HC Deb 13 September 1831 vol 6 cc1375-7
Lord George Lennox

said, he had to present a Petition from a lady named Harfield, who resided at Westbourne, in Sussex. The petitioner stated, that in November last her thrashing-machine was broken, and that upon presenting to the Magistrates in sessions a claim for compensation against the hundred, she was informed by the said Magistrates, that the Act which regulated recoveries against the hundred did not include thrashing-machines. The petitioner therefore prayed from that hon. House such compensation as the justice of her case entitled her to.

Mr. Hume

thought there must be some mistake in the petition, because he had always understood that compensation for the destruction of this kind of property could be recovered against the hundred. It was stated in Lord Melbourne's circular last year, that thrashing-machines were as much under the protection of the law as any other species of property; and if this were not the case, another hour ought not to be allowed to pass without an alteration in the law.

Mr. Spring Rice

was also of opinion that there must be some mistake in the petition. He believed that thrashing-machines were as much under the protection of the law as any other property was, and until he heard it laid down by some competent legal authority, that compensation for such property could not be recovered from the hundred, he should certainly not acquiesce in the decision of the Magistrates in the petitioner's case. But perhaps the decision of the Magistrates was not correctly stated in the petition. It might be that there was some defect in the claim which had been presented by the petitioner.

Lord George Lennox

was not competent to give an opinion upon the law of the case, but he was sure there was no mistake as to the facts stated by the petitioner. The Magistrates had told her that thrashing-machines were not included in Mr. Peel's Act.

Mr. Hunt

said, that the best way was, to prohibit thrashing-machines altogether. When labour was low priced, as at present, the work could be better and cheaper done by hand; and if the landlords would but lower their rents one-third, which they ought to do, there would be no destruction of machinery, for labourers would be employed at adequate wages.

Mr. Hume

said, the hon. Member contradicted himself; he said the work could be better and cheaper done by hand than by machines. If that was the case, the farmer would of course lay aside his machines for his own advantage, He considered the tone of the hon. Member's observations likely to create mischief.

Mr. Hunt

said, he had never meant to say that the farmers were not to use such machines if they pleased, nor had he any desire to encourage persons to do mischief.

Lord Ingestrie

observed that he had understood the hon. Member to recommend thrashing-machines to be put down, which would enable the farmers to employ more labourers. He regretted to understand that Wiltshire was again visited by incendiaries; a thrashing machine had been just completed by a farmer near Salisbury, and as it was about to be used, his whole premises were destroyed, to his utter ruin. He feared the country was in a very unsettled state.

Mr. Hodges

said, the allusion of the hon. member for Preston to rents was ill-timed, and was not borne out by facts: where they had been most reduced, the labourer's comforts had not increased.

Mr. George Robinson

said, if the House could not give the farmers increased means of employment, they could not employ more labourers. It was important, therefore, for them to consider if there was no other way of meeting the evil of an unemployed population for which they were unable to furnish employment. The obvious remedy was, to facilitate the labourer's obtaining the means of subsistence. They might avoid burthening the necessaries of life with excessive taxes, and they might, by reducing taxation and altering the Corn-laws, raise the rate of profit and increase employment. He could confirm the hon. member for Kent in his remark respecting reducing rents; he had himself a small property in that county, and had reduced the rents from fifteen to twenty per cent, which had relieved the farmers, but had not ameliorated the condition of the labourers. He had, he regretted to say, received information that fires were again beginning to make their appearance in that county; he therefore hoped, that vigorous measures would be immediately taken to stop such proceedings.

Mr. Paget

said, as long as there was no other qualifications for a Magistrate than property to the amount of 100l. a year, it was likely many persons would get into the magistracy who were unfit for the situation. When so much depended upon their fitness for the office, it was incumbent upon the Legislature to inquire if some other qualifications were not necessary than a certain amount of property.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

observed, there could be no doubt that machinery had amazingly multiplied the productive power of the country, but it was equally clear that the poorer classes of people had not yet, at all events, received much benefit from it. He was of opinion that the present generation would experience all the evils of machinery, and the next derive all the advantages of it. Thrashing-machines could in no case prevent the employment of the poor, but might assist in their obtaining it, by retaining land in cultivation which might otherwise go out of it. He begged to remark, in reply to the hon. member for Leicester's strictures upon the magistracy, that he had always considered a low qualification as an advantage, inasmuch as it gave a greater choice, and permitted persons to be chosen who were connected with the people, which produced a species of self government. A stranger, however learned in the law, could not inspire the people with such confidence as a man who constantly lived amongst them and entered into all the minor details of the administration of justice.

Mr. Paget

thought, there were descriptions of Magistrates, whom the hon. Baronet would not attempt to praise, or approve of such persons being appointed merely because they had a qualification of 100l. a-year. Did the hon. Baronet ever hear of a trading Justice? He had known such, and they were a severe infliction on the poor. It could not be disputed that there were at present many incompetent and unfit persons in the magistracy.

Petition to be printed.

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