HC Deb 24 February 1809 vol 12 cc1051-3
Mr. Blackburn

presented a Petition from the Working Cotton Manufactu- rers of Lancaster, praying a Bill for settling a Minimum on the Rates of Wages.

Mr. Davies Giddy

said, that averse as he was to any strong mark of discountenance to petitions coming from any class of subjects before that house, yet he felt it his duty, on the present occasion, out of lenity to the petitioners themselves, to give the earliest opposition to a petition, praying that which it was scarcely possible for that house in its wisdom to grant, because it would be the most ruinous principle which could be adopted in any country, namely, that of fixing by law, a minimum or a maximum to the price of labour, food, or any thing else, which in their very nature, must always fluctuate in different places according to local and temporary circumstances. Something of the kind was attempted during the French revolution under Robespierre, for settling a maximum on the price of provisions, and which was productive of the most dreadful consequences to the French nation. Were it adopted in the present case, it would have the effect of throwing almost perpetually out of employment immense numbers of the petitioners themselves, and aggravating, in an incalculable degree, the distresses of which they complained. He had taken much pains to inform himself on the subject of this petition, and the more he considered it, the more ruinous to the petitioners he saw would be a compliance with their request. Seeing, therefore the utter impolicy of such a compliance, he thought the sooner they were taught to feel there were no hopes to be entertained that parliament would accede to their object, the greater would be the lenity shewn to them, and the more speedily would they be saved the further loss of time and expence, as well as restraint from tumult and disturbance. He should therefore move that the petition be dismissed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

coincided with the hon. gent. as to the impossibility of complying with the petition, upon considerations of lenity towards the petitioners themselves. But he was against any proceeding that might have the appearance of harshness, or discouragement towards any class of subjects, in exercising the right, common to all, of petitioning that house. He was, therefore, disposed to think that the petition should be allowed to be on the table.

Mr. Curwen

thought, if the petition was referred to a Committee up stairs, some relief might be suggested for the petitioners, who were really very much distressed.

Mr. Rose

said, the subject had been before a Committee two years since, which alter long and minute deliberation, could suggest no relief for the petitioners. It had occurred to him that the same kind of regulation which had been found so salutary in the case of the silk manufacturers, namely that of referring the regulation of the rates of workmanship to the magistrates at the quarter sessions, might have the best effects; but the idea of a maximum or minimum in the price of labour, provision, or commodities of any kind, was totally inadmissible. If, however, the house should think fit to refer this petition to a Committee, he would most readily attend it from day to day, and give every aid in his power.

The Petition was ordered to lie on the table.