HC Deb 08 April 1818 vol 37 cc1219-23
Lord Stanley

wished to call the attention of the House to a petition which he held in his hands. The House must be aware that in his situation of representative for the county of Lancaster, a number of petitions were frequently put into his hands, of which he could not approve either the matter or the manner. The petition which he now held in his hands, was signed in behalf of a meeting held at Roy ton, by George Taylor the chairman of that meeting. He was aware that the House did not recognize any petition so signed, as the petition of those from whom it purported to come, and that it could only be received as the petition of the individual who was the chairman of the meeting. But this was not the point to which he was most anxious to draw their attention. Among the petitions put into the hands of members some came so near the line of right and propriety, that it became a matter of doubt whether they ought to be presented. With respect to this petition, he owned that he had his doubts—it certainly came very near the line of propriety—but as he always wished to leave the right of petitioning as unfettered as possible, he should be sorry to do any thing to prevent the voice of individuals from being heard. There was hardly any thing in the prayer of the petition which was improper. Whether in the body of the petition some expressions might not be considered as improper, he should leave for the House to consider when they heard it read.

The Petition was brought up and read. It purported to be the petition of several thousands of people assembled at Royton, in Lancashire, on the 23d of March 1818. It commenced by stating, that self-preservation was the first law of nature. It went on to state, that many of the petitioners Were weavers, whose wages did not exceed seven shillings a week, a sum altogether inadequate to the support of themselves and families, and the payment of house rent and taxes—that in this situation they were bringing children into the world whom they could never support—that God never made men to labour and to starve—that the business of quarter sessions formerly used to last only about two days—but that the quarter sessions now usually lasted twelve or fourteen days—that this moral deterioration was the consequence of the unexampled misery and privation in the lower classes—that general misery was productive of ignorance and slavery—that a state of things like this could not be conducive to our prosperity either at home or abroad—that the property of a country consisted in the produce of its land and labour—that if too much of this produce went to rent and taxes, the consequence was a proportionate privation and suffering of those by whose labour that produce was realized—that the avarice and cunning of some individuals had succeeded in appropriating to themselves, and those who were instrumental to their views, so much, that nothing was left to others—that it was the duty of wise statesmen to check this evil, and to oppose instead of supporting expensive wars, the undertaking of which could neither be productive of good, nor prevent evil—that the weight of the burdens of these wars fell on the poor with double force—that from the attention which they had given to the proceedings of the House on the subject of the poor laws, they could see no disposition on the part of the House to diminish the evils of pauperism—that as wages increased, pauperism decreased—that his majesty's ministers had imprisoned many of the best men in the country, on the pretence of treason, while no treason had been committed—that as well might men have been committed for murder, while no murder had taken place—that any disorders which look place were solely attributable to spies and incendiaries employed by the government—and that they attributed their misery to the selfish principles which had influenced the honourable house for a long time. The petition prayed the House to repeal the corn bill, that rents might fall —to retrench all useles and improper expenditure, that the burden of the taxes might be diminished—and to reform the Commons House, and to admit the people to the exercise of their just rights. On the motion, that the petition do lie on the table,

Mr. Bankes

was of opinion, that as this petition professed to come from a public meeting, and was only signed by one individual, it ought not to be received. He was aware, that the House sometimes extended their indulgence so far as to consider a petition of a public meeting the petition of the individual who signed it; but as this petition alleged only general opinions, he thought it would be inconvenient for the House to extend their indulgence to it. He wished, therefore, to refer to the standing order of the the House which forbid the receiving such petitions.

Mr. Wynn

contended, that there was a great difference between a petition like this, and one signed by a sheriff in the name of a county meeting. This alone was a ground for refusing to receive it; but when he looked at the manner in which it was worded, and the outrage offered to the House, by attributing selfish principles to them, he could come to no other conclusion, than that the petition was presented for the purpose of insulting the House, and therefore ought to be rejected.

Mr. Lambton

would not enter into the question of informality; but he had attended to the wording of the petition, and he certainly could see nothing in it insulting or derogatory to the House. If the hon. member meant to propose that the petition should be rejected on the ground of improper language, he should feel it his duty to divide the House on that point.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was surprised to hear it said that such a petition ought to lie on the table. The words "selfish principles," contained in the petition were such as one member could not, without great irregularity, use to another, at least if he was to hear any member use such language in that House, he would certainly call him to order.

Mr. Tierney

said, it appeared to him that the petitioners had used the word selfish as intending to convey that the House had entered into a narrow view of the subject, and had not proceeded on general grounds. If the House were to reject such petitions as this, they might as well say at once, that the people should never petition for parliamentary reform. Feeling as anxious as any man that the doors of the House should be open to petitions, he must declare his opinion, that there was nothing derogatory to their dignity in the language of this petition. The word "selfish" was the only unhappy word on which the chancellor of the exchequer had been able to place his hand. The right hon. gentleman had said, that any member who should use that word, in debate, would be called to order. Now he would use that word on the very first opportunity, and he was sure the right hon. gentleman would not call him to order [Hear, hear!] If there was any thing really offensive to the House contained in the petition, he would not support it. But if people who had no land saw those who had a good deal passing a bill to serve themselves at their expense, it was natural that they should express themselves as they felt.

The question being put, "That the said Petition do lie upon the table," the House divided: Ayes, 14; Noes, 43.