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the practice were not sufficient to establish this point, there could be no safe guide for any man in the exercise of his judicial or legal duties. Lord Erskine assured the House, that during the whole time that he practised at the bar, he never had the least idea that it was competent to a common justice of the peace to arrest before indictment for libel; and he prayed them to remember, that the libel act was a dead letter, if this was held to be law; that any justice of peace might overhaul collections of books in any shop or library throughout the kingdom, and upon his own authority pronounce the sellers or possessors to be criminal, and send them by his warrants to prison.

Viscount Sidmouth said, that when he had the satisfaction of hearing it proclaimed in the House that the measure which he had thought it his duty to adopt was conformable to the opinion of the highest legal authority in the country; when he found it conformable to the opinions of the greatest text-writers on the law, and also to the recorded practice of all the most eminent law servants of the crown; he felt it would be presumptuous in him to attempt to add any weight to this mass of living and dead authority. There was, however, another point on which he should think it a matter of great self-reproach if he could not vindicate himself to their lordships. It seems that he stood before their lordships charged with having used his best endeavours to stop the progress of blasphemy and sedition. To that charge he pleaded guilty; and while he lived should be proud to have such a charge brought against him. He

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added in fine, that he was ready to avow all he had done, would take upon himself all responsibility for his acts, be the consequences what they might.

Earl Grey begged leave to detain the House with a few observations. When he came down to the House, he felt of course considerable distrust as to the correctness of his opinions, knowing that he was to be opposed by the highest legal authorities; but having listened to the noble lords with the utmost attention, he must say that all that fell from them rather strengthened than weakened his own opinions; for he had never in his life heard any thing more jejune and unsatisfactory than the arguments of those learned lords. He called for law, and they gave him authority; he called for deliberate discussion, and they had given him bare assertions.

After some further remarks on this subject, he came to the speech of the noble secretary of state (Lord Sidmouth), who, he said, with a tone of great self-satisfaction had taken to himself the credit of stopping the progress of blasphemy and sedition. He supposed that the noble lords on his side of the House were as little friendly to blasphemy and sedition as the noble viscount; but the question was, whether the latter had not overstepped the bounds of law, and endangered the constitution, which he boasted of saving.

The House at length divided, when the Earl's motion was rejected by Non-contents 75; Contents 19: Majority 56.

It was not till the 25th of June that the same subject was moved in the House of Commons by Sir

Samuel

Samuel Romilly. He began with saying, that he should not offer any apology to the House for bringing under their notice the circular letter of Lord Sidmouth; what he felt himself most disposed to apologise for, was that he had so long delayed in calling the attention of parliament to that extraordinary letter. The Secretary of State, by the letter in question, communicates to the magistrates in all the counties of England and Wales, that by consulting the law officers of the crown, he had ascertained that they had a right to issue warrants for apprehending persons charged upon oath with publishing blasphemous or seditious libels, and to compel them to give bail to answer the charge. The letter itself admits that doubt had been entertained whether the magistrates had such a power; and the minister takes upon himself to solve the doubt, and to declare, upon the authority of the attorney and solicitor general, what the law is. What more dangerous authority was ever assumed by a servant of the crown, than to pretend to interfere with the magistracy by suggesting to them how the discretion which by law is vested in them should be exercised?

After the learned member had forcibly dwelt upon this topic, and had taken a historical view of the political state of the country, he proceeded to examine the legal opinion of the law officers on which Lord Sidmouth's circular was founded. The magistrates would have the power of committing or holding to bail, not only every man who should be charged on oath with having published a blasphe

mous or seditious libel, but all such as have been charged with expressions considered as equivalent; for it is well known, that words spoken are punishable equally with publications bearing the same character. Thus by the command of any magistrate, however prejudiced or indiscreet, a person might be held to bail or sent to prison, on the oath of an informer. No newspaper, in any part of the country, could criticise the measures of ministers, or render itself obnoxious to some busy magistrate, without the danger of exposing its author to imprisonment or expense without trial. The tyranny of the reign of Charles II. could not be greater than this. He then entered into the consideration of legal arguments, upon which, however, he would not detain the House long, after the admirable discussion they had received by a noble friend in another place, and which was now in print. Having finished that topic, he concluded with moving "That an humble address be presented to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, a copy of the case upon which the opinion of the attorney and solicitor-general of the date of the 24th of February last was taken."

The Attorney General began with saying, that no parliamentary ground had been laid for the adoption of the motion of his hon, and learned friend, nor could he conceive of any which would warrant the House in calling for the production of any case which government might submit to the con

sideration

sideration of the crown lawyers. He then in strong language disclaimed any purpose of gaining the goodwill of ministers by sacrificing to their interests. No clamour or calumny, he said, should ever restrain him from the declaration of his opinion; and in this case he had no hesitation in stating his deliberate judgment, that a magistrate could legally commit and hold a man to bail for the publication of a libel. He then went through an examination of the principal cases which had been adduced for the contrary opinion; and in applying his doctrine to the power granted to justices of the peace in cases of libel, he said that of course he meant that the justice must see and read the libel, and not decide it to be such on the mere oath of any man. It had further been alleged against the circular letter, that the secretary of state had interfered with the due and regular administration of justice. But in what way could such interference prejudice the ends of justice, when there was no denunciation of persons by name, but only a general recom. mendation to be vigilant with respect to the progress of an existing evil?

With the exception of the Solicitor-general, who rose in defence of his colleague, the other members spoke in reprobation of Lord Sidmouth's circular letter, and the opinion by which it was

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1. "That it is highly prejudicial to the due administration of justice, for a minister of the crown to interfere with the magistrates of the country in cases in which a discretion is supposed to be by law vested in them, by recommending or suggesting to them how that discretion should be exercised.

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2. That it tends to the subversion of justice, and is a dargerous extension of the prerogative, for a minister of the crown to take upon himself to declare in his official character to the magistracy, what he conceived to be the law of the land; and that such exercise of authority is the more alarming, when the law so declared deeply affects the security of the subject and the liberty of the press, and is promulgated upon no better authority than the opinions of the law officers of the crown."

The Attorney-general having moved the previous question, the House divided, Ayes 49; Nocs 157 Majority 108.

CHAP

CHAPTER VI.

Prince Regent's Message to both Houses, and proceedings in consequence.

PRINCE REGENT'S MESSAGE.

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N the third of June, Lord Sidmouth presented the following message to the House of Lords.

His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on the behalf of his Majesty, has given orders that there be laid before the House of Lords, papers containing information respecting the continuance of practices, meetings, and combinations, in different parts of the kingdom, to which, at the commencement of the present session of parliament, his Royal Highness called the attention of the House, and which are still carried on in such a manner, and to such an extent, as are calculated to disturb the public tranquillity, and to endanger the security of the established constitution of these realins.

His Royal Highness recommends to the House of Lords to take these papers into their immediate and serious considération. GEORGE P. R. The message having been read, Lord Sidmouth proposed an address of thanks to the Prince Regent,. which was unanimously agreed to. Lord Sidmouth rose a second time, and after observing that he was not acquainted with any instances on the journals in which a committee was moved for on the same day on which a message had VOL. LIX.

been brought down from the throne, he said that the hands of parliament were not to be tied up for want of such a precedent. All they were now called upon to do, was to pledge themselves to an immediate consideration of the subject; with which view he should move, That the papers be referred to a committee of secrecy.

After some conversation among the lords, the motion was agreed to.

Lord Sidmouth then proposed to continue the same persons who composed the former committee, with the substitution of the Earl of Talbot for the Duke of Bedford who was indisposed by ill health; which was agreed to.

Earl Grey said, that as the learned lord on the woolsack had so much business to transact in the court of chancery, he would move that his name should be omitted for the purpose of introducing that of the Earl of Roslyn. The motion was negatived, and the committee as proposed by Lord Sidmouth was adopted.

On June 12th the second report of the secret committee of the House of Lords respecting certain dangerous meetings and combinations was presented to their Lordships by the Earl of Harrowby.

REPORT OF THE SECRET COMMITTEE appointed to take into consideration the several l'apers [F] sealed

sealed up in a Bag, and delivered by command of his royal highness the Prince Regent. By the lords committees appointed to take into consideration the several Papers sealed up in a Bag, and delivered by command of his royal highness the Prince Regent, and to report to the House; and to whom were referred several other Papers sealed up in a Bag, also delivered by command of his Royal Highness:

Ordered to report, That the committee have met, and proceeded in the examination of the papers

referred to them.

It is their painful duty to report, that these papers afford but too many proofs of the continued existence of a traitorous conspiracy for the overthrow of our esta blished government and constitution, and for the subversion of the existing order of society.

The attempts of the conspirators have indeed hitherto been frustrated by the active exertions of the government, and particularly of the magistrates in differ ent parts of the country, in execution both of the general laws provided for the maintenance of the public tranquillity, and of the special powers recently given by parliament for that purpose; but the information contained in the papers referred to the committee, leaves no doubt in their minds, that the same wicked and desperate designs are still actively pursued. The information from which they have drawn this painful conclusion, appears to have been collected from many various sources often unconnected with and unknown to each other; but

it is uniform in its general result, and it is corroborated by a striking correspondence in many minute particulars.

This intelligence must be considered as resting in many of its parts upon the depositions and communications of persons who either are themselves more or less implicated in these criminal transactions, or who have apparently engaged in them, but with the view of obtaining information, and imparting it to the magistrates or to the secretary of state.

The testimony of persons of both these descriptions must always be in some degree questionable; and your committee have seen reason to apprehend that the language and conduct of some of the latter may, in some instances, have had the effect of encouraging those designs, which it was intended they should only be the instruments of detecting. After making, however, to the best of their judgment, all due allowance for these circumstances, the committee are fully persuaded that the following is a correct and not exaggerated statement of the result of the information which has been brought under their view.

The Papers relate almost exclusively to the principal manufacturing districts in some of the midland and northern counties of England; and although the disaffected in the country appear still to be looking to the metropolis with the hope of assistance and direction, it is to the parts of the country above referred to that the more recent projects of insurrec tion seem to have been confined.

The committee think it their duty here to remark, that although

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