HC Deb 17 December 1830 vol 1 cc1332-7
Mr. Hume

presented two Petitions from the county of Sussex, so entirely different from that presented by the hon. member for that county, that he felt himself obliged to state the nature of them at some length. The first was from Horsham, and had been in his possession for a considerable time. The hon. member for Sussex stated, that the wages paid to labourers in the part of the county in which he resided, were adequate to 16s. or 18s. a week; but these petitioners stated that they had observed with pain, during a series of years, the gradual reduction of wages, the necessity of the times having compelled the farmer, step by step, to diminish the rate of wages, the consequence of which was, that the condition of the labourer had been materially deteriorated. The petitioners, a respectable class of persons, added that they had witnessed with much grief the gradual impoverishment of the lower classes, who, notwithstanding the heavy pressure of distress for a long period, bore their sufferings without complaint. They added also that the time had now arrived when their distresses and their sufferings could be no longer borne. They went on to state, that the peasantry of the neighbourhood, unable longer to bear their grievances, surrounded the town of Horsham in large bodies, and could not be induced to separate or to return peaceably to their homes, until their employers had agreed to give them an advance of wages. All that this body of the peasantry required was, that their wages should be raised to the rate of 2s. a day, which was a pretty decisive answer to the statement of the hon. member for Sussex, that the wages of the agricultural labouring classes in that county amounted to 16s. or 18s. a week. He could but deplore, that outrages should have been committed, since he was satisfied that the working classes must ultimately be injured by them. The petitioners further stated, that they should be unable to pay the advanced rate of wages which the violence of their labourers had extorted from them, unless they were themselves relieved. They said, that the country required to be relieved from the enormous amount of taxation under which it laboured, and especially that the taxes should be removed from malt, hops, soap, candles, and coals. They hoped, that a practical and constitutional reform of Parliament would take place, believing that no great good could result to the country, and no material improvement take place, until such a reform should be made. They expressed a hope that some appropriation might be made of such parts of the Church property as were not absolutely necessary for the proper support and maintenance of the clergy. They also called upon the House to abolish all useless salaries and unmerited pensions, and to carry retrenchment to the furthest possible extent. That was the substance of the prayer of the petitioners of Horsham. He would proceed to notice another petition, from Selsea, in the same county. signed by every individual of the parish, with the exception of the Rector and six or seven half-pay officers. The latter, of course, deriving their incomes from the Government, did not altogether like to attach their names to a petition of this kind. The reason which induced the worthy Rector to abstain from doing so was a very sufficient one; he was in possession of a very good Living. These petitioners also stated, that they had viewed with great pain the wretchedness and misery to which the labouring poor had been gradually reduced; and they expressed an earnest hope that the House would take into its consideration the subject with a view to devising some measure of relief. They stated, that in their opinion that would be best afforded by a reduction of taxation, and by such a reform of Parliament that every Member sent to the House should be the real representative of the people; for which purpose they were confident that the vote by ballot would be absolutely necessary, in order to protect the poor against the influence of the rich. He was convinced that the statements contained in these petitions were perfectly correct; and could not but think that the high rate of wages mentioned by the hon. member for Sussex, must be limited to a very few parishes. He was sorry that the hon. Member had left the House, because the explanation which he gave was not such an explanation as the occasion required. When he heard one class of the community talking of protection to themselves, and that protection of such a nature as must necessarily operate to deprive others of sharing equally in the necessaries and comforts of life—when he heard from an hon. Member in his place, that that particular class should, would, and must have protection, it was incumbent upon the House to call upon him to explain what be meant, Was it to deprive other classes of that fair protection to which they were justly entitled? Was it to uphold one class at the expense of all others? Was it by giving a monopoly to one to entail distress upon the rest? Was such a line of conduct deserving approbation? Was the language used by the hon. Gentleman not unworthy of a Member of that House? In this point he entirely concurred in the opinion expressed by the hon. member for Nottingham (Mr. Lumley) whose observations were worthy the attention of every Member. The allegation of the hon. member for Sussex, that the landed interest ought to have protection, or in other words, that Parliament should afford to them the means of keeping up the price of food, could never be assented to by the House; and he must deprecate in the strongest manner the language used by the hon. Member. He said, that the time would never come when the trade in corn could be free, but the time was fast coming, for even now the distresses of the country rendered it imperative on the Legislature to take this subject into its most serious consideration, with a view to opening our markets to foreign corn. Let but the trade in corn be free, and he should not be at all fearful of the country being able to employ a greater population than at present, and maintain them in comparative comfort.

Mr. Saville Lumley

was desirous to see every interest of the country in a flourishing condition; and was not anxious to have one interest protected at the expense of another; but, at the same time, he could not subscribe entirely to the opinions of the hon. member for Middlesex. It was not his intention to trespass on the attention of the House. His only object in rising, indeed, was, to point out the complete fallacy of the averages upon which the admission of foreign corn depends. In July last, it appeared that wheat rose to the price of 64s. per quarter; and the duty paid on the averages struck at that time was 22s. Since then, however, the price of wheat had fallen to 54s. per quarter, but so fallacious was the system upon which the averages were struck, that the same duty was paid now as when the price was 64s. He mentioned this as a proof that the parties benefitted by the present system were not the agriculturists, as was intended by the Legislature, but a certain knot of jobbers and. brokers who contrived to admit or to exclude foreign corn pretty much as they pleased. He gave no opinion as to whether a duty should or should not be levied on corn, but at all events a system which was open to such abuse as that he had described required correction.

Colonel Sibthorp

cordially concurred in the desire of the petitioners, that the taxes on malt, hops, soap, candles, and coals, should be removed; but he could not agree with the hon. member for Middlesex, in advocating so warmly a free trade in corn. If the hon. Member considered the effect that a free trade in corn must have on the agriculturists, he would see how impossible it would be for the farmer to meet the heavy payments of rates required from him. The hon. Member contended, that the benefit of the manufacturer would also be the benefit of the agriculturist. He admitted the truth of that as a general principle, but not when applied to the Corn-laws.

Mr. Curteis, notwithstanding the assertions of the hon. member for Middlesex, must stand by the statement he made at an earlier hour of the evening. He was very much deceived indeed if the wages, anywhere in Sussex, were so low as the hon. Member would have the House to believe. In the neighbourhood where he resided the very lowest rate of wages had been 1s. 9d. a-day. In some parts of the county wages had been very low; but in others experienced labourers had been able to earn from 14s. to 16s. a-week.

Mr. Slaney

could not entertain so favourable an opinion of the condition of the labouring classes in Sussex, as the hon. member for that county. He was convinced that there was not a single agricultural labourer of Sussex who had not, in one period or other of his life, been obliged to have recourse to the parish for relief. This had been proved in evidence before a Committee appointed by the House, and he therefore entreated the gentlemen of Sussex, who, he was sure, were most anxious to better the condition of the poor, gradually to adopt the system now practised in Northumberland, where, instead of having poor-rates at 6s. in the pound, and wages low, the wages were high and the rates low.

Mr. Owen O'Connor

felt much surprise at the language used by the hon. member for Sussex. He did not expect to have heard the Representative of an English county declare in that House, that the landed interests must and should be protected in such a manner as could not fail of being detrimental to the manufacturing and commercial interests of the country.

Petitions to be printed.