HC Deb 16 March 1830 vol 23 cc378-83
Colonel Sibthorp

presented a Petition from the inhabitants of Spilsby, in Lincolnshire, complaining of the unprecedented state of distress of the country. The hon. Member said, that though he was glad of the reductions proposed last night, yet he was sure the country would not be satisfied with it. He had listened with great attention to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman last night, but remembering the promises and pledges of the Government, he was disappointed at the smallness of the reductions. It was to him the old story, Parturiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus. He did not altogether blame the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for he did not think that an angel in his situation could satisfy all the contending claimants on his favours. He must, however, repeat, that the reductions he had proposed would neither relieve the public distress nor satisfy the public expectations. Looking at the extent of our distress, considering that all the causes of it were yet in active operation, there being no chance that they would be removed,—seeing our manufacturers, in a great measure, unemployed, our shipping lying idle, seeing too, the vast extent of our useless expenditure; officers being paid great sums who performed all their duties by deputy; seeing that this system had been increasing for years, without any hope of arresting its progress, he did not, and he could not, look for any reductions in taxation corresponding to the great distress and just expectations of the industrious classes. He believed, however, relief could not long with safety be withheld, for if the wishes of the people were not attended to in that House, their voices would be heard in another place where it would be certain to be obeyed.

Petition read and laid on the Table.

Mr. Hume

presented a Petition from Irvine, representing the severe suffering of the hand-loom weavers, who, by labour of sixteen hours per day, were only able to earn on an average 3s. 6d. per week. They complained, too, of being compelled to emigrate to a foreign country, when they thought they ought to be protected in their own. It would give them relief to let in foreign corn, and it would give employment to thousands who were without any occupation. He hoped that these subjects would be taken into serious consideration by his Majesty's Ministers. If no other relief could be given them, they prayed that they might be assisted to emigrate to some of the colonies.

Mr. W. Horton

said, that he had been intrusted with a similar Petition; and as it seemed not at all likely that Government would aid the petitioners in emigrating to Nova Scotia or Canada, he had recommended them to rest satisfied, and to hope all kinds of relief from the proposed abandonment of the duty on Beer.

Lord Nugent

presented a Petition, with the same prayer, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, which also prayed for Parliamentary Reform. He would say nothing of distress in other places, but he could venture to assert that in Buckinghamshire it was very severe. The graziers and dairy farmers there were almost ruined, and if they paid rent at all, it was really paid out of their capital, for they were making no profit. The price at which they could sell their commodities did not pay for the expense of producing them. The petitioners did not pretend to assign the cause for their distress, they left that to the House, and they looked to its wisdom to obtain relief. The noble Lord expressed his confidence that the remission of taxes announced last night would be received with the greatest joy in the country, and that the people would feel grateful for the manner in which Parliament began to sympathise with their distresses The petitioners did not desire to see a return of famine prices, but they desired a further reduction of taxation. He did not think that could take place without also reducing our establishments, and it became with him a serious question how long they could be maintained at their present extent. The petitioners also prayed for a reform in Parliament on the fair principle, that as the House held the purse of the people, its Members ought to be chosen by them.

Mr. Slaney

observed, that Aylesbury, which ought to be one of the richest and most flourishing places in the southern parts of England, was suffering, at present, distress which had but few precedents at former periods. This, as well here as elsewhere, was, in his opinion, in a great degree attributable to the improper administration of the Poor-laws.

Lord Nugent

ascribed the existing distress to the improvidence which had been manifested at the time of high prices, during which the labourers were not given wages in just proportion to the price of the produce received by their employers. Some hon. Members had expressed an opinion, that the repeal of the Beer-tax which was last night announced, would be found inadequate to relieve the distresses of the people; but in this he must differ from them, as he knew that it would be productive of very considerable relief in the part of the country with which he was connected.

Sir M. W. Ridley

, in observing on the Petition, took occasion to remark, that the noble Lord ought to have commenced by recommending" reform to his own constituents before he came down and recommended reforms in Parliament.

Lord Nugent

replied, that such a suggestion would have come with a better grace from any other hon. Member than from him.

The Petition to lie on the Table.

Mr. Sadler

presented a similar Petition complaining of distress from Leeds, signed by 1500 persons, many of whom, he said, were heads of families. He observed, that to those the remark of the hon. Member opposite, respecting the abuse of the Poor-laws, did not apply. They had nothing to do with the administration of the Poor-laws though they profited by them, for he did not know how they could have subsisted without the relief given them by the Poor-laws.

Mr. slancy

said, his remark was applied to the agricultural, not the manufacturing districts.—To be printed.

Mr. Cartwright

rose, to present a Petition from the county of Northampton, complaining of general distress, and praying for general relief. The petition bore the signature of the High Sheriff; and as his, of course it must be received; but it certainly proceeded from a county meeting. At that meeting another petition was proposed, which included a prayer for parliamentary reform. The two petitions were put to the meeting; and the High Sheriff, upon a show of hands, decided that the majority was in favour of that now in his hand. He would not conceal that a strong feeling existed that the decision on the show of hands was erroneous. He would not say whether the High Sheriff was right or wrong; but this he would say, that he never saw more good feeling or good temper than prevailed during that meeting; and he had no doubt that those who attended would receive the-announcement recently made by the Government on the subject of taxation most gratefully; for the relief was calculated peculiarly to benefit the poor.

Lord Althorp

said, no doubt the petition was the petition of the High Sheriff. The High Sheriff persuaded himself that it was the petition of the meeting; but there were not two persons present who agreed with him in that opinion. Some of those immediately near the High Sheriff might have held up their hands in favour of the petition; but the great mass of those in the hall were against it; amongst whom were one banker, several clergymen, and others of much respectability. He had great satisfaction in thinking that so respectable a meeting of his constituents had declared in favour of parliamentary reform.

Petition to be printed.

Mr. Otway Cave

, in presenting a Petition from Liecester, signed by 1500 persons complaining of distress, observed, that the proposed reduction of the Beer-duties would only be prospectively beneficial, while the distress of which the petitioners complained was presently urgent, and demanded instant relief. To shew how necessary it was that the House should do something to maintain its reputation among the people, he would mention one fact, which he lately witnessed. At a public meeting, held at Leicester, and presided over by a gentleman who was formerly its representative, it was debated whether a petition should be sent to the House of Commons, and it was argued that it was of no use to present petitions to the House, that it had not the will, if it had the power, to relieve the people, and that it had of late betrayed such a total disregard of the people's petitions that it was only a waste of time to appeal to it, which were the sentiments of a great many persons, and by that the House might see how fast it was sinking in public estimation. He did not mean to say that he shared those sentiments, but he could assure the House, that if it did not attend to the wishes and prayers of the people, they would put themselves under leaders who at least would have the appearance of attending to their wants.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Heathcote

, in presenting a Petition from Boston, Lincolnshire, also complaining of distress, and signed by nearly 700 persons, stated, that since the alteration of the tax on wool, land in that neigh- bourhood, had fallen greatly in value, as well as all stock; so that the graziers and farmers could hardly obtain a living. Indeed these, he said, were the most suffering classes in the community, particularly the graziers. In common, however, with all classes, they would hear, he was sure, with satisfaction, of the substantial relief about to be afforded them.

Mr. Irving

said, he believed that the distress, of which so many petitions complained, was fast disappearing. Indeed he knew, from excellent authority, that at present there was more work at Leeds than there had been for many years. Never was trade there more active, and he did not believe there was one man who might not find employment. Orders, too, had lately been received there, which would keep the people continually employed for some time. He wished, distinctly and positively to state, because a different representation had lately been given by the hon. Member for Newark, that the trade of Leeds was now brisker than it had been for many years. For some of our manufactures there was at present a greater demand than there had been at any former period.

Lord Rancliffe

said, he was sorry that he could not corroborate the pleasing statements of the last speaker, but on the contrary, as far as Nottinghamshire was concerned, he must bear his testimony to the existence of great distress; but he must, at the same time, express his thankfulness to the Government for what it had done, adding, that the people relied on his Majesty's Government, and on the wisdom of Parliament.

Mr. Heatkcote

said, he also regretted that he could not confirm the hon. Member's statement. At Boston there was not employment for one-third of the population, and the distress was unexampled.