HC Deb 25 March 1830 vol 23 cc846-52
Sir T. E. Winnington

presented a Petition from the freeholders of Worcestershire, complaining of Distress, and praying for an alteration in the Currency, and also for Parliamentary Reform, with such other measures as the House might think best calculated to afford them relief.

Mr. G. Robinson

supported the prayer of the Petition. He believed as the petitioners expressed themselves, that the distress was not as stated in the King's Speech, partial, but general He was not disposed however, to agree with the petitioners in their prayer for an alteration of the Standard, though he was of opinion that the I return to the use of metallic money had caused much of our distress. The petitioners desired that the standard might be restored to what it was in 1797, but on this subject he thought the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman unanswerable. Various changes were indeed talked of, but he would give no opinion on any one of them till he saw some substantive measure brought under the consideration of the House. That would be the best method for those Gentlemen who had plans to propose to adopt, and then every one might be able to form a judgment of the probable results of their schemes. As to Parliamentary Reform, he would say that he desired to see the franchise extended to those large towns which have of late grown up, and he would recommend those opposed to reform rather to yield to gradual measures than be at length compelled to adopt a more extensive reform. He would recommend those who wished for reform to adopt the same plan, as the surest and safest way of accomplishing their object.

Colonel Davies

dissented from the statements of the petitioners, and expressed his regret that they had overlooked the true cause of the distress,—namely, the pressure of inordinate taxation. They had contented themselves, however, with expatiating on the worn-out topic of the currency, without ever adverting to an additional repeal of taxes, which all parties acknowledged to be an unexceptionable mode of administering relief. He would venture to assert, that not one person in a hundred of those who had signed the petition understood the questions on which he gave an opinion. There was no county less subject to political excitement than Worcester, and he was sure that nothing but intolerable distress could have induced the people to petition. It was impossible, under such circumstances to say to what lengths people might go, and therefore he regretted that they engaged in matters which they did not understand

Sir F. Burdett

differed widely from his hon. friend who had just addressed the House; and if his hon. friend would read the petition, he would find that the petitioners knew a great deal of the subject on which they petitioned. He must, in contradiction to his hon. friend bear his testimony to the importance of the petition, the subject matter of which he considered well worthy of being made the ground of a regular motion to be submitted to the House. The distress which prevailed amongst so large a portion of our hardworking population, in his opinion, was not to be adequately accounted for by any cause but that which had been assigned in the petition. Every practical person in trade or commerce with whom he had had an opportunity of conversing on the subject, took the same view of it; and he was ready to make it apparent, that any reasoning to the contrary was untenable, and might be easily refuted. As to what he had advanced in reference to Mr. Hume's Essay, he still maintained the truth of all that was asserted, but it must not be supposed that he adopted indiscriminately all the opinions put forth in that excellent piece of writing. He merely contended that the hon. Gentleman might there collect a principle, which would lead him through the mazes of confusion in which he was entangled. He, however, was not one of those who were swayed by the greatness of a name, nor had he ever given his adhesion to any doctrine without examining and judging for himself, however speciously or authoritatively it might be urged upon his attention. Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri. He thought Hume wrong for example, in saying that an increase of currency was a proof of increasing prosperity. The industrious classes must be affected by every change of currency, and all who lived by prices must necessarily suffer when prices declined. They might therefore benefit by a rise of prices, but when that was caused by an increase of taxation it was an injury, not a benefit to the industrious classes. Would any man pretend to tell him that there was no loss where 9l. an acre was reduced to 4l., while the owner had precisely the same burthens as when he enjoyed the former profits? To reduce the taxes was wise on the part of Ministers, but the people could not look to any relaxation of taxes as an efficient remedy for their distress. That could only be found in restoring the currency to its former value.

Mr. Warburton

was of a different opinion from the boa. Baronet, on the ground that every creditor in the kingdom would suffer by the adoption of the policy which the hon. Baronet and the petitioners recommended. It should always be recollected, that by altering the currency, not only the obligations of the State were changed, but also the private contracts of all the debtors and creditors in the kingdom. To adopt the measures recommended by the hon. Baronet would only plunder one class of people for the benefit of another.

Sit Charles Burrell

said, the hon. Member was very feeling towards those who might be ruined by another change, but he had no compassion for those who had suffered by the changes already made. He, for one, had no doubt that the greater part of our present distress, and in particular the sufferings of the agriculturists, and all the industrious classes, had been caused by the former change in the currency. He would not then however enter into the subject, he would only observe that from, information which he bad received, the proposed alteration in the Beer duty would completely disappoint those who expected that it would be attended with any benefit to the agricultural classes.

Mr. Bright

expressed his surprise, that Members of that side of the House should consider it a great thing, forsooth, that the petitions of the people were favourably received, and to him it seemed most arrogant in Members to run down the petitions of any class of people. What reason had those who asserted, that to ascribe our distress to a change in the currency was a proof of ignorance, to give for their assertion. He was of the same opinion as the petitioners whom the hon. Member for Worcester had branded with ignorance. Nothing indeed could be clearer than the fact that prices fell when the quantity of money was lessened, and rose when that was increased. A depreciation of price and general distress among the working classes had invariably followed a contraction of the currency, from whatever cause it might have arisen. He did not mean to say, however, that a reduction of taxation would not alleviate the distress, for it was plain that a portion of the charges which weighed on the people would by that means be removed. He would not assert that it was possible wholly to get rid of distress by reducing taxation, but he would assert that to give much relief a much larger portion of the taxes must be taken off. Those who had endeavoured to obtain an inquiry into the cause of the distress, and the best means of remedying it having failed, and having been even reproved for their well-meant endeavours, could do nothing further than press on the Government the necessity of diminishing taxation as much as possible. Profits were so reduced by competition, that the capitalist could not give high wages. The whole mass of the labourers were in a sad state of poverty, and till means were found to improve their condition the country would know no returning prosperity- In former times the discovery of the mines of Louth caused a universal rise of prices; those mines were now deficient, and a universal fall of prices had followed. He thought then that our distress had two causes, one permanent and the other temporary; the permanent cause was the law altering the currency, the temporary cause was the diminished quantity of the precious metals. The latter cause affected all countries; the former made the distress of England peculiarly great, and affected, through her complicated, mercantile relations, all the countries of the trading world. He attributed the distress felt in America, in France, and in Sweden, to the lessened supply of the precious metals. To meet the peculiar circumstances of England a large reduction of taxation was necessary, and some temporary means of supplying the expenses of the State. He did not mean a Property-tax, for to that he should always be opposed, but there were means well known to those conversant with the money market, which considering the great quantity of superfluous capital then in the country, might be advantageously had recourse to. Some temporary expedients to meet temporary causes, might ultimately restore the country to a sound and prosperous state.

Colonel Davies

complained of the hon. Member having misrepresented what he had said of the petitioners.

Sir F. Burdett

said, his hon. friend had also misunderstood what fell from him.

Sir M. W. Ridley

protested against the doctrine of the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton) that it would be an act of injustice to revert to the former standard, though he admitted that it might be inconvenient. We had already committed injustice, and he thought that it would not be more than an act of justice, to place those who had been affected by the change al-ready made in the currency, in the situation they would have stood in, but for that change.

Mr. Davenport

maintained; that the ex- traordinary change of price that had taken place within the last seven years was the consequence of the change in the Currency system. With respect to our prosperity, he could state on unquestionable authority that within three years the diminution of butcher's meat had amounted to one-third, as he had calculated from the sales of eighteen butchers. Since the House came to a decision not to inquire into the state of the country, he had received letters from Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Westmorland, which were worthy the attention of the House, on account of the view they gave of the state of the country. The principal produce of the latter is sheep, and the fatter ones did not now fetch the sum the lean ones were bought for last Autumn. The price of cattle was depreciated to the amount of 8s. a head, and what fetched 28s. last year, only brought 20s. this. The grazing land of Cheshire, which let in 1828 for 20s., might now be hired for 16s. The increase of tolls had been mentioned as a proof of returning prosperity, but in many cases the rate of tolls had been raised, and on the Store bridge road, near Birmingham, the tolls had fallen off Another fact worthy of notice was, that a quantity of blocks and other cotton-printing machinery, which sold last year for 10,000l. was resold this year for the very trifling sum of 21l. He would only add, that land near Birmingham, which seven years ago was let for 24s.s. now lets for only 11s.

Lord John Russel

said, the hon. Member for Westminster seemed to think that the House had not treated the question, of the Currency fairly. [Sir F. Burdett said, that was not what he said] At least, the noble Lord continued, he so understood the hon. Baronet. If that were the case the fault must be attributed to the hon. Member for Shaftesbury, who made a speech which turned altogether on that topic; but concluding with a general motion on the state of the currency, he lost the votes of those who were averse from altering it. He was surprised that hon. Members who ascribed all the evils of the country to the change in the currency did not bring forward a substantive proposition respecting it, which might afford the House an opportunity of again expressing a decided opinion on it. That was the manner in which the hon. Member for Essex acted in 1822, when the House, at the recommendation of the President of the Board of Trade, came to a resolution that settled the matter for some years. If that course were now taken, no doubt the argu- ments respecting the currency would he fairly met. Even admitting that many persons had been ruined by the change in the currency, which he, however, did not believe, that by no means proved the necessity of another change. That depreciation to which Members desired to return was itself an act of injustice, and according to their own shewing, gave several persons 100l. who ought only to have 50l.

Mr. Ward

rose to ask the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton) who had been represented to have stated that the corporation of the Bank of England and of the East-India Company exercised an improper influence over the city elections, if that were so, because he wished to inform the hon. Member, if it were, that he was labouring under a mistake. He could assure him that the Bank had never exercised the least influence over the City elections, and had it done so, those who arc supposed to be subject to its power would have freely expressed their opinions on the matter. While he was on his legs he wished to add, that his statement on a former evening relative to the gold currency, included the quantity issued by the Bank of England subsequent to the last returns.

Mr. Warburton

admitted having expressed the opinions alluded to, but he meant it to apply to all such great corporations, and in that sense he had no doubt the remark was correct. He believed, however, that at the last City election the Bank had exercised no influence. Other public bodies however, interfered, and it was a notorious fact, that if the Lord Mayor be a candidate, his office ensures him 500 votes. The hon. Member's question he understood to apply particularly to the Bank, and that body he was bound to say did not exercise any influence at the late election.

Petition read. On the Question that it be printed,

Mr. Davenport

, in answer to the noble Lord's challenge, begged to say that he would, before the close of the Session, submit a distinct motion respecting the Currency, which would afford the opportunity of discussion for which the noble Lord seemed anxious.—Petition to be printed;