§ Mr. Maxwell moved that the Order of the Day for the resumption of the Adjourned Debate be read.*
§ Mr. Gillon
had hoped, that the very reasonable Motion of the hon. member for Lanarkshire would have been at once acceded to. It was the imperative duty of this House to inquire into the distress of any portion of their fellow-subjects, and to endeavour to devise a remedy for it; and the more that distress was confined to a particular class, the more reason was there to examine the peculiar causes of hardship which bore upon them. After all the facts which had been repeatedly brought forward in this and the last Session, it was scarcely necessary to prove the existence of that distress; but as certain statements had been put forth at the opening of the Session of a great improvement having taken place in the condition of the hand-loom weavers, it was his duty to inform the House that these statements were utterly fallacious, and that the hon. Member who made them had been grossly* See (third series) vol. Xxiii. p. 1090.366 imposed on by his informant. It had been stated, that the distress of the hand-loom weavers had nearly passed away—that a rise of ten to twelve per cent had taken place on their wages, and that they were not obliged to put their children to the loom at an early age, as they found other employment for them. He had formerly shown what a rise of ten to twelve per cent in the wages of this class of persons would be: that as it had been clearly made out last year that the hand-loom weavers at plain fabrics could not earn more on an average of clear wages than 4s. 5d. per week, a rise of twelve per cent on this sum amounted only to 6¼d., making in all about 5s. per week for the entire maintenance of themselves and families. The truth, however, was, that this rise of twelve per cent had taken place only in very peculiar circumstances in the finer fabrics, or with those weavers who resided in Glasgow, and who were in immediate contact with their employers; in the coarser fabrics, and in country places, the rise did not amount to more than six per cent; and he had in his possession a letter from Biggar, a very remote part of the country, stating that there they had experienced no rise at all. The fact was, the manufacturers, that is, the unprincipled portion of them, who wished to increase their own fortunes on the absolute starvation of the poor weavers, took advantage of those who lived in remote places, and who had not the means of obtaining early or accurate information. The very correspondents of the hon. member for Ipswich, the House of Bannatyne and Moira, at the time they were imposing upon him by those fallacious statements, had not, as he was informed, in different districts of the country, raised their wages at all. If, instead of six, or even twelve, per cent, a rise of 100 per cent had taken place, their wages would not then have nearly equalled those of many other classes of artisans. As to the weavers being able to put their children to other work, he should like to be informed to what work they were to put them? It was altogether a delusion, as it was well known they were compelled by dire necessity to place them at the loom at from eight to ten years of age, before either their bodies or their minds had received the necessary formation, in order to eke out the miserable pittance which their parents were able to earn. So much for the comparative prosperity of the weavers. Then it was a peculiar feature in the case of the hand- 367 loom weavers, that when work had become more abundant, wages had not risen in any almost perceptible degree, and that whereas at the present moment there was more than enough of work for every person engaged in that species of labour, their wages continued at the low rate at which he had mentioned, while in other branches of trade, where work was not so plentiful, wages were much higher. Why did a weaver, who had constant work, earn only 5s. or 6s. per week, while a warper, a tailor, or a shoemaker, who had only occasional employment, had a five-times higher rate of wages? The fall of wages was not caused, as was alleged, by over-production, for every weaver could find work to keep him employed from fifteen to sixteen hours a-day. The reason was obvious. The latter classes to whom he had referred were in contact with their employers, from this it was to be supposed that some kindly feeling was generated between them, or in the absence of this, they might combine to effect a rise of wages. This was not the case with the hand-loom weavers, who were scattered in small towns and villages all over the country; most of them never saw their employers, who cared nothing for the condition or sufferings of men with whom they had no intercourse; and they were too much divided by distance, and too much under the pressure of immediate want, to be able to combine in their own defence. Again, it was said that the low rate of wages was caused by foreign competition. So far was it from being true, that these low wages were necessary to enable the manufacturers to compete with those abroad, that the fact was, that the price in most instances fell in the foreign markets from the introduction of British goods. It was home competition which was the root of the evil, which reduced the price of the commodities in the foreign markets, and tended only to enable certain unprincipled speculators to go on by means of the starvation of the weavers. If prices were raised here, they would be raised abroad also, as the system of combinations among workmen was just as well known there as with us; and if the House acceded to the proposition now before them, they would have the prospect of conferring a benefit not only on their own poor starving countrymen, but of improving the condition of a portion of the labouring classes all over the world. Let it also be considered what a favourable effect would be produced on the market were the condition of this 368 large class of the population materially improved, and they were enabled to become larger consumers both of their own produce, and of that of other branches of industry. He did not mean to discuss the propriety of appointing Boards of Trade—though that would, no doubt, be a subject to be discussed in Committee—but he could assure the House that the operatives were far too intelligent a class to desire to interfere in any way with the foreign market, which they knew must necessarily re-act upon themselves. They asked to be permitted to state their case to a Committee of this House, to point out the causes which had produced such a state of things, and the means that might be adopted for its removal, and he was convinced they understood these matters much better than most hon. Members. Were these men to appeal in vain to this House for redress? What deadly sin had they committed, that they were to be put without the pale of the Constitution as outcasts and aliens? Their distress they had borne with a patience which is not only commendable, but almost incredible. Much had been said of the forbearance exercised by the agricultural classes as entitling them to the consideration of the House. He was far from denying this; he only wished, that the same reasoning should be applied in the present case. Not one outrage had characterized the proceedings of the hand-loom weavers, while borne to the earth by sufferings at which the heart of humanity shuddered. They disavowed all secret associations; they united, as they were not only entitled, but bound to do, for their own protection; but all their proceedings were open and avowed. Why was the labour of these poor men, which was their only property, but the more important as being the source of all other property, to be unprotected? Was the fruit of our commercial system to be the starvation and degradation of our people? If so, better it were for ever banished from our shores. Were these petitioners to be permitted to starve in the midst of a plenty of their own creation? Were these respectable and industrious individuals to be permitted to want, while the money of the country was lavished on pensioners and sinecurists—on a band of titled paupers, the true refuse of society? He was happy to observe, that the case of the hand-loom weavers had been taken up by other classes. Petitions had been presented by the hon. member for Bolton from the Ma- 369 gistrates, Clergy, &c., of that town, praying that the House would take into its consideration the case of the hand-loom weavers; and he had himself presented a similar petition from the wrights, masons, and slaters, of Airdrie. But it was said it was too late in the Session to go into this investigation. This was not the fault of the hon. member for Lanarkshire, by whom the Motion had been brought forward. He had been prevented from bringing forward his Motion on the day he had originally fixed, owing to an adjourned debate, and he had not been allowed by the Government a subsequent day on which to discuss the subject. There was a full muster to defend the abominations of the Pension-list, but when the happiness, nay the very existence, of half a million of industrious fellow-creatures was to be discussed, an attempt was made to stifle the inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman, then Vice-President of the Board of Trade, had said, he would not be indisposed in the next Session that a Committee should be appointed to consider the subject of wages in general. If he was authorised by the Government to pledge himself to this, and that the very inadequate wages of the hand-loom weavers should form a particular subject of inquiry, long as they had already waited without redress, he would undertake on their part to say, that they would accede to this further delay; but unless the House received from the right hon. Gentleman so distinct a pledge as this, he hoped the hon. member for Lanarkshire would persevere in his Motion; and the time of hon. Members could not be better employed at any season of the year than in investigating a case of distress so unjust as that now before them. If the House refused to listen to the complaints of those men—if it refused to extend to them its protection—as protection ceased on the one part, so must allegiance on the other—society must resolve itself into its first elements.
§ Admiral Adam
regretted the distress of the hand-loom weavers, and should be glad if a remedy could be discovered, but he had heard nothing as yet which he could look upon in the light of a remedy. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Poulett Thomson) had promised, that an inquiry should take place into the case of the hand-loom weavers next Session, and he thought that, under all circumstances, they should not at present proceed in the matter.
§ Mr. Hume
would be glad, if time and 370 the state of the other business of the House would permit, that the proposed inquiry should be gone into, but not on the grounds anticipated. He wished for the inquiry because he believed, that it would serve to convince the petitioners themselves that the relief they sought for could not be obtained by a Committee. He had always held that wages would regulate themselves according to the wants of the public in any trade. To attempt to raise them by any other means than the fair increase of the demand for labour would be absurd, and would always fail. He felt for the distresses of the hand-loom weavers, but he did not see how it was possible that the Legislature could assist them in the way they sought. Suppose a Bill were brought in to regulate the wages of any particular trade, it would have the effect of sending the best men in that trade out of the country. This was fully and fatally experienced in the case of the Spitalfields weavers. Their wages were at one time fixed by Parliament, by their own desire; and what had become of the trade of that district since? The Spitalfields weavers found their error when it was too late, and so would any body of men who thought that the fixing of a price for their labour by the Legislature would assist them.
§ Sir Daniel Sandford
said, it was admitted that the hand-loom weavers had suffered the most unparalleled distress with the most exemplary patience; and no class was less likely to resort to violent measures, or to press their advocates into an extreme course of conduct. He had been amongst them in times both of excitement and tranquillity: but, even when a political canvass had been going on, and other classes had shown themselves ready to impose extreme political doctrines upon candidates, he had never found the hand-loom weavers, notwithstanding their numbers, and the influence they might in a mass exercise upon an election, otherwise than sober, rational, and constitutional. Their prayer had constantly been for an inquiry, and he had heard them give the most sensible and conclusive answers to objections such as those which had been urged by the hon. member for Middlesex. No one had attempted to impugn the case of distress advanced on the part of these unfortunate persons. No prosperity witness, no prosperity statement, no prosperity doctrines, had been brought forward here, as they were on the recent debate connected with the shipping interest. He was 371 relieved, therefore, from the necessity of painting to that House scenes of misery more frightful and appalling than any which ever fell beneath his notice, and which he could not describe without calling up images and using language that might harrow the feelings of the House. He could assure the House, that words were too feeble to give a fair impression of the wretchedness of this too-long-neglected class. But, the distress being allowed, and the claim to inquiry—at least as far as a modest and constitutional deportment can confer a claim—being admitted, it was said, that the result could lead to no practical measure of relief. To that proposition he demurred. From what he had seen and heard from the sagacious people themselves, he thought, that local Boards of Trade, composed partly of masters and partly of workmen, who should adjust, not a fixed minimum of wages, but who should, from time to time, regulate the price of labour according to the demand in the market for its produce, and other circumstances necessary to be considered, would tend to the advantage of both parties. In the important and populous town he had the honour to represent, in which a great part of the population consisted of hand-loom weavers, the system had been to a certain extent adopted, and produced the most beneficial effects. It appeared, by a letter which he held in his hand, that the Board at Paisley was established in 1829 to prevent the effects of speculation, caused by the lowness of wages:—'Some manufacturers, said the writer, finding that this continual reduction hurt the stock on hand, and kept the weavers in misery, called a meeting of the manufacturers, when it was agreed, that a minimum price should be named for two or three things most generally manufactured, to serve as a standard for the rest of the work. The signature of every manufacturer was obtained to this arrangement, and a Committee appointed so see that it was complied with. In the spring of 1830, the manufacturers raised the minimum. A meeting of the manufacturers was called in June, 1833, when it was agreed that the table should be continued for another year; but no signature was asked anew, and consequently the table has no existence, except in the public mind.' The Paisley Board, then, was a voluntary arrangement; and yet it had turned out to be a humane and beneficent system. One argument, drawn from 372 experience like that, told more in favour of the proposed plan than twenty theoretical propositions against it. He might be told, that such a system was against all the axioms of political economy; but, however much it might prejudice him in the minds of some Gentlemen, he must say, that the more dictum of any professor of political economy never had any weight with him. But there were, in political economy, some marked exceptions to general rules. Thus the general rule was, that wages would adjust themselves to the demand for labour; but, in the case of the hand-loom weavers, the price of their produce had risen in the market without producing a corresponding rise in their wages. Their case was, therefore, an exception to the rules by which it was proposed to judge it. Their labour had often not been competent to meet the demand, and yet their wages had not risen. That was a fact by which the general doctrines of political economy were combated. Nor was it difficult to explain the fact. The weavers suffered from the want of concert and combination. They did not congregate together: they lived in scattered hamlets, and pursued their labours in solitary, noisome, and miserable cottages—where the father of the family plied his tedious task fourteen hours out of the twenty-four, and obtained scarcely sufficient to keep his wife and children from starving. They were without the means of co-operation, and could not organize themselves to stand their ground against the natural and inherent power of the owners of capital, who were thus enabled to beat down the wages of labour. Such being their situation, what injury might not be the result of turning a deaf ear to their prayers? They must then contrive some method of mutual concert and assistance; and, when their wants were most pressing, and their passions most inflamed, they might enter upon dangerous designs and practices. They must imitate the example of those trades' combinations which had recently prevailed to so great and alarming an extent. Indeed, in some parts of Scotland, they had already begun; and the last advices he had from Dundee informed him, that the hand-loom weavers of that vicinity were beginning to do what the cotton-spinners, the calico-printers, the engineers, and other classes, had already done in other quarters. He did not defend that injurious system of combination, though he believed that the Legislature could do nothing by penal enactments to 373 put an end to them. But there was one mode of mitigating the evils of that injurious contest between labour and capital, which bore a strong analogy to the plan for the regulation of their trade now sought for by these unfortunate weavers. They said, why not meet the mischievous combinations of the present day by calling back into life those ancient guilds—corporate bodies to mediate between the two parties, and determine measures for the advantage of both? He did not know whether this plan could be adopted on a great scale; but he would say, allow the experiment to be tried on a small scale; and, if it succeeded, establish by law throughout the kingdom what had voluntarily been done at Paisley. The hon. member for Middlesex said, that the principle of Boards for the regulation of wages had been tried in the silk trade, and that it had completely failed. But the principle proposed to be acted upon in this Act was different from that which was adopted in the Spitalfields' Act, so that the hon. Member's argument did not apply to the present proposition. The provisions of that Act determined that the price of labour should be settled from time to time by the Magistrates at their option. An arbitrary remuneration, then, was decreed by persons who might be entirely ignorant of the trade over which they were set in authority, and careless whether it prospered or decayed. But the Boards now proposed would consist of parties conversant with every circumstance affecting the market—aware of the exact state of the trade—alive to the actual condition of the manufacturer as well as of the operative—and seeking to establish, not a fixed and arbitrary price, but a fluctuating minimum to vary from time to time according to the demand for the produce of labour, and other causes affecting the interests of those engaged in the manufacture. They would protect the labourer from an unjust depression of his wages; but they would not interfere with the natural and necessary fluctuations of wages. But, it was said, why not trust to the voluntary principle? True, a modification of the voluntary system had worked well at Paisley; but it could not be expected that every master manufacturer throughout the country would be as benevolent and careful of the welfare and interests of those whom they employed, as the master manufacturers of Paisley were. Let the first establishment of these Boards be voluntary; but, wher- 374 ever they were established, let it be under the authority of a legal sanction. He would have them composed partly of masters and partly of men, who from time to time should arrange between themselves the rate of wages, and to counteract any difficulty which might arise from a disagreement between these two parties. He would, also, have upon the Board a certain number of persons not connected with the manufacture, whose voices, in case of a dispute, would go with the master or the man according as justice and reason should dictate. These were the arguments which had struck him in favour of Local Boards, in the establishment of which he hoped that the appointment of this Committee of Inquiry might end. If they went into the Committee, he at least should endeavour to bring about that result.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, that after the description which they had heard of the distress of the people of Paisley, he trusted, that he should never again hear the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, say, that he hoped in God his country would become the great manufacturing shop of the world. He trusted, too, that they would no longer hear the hon. member for Middlesex eulogise the operation of the Scotch Poor-laws, as an example for this country to follow in amending its own system of Poor-laws. That hon. Member had expressed a fear, that if the House should interfere in this matter of wages, it might drive valuable branches of manufactures from the country. Drive them from the country! Ay, drive them from the world, he would say; drive them down to the infernal regions, rather than that they should produce such misery. He wished not England to become the manufacturing shop of the world; on the contrary, if manufactures were to produce such distress as had been described, if they were to be followed by such a harvest of misery, he should like to see them driven not only from this country, but from the earth. He was not a judge of the measures that might be necessary to relieve the distress of those suffering manufacturers; but he would certainly vote for a Committee of Inquiry to see what could be done for them. They had plenty of Committees on other subjects; why not, then, grant a Committee on this? They had a Committee to inquire into the causes of drunkenness, though every human being knew beforehand that it arose from the use of beer and gin. They had a Committee appointed nevertheless, and sitting, 375 with its chairman, and all the other rigmarole, to inquire into that which all knew to be the effect of beer and gin. They had also a Committee appointed to inquire into the best mode of educating the people. The complaints made by the people to that House were, that their bellies were empty, and that their backs were bare, and a Committee was appointed to see how their heads were furnished, and whether any addition could be made to the lumber already there. It was food and raiment that the people of Paisley called for and wanted, and the House in its wisdom would give them little books to satisfy them. It was food and raiment that the people wanted, and not those little papers which the House was for circulating amongst them. The appointment of the Committee would do no harm, and it might possibly do a great deal of good.
§ Sir Daniel Sandford
said, that his observations had applied to the distress existing in Glasgow, and not in Paisley.
§ Mr. Cobbett
had been in Paisley, and had seen enough of it to know that great distress existed there also. There were several streets in it in which a knife and fork were not to be found.
§ Mr. Ewing
feared, that the sufferings which had been endured by this patient and deserving body of men were beyond the power of the Legislature to remedy, arising as they did in some degree from foreign competition, and next, from the introduction of power-looms. The only remedy, he believed, for such sufferings, was to proportion the labour to the demand for it in the market. As, however, the hand-loom weavers had suffered so long and so patiently, he was in favour of appointing a Committee of Inquiry on the subject; but he feared that it would be too late to expect any good from such a step this Session. He trusted, however, that, for the satisfaction of the petitioners, the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, would hold out the hope that such a Committee would be appointed next Session.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
had formerly stated, that it was too late in the Session to enter into such an inquiry, and that he objected to any inquiry based upon the principles stated in the speech of the hon. Member who had brought forward this Motion. Those principles had been again candidly avowed that night by the hon. member for Paisley; and he (Mr. Poulett Thomson) must therefore decidedly object to the in- 376 stitution of an inquiry based on such principles, as in his opinion no good, but much mischief, would be occasioned by the establishment of local Boards of Trade. He therefore trusted, that the House would not go into an inquiry founded on a principle that would only tend to delude the people as to the causes of their distress. He had as much at heart the interests of those manufactures as any hon. Member, and it was for that reason that he would resist such a Motion as this. He begged at the same time to state, that he thought the House might, with great propriety, enter upon a future occasion, in the next Session of Parliament, into an inquiry into the subject of wages generally, with regard to which he knew that many Members were anxious to obtain information. When such a Committee was appointed, the hand-loom weavers would then come before it with their case divested of any delusion, such as that of the establishment of local Boards of Trade, for which the petitioners, and those hon. Members who supported the Motion for Inquiry, asked on this occasion.
§ Mr. Hesketh Fleetwood
said, that as there had already been Committees appointed this Session on individual cases, it was the bounden duty of the House to grant a Committee when 800,000 people were plunged in the greatest distress. He should vote for a Committee, without pledging himself to any ulterior measures whatever.
supported the Motion for the appointment of a Committee, and could not concur in the reasons assigned by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, for refusing the prayer of the petitioners. It was not correct to state, that the petitioners asked for local Boards of Trade. The petitions of the hand-loom weavers of Bolton, and of other parts of Lancashire, prayed for a Parliamentary inquiry into the causes of their distress, and into the means by which that distress might be relieved, whether by local Boards of Trade or otherwise. The Committee which had been moved for, was a Committee of Inquiry, and as such he should support it. But the right hon. Gentleman contended, that granting this Committee would excite unreasonable expectations. An inquiry, he thought, would have a contrary effect, and would dispel unfounded expectations. The most sanguine expectations were now entertained by the hand-loom weavers, that local Boards of Trade would relieve their distress. If this 377 were an unfounded expectation (and he was not prepared to say it was not unfounded), the only means by which the truth could be ascertained, and the delusion dispelled, was to inquire into the facts of the case. The hand-loom weavers were a very intelligent body, and would urge no claim that could be shown to be unreasonable or mischievous. He could state from his own personal acquaintance with them, that they possessed a very surprising degree of knowledge, and scientific knowledge too, upon the principles of commercial policy, and they would not press any demand the granting of which could be shown to be injurious to the permanent trade and prosperity of the country. He did not think that local Boards of Trade were calculated to remove the distress under which the hand-loom weavers suffered. On this point, his opinion did not vary very much from that of the right hon. Gentleman; but the difference between them was this:—The right hon. Gentleman, having formed an opinion that local Boards would prove abortive and pernicious, seemed to close his mind against further information. He, on the contrary, was for receiving further information, and for inquiring into all the facts, and examining all the arguments which the weavers had to advance in support of their case. He was open to conviction. If the opinion he now entertained were shown to be erroneous, he was perfectly ready to relinquish it, and he was confident, that in a Committee of Inquiry he should either be convinced of his own error, or be able to convince the petitioners of theirs. The truth would be established either on one side or on the other. But it was stated by those who had prejudged the question, and were determined to hear no further evidence, "Boards of Trade cannot by possibility relieve the distress; what good, therefore, can result from the Committee?" He would reply, this good would result—the people would be satisfied. If the result of the inquiry should prove, that Boards of Trade could not relieve the distress, the sufferers would at least feel that justice was not denied them, and that their sufferings did not arise from the neglect of the Legislature. Even on the supposition that the Legislature could afford no relief, the inquiry would be attended by these advantages. But he denied that the Legislature could not afford relief. When the introduction of new machinery increased production and augmented the wealth of the country, the country was 378 bound, in some shape or other, to afford assistance to those classes who were reduced to destitution by the change. The case of the hand-loom weavers, working with inferior machinery, was precisely analogous to that of those who worked with the inferior machinery called bad land. When a free trade in corn was demanded, the answer was, all those who were employed upon inferior land would be plunged in distress, and the Legislature must therefore protect the inferior machine called bad land. The power-loom acted upon the hand-loom weavers just as a free trade in corn would act upon the cultivators of bad land. Would not the Legislature deal out equal justice to all classes? Would it deny to the hand-loom weaver that inquiry into the causes of his distress which it had so repeatedly granted to the landed proprietor and the farmer? He trusted that equal justice would be done, and that this inquiry would be granted. He would trouble the House with one other observation. The working classes were not directly represented. In what way were they to be reconciled to this exclusion, and prevented from desiring more extensively organic changes? Only by that House acting on the principles of impartial justice, and legislating for the working classes in the same spirit in which they would be legislated for, if they themselves held the elective franchise. Now, it could not admit of doubt, that were the working classes directly represented in that House, the inquiry now prayed for would be immediately granted. The House, as at present constituted, should not hesitate to do the same. This was the way to give satisfaction, and to attach the people to the existing order of things. For these reasons he should support the Motion of his hon. friend, and vote for the appointment of the Committee.
§ Mr. O'Reilly
thought, that the House should grant an inquiry for the satisfaction and contentment of those suffering and patient people.
§ Viscount Palmerston
would oppose the Motion for the reasons stated by his right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Trade. He was as conscious as any hon. Member of the distress which existed amongst the petitioners—he was as anxious that a full and satisfactory inquiry should be instituted into the pressure under which they were labouring; but surely it would be impossible to institute such an inquiry with any advantage at this advanced period of the Session. He thought it would be far better 379 for the petitioners to defer this subject until the general and comprehensive Committee of Inquiry, to which his right hon. friend had referred, was appointed next Session, and which would be a more satisfactory one for all purposes. He trusted, that the description which the hon. member for Oldham had given of the distressed condition of Paisley was exaggerated, and that there were not streets there in which a knife and fork were not to be found. That hon. Member's remedy for the distress of those manufacturers was to send them all to the infernal regions. [Mr. Cobbett.—No, no; I said the trade, not the manufacturers.]—Well, if the hon. Member was for sending the trade to the infernal regions, he might as well send the manufacturers after it, as that would shorten the sufferings they would have to endure in the way to their destination. The hon. member for Oldham was, by way of relieving the manufacturers, for sending the manufactures out of the country altogether. He rather thought that the petitioners, and those hon. Members who supported the Motion, would not accept of a Committee on such terms. In his opinion, the interests of the petitioners, as well as of the manufacturing classes generally, would be most beneficially consulted by reserving all inquiry for the general Committee that would be appointed next Session.
§ Mr. Hardy
said, that if there happened to be, and it was probable there were, any hand-loom weavers in the gallery while the noble Lord was speaking, they might well say "It may be sport to you, but it is death to us." When they had petitions from this class of manufacturers complaining of distress, both in Scotland and England, he thought that it became the duty of Government to grant inquiry. He would implore the Government to grant the inquiry which was now sought, and which would be calculated to remove much of the delusion under which the people laboured. After the evidence had been heard, it would open some means for the adoption of the House to relieve these petitioners from their present state of overwhelming distress. He would vote for the Committee of Inquiry, even though it should push the duration of the Session beyond the usual limits. He could not agree in the opinion expressed by the hon. and gallant member for Bolton, that the labouring classes were unrepresented in that House; for he was sure, that the majority of the House was anxious to do justice to that 380 portion of the subjects of the realm (he meant the labouring population) which was the main strength and support of the nation.
s thought the establishment of Local Boards of Trade would only increase the evils to which the hand-loom weavers were at present exposed, for he understood one of the objects of these Boards would be to raise wages, by doing which the expenses of manufacture would be increased, and consequently any trade which still remained to these petitioners would leave them and be carried to a cheaper market of manufacture, Another strong argument against the present Motion was the late period of the Session, which precluded the possibility of entering with any chance of utility upon an inquiry so extensive as that sought would necessarily be. Believing, also, that the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, would, as he had stated, institute an inquiry next Session, not only into this, but other important commercial subjects, he should vote against the Motion for the appointment now of a Committee.
deprecated any endeavour to enter upon so important and intricate an inquiry at this late period of the Session. Indeed, it would be hopeless to expect, that such an inquiry could be treated with the attention which it deserved between this and the breaking up of Parliament; and, therefore, although he agreed that inquiry should take place, if it were only to convince the petitioners of the fallacy of their views, he should vote against the present Motion, on the understanding that the subject was to be brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, early in the next Session.
§ Mr. Bolling
thought they should agree to the Motion if it were only to satisfy the petitioners and the labouring classes generally, that the Members of that House would not turn their backs on men who adopted a constitutional and proper means of complaining of the grievances which they laboured under.
§ Mr. Fielden
admitted, that distress existed among the operatives in several parts of the country, but he denied that this distress had been occasioned by the power-looms. Much of the distress that prevailed in particular places arose from an unequal distribution of trade; and, instead of laying it to the account of foreign competition, it was almost solely the result of the compe- 381 tition at home. Now, a Board of Trade would rectify this evil; it would confer equal advantages on the master as on the man; and, this being his opinion, he certainly should give his support to the proposition for the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry.
§ Mr. George Wood,
although persuaded that the inquiry, even if acceded to, would not afford the relief which the petitioners seemed to expect from it, yet, thinking that the grievances complained of by this class of persons ought not to be passed over without inquiry, he should give his vote for the appointment of a Committee. These petitioners alleged that they were suffering great distress, and surely it was incumbent on the Legislature to ascertain whether their complaints were well founded or not. It was on this ground that he should vote for inquiry now rather than wait for the ensuing Session.
§ Mr. Richards
said, that it was a mere delusion to imagine even that the use of machinery could be dispensed with. If an attempt to do without it were made in this country would it not still be resorted to by the foreign manufacturer? And, that being the case, how was it possible, if it were desired to compete with the manufacturer of other nations, for the home manufacturer to refrain from employing machinery? It could not be done; it was altogether impracticable. But, notwithstanding that was the case, they were bound to show that they sympathised with the labouring classes, by granting an inquiry with a view to explain to them how just the principles were on which the present system was based. Such an inquiry, he was satisfied, could only produce a happy effect, and, therefore, he should vote for the Committee.
§ Mr. Dunlop
objected to the Motion for the Committee only because he feared at that late period of the Session it could lead to no practical result.
briefly replied. It was incumbent on them, if they would not lose the confidence of the people altogether, to grant their request, and inquire into their complaints.
§ The House divided: Ayes 70; Noes 42 —Majority 28.382
§ The Committee was appointed.