HC Deb 05 June 1811 vol 20 cc431-7
Colonel Stanley

moved, to refer the Petitions of the weavers of Lancashire (see p. 339) to the consideration of a Select Committee, He expatiated on the hardships to which the Petitioners were subject, and on the policy as well as humanity of endeavouring to afford them relief. From all the information which he had been able to collect, this numerous class of individuals was in a most deplorable situation; and such was their poverty, that they were compelled to bring up their children in complete ignorance, from their inability to afford them education.

Mr. Blackburn

supported the motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was impossible not to feel the greatest disposition to give to the request of the Petitioners every attention which could be conducive to their relief; but, after the most deliberate consideration of the case, he apprehended that it was impossible to hold out to them any expectation of a favourable nature, without exposing them to the certainty of disappointment. He had seen several persons intimately connected with the Petitioners, who had made strong representations to him with regard to the distresses which they experienced; but he found that the remedy, at which they aimed, consisted of regulations in the trade that could not be acceded to, without the production of the greatest inconveniences. They wished for regulations respecting the persons to be admitted into their trade; for regulations respecting the number of apprentices to be allowed; and, in short, for such restraints, as, however they might tend to their immediate relief, must ultimately prove extremely injurious, both to the individual in question and to the trade of the country at large. For himself, he could see no advantage in referring the subject to the consideration of a Committee, as he was persuaded that such a step would merely cherish a fallacious expectation in the minds of those who were concerned. At the same time, if there were any gentlemen who took a different view of the subject, and who could present to the House a probable prospect that the appointment of a Com- mittee might lead to any thing advantageous to the Petitioners in their present distressed state, he should be very sorry to oppose the motion. If, therefore, any gentleman could point out to the House a reasonable ground for supposing that; a different result might be expected on an investigation of the subject, from that which had followed a similar inquiry at two or three former periods, he entreated the House to listen to such a statement, and if they thought it well founded, to adopt the motion of the bon gentleman. If, on the other hand, no probable ground could be made out for the expectation of a favourable result to the inquiry of a Committee, he would ask, Where would be the advantage (except that of an immediate relief to the feelings of the House) of encouraging expectations, which must inevitably lead to the disappointment of those, whose existing distresses were already but too apparent?

Sir R. Peel

strongly recommended the appointment of a Committee, to take into consideration the melancholy case of the Petitioners. He conceived it possible, that without consuming much time, such a Committee might discover some mode of affording relief, and he declared that the happiest day of his life would be that in which he should join in such a labour. Many of the persons who were now suffering such distress, would soon, he feared, be employed by the rivals of Great Britain; for it was not to be expected that they could long endure the privations to which they were at present subject, without an attempt to obtain relief; and it was evident that Buonaparté and those who were at the head of other countries, anxious to emulate Great Britain in manufactures, would do all they could to induce our manufacturers to emigrate to those countries. If their miseries could be alleviated by the application from the public purse of a sum of money, however moderate, it might enable them to struggle with misfortune, and would at least afford them time to ascertain whether they must be compelled to betake themselves to other occupations, or whether it was probable that their own trade would so far revive as to afford them the means of support.

Mr. Ponsonby

thought it was too hard upon those who were for the appointment of a Committee, to point out the mode by which the Petitioners might be relieved. This must be the result of an examination. Unquestionably several ideas on this sub- ject had occurred to his mind, although he should be sorry then to throw them out, as if afterwards they should be found impracticable, the mention of them at that moment would but embitter disappointment. There was one consideration, however, which, in his opinion, the House would do well to entertain, and that was, whether if, on a minute investigation, it should be declared by the Committee that no relief could be afforded, such a declaration would not be received by the Petitioners with more temper and moderation than any immediate and peremptory negative to enter at all into an examination of their grievances.

Mr. Rose

declared that what the right hon. gent. had said was decisive upon the subject. His right hon. friend had stated, that if a single individual intimated that he conceived relief could be afforded to the petitioners, he should have no objection to the appointment of a Committee. The right hon. gent. opposite having said that several modes by which relief might possibly be afforded had occurred to his mind, he trusted therefore, that there would be but one opinion in the House on the propriety of appointing a Committee. Still, however, he wished to make two or three observations on the subject: a representation similar to the present had been referred to a select Committee three years ago. That Committee had been very constantly and very numerously attended. The subject had undergone the most patient discussion, and the result was, that the Committee were unanimously of opinion that nothing could be done for the persons aggrieved. No one, not even those who resided in the immediate neighbourhood of the petitioners, could be more convinced of their distress than he was. For four or five years he had held a correspondence with them and he had always cautioned them against cherishing the expectation of legislative assistance. The hon. bart, talked of granting them a sum of money. A similar recommendation had been made to him by one of the deputies of the petitioners, with whom he had lately had a conference.—That person mentioned a hundred thousand pounds as a sum that might be serviceable to the petitioners; but as in the same breath he estimated the number of sufferers at five hundred thousand, the House would judge how far such a sum could be available to an evil so extensive. Many misapprehensions had gone abroad as to former circumstances connected with this subject. Among others it had been said, that Mr. Pitt on a former occasion had laid out 200,000l. or 300,000l. of the public money, in the purchase of goods, for the relief of the manufacturers. Nothing could be more unfounded. The possibility of a minimum of wages, of a limitation in the number of apprentices, &c. &c. were all points that were discussed and determined in the Committee to which he had already alluded. In his opinion, it was impossible to devise any method by which effectual relief could be afforded to those persons who had suffered so much and so patiently. There was no description of individuals in the country better entitled to the consideration and favour of the House, if any man living could point out a mode by which they might be benefited.

General Tarleton

trusted, that the House would enquire into the distresses of the petitioners with a patient attention. Their petitions were such as it was becoming them to present, and their appeal was made to the generosity and liberality of the House. The sons and brothers of many of the persons whose names were signed to these petitions were shedding their blood in the cause of their country; but even their conduct was not more meritorious than the peaceable behaviour of the petitioners under their sufferings. He hoped, therefore, that the House would, by agreeing to the motion, shew that they were ready to enquire whether any relief could possibly be afforded to them.

Mr. D. Giddy

had attended all the Committees which had enquired into this subject since he had the honour of a seat in that House, and the conviction upon his mind was, that no human ingenuity could devise the relief required. When the last report was made, he felt this impression so strongly, that he had given notice of his intention to oppose any motion for laying such petitions in future on the table. But still, as it might be better to agree to the present motion, than to reject the application in a peremptory manner, though he expected no benefit to result from the proceeding, he should consent to go into the Committee, under the impression that it might tend to soothe the feelings of a very meritorious class of subjects.

Mr. Adam

observed, that as it seemed to be admitted on all hands that an investigation into the distresses of the petitioners, with a view to ascertain what practicable relief could be afforded them, ought to take place, the only question was, what that relief was to consist of. It had happened to him to know, that in a small district in the country, with which he was more particularly connected, distresses such as those complained of by the petitioners had been very severely felt. He knew, also, that these distresses had been in a great degree relieved by the measures taken by humane individuals, and the voluntary exertions of those who had the means of assisting towards that object. The relief thus afforded had been productive of highly beneficial consequences. It might be right that the Committee should Consider how far relief, such as that he referred to, could be applicable to the case of the petitioners. He wished, however, not to be understood to say, that the precise mode of relief, which had been found so serviceable in a small district, would be equally beneficial if resorted to for the relief of the large bodies of manufacturers whose distressing case was then under consideration.

Mr. A. Baring

agreed with the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that unless some practical relief was likely to result from the adoption of the motion, they would by agreeing to go into the Committee only excite expectations which would afterwards be disappointed. He for one should object to any relief by a grant of money. The distress was general amongst persons connected with the commerce of the country; and if any enquiry was to be instituted at all, he thought that the Committee should be appointed to examine into the general system of the commerce of the country; and to ascertain whether there was any thing radically wrong in that system to which the distresses of the manufacturing classes could be ascribed. This point had been adverted to in the petitions, where the distresses of the manufacturing classes were in part attributed to the state of our relations with America. The trade with America was that of which alone the enemy could not possibly have deprived this country. He should not, then, assert, whether it might not have been possible so to have regulated our politics, as to have maintained amicable relations and commercial intercourse with America; but, certain he was, that the situation in which we stood with respect to America was that in which the enemy would most desire to see us placed. He thought, also, that if the enquiry could be entered into, with any prospect that the House would sit long enough to allow of its being conducted to any beneficial result, the system of granting licences, which had been so much cried up, should at the same time be investigated. This was the only measure that could be looked to for any satisfactory consequence: but perceiving that the feelings of the House were in favour of going into the Committee, he should not press upon this point farther.

Sir John Newport

thought, that, as the hon. brat, opposite had stated it as his opinion that it would be gratifying to the feelings of the petitioners to accede to this motion, that consideration alone ought to be sufficient to weigh with the House. He was decidedly of opinion, that any grant of money ought to be deprecated; but he thought that the relief might be rendered effectual, if the manufacturers should be enabled to send the articles on their hands to a market not now accessible to them. He threw out this suggestion for the information of the House generally, because he knew that a measure of the description he alluded to had been successfully adopted in a case of similar distress in Ireland. At all events, by going into the Committee they would shew the petitioners, that they were ready to do every thing in their power for their relief.

Mr. Wilberforce

was fully aware of the danger of exciting, by agreeing to the motion, expectations which might afterwards be disappointed; but there was one circumstance which made him of a decided opinion upon this occasion. He would agree to a going into the Committee, lest their motives should be misinterpreted—lest, if they refused to agree to, the motion, it should be supposed that they were not aware of the extent of the distress. The amount of that distress they could not so clearly ascertain without entering into a grave and solemn enquiry: and, if it should unfortunately, after such enquiry, be found, that no practicable mode of relief could be devised, he wished it, at all events, to be clearly understood by the sufferers, that every attention had been paid to their claims in that House; and that the evil they complained of was not redressed solely because it was beyond the power of that House to remove it. He thought it particularly desirable, that it should be well understood from the first, that they entered into the enquiry not from any certainty of being able to afford the relief applied for, but with a view to ascertain whether it was in the power of that House to grant any relief whatever.

Mr. Pole Carew

would object to the Committee being authorized to report anything but facts. The House would recollect what inconvenience they and the public had sustained from having had to debate a question for seven days arising out of a committee of last session having exceeded its powers. He wished to avoid a similar inconvenience in a future session, and should not therefore consent to give any powers to this Committee, but to report facts.

The motion was then agreed to, and the twenty-one following gentlemen were appointed to form the Committee: Colonel Stanley, Mr. Blackburn, lord A. Hamilton, sir R. Peel, Mr. W. Bootle, Mr. Davenport, Mr. Rose, Mr. Houston, Mr. Bradshaw, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Whit bread, Mr. Pattison, Mr. Patton, sir J. Shaw, sir J. Anstruther, sir J. Graham, sir J. Newport, Mr. Ponsonby, Mr. Long, Mr. D. Giddy, and Mr. Adam. After a few observations from colonel Stanley, Mr. R. P. Carew, and Mr. Rose, it was ordered, "That the Committee have power to report their observations thereon," On the motion of Mr. Houston, the Petition of the Weavers of Ayr, Renfrew, and Lanark; and, on the motion of lord A. Hamilton, the Petition of the Weavers of Paisley and its neighbourhood were referred to the same Committee.