HC Deb 30 May 1827 vol 17 cc1060-2
Mr. W. Smith

presented a Petition from the operative manufacturers of Norwich, praying that the House would devise some means for settling, by law, the rate of wages in that city. He also presented a similar petition from certain of the master manufacturers. The first petition was signed by upwards of ten thousand weavers, who were in a state of distress, and were of opinion that they might be relieved, if the House would take their case into consideration. The master manufacturers concurred with them, and were equally anxious for the experiment of passing a law, with respect to the rate of wages, which should be binding upon both parties.

Mr. Hume

objected to the prayer of these petitions. The relief which was asked for could not be granted by the legislature. The master manufacturers ought to have been above the folly of demanding a law to regulate the rate of wages; as they must be aware that if such a law were passed, various circumstances might happen which would compel them to break through all its provisions.

Mr. Peel

said, that the operative weavers of Norwich had requested him to superintend the presentation of these petitions; and he had great satisfaction in acceding to their request, in consequence of the orderly conduct which they had hitherto exhibited. Delegates from their body had waited upon him to explain the object which their petition had in view; and he would say this for them, that men of greater intelligence could not have been easily selected for the task. On his first interview with them, he had discouraged the idea that the legislature could be of any use to them. They proposed, that in Norwich, and the district immediately adjacent, a meeting of the master manufacturers should be held; and that the wages which the majority of them should decide upon giving to the weaver, should, if approved by the weavers, be made binding upon the minority. He told the delegates, that if such a bill were to pass through parliament, it would be destructive to the trade of Norwich; as it would induce the master manufacturers who did not approve of it to transfer their capital to some place where such a law did not exist. In consequence of that suggestion, he obtained an admission from the delegates, that such a law, if it were confined to Norwich, would be as injurious as it would be unjust; and he then endeavoured to convince them, that such a law would be no less impolitic, if it were applied to all the manufacturing towns of the kingdom. From the presentation of this petition he was afraid that he had not been so successful in his argument with them, as he had at the time anticipated. He trusted, however, that upon consideration they would see the folly of the measure, for the success of which they evinced such anxiety at present.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, that, in addition to what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman who had preceded him, he might recall to the recollection of the hon. member for Norwich, that, in point of fact, the only disturbance that had happened there, was from the country weavers taking in work at a lower price than those in the city—an evil which the measure prayed for would go directly to increase.

Mr. John Wood

said, he had received a petition of a similar import from the manufacturing classes of Preston. He was convinced that their prayer was such as the House could not accede to; and to produce that conviction in the minds of his constituents, he had sent them copies of the reports made by the committees which had already examined into this subject.

Mr. C. Grant

admitted, with his right hon. friend, the intelligence displayed by the delegates who had been sent up from Norwich to London to superintend the management of this petition. In speaking to them upon the subject, he felt how unpleasant it was to oppose a measure which those who were suffering under great distress thought calculated to remove it. The interview which they had had with his right hon. friend had produced this good effect; that the delegates had no longer a wish to have a mere local act, affecting only Norwich. They called for a general measure, affecting the whole kingdom; and the mention of that circumstance was a proof how little relief could be expected to the distress of the petitioners from the remedy which they had themselves desired. To hope for relief from the intervention of the legislature as to the rate of wages, was not only delusive, but calculated, if realized, to aggravate all the inconveniences of our present condition, when compared with that of foreign powers.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that if a temporary bill for one session would satisfy the petitioners, he should have no objection to allow it to pass. He did not expect that it would be of much advantage; but he was anxious to have it tried, in order that their minds might be quieted.

Dr. Lushington

hoped it would not go forth to the public, that the House had the slightest intention to approve of such a proposition. Such a measure would, if passed, be delusive to the petitioners, and destructive to the interests of the manufacturers at large.

Ordered to lie on the table.