HC Deb 11 February 1833 vol 15 cc538-50
The Reverend Oliver M'Causland, Rector of Tanlaghtfinlagan, County of Londonderry, with a house and glebe of 191 acres, and tithes amounting, as under the Composition Act, to 1,000
William M'Causland, as Law Agent to the Board of Charitable Donations 1,500

This put him in mind of the story in Gil Blas, of a man who became suddenly rich as soon as he was appointed a guardian of the interests of the poor. Here were no less than ten distinct Hannibals, who, independent of the emoluments received by Judge Bushe and his family, to whom, doubtless, would be consigned the care of the dungeon" in Ireland as soon as Ministers obtained fresh powers—here were ten different Hannibals, all of whom were to go to the altar, and swear eternal hostility to that very measure for desiring to repeal which the hon. and learned Member was characterized as a traitor—who divided amongst themselves 22,233l. of the public money. He thought he had exhibited to the House a pretty picture of apostacy; but there was something more in this matter than mere apostacy; persecution was sure to follow apostacy. Apostates were all persecutors. Men became apostates for the sake of plunder; and turned persecutors because they knew they could not keep their plunder unless they destroyed those with whom they had been accustomed to co-operate, and whose resentment they were fully aware they had excited by their perfidy. The nation was, he believed, in the hands of gorged apostates, who became ferocious in proportion to the peculations they enjoyed. It was the duty of every honest man to pray that the nation might speedily be delivered from them; and it would not be in the power of any one long to delay that deliverance. Affairs were in a condition vastly like this in the time of Charles 1st. To prove it he would read a paragraph from the History of the Long Parliament, by T. May, relative to the famous apostacy of Wentworth:—' The Lord Wentworth,' said May (' afterwards created Earle of Strafford for his service of that kind) was then labouring to oppresse Ireland, of which he was deputy; and to begin that worke in a conquered kingdome, which was intended to be afterward wrought by degrees in England: And, indeed, he had gone very farre and was very pros-' perous in those waies of tyranny, al-' though very much to the endamaging and setting-backe that newly-established kingdome.' Things were then and now in the hands of gorged apostates and recorded plunderers. Still, unless the people came to the aid of their faithful Representatives—unless they exerted themselves for the purpose of obtaining that relief which was absolutely necessary—no redress of their grievances would be obtained. The Reform of Parliament would turn out to be of no use. They might be told they had got Reform, and what more did they want? Reform was of no use unless this House did its duty; unless it looked to the complaints which were made to it; unless it resolved to put a stop to the system of plundering which had so long prevailed in the country. "Ah! say you (continued the hon. Member), but they have got 100,000 soldiers in Ireland; but these 100,000 soldiers will not protect the paper money, on which an attack is threatened to be made. If, in May last, the run upon the banks had continued for forty-eight hours longer, they would have been completely knocked up. If the least insurrection takes place, away goes the paper money, as you would blow off the down of the dandelion." He had now laid before the House the address which he thought that it should return in answer to the King's Speech. He had given his opinion as to the gorged apostates now in power—he had given his opinion as to the manner in which the people were plundered by them, and how the money of the people was thrown away upon these aristocratical robbers, at the very time that the people were famishing. He should divide the House upon his Amendment, and the House might vote upon it as it pleased.

Mr. John Fielden

seconded the Amendment. A great deal had been said, he observed, on the subject of increasing production and increasing consumption in the country; and, however anomalous it might appear, or, however strange, it was not more strange than true, that the distress among the labouring part of the community had gone on increasing with the increase of production and consumption. Since he had been elected in January last, as the Representative of the borough of Oldham, he had taken great pains to inform himself on the subject of the distresses of the people. He had caused a survey and examination to be made by respectable persons, who had personally visited the cottages of the poor, for the purpose of ascertaining their real condition. In the borough of Oldham, which he had the honour to represent, and where he did not expect to find so much distress, out of a population of 50,000, which the borough contained, there were upwards of 8,000, whose average income per head, for food and clothing, did not amount to 2½d. a-day each. Of these 8,000 and upwards, 1,100 were out of employment. He had obtained surveys of thirty other townships, and the Returns showed that, out of a population of 159,000, 41,000 and upwards, more than one-fourth of the whole population, had not more than 2d. a head a-day, for food and clothing. In these distressed townships, these people were employed in the manufacture of silk, of woollen, and of cotton. Of the 159,000 and upwards, in these thirty townships, little more than 1,000 were out of employment; the rest were in full work. He and his partners were extensively engaged in the spinning and manufacturing of cotton; and, of his own knowledge, he could state that the Returns relative to those employed in that branch of manufactures were, in the main, correct, and substantially true. He could not vote for the Address, because he was afraid that, if coercive measures were conceded for putting down the people in Ireland, instead of redressing their grievances, the same additional power would be asked for to coerce the people of England, if their grievances were not immediately redressed. The expectations of the people had been raised, and they were looking to this Reformed House for relief from their burthens, and an alleviation of their sufferings; and, if disappointment should ensue, he trembled for what might follow. He implored the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to make inquiry into the truth of these statements; nay, he challenged inquiry. He would hand over his books containing these Returns to the noble Lord, which would direct him to the cottages of every one of these families where the distress might be found. Considerable sums of money had been voted by former Parliaments for the purposes of making inquiry and investigation into matters of much less importance than this; and he trusted that an inquiry would be instiuted for the purpose of acertaining the real condition of the labouring classes. The Thursday before he came to town, he met Captain Wood, the unsuccessful candidate for Huddersfield, Mr. William Stocks, and another of that town, who informed him that, in 1829, Mr. Stocks had examined into the state of distress in that district, and that, at that period, out of 29,000, there were 13,000, who had not an average of 2½d. a-day for subsistence; and who assured him (Mr. Fielden) that now, in the division of Upper Aggbrigg, containing a population of 103,000, he believed that there' were 40,000 persons that had not more than twopence a-day each for subsistence. He had intended to go into further statements on the subject of this distress; but, at this late hour, he would not occupy the time of the House, as opportunities would be afforded him hereafter of doing so. He should therefore sit down, after seconding the Amendment of his hon colleague.

The Amendment having been put from the Chair,

Mr. Ward

said, that he would not have uttered a word upon this occasion had not the hon. member for Oldham said, that he would divide the House, if it were only to show the people of England who were their friends and who were their enemies. Now, he should vote against the Amendment; and yet he fancied himself to be quite as true a friend to the people of England as the hon. Member himself. It was not by vague declamations, that the sufferings of the people of England were to be relieved; it was not by the desultory efforts of individuals that their distresses were to be alleviated; but it was by combining the efforts of individuals, and by intrusting the direction of them all to an Administration entitled to confidence, that any beneficial result was to be attained. He was not acquainted with any member of the Administration; but if he were asked why he thought the Administration entitled to confidence, he would reply: "Because they have accomplished for us the work of Reform." He could not forget, though many Gentlemen seemed to have forgotten, that the Reform which they granted to us went far beyond the expectations of the country; and he was not prepared on that, the fifth day of the Session, to declare that the hopes of the people of England were defeated, in consequence of the machinery of the Reform Bill being found incompetent to direct the machinery of Government. He should vote for the Original Address; but he must avow a determination to support any measure which was likely to relieve the sufferings of the people of Ireland. He thought that the hon. and learned member for Dublin had entirely mistaken the sentiments of that House; he believed that whenever that hon. and learned Member brought forward any measure, applying a remedy to any specific grievance in Ireland, the British Parliament would gladly support him in carrying it into effect. But from the moment that hon. Gentlemen saw agitation systematically carried on—from the moment that they saw grounds for suspecting that there was a mixture of private with public views—from the moment anything like a factious disposition assumed the garb of patriotism—from that moment, the hon. and learned Member must not reckon upon the support of any independent man in that House. Upon the redress of grievances the hon. and learned Member would find every independent English Member ready to co-operate with him; but as to the Repeal of the Union, the sense of the House was decidedly against him; indeed he never heard of any measure so self-destructive as this proposition, to divide the Imperial Legislature into two distinct and separate legislatures.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

spoke to the following effect: No man can be more grateful than I am for the benefits which we have derived from the present Administration; but the events which took place before we carried the great objects for which we had long contended, ought to prove a warning never again to lead the people into similar circumstances. In my conscience, I believe that we are now proceeding in a course of error. We are met here as a Reformed Parliament for the first time in our history. Why did we reform the Parliament? For two reasons—first, to relieve the people from the insupportable distress under which they labour; secondly, to restore and confirm the liberties of the people. What then must have been my surprise on hearing the Speech from the Throne, that the first measure recommended to this House by his Majesty's Ministers, is a measure to restrain the liberty of the subject, and perhaps, establish arbitrary power in Ireland. I do not know what the words mean unless they mean a suspension of the Constitution. I believe that the honourable men who conduct the Government of the country, would be merciful, lenient and mild in the administration of tyrannic power; but I will never consent that my constituents, and, constitutionally speaking, I consider the Irish as my constituents, or at least that I am bound to legislate for them as such. I will never consent that any portion of the inhabitants of the British empire shall be delivered over to the despotic power of any set of men, however pure, benevolent, wise, or upright. Nothing but the very last necessity shall ever induce me to give my consent to such a measure. Another object of the Reform of the Parliament has been altogether overlooked—the distress of the people—the long-suffering, miserable people. What will be the feeling of the people of England if this House agree to an Address which does not contain one word about their unbearable sufferings? Now, I have an Amendment which I wish to propose. It is very short. It is at once suaviter in modo, et fortiter in re. As it is so short an Amendment, I hope the noble Lord, who is so celebrated for his candour and true patriotism, will see reason to consent to it. I will read it at the proper time, but, in the interim, hope the House will excuse me if I make one or two remarks—I shall not trouble them with more—on the Speech from the Throne and the Address. There was one expression in that Speech which struck terror into my heart, and which I fear will strike terror and indignation into the hearts of the people of England. The expression to which I allude is that which calls upon us, by all practicable means, to promote habits of industry and good order amongst the labouring classes of the people of England. Why, have we not, on the Table of this House, or elsewhere, a Bill to prevent them from working themselves to death? Is not this an industrious, meritorious people—and is an insinuation to go forth, that this people want stimulants to industry? Are not thousands of men going from town to town, and place to place, begging for employment; and then, too, we are called upon to preserve good order among them. Have they not, I ask, already proved that they are orderly—with what good order have they not conducted themselves? I have seen 200,000 of them assemble together in times of great excitement, as peaceably as lambs, and I have seen them also return as peaceably as lambs, without committing any, the slightest insult or outrage to any man. Many of those men were earning only 3s. or 4s. a-week, as has been already stated by the hon. member for Oldham; many had, perhaps, walked twenty miles to attend that meeting, and afterwards went home as peaceably as lambs. And is good order to be recommended to these orderly, patient, long-suffering men? Such an expression is more than unnecessary, and I think it can do no good. I wish to say just one word upon another subject—I refer to unhappy Ireland. It is said that agitation does all the mischief in Ireland. I firmly believe that agitation has nothings to do with it. It is extreme poverty and misery which has made agitation, and not agitation the misery and poverty. I deprecate the application of force. It is a wrong remedy, and will not have any other effect than that of exasperating the Irish nation. Poverty—stinging, grinding poverty—is the cause of the discontent that exists in Ireland; and the more poverty is coerced the more it will increase. Poverty has already made them madmen; by coercion you may make them devils. I deprecate, therefore, the application of unconstitutional power to coerce the unhappy, miserable people, who are marked out for its objects. Every man who listened to the speeches of the hon. member for Leeds, and the hon. and learned member for the University of Dublin, must feel, that both those hon. Members led the House considerably astray from the real question in discussion before it. The hon. member for Leeds has made a very eloquent harangue against the Repeal of the Union; but I do not understand that question to be now under the consideration of this House. The real question is this—Will the Representatives of the people intrust tyrannic power in the hands of the Government? I am no friend to the Repeal of the Union. I wish to try what a Reforming House of Commons will do to relieve the distresses and ameliorate the condition of Ireland. And I trust that this House will not be found wanting in the application of efficient remedies to those evils by which she is afflicted. In that case I am no friend to the Repeal of the Union; but if I find that this House wants either the power or the will to apply these remedies, then I shall declare myself a friend to Repeal. I hope, therefore, that you will regard the people of Ireland with a more indulgent eye, and at least show a wish to adopt a conciliatory course. The hon. and learned member for the University of Dublin complained that the Irish were guilty of horrible crimes. If he had endeavoured to prove to us that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act would put down crime, then, indeed, he might have induced us to consider the subject. But I feel assured that neither the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, nor the sending over militia regiments—neither cannon balls, nor bayonets—will have any effect in putting down crime and outrage in Ireland. Guilt is the child of misery, and until misery is relieved, guilt will continue to increase. I beg to remind the House of what took place at the dangerous period of 1776—I beg to remind you of what took place at that dangerous period when the complaints of America were brought before this House. America had one real grievance—Ireland has now a hundred. The strength of the Irish discontents is ten times greater than ever existed in America in 1776. The danger of outraging such a people is now very great, and I hope you will pause before you approve of coercion, and that you will shrink from exasperating a people whom the sufferings of many years have made to burn with fierce and indignant passion. The state of the English mind also is, in my opinion, not in a condition to justify extreme measures against Ireland; and if extreme measures be resorted to, not only will the people of England not support the Government, but I am not certain to what extent they may not carry their resistance. Let the House remember that the very elements of society are in a state of disunion—the hearts of the working men are dislocated in their bosoms; and it would be throwing a firebrand into a magazine of gunpowder to send a tyrannic commission into Ireland. I warn the noble Lord of the consequences of such a proceeding. I do it with great respect, and solely from a desire of preventing insurrection; and should the House consider it its duty to grant the required powers, I entreat his Majesty's Ministers on no account to use those powers, unless some terrible and overwhelming emergency should arise. The wishes of the people of England ought to be in some degree considered. I trust you will not go too far. Let me remind you of what took place in 1798. We were then told that the state of things required strong measures; but the measures which may be adapted to one state of society are often very ill suited to another. The state of society in Ireland—the state of society in England—and the state of society in Europe, was then very different to what it is now. Measures may be right at one time and not at another. What has since transpired on the Continent of Europe has given new lessons to the world. I call on you, as statesmen, to bear those lessons in remembrance. If, unhappily, you should be led to adopt coercive measures in Ireland, and the Irish people resist, remember they are no longer an undisciplined mob. You cannot mow them down with your artillery as you did at Vinegar Hill. Upwards of 100 towns would be converted into fortresses in a few hours. You must now sacrifice armies to put down an insurrection in Ireland, though some years ago a few regiments would have sufficed. I shall not address you further on this subject; but it is my most earnest wish to call the attention of the House and of the Government to the too probable consequences of the course which his Majesty's Ministers seem determined to adopt. It has been said, that the Government must be feared before it can be loved. If Ministers hope for quiet in Ireland—if they wish for the love of the people of that country, they must first do away with misgovernment. Surely the way to command love is not by sending the destroying angel forth over that land. It has been said by Burke, that England never sent out the angel of peace, but the destroying angel was sent with her. In this instance his Majesty's Ministers are about to send forth the destroying angel—but no angel of peace is to accompany her footsteps. They open the Pandora's box and let out a flood of evils on unhappy Ireland, whilst even hope is not found behind. I recommend this to your most serious consideration. Remember, also, that Ireland is not capable of being reduced to a state of fear. Despair knows no fear; a nation goaded to madness by long suffering, laughs to scorn the bayonet and the cannon. Give them something to lose—something to make life desirable, and then it is possible to make them fear. Under present circumstances, then, I urge you rather to soothe than to exasperate such a nation. I have heard the Irish people accused of idleness and indifference to duties. No remark is more unjust. I have known these upright and valuable men walk hundreds of miles, and cross the sea, to labour hard in England. They exhibit enterprise, industry, and economy—a most remarkable combination of remarkable qualities. They save their earnings during the summer, in order to carry them back to their families. A nation thus enterprising, frugal, and industrious, ought never to be accused of any kind of idleness or unwillingness to work. It is the duty of this House to place labour in their hands. It should inquire into the cause that has for one hundred years past denied them the opportunity of labouring in their own country—that has, as it were, broken their right hand, and deprived them of its use. It should be ascertained why it was, that whilst they had the power of obtaining by the labour of their hands, more of the comforts of life than they or their families could consume, they had no opportunity of using to advantage the powers and disposition which nature had bestowed upon them. One remark more—only one remark, on the foreign subjects of the Address. I wish that his Majesty's Ministers, instead of exhibiting their courage in Ireland, had turned their vengeance on the tyrant of Russia. Why have they not used one single word of commiseration towards unhappy, heroic Poland? I assure them, that if they do not think of it, the people of England will think of it. His Majesty's Ministers seem to forget that such a nation as Poland was ever heard of; but I trust this House will not; and I am sure the people of England will never consent that such a nation as Poland shall remain in its present miserable condition. I will trouble the House with one other point. His Majesty's Ministers appear to have found friendship where they expected hostility, and hostility where they expected friendship. The right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth, has given them his support. I am not surprised at it—but I am surprised how they could imagine that he or any of his party would ever become their friends. He has fallen from his high and palmy state for neglecting the wrongs of the English people, and shutting his ears to their prayers for relief; and the object probably next his heart is to see those disgraced who have been the occasion of his fall—to see them identify themselves with those very principles which have led him to destruction. I am surprised that the Ministers have not acted on the principle of timeo Dawaos. Whatever measures that right hon. Baronet supported, ought at least to have excited their suspicion, and have made them pause, lest they should be acting contrary to their honour and their welfare. There is one other remark that I wish to make—only one. I wish his Majesty's Ministers would learn to distinguish their friends from their enemies. They know that the aristocracy are against them—that four-fifths of the gentry, the whole of the clergy, three-fourths of all the professions are opposed to them, and that their only real support is in the good opinion of the people. To the honest and industrious people they should look for strength and popularity; and their conduct in disregarding the distresses of that people, and in acting in a manner far from consonant with their wishes, excites both my surprise and regret. If the noble Lord thinks it not inconsistent with his duty, I hope that he will consent to the adoption of a very short Amendment—an Amendment which will carry balm into the wounded hearts of thousands of the industrious people of England and Ireland, which will light up their bosoms with joyous hope, without compromising that justice which Ministers appear determined to uphold. I shall not vote in favour of the Amendment of the hon. member for Oldham, but I feel that I cannot support this Address.

Mr. Hume

, amidst loud cries of "question! question!" divide! divide!" was understood to say, that however much he might regret and feel himself bound to oppose the system of coercion which his Majesty's Ministers seemed determined to pursue towards Ireland, yet that the House had already once divided on that question, and the Amendment before them was substantially the same. He hoped the present Amendment would not be pressed to a division, having already divided with his hon. friend the member for Lambeth, and he thought himself not called upon to support this Amendment as nothing had occurred in the course of the debate which in the slightest degree altered his opinion.

The House divided on Mr. Cobbett's Amendment: Ayes 23; Noes 323—Majority 300.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

proposed an Amendment—namely, in the last paragraph but three, to leave out from the words, by all practicable means," to the end of the paragraph, and to insert the words, "such improvements in the condition of the agricultural and manufacturing classes of the community as alone can permanently support the habits of industry and good order prevailing among them."

The Speaker having put the question,

Lord Althorp

said, that the original words did not imply any tendency towards disorder or idleness in the labouring classes, not even though legislative remedies should prove ineffectual to remove their distress. He would, therefore, support them, as in reality less liable to be construed in an offensive sense to the people than those proposed by the hon. Gentleman.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

then proposed, another Amendment, as follows:—That, in the third line of the last paragraph, after the word disappointed,' and before the words, and we shall be ready to adopt such measures of salutary precaution,' the following words be inserted: As soon as we shall have adopted the necessary measures for redressing the wrongs and relieving the distress of the Irish people, if such measures should prove ineffectual in putting down the disturbances in Ireland, and in giving peace and contentment to that unhappy country.'"

Amendment negatived.

Report on the Address agreed to.