HC Deb 22 June 1831 vol 4 cc240-53
Mr. C. Pelham

brought up the Report of the Address.

On the motion that it be adopted,

Mr. Hume

said, that he did not rise to oppose the adoption of the Report, but to guard himself against being supposed to concur in some points which had been adverted to in the Speech from the Throne, and to which allusion was made in the Address. He particularly referred to the statement that we had maintained the principle of non-interference with regard to Belgium, and also to that portion of the Speech which alluded to Portugal. He did not wish to enter upon the subject without further information, but he was by no means confident that the principle of non-interference with respect to Belgium had been acted upon by this country; and it was quite possible that hereafter it might be found, that that principle was in this case absolutely departed from. The Belgians certainly thought that it had been. Whilst Ministers took credit, too, for the promptitude and success with which they demanded and obtained redress from Por- tugal, he thought it his duty to state, that he understood the Government of this country had neglected the complaints of British merchants with regard to Brazil. The Americans, the French, and other nations, had their claims satisfied, but the claims of British merchants, to a large amount, yet remained unsatisfied. He had observed, that they were called upon in the Speech to make good the deficiency which might arise from the reductions already made in the taxation of the country. It was important to know whether or not his Majesty's Government meant by that paragraph to call upon the House to pledge itself to vote additional taxes, with a view to supply any such deficiency. He should be very glad to find that such was not the intention of his Majesty's Government. Any deficiency that might arise from the proper reductions which had been already made, might bo easily supplied by a still further reduction in the public expenditure of the country. He was not at all inclined to sanction the complaints which had been urged, even so late as last night, from that side of the House, against the financial measures of the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer.) That noble Lord very properly yielded to public opinion; and when he found that that opinion was against several of the taxes which he proposed in his Budget, he at once withdrew them. The Budget itself had, in its main points, received the support and the sanction of the House. At all events, the propositions which the noble Lord had brought forward for the relief of the country from taxation had met with complete success; and to him (Mr. Hume) that appeared to be the most important point in the speech of a Chancellor of the Exchequer. Was it not something that the noble Lord had remitted the coal duty, the duty on slates, and that most onerous and disgraceful impost, the duty on printed calicoes? For doing so much the noble Lord was justly entitled to the thanks of the country. The transfer of funded property tax—a tax which to him (Mr. Hume) had always appeared objectionable —had certainly been given up; and the steam-boat tax, which it was calculated would not produce above 70,000l. a-year he believed would be also given up. The proposition with regard to the alteration of the duties on wine had been merely postponed, and the only change that had been made in that proposition was, to leave the duty on Cape wines as it was at present. He trusted, that his Majesty's Ministers would proceed with every possible reduction in the expenditure of the country, and would continue to enforce a strict system of economy in every department of the State. The noble Lord had now got a House of Commons, the majority of which was pledged to support Reform, and would also, he believed, support every possible plan of economy. The noble Lord would, therefore, be perfectly safe in bringing forward every such plan. He would be quite sure of support if he brought forward that scheme, which had been long concocted, of abolishing the Receivers-general, and making a saving to the country of 50,000l. a-year, as well as in introducing every other species of economy which might suggest itself to him. In doing so he could safely count upon the support of that House; and by enforcing a strict economy in every department of the State, there would be no necessity for the imposition of additional taxes. In conclusion, he begged again to enter his protest against being supposed, by agreeing to the Address, as concurring in those parts of the Speech to which he had called the attention of the House.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, he was not in the House yesterday, or he would have made some observations on the Address, as his hon. friend had said, he could find no one to oppose it. He maintained that the Budget had been a failure in every point of view, though the noble Lord's intentions might be good. The Reform Bill, as well as the Speech from the Throne, he asserted, would turn out a decided humbug and delusion upon the public.

Lord Althorp

said, that he had waited to see whether any other hon. Member would take that opportunity to make statements to which it would be necessary for him to reply. The hon. member for Middlesex had referred to a paragraph in the Speech from the Throne, relative to supplying the deficiency which might arise from the reductions already made, and had asked, whether the imposition of new taxes was intended to be meant by that paragraph. Now he (Lord Althorp) had no hesitation in saying, that no such thing was meant by the introduction of that paragraph. It was introduced in order to induce the House to complete the substitution of two taxes which had been entertained, and almost agreed to, in the last Session. The one was the tax upon the importation of faw cotton, to which the parties concerned in the trade had assented, in lieu of the tax on printed calicoes; arid the other consisted in the alteration of the wine duties. With both of these he was determined to proceed, and both of them he hoped to carry. With regard to the Budget, He was well aware that it had been a frequent subject for attack; and he had listened to all the attacks which had been made upon it with perfect good humour. To all these attacks he could only say, in reply, that he had in every case acted solely for the good of the public. One of his measures had met with general opposition on the first night upon which it had been proposed; and when he had found this, although he was by no means convinced that the measure could injure the public creditor—on the contrary, he was then fully convinced, and was so at the present moment, that it was a measure perfectly consistent with good faith—yet be had felt it his duty to obey the opposition which it had been met with in that House, and he accordingly withdrew it. It should be recollected that he had not withdrawn the timber-tax, for he had been left in a minority upon that question; yet he would still maintain the strict propriety of making alteration's in the timber-duty. He thought that such alterations as he had proposed were perfectly consistent with the interests of the country: and although in the present Session of Parliament he had no wish to introduce that measure, or any other that was likely to provoke any angry discussion, he did not mean to say, that he abandoned the principle upon which he had brought forward the alteration in the limber duties. The hon. member for the City of Lincoln (Colonel Sibthorp) had said, that the country had received no relief from the Budget, and yet that Member was returned by a place, the inhabitants of which had got some advantages, at least, from the abolition of the duty on sea-borne coal. Would the people of Lincoln say, that the taking off the duty upon tallow-candles was of no advantage to them? He should pursue the subject no further; but he had felt it his duty to explain the meaning of passages in the King's Speech, and to state his opinions, in reply to the attacks that had been made upon him.

Sir R. Inglis

wished to draw the atten- tion of the House to a very different subject From those brought forward by hon. Gentlemen who had preceded him, arid in giving way to other hon. Members he enabled the noble Lord to clear away one set of objections, before calling his notice to others totally distinct. He had to complain of an omission in the King's Speech of the most painful and important character: When he considered the subjects involved in the Speech—that it referred to some of the greatest Woes that could affect human nature—to war, famine, and pestilence, he felt doubly the omission of all allusion to Providence, or to Him who could alone remove or avert such calamities. He had looked over seven consecutive Speeches from the Throne, and in every one of them he had found a direct allusion made to the Providence of God; but in the present Speech there Was no allusion whatever. The omission in question had made much noise out of the House, and he should have been sorry had the Address passed Without some notice being taken of what, he trusted, was unintentional.

Mr. Briscoe

concurred in what had fallen from the last speaker.

Lord Althorp

said, that as the observations had been made in the form of an appeal to him, he should say, that considering the nature of such expressions when used in public and political documents, he hoped it would not be considered that the omission of the phrase could be taken as any proof of a want of respect for religion. He considered that the subject had better not have been brought forward in that House.

Mr. Trunt

observed, that Providence had been left out of King's Speeches for the last two or three years, and, therefore, the omission in the present case could not be converted into any attack against Ministers. The omission was to be attributed to what was called the enlightened times. In periods of war, pestilence, and famine, to what could they look up for relief except to the Power on high. Hon. Members might treat the matter with derision, but he hoped Ministers would conform to the custom of expressing in the King's Speech the dependencies of the country on Divine Providence.

Mr. Hunt

trusted, that the omission had been designed. He knew that the people of England were averse to the introduction of subjects of this sort in King's Speeches. It had been observed, that when any great misfortunes had befallen the country, Ministers always took care that the King's Speeches should attribute them all to Divine Providence instead of to their own misconduct; but when any success was to be announced, the same Ministers always took all the credit to themselves. A great mass of the public, all the people who were not hypocritical, would be delighted at his Majesty's Ministers having made the omission, which they might not have noticed except for the observations of the hon. Baronet.

Mr. Goulburn

could not concur in the opinion, that upon the solemn opening of Parliament, the mentioning the name of God was a practice which it would be wise or proper to depart from, nor ought the omission to be made in a Speech which alluded to a malady which had overspread great part of Europe, and from the ravages of which there could be no protection, but from the aid of that source to which he had alluded. At the same time he was aware, that in treating a subject of that nature they always ran the risk of being misunderstood, and one party was accused of hypocrisy, while the other party was exposed to an accusation of a directly contrary tendency.

Mr. Warburton

wished, that those Gentlemen who advocated the insertion of the name of the Deity or of Providence in political and party documents, would only reflect a little upon the manner iii which these terms had been almost always prostituted on such occasions. There hall hardly been an atrocity committed by any sovereign which had not been attributed to Divine Providence; and every potentate always sought to justify his deeds of enormous crime by coupling them with the name of Providence. When persons reflected upon the power which all rulers had to use these terms in public documents for their own purposes, they could not too much praise his Majesty's Ministers, who had abstained from a practice that was so liable to be abused.

Mr. Estcourt

could not, from a regard to the Christian feelings of the country, sit quiet whilst Gentlemen offered objections to the public acknowledgement of Divine Providence. He thought that the abuse of a term in one case did not prevent the proper use of it on other occasions. From the manner in which the noble Lord had received the remarks of his hon. colleague, he hoped that the acknowledgment would in future be made.

Colonel Torrens

said, that the people of England were a religious and a moral people, and they did not think those persons to be the most pious or sincere who were prone to Introduce religion into public documents, and sermons into political assemblies.

Mr. Goulburn

did not mean to claim the praise of piety himself, or impute irreligion to others.

Mr. Sadler

did not intend to prolong the discussion. He was a sincere Christian, and he thought, that if there were any occasion on which it was necessary to introduce the name of Providence, it was the present. He did not wish to see the practice of their ancestors departed from.

Sir George Clerk

could answer for the inhabitants of that part of the kingdom that had sent him to Parliament, and he could assure the House that they would view with alarm the omission of the name of Providence from a Speech addressed to a Parliament that was about to make such extensive and important alterations in the institutions of the country.

Mr. R. Grant

said, that the course the discussion had taken was a proof of the great impropriety of introducing such a subject into debate in that House. He could not agree with the hon. Member under the gallery (Mr. Warburton), that because a very improper use had been matte of the allusion to Providence, a proper use of it was to be avoided. He, however, wished to deny, that the omission was to be construed into any want of respect for religion, and with this he hoped the subject might be dropped.

Mr. W. Peel

thought it most desirable that the subject should not be any further discussed.

Upon the question being again put from the Chair, that the Address be adopted,

Mr. O'Connell, being prevented by indisposition on the preceding evening from offering a few remarks on the Address, would detain the House then for a very short time. He approved of the general spirit of the Address, although he thought it objectionable in some particular parts. He was sorry, that he could find in it no expression of sympathy with the struggling Poles, whom he looked upon as at this moment the most interesting people in the world to every friend of mankind. He hoped, however, that the Government would take a more decided part respecting Belgium. That nation ought to be placed in the same condition which she held in 1790. She demanded no more, and he thought the demand reasonable. He wished also to say, that the bravery and perseverance of the Belgians, notwithstanding the dissensions which had been raised amongst them, were above all praise, and raised that people to a high rank among the nations of Europe. They had given another illustration of this lesson, that one nation cannot continue with impunity to wrong and oppress another. He hoped that the Government of this country would benefit by the lesson with respect to a neighbouring country connected with England, which a continuance of bad government would drive into the arms of France, or to the adoption of a republic, which would lead to a French connexion. He denied that the distress prevailing in Ireland was to be called famine. It was starvation certainly; but then it was starvation, not from dearth of food, but in the midst of plenty. In the port of Galway, for instance, there were numerous vessels laden with grain, though 7,000 of the inhabitants were reduced to a meal a day, and the vilest garbage. The same was the case in Connaught, where provisions were lying on board vessels in harbours ready for exportation, while the people were starving. Distress had been most fatally experienced in different parts of Ireland. In Galway, in the short space of a week, no less than eight human beings perished for want of food; yet from all these places in Galway, Newport, and other parts of Connaught, at the very time that thousands of the people were perishing from the want of food, numerous vessels were daily sailing loaded with provisions. Neither could the inability of the people to obtain a portion of that food be attributed to their indisposition to labour for it. That they were not disinclined to industry was evident in this country, where they cheerfully engaged in those employments which most required physical strength and continued exertion. Their want of means, therefore, to obtain the food which abounds before their eyes must be attributed to mismanagement; not to the mismanagement of Irishmen certainly, but to that of the English Government, whose rule for seven centuries had brought them to a state unparalleled in the history of nations, that of a people starving in the midst of plenty. For that he arraigned the English Government as the sole cause. He did not mean the present Government, which he believed to be disposed to do good to Ireland, but he should have liked to see some earnest of their intention, and what did he find in the King's Speech? The utmost that it held out was, the possibility of devising some means of relief. Was it then at this time still to be left to a possibility? The late Government, however, used to say that they could not interfere; it was impossible to do anything: Ireland had always been, and would always be, subject to periodical visitations —that is, the periodical visitations of starvation in the midst of plenty. Since the Union, the law had been made stronger and stronger in favour of the landlord and against the tenant. Twenty-five statutes had since been enacted to increase that power, and to enable the landlord to enforce continually-increasing rents. He had long been opposed to Poor-laws. He still disapproved of them. But he now saw no other remedy for the poor of Ireland but a compulsory provision for them. Much had been said lately of the security of the Church in Ireland. Now, religion was a good trade in most countries, but in Ireland it was particularly so. The poor of Ireland supported two Churches, one of which they believed to be necessary to themselves, and they maintained it out of their own poverty; and the English Parliament said the other was necessary for them, and accordingly taxed them enormously for its support ["Cries of No, no."] "Yes (said he), you take from the poor man, often in a time of scarcity, his tenth potato for that Church." Every man who heard him knew, that when the revenues of that. Church were transferred from one preceding it, one-third of those revenues belonged to the poor. Why should not that third be now restored to the poor? To see that act of justice done might reconcile the landlords to a compulsory provision. There was another subject, which he would not then go into, as he should hereafter have a better opportunity for doing so—he meant the system of taxation by the Grand Jury, which he called taxation without representation. The explanation which had been given by an hon. Gentleman opposite, rendered it unnecessary for him to vindicate the Government from the charge of too great lenity towards him. The Act under which he was pro- secuted had expired, and the Government could not obtain a judgment against him. In another respect he would say, that the Ministers of the Crown had taken a right view of the law. They had considered the existing laws sufficiently strong to put down the disturbances, and the result had fully borne them out. The country was now restored to peace. He had that day received information from Clare, upon authority which could not be doubted, that the outrages of the Terry-Alt system had ceased. As a further proof of the return to peace and good order throughout Ireland, he was enabled to state, that in many places the peasantry were rebuilding the walls, and repairing the hedges which were injured during the late unhappy disturbances. Nay further, that the peasantry in a variety of instances had compelled persons who illegally possessed themselves of arms, to return them to their rightful owners. It was evident from these facts, and from the past history of the country, that the people had no desire to commit outrage so long as any hope was held out to them that something would be done to ameliorate their condition. He begged it to be distinctly understood, that in making these remarks, nothing could be further from his mind that any intention to embarrass his Majesty's Government; for, on the contrary, the Ministers should have his disinterested support, and he thought them entitled to the support of every independent Member, for they had manifested not only an intention to reform the abuses existing in our political system, but they had practically set about the good work, and had made a beginning by their attack upon, that vile borough-mongering traffic of which Ireland had for years been the prey. Ireland was the prey of the worst species of the borough faction; they treated it as their natural spoil; but now there was a hope of better things—indeed the measure of Government was one for which the country ought to feel deeply grateful, and to which he was glad to think the public had responded as became them. The Tories, though a few yet were in the House, had been scattered and discomfited—they had been defeated everywhere, from Cumberland to Cornwall, from Dover to Liverpool, from St. Alban's to Bristol—in every part of the country the spirit of Reform had been triumphant, and he heartily rejoiced at it. If in Ireland there were places which had not responded to that feeling, there were other parts in that country which had nobly performed their duty, and Members were returned who were staunch friends to the Reform measure. On the whole, in Ireland a considerable increase of Members friendly to the principle of the Bill had been returned. In both countries the spirit of Reform had proved triumphant. Let Ministers persevere in the measure, and most wholesome would it be found to work. The wound, however, must be probed to the bottom, and the unsound parts cut off. Though not opposing the Address, he had felt it to be his duty to make those few observations.

Colonel Torrens

would take advantage of a future occasion to state his views of the condition of Ireland, its causes, and their remedies, at befitting length. At present he would merely observe, that he could not subscribe to several of the doctrines of the hon. member for Borough-bridge. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down as to the starvation and general distress, but in legislating for Ireland the first thing was, to restore tranquillity, and make the capital of the country in some degree equal to the burthens imposed on it. The revenues of the Church were felt, he admitted, to be a heavy and injurious tax, and he was perfectly ready to admit that the operation of the tithe system was unequal, and in some cases injurious; but, at the same time, he was by no means willing to subscribe to the inference that it was therefore to be abolished. He wished, on the contrary, to see some equitable and satisfactory arrangement made upon the subject, which, instead of allowing the valuation to be made upon the gross produce, would regulate it by the permanent annual value of the land.

Mr. Sadler

would, also, on a future occasion, enter fully into the consideration of the distresses of the labouring poor of Ireland, and would endeavour to show, that all that Ireland wanted was fair play for her native industry, and fair encouragement of her native resources. He was quite of opinion that one of the most effectual remedies for the evils under which Ireland was suffering would be, to apply the surplus labour to the cultivation of the surplus land. The land of Ireland was rich and fertile beyond calculation; the people were as willing to work, and as anxious to obtain employment, as any people upon the face of the globe; and what more was required? Good land and willing hands required only to be properly directed. Not that he thought it was therefore to be inferred that no provision for the poor would be necessary; so far from that, he had even held it to be sound principle, that property should sustain that poverty which must be incident, to any state of society; but he could by no means agree that the fund pointed out by the hon. and learned Member who spoke last would be at all sufficient for the purpose; and of this he felt assured, that if property of that nature were to be seized upon, equal justice ought to be dealt out to every man, and that the property of the laity derived from ecclesiastical sources ought to be seized upon, as well as that of the Clergy. Further, too, a tax upon absentees—at least spine arrangement that would reach their property—might be advantageously resorted to. His object was, to compel the great absentee proprietor, who spent in foreign Injuries the hard earnings of the poor tillers of the soil, to contribute his. just portion towards the support of those from whose industry he derived a lordly income. Selfishness and peudo-science might raise their feeble opposition to the proposition of a Poor-law in Ireland, but the cause of benevolence would prevail—for it was based on the eternal principles of moral and political justice. The hon. Member complained also of the vagueness of that part of the King's Speech which related to Ireland, regretting that the Government had not been more precise and definite with respect to their intentions upon the measures to be introduced for improving the condition of that part of the United Kingdom.

Sir Robert Harty

agreed with the hon. Member, that much remained to be done towards the improvement of Ireland. That country was no longer to be ruled by a system of mere coercion. Such a system had been, tried for centuries, but in vain; whatever else might be done with respect to that country, he hoped there would be no attempt to keep down the people of Ireland by force. It was incumbent on an enlightened legislature to devise at this the eleventh hour, such measures as might promote its industry and prosperity through the operation of equal laws and equal rights, and equal participation of the advantages of the Bri- tish name. Was it to be wondered at, that distress should prevail in Ireland, when its taxes were upwards of 5,000,000l. per annum—while its absentee proprietors annually abstracted 3,500,000l. from its productive capital? He thought it important to remark also, that no error could be greater than to suppose that Ireland never was a manufacturing country. Before machinery had been brought to such perfection in England, the manufactures of Ireland were considerable, and then peace and prosperity prevailed in that country. Even during the late war there was something like prosperity in Ireland—there was a demand for Irish produce—everything Irish could be sold— even the men, to fill the ranks of the Army. He sincerely hoped that some good might be done by the introduction of a system of Poor-laws, but he was not so sanguine as to hope that that measure would accomplish all which the friends of Ireland expected.

Lord Althorp

denied, that the local distresses in Ireland arose out of any other than natural causes—it proceeded from a failure of the crop. As to the Poor-laws, respecting the introduction of which into Ireland so much had been said, he must be allowed to observe, that the more hon. Members reflected upon them, the more would they be convinced that the subject was one of the greatest difficulty. He then proceeded to defend the language used in his Majesty's Speech from the charge of vagueness, and observed, that it was necessary to speak with caution on a subject of such difficulty as restoring the lower orders of the people of Ireland to prosperity and comfort. In the course of his speech, the hon. Gentleman opposite had adverted to several measures as well adapted for the amelioration of Ireland. He would not then enter into a discussion of those measures at present, as he thought that the best time for discussing them would be when they were regularly brought under the consideration of the House. He must say, however, that he was persuaded, after much consideration, that the subject was one of extreme difficulty; that it would have been exceedingly imprudent for the advisers of the Crown to have committed themselves to any greater extent; and that, above all things, it was their duty not to provoke premature discussion, Nothing could be more mischievous and inconvenient than bringing forward discussions otherwise than when regularly fixed and appointed. Respecting the laws between landlord and tenant, he confessed that his impression was, that those laws ought not to be relaxed; he thought nothing ought to be done to loosen those ties which led to the employment of capital in agricultural speculations. Recurring to the subject of the Poor-laws, he must repeat, that the greatest caution was necessary—that the Government was most anxions to do all in its power, but that if driven—as he feared they ultimately would be driven, however reluctantly—to the adoption of such a system, they ought previously to leave no measure untried for otherwise ameliorating the condition of the labouring classes in Ireland, by the introduction of capital, and |f possible, by creating a demand for labour, in the hope that eventually no system of Poor-laws might be required. Much benefit might be effected without the introduction of the Poor-laws. He thought that, by the application of capital to employ labour, instead of the application of capital to support individuals, and by improvement of the means of communication between different parts of Ireland, Government might enable that country to bring forward its very great resources, and to attain that prosperity for which its local advantages so well qualified it.

Mr. Ruthven

did not wish to see a system of Poor-laws established in Ireland, but was obliged to deplore the necessity which he feared was approaching for its introduction. There was a great deal of charity in Ireland, but it name from those who ought to be protected from the necessity of frequent donations, while those on whom the obligation of providing for the poor equally rested, ought to be compelled to do their duty.

Address agreed to.