HC Deb 27 March 1823 vol 8 cc751-4

A Petition from the town and county of the town of Nottingham, was presented, and read, setting forth, "That the petitioners have been informed that there is now a bill before the House, to repeal all the old obsolete laws respecting masters and their workmen, and to compile them into one code for their better government and protection; that the petitioners highly approve the condensing the numerous statutes into one, by which means the poorest persons who are affected by the law may be enabled to become possessed of the laws by which they are to be governed; the petitioners humbly hope that the House will see the extreme hardship of compelling persons, before they can be certain of the laws which regulate them, and by which they are liable to be punished if they offend, of searching the whole of the volumes of the statutes at large, passed during a period of more than 500 years, and sometimes a period of 100 years nearly occurring between each statute; that the petitioners humbly hope the House will repeal all the laws which punish workmen for agreeing not to receive low wages, as the petitioners verily believe that numbers of workmen in this country cannot subsist on their wages without being assisted by the poor-rates; that the petitioners conceive, that the punishing persons for asking for higher wages, or refusing to work for lower wages, are acts of great oppression, and have been injurious to the best interests of the country; that the petitioners have viewed with indignant feelings, the various prosecutions set on foot of late to indict workmen and other persons for criminal conspiracies, when their only offence has been jointly agreeing not to work for their wages, or refusing to take lower wages, more especially when these prosecutions have been instituted by persons who have confederated together to maintain such prosecutions, and that too in a covert manner; the petitioners humbly hope that the House will not suffer so great an anomaly to exist in the administration of justice in the country, that where persons have been prosecuted for combinations under statutes which have received the assent of the House, not more than three months imprisonment can be awarded, but in cases of conspiracy, though the offence is the same, the courts have assumed to imprison for two years, fine, and bind over for good behaviour, and even threatened to transport for seven years; that, by the operation of the existing laws relative to combinations, and the constructive laws relative to conspiracies, the petitioners are liable to be imprisoned for subscribing to relieve per- sons whom they know cannot subsist upon their labour, and are also liable to be indicted by revengeful persons for a misdemeanor, and which, at the same time, should be considered an act of charity; that the petitioners humbly pray that the House will cause artizans and workmen generally to be paid their wages in money, and not otherwise, for the petitioners have been eye-witnesses of the grievous, not to say ruinous effects, of paying wages otherwise than in the circulating medium, as the petitioners are decidedly of opinion, that the paying the working classes otherwise than in money, has a most mischievous tendency, not only on the interests but on the morals of such persons, as it tends to make them acquainted with pawnbrokers, and introduces them into alehouses and loose company, to dispose of such goods; that the petitioners are also of opinion, that the paying wages otherwise than in money would materially affect every other class of society, and that it would be impossible to collect the revenue, the poor-rates, &c. if the productive classes should cease to be paid in money; that the petitioners are also decidedly of opinion, that were it not for the restrictive laws which punisheth employers for paving otherwise than in money, such practice would extend in the manufacturing districts to a very wide extent, and would become nearly total, for the master to provide for the servant, and that too, in many instances, in unprofitable and unwholesome wares; the petitioners therefore humbly pray, that the House will punish such dishonest persons who pay otherwise than in money with more severity than has been hitherto enacted, by punishing such persons with imprisonment as well as fine; that the petitioners humbly pray, that the House will take the most effectual measures to protect the property of the master, which has of late been much exposed to the depradations of dishonest persons; that the petitioners humbly pray the House to make some more efficient provisions for preventing disputes between masters and servants, so as equally to protect a servant from being imposed upon by a dishonest master, and to protect a master from being imposed upon by a dishonest servant; the petitioners therefore humbly pray the House, that the bill, intituled, a bill for repealing several acts relating to combinations of workmen, and for more effectually protecting trade, and for set- tling disputes between masters and their work-people, or some such general bill to regulate masters and their servants, founded on its most material principles, may be passed into a law; for which purpose the petitioners humbly pray, that the said bill may be referred to a committee of the House to consider its provisions, and, provided any objections should be made to the said bill, to hear the evidence of both masters and workmen in the various trades of the kingdom, that the House may be enabled to frame such a code of laws for their mutual government as will tend most to their joint advantage, and to the general interests, welfare, and peace of the country."