HC Deb 12 February 1830 vol 22 cc430-6
Mr. Western

rose to present a petition from Capel Cure, Sheriff, on behalf of a meeting of Freeholders of the county of Essex, adopted at a general meeting held on the preceding day relative to the distressed state of the country, and observed that the petition was not the one he had supported at the meeting, and that it contained, in some parts of it, sentiments to which he strongly objected; yet he felt it his duty to present it. It was signed by the High Sheriff of the county, in accordance with a resolution passed at the meeting, but he (Mr. Western) would much rather it had borne the signatures of those freeholders whose sentiments it purported to express. He fully felt for the distress—the general public distress—prevailing throughout the country; but could not allow himself to sign the petition he then held in his hand. He repeated what he had urged at the meeting, that the Bill of 1819 was a direct robbery on all the debtors of the country and unless some measure of value should be devised, on an equitable footing, between the productive and unproductive classes, the ruin of the country would be accomplished. With respect to the proposition with which an hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) was to come down that night, in order to avoid his (Mr. Western) intruding again on the House, he begged leave then to state that he must oppose it. It would not give effectual relief-would not mitigate the distresses of the people; its advantages, if any, were partial, and in his opinion nothing short of the repeal of the Act of 1819 would be a compensation for the robbery which that Bill had committed on all debtors and payers of taxes. The petition being read,

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, he lamented to observe, that the hon. Member for Essex seemed to have a lively recollection of the defeat which his propositions experienced the day before at the meeting of the freeholders of his own county. The hon. Gentleman certainly did the meeting justice in one respect, though he withheld it in another—he impeached its prudence while he extolled its patience. Now he (Mr. Harvey) understood that these virtues were always co-existent. It would be too much to expect from the hon. Gentleman an eulogy on the prudence of a meeting which rejected his petition, and adopted one diametrically opposed to it; but it was creditable to his candour to admit the patience which was shown by the freeholders in listening to his oft-repeated arguments on the currency. The truth was, that never was there a more patient, prudent, or deliberative meeting. It heard the different speakers with attention, and decided from reflection. It bore not the tone of party about it, and it rejected all factious feelings. It admitted that distress existed, but it denied its universality; and, while every man was persuaded that the public suffering was increasing, and would, if not checked, become overwhelming, he appeared convinced that it was not yet too late, and that effectual measures would ensure relief. The meeting did not concede every thing to Parliament, but it stated that much could be done out of doors, and it told the people that with themselves a great part of the remedy lay. There was one measure which was decidedly recommended, and in the propriety of which, he cordially concurred—namely, the reduction of the rent of land to the standard of 1792 or 1797. He saw no reasons why pensions and salaries of the officers of Government should be reduced, while the rent of land was left untouched. Here he begged to correct an error which appeared in some reports of his speech at the meeting. He was said to have stated that the tithes of the country amounted to fifty millions a year, but he was misunderstood; what he meant to say was, that the rents of the country amounted to that sum. Taking it for granted that rents were fifty millions, a reduction of twenty-five per cent would give immediate relief to the occupiers of land to the extent of upwards of twelve millions, and he hoped that the landlords would bear that in mind, and not be irritated with their tenantry for being once opposed to them. The tenantry spoke the truth like persons determined, at last, to be heard. They spoke out because they were supported by the presence of each other, and not as if they were compelled to speak in the halls of their landlords, where reductions of rent are thrown to them as if they were so many paupers. [hear, hear] They acted as became them, and as became that class which was once the boast of England—the farmer and the yeoman. The meeting first recommended the taking off of twelve or fifteen millions of those taxes which bore directly on the productive interests of the country, and then it took up a proposition which he had named to the House last year, but which had not been treated with much attention—namely, a well-regulated Property tax. Yes, the meeting said, that the best tax would be on property graduated by a scale, and varying from two and half per cent on annuities not above 30l. a-year, to ten or fifteen per cent, nay thirty or forty per cent on overgrown incomes. With regard to the taunts which had been thrown out against him, he (Mr. Harvey) declared that he held them in utter indifference. He was satisfied with doing his duty, and he felt that he could not do so without meeting with some interruption and misdirected sarcasm. He had only one word to say with respect to the hon. Member for Essex personally. That hon. Gentleman had spoken much to the House of the sufferings of the people, and of the distress of the farmers, and the scarcity of money which prevailed among the occupiers of land, but the hon. Gentleman omitted to state that he had yesterday received every shilling of his rents, and when some of the tenantry applied for a reduction, his answer was "he would not purchase their popularity at such a rate." He (Mr. Harvey) was content with the part he had taken at the meeting, and proud that the amendment originated with him.

Lord Howick

said, he must confess his great surprise to hear the calumnies which prevailed in some of the publications of the day against the landlords of England, uttered in that House. He listened with indignation to those imputations on the whole body of the landed interest. He could not with patience hear it declared that the landlords exacted from the tenantry more than the value of the soil. He declared that such a charge was totally unfounded, and while he regretted that any man could say so, he was still more surprised to find the observation cheered by hon. Gentlemen who were the advocates of political economy. Those Gentlemen knew better than that rents were regulated by the cupidity of landlords; and it was not from ignorance of the subject that they denied, by their cheer, that land, like every thing else, was a fair subject of competition. He knew that the landlords were not that grasping and avaricious body which they were charged with being; and he could only state that, though distress existed largely in that part of the country with which he was connected, a single farm never came out of lease without becoming the subject of an active competition at an advanced rent.

Mr. Lennard

observed, he must, in justice to the meeting of yesterday, state that not one word of the conversation repeated by the hon. Member for Colchester fell from any body but himself. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman had given the House a very temperate version of what he did say. At the meeting he spoke of the landlords as having flinty hearts—as mere voluptuaries—as men rolling in luxury, and careless about the sufferings of those around them. It was because these sentiments were listened to with approbation at the meeting, that be wished to hold himself disconnected with the amendment. He felt that the moment was a peculiar one, and that Government should not fail to observe the feelings of the people. He believed that at no other time could a petition be adopted against the sense of the landed property of the country. The Government should not be inattentive. The people were moved with distress, and, unless something was done, the time might arrive when all hope of temperate measures being made available must be abandoned.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

begged not to be understood as approving of what had been said about the severe exactions of the landlords, because he had given a cheer to one of the observations of the hon. Member for Colchester.

Mr. Hume

said, he thought that the hon. Member for Colchester had been unfairly dealt with. He proposed an alteration of the present system of taxation, which was better than a system which oppressed only particular interests, and he looked for relief to those sources where, in his opinion, it could be best afforded. Now, he appealed to the House, whether it would not be wise to abolish tithes altogether, and pay the Clergy moderate stipends, according to their duties. The petition said no more, and if his hon. friend had declared that some Clergymen were voluptuaries, and lived a life of pleasure, it was no more than a man might be induced to do who had twenty thousand a-year. The error lay in the enormity of the payment. It was not fit that the minister of a religion which preached poverty and temperance should receive such an income; and there was no duty which he performed for which it could be claimed as a compensation. The petition fairly went to the question without any consideration for particular interests. For instance, by the operation of the law the agriculturists had a monopoly of corn. Would they, when they wished to bring every thing down to the standard of 1797, give up that monopoly? That was the proper way to treat the subject, and the petition did no more. He considered it to be a very fair one, and he hoped to see a similar one from every county in England.

Mr. F. Palmer

said, he thought that if the salaries of public offices were reduced to the standard of 1792, it was a fair proposition to have the rents lowered by the same measure. Let the taxes be reduced to the same standard, and he would go hand in hand with any Member in lessening the amount of rent, and not think fifteen or twenty per cent sufficient. There was not one landlord in England who had not made abatements, and the rent of many farmers were lowered from 6001. to 400l.

Mr. N. Calvert

said, it ought to be remembered, that there were many hard landlords as well as good and benevolent ones, but the former must give way, as the land would, after all, only fetch its value in the market.

Mr. Western

begged in reply to say, that as the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Harvey) was so personal to him and to his tenants, he hoped the House would permit him to say a few words in explanation. In the first place he must declare that he had not on his land an arrear of 100l. He had not one farm which was not respectably tenanted. No one tenant had given up his lease or farm, and these facts alone formed a tolerable answer to the statement which had been made against him. He would now tell the House the system adopted by him about ten years ago. He reduced all rents into rents determined by the price of corn, with the exception of one or two farms, which were let under particular circumstances. The price was calculated on that of corn for the preceding half-year. The farms which were let in 1814 were calculated at the rate of 80s. a quarter on wheat, but soon after prices came down, and he calculated according to another rate. He calculated the rents by the rule of three, and said—If 80s. give 100, what will 56s. or 50s. or 40s. give? He took so many bushels per acre, and then applied to them the prices of the preceding average. At one time the rents were down fifty per cent when wheat was at 40s. but he feared that now a still greater sacrifice was to be made; and, under its present difficulties, when every part of the produce of the farm was sold at ruinously low prices, something more decisive must be done. He believed that to meet the pressure a reduction even below the price of wheat must be made. He hoped he had stated enough to convince the House that the observations of the hon. Member for Colchester did not apply to him or to his tenantry, [hear] He would conclude by moving that the petition be brought up, which was done, and. ordered to be printed.

Mr. Western

then presented another petition, signed by eight hundred or nine hundred respectable Gentlemen, Merchants, and Traders, in the town and vicinity of Chelmsford, the object of which was to state to the House that distress prevailed in every class of society as much as it did among the agricultural. It stated that the evils of the country were growing with frightful rapidity to a head, and they entreated the House to take steps to arrest them, which alone could be done by repealing the Bill of 1819, which, by altering the currency, tended mainly to inflict them. He also presented a petition from the owners and occupiers of land in the parish of Tellingham, in Essex, in which one farm of the best land was abandoned by the tenant, the charges on it being greater than the produce.—Petitions ordered to be printed.