§ Mr. Bennet
rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move the appointment of a committee to inquire into the state of the manufacturing districts of this country. He said he could assure the 891 House, that, in bringing this subject before them, he did so with a full sense of his own inferiority; but having found no one else willing to take it out of his hands, and deeming the inquiry which he proposed a measure of the utmost importance to the peace and tranquillity of the country, he was induced to offer himself to their notice. It was not his intention to mix up with this subject any thing of what might be considered party politics, or any thing which might stand in the way of the conciliation which he had at heart: he wished to excite the smallest animosity possible. It was not his intention to inquire into all the circumstances which had created the distress. He knew very well that gentlemen differed materially on this subject, as it was natural they should do, where the field was so extensive. Some attributed the distress to the enormous weight of taxation—some again attributed it to the decay of trade—others again to the change in the circulating medium of the country, which, while the taxation remained unchanged, had had all the effect of an addition of from 15 to 25 per cent to the taxes. All these things, though they demanded the particular attention of the House, went beyond the limit; which he now proposed to himself. The object of his motion was to inquire into the present state of the districts, known by the name of the manufacturing districts, and now also unhappily by that of the disturbed districts. He was sure he was not stating too high the number of persons employed in these districts, namely, in Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and Scotland, when he said they amounted to not less than one million of persons. He should first advert to the state of the manufacturing district of Scotland; and he was sure he was not overrating the manufacturing population of that district, when he stated it at upwards 200,000. The House were no doubt well aware, that within a very short period the state of the, manufactures of that country had experienced a rapid increase: the House knew that there had arisen in that country a number of great, towns and great villages, the seats of commercial and manufacturing enterprise, in which many individuals had acquired great wealth. But unfortunately those large and formerly flourishing towns, were now the seat of the greatest distress and misery. But the distress which existed in that country at the present period, was greatly 892 augmented by the influx into Scotland of the natives of Ireland, who, driven by the greatest poverty and distress at home, sought to better their situation by emigration to Scotland. The relief which they sought, he believed they had not found, but this influx had added much to the distress of Scotland. From all the information he had been able to obtain, the manufacturing population of that part of the country had been reduced from a state of affluence to a state of the greatest poverty. He believed that in what he was about to say, he did not overstate the distress, and his anxiety was rather to understate than overstate it. The great staple manufacture of that country was that of cotton. The spinners, who were in the proportion of one to three of the whole, were in a comparatively, good state—were in the receipt of a considerable sum of money. But the other class, that of the weavers, who formed the great majority of the manufacturers, were in a state of the greatest poverty and despair. But perhaps the best way would be to enter into some details on the subject. He held in his hands a statement of the wages paid, at different periods, to the manufacturers in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. He believed that in that neighbourhood the wages of the weavers in 1803, when they were at the highest, were 25s. per week. In 1812 and 1813, they fell considerably, and in 1816, they were reduced as low as 10s. At the present moment they were 5s. and 5s. 6d. at most. They had now been in that state for a considerable time. They had in better days been able to make considerable savings from their wages, and to make great purchase of furniture, clothes and otherwise; for though he was not a native of Scotland himself, yet from his being connected with a northern county bordering on Scotland, he had had ample opportunities of knowing the intelligent and moral character of the Scotch, their ambition to keep up furniture, to wear better clothes than the natives of the southern part of the island; in short they had altogether a higher and more respectable air and appearance than the people of this part of the country. In the neighbourhood of Glasgow the people had been forced to carry their furniture and clothes by degrees to the pawnbrokers, and he had been told on the best authority, that the pawnbrokers having advanced their whole capital on these pledges, were 893 nearly in the same distress. The consequence of all this was, that the people were not merely in a state of poverty and distress—these were idle terms—they were in a state of famine—in a state of starvation. Their former prosperity added to their present sufferings. From the natural feeling of self-preservation, those people were impelled to look for a change. These men thought that their miseries would be remedied by a radical reform of that House, and thinking so, it could hardly be viewed otherwise by them than as a question of life and death. However erroneous their ideas on the subject might be, the House ought to sympathise with men in their unhappy situation—they were happily placed in a different situation—they were removed from the temptation to which these unfortunate people were exposed; but they ought to feel some degree of charity and tenderness for those who were placed in their situation [Hear, hear!] He had stated what the wages were in the neighbourhood of Glasgow; he was told that in Paisley they were much lower. There were three classes of workmen. The first class who used to earn from 25 to 30s. per Week, was reduced to 8s. 6d.; the second class was reduced to 4s. 6d.; and the third class could obtain no employment whatever.
He was not able to ascertain the amount of this last class of wretched people, but he understood they amounted to many thousands. In Ireland there were no poor laws in existence; in England the poverty of the manufacturer was relieved in some degree by forced contributions from the public; but in Scotland, there was no law to compel relief to persons who were able to work. He was told, however, that there had existed a contribution on the part of the gentry, which did them the greatest honour. There had been long indeed in Scotland an union between the gentry and the people to the great advantage of both. But what availed these contributions of individuals, when whole towns, large districts, were in want of bread? Under these circumstances it was natural that so intelligent a people as the Scotch should look around them to see if they could find any remedy to their evils. He believed any person who had looked to the progress of opinions, would allow that there were particular periods, not only in the history of this country, when particular feelings and 894 wishes might be considered epidemical. In the sixteenth century the great question was religion, and every one knew with what ardor the people of Scotland entered into that question. In the seventeenth century the great question in the country was, the right of taxation. At the present moment, throughout all the world, at least throughout all civilized Europe, the question which agitated the minds of men, and which was of the utmost consequence to the well-being of states, was that of representative governments. In Scotland, educated as the people were—and when the peasant and mechanic were in the habit of reading the works of the best poets and historians of their country—It was quite impossible that they should not deeply imbibe the feeling which was now so general throughout all Europe. Though they were led to expect from a change in the representation what a change could not give, still the desire to be admitted to a participation of the benefits of the constitution ought never to be an accusation against them with men who were taught to consider their constitutional rights the greatest of blessings. If ever there was a country where from the diffusion of intelligence, the people were entitled to all the blessings of constitutional liberty, it was Scotland. The very great intelligence of the people only added to the poignancy of their present distress, and disposed them to seek with the greater ardour and perseverance to cure the abuses which, rightly or wrongly, they considered to produce the very distress under which they were suffering. An hon. friend of his had just put into his hands a statement of the earnings of the weavers of Paisley at the present moment. The first class earned 6s. per week; the second class 2s. 6d.; and the third class nothing at all.
He should now advert to Yorkshire, the next great manufacturing district. It was acknowledged, that in all the manufacturing neighbourhood, property formerly of considerable value was reduced almost to nothing; that the king's taxes and poor-rates, and various demands made on the people, and which were rigorously exacted (the landholders were more merciful), had had the effect of reducing the smaller proprietors to the situation of paupers. He would content himself with stating, that the discontent of that district originated, not merely in distress, but famine, 895 It was not the evil inclinations of the people, but their distress, which induced them, like drowning men, to catch at any straw and listen to any remedy which was held out to them. The manufacturing interest were clamorous against high prices; the agricultural interest among them said, unless you keep the prices high they could not exist. The first class, the manufacturers, said they could not carry on their trade unless prices were lowered. The agriculturists said they could neither pay rents and taxes, nor exist as a class of men, unless prices were raised higher. He now came to Lancashire. The part of Lancashire to which he more particularly alluded, was the hundred of Salford and Manchester, in which there existed a population of about 400,000, solely employed in manufactures. In this district many villages had grown up to large towns. The population of that part of the country had grown up to an enormous extent in the course of a very few years. Along with the augmentation of the manufacturing population, another circumstance had arisen, which operated unfortunately on the present distress; he meant the dispersion of the gentry. The whole of that great manufacturing population were therefore not under their natural police, but chiefly under the authority of individuals who had no interest in the permanent prosperity of the place. There was another class of men in the magistracy—manufacturers who had left off business, and who were supposed to have an inclination to support those who were in the situation in which they were formerly themselves. The clergy were the other class of men in authority. The result of the whole was, that there did not exist in that part of the country that union between the magistrates and the people, which was essential to the due execution of the law. A great part of this evil might arise from the circumstance that the lord-lieutenant of that county had nothing to do with the nomination of magistrates. The nomination of magistrates was in the chancellor of the duchy; the consequence of which was, that those nominated to the magistracy had generally been persons who held principles which were considered high flown Tory. The gentry of Manchester, and that neighbourhood generally, in 1745, were Jacobites; and it was his firm belief, that though the object of their worship was changed, their principles were the same. 896 While such illiberal opinions were entertained by one class, the education of the labouring orders had been carried to a great extent. He could prove by the incontrovertible testimony of thousands and tens of thousands, that the greatest improvement had taken place in the morals and education of the lower orders. He would say then, that in consequence of this education, and the feelings to which it had given rise on the part of the people, and the violent opposite feeling on the part of the magistrates, there had resulted a strong opposition between them. There was one union of men calling themselves radicals on one side, and another formidable union of persons, calling themselves orange-men on the other, who were encouraged and fostered by these magistrates. He knew the fact, that one of the judges at the last assizes thought proper to pass the severest censure on one of the partners of a great house connected with a magistrate, for conduct connected with one of those societies of an illegal nature. He knew, too, for certain, that in that county there were men who prostituted the office of minister of religion to gratify the passions of the members of this society. As he saw the right hon. the member for Liverpool in his place, he would ask him if on the day of the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne, there was not in Liverpool a procession of Orange-men, who celebrated their horrid rites, and got up that procession in a manner which could hardly fail to have a necessary reaction on the other party? They got up a procession, in which there was a person dressed as the pope, another as a cardinal, and there was carried before them the mock insignia of the Catholic faith. These persons entered a church, where having stripped the Catholic robes, they with the insignia were committed to the flames, and then there was found a clergyman who preached a sermon to them. He considered that clergyman to have been guilty of what was little better than sedition and blasphemy. He held in due reverence those persons who ministered to the altar; he estimated that character highly, but he could not help saying that the conduct of the individual filled him with horror, and if he had not blasphemed, no man ever blasphemed [Hear, hear!]. Nor was this instance a solitary one; the same things took place in other places, and were fostered by the magistrates—they took place in the neigh- 897 bourhood of Manchester. Under this state of things—this aggravating conduct—this difference of sentiments between the governing and the governed—they could hardly wonder that the discontent should here be extreme. He held in his hands an account of the rate of wages in different parts of Lancashire, comprehending nearly all the manufacturing neighbourhoods. The wages earned in one place were from 6s, to 9s. and 10s. per week, for fifteen hours labour per day; in another place from 7s. to 8s. for 13 hours per day; the next 6s. per week for 15 hours per day; in another place 6s. per week for 15 hours; in another 7s. per week for 14 hours; in another 6s. per week for 15 hours per day. No language could convey an adequate description of the distress of the people. They had been, to a great extent, compelled to sell their clothes—their beddings were sacks stuffed with chips—they had no blankets;—in fact, the situation of themselves and children was that of hopeless misery. This was but a sample of the condition of things that prevailed generally throughout those districts; and he would ask, whether it was not natural, whether it was not an unavoidable result, that the people should look to parliament for assistance? Gould they be expected to endure miseries of this description without applying for relief to some quarter? If no relief was obtained, discontent must be the consequence, and discontent would finally produce despair. He readily admitted that these feelings had been inflamed by the practices of designing men; but for the greater part they originated in, and were kept alive by, what approached to a state of famine. Give them but food and work, and the House would soon cease to hear of their distresses or their discontents.
Seeing, then, that this was the general disposition amongst these classes, and that their poverty and sufferings were undisputed, it might be worth while to advert a little to the view which was taken by them of the late transactions. It was a firm persuasion amongst them, that long before the meeting on the 16th of August, the municipal authorities at Manchester were their enemies. They were convinced that the meeting itself was legal, and they knew that it had been dispersed by the sword. Their belief was, that the magistrates in committing Mr. Hunt for high treason, and liberating him on bail 898 for a misdemeanor, had shown a disposition to strain the powers of the law. They conceived that excessive bail had been demanded in the first instance, for they found that whilst the magistrates required security to the amount of 1,000l., the judge of assize considered 400l. to be an adequate sum. All these circumstances they looked upon as so many acts of injustice. The grand jury was supposed to have been influenced by partial considerations; and it had since appeared, that they were justified in their opinion that the magistrate at Warrington had acted illegally. The whole proceedings under the coroner's inquest seemed to them equally unwarrantable, and to manifest an equally hostile disposition towards their rights and interests. The House, too, in subsequently refusing to go into an inquiry upon all these subjects, had done more to excite distrust and inflame animosity, than by any proceeding for a long series of years. The belief and opinion which he had just mentioned as being universally entertained amongst many classes, he himself knew to be the full and firm conviction of a most respectable portion of society at Manchester. The persons to whom he now referred were good, rational, and sincere men, of deep religious impressions, of a sedate and sober character, seldom mingling with politics, or acting out of their domestic circles. Even amongst these, a certain air of fierceness, foreign to their original deportment, was observable, which reminded him of that passage in which lord Clarendon says, that the gentle nature of Hampden was so affected by the injustice which he had witnessed, as to appear entirely changed. Two questions therefore presented themselves with reference to this important point—what the state of feeling was prior to, and what it had been since, the 16th of August. His own belief was, that the fatal events of that day had led to a determination on the part of many to provide themselves with arms. Still they placed some dependence on the proceedings of parliament. In the mean time, the utmost anxiety was shown for labour, in order not only to procure subsistence, but to provide means of defence. Ever since the 16th of August, an awful and portentous silence had marked their ordinary intercourse. It bore too strong a resemblance to that state of public feeling so powerfully described by the historian, as having at one famous period of 899 national misfortune characterised the Roman people:—"Neque populi, aut plebis, ulla vox, sed attoniti vultus, et conversæ ad omnia aures. Non tumultus, non quies, quale magni metus, et magnæ iræ silentium est." Many circumstances had long before occurred to produce resentment, but the latter had filled up the measure of what they conceived their sufferings and their wrongs. An hon. friend of his had presented a petition in the yeas 1812, in which it was offered to prove, a series of conduct on the part of the magistrates of the most unjustifiable and irritating nature. Instead however, of examining, the House granted an indemnity. That the same system of outrage and Oppression was still pursued, there was to much reason to apprehend. Most of the information of his majesty's ministers on the subject of these discontents; was obtained on the reports of spies and; others, who he would not say were immediately connected with government, but were employed by persons who were prone to be much too busy in their avocation. Whilst upon this part of the subject, he would also add, that one end to which he wished the inquiry, if agreed to, should be directed, was the providing some better municipal form of government for the town of Manchester than tit possessed at present. Its whole police was now in the hands of a boroughreeve: and constables, assisted by two stipendiary magistrates. He doubted not that their police officers had been engaged in some very atrocious transactions; and he was sure the House could not do better than inquire into them, and endeavour to devise some better system of future regulation.
The first point of the inquiry which he recommended, however, would be, into the general state of the manufacturing districts; but it would be, he conceived, a mere delusion to limit that inquiry to the state of the markets for particular commodities. He could not exclude from the consideration of the state and condition of the manufacturing classes, the causes of their present discontents. It might be found impossible to frame any plan of general or immediate relief, but he had no doubt that many measures might be adopted to correct and mitigate the evil. It had been justly remarked, that, in this view, the people had done every thing, and the government nothing. Even small purchases of an article that 900 was depressed in value had often been found extremely beneficial. The occasion, too, was a proper one for undertaking works of a public nature—he did not mean palaces, but works of solid utility, roads and canals by which all the operations of commercial and agricultural industry might be promoted. Even all this might be found insufficient, he admitted, to afford employment to the hundreds, of thousands who stood in need of it; but if only thousands could be relieved, was not that an object of national importance? But there was also something to be undone, as well as much to be done. It might be found expedient to repeal those absurd laws, passed in times of barbarism and ignorance, with regard to the true, maxims of commercial policy, by which, under heavy penalties, the emigration of our artisans was restrained. At the present moment that emigration, in his opinion ought to be permitted ad libitum. He did not mean by this observation to approve the plan of carrying them amongst savage nations, and with imperfect means of colonizing. It was not, however, to be denied that there were too many whose absence from their country would felt rather as blessing than a loss at the present moment, But he would wish to see them emigrate to our own colonies and possessions, whither, they would carry their skill and knowledge, and where they would both communicate and receive advantage. It was far from his design, he could assure the House, to involve any committee in a labyrinth of matter, out of which it might be difficult to extricate itself. Though the subject was comprehensive, it was definite, and led to conclusions by no means irreconcileable in their nature. His motion had for its object the restoration, of peace to a distracted country—to unite and tranquillize where disunion alone unhappily reigned. He should indeed glory if he could be rendered the humble instrument of soothing misery and allaying discontent—of raising a temple of harmony on the spot which was now a scene of agitation, of suffering, and of strife. The hon. member concluded amidst loud cheers by moving, "That a committee be appointed to inquire into the present state of, the Manufacturing Districts."
observed, that he did not rise to, follow the hon. member through the extensive details into which 901 he had entered, but he could not avoid remarking, that there was no painful circumstance, no dark picture, that could be presented by the most mischievous, which had not been introduced by the hon. gentleman, although he was ready to admit that their introduction by the hon. member was for an object widely different from the mischievous purposes for which such references were too frequently made. On entering the House, he had communicated to the honourable gentleman, with a view of rendering his motion unnecessary, that he did not object, in the first instance, to the' appointment of a committee. But at the same time he felt the importance of defining specifically what the nature of the inquiry was which was to be intrusted to them. It was a duty which the House owed to the unfortunate classes of society, on whose behalf the inquiry was to be undertaken, not to cause expectations far beyond the means of parliamentary relief. When the hon. member said "give the people food and employment," did he think that it was possible for the legislature to do that? Was it possible for any fund to be established that would secure employment, amidst all the fluctuations of commerce and manufactures? Upon what principle could government act, if in seasons of difficulty they were to recognize the policy of taking from one class merely for the purpose of giving to another? Such a practice was equally inconsistent with all the rules of sound policy, and with the very nature of property in general. Yet the hon. gentleman had just delivered a speech by which it appeared, that there was' nothing in the temper of an angry and irritated people, nothing in speculative policy, nothing in the administration of government, that did not mix itself with that question which he had proposed to refer to a committee up stairs. He would venture to say, that no such trust ever had been confided to a committee. That committee if appointed, would indeed be placed in a cruel situation, if the House were to instruct it to go into the consideration of all those topics. If the fact were as had been stated, that Lancashire was a county of Tory magistrates and orange clubs, if it was really divided in parties complaining of mutual injuries, and of grievances un-redressed, he could not imagine a more certain means of committing man against man, party against party, and inflaming whatever of animosity already excited; 902 than such an investigation. Was this an expedient course, a fit remedy to be adopted, in the temper and feelings which prevailed in that district? Could any measure be more calculated to bring the passions of men into an interminable conflict, than to inform this agitated part of the country, that a tribunal was now-sitting ready to listen to any story which one neighbour could tell of another, every old complaint, and every actual grievance that could be alleged? Such a course would set person against person, party against party, and instead of what the hon. member termed a tranquillizing and conciliatory committee, a source of disorders and confusion would be opened, destructive of his object and replete with danger. However disposed he might be to accede to an inquiry, the object of which was to ascertain facts, and to discover more clearly and intelligibly the causes of distress in the manufacturing districts, he must guard his concurrence from any assent to what would in the event be so injurious a proceeding—a proceeding that would go to try over again, every subject of local agitation and private dispute which could be revived in the present irritated state of public feeling. When, he found that the present proposition tended to obtain by an indirect manner or side wind, the very kind of investigation into angry transactions, which parliament had decided was only fit for courts of justice, he could not accede to such a motion. He thought it would only be calculated to increase the evils of the times, and he trusted the House would take the same view of the subject, and would not contribute to place the country in a state of greater discontent than it was at present by granting a committee, on such sweeping grounds
said, he could not see in the proposition for the committee any ground for the objections of the noble lord. Such a committee, even from the very words of the motion could not be presumed to take the course supposed by the noble lord. He was as averse as any man to confound political inquiries with an investigation into the state of the unparalleled distress notoriously existing in the manufacturing districts. It might be stated in the motion that the inquiry should be purely commercial; the attempt to go farther would be mixing questions calculated to counteract the 903 very purpose of its appointment. It was however very natural that his honourable friend in that characteristic zeal, eagerness, and benevolence which distinguished his public life, should not have gone through his statement with out adverting to circumstances which no man could, reflect upon with feelings of indifferences But how did it follow that because such a reference was made in the speech of his hon. friend, that therefore the proceedings of the committee were to be encumbered with such inquiries? It might indeed furnish the noble lord with excuse to resist the real object; but in what a situation did such an objection, if acted upon, leave the House? After having by, former decisions, refused every political, investigation, while the House was in the, progress of passing five or six bills, which without any reference to the question of their necessity, must be considered as very important restrictions on the liberty, of the subject, they were likely, to separate for the holydays, without; taking, any one step to investigate into that state of severe and unprecedented distress, which was admitted by every one to exist in the country. But it was said the remedy was beyond the control of parliament. Even if it were so, and though it could be clearly made out that no positive, benefit would follow the labours of the committee, yet he insisted that the House, of Commons was called upon by a sense of decency to institute an inquiry when millions of their miserable countrymen were in such a situation—In such a state of things the noble lord, he trusted, would not oppose the motion merely because his hon. friend had not drawn it in that manner, and in those set phrases, which would have appeared to him more suitable. He still hoped that the noble lord, on further consideration, would give them the committee. For his part, he would have no objection to the insertion of words in the motion which should prescribe the precise duties of the proposed committee. It was impossible to reflect on the great change Which had taken place in the character of the population of the manufacturing districts—in seeing a part of the country, once distinguished for loyalty, he might say ultra-loyalty, now converted into the theatre of sedition and disaffection—without feeling that the causes of such a violent transition ought to be deeply and minutely examined. None could be assigned, but distress; and it was incum- 904 bent on the House to ascertain its causes and its extent. They would hear from others better qualified to judge, their opinions on this subject. To him it appeared mixed up with many circumstances. The immediate cause of distress amongst the manufacturing population was to be found in diminished markets, and diminished consumption of our manufactured articles both at home and abroad; To account for that diminution it was sufficient to advert to the state of every branch of national industry. In a very short time it was probable the distresses of the agricultural body would be brought before that House for its consideration. Indeed it was the strange but strong feature of the, intensity, of the great distress, that all classes, from the largest landowner to the humblest weaver, were in a stage of great uneasiness and depression. The same distress was felt in America, brought about chiefly by the alterations in her currency, with regard to which she had lately formed her policy very much on the model of our example. Her agricultural produce had in consequence suffered a depreciation of one half, and her dealings had decreased in proportion in the markets of Manchester and Sheffield. He must repeat, though he was aware that the observation had given great offence to some; persons, that it was the natural effect of a transition from war to peace, to produce in those branches of the public industry a considerable depression. But that; the certain cause of the continuance and aggravation of that distress was to be found in the want of tranquillity and security in the manufacturing districts themselves, he had not the smallest doubt. Those districts were suffering at that moment under the evils which the confusion and anarchy inseparable from the delusions so mischievously propagated, could not fail to produce. With such a state the progress of successful industry was incompatible. He felt so strongly the force of that evil, that he had no hesitation in saying that if such a state of things continued for eighteen months, there would be an end to the manufacturing prosperity of the country. In what manner that state of confusion and agitation was to be repressed, whether by coercive measures or conciliation, was not then the question; but he would repeat that all commercial industry must disappear under such circum stances. The, worst enemies the popula- 905 tion of these districts had, were those designing agitators—those fiends, as he must call them, who turned the views of the inhabitants of those districts to the ruin of the constitution as the remedy for their distresses.—Though such was his conviction, he was himself what was called a moderate parliamentary reformer; he did consider it both expedient and politic that some change should be made in the formation of that House. But when he heard persons talk of the state of the representation as the cause of the existing distress, he did think that such an observation could never be offered to the attention of men, unless through a gross contempt for their understandings. Under what system, he Would ask had the manufacturing interests raised themselves to that unparalleled height of prosperity to which in this country they had risen? Under the present state of parliamentary representation certainly. It Was important that the people now suffering should understand and feel this because he felt assured that such was the ignorance and delusion that prevalied in their minds, that, in every cottage and cabin throughout those counties, the picture of that charlatan and arch impostor Hunt was suspended holding him out as the only person from whom these persons could expect either redress remedy for their miseries As long as these delusions prevailed, there existed the strongest obstacles to the return prosperity in the manufacturing districts. If these deceived persons deserted the path of their duty and became politicians? alone, there would be an end to the hope returning prosperity. These deceptions exposed and their influence destroyed, there was no apprehension to be entertained, as to the revival of trade. He did not agree with the view which his honourable friend seemed to entertain as to the improbability of that revival. It was his opinion, that unless capitalists were frightened and driven away, our manufactures would speedily revive. What had British capital and skill to fear with the whole of the New World open to their industry and enterprise—when in the whole extent of territory from Cape Horn to Baffin's Bay, scarce an individual was to be met Who was not clad in British manufacture, or a House to be entered of which the furniture was not composed of British materials? We had also begun to drive an independent trade with the East Indies; 906 and the consumption of British manufactures in Europe was still considerable There was, then, reason to expect as great demand for our manufactures, quite as much, as one would desire in any country, though certainly not so much as we possessed when, during the war, we had the monopoly of the world. But if those counties were not restored to that tranquillity and good order, without which commercial security could not exist, our rivals at Rouen, or on the Maine, or elsewhere (whose rivalry it would under other circumstances be absurd to dread) must succeed, and supplant this country in every branch; while the unhappy and deluded population would be left wise legislators perhaps, But without food and clothing. But of all the wicked and un founded misrepresentation which agitators propagated amongst these deluded persons, nothing exceeded the attempt to hold out as their enemies, the capitalists living in their nighbourhood. Without capital, how could the skill or industry of the workmen find employment? But if these capitalists found their lives and property insecure, could they be expected to remain? He understood that they were already moving away in considerable numbers. If the progress of the evil was not speedily arrested, and such a beneficial change he mainly re had on the good sense of the people (for after all whatever might be the extent and character of the delusions practised, the good sense of the people of this country at length generally interposed) irremediable ruin must be the result. The alarm of the preset period was particularly great—there never had been a period when so much of the capital of the country was withdrawn for the purpose of being invested in foregin securities, as during the last three weeks. A sort of panic had seized the public mind—there was a general sauve qui peut amidst monied men, each endeavouring to outrun the other in removing capital from the kingdom. This was a state of things which required the attention of parliament. The alarm could be dissipated only by the lower classes becoming satisfied that it Was not their interest to pursue their visionary schemes, and by the higher perceiving the impossibility that a social system like that established in this, country Should be disorganized by such means. In any other case, the extent of danger could not be calculated. His own opinion Was, that a considerable 907 degree of the present distress in some of the manufacturing districts arose from this insecurity on the part of many capitalists, who very naturally feared to embark in business, which would be attended with more than those ordinary risks which all men looked to in trade. At the same time that he stated this, he admitted that there were a variety of circumstances which it would become a committee of the sort proposed to inquire into, and which it would be the duty of the. House to take into serious consideration. He was not then prepared to say what measures it might he proper to adopt; but whether any immediate practical measure should result from this committee or not, there would at least this good effect follow—it would impressed on the minds of those who were discontented, that, the House was disposed to do something for them. God forbid that he should be of opinion that the great body of those who were discontented and who were said to be disnffected, were willfully so. He admitted, that many of them were in distress, and were deluded by those who took advantage of that distress to in still pernicious principles into their mind, if any thing could be done to relieve them in the way of contribution, he should not hesitate to give his vote for the application of one or two million from the public fund for that object. We had resorted to such expedients in cases not so important as the present. At the same time that he would be glad to acquiesce in that he any measure which could afford relief, yet he did not think the one he had now mentioned would be the best; for if it was considered that there were a million of persons in this distress, of what avail would 3 or 4l.. each be to produce effectual relief? When, however the distress which prevailed was looked at, one anxiously caught at a measure which appeared calculated to give relief, though in viewing its details he might be startled from his own proposal. In agreeing to give such a pecuniary aid as that to which he alluded, he should be acting against his fetter judgment; but he mentioned it as showing what he would be disposed to do. There was another question connected with this subject, and which ought, in his opinion, to be referred to the investigation of a committee—he meant the state of wages. This might be considered By some as a small question but it appeared to him peculiarly deserving of attention. It 908 had, no doubt, been maintained by the political economists, that trade should be left to itself, and that arrangements with respect to labour should be left to the employers and the employed—that, in fact, the legislature should not interfere in such topics. This was, he admitted, a very sound principle, generally speaking; but it should be recollected, that in this country the character and operation of our poor laws produced an artificial state of society; for if we had 100,000 men engaged in trade, and 20,000 of that body were compelled to work on terms inadequate to their support, the remainder must supply the deficiency, or the community generally must be in cumbered for that purpose. But a particular cause, which had arisen of late years, demanded inquiry upon this subject of wages. He meant the advertisement of several parishes to let out paupers upon reduced terms. He would not deny that the desire and policy of men engaged in trade was (whatever might be said of its inhumanity) to screw down the price of labour as low as possible. He did not say that this was generally done, but it was acted upon in a degree to be productive of considerable mischief. The great manufacturer who employed a very large number of men, and who embarked a very considerable capital in trade, could not effect this low reduction. He was obliged to take many things into his consideration, besides the immediate profit the might de from it, and he allowed those in his employ a regular and stated price; but the small capitalist, who cared not what the world thought of him, went on a different system, and got together the scrapings of workhouses, whom he employed at from 2s. 6d. to 3s. per week. From those causes, the wages of the operative labourers were so materially reduced, that notwithstanding the principles of the political economists, which were generally unexceptionable, he was, he must confess, for the sake of humanity, an advocate for the establishment of a minimum with respect to wages. To inquire, then, into those points, he would vote for the proposed committee, in order that the House might have an opportunity of receiving information from the manufacturers themselves, who had experience upon those subjects, for he must confess, that he had himself no experience at all. He had, however, impressions which he felt it his duty to state to the House with a view, to urge investigation. But to there 909 was another point connected with this question, which he thought called for inquiry—he meant the state of the currency. Gentlemen would not, he hope, feel alarmed, as he did not intend to enter into the question of the currency at any length. But he could not help observing, that the state of the currency had a very material effect upon the present distress of the country. If, when the paper currency was said to have been depreciated 25 per cent. a metallic currency had been issued at that depreciation, the course would have been, in his judgment, much wiser than that since followed. For by the issue of such a currency, the country would have been, in his view, saved from; an addition to the national debt, to the amount which he had mentioned; and that too at a time when the means of bearing such an in-crease were considerably diminished. One result of this had been, that the facility of commercial speculation was very much diminished. Whether a great part of that speculation was well founded or not, or whether we had not well got rid of it, was not now the question, nor would he stop to inquire into it; but this could, not be denied, that we were now labouring under the effect of it. He would not go into any question upon the policy of the measures to which we had since had recourse on this subject; but while he said this, he wished it to be understood, that he had no desire to interfere with the system which parliament had adopted with respect to the circulating medium of the, country, or the restoration of cash payments. As parliament had adopted that system, it ought to be pursued. One thing, how-over, he would advise—that as we had raised the currency, we should pay in both gold and silver, by which, in his opinion, the facility of commercial speculation' would be very considerably increased; but upon this subject he might possibly have to occupy the attention of the House at another time. This appeared to him the better plan with respect to the interests of commerce, and to those interests he trusted that House would always, be duly attentive, for notwithstanding what a right honourable gentleman had said on the other side as to the paramount consequence of constitutional objects, and the comparative insignificance of commercial considerations, he hoped that the constitution and. the commerce of the country would as they had long done, go on prosperously together. But the peace and 910 prosperity of the country depended mainly upon the maintenance of its moral character, for if that character were gone, it mattered nothing, whether the distress of the country were relieved, or its taxation reduced. He apologized for having thus taken up the attention of the House, and trusted the noble lord would, on better consideration, consent to a committee, with the understanding, that it was not to include in its investigations any political inquiry.
§ Mr. Bootle Wilbraham
observed, that the speech of the honourable gentleman who had just sat down, had done him infinite credit. But he could concur in the view of the hon. gentleman with the establishment of a minimum of wages. There had indeed been two committees appointed by that House upon the subject of trade, to the evidence and report of which he would refer the hon. gentleman, in order to show the impracticability of the proposition which he had suggested. With respect to the speech of the honourable mover, whom he; would take the liberty of calling his honourable friend, he was sorry that he could not approve of the view which his hon. friend had taken of the subject; for it was certain that nine-tenths of the speech with which his hon. friend introduced his motion, had reference more to matters than to the objects which a committee might be supposed to be called upon to inquire into. For his hon. friend, and for those feelings by which he was actuated, he had the highest respect; but there were some parts of his hon. friend's speech on which he deemed it necessary to make a few observations, as conceiving he possessed more accurate knowledge of facts than that which had reached his hon. friend. First he begged to deny that disorder and discontent prevailed most in those districts where ' distress existed to the greatest extent. In many of those places where the greatest clamour was excited, the people were not only not out of cm-employment, but were in work, and had comparatively good wages. With respect to the appointment of magistrates in Lancashire, he could not agree that it Was such as to produce any evils. There was this difference in the appointment of men to the commission in that county from others—that in the latter the magistrates were appointed by the custos rotulorum, or by; the lord high chancellor, but in Lancaster they were nominated by the 911 chancellor of the duchy; and he would affirm, that in the exercise of that important trust, no unfit person had been selected. There was, however, one difference in the selection—that from motives which he was certain would be approved, no person having any connexion with the trade of the place was put into the commission of the peace. This was a regulation which originated with Mr. Perceval, and arose from a feeling that, in disputes which must arise between masters and their men, those masters should not have authority to decide upon them as magistrates. This, no doubt, was a delicate matter, but it was a delicacy of which the necessity was obvious. His hon. friend had alluded to Orange societies, and to the procession of one in Liverpool. He had heard of such a fact, but of the many circumstances attending it, such as the sermon being preached, &c. he had not heard any thing before. An Orange club or society had, he believed, foolishly walked in procession through the streets, and were pelted by the people; but, however, what had that to do with the inquiry which it was wished to institute? He was one of those who thought that all such societies tending to create or keep alive party spirit, were mischievous, and ought to be discountenanced. With respect to the change to which the hon. member alluded in the municipality of Manchester, he (Mr. Wilbraham) did not think it was called for. The principal officers in the town, namely, the borough reeve, two constables, and deputy constables, were appointed by a court but under the lord of the manor, who was sir Oswald Moseley; and those officers were usually selected from among the most respectable inhabitants of the town. Manchester had flourished under such a municipal government, and he did not see how it was necessary to alter it. Allusion had been made to charges against the conduct of Mr. Nadin, the officer, at Manchester. He (Mr. B. Wilbraham) had also heard of charges against him with respect to what was called "blood money," but he could add, that of those charges, after they had been inquired into by the magistrates, Mr. Nadin was fully acquitted. It was not, it was true, before a court this examination was made; but from his knowledge of the magistrates, he might look upon their opinion on that subject as a verdict of acquittal. As to pro-curing work for the manufacturers of a kind different from that which they had been║912 accustomed, he was apprehensive that such a scheme would afford little relief, Many of them had tried it, but from the effect of the shuttle on their hands had been rendered unfit for other work. He repeated his conviction, that persons willing to work were not to be found among those who had so much contributed to agitate the northern counties, and especially Lancashire.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
said, he regretted that those persons who were so clamorous in decrying the constitution, could not hear the excellent speech of his hon. friend—could not hear him assert, that under that excellent constitution, we had become a great, industrious, prosperous, and moral people. That speech marked a most laudable respect for the religion and morals of the country, and was eminently calculated to discountenance the spirit of blasphemy and disaffection, which was at present unhappily so prevalent. He was sorry that they, whose object seemed to be to subvert all order—to destroy all moral and social feeling, under pretence of improving, or as it was said restoring the constitution; he was sorry that these, and the unhappy persons who were deluded by them, could not hear the danger in which his hon. friend had proved the commerce of the country was placed by such practices. His hon. friend had justly said, that commerce and manufactures would depart the land if those seditious practices were continued; for here was the difference between land and commerce in times of public calamity and disturbance—that the value of the one might be much reduced, but the other would be destroyed altogether; and what would be the fate of this country when deprived of this great source of her wealth and prosperity? She would share the fate of those other countries which when deprived of trade, were reduced to the lowest distress, and almost, removed from the rank of nations. The fate of Venice and the Hanse towns showed that commercial prosperity or credit could not co-exist with an alarm as to the instability or insecurity of property. He agreed with his hon. friend, that something should, if possible, be done to look out for employment for those who were now deprived of it. If only a small number were so employed, it would create a proportion between the demand for labour and the supply. Something he thought might be done on this ground, but he conceived that no good could be expected 913 from an inquiry into the various topics to which the hon. member by whom the pre- sent motion had been submitted to the House, had referred. If it were to be limited to the manufacturing class he should have objection to inquiry. But the discontents of which the House and the country had heard so much, were not, it appeared, principally found among the unemployed, or the really distressed, but among persons differently circumstanced. Those who were discontented with the constitution of parliament, were, it appeared, equally discontented with the character of religion. But those malcontents who felt little for the sufferings of the people, were not so universally successful in the propagation of their system as they seemed to imagine. He indeed was happy to say, that their noxious doctrines were decidedly repelled by the religious associations with whom he had the honour to be connected, as was especially found in Ayrshire and other counties in the west of Scotland, the inhabitants of which, without murmur, laboured under very great distress, and were most patient under their privations. This circumstance, and indeed the contents of the papers on the table, proved to him, that it was not where the greatest distress existed that disaffection most prevailed. Yet those papers manifested an extent of turbulence and disaffection that called upon the legislature to interfere. The hon. mover had observed, that the; discontents of the people in Lancashire were greater since the 16th of August than they were before, and that the object of the people was parliamentary reform. For himself, he would say, that he was once an advocate for a moderate reform of the system of representation in that House, but he must confess that he was so in order to prevent such a fever as at present prevailed. He now, however, saw, that nothing like a moderate reform would satisfy the discontented. No; nothing would now satisfy them but the utter destruction of the constitution. Therefore he would make no concession likely to, give power to those who appeared to seek nothing less than the subversion of the constitution. The distress of the people he lamented as much as any man, and he concurred with his hon. friend in urging the adoption of every possible plan to relieve that distress. He agreed with his hon. friend as to many of the causes of our present distress. He admitted that a great part of it was con- 914 nected with the state of the currency; but there was another great cause—the effects of the long war in which we had been engaged. It was natural that a long war should be productive of such distress; it was one of the wise dispensations of an all-wise Providence that men should keenly suffer the calamitous consequences of war, in order to restrain them from a pursuit so revolting to a benign nature. If such consequences indeed did not follow evil deeds, an encouragement would be held out for the prosecution of vice. He again adverted to those itinerant and seditious individuals who went about the country preaching most pernicious doctrines, and only anxious to destroy what they pretended to improve, and he again wished that they could have heard the opinions of his hon. friend. Great had been the neglect, not indeed of the legislature of the present day, but of former times, in omitting to attend to the education of the lower classes. By a strict attention to the education of the poor in morality and religion, could we alone hope for future tranquillity and prosperity to the country. Where people were destined to possess a great degree of liberty, there must be a certain degree of moral education to enable them to enjoy it. Things of this kind had hitherto been too much left to themselves, and the results were now felt. For if a proper notion of the sacredness of property had been given to the people, would they have passed such resolutions as those by which they had disgraced themselves at Barnsley? He should only add, that as far as the inquiry proposed could lead to the alleviation of the distress that existed, there was no greater friend to it than he Was; but he deprecated the extension of that inquiry to other subjects.
expressed his hope that a good effect would be produced by the observations of his hon. friend respecting Orange meetings, although, no doubt, the noble lord classed these observations among those which ought not to have been made-He was convinced that the influence of his hon. friend's opinions on those persons in Lancashire who had been alluded to, was very considerable. If, also, it appeared from what had been said respecting the appointment of magistrates, that the pre- sent system tended to produce magistrates of one class of political opinions only, that surely was a great evil. The only valid objection which, in his opinion, had been made to the motion, was founded on a 915 remark of the hon. mover, from which he, and he believed all the House dissented, with respect to the propriety of discussing the question of a minimum of wages. There was no doubt that the present state of the manufacturing districts had produced effects injurious to the commerce and prosperity of the country; but the evil, he apprehended, was to be met only by natural means, and could not be removed by legislative: measures. He deprecated the idea of persuading the manufacturers that their wages could be raised except by the natural course of demand for labour. In his inquiries into the state of the operative manufacturers, he had recourse to a great manufacturer in that part of the country, who was a person of moderate political opinions, and well qualified to give him the requisite information. He had learned that the spinners were, in general, very well off, and that the weavers were in the worst situation. The general average of wages obtained by operative manufacturers of every description was as follows—men from9s. to 12s. a week, and boys and girls, from 4s. to 6s. Many had much lower but others had much higher wages. It was to be recollected, that it was not with manufacturing as with agricultural families, where the whole earnings were confined to the wages of the man. When weavers had numerous families of sons and daughters, grown up, they might, low as the rate of wages was, earn what would make them comfortable; for boys and girls of 16 years of age might gain nearly as much as the father of the family, and the mother fully as much, if not called away by domestic duties. The manufacturers, therefore, on the whole, were probably not in so bad a situation as the House conceived them to be, though they were in a state of depression compared with their former condition, which they felt most severely. Nevertheless, he thought that the acquiescence of the House in the motion of his hon. friend, would be productive of the best effects on the manufacturing districts. The determination of parliament to refuse an inquiry into the proceedings of the 16th of August, had already produced the worst consequences, and the dissatisfaction of that part of the country would be increased if this inquiry was also refused. The tax on wool was one of the chief sources of manufacturing and commercial difficulty and discontent in Yorkshire. Among the good effects of inquiry, one 916 would be, that the committee would, he had no doubt, recommend it to men of property and influence to reside on their estates, for it might be observed that, in Lancashire, in proportion as wealthy and respectable persons belonging to the county resided elsewhere, public agitators bad gained ground; and the population had been abandoned to their exclusive influence.
Mr. Stuart Worthy
was anxious to address the House, lest it should be supposed that he was adverse to all inquiry.—Had the motion been bona fide for a committee to inquire into and endeavour to adopt measures for the relief of the manufacturing interests, in his conscience he believed it might be productive of great good. It would be productive of great good, because it would show that the House was not insensible to the distresses which existed to so melancholy an extent, and show also that time only could remedy them. He felt that the state of the country was most painful, and that a great body of the people were in the deepest distress, aggravated by persons telling them it could only be removed by a change in that constitution under which they had grown up to the height of their former prosperity. But friendly as he; was to investigation, it was impossible for him to suppose that any beneficial result could be attained by a motion like the present, mixed up and introduced with so much political matter. He would agree with the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, that a great part of the distress and dissatisfaction that prevailed in the manufacturing districts, arose from the non-residence of persons of wealth and rank.—The mechanic and his master were left, as it were, to themselves, and they had for some time been quarrelling about wages. Between the labouring, mechanics and the master manufacturers, there was an opposition of interests, and violent disputes which had lasted for years. It was not as in the agricultural counties where the peasant looked up to the farmer, the farmer to his landlord, the proprietor to the peer, and the peer to the Crown, thus forming a connected chain which bound the highest and lowest classes of society together—On the contrary the operative weaver saw no gradation. There was only himself toiling, and his employer apparently enjoying all the luxuries of life: no wonder he repined at his condition, and at observ- 917 ing that all labour was exhausted but for this single end. The House had often in the course of these discussions received the advice to conciliate; but the factious put it out of their power, by the violence of their conduct, to conciliate.—They could hold no parley with those who came forward to demand that they should give up the constitution. He had been led to this view of the subject, by perusing the writings of the discontented, and with the permission of the; House he would read some paragraphs from a pamphlet recently published, not indeed by a Radical, but by a person of their own rank in life, if he was rightly informed, by a gentleman of education and talents who was a candidate at the late Westminster election. He certainly had no authority for saying so; but he believed that to be the case. The pamphlet was entitled "A Trifling Mistake in Thomas Lord Erskine's Preface to a Defence of the Whigs," and it would show the House what were the opinions entertained by certain Reformers on the subject of reform. It was preached up by the public agitators, that reform was the only source from which relief could flow to the people; and how did the writer of the pamphlet in question speak of the motion for reform which was about to be submitted to the House by a noble lord.—"It is, however, not quite so consoling, nor, may I add at all accountable, when find your lordships' call concluding with the notification, that you have fixed your sheet anchor in lord John Russell's reform proposition, announced, so you say, for the next session of parliament. Gracious Heavens! are you laughing at us, my lord? It is not fair that one man should expose another to ridicule by placing him on an eminence, which his own modesty would prompt him to decline. At the same time, my respect for this young gentleman's personal character shall not prevent me from saying that there is not a single man except Mr. Perry (and he only said he did) and your lordships, who cares one farthing about lord John's proposition, or who looks at it with any interest whatever.'' He would not at present state his opinion of the noble lord's intended motion, nor would he say whether he intended to vote for it; but the extract which he had just read showed how every: system of moderate reform was ridiculed. He should now read another passage of the same pamphlet, from 918 which the House would see what the reform was that the author wanted, and his notions of the manner in which it was to be accomplished.—After adverting to the recent transactions at Manchester, the writer of the pamphlet proceeded thus;—"As the truth of lord Grey's prediction that 'the House of Commons will never reform itself,' receives confirmation from, every succeeding session; what extraordinary folly must-it appear, or rather haw insulting it is to the common sense of the people who suffer, to send them for redress where no redress is to be obtained? The people feel confident that one of the first measures of the next session will be to do by act of parliament: what the ministers were foolish enough to try to do by the more bungling and hasty expedient of the sword. Ministers look forward to the assembling of parliament as they do to the array of an army—they know something will be attempted against the liberties of the people, and the only question with them is whether they are likely to be strong enough to resist. The parliament is by them regarded as a sort of état major to the army: there is the ecclesiastical and the civil part of the establishment; there is a commander-in-chief, seldom seen except at the bottom of a piece of paper: the statutes they make the orderly book; nothing but paper in themselves., but which are absolute commands when forced down the throat at the point of the bayonet.—What prevents the people from walking down to the House, and pulling out the members by the ears, locking up their doors, and flinging the, key into the Thames?—Is any majesty which hedges in the members of that assembly?—Do we love them?—Not at all,—we have an instructive horror and disgust at the very abstract idea of a borough monger-Do we respect them?—Not in the least. Do we regard them as endowed with any superior qualities?—On the contrary, individually there is scarcely a poorer creature than your mere member of parliament; though in his corporate capacity the earth furnishes not so absolute a bully. Their true practical protectors, then, the real efficient anti-Reformers are to be found at the Horse Guards, and the Knightsbridge barracks: as long as the House of Commons' majorities; are backed by the regimental muster roll, so long may those who have got the tax-power keep it, and hang those who resist.—The only wild and visionary Reformers 919 are those who expect a voluntary abdication of the controlling power of the most powerful empire upon earth, on the part of the present possessors of all the honours, and emoluments, and consideration, that dominion can bestow. A philosopher, a bigot, a sovereign wearied with toil or swayed by caprice, have been known to resign the reins' of government; but the whole history of the earth furnishes no example of a whole body of masters, peaceably and willingly laying down that dominion which they have silently and gradually usurped. The man must be rather unreasonable who expects such virtue, such moderation such self-sacrifice, even in an individual; but to hope for them, or to think them to be had for asking, from a whole and numerous class of society, is absolute madness. This is, indeed, wild and visionary. Nothing but brute force, or the pressing fear of it will reform the parliament. The parliament know this, and they see that the people are now meeting and following up lord Grey's recommendation to assemble, and to act upon the prudence, that is, the fear of the House. Is it not natural, then, that the parliament, should be disinclined to have its prudence so acted upon? Of course it is. The ministers, who are the committee, or part, of parliament always in session, have not chosen to wait for a meeting of the whole; but have drawn the sword, without ceremony, to stop these assemblies from acting on their prudence."—The author in the next page, went on to say:—"My determination, for one, is fixed. If those who have the power attempt to deprive me of the inalienable right of meeting my fellow-countrymen by letting loose a soldier at me, without the warning of an act of parliament, I will resist him if I can; if they do give me the warning of an act of parliament, I will break it if I can. I consider the object exactly the same; the injustice equally calling for resistance; the mere additional ceremony is not worth the statute paper;—the times, the means, the occasion, must of course make part of the prudential question, which every man must determine for himself, and concerning which I do not; wish to be his prompter."—If such language was held, he would ask how could they came quietly and with due deliberation to the discussion of the question of parliamentary reform; of that species of reform which they were told was 920 laughed at, while the people were assured that nothing but brute force could have any influence on the House. At a period of agitation and distress, such as now existed, how could they make concessions, or attempt conciliation, without seeming to act from weakness?—He felt the weight of the question of parliamentary reform. He was aware that there was a very great majority of the people of the country who thought a reform of that House was necessary. He was anxious to discuss the subject as often as possible, for he was satisfied that the more it was sifted the more clearly the public would see the fallacy attempted to be imposed upon it, and be convinced of the folly and absurdity of the opinion that had been propagated, that reform was a cure for all distresses. He would say, that any great change in the constitution of that House would be a change of the constitution of the land, and therefore ought not to be introduced. The constitution wished to be overthrown was the constitution of our ancestors, and was that form of government, effectual for all practical purposes, which had rendered the country great through many past ages. To make any material alterations in this glorious fabric would be to devise a new constitution; and to try a most dangerous experiment. He felt for the distressed as sensibly as any man, but their situation was not the cause of the evil; it was the engine worked upon by a set of persons who thought they saw their way to a revolution, and whose designs must be counteracted.
§ Mr. Maxwell
said, there was a feeling among the working population of Scotland, that by the dispersion of the meeting at Manchester their rights were affected. He thought the parliament should show that the rights and interests of the people were not disregarded, and on that principle he should vote for inquiry, without any intention of supporting the wild political doctrines which were advocated by some persons. The first effect of distress among the manufacturers was, that they took away their children from school; the next, on dissenters, that they could not support their religious establishments. With the decay of religion and education, the sources of national, and especially manufacturing prosperity, must be weakened. There was a notion among the people, that the House had lost all sympathy with the people.—He hoped the 921 House would endeavour to show the falsehood of such a supposition. He had considered it his first duty, as a member of parliament, to exert his influence in the part of the country with which he was connected, to induce the people to respect parliament; and he also thought it his duty on the other hand to tell the House, that they ought to afford every possible assistance to the distressed manufacturers of the country.
The Lord Advocate
said, its was impossible for any man to view this question., and not to see that the interests of England were inseparably connected with those of Scotland. He should offer no exaggerated statement to the House because he conceived statements of that character to be highly injurious. He believed indeed, that nothing had given greater confidence to the reformers, in the several parts of the kingdom, than the exaggerated accounts which had been propagated of the numbers attending their meetings, and of their importance in other respects. At the same, it was necessary that the House should know the real state of that part of the kingdom with which he was connected. Independently of the assurance which had been given, that the reformers in England looked with confidence for assistance from their northern friends he had no difficulty in saying that Scotland, was in an unpleasant and alarming state, which rendered the measures now before parliament absolutely necessary, to preserve her tranquillity and even with them the utmost vigilance of the magistracy, and the best exertions of all the well-disposed portion of the community. At the same time, should it ever be brought, to the test, he did not doubt that Scotland would be true to itself, and would disappoint the expectations of the disaffected in other parts. That evil passions should predominate in some parts of the North would not appear strange, when hon. gentlemen considered the exceeding populousness of some of the principal manufacturing towns. Glasgow was, hardly inferior in this respect to any place in the kingdom; and Paisley also contained a large population. Both had suffered severely, but it afforded him pleasure to be able to state, that in Glasgow a great part of the people had suffered without a murmur. He regretted, however, to say, that discontent was not confined to those who were in distress, but had spread among 922 those who were not feeling the pressure of want. In the spinning department, for example, where no reduction of wages or of labour had been made, women were at this moment receiving from 10s. to 15s. a-week, and men from 12s. to 35s. and yet in that class there was as much discontent, and the numbers of radicals among them was as great as among the weavers who could barely earn a subsistence. The cause of this, difference between the situation of the spinners and that of the weavers was this—the spinning was regulated by machinery, and consequently could not produce a greater quantity of thread during the hours of labour, nor employ a greater number of hands at one time than another; but the weaving was performed by the, weavers at their own houses, and when the wages of the poor weavers got lower, they, with their looms at home, endeavoured to supply the deficiency, by working several more hours in, the day. This, of course, had caused a sumplus of produce. It was also to be recollected; that when troops were raised in Scotland during the war, there being then a scarcity of employment for operative manufacturers, the greater part of the recruits had been drawn from Glasgow, and other manufacturing towns; and when these; were discharged, on the return of peace, they had resumed their former occupation and thus the number of weavers had been greatly increased, while, at the same times the demand for manufactured goods had decreased. Nor was the disaffection in Scotland confined to the manufacturing classes; it had extended itself to the coal-mines in. the neighbourhood of Glasgow, though the workmen in these mines had higher wages than they had had for years before, and provisions were cheaper than they had been for a long period. Yet these persons had become radicals, as keen and anxious as any other body, whatever. This was the stronger proof, too, that distress, or real grounds for complaint, were not essential to the reception of seditious discontent. If any class of men had reason to rely with confidence on parliament, it was these coal-miners; for parliament had relieved them from a state of slavery. In former times they were bound to the owner of the mine where they wrought, and could not leave him; nay, even if he discontinued his works and they were permitted to go elsewhere, yet whenever he resumed, they were compellable to return. From that 923 degrading situation they had been delivered by an act of parliament. That very House of Commons, which these persons were running down, had put them into the same state as any other subjects of his majesty! Nor was this the whole extent of their obligation, for when the owners of the mines afterwards attempted to evade the law by binding them by pecuniary loans, parliament again stepped forward and declared, not only that the workman might go when he chose, but that all such contracts were null and void. Looking at the situation of Scotland, there were one or two other points of view which he begged to offer to the House. First, the march of the radicals onward to their purpose; and secondly, the method in which they were organized, were most alarming. With regard to the first, it would be recollected, that the Prince Regent, on dismissing parliament last session, alluded to the prevalence of seditious discontents, and advised gentlemen to be on the alert in watching the progress of the evil, and preserving the peace. At that time, and even for six months, it was thought in Scotland that there was no ground for such a statement. Yet, in six weeks after, meetings of reformers were held not only in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, but in Ayrshire, Dumbartonshire, Stirlingshire, and even in Fifeshire; and one of these meetings, he was grieved to say, had been headed by a person who was a landed proprietor and a justice of the peace. Even the highlands of Scotland had not been exempted from the infection. Taking advantage of the discontent arising from the system adopted in some parts of that country, of converting farms into sheep-walks, turbulent persons were now endeavouring to excite disaffection in the minds of the brave, gallant, and loyal highlanders; and to promote an unnatural union between them and the miserable radical reformers.—It was another feature of those designs, that as in former conspiracies secresy was affected, now organization was openly avowed. The doctrine of radical reform (that was, of universal suffrage, annual parliaments, and election by ballot), was declared to be indispensable, and what ought to be obtained at all hazards. The means indeed were not exactly similar to those adopted in England, but very close in their resemblance. In. Yorkshire the disaffected combined in Unions of 20: in Scotland, the Union Schools, as they 924 called themselves, amounted to about 12 in each, including a preses, a treasurer, and a clerk. As soon as the number exceeded the rule, another union was formed. They met weekly, and spent their time in political conversation, after which the most competent of the body was called upon to read to the rest all the seditious and blasphemous publications which they had been enabled to obtain since their preceding assembly. He wished he could say that these labours produced no practical effect. But in many instances the manufacturers, who in former times were in the habit of attending church, now employed the forenoon of the Sabbath in political discussions; and it was a common practice for weavers to work at their looms on the same day, and till a late hour of the night—and this too, with their windows open, to the horror and disgust of the passengers. One of those riots also, to which the attention of the House had been called, took place at Paisley on a Sunday evening. On this occasion, the houses which were principally assaulted were those of the clergy; and the same night, and during that which followed, an attack was made upon a methodist meetinghouse, in which the congregation were assembled; the windows were broken, the people were dispersed, and the clergyman was driven from the pulpit. These facts were, not stated upon any idle rumours; they were, perfectly notorious, and afforded an, unhappy illustration of the baneful effects of those pernicious doctrines which had of late been so industriously circulated. Another fact, to which be wished to direct the attention of the House, was the prevalence of general meetings. These were precisely of the same character with those which took place in this country. They were conducted with the same regularity, with the same show of military discipline, and with the same spirit that had been exhibited elsewhere. The very silence, and order, and regularity, with which the business of these assemblies was conducted, excited in his mind the strongest apprehensions; for upon such occasions in Scotland, there scarce ever was known an. instance in which the collection of a large body of people was not attended with a riot. It was singular, that, at the firsts Paisley meeting a disturbance actually took place, which showed that the radical leaders, who tried in vain to prevent it, 925 had not then obtained a sufficient command over their adherents to ensure obedience to the discipline they desired. Now, however, they had acquired that control, and (contrary to the nature of Scotchmen) 5,000, 10,000, and even 20,000 persons of the lowest order assembled together, without the slightest disturbance, moved with precision, and separated with regularity; implicitly obeying every command of the orators, who harangued and deluded them. He augured from the tranquillity and order at these meetings, that a great though secret purpose was entertained; and he was persuaded that worse mischief was likely to ensue than if his countrymen gave way to their natural feelings, and rioted when they met in tumultuary numbers. Simultaneous meetings was another point which had been gained by the agitators in Scotland. Mr. Hunt had endeavoured to dissuade the Scotch from this plan; but the more violent reformers succeeded in counteracting his views; and simultaneous meetings actually took place at Paisley, Glasgow, and other places, on the list and 15th of November, and would have been continued at the end of every fortnight afterwards, but for the present measure of assembling parliament. The conclusion to which all these things led; and indeed it did not seem that much pains were taken to conceal it, was a general revolution, and a division of property—in which division neither friends nor foes were to be spared: and all this for the virtuous purpose of supporting the liberty of the subject! It was now a fact well known, that the demesnes of the lord-lieutenants of the different counties were to be made the subject of partition, as well as the estate of every other person possessing property. One of those noble lords had written to him on the subject, knowing that he held the highest official situation in Scotland, apprising him of the rapid progress of revolutionary principles, and stating, that unless he received an additional military force, he could not answer for the safety of the county of Lanark. The property of that noble person had like the rest been marked out for appropriation, and though the commander in chief of the forces could bring all that were in the country to bear upon Glasgow in twenty-four hours, it was not considered that the peace of the district was beyond the reach of the rebellious, or its population secured from spoliation. And be it 926 observed, that the letter in question was written after government had, with unexampled rapidity, transported two regiments from the southern parts of this country into Scotland. Having said so much on that side of the question, it was but candid to state that he was not at all afraid but that the means existed in Scotland of resisting the danger by which it was threatened. He founded this pro-position upon the good sense and reason of the people. The reformers in England might say that the Scotch never commenced any thing with which they did not go through. This he was ready to admit, but then it was not every Scotchman that had been seduced and led away. There were a great number of the community of that country, and those too of the lowest orders, who he was proud to say were mortal enemies to all wild schemes of anarchy and confusion, and who did not in the slightest degree go along with their promoters. It was the habit of many Scotchmen to look to the men by whom any new measures of reform were submitted as well as to the measures themselves; they inquired whether they were good husbands, good fathers, and good members of society; and if they found that those inquiries did not produce a satisfactory answer, they inferred that those who had not reformed themselves were not likely to reform others. He was also convinced, notwithstanding any partial effects which might have resulted from the promulgation of immoral doctrines, that the people of Scotland in spite of the arts employed to debauch their minds were still a religious people; and when they found political principles allied to the most horrible blasphemy, it would cause them to turn with equal indignation from both. Of their loyalty he was well convinced: it might sometimes have been mistaken in' its object, but as a principle it was always sound and devoted. There was likewise a spirit of patriotism in Scotland which it would not be very easy to eradicate. The respectable inhabitants of those districts in which disaffection had shown its detestable front did not stand with their hands across; they were the first to arm themselves, and to bid defiance to the monster by which they were threatened. This disposition had first manifested itself in Edinburgh, a city which had on all occasions evinced its loyalty. In 1793 a body of volunteers came forward to en- 927 rol themselves for the defence of their country; and on the present occasion, on foreseeing the coming danger, they once more assembled, in order to empower the commander-in-chief to dispose of ail the regular military in such a manner as circumstances might demand. The same spirit had been manifested at Glasgow and at Paisley. From these efforts he anticipated the most beneficial results;—they would produce a great moral reaction in the public mind.. He also expected much from the yeomanry corps which were raised in Scotland;—a species of force which, during the recent debates in that House, had been treated in a manner by no means consonant to his feelings. He had served 13 years in a yeomanry corps, and he could not bear, at least he felt uncomfortable, to hear the severe strictures which had been so liberally bestowed on them of late. They served without pay, to their own personal inconvenience and loss,—and, uninfluenced by any government, stood manfully forward to defend the country from every foe, foreign and domestic. He trusted, therefore, that they would be treated in that House with more respect, and that, at least, they would not be considered as having forfeited the right of Englishmen—to be deemed innocent until found guilty. He was glad that all the gentlemen on the other side of the House did not agree in the observations to which he had referred; indeed, one noble lord in Ins eye had set an example worthy of the adoption of all his honourable friends. Upon these general grounds, although he was willing to concede that cause for vigilance existed, yet he was by no means afraid of the kingdom of Scotland. He humbly submitted that he had made out his proposition; and that though precautions were necessary, no man need be afraid of the consequence. Having ventured to describe, so much at length, the situation of he country, he would not occupy the time of the House with many observations on the question immediately under discussion. If the motion before the House had been confined merely to the consideration of the best means of granting relief to the distresses of the country, he should have met it in a very different spirit; but as it evidently embraced a wide field of political discussion, which could only tend to inflame the minds of the people without granting them any effectual relief, he was satisfied 928 that the appointment of the committee would inevitably terminate in disappointment and distress. With regard to conciliation, he was persuaded that there was no individual in Scotland, possessing property, who was not willing to come handsomely forward in aid or those who were really distressed. But this feeling must be met by some other sentiment than a spirit of hostility. That spirit must be put down, and the people must show themselves willing to submit to the power of the law, before they could expect relief. If individuals came forward while the present spirit existed, it would be attributed to fear, and the effect would be productive of evil instead of good consequences. He hoped and trusted, and indeed believed, that the deliberations of parliament would have the effect of opening the eyes of the people to the ill effects of their wild and chimerical schemes; and when once this was effected, he had no doubt that persons of property would come forward in the most liberal manner; and that this circumstance, aided by the admirable measures which had been introduced into parliament, would have the effect of re-establishing peace and tranquillity. He thanked the House for the polite attention with which they had listened to him, and could assure them he would never be prone to abuse their kindness.
§ Mr. Ellice
said, that if he had not accidentally heard the latter part of the speech of the learned lord who had just sat down (having quitted the House for a short time), he should have thought the learned lord had been all along speaking on the report of the bill for the suppression of seditious meetings. The learned lord's speech throughout, in his opinion, had nothing in the world to do with the question before the House. For his own part, he had come down to the House with a determination to bend his mind solely to the subject which was under its consideration, and to that he would address the few observations which the House might allow him to make. He felt, however, that he could scarcely say any thing on the subject, without diminishing the effect of the admirable speech which had been made by his hon. friend near him, in almost every one of whose, statements and arguments he cordially concurred; and in nothing more than in his intreaty to the noble lord opposite to review his determination to oppose the appointment of a 929 committee. Still he was free to confess that there were some objections to the motion; especially, if the labours of the committee were to be so restricted as to form a mere delusion,—in that case he would unquestionably rather leave the responsibility of acting, under the present critical circumstances, on the shoulders of government. Nevertheless, there were many points to which the deliberations of the committee might be advantageously applied. We had deviated too widely from the principles of political economy to render it an objection to any proposition that it was hostile to those principles. At present it seemed to him, that while one part of the kingdom was labouring under the greatest distress from an insufficiency of the prices of labour, another part was supported by means of the poor-rates. If something was not done to remedy this, the Scotch manufacturers must be entirely ruined, while the English manufacturer must thrive, because he was supported at the expense of the landholder. He begged to mention to the House as experiment that had been made at Coventry. About the time of the Manchester meeting, there was some disposition to riot in the city of Coventry, without, however the least mixture of political feelings Seeing disposition as it grew, he considered of we means of meeting it; and he had earnestly recommended the manufacturers to meet that disposition, not with rigour, but with a leaning towards the people. The master manufacturers met him in the same spirit, and the very evening of the riot they subscribed 400l., which was applied to the relief of 1,000 poor families. The next consideration was as to the best means of affording a permanent remedy for the evils which existed. It was admitted that the rate of wages was inadequate, for, the support of the labourer his family. On conversion with the manufacturers, they confessed that they did not consider the rate of wages sufficiently high, but asked if they increased them, how they should get rid of the superabundant population, which they, could not employ. He (Mr. Ellice) advised them to make the experiment, and that be would endeavour to provide a fund, for the support of the un-employed. For that purpose he went begging in London, almost from door to door, receiving much aid from some of his hon. friends near him; and in the end collected about 1,500l. or 2,000l. which he 930 sent down to trustees in Coventry, to be applied, not as part of the wages of the weavers employed but to the relief of those who were unemployed. Until that hour, however, there had scarcely been a single claim upon the fund; and labour was in much greater demand at the high rate than it had been at the low. What was the consequence of these measures? When Mr. Lewis, who was not a freeman of Coventry, but who combined with the duties of a schoolmaster, the publication of a radical journal, called a meeting of the outskirts of the city, and which meeting he (Mr. Ellis) confessed he should have attended had its object been confined to the proceedings at Manchester, but which involved also the discussion of the question of annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and election by ballot, he was unable to get 200 weavers out of the town of Coventry to attend him. His hon. colleague said there was not one weaver present. It might be so, but he was sure that there were not 200, although about 1,500 persons had been collected from the outskirts of Coventry, from Birmingham and from different, parts, of the county of Warwick. Indeed, such was feeling of the inhabitants of Coventry itself, that those who were sworn in as special constables acted with a zeal against the radicals beyond their duty; but he was persuaded that had not the relief which he had proposed been afforded, instead of 200 there would have been 20,000 weavers present. Was it not desirable that a committee of that House should inquire how far it might be advisable under the existing circumstances, to adopt generally some similar regulation for the purpose of bringing the value of labour nearer its standard? It had been stated, that in all Lancashire and Scotland, wages had been reduced to from 3s. 6d. to 9s. a week. By adhering to this usage, we made a present to foreign countries in our manufactures of the difference between 3s. 6d. or 9s.: and the weaver. Than this it would be better that there should be no manufactures. He did not absolutely recommend such a proposition; but be repeated, that would be a fair object of inquiry by a committee, whether some regulation might not be adopted to prevent the wages of the manufacturer from being so miserably reduced; and he was willing to admit, that some of the evils which existed were, as 931 had been stated on the other side of the House, to be attributed to the speculations which succeeded the declaration of peace, by which the foreign markets had been overstocked. This evil certainly would subside in some but by no means to the extent which had been anticipated. Although we suffered more at present than in all probability we should at a future period, yet we could never again expect to be enable to export so large a quantity of our manufactures as were annually sent out of the country during the war. To admit of our manufacturers experiencing any relief the load of taxes on the people must be diminished. A great cause of the present pressure was the approaching resumption of cash payments. For that resumption he had last year voted, because he thought it was an honest proceeding; a proceeding which if the circumstances of the country admitted it, he hoped would be persevered in but he perfectly agreed with his honourable friend that it increased the debt and the taxes 25 or 30 per cent. But there were other causes for our distress which called more immediately for remedy, and these were to be found in the taxes upon the raw material of manufactures: he alluded particularly to those upon wool and silk. His opposition to the taxes last year did not proceed from any party feeling, but from his conviction that, with the additional weight occasioned by the return to a metallic currency, they could not be sustained. Let the House consider the nature of the wool-tax. If the committee were appointed, and the wool manufacturers of Yorkshire were examined, they would tell the committee that they must give up either the trade or the tax. It was the second attempt of the government to tax the raw material. As to the tax on silk, he had no doubt if that tax were removed, that our manufacturers would be enabled to compete with success against the French. Let the right hon. gentleman opposite take off the tax on silk, and he would consent on the part of his constituents to open the ports for a free trade with France in that article of manufacture. He did not speak unadvisedly; and he was assured that in that case this country would furnish at least as much as it would receive. And why should it not be so? Why could we not in that case compete with the French when it was considered that the French purchased a great part of the raw material 932 from us? He did hope that the right hon. gentleman (the chancellor of the exchequer,) before he came to press the taxes on these articles would see the force of these observations. He was persuaded the evils which existed were not of so transient a nature as bad been stated and he had no hesitation in adding that it was impossible to go on enforcing taxation, without the risk of convulsion. He knew it was unpopular to make these declarations. He was the last man in the world to lend Himself to the sinister views of designing Men, but he thought it his duty to state, openly and fairly, the conviction of his mind. He would say, that the country was not able to meet taxation under the restriction which would take place in our circulating medium. It would be well for the right hon. gentleman (the chancellor of the exchequer,) to consider how much he endangered the public creditor by pressing on taxations. He agreed with Bacon, that the beginning of sedition was generally distress. If the measures recently recommended by government (on which he would not then say any thing) were to fail in their effect, and the present oppressive taxation were to proceed, who would be the first to call out? The manufacturer himself. He would find that he could not sleep safely on his pillow, and he would naturally say, "I'll take my capital abroad; there I shall be quiet, and I shall be protected in my industrious pursuits. He did not in this, draw an exaggerated picture. Such had been the case with Holland. Holland, like this country, after the revolution, possessed an immense capital. The government, however, went on taxing not alone capital, but every production of industry. What was the consequence? The people became beggars, and at length the prosperity of that great commercial stale was destroyed. The same effects were gradually lowering upon this country. There was evidently a very alarming distrust of the public securities of the—country, and that not among the middle or lower of classes merely; for it was a well known fact, that some noble lords, intimate friends and allies of his majesty's ministers, had recently sold large sums out of our funds, for the purpose of investing them in French securities. That was a transaction which could not pass unnoticed; and he thought it his duty to mention it in the House; and to add, that whatever might be the alarm in the country, it ought not to be manifested 933 in the first instance by those, whose duty it was to support public credit. In his opinion, it had become the imperative duty of parliament to institute an inquiry into the existing distresses of the country; with a view to afford whatever relief the suffering classes of the community might be susceptible of.
said, he rose to disclaim the sentiment imputed to him by the hon. members for Taunton and Coventry, that parliament had now to make their option between the continuance of British manufacture and the continuance of the British constitution. He had never said any such thing. What he had said was, that while persons were to be found who wished to take advantage of the distresses of trade, for personal objects, he viewed with alarm the state of the manufacturing districts of the country, thus influenced by designing men. He had said: that he saw a clear distinction between agriculture and manufactures; that there was a constant demand for food, but not for manufactures; and he had referred to various causes depressive, of the working manufacturers, especially the perfection of machinery; but he had never said that which was imputed to him; and, indeed it would have been a sentiment coming with a very bad grace from one who was so much indebted to manufactures. As to the motion before the House, he had never experienced greater difficulty than, he felt with respect to it when he came down to the House; but that difficulty had been removed by the speech, of the hon. mover, who had not, as he expected, he would do, confined himself to these; topics which his humanity would naturally, have suggested to him, and abstained from the introduction of all political questions. At the same time he was bound to say, that had the hon. mover not so acted (he Mr. Peel) should have found great difficulty in entering on the inquiry; as his, feelings would have conflicted with: his sober judgment on the subject.—What had since occurred in the debate would have confirmed him in the inexpediency of instituting the proposed inquiry; from the conviction of the impossibility of devising any measure calculated to relieve those who were suffering distress. The hon. gentleman who had just sat down, had adverted to two subjects—the tax on wool and the tax on silk—which he recommended to the notice of the proposed committee. To those many others of a 934 similar nature would in the event of its appointment be no doubt added. Now when it was recollected how long the investigation of a single subject—the poor laws, for instance—took a committee, who could suppose that, considering the multifarious topics into which it would be necessary that the proposed committee should enter, such a committee could come to any practical and beneficial decision?—It was not his intention to have trespassed upon the House at such length; but he could not help offering an additional observation or two in answer to what had fallen from some gentlemen on, the other side of the House. It was said that some means of relief ought to be afforded to the, poor. He admitted this fully, provided any real relief could be afforded; but in several instances attempts at relief only increased the distress. It was proposed that a minimum of wages ought to be fixed. It was impossible to do this with effect, unless an average of human strength could also, be regulated. But if a, minimum of wages were fixed, how could the manufacturer be compelled to give it, or how could he be compelled to give even the smallest pittance? Legislation of this kind was always dangerous, never beneficial. As to the employment of the poor upon public works, particularly in Ireland, his mind was made up on the impolicy of any such attempt. In the first place, where must the public works be undertaken? In the manufacturing districts, in those parts of the country where the public works already completed had been calculated for a period of greater prosperity than the present. No new work could be carried on without additional taxation; and considering the great want of economy in public works, he would ask if there could be any thing gained by taking money out of the pockets of the people for such a purpose; and by which the poor would be ultimately rendered poorer? He was sorry also to discountenance the hope a few appeared to entertain, that something might be done in the way of a parliamentary grant. It was in his view impossible, and there was in truth no analogy between the cases of foreign sufferers and those of our own nation. Undoubtedly, did we possess the means, our own distressed population had the fairest claim, but from whence were the means to be supplied? Foreign aid was given for some extraordinary and temporary vi- 935 sitation: the situation of our manufacturing districts was not like that of some West Indian islands that had been visited by a hurricane, or like Portugal when devastated by the progress of war. Here we must not only consider the severity of existing distresses, but the causes of them. He was convinced that they were entirely beyond the control of parliament; they were permanent from their nature, and supposing relief could be given by grant to one district, it would be setting a dangerous precedent for the rest of the kingdom, which at a future time might, make a similar claim. Besides, it would rather tend to counteract the natural checks of increasing population, which, though affording a tardy remedy, was the only one he, could discover of affording effectual and lasting relief.
Mr. J. P. Grunt
expressed his pleasure that the right hon. gentleman, who had just sat down had had an opportunity of correcting an error into which he (Mr. Grant) had fallen, in common with many others. The sentiment which his hon. friend had supposed the right hon. gentleman to have uttered was certainly most dangerous to the constitution. In reference to the speech of the learned lord advocate he observed, that lamentable distress prevailed in all the manufacturing districts of England and Scotland; that distress had given rise to disaffection, and that both well deserved minute investigation. He maintained, that although a meeting had been held at Dundee it had been very thinly attended, and that discontent had yet reached but a small part of the population. He expressed his surprise that ministers had not themselves brought forward the subject much earlier: it was admitted by them that the people were suffering under a degree of distress that language could scarcely describe, and yet they had been able to assign no rational ground for refusing to investigate. It was asked what plan was to be proposed for adoption if a committee were appointed? But surely it was not necessary to state any specific project. The business of the committee was, to discover a remedy. If a remedy could be found without a committee, it would only occasion needless delay to go through the inquiry. If, however, in the result, no remedy could be pointed out, the country would at least rest satisfied that the utmost had been done, and that in this instance at least parliament was not to blame. A part of 936 the prevailing distress undoubtedly arose from a transition from war to peace, but on all former occasions our wars had been shorter, and our difficulties more evanescent. After a war of twenty-five years' duration, throughout which there had been an extraordinary expenditure of at least 25 millions a year—and after the whole of Europe had been engaged for the same length of time in a similar extraordinary expenditure, it was not remarkable that the increase of population which had been engendered by the increased call which this expenditure had produced during that period on our manufactures, should, on the return of peace, be thrown into a state of distress; but if it was necessary that so many hundred thousands should be suffering starvation in consequence of the line of policy which had been pursued by the government (the propriety of which, however, he had no intention of calling in question), and in which the country had embarked, he thought it now became the duty of that government and the country to direct their attention as to how far it might be possible to contribute relief. The population had been so augmented that it was now found to be too great for the quantity of labour to be performed. All this demanded calm investigation. Some amelioration of things might perhaps, be the result. A scheme might be discovered for levying a tax upon the rich who could afford to pay it for the aid of the poor who had not the means of living. He agreed with his hon. friend in thinking that even 5l. a man would be something, and he could not help expressing his extreme surprise that the gentlemen oh the opposite side of the question with his hon. friend who had made the present motion, should concur in disapproving of the manner in which that motion was made, and yet not offer any correction of it. Thousands of people were actually in want of food, and perhaps that by employing them on public works, relief might be granted them by a much less sum than could effect so desirable a purpose in any other way. After so long a discussion on this subject, the House was too much fatigued, and were not now disposed to enter into the question. He would therefore say no more upon it. No man was more fully impressed than him-self with the extent of the existing danger, and the necessity of adopting some means likely to remove it; and he was convinced 937 that if the inquiry was gone into the good sense of the government and the wisdom of parliament would suggest some eligible means to mitigate the existing evil.
§ Mr. John Smith
alluded to the rapid inroad which machinery had made upon manual labour within only a few years. He did not mean to contend that this was not a great improvement upon the old system, but it was an undoubted fact that it had thrown a great many hands out of employment. He had attended to this point for some years, and he did not think that the attention of a committee could be directed to a more important object. He had listened to the speech of the right hon. member for Oxford with the utmost pain; the conclusion to be drawn from which was, that the wretched sufferers could hope for relief. He had hoped that some species of compromise would have been effected, in order that so important a subject might have been fairly entered upon; and it gave him great surprise, and not less concern, that ministers refused to inquire at all He was anxious for some inquiry into the existing evil; because, sooner or later he was convinced it would press itself on the attention of parliament. So many wretched persons in want of food, could not rest contented in a state so deplorable. Some remedy ought at least, to be sought, if it could not be found; and he would cheerfully vote even for a property tax, if it were so regulated as to fall only on those who could afford to pay for the relief of the poor.
§ Mr. William Smith
observed, that when it was admitted on all hands that distress was the great cause of the prevailing discontents, it was, to Say the least of it, ungracious not to inquire in to the causes of that distress. On the other hand, he could not but deprecate with his utmost force, holding out to the poor that dismal delusion, that the destruction, of machinery would alleviate their sufferings. If the manufacturers were to be relieved by an increase of foreign demand and home consumption, it was the most absolute folly to assert that that object could be accomplished by making manufactures clearer, which would be the inevitable and obvious effect of putting a stop to the use of machinery. It might, indeed, be advantageous for a very transient period, and to a few persons in insulated situations, but it must totally destroy by the roots the whole exportation trade of the kingdom. Regarding the project for fix- 938 ing a minimum for labour, he was of the same opinion, until an average of human force could be ascertained.
§ Mr. Mansfield
said, after the debate he had heard that evening; he was really at a loss to know on which side to give his vote. It would be a most gratifying thing to his mind if a committee were appointed to consider of the causes of the present distressed state of the country, unaccompanied, however, with any political feeling. He regretted, however, that the hon. gentleman who had opened the debate should have allowed himself to be led away by party feeling. It was impossible for him to support an inquiry which included so many questions of politics as might be embraced by the motion. Were the political part of the proposal separated from that which was purely commercial, a committee to inquire into the latter should receive his hearty concurrence.
§ Lord Archibald Hamilton
admitted the statement of the lord advocate, that a part of Scotland was in a disturbed state, but he denied that disturbance existed to the degree which he pointed out. He was convinced that at least two thirds of Lanarkshire were sound and loyal. The cause of the discontent was distress; and white that cause continued, the effect must also Continue. The people were obliged to work fourteen hours a day, and could obtain only meal and milk for their support. Distress was much more prevalent than disaffection, and he could contemplate no reasonable ground for refusing the motion for inquiry. Ministers ought to apply their minds to prevent as well as to punish, but hitherto the latter only had received their attention. If they had any plan by which they could relieve the distresses of the poor, they ought to bring it forward; if they had not, he could hot see why they refused to accede to the motion before the House.
§ Mr. Davenport
trusted that the motion of to-night would be brought forward at some future period in a less general and obnoxious shape. If it had excluded politics, he would have given it his support.
§ Mr. Tierney
promised to trouble the House very shortly. In truth, little or nothing had been offered on the other side which called for an answer. True it was 939 that the noble lord had spoken, and had slated his determination not to allow any inquiry into the distresses of the people. Why? Because the motion for the committee was not worded exactly in his own terms. All gentlemen were satisfied that distress existed—that that distress ought to be inquired into—and that it might possibly be relieved: but the noble lord had put his veto upon it. Investigation was not to be permitted. The other hon. members who followed on the same side, seemed satisfied with the noble lord's reason, and offered not a single syllable of argument against the principle of the question. The very able and eloquent speeches of the two gentlemen behind him were so convincing, that he had nothing to offer in addition to them. The debate had been interesting from the practical light thrown upon the subject, and from the speech of the right hon. gentleman opposite, which contained some important, though not very consolatory truths. His (Mr. Tierney's) principal object in rising, however, was to mark his sense of the conduct of his hon. friend who had moved for the committee. Whatever the House might do, he was well persuaded that the country would thank his hon. friend for the line he had pursued, and which, properly followed up, without the obstructions the noble lord wished to throw in the way, might terminate in important benefits to the country. He utterly denied that the inquiry, narrowed as the noble lord had suggested, would be attended with any advantage. If, indeed, nothing but perfect poverty and complete distress prevailed in the manufacturing districts, then it might be very proper to limit the investigation to the mere means of removing those evils. But was that the real state of the manufacturing districts? Was it not part of the noble lord's case, whenever it suited him to make it so, that something besides poverty and distress existed—something dangerous and prejudicial to the public interest? He put it to the House, whether, when the state of those districts required the five or six bills of coercion now before parliament, inquiry ought to be restricted merely to the distress, without embracing any thing to which those bills referred. The truth, however, was, that any thing and every thing might be investigated which did not come home to ministers; but the moment any thing general was hinted at, then cried the noble lord, "Oh, no! this is a party inquiry, 940 and God forbid that we should mix up any party matters with these questions: mere distress you may inquire into, but you must not go one step farther to see how the distress has been occasioned; that would be attended with extreme danger." The noble lord was right; it might be attended with extreme danger, not to the country, but to himself and his colleagues. He firmly believed that ministers were in a great degree responsible for the discontent which existed throughout the country. He believed that there had been a gross and culpable neglect of the public interest and safety, in allowing certain; occurrences to take place without interfering to prevent them. Let them look, for instance, at the statement made by the lord advocate of Scotland, who had made a clear and explicit speech on this occasion which did him infinite honour. What did the learned lord say? He told them, that a large proportion of Scotland was in a state of disaffection; that disaffection was working under ground, and above ground; and, that for six weeks after this state of things was in operation, ministers had no idea of what was going on. Could they call that a government? What were they to think of the vigilance of those who suffered this dreadful volcano to threaten them under ground, whilst disaffection stared them in the face above ground, and yet did not think such dangers were worth inquiring into? He would call the attention of the House to the papers laid on their table. In the first paper, which was dated the 1st July, four Manchester magistrates stated to lord Sid-mouth their opinion of the dangerous and alarming feeling which existed in that district. They declared to his lordship the danger which they apprehended; they demanded to know what they were to do; and observed, that if no new laws were enacted, they should not, they were afraid, be able to put down the spirit of disaffection. The House had not the answer of the noble lord before them; but they were acquainted with this fact—that parliament was prorogued on the 13th of July, and that very important business was postponed for that purpose, Indeed, parliament was prorogued with unnecessary haste, at the very time that government was apprised of the danger. What was this but saying to the magistrates, "You may do as you like; but you shall get no advice from us, because there is something we would much rather do at 941 the present moment. Our object is to get rid of the House of Commons." Did he, then, say too much when he thus openly declared, that ministers were responsible for what had passed in the country, because they had not taken steps at an earlier and more proper period to prevent it? He begged leave to ask, would it be satisfactory to the country, under these circumstances, to have a mere inquiry into the state of distress in the manufacturing districts? Would it not be proper to examine, and to show to the country, what were the machinations that led to those disturbances—to developed what the reason was that induced the people to assume this formidable attitude in various parts of the kingdom, always bearing in mind, that the disturbances in the manufacturing districts were pointed out as the ground for' the introduction of measures affecting the liberties of the whole population of England, Ireland, and Scotland, by for the greater part of which had not committed any act that called for such coercion? Was it then useful to say, that such and such, distress appeared to exist in such and such districts, without at the same time stating, why that distress had assumed so alarming a shape and character as it had done during the latter months? Gentlemen opposite declared, that there was no necessity for going into any inquiry with respect to the business at Manchester, because the House had decided that no investigation should take place. He did not know that they had so decided in terms, but he was certainly ready to admit that, practically, they had done so; that they had shown an evident unwillingness to enter into that question. But then it would be well to inquire, whether the conduct of the magistrates at Manchester had not created and increased the spirit of hostility which was observable there. That would be a proper subject for investigation, and he had no doubt whatever of what the result would be. He believed it would be found, that the conduct of those persons had done much to inflame the minds of the lower orders. Gentlemen opposite had said a great deal about itinerant orators, and of the mischiefs which they had occasioned; but how stood the fact? Those persons had gone through the country, and talked and prosed about annual parliaments and universal suffrage, till the people became tired and weary of them, and sent them home again. But government gave them 942 new life, for it gave them a new subject to speak upon—a subject that came home to men's bosoms—a subject in which all were interested. This question, it was said, had nothing to do with parliamentary reform; perhaps it had not; but would it not be well to inquire whether the people had not imbibed a strong dislike,—a powerful aversion to the House of Commons; and whether something might not be done to remove this unfavourable impression from their minds? Did gentlemen opposite mean to say, that stopping inquiry, that refusing all investigation, was the best mode of putting an end to the distrust and aversion which prevailed in the popular mind? The hon. member for Yorkshire had said, that the more the subject was considered, the greater would be found the necessity for abstaining from any proceeding with respect to it. He (Mr. Tierney), for his own part, had no doubt that the more such motions, were refused—motions having investigation for their object—the more loudly and frequently would inquiry be called for. He would confidently ask, whether the debate of that night would not plainly convince every man, that things, as they now stood, were practically wrong? Let the House consider the statement of the right; hon. member for Oxford (a statement he feared much too true), of the situation in which the manufacturing interests of this country were placed. The right hon. gentleman was supposed on a formers night to have said that the existence of our manufacturing interests was incompatible with a free constitution: but he had since declared that he had used no such expression. Such, however was certainly his line of argument. The right hon. gentleman was on that occasion defending the propriety of making the bill then before the, House, not local and temporary, but general and permanent. His argument was this: "I believe,'' said he, "that for the next 6 or 7 seven years such will be the depressed state of the manufactures of this country, that we cannot look to an earlier period for taking, those laws away." But he stated also, "If you have an immense manufacturing, interest, and that manufacturing interest is liable to great fluctuations, it will be necessary to enact measures which will be at all times sufficient to meet the dangers that may be apprehended from those fluctuations." The inference then was, that they were not to build on 943 any precise period for doing away those measures; they were not to contemplate their duration for a year or two, but ought to make them permanent, in order to meet any fluctuation which might chance to arise! The right hon. gentleman denied that he had said, that the manufacturing interest and the constitution could not exist together. But his argument went to this extent—that while distress, arising from the state of manufactures, pervaded the country, the constitution was in danger: but that when the distress ceased the danger was at an end, and to meet that distress, whenever in consequence of any fluctuation it occurred, he argued that the bill should be permanent. How did the country stand at the present moment? It was affirmed and without fear of contradiction, that for the first time, money was sold out of our funds for the purpose of investing them in those of France. He knew that some years ago persons provided for their families by purchasing annuities in the French funds. That, however, was done to a very trifling extent, as would be seen by a reference to the list of claimants. But it was never before known that large sums were sold out of the English funds in order to strengthen those of France. This however, was not the worst part of the business. What surprised and alarmed him more was, that small sums were transferred in the same manner. If he were wrong some gentleman would contradict him, when he stated that sums of 200l. and 300l. were of late frequently taken from the hands of country bankers and transferred by the friends of the owners to the French funds. This was a circumstance of a most alarming nature, be-cause it showed that the mischief was extremely prevalent. A large sum might be so employed as a matter of speculation; but when they saw the small streams of capital running in the same course, and working their way to the same reservoir, the danger to the country was manifest and alarming. It was stated by every gentleman who had considered the subject, that the people were over taxed; but not a word in answer fell from the chancellor of the exchequer. Some gentlemen asserted that the evils were caused by a transition from war to peace. The transition it, should be recollected, had occurred some years ago; we had had five years of peace, but the evils had not abated. In the year 1815–1816 it was stated that the transition 944 from war to peace had occasioned the then existing difficulties, and no person could deny the fact, because it evidently must have, more or less, affected the labouring classes of the community. But they came to the end of the transition, and they were told in the speech from the throne at the opening of the last session, that so far from having any thing to complain of on account of the transit ion, the manufactures, the trade, the agriculture, the commerce of the country were in a most flourishing state. Then, surely, the transition was at an end! Oh no, the transition came back, only with this difference, that it had an alias added to it; and then, instead of a transition, it became a fluctuation. Thus, then, was their pitiable situation held out to the world—that they were taxed to such an extent, that the people could not bear it; that trade was so bad, that individuals could not procure a livelihood for themselves, which they had been accustomed to do; that no remedy could be found for these evils; that ministers proposed none, and thought of none; and finally, that the whole mass of the population were Atheists. Let gentlemen read the whole of this denunciation from top to bottom, and say whether there was ever a state of things more dreadful, or that more loudly called for a full and dispassionate inquiry. The hon. gentleman near him said, that this was a visitation from god, and nothing else. Did that hon. gentleman indeed, believe, and could he gravely state it to the House, that the mischief which had been going on for 25 years was to be attributed to God alone, and not to the restless dispositions of men? He (Mr. Tierney) stated on the first day or the session, and he would repeat it now, that no people were more sincerely disposed to the practice of piety and true religion than the people of this country. Now they were told that a taint appeared amongst them—that the people wore demoralized—that money left the country—that trade sunk, and that stocks fell; and no man would say what was the reason of this state of things, because he was afraid to point out the true reason. A visitation from God! God had nothing to do with it. It was the work of the perverted mind of man. It was the defect of twenty-five years misgovernment, which was surely, though silently working on to the ruin of the country. Government had undeviatingly pursued that system 945 which tended more and more to the disadvantage of the empire, and of which the House of Commons daily heard still more and more. And then gentlemen affected wonder that persons groaning under these unfortunate circumstances, declared that some thing was wrong in the House of Commons which they conceived ought to be redressed. The debate of this night showed the necessity more than any thing that had occurred for a long time of speedily doing something to check the evil. The conduct of ministers on this occasion would be severely scrutinized. How had they acted? Because an inquiry was moved for on his (the opposition) side of the House, which was accompanied by a speech not palatable to gentlemen opposite, therefore the inquiry was refused. "You shall not have the inquiry," said the noble lord, "because I did not expect that it would be introduced by such a speech." And the gentlemen opposite were all so satisfied with that statement, that not a single word was said by them which bore on the question, except what had been offered by the lord advocate of Scotland. If no inquiry was conceded when parliament was called together under the pressure of circumstances such as every man must deeply feel, for what purpose had they been assembled? The result of their meeting was, that they passed severe laws against the people, that they agreed to coercive measures to keep them down, and when an endeavour was made to learn why the people were in such a situation, they had a short speech from a secretary of state, and were sent about their business, with the consoling reflection chat they had destroyed some of the best liberties of the country. In this state of things, if it were the temper of government to refuse entering into an inquiry there was no use to have any argument about it. There was no case that more imperatively called for inquiry than the present state of the country. He should be glad to hear the opinion of the right hon. the president of the board of control on the subject. Perhaps he (although the noble lord did not) would state what remedy he had to propose, and not let gentlemen depart with the idea, that the country was on the very brink of ruin, but that no man could point out a way by which that ruin could be avoided.
said, although he hoped he was not often guilty of shrinking from a call when openly made upon him, yet he 946 could assure the right hon. gentleman and the House, that he never rose with more reluctance than he did on the present occasion—first, on account of the late period of the night, which made him unwilling to protract the discussion; and, secondly, from a cause personal to himself—severe indisposition, which would have induced him to give a silent vote, rather than enter into any argument on the question. The right hon. gentleman had said, that his (Mr. Canning's) noble friend alleged no reason for not acceding to the motion, except that the hon. mover's speech was not shaped according to his fancy; and that, in the feeling thus expressed, the gentlemen on his (the ministerial) side of the House meant to acquiesce. He could not but think, that if the right hon. gentleman had at all watched the course of the debate, he must have seen, that the feeling which actuated his noble friend, in opposing the motion, was not a feeling of a personal nature; and if his noble friend had expressed the concurrent sense of those who sat near him, he also procured the assent of many gentlemen who came down to the House by no means prepared for such an opposition. Fortunately, the course which his noble friend had meant to pursue, and which many gentlemen would have concurred in, was not a matter of after-thought, or of doubt. He spoke in the presence of many individuals who knew, that so late as four o'clock this day, it was his (Mr. Canning's) intention, however rarely such a circumstance occurred, to have voted with the hon. gentleman who brought forward this proposition. But he was at that time persuaded, that the motion would have been introduced in the same spirit in which the notice had been originally given. He understood that certain private communications which were., ordinarily made between gentlemen in that House, had taken place beforehand with the hon. gentleman, and that the motion was to be for a bona fide inquiry into commercial distresses arising from' commercial causes, with a view to the discovery of any possible remedy that could be devised for ameliorating the pre-sent state of the country. The inquiry, he understood, was to be divested as much as possible of all connexion withy those angry topics which had agitated that House for many nights, and on all of which, singularly and collectively, the House had already come to a decision. 947 But would any body who had heard the opening speech, or any part of that speech, lay his hand on his heart and say, that the motion was brought forward with that abstinence from political hostility, which gave it a chance of a friendly reception, or if carried, of a useful application to the questions which it embraced? It was rather a speech in which all the topics of inflammation had been connected together. It introduced every thing that was calculated to rekindle those animosities which might have subsided. They were, indeed, introduced collaterally, but unfairly—unfairly with respect to the topics themselves, and no less unfairly with reference to the inquiry that was to take place. They were topics, too, he must observe, on which the sense of the House was clearly taken, and on which its decision was intelligibly given. He did not mean to censure the hon. gentleman for the course he had adopted; he had undoubtedly a right to introduce public topics in the way which appeared to him to be most expedient; and he did not doubt that the hon. gentleman thought it was his duty to bring forward the motion as he had done that night. The hon. gentleman, of course, conceived it to be a part of his duty to throw as much obloquy as possible on his majesty's government, an object in which he was well seconded by the right hon. gentleman who had just spoken. If the speech delivered by the right hon. gentleman was meant to follow up the idea of the hon. mover, it showed that he had taken a correct view of the object of the motion. If the right hon. gentleman did not mean to follow the course of the hon. mover, if he meant to adopt a different mode of proceeding, it then threw on the right hon. gentleman the onus of showing that he had not defeated a motion, which, if brought forward with common temperance, would have ensured the concurrence of the House. When he came down to the House, he expected that the motion would be brought forward in the spirit to which he had alluded; and if so brought forward, it certainly would have received his concurrence. He did not mean to say, that in making up his mind on the subject, he had not only placed considerable restraint on his feelings, but also on his better judgment. Because, undoubtedly, in entering into a field of inquiry so wide as this must be, if confined to its express objects, without a precise knowledge of what that inquiry would be║948 specifically directed to, they ran the risk of exciting expectations that might be grievously disappointed. If they entered; into it with an idea of adopting any remedy that might casually be turned up, blame would attach to them for not having paused until they saw their way clearly before them. The hon. mover told them, in words short and emphatic, which showed the view that he took of the subject, that he would have no committee on. cotton-twist, but one in which political topics should he investigated. He had, used the words cotton-twist, because he wished to degrade the idea of a commercial inquiry: and his political view embraced the whole state of the county of Lancaster, involved all the Tory principles of the resident magistrates and gentlemen of that county, and all the conflicts of Orange and other societies within its limits. The hon. mover had done him the honour to appeal to him, on account of his connexion with Liverpool, as to certain circumstances which had taken place there. With respect to Orange lodges, and the system connected with them, the hon. mover might know that, all that ever passed between him and such of his constituents as belonged to those societies was, that he had asked them for their favour. He had before and after his last visit to that town (and nothing had since occurred to alter his opinions), declared sentiments directly opposite to the great majority of those persons. He was not the person who, intending to go into an inquiry respecting the manufacturing classes, could consider it any necessary part of such inquiry to take up the feuds and quarrels of Lancaster, and set the people one against the other. That, however, was the spirit with which the hon. mover would go to the inquiry, so far as related to the general state of the county of Lancaster. The hon. mover would also introduce the events of the 16th of August. The interminable subject of the Oldham inquest; in short, all those questions, which any man who wished to enter into the main subject itself—who was desirous to strip it of all accidental circumstances, would have carefully avoided. But, as if the hon. mover's speech was not sufficient, at the end of the debate came forward his venerable mentor, who, instead of bringing him back to sobriety and temperance, instead of cooling his mind, and tranquillizing his passions, had encouraged his 949 warmth. He came indeed like Mentor, but it was like Mentor when he stole behind Telemachus, and pushed him into the sea. So did the Mentor of to-night get behind the hon. mover, and force him into the ocean of party politics. The hon. mover wished to inquire into the state of Lancashire, its ancient feuds and present animosities, but that would not satisfy the right hon. gentleman. He wanted a grand coup d' ceil. He wanted to investigate the conduct of ministers for 25 years past, in a committee ostensibly formed to inquire into the commercial distresses of the country. This calm, temperate, moderate inquiry into the distresses of the time, was, it appeared, to be indissolubly united with the committee on the state of the nation, (for such it would be)—the good old parliamentary course for turning out one set of ministers, and placing another in their stead. Good would it have been for ministers, good would it have been for the right hon. gentleman and those around him, good for the country at large, if to-day had been a conferential day, and, if, with grounded arms, ceasing from hostility, both sides had agreed to consult the benefit of all; ministers did come down to the House in that disposition, and he was as much vexed as he was disappointed and surprised at the change which appeared to have taken place in the sentiments of the hon. mover since Friday last. The speeches delivered "by an hon. gentleman opposite and his right hon. friend, while they did them infinite credit, and showed that their highly gifted minds were improved by practical knowledge—these two speeches were the specimens to which he would refer, as what he thought ought to have been the tone and temper of that debate. If the hon. mover had opened the business in that temperate mode, he would not have opposed the motion—nay, he would venture farther: even after the provoking speech of the hon. mover, if his right hon. friend had adopted the course of those two gentlemen, and thrown the irritating topics of the hon. gentleman a little more into the shade, instead of addressing the House as he had done, they might then have come to terms. But for some reasons inscrutable to him, the right hon. gentleman had thought it better to change that night, which was to have been a neutral night, to one of the most decided political hos- 950 tility. One consequence was, that they had lost their object. Even on this subject—the subject of sacred misery, which should be hedged round from every feeling of political irritation—even with respect to that question it seemed the country was not to look for fair inquiry and cordial co-operation. He thought the gentlemen opposite had lost themselves a second time. One opportunity occurred at the opening of the session when they might have rendered an essential service to the country. They might have done that, without abating any part of the hostility which they felt towards ministers, which might be brought forward at other times and on other occasions. They had another opportunity tonight—an opportunity of their own choosing. They selected a subject, in bringing forward which they ought to have forgotten their political opinions, and carried the House of Commons into a calm inquiry into circumstances with which the interests of the country were so nearly concerned. But he was sure there was no man, the most unconnected with, and most insensible to, party feeling, who would say that it was possible for any government, valuing its character one straw, to agree to the motion of the hon. gentleman, introduced with such a speech as he had been pleased to deliver. But suppose they had gone into the committee, out of the two speeches to which he had alluded, there arose matter sufficient for an inquiry, the longest and most sedulous that could be imagined. First, the subject of the minimum of wages. He did not mean to say that the hon. gentleman had given any opinion on it; but he had thrown it out as a question which ought to be set at rest. Next came the whole question of our currency, which had occupied that House for two or three sessions in one way or other, and. had particularly taken up much of the time, of the last session, perhaps the most laborious that ever sat. There was also the question of the poor laws, which was already under consideration; but admitting the industry of those who wore employed in that investigation, the result, he must say, had been extremely unsatisfactory. The next was, the question of machinery, which was easily disposed of in principle, but which, if the committee sat, would be brought forward for such an extensive investigation, as would be satisfactory to those persons who were most interested 951 in it. Next was the question of Scotland, and the absence of poor laws in that country. Then, added to these, there was the whole chapter of taxation, every part of which was to be sifted, in order to remove, if possible, what was stated to be a novelty—the tax on raw materials. Even if party politics had been completely banished, here was a field sufficiently wide to occupy the ablest and wisest heads for a long period. He thought the result of this discussion must be, to show the House that, whoever they might be who brought such extensive subjects before them, they were bound to state some outline, to give some description of the course which they wished the legislature to adopt. Nevertheless, if the committee had been proposed in the tone to which he had alluded, he would have agreed to it. No one could suppose that he and his hon. friends could look at these questions lightly. He was prepared to go into that committee with all its difficulties, if party and political feelings had been left out of the question. He felt, on the one hand, that it was not likely to have a satisfactory result; but on the other, though they might not be able to see their way clearly, they were anxious to show that sympathy for the distresses of the country which could only be pressed by such an inquiry He did think that ministers had a right to complain that the honourable mover had made it impossible for them to accede to his motion. But if a committee were appointed to inquire into the distress of the manufacturing counties, he believed that would be the last and the least point of consideration with the hon. mover, who had introduced all the angry topics, and adverted to all the inflamed passions of the county of Lancaster—who was, besides, to have the assistance of his right hon. friend, who had attempted to trace all the miseries of the country to the Conduct of government for the last twenty-five years Was it likely, with these facts before them—when, in stating their object, the gentlemen opposite could not divest themselves of an ingenuous confession of what they really aimed at if they got into the committee—when one-tenth of their observations were bestowed on topics which at the very commencement showed the feeling they had in their hearts—was it, he would ask, likely that ministers could acquiesce in their demands? He did most earnestly 952 wish that the committee had been moved for, as he understood it would have been; but, being disappointed in his expectation, he was bound to oppose it. He did not mean to do more than to account for the vote which he should give, and to express his sorrow that he was obliged to give it. He had no doubt that the hon. mover had introduced political subjects from a sense of duty; although he did not see any mention of politics in the motion. He regretted that the hon. gentleman had taken such a view of the question as had stripped it of its greatest advantages. He had, however, chosen that particular course, and if the proposition were negatived, he had himself to thank for it. Had this motion excited hopes of any beneficial result in the minds of the people, on the hon. mover and on his friends must rest the disappointment occasioned by its ill success.
said, that the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down had observed, that it would have been better for the House and the country, if the motion had not been introduced by his hon. friend in the manner in which he had brought it forward. He, however, anticipated much benefit to the country from this discussion; and he approved entirely of the spirit and manner in which his hon. friend had treated the question. He had thrown a considerable light on the subject, and explained many circumstances that were not known before. The right hon. gentleman had objected, that his hon. friend had taken that opportunity to introduce political matters. Now, in his (lord Folkestone's) view of the question, it was quite impossible to consider the state of the manufacturing districts without adverting to political topics. They had learned in the course of the debate, that the greatest distress existed in the country. That fact, which had been denied over and over again, was now fully admitted, and had indeed rivetted the attention of the House during the whole discussion. The hon. member for Bramber had stated, that the distress of the country had arisen solely from the war; for that it was impossible to suppose, according to their ideas of Divine Providence, that a thing so atrocious as war was, should not be followed by a variety of evils. He begged to remind the hon. gentleman that the late war was, from the beginning to the end, supported by the hon. member himself [Mr. Wilberforce here mo- 953 tioned a dissent]. Two years after the war had commenced, he (lord Folkestone) believed the hon. member had made a proposition for entering into negotiations for peace; but he was sure he was correct, when he stated, that that wicked war (applying the term to all wars), was supported most strenuously by the, hon. gentleman himself. The distress which now existed could not have arisen from any war, unless that war had been accompanied by a system of misrule, and as during the last 25 years the country had always been under the government of the same men and the same measures, was there any reasonable ground, for hoping that we should obtain any remedy for it from our present rulers? The right hon. gentleman, while he declared, that it was entirely owing to the speech of the hon. mover of this debate, that he had not consented to the motion itself, described the object of the motion to be in his opinion, so wide, that no committee could possibly accomplish it; so that, according to the right hon. gentleman himself, it was not upon its merits that this motion was to be negatived. Shortly afterwards the right hon. gentleman found another reason for not entertaining it; it cast considerable obloquy on his majesty's ministers. The noble lord was however, more frank in his declaration than was the right hon. gentleman. He had confessed that he would not allow the motion to pass, whether obloquy was or was not cast upon the ministry. As the noble lord's declaration preceded the, declaration of the right hon. gentleman, he (lord Folkestone) might be permitted to sup-pose, that the right hon. gentleman's objection to this proposition arose from more dislike to it, and not from the cause which he pretended—the obloquy cast by it on the advisers of the Crown. For his own part, he was free to confess that he did not conceive the proper place for taking this subject into consideration, to be either a committee of the whole House, or in a committee up stairs: it was a subject that ought long since to have attracted the attention of the government of the country, as was proved by one circumstance which he would mention, as well as by many others. The municipality of Manchester ought long since to have been changed. It was an. immense town formed within a few years from a paltry village, and yet its municipality was the same now, when it possessed 954 98,000 inhabitants, as it had been when it possessed no more than a few hundreds—namely, a boroughreeve, and two constables, elected at a court leet by the tenants of the lord of the manor. Ought not the government then, who knew the unquiet state in which that town had so long been placed, and who, also knew that part of its inquietude arose from the constitution of its present municipality, to have formed another, better adapted to its existing circumstances? Another right hon. gentleman (the member for Oxford) had begun his speech of that evening by complaining that a misrepresentation had gone abroad of what he had said on a former evening. If it was a misrepresentation, it must have arisen from misapprehension, for he (lord Folkestone) had certainly understood the right hon. gentleman in the same manner as those who had misrepresented him. The right hon. member had allowed to-night, that the new measures were an infraction of the rights of the people. He did not know whether the right hon. gentleman was still of opinion that they ought to be permanent; but if he allowed them to be an infraction of the liberties of the people, and at the same time contended for their permanency, the question was between an in-fraction of the people's rights and the Support of the manufactures of the country. When gentlemen went home, and considered all the alarm which at present prevailed in, the commercial and manufacturing districts; when they considered the measures which they were to pass, in order to diminish that alarm; he did hope that they would come into a resolution to probe to the bottom the source of all our evils. Whether they went into an inquiry into the business at Manchester, or not, he cared little; but there were some inquiries too important to be neglected, and into those inquiries he trusted that, before, long, they would all agree to enter.
, in explanation, declared that he had always considered the measures now proposed to parliament as a diminution of liberty; but there was only the alternative between those measures and anarchy and confusion.
§ Mr. Bennet
could not help thinking that the right hon. gentleman had acted unfairly in charging him with introducing the motion before the House in the shape of a party question. He had set out with declaring it as his intention not to make it a party question, and he had cautiously 955 abstained from dwelling upon subjects that might occasion a difference, where unanimity was so essential. He had not wished to say any thing harsh of ministers, but in looking at the distress, it Was impossible to separate it altogether from the discontent of the manufacturing parts of the country. It was in fact the very foundation of the discontent; if he Had altogether refrained from touching upon that subject, he should have 'imitated the conduct of certain physicians, who, on being called in to consult on the case of a patient, talked of any thing but that case; but he was quite sure that in the course of his speech he did not use one inflammatory expression or if he did it was not his intention to apply it to his majesty's ministers. His object was, as he had already Stated, conciliation; and the best means of attaining that object was a spirit of peace influencing their discussions. Although he had the infirmity of expressing strongly what he felt strongly, he had been perfectly calm and tranquil during the whole of the discussion; his purpose having been one which required that spirit; He thought that the House would do its duty by following that course which would elucidate the cause whence the evil sprung, and thereby restore the shaken confidence between the House and the public. He wished to see that House the living image of the people, but he was persuaded that when the intelligence of that night's debate went forth, and it should be known that the House of Commons had refused inquiry because in the progress of that inquiry it might happen that party politics would be introduced, it would produce great and almost incalculable mischief.
§ The question was then put and negatived without a division.