On February 14, the government of Spencer Perceval introduced legislation to deal with Luddite disturbances. The legislation was draconian in that it proposed that machine or frame breaking become capital offences.
There were a number of causes and grievances that gave rise to the Luddite disturbances. Many wanted to get rid of the new machinery that supposedly was the cause of their unemployment. Artisan hand weavers did not want power looms or weaving frames introduced. There were also protests against wage reductions. In general, artisans and workers were experiencing changing economic conditions that we broadly call the industrial revolution. In addition, there were various economic difficulties caused by the disruption in economic activity as a result of the Napoleonic wars. For more information see Luddite Bicentenary website here.
Excerpts from the House of Commons debate follows:
FRAME BREAKING AND NOTTINGHAM PEACE BILLS.HC Deb 14 February 1812 vol 21 cc807-24 807
Mr. Secretary Ryder rose and said, that he felt great pain in the discharge of the important duty which imposed upon him the necessity of adverting to those transactions which had taken place in some of the counties of England, and which, in their nature, were so disgraceful to the country, and so injurious to the best interests of those places where such enormities had been perpetrated. But while he deeply lamented the occurrence of these acts of lawless violence, he had the satisfaction to state to the House that the disturbances had been gradually diminishing; and, for more than a week, had altogether subsided. But though this favourable change had taken place, it was under circumstances which left reason to apprehend that that disposition might again manifest itself in fresh acts of violence. He had, therefore, felt it his duty to consult with those gentlemen, whose local knowledge gave them the best means of ascertaining the real nature and extent of the evil, and it was in consequence of those communications, that he now came forward to propose a remedy. The enormities which had been committed in Nottingham and the adjacent counties, were so well known to the House and to every man in the country, that it would be unnecessary for him to trouble them with the disgusting recital: it was notorious that houses had been broken open, and machinery of different kinds destroyed, 808 and that a system of riot had existed for the last 3 months, a system bordering almost on insurrection, which called for the active interference of government. The first intelligence received by government of those transactions was on the 14th of November, and it was stated that they were of a nature and extent to justify the high sheriff of the county in calling out the military to his assistance; and an application was made to that effect. On that day a squadron of dragoons, from a great distance, was ordered to march to Nottingham, and information was afterwards received which gave hopes of the restoration of tranquillity, as the military had done their duty, and the militia had conducted themselves well.—About the beginning of December, the riots assumed a more alarming appearance; and by the information received from the lord lieutenant of Nottingham, it was feared by government that they were likely to extend to the counties of Leicester and Derby. Between the 14th of November and the 9th of December, no less than 900 cavalry and 1,000 infantry were sent into Nottingham, which was a larger force than had ever been found necessary in any period of our history to be employed in the quelling of any local disturbance. Towards the latter end of December, the heat of the riots seemed to be a little abated, but unfortunately, on the 8th of January, those promising appearances terminated; two additional regiments were sent to that district; nor was any application for military aid refused; on the contrary, it was granted on the very same day. But the attention of government was not confined to this single mode of assistance; for they had received depositions from several active and meritorious individuals, who requested that the opinion of the law officers of the crown might be taken relative to appointing a Special Commission. In consequence of this, the Attorney and Solicitor-General were both consulted as to the probable advantage of such a step, as soon as a sufficient number of individuals should be apprehended. In the mean time, the necessity of exerting all the means of local knowledge and experience was impressed on the magistrates and gentlemen. Mr. Conant, and another intelligent magistrate, were also dispatched to Nottingham, to ascertain the best way of proceeding, and to procure all the information in their power. On the 18th December, another measure was 809 resorted to—that of the Proclamation of a reward for the discovery of the offenders; a measure certainly of doubtful policy; so much so, that it had never been resorted to since 1776; but he was confident that the House would feel that it was warranted by the urgency of the case. This was the statement of what had taken place since the commencement of these unfortunate transactions, which he had not gone into with a view to refute any charge against the government of the country for the line of conduct adopted by them, but from motives of respect to the House, when he was calling for a new legislative measure. It was necessary that it should be shewn that all ordinary measures had been insufficient, and that every means had been resorted to, before an application to parliament was made. These were the only reasons for the detail with which he had troubled the House; but, having done so, he would confidently appeal to those persons who knew all the circumstances, to confirm, by their testimony, that no application had been neglected, which was made to government, from the commencement of those disturbances. The House would feel a satisfaction in knowing that they were not connected with any circumstances beyond the disputes of the masters and journeymen. They were not perhaps, aware, that the machinery, which had been destroyed, did not belong to the houses in which they were, but were either hired by the masters to the operative manufacturers, or were the property of a middle class, who vested their capitals in the purchase of frames which they hired. The consequence had been, that those persons to whom the frames belonged, had been most active accomplices in their destruction, and they had a direct interest in preventing the discovery of the delinquents, which accounted for the difficulty that had existed in apprehending any of the rioters, notwithstanding the active and vigilant measures which had been taken. The depredations had been carried on with a greater degree of secrecy and management than had ever been known in any similar proceedings; so much so, that the magistrates could not take upon themselves to apprehend the persons whom they suspected of having committed the outrages. It was peculiarly easy for parties, who were ill-disposed, to perpetrate those illegal acts; for, in many instances, the machinery was used in isolated houses, which were far from any neighbourhood, 810 and persons having secreted themselves about the premises, felt no difficulty in destroying the frames, which could be performed with very little noise. In one instance, the mischief had been done actually in sight of the military; and, in another; they were not more than one hundred yards from the premises. The rioters had also occasionally gone to the villages, in bodies of about fifty men, and having stationed centinels at the different avenues, the remainder employed themselves in destroying all the frames; and this was executed with so much secrecy, that not a trace of the parties was left in the course of a few minutes. Various causes had been assigned for these outrages.—With respect to the disputes between the masters and journeymen, he should at present say nothing, as it could answer no good purpose. As far as his information went, the evil originated in the great increase of trade, which look place in the county of Nottingham, four years ago, in consequence of the southern parts of South America being opened to British commerce. At that time all the hands and machinery which could be procured were employed, and a number of independant frames were set on foot, by persons who had no direct interest in the manufacture, who was sure of letting them out, as he had before stated. About two years afterwards, this market began to fail; and of course the manufacturers discharged a number of the persons employed by them, which created discontent and distress.; and this had been since aggravated by the unfavourable situation of trade.—Still these circumstances, however deplorable, could not justify the measures pursued by the rioters; which could only tend to draw down ruin themselves and families; and, if permitted to be persisted in, must prevent them from procuring that employment, the want of which was held out as their greatest grievance.—The question then was, whether it was not proper that some legislative enactment should be resorted to, to endeavour to check those disturbances? The House most know, that by the 28t of the King, c. 55, the breaking of frames was made a minor felony, punishable with transportation for 14 years. That enactment had proved completely insufficient to deter from the commission of the offence which it was meant to guard against; and it was his intention to propose, that the offence should now be made capital.—In submit- 811 ting this proposition to the House, he felt it his duty to say, that he was by no means a friend to the increase of capital punishments. However he might differ on other points from an hon. and learned friend (sir S. Romilly) whom he did not then see in his place, he certainly deprecated with him an unnecessary extension of capital punishments. Before he would resort to such a severe measure, he must see a strong and well authenticated case made out; but when he contemplated the immense body of property involved in destruction—when he considered the great expense incurred in procuring machinery, and the risk it ran from these disputes—when also he looked at the extraordinary temptation bad men had to indulge the basest of motives, those of malice and revenge, by the easy destruction of frames; he thought, if any case could call for a capital punishment, it was such a one as he had described. He did not rest the necessity of the measure on the frequency of the offence, or on the difficulty of detection—that would carry the House too far. But the ground on which he proposed the Bill, was this, that if the offence were permitted to be perpetrated as it had been, it would threaten serious danger to the state. The present situation of the scene of those illegal proceedings, was exactly such as came within the definition of the best ancient lawyers, when speaking of a state of things which called for severe punishment. And here he begged leave to read the opinion of sir Matthew Hale on this subject, and the House would be enabled to judge whether it applied to the present circumstances.—That great lawyer observed, "where offences grow enormous, frequent, and dangerous to a state, where they threaten to become destructive of society, and are likely to produce ruin among the inhabitants of a place, severe punishments, and even death itself, is sometimes necessary, for the safety of the country." Now, the disputes which existed in Nottingham, where near 1,000 frames had been broken, and an immense quantity of property had been destroyed, were actually subversive of the public peace, and constituted that state of things which called for legislative interference. He knew it might be alleged against the, proposition, that the difficulty of detection would remain, or perhaps be increased by increasing the severity of the punishment; but, in his opinion, when a party reflected whether it was worth his while to run the 812 risk of losing his life in gratifying his feelings of hatred or resentment, he would find it a consideration paramount to every other—and would be deterred, by the fear of death, from pursuing such illegal courses, when the dread of transportation would not prevail. He conceived he had stated enough, to support the first measure, and he would therefore proceed to the second. His object, in that Bill, was to enable the lord lieutenant of the county, the sheriff, or five justices, when disturbances existed, to call a meeting, and to give immediate notice, in the newspapers and on the church doors, in the usual manner, that a special meeting would be held, for the purpose of obtaining lists of all the male inhabitants of the county, above the age of 21, in order to select from them such number of constables as they shall think necessary, and by that means to establish a watch and ward throughout the county, or such districts as might be considered in a turbulent state, and that the magistrates should be empowered to defray the expence. He might be told, that part of this plan was law already: he knew it was; but it was law which had fallen into disuse; and a portion of the provisions of the present Bill was introduced for the purpose of acccommodating the old law to the present times. When he stated that he was sanguine in his expectations of the most advantageous results from this mea sure, he must add, that he had received his information from those whose local know ledge and experience were much greater than his, and on whom he placed the utmost confidence. He had only this much more to say, that if the Bill should have the effect of introducing the system of watch and ward, it would be most beneficial in a county situated as Nottingham had been; and, if it had been resorted to much sooner, would, he felt convinced, have prevented the disturbances from arriving at the height they unfortunately had done. The right hon. Secretary concluded by moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the more exemplary punishment of persons destroying or injuring any Stocking or Lace Frames, or other machines or engines used in the Frame-work knitted manufactory, or any articles or goods in such frames or machines:"
§Colonel Eyre , (member for Nottingham shire) rose to second the motion. However unwilling, on other occasions, to increase the criminal code of the country, 813 he must certainly agree in the necessity of the present measure. Many enlightened persons, who were intimately acquainted with the state of the county of Nottingham, considered a Bill of this description as the most efficacious means of quieting the disturbances. When those deluded men, the frame breakers, were employed in destroying the machinery, they little thought that they were depriving themselves of the means of earning a livelihood. He was no less favourable to the second measure, which he conceived to be the best method of preserving the peace of the county, and, being carried into effect, would operate beneficially for the country in general. He would not, after the statement of the right hon. gentleman, enter into a detailed view of the subject; but he must express his concurrence in the statement of the right hon. gentleman, that during the whole period of the riots, the magistrates had displayed a praise-worthy activity, which was met with equal zeal on the part of government, who had given every assistance that was demanded. No blame whatever could be attached to them; they had afforded all the military aid which was called for, or could be required, as well as the advice of the most experienced police officers. But the rioters had carried on their proceedings with so much caution and secrecy, that no discovery could be made; and, if they were detected at all, it must be absolutely in the fact; no other means of prevention could be adopted. Those who could give information, were deterred from coming forward as witnesses, by threatening letters. In such a state of things, government would have been almost justified in resorting to martial law, if such a remedy would not have been worse than the disease. They would not adopt such a proceeding; and he thought the people ought to support government in a Bill which would enable them to preserve their property.
Mr. J. Smith, (member for Nottingham,) observed that the statement of the riotous situation of the county of Nottingham was unfortunately too true; and it was no less true, that the spirit of insubordination had threatened the safety of the neighbouring counties. The right hon. gentleman had said, that the disputes between the manufacturers and their employers was the cause of those riots. Now, in his opinion, the real and primary cause was the great decay of trade, which affected a branch of 814 manufacture highly important to the country—the workmen employed in which received very moderate wages. The state of trade was such, that, in Nottingham, this manufacture was exceedingly impaired; and, probably that might be owing, in no small degree, to those mischievous speculations to which the right hon. gentleman had alluded, and which he could not sufficiently condemn. But, there was another cause that tended to those disturbances, namely, the custom pursued by some manufacturers of paying their workmen in goods, instead of cash. It was true, they could be punished for this; but the penalty, probably, was not commensurate with the advantage. He had heard of workmen being paid in linen-drapery, in shoes, in provisions. These things were always charged beyond their real value; and thus, instead of receiving twenty shilling" per week, the workmen in consequence had probable five shillings less. Altogether, he was sorry to declare to the House, that he never witnessed so much misery as when he was last in Nottingham. Another source of dispute was to be found in the mode which many masters adopted in measuring the work. The operative individual was frequently oppressed by some masters in this respect.—It was a question, therefore, not undeserving of inquiry, whether this misconduct of the masters was not, in a great measure, the cause of the discontents of the workmen. But while he made these charges against some of the masters, he was aware that there were many of them who never condescended to any such practices. He agreed with the right hon. Secretary, in thinking that the mischief was really dreadful; but yet he was extremely unwilling that the punishment of death should be resorted to, because he was afraid that such a punishment would, instead of promoting, contribute very much to retard conviction. Something, however, he was willing to allow must be done; and if terror would put down the mischief, he was ready to support it.—There was another point he wished to advert to. There was no law existing against the destruction of lace frames, a branch of manufacture of as much consequence, he believed, as the manufacture of stockings. On this subject he might be mistaken, but he believed there was no such law existing.—He thought the right hon. Secretary had shewn, throughout the whole of this business, a degree of zeal, perseverance, and talent, which could not 815 be sufficiently admired.—With respect to the other measure, he would not say much, as it was not necessary in Nottingham. The magistrates of Nottingham had from the beginning conducted themselves with a vigour, which he could wish to see every where imitated. They had divided the respectable inhabitants into detachments of fifties, who were ready at all times, day and night, when requisite; and such had been the good effects of these efforts, that in a town of 40,000 inhabitants, containing more misery than he had ever before seen, the magistrates had hitherto been able to preserve the public peace, with a very few exceptions, which no mortal vigilance could have prevented. The town of Nottingham had therefore gone beyond the measure of the right hon. Secretary.
Mr. C. W. Wynn thought the House ought to have some ground before them to justify their interference, something that should appear on their books. A local bill might be brought in, preceded by a petition from the magistrates, or a committee might be appointed to inquire into the circumstances of the case, which, he conceived, would be rather a better method of proceeding. Great advantages were likely to result from the inquiries of a committee up stairs: it would shew those misguided men that the eye of the legislature was upon them, and it would show posterity the grounds on which the House had acted. What had the right hon. Secretary brought forward to justify the infliction of death? Did he state that this act of the 28th of the King, had been put in force, and found unavailing? Had any convictions taken place under that act? However averse he was to punish with death, if transportation were found insufficient, it would be necessary to have recourse to the severer punishment. If any body of men chose to array themselves against the public peace, they must by all means be put down; but it was indispenisible to see first, whether the existing laws were or were not sufficient. It was well known, that in general, capital punishments were not much calculated to promote convictions. Juries were always averse to convict capitally, and witnesses averse to give evidence. He thought, therefore, that the right hon. Secretary ought to come forward with some cases of convictions under the act of the 28th of the King.
§Mr. Frankland , in rising, adverted to an 816 expression which had fallen from an hon. and learned gentleman (sir S. Romilly) on a former evening, when moving for the repeal of the act of the 39th of Elizabeth, by which soldiers and sailors, found begging, were subjected to death. The hon. and learned gentleman had said, that the legislature was disgraced by this act. In consequence of this assertion, he had had the curiosity to examine who were on the committee that prepared the Bill, and there among other great names, he found those of sir Walter Raleigh and sir Francis Bacon: he found, too, that the act was called for by the necessity of the times. The soldiers and sailors who were disbanded committing great depredations, two committees were formed, one to see what could be done to relieve them, the other to produce the Bill complained of, which, in fact, was no more than a proclamation, desiring them to disperse within a given time—and certainly he saw no disgrace in the measure. It was a hard necessity on parliament to be compelled to legislate in such cases, and to enact severe punishments; but whatever might be the tenderness of feeling that every member must necessarily have on such a subject, he was at the same time bound to discharge his duty with firmness. When enormous crimes were committed, and the physical strength of the populace opposed to the magistracy, all the laws of the land were set at defiance. The present evil did not consist in breaking a piece of machinery; and the law proposed, was not merely to protect individual property, but proceeded on a broader principle. When the disturbances took place in the woollen, the silk, and the cotton trades, laws were made enacting the offences felony, without benefit of clergy, and there was no reason why a similar security should not be afforded to the subject in the present instance.
Mr. Leigh Keck took upon himself to assert, that in some instances the military employed to deter the rioters had been attacked by persons provided with arms, and that it often happened that the depredators effected their purpose of destroying frames by the use of offensive weapons. If any thing could supersede the necessity of inquiry, and show the danger of delay, it would be such a statement. The origin of the late outrages certainly was the decay of trade, and as the distress not only affected the district round Nottingham, but was extended into 817 Leicestershire, he was of opinion that the Bill should have a more general operation. He was firmly convinced, not only of the necessity, but of the immediate necessity of some strong measure to produce and secure the public tranquillity.
§Mr. Sheridan observed, that he should be extremely sorry if the inhabitants of the district in question, should be, as it were, taken out of the King's protection by this Bill, without serious antecedent examination of the necessity of making the offence capital. According to his apprehension, the arguments of his hon. friend (Mr. Frankland) tended to a very different conclusion from that to which he had arrived. When his hon. friend had quoted the high authority of sir Walter Raleigh and sir Francis Bacon upon this subject, he took it for granted at first, that his hon. friend meant the House to follow the example in which they took a part: for his hon. friend had stated, that the Bill then passed was introduced after the report of a Committee of Enquiry. Parliament, it therefore appeared, did not then think it right to extend the penal code without an enquiry into the necessity of doing so: and surely parliament ought to be as cautious now; particularly when a proposition was made to apply capital punishment to a particular district. According to his hon. friend's arguments, the House should follow the precedent in Elizabeth; and though they could not expect such distinguished names and high authority on their committee, there was little doubt that they could find many respectable well-informed gentlemen to sit in it. Another hon. member had said, "Is not the necessity sufficiently known?" Perhaps it might: but assertions of necessity made in parliamentary speeches went for nothing. When parliament made a strong law, the report of a Committee of Enquiry into the subject of it, would shew its justification, which never could be done by any member rising in that House, and saying "I know this, and I know that." But the hon. gent. had said, that the time pressed; if so, he desired to know why such delay had occurred? Why had not the magistrates applied sooner? Why had the Secretary of State for the Home Department been asleep all this while? Time enough had elapsed to propose the measure long before now: the House might have been put into possession of all the facts, and have proceeded in the application of a suitable remedy. He could not avoid viewing the way in 818 which this measure was supported by gentlemen in a, serious light. One proposed it for Nottingham and its immediate vicinity; another said it should be more comprehensive in its operation and extend to Leicestershire; a third proposed to make its operation general, which would be, in fact, a material alteration in the whole police of the country, without enquiry into its necessity. He could not apprehend any alarming dangers from the more satisfactory mode of proceeding by the appointment in the first instance, of a committee to report to the House on the facts and circumstances of the case. All the delay that was likely to occur, need not amount to more than three or four days at most; for he must suppose that there was no want of persons in the metropolis at the present moment, capable of giving to the committee sufficient information. The report of such a committee would be the best and the recorded justification of the Bill when enacted; and would shew to all the country the reasons and grounds on which parliament had proceeded in increasing the severities of the penal laws. If the mischief was so immediately pressing as it had been stated to be, and the passing of the Bill, without enquiry, indispensable, that brought him back to his former assertion, that great blame must certainly attach somewhere, or they would not be thus forced to the adoption of a severe remedy, in a manner suited neither to the honour nor to the character of parliament.
§Mr. Henry Martin perfectly agreed with the right hon. gentleman who spoke last. He had a knowledge of Nottingham in his capacity of a magistrate, and would say, that if the same activity had been shewn by the county magistrates, as had been evinced by those of the county of the town of Nottingham, there would have been no necessity for this Bill. During the last month not a single outrage had been committed within that district known as the town and county of the town of Nottingham. He hoped in future to see a fuller attendance of members in the House on discussions upon this subject; that the stigma thrown upon the House by the late Mr. Burke, that there was no better mode of ensuring a thin attendance of members than a proposition to enact new capital punishments, might be wiped away. The riots originated in extreme distress. He did not say this as a justification of them, very far from it; but as a reason why they 819 ought to consider what other mode of punishment than that proposed might coerce the disturbers. The right hon. Secretary must have been apprised of the situation of the persons who had mistakenly supposed that their wages were about to be curtailed. Many frames had been broken of considerable value, which it was out of the power of the magistrates to prevent; but there was no general disposition in the inhabitants to assist the rioters. He was sure that vigilance might have prevented the continuance of the mischief. Thinking so, he saw nothing to require this new punishment, and strongly recommended the previous appointment of a committee to enquire into its necessity.
§Colonel Eyre, in explanation, observed that the outrages were committed sometimes at a distance of thirty miles from the town of Nottingham.
§Mr. Babington , living in the district complained of, and representing a borough carrying on a manufacture similar to that of Nottingham, felt it necessary to say a few words. He impressed upon the House the importance of a committee, that posterity might know with what due deliberation the House had proceeded, before it determined on taking away the lives of any of the subjects of the crown. He recommended that the first Bill proposed should be only temporary; (hear, hear!) and that the second which went to introduce the excellent system of watch and ward, so great a favourite with their forefathers, should be made to apply generally to the united kingdom. It might be wanted at Leicester as well as at Nottingham; indeed, during the disturbances, information was received that emissaries had been sent from the latter to the former town.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer replied to most of the objections urged against the present measure. As for the extension of the provisions in the Bills to other districts, that might, if necessary, be made an instruction when the House came into a committee; which time would also be more convenient, from their having the Bills printed. With regard to what seemed to have created the greatest difference of opinion, namely, that a previous committee ought to have been appointed on the Report, from which they should found the necessary measures, he could not see that such a step was at all called for by the circumstances of the case. If the House Had heard that any doubt was entertained 820 as to the existence of the evils respecting which they were proceeding to legislate, if their nature, quality, and effect were at all misunderstood, then indeed they might be desirous to have previous investigation. But as the reverse was agreed on all hands, he could not see any good which could be derived from the report of a committee. It bad been told them by the hon. gentleman who had last spoken, that they ought to resort to this step, as they were legislating for posterity: but he concurred in the opinion, that the measures now adopted ought to be only temporary, and that therefore their main duty was, in the first instance, to take care of themselves. A right hon. gentleman, (Mr. Sheridan), seemed to congratulate himself that he had got ministers in a dilemma, for he said—"If expedition is now so necessary, how can ministers defend themselves for not having introduced these measures sooner?" It was because they bad adopted other measures, approved by the best-informed on the subject, which they had hoped would be effectual in beating down the evil, and during the trial of which it would have been absurd to bring other views of the subject before parliament. Without meaning any disrespect to the honourable names of sir Walter Raleigh and sir F. Bacon, with so much meritorious industry brought forward by his hon. friend (Mr. Frankland), as an example to be followed in the formation of a committee, before enacting any new capital punishment, be could not agree that the same course was called for in the present day, when the House enjoyed so many more sources of information and communication with the country, than it had in the time of queen Elizabeth. But this had not been the uniform practice of the House, as appeared from what they did on the occasion of the capital enactments respecting the woollen manufactures, in the reign of Charles 2, and silk machinery, in the 6th year of George 3. The Bill was objected to on the ground that the offence, being made capital, would throw difficulties in the way of ascertaining and discovering offenders. He was of a contrary opinion: and though this principle of argument might apply to cases where individual property alone was concerned, he did not think it could apply to a case like that for which they were devising a remedy, where there appeared on the part of the offenders to be a manifest disposition to oppose the 821 law. On the other hand, he conceived great benefit would arise from making the offence capital. The notoriety of the fact, that parliament had taken up the subject with so much solemnity, would operate on the minds and senses of persons who were acting so improperly under the delusions of more designing individuals. This would be the greatest operation of this part of the Bill. But even the terror of the increased punishment would have its effect in deterring from crime, and there could he no apprehension of its diminishing the facility of obtaining evidence, as the lighter mode bad been tried, and found inefficacious. The mode of prevention operated in a mixed ratio of the means of detection and the severity of punishment. The hon. member for Nottingham (Mr. Smith), had expressed his doubts upon the second Bill, which he said was unnecessary in Nottingham, from the excellent dispositions made, and vigilance maintained by the magistrates there; but did not this fact shew exactly the reverse of what he was contending for, namely, the necessity for this Bill, that the same admirable order might be preserved in a more extended district, where from deficient population the same efficient course could not be pursued without the aid of the legislature? One hon. gentleman was of opinion, that the partial payment of these men by their employers in goods, was improper. It might be so, but he thought that the master and his workmen, in making their agreement, were the best judges of their own interests, and that it would be highly impolitic in the House to interfere, since the effect of fixing the mode of payment, would frequently be the rendering it impossible for many of the employers to pay their men at all. This mode of dealing had existed not only at Nottingham but in other places beyond the memory of the most experienced, and any interference might be attended with the most dangerous consequences. He was glad to observe that the general sense of the House was not in opposition to the Bill, the second reading of which would present a better opportunity of discussing its provisions. In the present stage of the measure he had thought it sufficient to make these cursory observations. No advantage, he repeated, could be derived from a committee investigating the causes of the disturbances. Suppose they arose from a decay of trade,—and there Was too much reason for that 822 supposition,—what then?—Could a committee open the continent and send the goods as formerly to the foreign European markets? If a committee could do that, there would be, indeed, some reason for its appointment. But from whatever cause the riots arose, would any body deny the necessity of putting them down? On the whole, he could see no advantage likely to result from an enquiry.
§Mr. Whitbread wished that there was a standing order of the House that no enactment which involved capital punishment, should be made without previous inquiries by a committee as to the necessity of such enactment. With regard to the infliction of the punishment of death, so far from its operating as a check upon crimes, he maintained that it had rather increased than diminished them. It had been observed by the hon. member for Nottingham, that the disturbers went about armed; but it was to be remembered, that the penalty of death now proposed to be inflicted, was for breaking frames, and not for using arms. He regretted that distress should have driven them to such acts, but the question for he House to consider was, whether the punishment provided by the present Bill would prevent the repetition of such excesses. Would the facilities of conviction be increased by it? Certainly not. Was there any occasion for haste in passing the Bill? Certainly not. He repeated his wish, therefore, that a committee should be appointed, in order that no penal enactment should pass without such solemnity and such inquiry, as might leave recorded evidence of the grounds upon which Parliament had acted. Might it not otherwise be thought, "as it was generally thought by all who had written upon the criminal code of this country, that we inflicted the penalty of death too slightly? If a committee were to be proposed, he should certainly vote for its appointment. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had laid great stress on this being only meant as a temporary act, but the House ought to proceed with caution. The statute of the 39th of Elizabeth, relative to soldiers and sailors begging in the streets, which had so lately been brought under the notice of the House, was at first only a temporary law; but it was from time to time continued, and at length became perpetual, to the disgrace of the statute book. He could not divest himself of the opinion that a committee ought to precede the enactment of death. He was 823 not inclined to oppose the first reading of the Bill, but would caution the House to use due deliberation. He believed he was the first person who had called the attention of the House to these riots, and on that occasion he expressed something like a doubt whether the Secretary of State for the Home Department had done his duty: he was happy however now to add, that from inquiries which he had made, he was convinced that the right hon. gentleman had done his duty in a most exemplary manner: and this was the opinion of all who had opportunities of knowing the fact. The magistrates of the town of Nottingham had also done their duty, in a manner no less exemplary: and what was the consequence? The evil had been cured. No frames had been broken in that town for the last month; and there was every reason to believe, that if no legal enactment were to take place, no more frames would be destroyed. With regard to the country, however, there might be reasons for the adoption of a different system. He by no means disapproved of the system of watch and ward, but the House should recollect that they were now about to legislate for a temporary evil, and that every act of legislation done in a hurry generally left a lasting disgrace on those who passed it. He begged, therefore, for delay, and hoped that after the first reading a committee would be appointed.
Mr. Herbert , before he could consent to add to the number of capital punishments, must be convinced that the existing laws were insufficient. Of this there was as yet no proof, as there had been no trial on the subject. An hon. member had stated, in the course of the evening, that the riots which had extended themselves to Leicestershire, had been suppressed by the activity of the magistrates. He wished the House to know why the magistrates of Nottinghamshire had failed in doing that which the magistrates of Leicestershire had so successfully accomplished. It was therefore his intention, unless some other hon. member would undertake the task, to move for the appointment of a Committee to investigate this subject.
§ The House then divided.For the Motion 49
Against it 11
...Secretary Ryder then moved, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the more effectual preservation of the peace within the county of Nottingham, and the town and county of the town of Nottingham."
Mr. Wynn wished more particularly to know why the county of Nottingham had been selected from the rest of the kingdom, for the exclusive operation of the proposed measure? If the Bill had been to provide for the better watch and ward of the whole island, it would have met with his hearty concurrence.
§Colonel Eyre repeated the statements which he made in an earlier part of the evening, and added, that if the hon. gentleman had had personal observation of the state of Nottingham and its neighbourood, he would have felt the necessity of the intended measure.—Leave was accordingly granted, and the Bills brought in and read a first time.
Mr. Herbert , impressed with the necessity of putting the House in possession of all the circumstances of this important subject, proceeded to move, "That a committee be appointed to inquire into the late Riots in the county of Nottingham, and the neighbouring counties, and what further legal provisions, if any, are necessary for the suppression thereof, and also the steps which have been taken for the discovery of the offenders."
Mr. Secretary Ryder argued against the appointment of the committee, as wholly unnecessary. He was persuaded that the House would think that the general notoriety of the riots was a sufficient ground for parliamentary procedure, and he deprecated any delay in providing a remedy for the existing evil.
§ A division ensued:
For the committee 15
Against it 40