HC Deb 05 November 1830 vol 1 cc214-28
Mr. Kenyon

wished, before the House went into a Committee of Supply, to put a question to the right hon. Secretary of State. Although his Majesty's Speech abstained from all allusion to the topic, the right hon. Gentleman could not deny the existence of the greatest distress throughout the country; a distress, indeed, so deep and extensive, that unless means were taken to mitigate it, the most serious and alarming consequences might ensue. He was anxious to ascertain whether or not it was the right hon. Gentleman's intention to propose the appointment of a Select Committee, to take the national distress into considera- tion, and to endeavour to devise some plan for its alleviation. It was a subject which demanded the immediate notice of his Majesty's Government, and he should be happy to learn what steps Ministers meant to take respecting it. He regretted to see a passage in his Majesty's Speech which alluded to additional coercive measures; and he sincerely trusted that no such measures would be proposed.

Sir Robert Peel

rose to answer the question which the hon. Gentleman had put to him. It was not his intention to propose the appointment of a committee to take into consideration the general distress of the country. As to the specific measures which his Majesty's Ministers intended to adopt, he hoped that their whole policy would show the disposition which they entertained to advance the prosperity of the country; although it could not be expected that he should now enumerate the precise measures that they might take. The hon. Gentleman was mistaken in supposing that any part of his Majesty's Speech alluded to measures of coercion. What his Majesty stated was, that he would exert all the existing means which the law and the constitution had placed at his disposal.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

expressed his regret that no committee to take the distress of the country into consideration was to be proposed by his Majesty's Government, and his hope that some hon. Member would step forward and make the proposition himself. If, however, the question were not taken up by abler hands, he should consider it his indispensable duty to move for an investigation of the distress under which the whole country was suffering, particularly the labouring classes. He should not do his duty to his constituents were he not to take this step. The question now was, not simply whether they would have reformation or not—they had to choose between reformation and absolute perdition. He had that day heard of a circumstance which proved the great falling-off that had taken place, and that was inevitable, in the receipts of the revenue. In one district in which the assessed taxes had formerly produced 10,000l., there was a deficiency of 600l. Although it was his present intention to make the motion to which he had adverted, he would readily give way to any hon. Member better qualified for the undertaking; and he was, above all, particularly anxious that he might be relieved from the labour by his Majesty's Government, as a motion of that kind would come better from it than from any individual Member. One of the principal objects to which he should feel it his duty to call the attention of the House, would be the repeal of the duty on houses and windows; a duty which pressed most heavily on a large and valuable portion of the community.

Mr. Stanley

requested the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer would state the order in which he meant to take the Estimates in the Committee of Supply.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said that it was his intention to go regularly through them, as in the last Session. It was his intention to submit to the House the propositions respecting the Civil List on Friday next, so that the Committee of Supply would not be required to sit until the Monday after.

Mr. Stanley

gave notice, that on Monday week, on the Motion for going into the Committee of Supply, he would move certain Resolutions respecting the mode in which Parliament and the country had been led into an expenditure of 600,000l. on the Rideau Canal, by which a sum, to that amount, might be in future saved to the country.

Sir John Bourke

wished to say, that he differed in toto from his hon. and learned friend the member for Waterford, on the question of the repeal of the Union. In the part of Ireland from which he came, the general feeling was decidedly against such a repeal; and he was confident that every independent, educated, and upright person in Ireland was equally opposed to that hon. and learned Gentleman's project. As to the distress which existed among the people of Ireland, that would, he believed, be best remedied by an advance of money to carry on public works.

The question was put, that the Speaker leave the Chair, for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of Supply?

Mr. Hume

observed, that before the Speaker left the Chair, he wished to inform hon. Members that this was the period at which the Commons of England, if they had any complaint to make, or any grievance to represent, ought to make, or represent it. If their constituents had commissioned them for any such purpose, now was their time. In the execution of his own duty, and in compliance with the requests of his constituents, he now begged to ask his Majesty s Government whether —the whole country loudly demanding a relief from taxation—the Cabinet had made up their minds on that subject, as they had made up their minds on the subject of parliamentary reform? What he wanted was, an unequivocal answer—aye, or no. The next thing to having a request granted, was to put the person by whom it was made out of the misery of suspense. The people of England were at present looking most anxiously for the relief which they expected would be afforded them; and they would no longer be put off, as they had been heretofore, by promises of economy. Before, therefore, he could agree to vote away any of the public money, he must ask his Majesty's Ministers if it was their intention to alleviate the burthen of taxation which pressed so heavily upon the country; or if they were prepared to propose such a change in the present system of taxation as would remove the severity of the burden from the industrious to other classes. As to Parliamentary reform, it was quite unnecessary for him to ask Ministers what their intention was in that respect, after the declaration which had been made elsewhere, that the present system of representation was not only good, but the best that could possibly be imagined. He believed that the noble Duke at the head of the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, had declared at Manchester that they had no wish to retain their places, except while they were found to act in conformity to the wishes of the people. When, therefore, they found that they were not acting in conformity to the wishes of the people, he trusted that they would redeem that pledge. He hoped that the people would show their wishes by petitions to that House, and by all other legal means. He trusted, however, that the people would use no other but legal means. If he could make his voice heard from one end of the country to the other, he would exclaim to the people, "If you wish to obtain your rights, and to benefit the country, abstain from all acts of violence." From the use of all legal means of obtaining their object, the people ought not to allow themselves to be dissuaded. There were, unfortunately, in this country, a number of very ignorant, though perhaps well-meaning men, who, being alarmed themselves, endeavour to disseminate their terrors, and who, wishing to sustain the present system under all circumstances, depicted to others the evils and devastation to which they might be subject if they departed from it; as if any change must necessarily lead to occurrences similar to those which had taken place in other countries. He implored every real friend to his country to act himself, and to use all the influence which he might possess over others to induce them to act, in forwarding the great object of relieving the people by all lawful means; by petition and remonstrance, couched in bold but proper language. There were in that and the other House of Parliament so many individuals who were interested in the continuance of the present system, because it worked well as it respected them, that they adopted every possible means of insuring its continuance. It was not surprising that these place-holders should say to those over whom they possessed any influence, "Don't go to this meeting, or that assembly; Don't sign such a petition; Don't join in such a remonstrance." That, however, was not the advice which ought to be given to the people by persons who were not interested in the maintenance of the existing abuses. When he considered of what the Duke of Wellington had shown himself capable in other situations, he confessed that he was astonished at his present conduct. He must have received his political impressions from other countries. Austria, Russia, Prussia, must have pressed their opinions upon him. However, let his Majesty's Ministers now declare whether or not they intended to propose the reduction of the public burthens; aye, or no. He should be satisfied with either answer. But he wished unequivocally now to know what steps they intended to take, and he would state why. He confessed he had looked to them with hope and expectation. He spoke of it with regret; but weak as he was, he had been the dupe of the expressions of his Majesty's Government in the former Session. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had declared in the last week of the last Parliament, in answer to some very strong and pertinent observations from the hon. and learned member for Yorkshire, that he might rest perfectly satisfied as to the measures which his colleagues and himself meant to pursue; for that they should call on the people for support. Did the right hon. Gentleman or the Duke of Wellington mean to say that the people of England did not want reform—that they did not want reduction of taxation, or that they did want any interference in the affairs of Belgium? After that declaration, he (Mr. Hume) had hoped that he should hear in his Majesty's Speech some expression of due consideration for the sufferings of the people. Those sufferings were great; but they were wholly disregarded; they were set at nought. There was not even a paragraph in reference to them in his Majesty's Speech. He was apprehensive that some very insidious designs were on foot. So much confidence had he in the good sense of the working classes of the community, that he was very much afraid that the belief of the hon. member for Kent, that the outrages which had been committed there were not the work of the population of the country, was well founded. When he coupled this with the other proceedings of the noble Duke [loud laughter, and cries of hear, hear!]—Perhaps he was wrong in using the word "other." But he really had a poor opinion of those who were so easily led to laugh at a lapse of that kind; but who would, perhaps, let a good joke pass unnoticed. He really lamented to see, on all occasions, however serious, such a levity of manner in the House. It could not be necessary for him to say, that he did not think the Duke of Wellington had had anything to do with the fires in Kent. All these things, however, were making a deep impression in every part of the country. It behoved his Majesty's Government, if there were any means of remedying the evil, to use them. He now begged to put the question to the right hon. Gentleman, what his Majesty's Government meant to do? He had put a question to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, which he had not had the courtesy to answer. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would answer his present question; and that the answer would be, that the members of the Cabinet had made up their minds to relieve the sufferings of the people, by reducing the burthen of taxation.

Sir Robert Peel

expressed his surprise, that the hon. member for Middlesex should charge him with want of courtesy, in not answering his question yesterday. What he had understood the hon. Gentleman to say yesterday was, that he would put to him (Sir Robert Peel) this day, a question as to the probability of the occur- rence of war. He had intended, if the hon. Gentleman had this day repeated his question, to have answered—that a perfect confidence might be entertained that the same motives which had hitherto induced his Majesty's Government to pursue a pacific policy, would continue; and that his Majesty's Government would make every possible effort, consistently, of course, with the honour and permanent interests of England, to maintain peace with the whole world. His Majesty's Government was deeply interested in the preservation of the general tranquillity. His Majesty, in his Speech from the Throne, declared that "the assurances of a friendly disposition which he continued to receive from all foreign Powers, justified the expectation that he should be enabled to preserve for his people the blessings of peace." It was impossible for him, consistently with his duty, to say more on the subject than, that since that declaration from the Throne, nothing had occurred to change or diminish the expectation which his Majesty had been induced to entertain, "that he should be enabled to preserve for his people the blessings of peace." The hon. member for Middlesex now asked, and required a positive and decisive answer to the question, whether his Majesty's Government intended to propose any reduction of taxation? He was confident, that on reflection, the hon. Gentleman's experience would show him that the question was a very improper one. He must certainly decline giving any answer to the question, either affirmatively or negatively. But suppose he were to answer the question affirmatively, did not the hon. Member well know that such an answer must be followed up at once by enumerating the specific objects to which the intended reduction was to be applied? No inference whatever ought to be drawn from his declining to answer the question, except that to do so would be inconvenient to the public. He appealed to every Member, of parliamentary experience, if anything could be more prejudicial than for one of his Majesty's Ministers, at the commencement of a Session, to give any answer to such a question as that which the hon. Gentleman had put to him? The hon. Gentleman talked of some pledge which he (Sir Robert Peel) had given last Session of the disposition of his Majesty's Government to defer to public opinion. What he had stated last Session was this fact:—that his Majesty's Government had made such an extensive reduction in the patronage of the Crown, that no administration could rely upon the permanent possession of office unless they felt themselves supported by the confidence of Parliament and the country. But the hon. Gentleman must not conclude from that declaration that any vulgar or common opinion, though expressed by the hon. Gentleman, would at all influence him in the discharge of his duty. If the hon. Gentleman joined in the vulgar imputation on public men that they were unduly influenced by their wish to retain the paltry emoluments of office; if he thought it necessary to caution the people against listening to the advice of such persons because they were interested in giving that advice; he knew not by what test the hon. Gentleman was prepared to prove the truth of his insinuations, but he knew that they were most uncharitable, and most unjust. The only considerations which his Majesty's Government had in contemplation were, the welfare of the people, and their permanent interest. The people must judge of their motives by their measures. If the House and the country suspected the motives and condemned the measures of his Majesty's Ministers, no inherent power or influence they possessed could maintain them in the Administration. When the hon. Gentleman talked of the proceedings of misguided men, he would ask him if the language which had been used in that House by himself, now the representative of the metropolitan county, and therefore, perhaps, possessed of a degree of importance greater than he had before enjoyed; he would ask him whether the language which he had used in the course of the present Session was not calculated to produce excitement and inflammation? When the hon. Member characterised the whole population of the country, without exception, as being in a starving condition—as reduced to a state of actual famine; or when he declared that unless certain measures were adopted, the day of vengeance would come, might not the excitement and inflammation which the hon. Gentleman lamented be unintentionally aggravated by the unguarded language he employed?

Colonel Davies

protested against the practice of taunting hon. Members, when they remonstrated against the measures of Government, with a disposition to inflame and excite the people. He had never heard from his hon. friend any expressions which justified such taunts. What his hon. friend had said the other evening had been fully and satisfactorily explained, although it might suit the purpose of the right hon. Gentleman, for the purpose of making an undue impression on the House, to state his own version of the matter. When his hon. friend talked of interested persons, he did not allude to such persons as the right hon. Gentleman, but to underlings, to tax-gatherers and others, who were, of course, all interested in the maintenance of the present system. It was to such persons that his hon. friend alluded; not to such persons as the right hon. Gentleman. He would do the right hon. Gentleman the justice to say, that he did not believe he was influenced by any love of paltry emolument or of place. He had already shown that he was superior to any such miserable considerations. But that had no influence on his opinion of the public conduct of his Majesty's Government; and he would say, that if they were not the most discreet and clever of Ministers, they were as bold as any that ever existed; not even excepting Prince Polignac. The Duke of Wellington had expressed his determination to resist every species of reform. He had gone so far as to tell the House of Lords that "if he were to form a Legislature, he would create one—not equal in excellence to the present, for that he could not expect to be able to do—but something as nearly of the same description as possible." The right hon. Gentleman, not to be behind-hand with his noble colleague, had told them that evening, forsooth, that his Majesty's Government were not prepared to say, that they had any intention of reducing the taxation of the country. If persons suffering distress felt disaffection, whose fault was it? Was it not the fault of those who drove them into cherishing that feeling, by resisting the signs of the times? The best friends of the Ministers were those who told them the real condition of the country; their worst enemies were those who blinded them to that condition. Was it possible that on so important a subject as the reduction of taxation, his Majesty's Government had not been able, in the course of so many months, to come to a decision? If any resolution had been formed, why not answer his hon. friend's question? Not having done so, they must expect to have every obstacle thrown in their way; and to find the public business impeded, if not altogether stopped.

Mr. Curteis

rose to ask, whether the hon. member for Middlesex, who generally spoke with great courtesy of public men, intended to revoke the expression which he had used when he insinuated, or rather said, that the noble Duke was at the bottom of the burnings in Kent. He thought that it would be for the interest of the public for the House to come at once to a regular division on the conduct of Ministers, instead of wasting time in a Guerilla warfare on such discussions as the present. Such a division would bring on the tug of war, and the country would then know how far the Ministry was likely to enjoy the confidence of the present Parliament.

Mr. Hume

said, that he rose out of courtesy to the hon. Member who had just sat down, although he believed that he might appeal to the whole House that there was no necessity, after what he had formerly said, to reply at all to the hon. Member's question. He could assure the hon. Member that if he thought that either the Duke of Wellington, or any other of his Majesty's Ministers, were capable of such conduct, he should lose not a moment—nay, he should be foremost—in bringing that subject under the immediate consideration of Parliament.

Mr. Baring

said, that he rose with reluctance to prolong a discussion of so tedious and unsatisfactory a nature; but certain circumstances which had occurred in the debate, and certain expressions which had been used by his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, appeared to him to be of such a nature that they ought not to be passed over without notice. As far as his own experience went, he must say, that it was quite clear that we had not had, since the conclusion of the war, any period in which the essential interests of the country were moving more satisfactorily than they were moving a few months ago. He did not mean to say that they were moving with enormous profits and splendid results,—all he meant to say was, that the returns of our commerce, though moderate, were still satisfactory, When the great events which had recently occurred upon the Continent became known on this side of the Channel, they had a tendency to produce general excitement in one quarter and general apprehension in another—two causes, which had in some degree, but not to any great extent, been prejudicial to the interests of our commerce. From the year 1815 to the commencement of the year 1830, we had been in circumstances of difficulty from the manner in which we had tampered with the currency; during the last year we had been recovering from the fever into which our former measures had cast us and, with a little management and forbearance, he believed that out-recovery would soon be complete. If there was any one thing which every man who wished well to his country, and especially to the labouring classes, ought to avoid more than another, it was disturbing the general tranquillity by those outrageous and extravagant assertions which were now so rife among us, and which, with all due regard to his hon. friend the member for Middlesex, whose great services he was at at all times ready to acknowledge, he must say had been uttered by him with more than usual vehemence on the present occasion. If it were true that the majority of the Members of that House acted upon mere mercenary views, without any regard to public principle,— if it were true that the Majority of them were receiving large emoluments out of the public purse,—a fact which he for one did not believe,—the sooner those circumstances were clearly explained to the country, the better would it be for its interests. He therefore could not help expressing a hope, that the motion which the hon. member for Colchester intended to make in a few nights, calling for a return of the emoluments, civil and military, received by Members of that House, would be granted, in order that the extent of those emoluments might be distinctly known. It was, however, his opinion that a more extravagant, and if unfounded, a more mischievous misrepresentation than this, had never been propounded by any public man in any country. That public men holding public offices were to be paid by the country was a principle of our Constitution, which had always been applauded by the best Judges of Constitutional policy, both at home and abroad. Several of the most acute statesmen in America had expressed their approbation of our practice of allowing the great officers of Government to have seats in Parliament, and had lamented that a similar practice was not permitted in their own country. Unless his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, was prepared to say, that the great offices of State should be without emolument, and should, therefore, be monopolized by men of large fortune,—a practice most injurious in a mixed democracy like our own—the present system of allowing individuals who received salaries for filling efficient situations under the Crown, could not be dispensed with. The assertions of the hon. member for Middlesex on this subject might surprise those Gentlemen who were new Members of the House, but they would produce no effect upon those who, like him, had sat for five-and-twenty years in Parliament, and had witnessed the great reductions which had been made of late years in all our establishments. For his own part, he must say, that he was not aware that the great officers of State were at all over-paid. If they were, let his hon. friend, when the estimates came before the House, point out where the over-payment was; and he thought that he might appeal to his own past conduct in Parliament to show that he should not be backward in concurring in any reduction which could be fairly, and properly, and safely made. But in the present state of the public mind, which, in spite of the exemplary moderation exhibited by the Majority of the nation, was still a little excited, there was no occasion for public men to make use of inflammatory language, to promote a state of things which, if it arrived, would be productive of as much injury to themselves as it would be to the rest of the country. In a placard which he had seen posted up that day, he saw it stated, that out of the public money the Earl of Eldon received 50,000l. a year.

Mr. Hume

.—Does that originate with me? If not, why mention it?

Mr. Baring

—"My hon. friend does me gross injustice when he supposes that I am going to make my speech entirely about him. I was mentioning an exaggerated statement which I had seen in a placard out of doors, and was proceeding to correct it. My hon. friend gets up to correct and stop me, but I never knew him get up to remove an exaggeration, though I hold it to be as much the duty of a public man to remove exaggerations as it is to detail fairly the real grievances of his country. But to proceed. I saw in that same placard a list of other exaggerations, equally unfounded with that which I have just mentioned. Of that noble Lord, in his political character at least, it is pretty well known that I never have been an admirer: but yet I think it only common justice to state, that that noble Lord receives no more than a pension of 4,000l. a year as a retiring Chancellor; and I doubt whether any man, who recollects the laborious services of Lord Eldon for so many years, as a Judge, will say that such a retiring pension is too much. If it be, let it be brought fairly under our consideration, and not made the subject of the most unfounded exaggeration." Mr. Baring then proceeded to observe, that it was impossible to see such exaggerations without being sensible of the object for which they were made. Knowing that the Members of the House of Commons were good for nothing if they did not follow up the opinions of those hundreds and thousands of people out of doors, who, from the general spread of education, were able to judge of them, their proceedings, and their merits, he would proclaim at once the idleness of endeavouring to conceal from them anything which had a tendency to display the mode of expending the public money; but at the same time he would proclaim, as a general rule, the duty of public men showing up and disavowing the exaggerations which were abroad on such a subject. With regard to the question which had been put to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, as to his intention to repeal any taxes, he would only say, that the best course which the House could adopt would, in his opinion, be that of going into the Committee of Supply, and there performing the business of the public. If in that committee the Minister should propose any grant which hon. Gentlemen might deem improper, then would be the time, and there would be the place, for objecting to it. Let hon. Gentlemen, therefore, consider in the first place, whether it were practicable to reduce the supplies; for if such a scheme were practicable, then they might properly think of reducing the amount of taxation. In conclusion, he admitted that distress of some kind must always be found in a large manufacturing country like our own, but he denied that at present it was anything like that which had generally prevailed in the country since the conclusion of the last peace. It was a gross exaggeration to describe the English as a starving people. Any difficulty by which the country was affected at present, had arisen from the ex- citement which prevailed on one hand, and from the apprehension which prevailed on the other. He was sorry, however, to be compelled to observe, that the course which had been pursued that evening was calculated to increase it materially.

Lord Howick

complained, that the hon. member for Callington had read his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, a most unnecessary and uncalled-for lecture on the exaggerations which were abroad, and of which his hon. friend was perfectly guiltless. He contended that the exaggeration prevalent out of doors was a sufficient justification of any hon. Member, who calmly and dispassionately stated within the House the real grievances of the people. The language which had been used by the hon. member for Middlesex, both on the present and on a former night, was perfectly justifiable in the present state of the country. With respect to reform in Parliament, he must say, that it was resisted only by those who had an interest in maintaining the present abuses. By abuses he did not mean the high and extravagant salaries merely which were paid to some public officers, but the influence and patronage which were in the gift of some of them, and quite as valuable, if not more so, than money. He must also condemn in the strongest terms, the declarations contained in the King's Speech respecting Belgium, and avow his dissatisfaction with the explanations which the right hon. Secretary had that night given respecting what he called the pacific intentions of the British Government.

Sir R. Peel

repeated his former declaration, that our interference with the Netherlands was not made with a view of exciting, but of preventing, war. His Majesty had declared in his Speech, that he entertained the expectation that he should be able to preserve for his people the blessings of peace; and he had already assured the House—and he would repeat the assurance—that nothing had occurred since the delivery of that Speech which induced him to think that that expectation would be disappointed. In reply to the observations of the hon. member for Worcester, which, he said, proceeded throughout upon the erroneous supposition that he had accused the Gentlemen opposite of throwing firebrands among the people, he should only say, that he had made no such accusation. On a former evening he had used the word "intentionally," where he intended to have said "unintentionally." On the present occasion he had laid particular emphasis on the word "unintentionally," when he said that an hon. Member was using language which was calculated—unintentionally on his part— to create great excitement and inflammation among the people. He repeated his assertion that such language had been used. He asked whether it was consistent with truth to call the people of England a starving population? There might be partial distress in the country; some distress there always must be, from the very nature of things; but it was a gross exaggeration to say that the people of England were starving. He acquitted the hon. Member, as freely as the hon. Member acquitted the Duke of Wellington, of all intention to do mischief; but when he said, that, in his opinion, the Government ought to be displaced, there was a better and a milder way of saying it than by using such a phrase as "the day of vengeance will come." When the hon. Member was talking of a misguided and easily excited people, it was better to avoid using such language.

Mr. Labouchere

wished to take that opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman a question. Had any report been received from the commission appointed last Session to inquire into the finances and expenditure of the Colonies?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the commissioners had not yet completed their work, though they had made considerable progress in it. The result of their labours would, however, be shortly placed before the public.

Motion agreed to.

The House resolved itself into a Committee of Supply, Sir A. Grant, Chairman.