HC Deb 15 February 1822 vol 6 cc345-50
Lord Nugent

said, he had a petition to present, to which he begged leave particularly to call the attention of the House. It was signed by 430 owners and occupiers of land, in the vale of Aylesbury, at a meeting convened by farmers alone, and by whom all the resolutions were drawn up, to only two of which any opposition was manifested; and what were these two resolutions? Why those which called for a reduction of taxes and for the establishment of a more equal representation of the people in that House. This opposition was, however, made only by three persons. Indeed, reduction of taxes and parliamentary reform formed at present the general cry of the country. The public had beard much about the boasted "indemnity for the past and security for the future;" but, in what instance had, indemnity been obtained? What, indeed, but a series of losses and calamities; and what was to be contemplated for the future but gloom and despair? Such was the reduced condition of the country under the operation of a system, the principal authors and advocates of which at present wielded the powers of the government! Of this state of things his constituents very naturally complained. They apprehended, justly, that such a crisis could not possibly continue. Perhaps in the course of that night the question would be decided, whether that crisis should still go on, with all its gigantic and accumulating evils, or whether there was any probability of its termination? His constituents had, as became them, expressed their objection to, any plan of protecting duties: because the adoption of such a plan, with all its other inconveniences, would serve to oppress the other classes of their fellow-countrymen, who were already suffering quite enough of oppression. As to the resumption of cash payments, his constituents approved of that measure; but yet they would have it accompanied with other arrangements which they felt to be necessary to avert the inconveniences which the sudden adoption of that desirable measure had served to create. Among the other arrangements to which he referred, his constituents desired the abolition of unnecessary sinecures and unmerited pensions, with a reduction of the expense which some pronounced necessary to maintain what they called the honour or splendour of the Court; but which, instead of conferring any honour, was rather productive of dishonour and degradation to the Court, levied as that expense was upon a people reduced to such an extremity of distress. This petition proceeded from a body of men, who, while they called for reform, had nothing whatever of those wild or visionary theories about them, the adoption of which would tend to the overthrow of the constitution. Their object was, to procure the establishment of a more equal representation of the people in, that House; attributing, as they did most justly, the greater part of the evils which the country now suffered to the want of such a system of representation.

Sir Isaac Coffin

said, that as so much stress had been laid on the necessity of a, reform in parliament, he would give his opinion on the subject. "I think," said the hon. and gallant member, "that the best qualification consists in the possession of talents and property. Now the sooner the House is weeded of those who, like myself, have neither one nor the other, the better," [a laugh].

Mr. Gooch

presented a petition from the occupiers of land in Suffolk, of whom he was glad to say, that they did not mix up their case with politics. They had too much sense to assist in raising any cry for reform, which, if it were carried to-morrow would not put a shilling in the pockets of the agriculturists.

Mr. Bennet

begged the last speaker to consider, that if reform would not immediately operate to put a shilling in the pocket of the agriculturist, it would save him from having a shilling taken out of it.

Sir F. Burdett

said, he rose to present a petition, which had been unanimously agreed to at one of the most numerous and respectable meetings of the electors of Westminster he had ever witnessed. He had great satisfaction in presenting it, because he concurred in all its sentiments, with a very trifling exception; and because it stated, in a very clear and able manner, the real cause of the grievances under which the country laboured. It did not merely complain of the pressure of taxation, but it complained of those gross violations of law, and of those monstrous infringements of the constitution, which the country had of late years witnessed. The part of the petition in which he did not entirely concur, was a clause at the end of it, which ascribed the distresses of the agricultural interest to the operation of what was commonly called Mr. Peel's bill. He did not mean to enter at present into the discussion of this subject, but he wished to state shortly, the reason why he could not concur in that opinion. He had examined all the papers laid before the House, from the year 1800 up to the year 1821, and he there saw that the price of agricultural produce by no means bore such a relative proportion to the price of bullion, as to make it possible for him to conclude that one was the cause, and the other the effect. On the contrary, he observed this very remarkable fact, that the period at which the depreciation of the currency was so slight, as scarcely to affect the large concerns of a great country—not for instance more than 7 or 8 per cent—was the time at which the value of agricultural produce was highest; and again, that at the time of the greatest depreciation of the currency, the value of agricultural produce was extremely low. In point of fact, it did not appear that there was any immediate or necessary connexion between the two circumstances of the depreciation of the currency, and the price of agricultural produce. It appeared to him, that to attribute any effects to Mr. Peel's bill, except such as might hereafter be extremely beneficial to the country, was the greatest of all possible mistakes. It appeared, from the documents on the table, that for nearly three years previous to Mr. Peel's bill, paper was at a par with gold. All that that bill had done, therefore, was, to prevent us from again returning to a depreciated currency; and he did not see how it was possible that any but the most beneficial effects could result from that measure.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, he had been desired by his constituents, to support the prayer of this petition. In so doing he begged to state, that in unison with his hon. colleague, he concurred entirely in all the sentiments of the petitioners. He believed there had never been laid on the table of that House, a petition more replete with wholesome truths than that which had just been presented. The petitioners first stated, that the prayers of the people had been constantly disregarded. This was a point which he apprehended would not be denied, even by those who had uniformly opposed themselves to what they were pleased to call popular clamour. The petitioners next adverted to the defective state of the representation, and the corrupt demoralising system of rotten boroughs; a system which was contemplated with so much satisfaction by those who were interested in maintaining it. The petitioners were blind enough not to coincide in those views, nor could they perceive that that system could contribute to the happiness of the nation. To the corruption of parliament they attributed the loss of America, and all the calamities which had afflicted us both abroad and at home. To the same cause they ascribed the restrictions on our liberties, and that pressure of unparalleled taxation, which had at length reduced us to the lowest stage of misery and degradation. Among the grievances which pressed upon the country the petitioners were unwise enough to place that which had been held up the other night as the bulwark of English liberty—he meant a standing army. The petitioners had the misfortune to differ in this respect from the noble lord opposite, but they differed in common with the best, and bravest, and wisest men of all ages and countries—they had all history for them, but they had the misfortune to have the capacity of the noble lord against them. The next point to which the petitioners adverted was the unparalleled amount of taxation. They mentioned a fact which was hardly credible, but unfortunately too true, that the amount of the taxes was no less than the enormous sum of 1,000,000l. for every six working days, or upwards of 160,000l. for every working day. Of this taxation the petitioners complained as an intolerable burthen. One of the best definitions of revenue which he had ever seen was to be found in Montesquieu. That writer defined it to be, the portion of private property which every individual gives up for the security of the remainder, and for the enjoyment of that remainder in comfort and repose. If the revenue of England were put to this test, he would ask hon. gentlemen whether it answered the conditions of securing, or enabling them to enjoy, what the government did not take from them; whether they did not feel, on the contrary, that what they gave was transferred to the pockets of the ministerial phalanx, and went only to provide a fund into which the whole of their property must at last inevitably come? The petitioners next adverted to the unfortunate transaction at Manchester, of which he still hoped that the time would come when an investigation would take place in that House. He begged to remind the House, that the massacre of Glencoe [here the hon. gentleman was interrupted by a simultaneous fit of coughing]; he repeated, that the massacre of Glencoe was not inquired into until six years after it took place. Another point to which the petitioners referred, was the transaction which had occupied the attention of the House the other night, and on which be should have an opportunity of saying something on a future occasion. He was happy that he had not commented on what had fallen from two hon. members in the course of that discussion, because as they seemed to be carried away by their feelings, it was possible that he too might have been carried away by his. The hon. member concluded by reminding the noble lord opposite, that this petition came not from his enemies, or from men who had any interest in disorder, but from the people, whose interests and happiness were identified with the welfare and security of the state.

Mr. Price

presented a petition from Ross, in the country of Hereford, complaining of agricultural distress. The hon. member took that opportunity of observing, that he was firmly convinced that the time was arrived when the general distress of the landed interest was to be met, not by minor arrangements, but by a most severe and rigid inquiry into every department of the state, with the view to an efficient diminution of the public bur- thens. That formed a part of the prayer of the petitioners, In that prayer he fully concurred. But he was not prepared to go with them, for the present, in looking for relief, to a reduction of the interest of the public debt. Every practicable retrenchment must be made, to sustain the country under the severe pressure which the now deprecated system of continental alliances and foreign subsidies had entailed upon it. The last prayer of the petitioners was in favour of parliamentary reform. On that subject, although he had no wish to make any rash, immediate, or comprehensive change in the representation, yet he had ever entertained the opinion, that a temperate and salutary reformation should take place, and every succeeding year confirmed him in that conclusion.

Ordered to lie on the table.