HC Deb 16 February 1830 vol 22 cc529-31
Mr. Benet

presented a petition from the inhabitants of several parishes in the hundred of Hindon, county of Wilts, complaining of the extreme distress of the times, and praying for an immediate reduction of Taxation. The petitioners observed, that the change in the currency had greatly raised the salaries of persons in office, and they wished that those salaries should be reduced in a ratio equivalent to the amount and value of wages. They contended that it was extremely hard on them that the price of labour should be reduced so greatly, while no reduction was effected elsewhere. This, be conceived, was a very fair ground of complaint on their parts, and ought to be immediately attended to. They therefore prayed that the House would use its best endeavours to reduce all salaries for public services, and would put an end to all sinecures and useless offices. They argued, that if a new system of taxation were adopted, it would relieve them from one great and most obnoxious burthen, the Malt-tax. But they also argued that we ought not to stop there, but to proceed to a reduction of all the taxes which affected the country. This was an argumentative petition; and he would only say that, looking to the list of names which was affixed to it, he believed that the persons who signed it were as perfectly capable of judging of the cause of the prevailing distress, and of pointing out remedies for it, as any individuals within the walls of that House. The distress bore with peculiar hardship on the labouring classes. In the place where this petition came from, there were five hundred able-bodied men who would be glad to work for almost any price, but they could not procure employment. The cause of the present distress was perfectly obvious. They had heard it attributed to over-production, to thoughtless speculation, to the badness of the seasons, and to various other circumstances; but he wondered that well-informed men would attempt to contend that the alteration in the currency had not produced the present distress. That was the real and decided cause of the evil. He was by no means an advocate as some Gentlemen were, for a return to the old system. He had never advocated the repeal of the Currency-bill; but what he would maintain was, that they must agree to a repeal of taxation. If a system of reduction were not persevered in, the time would come when those who neglected to ward off the distress of the times might justly dread that a convulsion would shake the country.

Mr. Portman

said, he felt it to be his duty to support the prayer of this petition.—Those by whom it was signed were men of knowledge, experience, and reputation, and their representations were entitled to serious consideration. He thought it necessary to say a few words on this occasion, because last night he heard the Ministers of the Crown again and again deny the existence of general distress throughout the country. Now he did not know how hon. Members who represented counties could for one moment sit mute in that House, and not declare, unequivocally, that the most dreadful distress did prevail in every part of the country. He believed the hon. Member for Wareham (Mr. Calcraft) had it in his power to describe to Ministers the deplorably distressed state of the county to which they both belonged. It was necessary that the Government of the country should meet that distress, and, if not strong enough to do so themselves, they ought to add to their strength, so that they might be enabled to come forward and afford a proper degree of relief. They should remodel the taxation of the country, for at present it was such as could not possibly be borne. They ought to take off the Malt-tax, which would be a relief to the agriculturist and to the consumer. But they must not stop there. They must take every means within their power to lower the taxation generally. His Majesty's Ministers ought to come forward with some strong measures of relief. They ought not only to take off the Malt-tax (for the repeal of which the petitioners prayed), but many other taxes of a similarly burthen some description, and substitute some one general tax which should fall with proportionate weight on every man, and from the operation of which the absentee should be unable to escape. His constituents had hitherto abstained from petitioning; not because they did not sensibly feel distress, but because they waited until they saw what measures his Majesty's Government intended to propose for the relief of the productive classes. Something must be done, and that quickly.

Petition ordered to be printed.

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