HC Deb 27 April 1812 vol 22 cc1064-8
Mr. Brougham

said, he held in his hand another Petition from a number of the inhabitants of Liverpool, who had signed it in the course of one hour; and had it not been necessary to send it off, in order that it might accompany the preceding Petition, it would have received a much greater number of signatures. The memorial of the present petitioners was not so much against the Orders in Council, as applicable to the expressions which they had heard ascribed to the right hon. gentleman opposite, (a laugh); and which, however ridiculous they might appear to some gentlemen, were yet calculated to produce any other sensations but those of levity and laughter in the minds of those to whom they were addressed. The petitioners, feeling the multiplied distresses of their situation, had heard with regret and astonishment, the figurative language of the right hon. gentleman; from which they drew, at least, this conclusion, that the commercial measures of ministers were not to be relinquished in the smallest degree. The right hon. gentleman had disclaimed his having treated the deputation with any thing like levity; and he fully believed him, for he was convinced that neither that right hon. gentleman nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor the hon. and learned gentleman, not now in his place, (Mr. Stephen,) who might be considered as the father of the Orders in Council, had now in their minds any feelings of levity or ridicule on this subject, but rather those of a very contrary description. The object of the present petitioners, however, was simply to express, not that the expressions of the right hon. gentleman conveyed insult of insensibility, but merely that they excite in their minds the most melancholy apprehensions, and destroyed all hope of any modification of the Orders in Council. They had imagined, that when so many memorials had been presented to ministers, some modification, at least, of those measures would have been made; but now, instead of these expectations being gratified, they were to understand that this country was finally committed to a contest with the enemy, which of them should bear privations the longer. The petitioners also proceeded to observe with pain and sorrow, that many persons in this country were possessed of sinecures and pensions to a large amount,—men who had fattened on the war which had reduced them to distress. They contrasted the situation of these pensioners with their own deplorable condition, and prayed that these sinecures and pensions might be abolished altogether, and their produce applied to carrying on the war. This sort of language might be called indelicate; but then the House should observe, that they were dealing with hungry men, who were very Utile removed from a starving situation. But whatever might be thought of some parts of this Petition, there was one conclusion which could not fail to strike every man,—namely, that the number of the Petitions which the House had received afforded a melancholy proof of the extent of the distresses, and the pressure under which the manufacturing and commercial interests laboured. Some of them were against the East India monopoly; others against the Orders in Council; and a third class, like the present, against the Orders, and also against Sinecure Places and Pensions. From all this he concluded, that the pressure on the various parts of the country was great, and almost intolerable. It was his opinion, however, that the petitioners would derive at least the most speedy relief from laying the axe to the commercial decrees of ministers.

On the question being put, that the Petition be brought up,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

reprobated the discussion of a question now which might be fully debated at its proper time to-morrow. This at least was neither a usual nor a convenient way of dispatching the business of parliament. He felt himself called upon to say a few words with regard to the expression so much talked of, which was said to have dropped from his right hon. friend. He never was more surprized than when he heard that an injurious impression had been loft upon the minds of some individuals present at the interview, for the deputation from Birmingham appeared perfectly satisfied with the reception afforded them. Taxing his own memory he had not the least trace of such a phrase as had been so often alluded to, although it might have been uttered out of his hearing, or indeed if uttered within his hearing, he might not have noticed it. He positively denied that it could justify any such mischievous impression as that to which it had been distorted. It had been employed to exasperate the public mind, for the purpose of producing mischief; and he was sorry to see that gentlemen in that House thus gave countenance to such disgraceful attempts. It was exciting a still more outrageous spirit in those who were now employing themselves throughout the country in destroying all kinds of machinery. That was indeed laying the axe to the root, and abolishing the very means of future prosperity to the country, by which the pressure now complained of might be alleviated. Such sentiments as had just been listened to encouraged and promoted the feeling which produced these dismal Scenes of devastation. He did not mean to make any charge upon gentlemen, whose duly it was to present Petitions put into their hands, but he would appeal to every man present at the interview alluded to (excepting the individual who had originated the Statement) whether any thing passed which could be perverted into an expression of unkindness, harsh ness, or insensibility on the part of ministers. Whatever might have been the particular words employed, he would not take upon himself to determine, but he would bear positive testimony that in his right hon. friend's mind there was no feeling which could justify the distortion of phrase which had been attributed to him.

Mr. Tierney

observed, that the most convenient mode would be for the right hon. gentleman to state what he really did say. It undoubtedly was fair that the right hon. gentleman should have an opportunity of explaining the construction he put upon the words said to have been employed. A present the sense applied to the metaphor seemed to be that which it bore, without any perversion. It must be admitted, that it conveyed no very pleasant idea to the minds of the petition- ers, when they were told that they were like a man with his head in a bucket of water.

Mr. Rose

repeated, that he had not the most faint remembrance of having employed the language attributed to him. All he could say was, that in his mind there was nothing at all disrespectful to the gentlemen, or unfeeling to the individuals they represented. He was sorry not to see the hon. member for Warwickshire in his place, who would be able to state his recollection of the transaction. He was happy that the the present opportunity had been afforded him of disclaiming that which had been most unjustly attributed to him, viz. an insensibility to the complaints that had been urged. He thought the case of the manufacturers of Birmingham entitled to peculiar attention.

Mr. Brougham

observed, that the figure of speech in which the right hon. gentleman had indulged, and which remained uncontradicted, had created a most melancholy impression.

Mr. Baring

felt convinced that the expressions had been used; but from the manner in which the right hon. gentleman received those who waited upon him on business, he was convinced that there was no intention to insult or offend. He expressed his hope that the grievous complaints of the numerous petitioners, who had resorted to the House for redress, would be most seriously considered.

Mr. Lyttelton

suggested, that if the right hon. gentleman could not deny the precise expression, at least he could disclaim the policy which might be supposed to dictate it.

Lord Millon

objected to the words, as containing a comment on the system government intended to pursue with regard to the Orders in Council.

Mr. Rose

observed, that to-morrow would be the more fit time for the explanation required.

The Petition was then brought up, and read; setting forth,

"That the petitioners have been credibly informed, and do believe that the right hon. George Rose did lately, in a conference between his Majesty's Chancellor of the Exchequer and certain master manufacturers of the town of Birmingham, compare the situation of the people of England and France to that of two men holding their heads in a vessel of water, and trying which can longest endure the pain of suffocation; and that the petitioners cannot, without great alarm, hear of this type or comparison as illustrating the effects of a war which his Majesty's ministers have from time to time promised to terminate, by the subjugation and restraint of France; and that, though the above-mentioned comparison too aptly typifies the condition of the petitioners, all whose means of livelihood are alarmingly curtailed by the events of war, and by the process of taxation, and many of whom are reduced to the extreme of want, it is by no means applicable to the right hon. George Rose, and divers others similarly circumstanced, who, by the emoluments of the offices which they hold under government, and the possession of considerable pensions and salaries of sinecure places, are much at their ease in the midst of public calamity; and praying the House to pass a Bill for appropriating, during the future continuance of the war, the salaries of all sinecure offices, and all unmerited and extravagant pensions, to public purposes, which Bill, the petitioners humbly conceive, by tending in a degree to equalize the pressure of the times, will at once tranquillize the general feeling, and accelerate to this country the acquisition of the blessings of peace."

Ordered to lie upon the table.