§ Sir W. De Crespigny
, in pursuance of the notice which he had given, rose for the purpose of moving that a select committee be appointed to inquire into the plan of Mr. Owen for ameliorating the condition, of the lower classes. He trusted that the same spirit of conciliation which had marked the debate of Tuesday last would be manifested on this occasion. Labouring under severe indisposition, he brought this question forward with increased embarrassment. It had been his hope that some hon. gentleman more conversant with the subject would have introduced it to the consideration of the House, and appeared in the character of an advocate for his distressed and suffering fellow-countrymen. Under these circumstances, the House, he doubted not, would extend to him its kindness and indulgence. He could assure it, that he would endeavour to contract his observations into the narrowest compass. The question was rather one of humanity than 1190 of political reasoning; and if he should be so fortunate as to obtain the concurrence of the other side of the House, he should hail the circumstance as the harbinger of better times. The interposition of the legislature was most imperiously demanded. General poverty must produce discontent, and general discontent led often to revolt. It was necessary that the higher classes should condescend to inquire into the miseries of the poor with a view to the effectual alleviation of their distress. He saw no other means of preventing the country from being involved in bloodshed and confusion. The plan which he had to recommend would, in his opinion, prove, if adopted, beneficial for the purposes he had stated. All that was required by its friends and supporters was, that it should be submitted to experiment. Let it not be said, he implored the House, that they were prodigal in furnishing the means of destroying mankind, but were resolute not to listen to any schemes for their preservation. There were some, he knew, who, on the study of half an hour, pronounced that to be visionary which was deemed practicable and useful by a man, who had devoted to the inquiry the labour and consideration of thirty years. He called upon such persons to produce a better plan, before they condemned that which he was about to recommend. It was a most important subject for the attention of the House, to investigate the consequences arising from that mechanism which had within the last few years so extensively superseded human labour. To him it appeared, that mechanism should always be made subservient to human labour. The events of the last 30 years had made a change in the internal policy of the country absolutely necessary—and the question was, whether it should take place, step by step, by reason, or be brought about by prejudices and ignorance, or, perhaps, through the convulsion of revolution. Under the present system, the unemployed poor fed on the labour of the industrious, communicated the bad habits acquired in idleness, to the general mass of the poor, amalgamated with them, and taught them their vices. The only remedy for this evil was, the prevention of the mischief at the root. One part of Mr. Owen's plan, to which he wished particularly to direct the attention of the House, was the system of education which it embraced; for education, it could not be denied, was the 1191 foundation of all virtue and order in society. He had seen the effects of it in New Lanark, and should never forget to his dying day the impression which it made on his mind. The children were there instructed in those principles which were calculated to make them useful and excellent members of society. That which most struck his mind, and which could scarcely be credited by those who had not witnessed it, was, that the education of infants was begun in this establishment at the early age of two years. He had seen at New Lanark upwards of 100 children, on a large plot of ground, engaged in various kinds of amusements, each contributing its share to the comfort and advantage of the whole; there was among them no mark of malevolence or quarrel; they were vying in acts of kindness to one another. He saw them afterwards at school, some engaged in their letters, and others at more advanced stages of improvement. From thence they were instructed in the reading of the Bible, and taught the duties which they owed to God, to their parents, and to themselves. When the hours of amusement and those of instruction were ended, he had seen them going to their little labours with an alacrity which was really astonishing. He trusted the House would allow him to read a few of the letters which he had received on this subject. The hon. bart. then read the following letter, which he said he had received by the post of the preceding day:—"Sir William; Having deliberately considered Mr. Owen's plan, I am of opinion, that there is not any proposition yet made for the improvement of the morals and general condition of the country, worthy of a comparison with it; and I am induced thus to intrude my sentiments on you, to propose a measure which may be likely, not only to secure its trial, but its general adoption. It may perhaps be your intention to show the benefits of such a plan, and to move for a parliamentary grant, for the purpose of trying the experiment. However favourable the general opinion may be, yet in the present feeble state of the revenue, I am fearful there may be a difficulty in obtaining the grant; and should that not be the case, yet only one establishment would, by way of trial, be produced. I, however, consider it unnecessary that the country should wait whilst another experiment be tried. In addition to the plain reason of the things, the experiment has 1192 been tried with the greatest success at New Lanark. I should therefore at once propose a bill, which should have the effect of rendering any application for a public grant unnecessary, and giving more facility to an immediate application of the plan on a general scale, as follows:—
"A bill to enable parishes, at a general (not a select) meeting, to make a permanent rate on the property, and to take up money on the security of such rate, for the purpose of raising an establishment on Mr. Owen's plan. To enable two, three, or four small parishes to unite for that purpose, each parish to have an interest in, and to derive a benefit from the establishment, in proportion to its amount of rate or contribution. The rates so mortgaged to be applied quarterly in the discharge of the interest, and the reduction of the principal money so borrowed, until the same be discharged. To enable lords of manors, and the parishioners, to sell and convey waste and commonable lands for such purpose with such other clauses as the wisdom of parliament may devise. I see by a little pamphlet which lately fell in my way, and which I enclose, that 96,000l. are sufficient to found an establishment for 1,200 persons; and I lately saw in the public prints, that Mr. Owen considered an establishment for 1,000 more advantageous than for a greater or less number, and that would require 80,000l., the interest of which would be 4,000l. for the first year, and as much less every succeeding year, as the principal sum should be reduced. As there is plenty of unemployed capital in the kingdom, I think the money would easily be obtained, and it would be much more creditable to capitalists (and more beneficial to the country) to lend their money on such security, than to place it in the funds of other nations. In the neighbourhood of Mr. Ricardo, there is plenty of commonable land, and the poor are very numerous; the measure would therefore be peculiarly beneficial in that district, and, although no alarmist, yet I am of opinion that the safety of property in a great measure depends more on an immediate attention to the plan of Mr. Owen, than on any coercive measures. I remain with the greatest respect, &c.,
"Cirencester, Dec. 14. Jos. MOUNTAIN."
The letter also contained some calculations as to the time when the sum borrowed might be repaid, and the manner of repaying it, with which he did not 1193 feel it necessary to trouble the House. The next letter he would read, was from the bishop of Chester. His lordship "approved of a plan which would give to the poor an interest in the better cultivation of the land, and stated that he had tried the experiment by letting out from 70 to 80 acres to poor peasants, at about half an acre to each. The result was, that the lands so given were well cultivated, even with that time which the peasant could bestow after his usual daily labour. One of the great advantages of this plan was, the creation of a feeling of independence among the peasantry—a feeling which could not be too much cultivated, as it rendered them averse to any application to the poor laws; and in the instance alluded to, relief from the poor-rates was not sought by any of the peasants so engaged." If the House, in the present situation of the country, turned, its back upon any plan which had for its immediate object the relief of the lower classes of the people, they would excite a general spirit of disaffection and discontent. He trusted, therefore, the noble lord would not show himself averse from this inquiry; there could be no mischief in it, for if, upon examination, the plan was found to be inefficient, it might be abandoned. It might not be acceptable as a whole, but it should be recollected, that there was no flower of the forest from which the industry of the bee did not extract some honey. He might, if he did not fear to occupy too much of the time of the House, go on reading to eternity the letters which he had received from various parts of the country in favour of this plan. He, however, should only trouble the House with the reading of one more. He then read another letter in favour of the plan, which described the great advantages that might result from it, by the practice which it would encourage, of spade cultivation. A gentleman in the neighbourhood of Newcastle had proved that by this mode of cultivation, the produce of land had been raised to 7 or 8 quarters per acre. Before he submitted his motion, he begged to make one observation further. At the period when Adam Smith wrote his treatise on the Wealth of Nations, the great object was to increase the wealth of the country. This object had been since achieved by the increase of machinery, so as almost to increase the production of some articles much beyond consumption. Now, 1194 Mr. Owen's plan, to remedy this—to render the production of the necessaries of life fully adequate to the increase of population—would effect a reorganization, and a remoralizing of the lower classes, which there was no man of virtue who would not, he was persuaded, be most glad to see. He concluded by moving, "That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the nature of the plan proposed by Robert Owen, esq., and to report there on: and how far the same, or any part thereof, may be rendered available for ameliorating the condition of the labouring classes of the community, or for affording beneficial employment of the poor, by an improved application of the sums raised for their relief."
§ Lord Archibald Hamilton
seconded the motion. He was so well acquainted with the practical effect of Mr. Owen's plan, and with the great distress which existed in that part of the country near which his establishment was situated, and particularly he so well knew the anxiety which existed among the great body of those who were so distressed to have the plan inquired into, that he conceived the House ought to take the matter into consideration. At the same time that he asserted this, he did not mean to give his support to those numerous theories which had been founded upon Mr. Owen's plan. He saw, however, that a great part of it had produced an excellent effect, and he conceived that one ground why it was entitled to an examination. He did not look upon the present motion as one which went to embrace the whole of Mr. Owen's plan (which he feared, if taken up in a national or general view, would be attended with too great an expense), but to extract and separate the useful parts of it from those numerous and extensive projects with which it was combined. He would support the motion, in consequence of the good effects which he understood to have resulted from some of Mr. Owen's exertions, and from the feeling which he was aware existed among the poorer classes, that a trial of it might be made with advantage to them. One thing had resulted from the operation of this plan at New Lanark—that it had united large bodies of human beings in the strongest bonds of kindness and affection towards each, other; in such a manner indeed as he believed was never seen or known before. This was a strong reason with him in support of the inquiry, and he thought that 1195 inquiry alone was sought by the motion. He would strongly recommend the reference of the subject to a committee, to which it should be understood that every thing eligible should be submitted, and that the House should not be troubled with any details of improvement, except such as should appear in the report the committee might finally agree upon.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, that he was anxious to state the grounds upon which he was disposed to vote for the present motion, without being understood in any degree to support the general principles with which it was connected. In the first place he thought, that in the present distressed state of the country, that plan which proposed to alleviate such distress should be very wild and exceptionable, indeed, against which the House should peremptorily shut its ears. It was no doubt among the misfortunes belonging to the distress of the people, that they were too ready to attend to any visionary scheme that promised them relief; that they were disposed, as it might be said, to catch at straws, in the hope of saving themselves from sinking. This was, however, too generally the consequence of popular calamity. But parliament should be guarded, not to give the sanction of its high authority to any visionary project, because that sanction might do considerable mischief, especially in this way, that if such an impracticable plan were recommended by the House, that recommendation would weaken its power of carrying into effect any plan of less extent, but more practicability, as the people would naturally be disposed to say—"What comparison do the advantages of this plan bear to the prospects held out by the project of Mr. Owen?" This was, therefore, with him one reason why the House should look with extreme caution to any of those measures which were proposed in the present shape. At the same time he did not wish that the House should reject all inquiry on the subject before them. He was desirous not to be understood as meaning to agree to Mr. Owen's plan. He conceived the theory on which it was founded to be wholly erroneous. It was founded upon a principle which he denied—that of the increase of population being a benefit to the country. On the contrary, he had no hesitation in stating, that the excess of population was one of the great causes of the distress which at present afflicted the country. Yet 1196 this proposition, which, from the best consideration which he had been able to give to the subject, he was fully prepared to maintain was quite discarded by the theory of Mr. Owen. But it was amongst the most melancholy malpractices of the low part of the press, to depreciate this, which was the soundest principle of political economy. Nay, the worst expedients were used to calumniate the writers by whom that principle was mainly supported, although among those writers were to be found men of the most exalted morals, of the purest views, of the soundest intellect, and even of the most humane feelings. An endeavour was made to raise an outcry against those writers, principally upon the ground, forsooth, that they proposed, to interfere with the main comfort of human life, by deprecating early marriages. But was it not incumbent upon any man who had enlightened views of philanthropy, or even a sense of common justice, to dissuade people from imprudent marriages—from forming connexions which they had not the means of subsisting? Could any thing serve more to aggravate the distress or mortify the feeling of man than the collection of a family for which he was incompetent to provide? Yet against the writers who sought to guard society against this great evil, the utmost obloquy was directed. Nay, an attempt was made to excite a clamour against the men who had the wisdom to devise, and the manliness to support, that which was agreeable to the soundest principle of political economy. The present was not, however, the time in which he thought it advisable to propose the adoption, or to enter into the discussion of that to which he had devoted a great deal of his time and attention, and which he deemed the true radical remedy upon the subject of population; for if a plan to remedy this evil were now brought forward, there was reason to apprehend, from the disturbed state of the public mind, that an outcry might be raised against it which would be but too likely to interfere with the usefulness, and prove detrimental to the interest of the plan itself. The proposition of such a plan must therefore be deferred to some calm period which would be more suitable for deliberate and candid consideration. But to return to Mr. Owen's plan—although he differed from the theory upon which that plan was founded, especially upon the subject of population, and thought it 1197 would increase the evil of which it was the ostensible remedy, he still agreed with the hon. baronet who brought forward the motion, and the noble lord by whom it was seconded, that there were certain parts of that plan peculiarly entitled to the consideration of the House. He meant especially upon the subject of education. The system proposed and acted upon by Mr. Owen in training infant children, before they were susceptible of what was generally called education, was deserving of the utmost attention. This indeed was the sound part of Mr. Owen's plan, and agreeable to the wisest principles. By all means then, he would say, let the House appoint a committee to inquire into the means by which those parts of Mr. Owen's plan, against which no objections could be made, might best be put in general practice. That which was wild or visionary might be slighted; but the useful and the practicable ought not to be discarded. But with respect to education he must say, that the assistance of government or parliament was not so essential to its advancement: as the interests of that subject might be very safely trusted to the public spirit and private benevolence of the country. This, indeed, he found to be the case from his own observation, with regard to the education of children taken from their parents, who were thus enabled to pursue their own industry. But he had had some experience upon this subject, where education alone was given to children without any food or clothing, and where children were taught moral, attentive and cleanly habits at that period of life when curiosity, the great spring and element of all education, was most active and ardent—when in consequence, that which at another period of life would have been felt as a burthen, was enjoyed as a pleasure. Thus the children were educated while the parents, or at least the mother, who would have been otherwise obliged to stay at home and take care of them, was released and left at liberty to work. This system then was useful, not only to the children but to the parents, where they were disposed to industry. But the training up of infant children was in every view a point of great importance. He had given this subject a considerable degree of attention, and the experience of several years strengthened him in the opinion which he had been led to form on it. He had seen in Switzerland an establishment, the plan of Mr. Fellenberg for 1198 infant education, carried on with excellent effects. That gentleman's plan was, however, better suited to an agricultural district, where the population were scattered, than to a manufacturing town, where the population was crowded together. For Mr. Fellenberg took the children to his school both night and day, thus separating them from their parents. Mr. Owen proceeded upon the same principle as to education, but then he did not separate the children from their parents, unless for the day, and therefore his plan was more applicable to manufacturing or populous districts than that of Mr. Fellenberg in Switzerland. The plan of Mr. Owen was, indeed, so much better, as it was calculated to improve the domestic habits of the people; the child being allowed, by remaining with its father and mother, to acquire those social and domestic habits which were of so much value in life, which begat those strong ties of affection, some of the best and most secure bonds of mutual assistance. With the example of what Mr. Owen had effected on the subject of the education of children, it would, he conceived, be impossible to refuse an inquiry into the practicability of extending it. If it were not vouched by such undeniable proofs, it could scarcely be believed that so much good had been done by the plan as was known to be produced at New Lanark. The example set there was, he conceived, much better than that produced in Switzerland. This system tended also, by a sort of reflex operation, to improve the habits of the parents themselves; for in the presence of children so trained, they would be ashamed of intoxication, or swearing, or any habits that might pollute the minds, or offend the feelings of those who were the objects of their attachment. This consideration, then, combined with the improved impressions of the children, was likely to produce the most salutary effect upon the morality and general conduct of parents, by checking the expression or exhibition of any impropriety, and hence he preferred the plan of Mr. Owen to that which he had witnessed in Switzerland. With a view to make an experiment of this plan, the hon. member for Bramber, the hon. member for Nottingham, had, with himself and a few other friends, made up a stock purse. He had proceeded in this experiment with the more alacrity, as he had the highest respect and esteem for Mr. Owen, whom 1199 he really believed one of the most humane, simple-minded, amiable men on earth. He was indeed a rare character; for although a projector, Mr. Owen was one of the most calm and candid men he had ever conversed with. You might discuss his theories in any terms you pleased—you might dispose of his arguments just as you thought proper; and he listened with the utmost mildness. His nature perfectly free from any gall, he had none of the feverish or irritable feeling which too generally belonged to projectors. But to revert to the committee association, of which he had the honour to be a member, he had to express their acknowledgments for the assistance which they had received from the right hon. gentleman the chancellor of the exchequer, who was always found ready to promote that which was most useful, namely, any plan of practical philanthropy. Through this association a school had been established in Westminster, according to Mr. Owen's plan; and if the experiment of that school were found practically useful, as there was every reason to expect, it was fairly to be calculated that the same experiment would be made elsewhere. The establishment in Westminster was a day-school, for which Mr. Owen had furnished the committee with an excellent superintendant, and it was going on in the most satisfactory manner, so satisfactorily indeed, that although originating in the charity of individuals, it was soon likely to be supported by the interest of those who were immediately benefitted by its existence. This was a most gratifying consideration. For although charity might begin, interest alone could continue or perpetuate institutions of this nature. If any person doubted the practical success of this plan, let him go into the school at Brewer's green, in Westminster, and he would sec both the nature of the plan and the benefits that attended it. There was indeed reason to expect that the schools established upon this system would soon and very generally enter into competition with those dame schools which had heretofore proved so very useful, and to which (while children of nine or ten years old were too often allowed to walk about almost as ignorant as beasts) infants were sent, to keep them out of harm's way, while their mothers went to work.—Of this indeed there could hardly be a doubt, as the schools to which he alluded would be conducted upon a better plan, and therefore parents would natu- 1200 rally rather pay quarter-pence to the one than to the other. Satisfied as he was that the success of this plan was likely to be promoted by inquiry, he was an advocate for the appointment of a committee of that House, by which that inquiry might be fully gone into, and effectually concluded. With respect to the spade husbandry which was recommended in Mr. Owen's plan, he must confess himself incapable of forming any judgment upon that part of the plan, as he was wholly unacquainted with the subject; and this was another reason with him for supporting the proposition of inquiry. But he was an advocate for inquiry, with a view to separate the wild and impracticable part of this plan from that which was sound, useful, and practicable; and he trusted that the House would not reject the latter along with the former.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, there was nothing more usual, out of the House, than to see gentlemen of opposite political opinions uniting cordially and substantially in efforts for the benefit of the poor; and he was convinced that no spectacle could be more consoling than the display of the same spirit in parliament. It showed that that House did not act on party grounds when the welfare of the people was the subject of discussion; it showed that when they could see their way clearly, they would all agree in measures for alleviating the public distress. It would have given him great pleasure to concur in the present motion, if he had not thought that the House by going into the inquiry would give the sanction of parliament to a plan not only visionary and impracticable, but in the highest degree dangerous to the country. While he opposed the plan, however, he wished to do every justice to the character of Mr. Owen, whose humane and benevolent intentions could not be too highly praised. Though he was not particularly acquainted with the nature of the establishment at Lanark, he believed all that had been said of it. Indeed, some years ago he had visited Lanark, and though the establishment had not then attained its present state of excellence, the impression on his mind at that time was, that it was productive of great benefit, and reflected the highest credit on Mr. Owen. He had then thought the general system superior to any other that he had ever seen; and from what he had heard, he believed it to have been improved since that time. But, notwith- 1201 standing all this, he could not agree to the adoption of Mr. Owen's general system; and he should state to the House the grounds of his objections. In the year 1817, two public meetings were called at the city of London Tavern at Mr. Owen's request, at which he delivered a full explanation of the plan he had in view for the amelioration of society, and which explanation had since been given to the public. If he was incorrect in what he was about to state, he would thank a worthy alderman opposite, who was at the meeting, to correct him. At one of those meetings held on the 21st of August, 1817, Mr. Owen made a speech, from which he would now read the following extracts:—
"Why should so many countless millions of our fellow-creatures through each successive generation, have been the victims of ignorance, of superstition, of mental degradation, and of wretchedness?—My friends, a more important question has not yet been put to the sons of men. Who can answer it? Who dare answer it, but with his life in his hand; a ready and a willing victim to truth, and to the emancipation of the world, from its long bondage of disunion, error, crime, and misery? Behold that victim! On this day, in this hour, even now, shall those bonds be burst asunder, never more to unite while the world shall last. What the consequences of this daring deed shall be to myself, I am as indifferent about as whether it shall rain or be fair to-morrow. Whatever may be the consequences, I will now perform my duty to you, and to the world; and should it be the last act of my life, I shall be well content, and know that I have lived for an important purpose. Then, my friends, I tell you, that hitherto you have been prevented from even knowing what happiness really is, solely in consequence of the errors, gross errors that have been combined with the fundamental notions of every religion that has hitherto been taught to men. And, in consequence, they have made man the most inconsistent, and the most miserable being in existence. By the errors of these systems, he has been a weak and imbecile animal, or a furious bigot and fanatic; and should these qualities be carried, not only into the projected villages, but into Paradise itself, a Paradise would no longer be found.—In all the religions which have been hitherto forced on the minds of men; deep, dangerous, and lamentable princi- 1202 ples of disunion, division, and separation, have been fast entwined with all their fundamental notions; and the certain consequences, have been, all the dire effects which religious animosities have, through all the past periods of the world, inflicted with such unrelenting stern severity, or mad and furious zeal!—If, therefore, my friends, you should carry with you into these proposed villages of intended unity and unlimited mutual co-operation, one single particle of religious, intolerance, or sectarian feelings of division and separation—maniacs only would go there to look for harmony and happiness; or elsewhere, as long as such insane errors shall be found to exist!—I am not going to ask impossibilities from you—I know what you can do, and I know also what you cannot do. Consider again on what grounds each man in existence has a full right to the enjoyment of the most unlimited liberty of conscience; I am not of your religion, nor of any religion yet taught in the world!—to me they all appear united with much—yes, with very much—error!—Am I to blame for thinking thus? those who possess any real knowledge of human nature know that I cannot think otherwise—that it is not in my power, of myself, to change the thoughts and ideas which appear to me true. Ignorance, bigotry, and superstition may again, as they have so often done before, attempt to force belief against conviction—and thus carry the correct-minded, conscientious victim to the stake; or make a human being wretchedly insincere.—Therefore, unless the world is now prepared to dismiss all its erroneous religious notions, and to feel the justice and necessity, of publicly acknowledging the most unlimited religious freedom, it will be futile to erect villages of union and mutual co-operation; for it will be vain to look on this earth for inhabitants to occupy them, who can understand how to live in the bond of peace and unity; or who can love their neighbour as themselves; whether he be Jew or Gentile, Mahommedan or Pagan, Infidel or Christian; any religion that creates one particle of feeling short of this, is false, and must prove a curse to the whole human race!—And now my friends—for such I will consider you to the last moment of my existence, although each of you were now armed for my immediate destruction—such, my friends, and no other, is the change that must take place in your hearts and minds, and all your conduct, before you can enter these 1203 abodes of peace and harmony, you must be attired in proper garments before you can partake of all the comforts and blessings with which they will abound.—Such are my thoughts and conclusions, and I know you will hereafter ponder them well in your minds, and truth will prevail! When you shall be thus prepared, if life be spared to me, I will be ready to accompany you, and to assist with all my power in every particular step that may be necessary to secure your immediate happiness and future well-being.—Now, my friends, I am content that you call me an infidel; that you esteem me the most worthless and wicked of all the human beings who have yet been born! Still, however, even this will not make what I say one jot less true, or more false. No name can make falsehood truth; how can any name whatever make truth more true? Of what use, then, can names be, except to give a false validity to gross error? The interest of those who govern has ever appeared to be, and under the present systems ever will appear to be, opposed, to the interest of those whom they govern. Law and taxation, as these are now necessarily administered, are evils of the greatest magnitude; they are a curse to every part of society; but while man remains individualised, they must continue, and both must unavoidably still increase in magnitude of evil."
In reading these extracts from the speech of Mr. Owen, he did not wish to call down the spirit of persecution against him. He admired Mr. Owen's treatment of the persons under his care; and as to his religious opinions, he only regretted the aberrations of his mind. But it was evident, that he looked to the adoption of a plan subversive of the religion and government of the country; and however philanthropic his views might be, that House could not adopt the plan proposed by the hon. baronet, without countenancing those dangerous theories. But it appeared that Mr. Owen's plan was discountenanced by the unbiassed judgment of the public; for at the first meeting which he addressed at the City of London Tavern, his propositions were rejected. After Mr. Owen had spoken, several other gentlemen took part in the discussion. A worthy alderman proposed an amendment to one of the resolutions, and the purport of that amendment was, that no effectual relief could be given to the people without a fair representation in parliament. This amendment 1204 was adopted, so that it appeared, whenever a plan was proposed for ameliorating society, the grand panacea, parliamentary reform, was sure to be brought forward. He should regret, if the rejection of this motion led to the rejection of what was good in the plan; but he thought the hon. and learned gentleman who had preceded him in the debate, had cleared the way so well, as to show that this would not be a necessary consequence. It was, no doubt, true, that at a second public meeting a committee was appointed, for the purpose of considering Mr. Owen's plan, and a subscription had been opened for its advancement, to which the worthy baronet had liberally contributed. It appeared, however, that in this country of unbounded liberality—that in a city of unbounded wealth, the subscription completely failed. Only a small sum had been subscribed; and it was surely a strong prima facie case against the plan, that after it had been so long submitted to the public, it had received so little encouragement. He concluded by declaring, that as an official individual, he could not agree to a grant of the public money for the establishment of a plan that had been introduced to the public by a speech, in which all religions were pronounced false, and all systems of government bad.
§ Mr. John Smith
eulogised the character of Mr. Owen, who had long exerted himself to alleviate the distresses of his fellow creatures. It appeared that the right hon. gentleman (the chancellor of the exchequer) was not disposed to give assistance to the plan, because it was proposed by a person who differed from himself on the subjects of religion and politics. In that respect he dissented from the views of the right hon. gentleman. No man could more lament than he did, the course which Mr. Owen had pursued; and indeed, he had told him, that if he introduced those obnoxious sentiments, he would prevent people from supporting his plan. Still he could not agree with those who thought this a sufficient ground for rejecting it. It was indeed a part of Mr. Owen's system to teach men to make allowance for such differences of opinion. He had never in the course of his life known a person so thoroughly exempt from prejudice or self-interest as Mr. Owen. The right hon. gentleman would allow him to remind him of an extraordinary circumstance attending the establishment at Lanark, and which particu- 1205 larly demanded his notice. Such was the nature of that establishment, managed as it was by a man of Mr. Owen's unfortunate religious belief, that during the last 14 years there was not one solitary instance of a man connected with it being convicted of a crime. Could the same be said of any other establishment in this country? Surely that system which produced such effects was at least worthy of consideration. He should perhaps have been silent on this occasion, had it not been for what had fallen from the learned gentleman (Mr. Brougham) in his excellent speech. On the subject of education he would speak out, and he denied that Mr. Owen's views on this point were visionary, for he knew them to be correct from the practical results which he had himself witnessed. Mr. Owen's plan embraced the education of children from the age of three years and upwards. He had seen the plan reduced to practice at Lanark, and Mr. Owen had there, by his system of instruction, taught those little creatures to do away all the contentious passions so common at that age. No man could see one of those little boys of nine years of age, without wishing that his own children had been similarly educated; that, he would freely confess, had been his own feeling. As to many parts of the plan of Mr. Owen, he did not pretend to understand them, and he could not give an opinion on what he did not understand. If a committee were granted to inquire into the subject, although he did not think they should go into the whole question of the poor-laws, still they might consider the present state of distress in which the population of the country was involved. He would take the liberty of asking the right hon. gentleman and his colleagues, whether they were prepared to come forward with any plan for the relief of the poor? If they were not, with what face could they refuse this committee? He did therefore hope, that if the right hon. gentleman persisted in his opposition to the appointment of this committee, he would, for the satisfaction of those who were anxious on this subject, state what he intended to do.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
explained. He did not object to Mr. Owen's plan, because Mr. Owen himself rejected the authority of all religions and all governments, but because Mr. Owen had stated the plan to be founded on those principles. As to the relief of the poor, 1206 it was only necessary for him to say at present, that there was a motion on that subject already before the House, and when it came to be discussed, he should take that opportunity of stating his opinions.
§ Mr. Ricardo
observed, that he was completely at war with the system of Mr. Owen, which was built upon a theory inconsistent with the principles of political economy, and in his opinion was calculated to produce infinite mischief to the community. Something had fallen from an hon. member on a former night, on the subject of the employment of machinery. It could not be denied, on the whole view of the subject, that machinery did not lessen the demand for labour; while, on the other hand, it did not consume the produce of the soil, nor employ any of our manufactures. It might also be misapplied by occasioning the production of too much cotton, or too much cloth; but the moment those articles ceased in consequence to pay the manufacturer, he would devote his time and capital to some other purpose. Mr. Owen's plan proceeded upon this—he who was such an enemy to machinery, only proposed machinery of a different kind: he would bring into operation a most active portion of machinery, namely, human arms. He would dispense with ploughs and horses in the increase of the productions of the country, although the expense as to them must be much less when compared with the support of men. He confessed he did not agree in the general principles of the plan under consideration, but he was disposed to accede to the proposition of a committee. Spade husbandry Mr. Owen recommended as more beneficial to production. He was not informed enough on the interests of agriculture to give an opinion, but that was a reason for sending the subject to a committee. For what did the country want at the present moment? A demand for labour. If the facts stated of spade husbandry were true, it was a beneficial course, as affording that demand. And though government or the legislature would not be wisely employed in engaging in any commercial experiment, it would be advantageous that it should, under present circumstances, circulate useful information and correct prejudices. They should separate such considerations from a division of the country into parallelograms, or the establishment of a community of goods, and similar vi- 1207 sionary schemes. Before he sat down, he trusted the House would excuse his offering a few observations on what he considered the cause of the distresses of the country. He fully concurred in what had fallen from his hon. and learned friend on the subject of population. The proportion of the capital to population regulated the amount of wages, and, to augment them, it was important to increase the capital of the country. But when he heard honourable members talk of employing capital in the formation of roads and canals, they appeared to overlook the fact, that the capital thus employed must be withdrawn from some other quarter. The causes of the insufficiency of capital, and the consequent disproportion between wages and population, were to be attributed to many circumstances, for some of which government were not to blame. Supposing a country with a numerous population, large capital, and a limited soil, the profits of that capital will be smaller there, than in a country populous, with lesser portion of capital, and with a great extent of soil. This country was one of large capital, but of increasing population and of an extent of soil necessarily limited; of course profits would be lower in it than in countries which had not the same limitation: still, though the profits were smaller, the capital continued in this kingdom, not only because persons felt a solicitude to keep their property under their own eye, but because the same confidence was not reposed in the security of others: the moment, however, other kingdoms, by their laws and institutions, inspired greater confidence, the capitalist would be induced to remove his property from Great Britain to a situation where his profits would be more considerable: this arose from no fault in the government; but the effect of it was to produce a deficiency of employment and consequent distress. Then came the question, had we taken the proper steps to prevent the profits upon capital from being lower here than in other countries? On the contrary had we not done everything to augment and aggravate the evil? Had we not added to the natural artificial causes for the abduction of capital? We had passed corn laws, that made the price of that necessary of life, grain, higher than in other and neighbouring countries, and thus interfered with the article which was considered the chief regulator of wages. Where grain was dear, wages must be 1208 high, and the effect of high wages was necessarily to make the profits on capital low. A second cause arose out of the fetters upon trade, the prohibitions against the import of foreign commodities, when, in fact, better and cheaper than our own. This was done in a spirit of retaliation; but he contended, that whatever line of policy other nations pursued, the interest of this nation was different: wherever we could obtain the articles we wanted at the cheapest rate, there we ought to go for them; and wherever they were cheapest, the manufacture would be the most extensive, and the amount of it, and invitation to capital, the greatest. Another cause of the existing disposition to send capital out of the country was to be found in the national debt. Instead of paying our expences from year to year, Great Britain had constantly pursued a system of borrowing, and taxes were accumulated not only to pay the simple interest, but sometimes even the compound interest of the debt; and the amount was now so enormous, that it became a matter of calculation, whether it was worth a capitalist's while to continue in a country where he not only obtained small profits, but where he was subjected to a great additional burthen. Every pecuniary motive impelled him rather to quit than to remain. For a great many of the various causes of the evil, some of the principal of which he had touched upon, there might not exist any immediate remedy. We had, however, a beneficial precedent in the proceedings of the last session. He alluded to the measures taken for a return to payments in specie; and he saw no inconvenience in keeping stedfastly to that system. Parliament had wisely extended the operations of that system over a number of years. They should follow the same course as to the corn laws. After the quantity of capital employed under the faith of legislative enactments in agriculture, it would be a grate injustice to proceed to an immediate repeal of those laws. But that House should look to the ultimate good, and give notice, that after a certain number of years, such an injurious system of legislation must terminate. The same observation applied to our prohibitory commercial code. From the variety of interests now in operation under that system, it would not only be necessary to look, but to look stedfastly, to a distant but certain period for its repeal. With respect to the national debt, he felt 1209 that he entertained opinions on that point which by many would be considered extravagant. He was one of those who thought that it could be paid off, and that the country was at this moment perfectly competent to pay it off. He did not mean that it should be redeemed at par; the public creditor possessed no such claim—were he paid at the market price, the public faith would be fulfilled. If every man would pay his part of the debt, it could be effected by the sacrifice of so much capital—With respect to the objection, that the effect of that sacrifice would be to bring so much land into the market, that purchasers could not be found for such a glut, the answer was, that the stockholder would be eager to employ his money, as he received it, either in the purchase of land, or in loans to the farmer or landowner, by which the latter might be enabled to become the purchaser, particularly when the government was no longer in the market as a borrower. He was persuaded that the difficulty of paying off the national debt was not so great as was generally imagined; and he was also convinced that the country had not yet nearly reached the limits of its prosperity and greatness. It was only by a comparative reference to the state of other countries that the opposite opinion could be entertained, and such opinion would gain ground as long as so many unnatural temptations, by our policy at home, were held out to withdraw capital from the country. He repeated his conviction that Mr. Owen's plan was in many parts visionary, but yet he would not oppose the appointment of a committee, if it were only for the purpose of seeing whether it was probable that the advantages which that gentleman expected from the use of spade husbandry could be realized.
§ Mr. N. Calvert
opposed the motion. He saw no benefit that could arise from the appointment of a committee. Spade husbandry, whatever good effects it might otherwise be attended with in some places, would not afford permanent relief! because it would not afford permanent employment.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
disapproved of the plan as a general one. It was however much more objectionable when first brought forward than at present. With all the prejudices that were entertained against it, he saw no reason why it should not be sent to a committee, if it were only for the purpose of satisfying the public, and showing the impracticability of it Mr. 1210 Owen having succeeded in one instance upon a small scale, was convinced that he would be successful upon a larger one. This he (Mr. Waithman) was convinced was a visionary expectation. He would not follow his hon. friend who had spoken last but one through the various topics upon which he touched with so much ability. His hon. friend had gone over a large extent of matter worthy of most serious inquiry. The distress of the country might be traced to various causes; but the great one was the excessive and exorbitant taxation. The consequence was, that the profits of every species of produce were greatly reduced, and vast numbers, whose income was not sufficient to support them in this country, went to reside on the continent; so that what they received from the taxes here, as the interest of their capital, was sent abroad.
§ Lord Althorp
was sorry to differ in some respects from his hon. friend the hon. member for Portarlington. He agreed with him however, in the leading principles he laid down with respect to the causes of the present distress, and the mode of applying a remedy. He was not of the same opinion with his hon. friend on the subject of the corn laws. In principle they were wrong; and he opposed them when the subject was before the House. Still, he felt that in a period of war they would be of advantage in procuring an independent supply of that most necessary article. It was also a great object to secure the employment of capital in agriculture. It might indeed be said that it was bad economy to grow corn at home when it could be had cheaper from other countries. The answer to this was, that they could not secure a supply at home in time of war unless by imposing some tax on corn of foreign growth. He agreed with what was said respecting their commercial system, and was surprised that no means had been adopted for opening a more extensive market with foreign countries, particularly France. He did not allude to a commercial treaty; that, in his mind, was not desirable; but by admitting the wines and silks of France, the produce of this country would be taken in return, and produce mutual advantage. He did not think it would be prudent to agree to the present motion. All were agreed that the plan proposed was absurd; where, then, was the necessity for appointing a committee to prove its absurdity? If they were to engage in inquiry upon such grounds there 1211 would be no end to committees. With respect to spade husbandry, if advantageous it would soon be adopted. The public were sufficiently awake to their own interest, and it was better to let individuals pursue it in their own way. An experiment, if necessary, might be made by the board of agriculture, whose funds were adequate to the purpose.
§ Mr. Calcraft
said, that the wording of the motion, supposing it were otherwise unobjectionable, would induce him to vote against it, as it in fact recognized Mr. Owen's plan. It was impossible that he could give his support to any plan, which in its results could only, he thought, tend to delusion and disappointment. He did not intend to delay the House by entering at all into questions of employment of capital, or amount of revenue, to which indeed, he felt quite incompetent. Unquestionably a great deal was expected of them by the country; of that hon. gentlemen must be aware; and while he must admit that there was much which they could not do, he was not the less disposed to assist most warmly in the development of any measure which might have a tendency effectually to relieve the suffering poor.—But he really thought that, if the hon. baronet had the interest of Mr. Owen warmly at heart, he would not make an unfavourable impression on the public mind with respect to it, by pressing his motion to the division, which must, if he persisted, shortly take place.
Sir Charles Burrell
opposed the motion. He was desirous to offer a few observations on the state of husbandry, in reply to some remarks which had been made upon the subject. In many cases, spade husbandry had been already tried, particularly in the hop counties, and most especially in Kent. This, therefore, was no new system. With regard to the printed papers which had been widely circulated—drawn up with the intention of displaying the large benefits likely to arise from, and the property to be rapidly accumulated by, the practice of spade husbandry, they were founded in mere delusion. It was quite impossible, he would venture to say, that any such quantity of corn could have been grown upon the same extent of land, as was said to have been raised by the superiority of spade husbandry. In particular instances, no doubt, much good might be effected by these means; but their general practice would be, in fact, the bringing back of agriculture, gener- 1212 ally, to a state of nature. There were, besides, many parts of the country where lands could not be so tilled. It had been said that this sort of husbandry would increase the food of the whole people. He denied that assertion; but suppose it did, what good would be done? What sale could there be for it, while no encouragement was given to the home growth of the British farmer—while foreign corn was allowed to be imported at a price which must defeat the British grower?—As to the corn laws, he thought it would be well to revise them in such a manner as to make corn yield a revenue to the British grower; and by doing so, he had no doubt, the state of the country would be materially improved.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
could not give his consent to this plan. His right hon. friend opposite, had already stated, as part of his objection to Mr. Owen's plan, the nature of his religious principles. This observation did not appear to be correctly understood by his hon. friend on the bench behind him. It applied, as he apprehended, not to the principles of any particular sect of any religion, but to those avowed by Mr. Owen himself; and if Mr. Owen, as he understood, objected to all the systems of religion at present established—if his whole plan proceeded upon a system of morals founded upon no religion whatever, but rather upon considerations of moral rectitude of conduct only, he was of opinion that it behoved the House to be cautious how it gave its sanction to an institution, which did not acknowledge as one of its essential features, that doctrine, on whose truth and piety it was not for him now to enlarge. In the year 1817, he had read a paper connected with this subject, which he presumed all who heard him had also seen. Till that paper came under his observation, he had really felt disposed to vote for the plan. That paper had, however, altered his opinion. It seemed an object of Mr. Owen, to establish a number of little communities, with each a certain allotment of ground through out the country. This, it was contended, would increase the quantity of sustenance. The conclusion implied that man would labour more diligently for the advantages to be distributed throughout a little community, than for his own individual profit. It was a position at variance with daily practice and constant experience. Societies which were to enjoy a sort of community of goods. He (Mr. Wilberforce) had not had 1213 the benefit of attending personally at the Lanark institution, but he had seen those who had; and he thought he understood the nature of it, from the very admirable speech in which it had that night been described. He was ready to admit that all those who visited it expressed themselves favourably of the system that prevailed there. It, had been brought to its present stale however, not by any particular rules of Mr. Owen's (though the exclusion of public houses and other circumstances must have greatly assisted) but by the good old system of Christianity. He trusted, however, while he could not support the present motion, that the House would not break up without at least expressing its inclination to devise some measure which might alleviate, if it failed to remove, the grievances of the lower classes. With respect to what had been said by the hon. gentleman about the misapplication of the public revenue, it was with the profoundest respect that he differed from a gentleman who had so greatly distinguished himself upon questions of political economy which had exercised the pens of some of the ablest writers this kingdom ever could boast of, and who, in that science, if he had not advanced any great new principles, had yet applied existing ones in such a manner as to claim for him the warmest esteem and admiration from his contemporaries. But, for himself, he must deny that we were in "an unnatural state." The idea of the application of capital to the prosecution of public works had been very generally entertained; but as to the capital, which some persons seemed to imagine as identified with land, it was well known that from various circumstances the value of land was too fluctuating and uncertain, to be considered as a species of fixed capital. Without instancing any particular cases, he would say generally, that when he saw great wealth on the one hand, and great distress on the other, he could not but be solicitous that some mode should, if possible, be devised of bringing them together; so as to render them mutually productive and beneficial. He believed, with an honourable gentleman who had spoken in the coure of the debate, that this country had not yet seen her best days. He did trust, and think, that she would go on increasing in strength, in greatness, and in happiness. We were, in fact, journeying in that road which was sure to conduct us to wealth, prosperity, and power; we 1214 were diffusing education. The reason why former states had been in all ages assimilated to the human frame, in its advance from infancy to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to decay, was this—the parallel proceeded upon this fact, that the religion of those states was founded on false principles. They went on from stage to stage of intellectual improvement, emerging from ignorance to knowledge, till the light of day beamed upon the fabric, and betrayed the rotten imposture upon which it was built. The pillar of our greatness, however, was raised upon that basis of all intellectual and religigions improvement—the christian religion. The pledge of our superiority was in the support of those doctrines, which, the more they were examined, were found to be the more excellent in their truths, the more beneficial in their effects. He was confident that the country would proceed in her mighty march of improving excellence, as she had hitherto proceeded; and that she would remain, to the end of time, the sanctuary of morals, the refuge of liberty, and the region of peace and happiness.
Mr. Alderman Wood
said, he would not detain the House more than a few minutes. The objections urged against Mr. Owen's plan were general, and yet almost every person so objecting, made some admission in its favour. It certainly ought not to be thrown out, as seemed to be the prevailing disposition, merely because it was Mr. Owen's plan. The great difficulties under which the country laboured, as had been repeatedly acknowledged, was the want of employment for labour and capital. This subject had been frequently before parliament, and, in some instances, it was deemed proper for government to interfere and lend its assistance to remedy the difficulty. Now, what said the excellent report of the commissioners who had been four years in Ireland, to examine into the state of agriculture; and to ascertain the quantity of waste lands? According to them, there were 2,500,000 acres lying waste in Ireland. And what did they assign as the cause of its so lying waste?—Why, the want of capital. There were, besides, the wastelands in England. He knew of one waste spot, which, if properly cultivated, would yield sustenance for 20,000 families, valuing them as 80,000 persons, and return 200,000l. to government besides. Although he objected to many parts of Mr. Owen's plan, he†1215 thought that the part which related to the cultivation of the waste land was highly deserving of attention, especially when it was considered how large was the annual importation by this country of foreign corn. The plan ought certainly to be referred to a committee. It had been successfully adopted in commerce; what should prevent its efficacy in agriculture? Those who objected to it, from the dread of too greatly increasing the quantity of grain, did not consider that the country paid thirteen millions annually for grain beyond what the country could produce. Many more millions were also paid out of the country for flax and other commodities, and which he insisted might be and ought to be produced from the waste land and surplus labour of the country. This was the first motion that had been made for the appointment of a committee to consider of the best means of employing the poor, and it ought not to be rejected by the House merely because they did not altogether approve of the plan recommended. All who had seen the establishment at new Lanark, admitted that the course pursued by Mr. Owen had succeeded there; and why might not its benefits be extended? He was by no means partial to the whole of that gentleman's plan, but he conceived that a portion of it might be adopted with great advantage to the country. If his Majesty's ministers would come forward and say that they were prepared with any measure which might equally benefit the poor, by employing them in redeeming the waste lands of this country, he had no doubt the hon. baronet would cheerfully withdraw his motion: but he trusted he would not do so in any other case.
Sir C. Burrell
in explanation observed, that no surplus grain was grown, simply for want of encouragement.
§ Mr. Maxwell
expressed his hope that the House would not refuse to grant the committee moved for by the hon. baronet.
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey
contended, that the hon. member for Bramber had wholly misrepresented Mr. Owen's intentions, and his theological views. He had read the paper drawn up by a committee who had been appointed at Leeds to inquire into the nature of the establishment at New Lanark, and who had declared, that they never saw a purer system of morality than was there practised. While Mr. Owen did not disguise his own views of polemical subjects, he was not so extravagant 1216 as to think of introducing those views into his infant institution. To state, therefore, that it was an infidel institution, and almost an atheistical college, and that its tendency was to undermine Christianity, when the little community were as celebrated for their religious and moral deportment as for their intelligent useful, and industrious habits, was a gross misrepresentation. For himself, he was never aware that Christianity was aided by secular support, but on the contrary, he always imagined that it was wholly independent of it. The House were not called upon to discuss Mr. Owen's polemical or theological views. They had before them the fact, that a community of above 2,500 persons were, by that gentleman's system, brought into a state of great morality, of happiness, at a moment when the whole of the rest of the country was, comparatively speaking, in the greatest distress. Were they to be blind to that fact, because one honourable member thought that Mr. Owen wished to undermine Christianity, and another conceived that there was some miscalculation as to the advantage of spade cultivation? Unless his majesty's ministers would say that they had some other plan to propose, he thought the House bound to acquiesce in the honorable baronet's motion, were it only to show the people that they sympathized with them under the diversity of misery which they were suffering.
§ Sir W De Crespigny
replied. An argument had been urged against the motion, which was scarcely to be justified.—He owned that he felt extremely sore at that argument; recollecting, as he did, that in his life he had never witnessed a purer religion than that established at Lanark. It was true that more of the inmates belonged to the Methodistical church than to the Established; it was, however, a fine sight (and had the hon. member for Bramber been present he would have thought the same) to see them on each Sunday proceeding to their different places of worship. A right honourable gentleman, who had attacked Mr. Owen's plan, had coupled with it parliamentary reform. Now, he understood that to parliamentary reform Mr. Owen was decidedly hostile. Something had also been said about a community of property. There was no such thing at Lanark. Every man had his little cottage, purchased what he required, received his 1217 profits, and either deposited them in his own name in the savings banks, or did with them what he thought fit. Undoubtedly, such a general combination as that recommended by Mr. Owen would, in his (sir W. De Crespigny's) opinion, be highly beneficial; but that was not his present object. It was evident that something must be done for the relief of the poorer classes of the community. This was the first time that a proposition for considering a particular plan for that purpose had been submitted to parliament. He now asked his majesty's ministers, whether they had themselves any plan to propose on this important subject, as if so he would consent immediately to withdraw his motion?
§ After a pause, sir W. De Crespigny repeated his question. No answer being given, the House divided: Ayes 16, Noes 141. Majority against the motion 125.
|List of the Minority.|
|Aubrey, Sir J.||Rancliffe, Lord|
|Barnett, Jas.||Ricardo, D.|
|Compton, Samuel||Smith, J.|
|Gaskell, B.||Sinclair, G.|
|Graham, Sandford||Waithman, alderman|
|Harvey, W. D.||Wood, alderman|
|Lamb, hon. G.||TELLERS.|
|Nugent, Lord.||Crespigny, Sir W. De|
|Pringle, J.||Maxwell, John|