§ Mr. Hodges
presented a petition from the Mayor, Jurats and Commonalty, householders, and inhabitants of the town and hundred of Tenterden, Kent praying for the reduction of taxation. A more important petition he observed, had not been presented for some time to the House. He said this in consideration of the place from whence it came—a part of the county of Kent, which had recently been the scene of very unpleasant transactions, and in consideration of the feelings which had dictated it, the almost desperate situation of the inhabitants of that part of the country having called forth the petition. With the leave of the House he would read it, which the hon. Member did as follows:That the agricultural interest has for many years past been in so depressed a condition, that farmers have not been enabled to afford to pay their labourers at the usual rate of remuneration for their work, and that thereby many industrious labouring men have become burthens to their parishes, and in many places been reduced to privation and distress. That your petitioners are desirous of calling the attention of your honourable House to the subject, that the distress is daily increasing; and they, therefore, most humbly intreat your honourable House to institute an inquiry into the causes of the present agricultural distress. Your petitioners further take leave respectfully to suggest, that the great burthen on landholders may, in some measure, be removed, by lowering the rate of tithes. Your petitioners further entreat, your earnest endeavours towards effecting a reform in the 384 Members of your honourable House, also a reduction of the taxes. That your petitioners are impressed with a lively sense of the sacrifice which his most gracious Majesty has recently made to the wants and distresses of his people—an example which your petitioners consider well worthy of imitation. That your petitioners beg to assure your honourable House of their loyalty to his Majesty and his most gracious Consort.This was the prayer of a Corporation that he had known for upwards of forty years to have been distinguished by almost invariable professions and principles of attachment to what were called Ministerial principles. He was convinced, that a very few years ago this petition would not have received one of the numerous signatures which were now attached to it. He remembered that town when it was one of the most flourishing and wealthy in the whole county, and at present it was involved in the deepest distress. He stated the plain fact which, he trusted, would be credited on his assertion. At the head of this petition was the signature of a person whose loyalty had never been exceeded, even by that of any hon. Member of that House; but he, in common with all his neighbours, was so strongly impressed with the necessity of a reform, and of something being done to alleviate the distress, that he had willingly signed the petition. He believed, indeed, that the distress complained of in the petition existed everywhere. The impression in this district on the mind of the landholder was, that having heavy poor-rates to pay, and heavy taxes of one sort or another, he could not pay his workmen as he otherwise would. That was the situation of the people about the place from whence this petition came. He had lived in Kent for some time, and he knew that the distress in that county at present was not exceeded in any part of Europe. Though the labourer might be receiving in some cases 12s. a week for his work, he was in a very different situation from that in which he had known him to be. He recollected him in a state of perfect independence, when an able-bodied man who was willing to work, never wanted employment; and when he was able to live comfortably without asking relief from anybody. How was it now? A man with 12s. a week at the very utmost, and a wife and family to support, must come upon the parish. It was quite clear, unless some reduction in tax- 385 ation took place, some relief was afforded, comfort and tranquillity could never be restored; and agriculture could never return to its former state. He would not ask the right hon. Secretary of State whether he really believed in the existence of the distress, and in its gradual increase; he was perfectly sure that every man of common understanding was aware of that fact. For fifteen years he would venture. to say, the country had been gradually getting into a worse condition, and it was now reduced to such a state, that unless measures of the most prompt and effectual description were resorted to, it would be utterly impossible to foretell the consequences. If a very great retrenchment were not made, and very shortly, the tranquillity of England would be put to hazard. Under these circumstances, he looked forward with the utmost anxiety to the plan of Ministers, for he was quite certain that the prosperity of the country would be compromised for many years if large retrenchment and large reform were not conceded to the people.
§ Ordered to lie on the Table.