HC Deb 19 March 1831 vol 3 cc579-82
Mr. Hunt

said, he had another Petition to present, of which he had given notice. It showed the evils of the Truck System, and was drawn up some twelve months ago, when the hon. member for Staffordshire brought in his bill to compel the payment of labourers' wages in money. The petition was taken round to as many as eight or nine Members of that House, soon after it was drawn up, but they had all objections to presenting it, for some reason or another—but, as petitioners conceived, because it alluded to an individual—one Cobbett—who was the editor of some publication of which those hon. Members were in dread. The petition was brought to him (Mr. Hunt) at that time, to see whether he could recommend the petitioners to whom they should apply to present it; and, upon being told that so many Members had refused, he said, "if he were in Parliament, and knew the statements in it to be true, he should have no hesitation in presenting it." When he (Mr. Hunt) became a Member of that House, the petitioners reminded him of his former declaration, and called on him to fulfil it; and, in accordance with the pledge so given, he now presented the petition. The hon. Member then proceeded to read the statements contained in the petition, which was as follows:— The humble Petition of the undersigned Labourers, of the Parish of Kensington, in the County of Middlesex, and of Barnes, in the County of Surrey; Mosthumbly sheweth—That your Petitioners belong to a class of the community who are destined by Providence to earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow. That for some time past, previous to the winter of 1827, and the spring of 1828, your petitioners have been enabled to command, as wages for garden and other labour, from 2s. 6d. to 3s. a day; that with such wages, scanty and insufficient as they are to purchase any thing other than the necessaries of life, your humble petitioners have been, nevertheless, able to support themselves, their families, and their children. That owing to the pressure of the times, consequent upon the enormous taxes with which this country is burthened, and which fall so heavily upon the labouring classes of the community, your petitioners have greatly experienced the want of employment; but, being naturally anxious to embrace it whenever it offered itself, your humble petitioners were compelled, by that necessity which arises from the increasing wants of their families, to accept of employ under one William Cobbett, a nurseryman and a seeds man, residing at Kensington, in the county of Middlesex, and also occupying what he calls an "Indian corn farm," at Barn Elms, in the county of Surrey, upon the following terms—namely, 2lbs. of meat, 1½lb. of bread, and ½lb. of cheese per day for each man! That the said William Cobbett assigned to your petitioners, as a reason for this sort of payment of wages, "his great desire to keep your petitioners from the cursed chandler's shop and the big brewer; and also, that every man who worked for him should have in his belly some bread, meat, and cheese. These were the motives assigned by the said William Cobbett for thus employing your humble petitioners; but more false or more hypocritical motives never were assigned, as will be seen, and of which your honourable House will be perfectly convinced, by the following statement of facts: to wit, the meat, consisting of the worst part of bad mutton, or cheap pickled pork, might have been bought by your humble petitioners at 5d. a pound retail; the bread, composed of coarse black filthy Indian corn meal and rye flour, at 1d. a pound; and stinking cheese at 4d. a pound, making the wages of your petitioners to consist of food of the following value—namely,

For Mutton or Pork 2lb at 5d. 10d.
For Bread 1½ at 1
For Cheese ½ at 4 2
Total 1s. 1½ a day.
Thus paying your humble Petitioners, in lieu of 3s. or 2s. 6d, a day in money, paying them in such disgusting food, to the utmost not worth more than thirteen-pence-halfpenny, (hangman's wages), while the prime cost of it to the said William Cobbett could not possibly exceed sixpence-three-farthings. Your honourable House, therefore, will readily perceive, from the foregoing premises, the true cause and selfish motives which induced the said William Cobbett to adopt the infamous practice of paying your humble petitioners in meat and meal, instead of the current coin of the realm. With such payment of wages your petitioners were left with no means whatever to purchase clothes, fuel, beer, soap, candles, lodging, or even tobacco, now rendered so necessary by the habits of their lives; and, in short, your humble petitioners were deprived of the necessaries of life, or compelled to sell, at an immense loss, a great portion of their hard-earned, coarse, and unwholesome food, such as the hogs of the said William Cobbett have been frequently known to refuse, in order to pur- chase some one of the articles just above enumerated. Your petitioners, therefore, most earnestly implore that your honourable House will interpose between your humble petitioners and all such persons who may be disposed to imitate the fatal and abominable example of the said William Cobbett, and pass a law as will in future protect them from becoming the dupes of such low cunning, as also from the additional misery and degradation of their station in life, by preserving them from the payment of wages in food. And your petitioners further pray, that they may be permitted to prove all and every allegation contained in their humble petition at the bar of your honourable House. And your petitioners will ever pray. A grosser instance than this of the evils arising from the truck system, perhaps, had never been brought before the House; and he hoped the system would soon be put an end to. The individual referred to (Cobbett) had been attacking him (Mr. Hunt) in his publications; but he assured the House he was not instigated to present the petition from that circumstance. He had pledged himself to present the petition many months ago, before those attacks had taken place. As he was on his legs, he would advert to another circumstance:—A few nights ago, the subject of the treatment of prisoners in gaols came under their consideration; and when he (Mr. Hunt) alluded to a fact which came within his own knowledge, as to the treatment of some Reformers in a gaol in Yorkshire, the hon. member for Weymouth (Sir E. Sugden) boldly and plainly got up and said (in a manner, no doubt, quite parliamentary) that he did not believe the account. In answer to the hon. member for Weymouth, an hon. Alderman (Wood) then rose and started, that he knew the greater portion of the facts mentioned by him (Mr. Hunt) to be true. Now, the particular case alluded to was that of a Reformer named Reilly, who was committed, in the year 1817, as a Reformer, and cut his throat in prison; and the fact stated was, that a brother Reformer was put into the cell, where the man had committed suicide, before the cell was cleaned out. The hon. member for Weymouth said it was impossible such a circumstance could have taken place in this country, and that, if any thing of the kind had occurred, those guilty of such cruel treatment must have been brought to justice. The relations of Reilly, most respectable shopkeepers, however, had since called on him and confirmed the whole of his previous statement, which they were ready to prove at the bar of the House. The hon. Member was proceeding to give an account of a statement made to him by the brother of Reilly, when

An hon. Member

rose to order, and observed, that the statement into which the hon. Member was entering had nothing whatever to do with the petition he was about to present.

Mr. Hunt

appealed to the Speaker whether he had not a right to advert to a direct contradiction given to a statement of his on a former evening?

The Speaker

said, that the hon. member for Preston was quite in order.

On the question that the Petition be printed,

Another hon. Member rose, and was about to enter into the subject of the contradiction given by the hon. member for Weymouth to the statement of the hon. member for Preston, with respect to the case of Reilly, when he was stopped by

The Speaker, who said, that the hon. member for Preston was personally concerned in the matter, and, therefore, had that claim on the attention of the House to his statement, which the hon. Member who was about to address the House had no title to.

Mr. O'Connell

remarked, that the mode in which Mr. Cobbett paid his labourers, would render him a benefactor in Ireland, where they would be too glad to work for beef and bread. He had heard the character of Mr. Cobbett very highly spoken of by the Irish labourers in his neighbourhood.

The Petition to be printed.

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