United Irishmen was that which enabled the confpiracy to diffuse itself, till at length it burst forth in acts of open rebellion, and which, from the very plan of these focicties, drew a veil of fecrecy over their proceedings, which made it difficult to bring home a charge of guilt upon individuals. Strong attempts had been made. to establish fimilar focieties in this country-Hence Correfponding Societies had been established with their Executive Committees, &c.; an imperium in imperio had been introduced, which was Y y
nothing elfe but a germ of treafon and rebellion, which, if not timely nipped in the bud, would foon have discovered itself in a more open form. Now fuch fort of treason was not easy to be brought home to the conviction of a Juryman, because actual treafon was concealed in the matter that was to bring it forth; and it was with great difficulty that minds not habituated to confider the fubject with the greatest attention, could be led to see the danger that furrounded them. Thus in Ireland, under the pretence of Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform, nothing less than the feparation of Ireland from England, and the erection of the former into an Independent Republic, was the object aimed at. So here, the pretence of a Reform, &c. had been affumed; but would gentlemen say that this was a cloak that concealed nothing? The Executive Government affuredly would not have done its duty, had they not made use of all lawful means to thwart the designs of perfons who had engaged themselves in fuch combinations, and to break the ftrength of such confederacies; and if they had not made application to Parliament to give them that power to effectuate the purpose which was the object of the present bill to impart—a bill which had been formerly used with fuccefs upon former occafions. And nothing having been urged to fhew that this power had been abused, he thought it was the duty of the Houfe to empower Minifters to take the measures neceffary to be adopted for the fafety of the country.
Mr. MAINWARING faid, that as he was in fome degree implicated in what had been faid on the fubject of the treatment of the State Prisoners, it was to be obferved, that the Correction Houfe in Cold-bath Fields had not been established for any fuch purpose as that for which, in the present fituation of affairs, it had been found neceffary to employ it. With regard to its management, he could fay, that there were none of the abuses stated. The keeper of that jail was a person of great humanity and attention to his duty, and every care was exerted for preserving the health and comfort of perfons confined. He was fure that there was not a more comfortable place of the kind in the whole country, or one in which, in proportion to the numbers confined, there was less sickness. Every thing was provided for the State Prisoners in the most liberal manHe did not know to what the honourable Baronet (Sir Francis Burdett) had alluded, when he faid, that the prifoners were out only for a few minutes; they were out every day for feveral hours, and he now understood that they were allowed to be all together in the fame room. Of the propriety of fuch an indulgence, he was not called upon to fay any thing; but if he had been confulted as a
Magistrate respecting fuch a thing, he should have confidered it his duty to refuse it. Unquestionably great mifreprefentation must have been given of the state of perfons confined in this prison, and the manner in which it was regulated.
Mr. WILBERFORCE faid, that as a great deal of mifrepresentation had arifen upon this subject, it was extremely important that it should be fully explained, and that the false impreffions which it had been attempted to make on the minds of the public should be removed. A day or two ago, he had received a letter from a friend of his, informing him, that certain representations had been made to gentlemen in this Houfe, commonly called Members of Oppofition, refpecting the fituation and treatment of State Prisoners, which were very likely to be incorrect. His friend, therefore, to enable him to judge of the fubject, had fent him minutes of the proceedings of the Magiftrates who fuperintend the conduct of the prifoners, with remarks on the state of the prison; to this subject he had not had an opportunity to turn his attention, as his mind had been occupied with the important plan of finance before the House. He had now, however, revised the documents and obfervations fent by his friend, and they would be found to be of great importance in clearing up the fubject of the treatment of the State Prisoners. He was astonished at what the honourable Baronet had said, respecting the fituation of the prifon in Cold-bath Fields; he had been there as well as the honourable Baronet, not for the purpose of vifiting any particular perfons there, or on the fpur of the occafion, but to examine the general state of the place, and to view the fituation of the prisoners. He had likewife been in the habit of corresponding on the fubject, before there was any idea of its being agitated here, and the accounts he had heard were very different from what fome gentlemen had ftated to-day. He had been informed, that by the prudent regulations which then prevailed, several persons had been reclaimed from habits of vice and idleness, to industry and good behaviour, and had been restored to fociety as useful fubjects. The charge which had been made, was certainly of a very serious nature, it was no light thing, to fay, that the Executive Government could be fo malignant, as to exercise any severity against the perfons taken up, farther than was neceffary for fafe cuftody, and to prevent them from tainting the minds of those with whom they had communication in confinement. It was a charge either against his right honourable friend, or against the noble Duke, more immediately at the head of this department; or against those who were more directly employed in the cuftody and superintendance of the prifoners. The latter were perfons who in their station were no
lefs refpectable than his right honourable friend, and the Duke of Portland, and who must equally feel for their character; nobody imputed to his right honourable friend, or to the noble Duke, any particular inclination to rigour, and the Magiftrates to whom the fuperintendance of the prifon belonged, were therefore implicated if any extraordinary feverity was exercifed. From the documents of his friend he was enabled to lay before the House a great deal of fatisfactory information. It was proper in the first place to obferve, that the regulations which prevailed in this prison were many of them founded upon the principles recommended by the excellent Mr. Howard, and fuperintended by feveral perfons who had an active and laborious fhare with that benevolent character in his inquiries upon this fubject. Different boards exifted to fuperintend the regulations and to receive information refpecting the state of the prifon. One of thefe boards met at least once a week, and the minutes of their proceedings would be found to contain much matter which would throw light on the prefent question. As he was reading the account of the prifon in thefe documents, and heard the reprefentation given of it, he could not conceive any contraft more ftriking. It reminded him of the story in " Jofeph Andrews," of the different remarks which were made by two travellers in a stage coach on the character of a gentleman whofe eftate they paffed. One faid that he was the beft hufband and farther, the most generous friend, that exifted. The other, who had been asleep during this panegyric, awoke, and remarked the fine eftate they paffed, and lamented that it belonged to fuch a rafcal. Parfon Adams, in the fimplicity of his heart, concluded that the gentlemen must have been fpeaking of different perfons; and when he himself compared the representation of the honourable gentlemen with the documents before him, he was almoft tempted to think that gentlemen on the other fide could not be talking of the fame perfon. Nothing can be more fatisfactory than the account which his friend gave of the state of the prifon, as to the health and treatment of the prifoners. The gentleman who wrote the letter, a refpectable Clergyman, ftated [here.Mr. W. read feveral extracts] that he had feen the food intended for the prisoners, which confifted of as good legs of mutton and pieces of beef as he had ever seen at his own table; that the utmost cleanliness prevailed throughout the place; that of the number of which the prifon contained at any one time, which was two hundred and forty, the fick were only three, and the deaths for the whole year only two, though if the fituation of many of the perfons when they came in was confidered, the place rather refembled an hofpital than a prifon. The minutes of the fittings of the Magif