HC Deb 24 June 1833 vol 18 cc1130-5
Mr. Thomas Attwood

presented a petition from 150,000 persons, assembled at a public meeting of the inhabitants of Birmingham, at New Hall Hill, against the Assessed-taxes, the Corn-laws, and all other taxes on industry. The meeting from which this petition emanated was one of the best conducted he had ever attended. When he had last the honour of presenting a petition on the subject of the Corn-laws, he was told by an hon. Member opposite, that he, the Representative of a manufacturing constituency, should attend to their interests peculiarly. But that was a principle he never could, never would, admit. For when he learned that the labourers in several parts of England had no more than 4s. 6d. a-week, and when he knew that several parishes were obliged to mortgage their rates to support their poor, so wretched and so numerous were they, he could never conceive any censure deserved for honest interference to alleviate the distresses of the agricultural labourer. The fact was, that while the Corn-laws existed, the curse of the country, the monetary laws would also exist. He would prove, that in consequence of both, the condition of the people of England were deteriorated fifty per cent. The fact was, that the population had increased thirty percent, while the land had been deteriorated twenty percent, and thus the people had been reduced to the condition of subsisting upon one half of their former food. Ministry succeeded Ministry, and still no relief followed, and the people were left to perish gradually. But they put forward, and adopted in Lord Liverpool's Administration free trade; this they boasted was as great a discovery as the Elixir Vitæ. But he would undertake to prove, that the free trade they granted had only the effect of reducing the rate of labour, and impoverishing the people, who had still to pay the same amount of taxes. Until there was a free trade in corn, in taxes, and in money, it was useless to talk of its advantage. The hon. Member then proceeded to urge the necessity of a change in the monetary system of the country, and related the following anecdote in illustration of the necessity of what he called a free trade in money: Some time since a nobleman applied to a tenant for his rent. The tenant pleaded his inability to pay on account of the miller owing him for a quantity of flour. The landlord sent for the miller, who pleaded his inability to pay the farmer on account of the nobleman owing him a sum almost equal to it. The consequence was, that the nobleman sat down and wrote a cheque, which he gave the miller, the miller gave it to the farmer, and the farmer returned it to his landlord; and thus three men, who were at daggers drawn, and about to go to law, for want of a mere organ of exchange, by the creation of that organ on a piece of paper settled their differences, paid their debts, and they parted quite satisfied with each other. "Instead of studying the prosperity of the people, the study of political economists had been for the last twenty years to break down the principle of exchange. He would illustrate it in a familiar way. The first question he would ask was, what was the first necessary of life? and the answer would be, bread. The second? money. What was ruin? he would then ask, and he would be told it was the incompetence of an honest man to pay his debts, and that brought him again to the first principle on which he set out—exchange. He could not but complain of the conduct of the present Ministry and the reformed Parliament. They had coerced Ireland; and they had suffered England to go unrelieved. The Whig Ministry, which had been out of power for seventy years, would, if they had done justice to Ireland and England, have continued in 100; and instead of fearing that other place, a collision with which they so much dreaded, it would be rather a football than anything else for them, if that other place did not content itself with the sentiments of the country and make the people's happiness its own. He had another small petition to present from the same meeting of 150,000 people, against the house and window taxes exclusively. The petitioners complained, and he agreed with them, that they and the country were unable any longer to bear the present pressure of taxation. The country was groaning under them; the people cried from one end to the other that they would not pay any more; the Ministry seemed determined to compel them to pay, to get blood from a stone: bat he would bid them beware. Though the poor people of England were devoted to the aristocracy, still there was such a thing as spurring a willing horse to death, and treading on the worm till it turned on its oppressor. In opposition to evidence of the prosperity of the manufacturing part of England, given before the manufacturing Committee, he must say, that he believed that for the last seven years there had been, and was, no prosperity in the country. What was it which caused them to cry out for reform, if prosperity existed? Was it prosperity which made almost every man among them politicians, and politicians determined on having redress? Was it prosperity which caused, within the last few years, thousands of broken hearts to emigrate from England—this happy country—merry England, as it was called in old times? No, it was the criminal conduct of an ignorant and ungrateful Government, who would rather sacrifice one-half of the people than give up any preconceived dogma or sacrifice a single atom of a favourite theory. He would ask, was it happiness and prosperity which caused an increase of crime to a fourfold amount within the last few years; and urged the agricultural population to those burnings, which were at once the disgrace and the proof of the poverty of the country? No; it was vain to talk thus. Prosperity was no longer among the people of England, and would not be while the present system was kept up. He had also a petition to present from George Solly, praying for an issue of one pound notes payable in silver, and expressed his entire concurrence in the prayer. In no country in the world had a restriction been laid on money, and no such restriction had been laid on money or its representative in this country till the year 1775, when Sir George Saville, then a Member of the House, rose in his place and exhibiting a sixpenny note, asked if it were wise to allow such things to circulate. At that time notes of every description were allowed to be made and issued by anybody who chose to do so. The late Sir Robert Peel, one of the most upright, useful, and valuable members of society, he had ever known, was one of those who issued notes to a very large extent; and in fact, the Government was never insane or wicked enough to interfere with them. A great outcry had been raised against the issue of paper money; but no reason had been given against it. He, however, could give some in its favour; for there was Russia, the most barbarous power in Europe, able to ride down England, enslave Poland, to paralyze France, and annihilate Turkey, and put the world in fear; and all this was in consequence of her paper money. In Russia too there were no complaints of poverty among the people; and, although he would admit their paper issue had sunk in value three-fourths, what harm had it done the country? The people were comfortable, and the government was all powerful. But Gentlemen said, that England had gold; that the standard of value protected them—why, the Bank of England had the power of raising the standard when they liked, under the present system—of sinking thereby the price of estates, and thus of purchasing them almost for a song; and even of making the sovereign of three times the present value. In fact, of ruining the entire country if it chose. But, fortunately, it did not choose to play such pranks. He would conclude by presenting a short petition from the council of the Birmingham Political Union against the conduct of the new police at the late Coldbath-fields' meeting. In the prayer of the petitioners, and the opinions they expressed of the conduct of the authorities on that occasion in the subsequent proceedings in the Court of King's Bench he most cordially concurred. They deprecated them, and so did he, as much as man could. He did not mean to say, that the meeting was a legal or an illegal one: but he would not hesitate to say that it was a most wanton and disgraceful attack on the liberties of the people of England which he, on his conscience, believed they were as much opposed to, and as willing to ride down, as any Tories in existence ever were. He would warn them not to touch too much on public privilege, for there were limits, after passing which, resistance was lawful in every sense. But that was not even the worst—that grand magnificent institution, Trial by Jury, had been set at nought by the Government; and the solemn oath of seventeen men, each as honourable and as conscientious as any one of his Majesty's Ministers, was utterly disregarded by them. The Ministers had shown the cloven foot fully in that last finishing touch to the transactions; they had commenced with the Irish Coercion Bill, and gone with the Coldbath-fields' business. Where would they end? He thought the system of police as at present established, wrong. If it were paid by the parishes, and the power over it taken from the hands of the Ministry, he should be satisfied; but otherwise, he would always oppose the cursed, rascally system. They were going too, to spread it all over the country—to introduce it to Manchester and Bristol and Birmingham: but he could tell them the people of Birmingham would never have it, and he hoped the country, generally, would act in the same manner. Petitions to lie on the Table.