HC Deb 12 May 1820 vol 1 cc338-42
Mr. Dugdale

rose to present a petition from the manufacturers and traders of Birmingham, stating the distress which prevailed in that town in consequence of the stagnation of trade. The petitioners observed, that the distress and inconvenience under which they laboured had existed for a considerable time, and would, they were afraid, go on increasing, unless some effectual remedy were found. They did not pretend to point out any remedy, but they seriously hoped that this House would institute a solemn inquiry into the causes of the prevailing distress. After what had occurred on a former evening he would not trouble the House with the details connected with this subject; but he believed that the account of the distress contained in the petition was not at all exaggerated. He had received statements from various* sources, all concurring in the magnitude of the distress which at present existed—a fact that was farther proved by the increase of the poor-rates in that quarter. There never was, he thought, a case that required more decidedly the interference Of parliament; and he trusted that, if any means could be devised for alleviating the sufferings of the people, that relief and that assistance would be rendered them as speedily as possible.

Mr. Brougham

said, that the petition was very numerously signed, and he believed a more respectable body of men did not exist than those whose complaints were now before the House. They were not persons connected with any particular political party; amongst them were to be found some who took one side in politics—some who took another. They were indeed the most respectable, and the most worthy of the attention of that House, of any of the members of the community to which they belonged. He was exceedingly anxious to support the motion, that they should have a hearing. But he could not help stating his own feeling, as he had done before the last recess, that a compliance with the prayer of their petition was not likely to be attended with any beneficial result. Not that he had the smallest kind of doubt of the facts stated in the petition; not that he did not believe that the distress of which they complained was deeply and widely spread over that district (he wished he was not justified in adding, that it extended also over all the rest of the country; but because, from marking the course of such a proceeding, he had come to an opinion which was firmly rooted in his mind—that a parliamentary inquiry instituted in that House, with a view to revising, altering, and amending commercial or agricultural concerns, was by no means the best mode that could be adopted for attaining the desired object. He conceived that ministers themselves, by their means of information, by the remedies which they might recommend to parliament, and which, above all, they could support by their influence, were the persons who should devise measures of this description. They presented the only rational means of affording substantial relief; and he was sorry to be obliged to add, that the present administration, from the view which they appeared to have taken with respect to the agricultural and commercial interest, and, indeed, with reference to every thing they had done on those great questions of political economy, were not very likely to go into an inquiry of this kind in such a spirit as the exigency of the times demanded. He must also add, if they did proceed to this inquiry, that the country must feel, looking to all their acts, and to the degree of confidence which they enjoyed, that they were not precisely that sort of government, who could, with a reasonable prospect of suc- cess, undertake the alteration and revision of the system which prevailed. This sentiment he had formerly expressed, as many gentlemen present must recollect; and he would now state, that nothing had since occurred to shake or alter his opinion. He had then observed on the state of the administration; and in the sentiments he spoke he had no idea of giving one set of men, an advantage over another. He thought then, and he thought now, that no one party in, that House was at present sufficient to form an administration that could meet; the situation of the country, and give confidence to the people.

Mr. Spooner,

knowing the distress which the industrious manufacturers of Birmingham laboured under claimed the attention of the House while be offered a few observations. He meant when he came into the House to enter into a detailed statement of the distresses which prevailed in the country; but having heard what was said by the hon. member for Chichester, and the House appearing to feel with him the inconvenience of partial debates on such important subjects, he had come to a determination not to pursue the course he originally intended, and to that determination he would have adhered if it had not been for the most extraordinary reason which the learned member had just given to induce the House not to proceed with an inquiry. The learned gentleman had stated, that there, was not any party in that House fit to form an administration. This point, lie begged to observe, never entered the minds of the petitioners when they represented their grievances to parliament, in the only constitutional way which was open to, them. He hoped, therefore, the House would agree with him, that the reason given by the learned member was not sufficient to, induce them to refuse the prayer, of the petition—namely, to enter into full, deliberate, and solemn inquiry, as to the distressed state of the town and neighbourhood of Birmingham. He was sorry to hear the learned member say, that an inquiry so instituted would be of no use. He should feel deeply grieved if the opinion of the country agreed with that of the learned gentleman. For his own part, he relied with confidence on the wisdom of that House, and so likewise did the petitioners. They looked to parliament for assistance in this emergency, and-he trusted they Would not be deceived in their hopes, He would now, with the leave of the House, state a few facts which lie had received from the neighbourhood of Birmingham, and which would point out the great extent to which the distresses of the manufacturers had gone. It would be recollected that the year 1816 was a year of peculiar distress. During the first four months of that year the sum paid for j the relief of the poor was 5,857l., and the sum paid in the corresponding months of the present year was 10,843l. He requested the House likewise to bear in mind the difference in the price of commodities in 1816, and at the present moment. They would then form something of an adequate idea of the increasing distress and misery to which the population of Birmingham and its neighbourhood had been reduced. There was another striking fact Which also tended to prove the extent of that distress. He alluded to the consumption of animal food in that district; and here he would press on the minds of those who were anxious to bring the interests of the agriculturists before the House that those interests, and the interests of the manufacturer, were intimately combined. In the first four months of the year 1818 the slaughter of animals for the supply of the town of Birmingham amounted to 5,147 beasts, including cows and oxen. In the corresponding four months of the present year the number of cattle slaughtered was 2,788. This circumstance, he hoped, would have its full weight on those who imagined that they could procure high prices for agricultural produce without giving to the manufacturer the means of purchasing it. The diminution in the slaughter of sheep bore the same proportion to that of cattle. In the first four months of 1818, the number of sheep slaughtered was 11,479, and in the corresponding four months of the present year it was reduced to 8,216. As to the causes of this distress, or the remedy which should be applied to it, he would say nothing. But he believed the House would find that the circumstances which injured the manufacturers operated; Equally in reducing the agricultural interest to that deep distress which was so universally felt. He begged to state one more fact, which was contained in a letter which he had received that morning; but, before he read it, he would observe that he did not mean to urge it as a motive to induce the House to enter into this in- quiry. When he introduced it to the House, he must accompany it with this remark, that he feared the unfortunate persons to whom the letter referred had taken the least likely way to interest the House in their cause. The letter stated that "the nailors about Haleys-owen, Stourbridge, &c. are riotting, and mobbing. They left their work on Monday last, and the colliers and iron-workers have joined them." He did not on account of this violence recommend the situation of these people to the notice of the House, who had certainly adopted the most improper course that could be pursued; but he did entreat gentlemen to consider what the consequence would be if they followed the advice of the learned member, and turned a deaf ear to those petitioners, who came before them in the only constitutional way, who requested their attention, and humbly called for that remedy which it was alone in the power of the House to grant.

Mr. Brougham,

in explanation, said, he had a right to complain of two misrepresentations which the hon. gentleman had made of his speech. He had in two instances wholly mistaken him. The hon. gentleman had talked as if he had said, that no party in that House could form a ministry. He had not stated any such thing. What he had said was, that the exigencies of the state at this moment called for most important measures; and that no ordinary ministry could meet that task satisfactorily, which could alone be effected by a ministry so constituted as to conciliate the whole country. In the second place, he never had called on the House to turn a deaf ear to the petitioners; He had said the very reverse. He had called on the House to turn their ear to them, with the assistance of those Who possessed great influence, and who could carry such measures as they thought fit—he meant his majesty's government. Let the petition be brought up; let it be laid oh the table; and he hoped it would lead his majesty's ministers to institute an inquiry on the subject.

Mr. Spooner,

in explanation, said, that he had merely alluded to the observations of the learned gentleman, with respect to the formation of an efficient administration, as a matter that had not at all entered the contemplation of the petitioners when they addressed the House.

Ordered to lie on the table.