HC Deb 12 August 1831 vol 5 cc1268-70
Mr. Hunt

said, he had several Petitions in his hand from Preston against the Corn Laws, but as they were expressed in rather strong terms, he hardly knew how to present them, until he should learn whether the noble Lord would reject them or not. He would read the strong parts of the petition. The petitioners stated, that one of the most unequal, unjust, partial, and oppressive Acts that ever passed, was that which was called by those who suffered from it, the Starvation Bill, but by the landowners the Corn Bill. It was passed at the point of the bayonet, in the year 1815, for the purpose of enabling the farmers to pay large rents to their landlords, &c. He was much of the same opinion as the petitioners. To him it appeared, that the Act in question was a gross, unjust, and inhuman law; and he well remembered, that the presence of the military had been necessary to its passing. He hoped the time had not arrived when the present liberal Ministry were about to set an example of a course of conduct never before practised in that House— namely, when the people prayed for redress of their grievances, to reject their petitions because they considered them erroneous. The prayer of the petition was, that the Corn-law should be repealed.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

said, that the Act of which the petitioners complained was no longer in existence. They prayed for the repeal of an Act which, they say, passed at the point of the bayonet in 1815, which had since been repealed. The Corn-laws of the present day were not those of which the petitioners complained.

Sir Robert Inglis

observed, that the House could not consent to receive a petition which declared, that one of the Acts of the Legislature had been passed at the point of the bayonet. It seemed to be the object of the hon. member for Preston, to see how far the House would be submissive in suffering itself to be insulted. Day after day he presented petitions which only tended to degrade the House and all the institutions of the country, and which would certainly eventually injure the right of petitioning itself. He therefore called upon the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to concur with him in rejecting this disrespectful petition.

Mr. Cripps

was of opinion, that to print such a petition would be wrong. He had no objection to its being laid on the Table, but would never be a party to printing such expressions as it contained. He differed from the hon. Member and the petitioners as to the effect of the Corn-laws. He believed they had benefitted, instead of injuring the poor, or any other part of the community. The question had been examined in every point of view, when the Bill passed. He should vote against printing such a petition.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, there was nothing so disrespectful to the House as should induce them to reject the petition. He thought it better to receive the petition than have the time of the House wasted by a useless discussion, though he wished the hon. member for Preston would not present petitions likely to provoke discussion, when he had a motion on the subject of the Corn-laws to bring forward. He would not object to receive the petition, but he could never agree to allow a petition so extremely absurd, and evidently founded on such erroneous impressions as that now before them, to be printed.

Lord Althorp

remarked, that the hon. member for Preston had not, as he stated, read the strongest passage in the petition. He would read a passage to the House, which would bear out this fact; it was in these terms—"Your petitioners beg leave respectfully to petition your honourable House to take this matter of just complaint into your consideration, with a view to the complete removal of the duty on corn, knowing, as your petitioners do, that the productive classes of this country cannot, and will not, much longer submit quietly to a system of such gross injustice and oppression; and your petitioners add, that if their just hopes should continue to be disappointed, the bonds of society would burst asunder, and the British lion would, perhaps, trample into dust an obstinate Parliament, and Peers and Prelates find their level amongst the crowd of their fellow-men." He suggested to the hon. Member the propriety of withdrawing the petition.

Mr. Hunt

replied, that he certainly would not withdraw it. There was not, in his opinion, any danger in figurative language. He moved, that the petition be brought up, and hoped somebody would second his Motion.

Mr. James

seconded it, and declared, great allowances ought to be made for the language used by starving men.

Mr. Maberly

thought the petition ought to be rejected; and the fault of its being rejected, lay with the petitioners themselves, and with the hon. Member, who, it was to be presumed, had made himself acquainted with its contents. If the petitioners really wished to have their case considered, they would not have employed language, which either they themselves must know, or their Members could inform them, must ensure the rejection of their petition by that House. Whatever their distresses might be, they could describe them in decent and respectful language at least.

The House divided on the Motion for the bringing up of the petition:— Ayes 6; Noes 122—Majority 116.

List of the AYES.
Forbes, Sir C. Sheil, R.
Forbes, J.
O'Connell, D. Hunt, H.
Ruthven, J. James, W.