HC Deb 15 July 1833 vol 19 cc638-43
Major Beauclerk

presented a Petition from freeholders and others of East Surrey, adopted at a public meeting, praying for a commutation of taxes, and complaining particularly of the Malt and Assessed taxes on houses and windows. He should have been most happy in presenting such a petition if he thought it likely to receive the attention of Government, but he feared, from what had been evinced, that there was little to expect from the present Ministry. The people had not been enamoured with Reform, because it was the means of turning and keeping out a Tory, and keeping in a Whig Government, but because they hoped through it, to have a reduction of taxation. He was extremely sorry that Government had so bitterly disappointed those expectations. In consequence of what bad fallen from the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he bad made particular inquiry at various markets, and other suitable places in the county of. Surrey, and the result of his research had been a more thoroughly confirmed opinion of the distresses of the agricultural interests. He hoped that Ministers would have that regard to sound policy ill the present stale of the country, which dictated the total repeal of those odious taxes, according to the prayer of this petition, and in compliance with the universal wishes of a united people.

Mr. Briscoe

supported the prayer of the petition. He was present at the meeting where it was agreed to, and could testify to the House, that the persons present were of the greatest respectability, and were all unanimous in demanding the repeal of these odious taxes.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

agreed in the sentiments embodied in the petition, and took that opportunity of expressing his regret that his Majesty's Ministers were not present in order that they might hear what the petitioners thought of their conduct. The Ministers had been always holding out to the people the great advantages of Reform; but when any practical measure was suggested in that House, or enforced from without, they uniformly came forward and invented, or found, some pretext for not acceding to it. They had before called upon the House for a vote of confidence in their general Administration; it was obtained, and now another was about to be asked for. With what justice? They had broken every pledge which they had given to the country, and disappointed all the fair hopes and expectations which had been entertained of practical Reform and relief from the pressing burthens of taxation. They had forfeited all confidence, disgusted the country, and treated the opinions of that House with contempt. The people put them on the Ministerial benches, with wreaths of laurel on their heads; but they had speedily withered—and the people, groaning under taxation, and anxious for immediate relief, deeply repented having ever placed any dependence on their promises. Looking to measures, and not men, the people were ready to support any Ministry which would give them practical relief, with safety to the country. His Majesty's Ministers could not much longer occupy their present situations. He would implore the House, in the name of justice, not to consent to any vote of confidence in Ministers, such as they would be asked for in the course of the evening, for their truckling and vacillating course of policy had disgraced themselves and dissatisfied the people.

Colonel Evans

was prepared to prove, that the House and Window taxes, to which the petition referred, was not just and impartial, and the people would be pusillanimous slaves if they endured them without complaint. The Ministry had irrevocably pledged themselves on four subjects—the East and West-India questions, the Bank Charter, and the repeal of the Assessed-taxes. The East-India question, as far as related to the throwing open of the China trade, had been in contemplation by the previous Government, who were prepared to recommend it to the House before they quitted office; so that the present Ministry had no peculiar claim to the merit of introducing it. As to the West-India question, the country could not and would not consent to pay 20,000,000l. wrung from taxation, for the purpose of putting an end to slavery. As to the Bank question, instead of removing the evils complained of, they had actually extended them, and given greater advantages to the monopolists than they formerly possessed; while their conduct in reference to the Assessed-taxes had irretrievably disgraced and overwhelmed them with public indignation. The House of Lords might deal with the Church of Ireland Reform Bill as they pleased; the people did not care for it—it was looked upon with indifference out of that House; but the present Ministry had forfeited the confidence of the House and the country, and some change was essential for the relief and welfare of the country.

The Solicitor General

asked: Would it not be magnanimous on the part of hon. Members to postpone these multifarious attacks upon the Ministers until they were present to refute them, which he was satisfied they would have very little difficulty to do? It could not be expected, that he, who only attended in the House for the purpose of presenting a petition, and was the only person present connected with the Government, should he prepared on the moment to defend every Ministerial measure, both foreign and domestic, which had been the subject of attack by different Members. The course adopted appeared to him exceedingly unfair, as it was most distinctly understood, that the morning sitting should be devoted to the presentation of petitions, and not made the vehicle of general discussions on politics.

Mr. Denison

would declare, in answer to some hints thrown out by the hon. and gallant member for the city of Westminster, that if the present Government should be obliged to leave office, they could not be succeeded by any set of men who had the real interests and happiness of this country more sincerely at heart than they had. He thought the present a most unfit and inconvenient period for discussions of this nature, and he wished to know how it was possible to present the petitions of the people if the time was thus consumed in the discussion of party politics? He supported the petition.

Mr. Finn

said, the conduct of the present Government towards Ireland was just as bad as was that of the Emperor Nicholas towards the Poles, and only the moderation of the Irish prevented them from making a resistance similar to that the Poles had made to the Russians.

Sir George Phillips

thought fair play was not given to the Ministers, nor did they receive sufficient credit for what they had already done for the country, considering the short period they had been in office. He deprecated all such attacks on the conduct of Ministers, which were only made behind their backs for the purpose of inflaming the public mind, when no opportunity was afforded of rebutting them [Cries of "Order"]. [Colonel Evans disclaimed any such intention]. Such, at least, was the tendency of the speeches of some of the hon. Members who had preceded him. The retirement from office of the present Ministers would be attended with the most fearful consequences to the country, and, in the course of a few weeks, the hon. Gentlemen opposite would themselves have great reason to regret it. He had the greatest confidence in their measures, both foreign and domestic, and believed no set of men had the good of their country more earnestly at heart he was very anxious to contradict assertions which had been made of the great distress that prevailed in the manufacturing districts. He denied that any great distress existed there, though he admitted that distress might exist in the agricultural districts. He had always been desirous to repeal taxes, but he would never do it at the expense of public credit. He felt confident, however, that another Session of Parliament would not pass without very great reductions in taxation.

Mr. Hume

thought, that was not the time to make speeches in praise or censure of Ministers; the time was very near at hand when the subject would be forced upon their consideration. In his opinion the best way to support public credit was, by lessening taxes to such a degree as to enable the people to pay them. He cordially supported the petition, and wished to inform the House, that public meetings were now holding in all parts of the country for the purpose of presenting similar petitions. The time had now arrived when Government must meet the wishes of the people on this subject.

Mr. Tennyson

said, his hon. friend seemed to speak with a good deal of authority upon the subject, but such a late attention to the wishes of the people would not give them satisfaction. Pressed as the Government now were, placed in all sorts of difficulties in order to keep their places, he did not doubt but that their hearts would soften a little towards the people; but that conduct would not satisfy the people, nor would it induce him to give one vote in order to keep on the Treasury benches a Ministry who had broken every pledge they had made for a long series of years. Any change would be for the better, for they must either get a better or a worse Government, and a worse would not stand for a week.

The Earl of Kerry

hoped the hon. member for Cork (Mr. E. O'Connor), who had spoken about pledges, would bring the question of Repeal of the Union fully and fairly before the House, to which the hon. Member was pledged.

Sir Samuel Whalley

said, the people blamed the Government for not experiencing the benefits of the Reform Bill, and they blamed the House of Commons for not enforcing a reduction of taxation, and remedying the grievances under which they laboured. There was no tax that so loudly called for repeal as the House and Window-tax. He for one would never help to keep any Ministry in office unless it was for the purpose of instituting the most searching economy and unless it pledged itself to the repeal of the iniquitous tax on houses and windows.

Mr. Fryer

said, the radicals and reformers did not know what they wanted. Why did not the Members unite together, and not belike a rope of sand? Nothing was done, and nothing obtained, because there was a want of unity among them. Had the Opposition among whom were all the complaints, done their duty, the obnoxious taxes would have been repealed, or the supplies would have been stopped.

Mr. Baldwin

said, the question seemed to have been discussed as if there were but two parties, Whigs and Tories; but he would only support that class that did best for the people, without regard to party. He eared not who was Minister, so that the Administration were one that would uphold the interests of the country.

Mr. John E. Stanley

, trusted that those Gentlemen who condemned a Government which had been prevented, from many causes, from going as far as they wished, when they gave their support to any other Government, would urge them on to complete those things which had now been commenced.

Mr. Cobbett

wished to say a single word upon the petition. It did not state, that the petitioners wished for the repeal of the whole Malt-tax. [Mr. Briscoe: It says the whole tax.] One hon. Member had said he would be content to have one-half the Malt-tax taken off'; but it would be of no use to take off only half the Malt-tax. He wished much for a repeal of the House-tax, but he thought a repeal of the whole of the Mall-tax was as loudly called for, and would be more beneficial.

Mr. Hawes

said, that as to a change of Ministers, he for one did not think it would be conducive to the interests of the country that such a change should take place at present; and, he certainly would not seek for a better Administration through a worse one.

Petition laid on the Table.

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