Saturday, 15 February 2014

15th February 1814: Government legal advice on workers organisations in Nottinghamshire

Further Case 

Since the inclosed Opinion of the Attorney and Solr General was given on the 22nd of December last one of the Tickets or Diplomas alluded to in the 12th Article has been obtained It bears a Coat of Arms which are stated to represent an Union of Ireland Scotland Nottinghamshire Derbyshire Leicestershire & Yorkshire with a Loom and by way of Crest & Arm holding a Hammer (which was the Implement principally used last year by the Nottinghamshire Framebreakers) and the Motto says Taisez vous. Another Copy of the printed Articles has also been obtained from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.—

As it appears by the Articles that a General Meeting was to be held in May last Enquiry has been made relative to it and also for further General Information respecting the Societies and the following is the result of those Enquiries—

"There are at Nottingham about 20 Societies many of them consist of more than an hundred Members each some of a smaller number—The Business transacted before the General Members professes to have for its object the ensuring to them Employment at what they call fair prices The Societies hire all the unemployed Frames and engage all the Work they can which they let out to their Members but to no other person If a member has Employment elsewhere with which he is dissatisfied the Society make him a weekly allowance until he finds better Employment either from the Society or other persons. When the Funds of the Society exceed a certain sum the surplus is sent to what my Informant calls the Head Committee which he believes to be in London. The Officers of the Society sometimes retire into a Room apart from the General Meeting Room to transact Business. My Informants Society have paid out of their Funds the expences of defending Criminal Prosecutions against its Members but he understands this has been objected to by other of the Societies—New Tickets have been issued to the Members in the stead of those which I gave you [the one above alluded to] one—In the new ones the material alteration is the omission of the Arms which it was understood had caused some suspicion—These Societies consist (as you may suppose) principally of desperate Characters who express themselves very freely—The General Conference was held in May last at Nottingham but my Informant does not know the Business of it—"

Lord Viscount Sidmouth has directed the Opinion of the Attorneys and Solicitor General to be taken.— 
How far they consider these Societies to be a fit subject of Criminal Prosecution. And what directions they think necessary to be given with the view of procuring additional Information as to the real object to which the Articles relate?—
We think the Constitution of these Societies, each of which has a president and other officers; as connected together, first, by the central Committee, and then again by a superior head or executive Committee are illegal by the 39th. Geo 3rd: C.79; for the whole Class of Societies taken together thro’ the medium of these connecting links form one Society of which the minor Societies are branches, or divisions, or parts, "which in a manner act separately from each other; and have each a separate and distinct President and Secretary. This Constitution is one prohibited, and enacted to be an unlawful combination and confederacy, whatever may be the professed or real object of such Society." 

But tho’ this illegality in the constitution of the Societies may be fairly inferred from the Article stated, and the account given by the Informant; yet it would not be right to institute any prosecution against any of the members as being guilty of an unlawful Combination and Confederacy, unless we were assured of some regular chain of Evidence proving positive facts of the actual conduct of the Societies in their connection each with the other, and of their acting together in pursuance of the Articles so as to form one whole body, composed of various parts, constituted by the different Societies. The Statement is at present vague and great part of it from the Information of others, and not from the actual knowledge of the person communicating his Information. 

It would be very desirable, if any persons could be found who becoming members of one or two of these minor Societies, could ascertain that the articles are read and adopted by them, that they do depute Members or each a Member to the Central Committee, that the head or Executive Committee takes upon itself the ordering the funds of the minor Societies, or in other words that the regulations pointed out by the articles are acted upon in each of those Societies one of which the party to be charged is a Member. It would indeed be necessary to ascertain what facts could be positively proved before we could advise a prosecution, which if successful would be beneficial, but which if defeated might increase the mischief intended to be obviated

W Garrow
S: Shepherd
Linc. Inn Feb. 15. 1814.

This document can be found at HO 42/137.

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