HC Deb 09 March 1835 vol 26 cc715-8
Mr. John Maxwell

said, that in moving for the re-appointment of the Committee of Inquiry into the distresses of the Hand-loom Weavers he would first lay before the House a Petition to that effect which had been signed by 12,000 of that body of operatives employed in Perth. As he believed there would not be any opposition offered to his present motion, he would not trouble the House at any length. He would first move "That the report upon the subject made by the Committee of last Session be read at the Table of the House;" and the Report having been read, the hon. Member moved, that a Committee be appointed to inquire into the condition of the hand-loom weavers, and to report upon the same to the House. It was scarcely necessary for him to mention, that the distress of this large and useful class of persons had been ascertained, by an inquiry last year, to be very great and extensive. He trusted, that the House would not now reject the petition because it came from persons who happened not to be of any class sitting in that House, or who had not yet received their elective franchise. He rather hoped that the House on those grounds would feel the greater sympathy with them, and he likewise trusted, that those who advocated the distresses of the agricultural poor, and of other classes of labourers, would sympathise with the hand-loom weavers, who were as badly off as any body of distressed persons in the kingdom.

Mr. Baring

thought, that the hon. Member could not for a moment suppose that there was any disposition in any part of the House to refuse the most ample attention to so important a subject. He had stated to the hon. Member what he had stated to the House, that if the case of distress had come to him as one single question he should have decided it as the right hon. Gentleman who had preceded him in his office had decided it, and he should have said, that, it was not a right subject to go before a new Committee. The last Committee that had conducted the investigation had contained the names of many Gentlemen of very considerable reputation, but when he reflected upon the fact, that the inquiry concerned the condition of not less than 80,000 persons employed in this species of manufacture, he could not but concur in recommending to the House, that it should again hear the case. There might, by possibility, be some means devised for relief, and, at all events, the parties might think themselves aggrieved if an inquiry were denied them. He was aware, however, that much would be said against the impropriety of exciting expectations which the House would be unable to gratify. For his part, he did not think that anything beneficial could result from the present inquiry. He had been nominated one of the Committee of last year, but he had not attended, from entertaining an opinion, that little or nothing could be done for the sufferers. His absence was not to be traced to any disinclination to afford every possible relief, or to go into any scheme that held out any prospect of succour. He should not now oppose the appointment of the Committee.

Mr. Thomas Attwood:

The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had said, that it was not possible to improve the condition of the 80,000 persons who had petitioned the House.

Mr. Baring

had said nothing of the sort. All he had said, was, that he did not thing that any relief could be afforded by any of the means that had been suggested to the Committee, or by any legislative interference.

Mr. Attwood

continued. He begged the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the measures that had been recommended to the Committee were not calculated to give relief. He agreed in this particular with the right hon. Gentleman; but he denied that it thence followed, that Parliament could adopt no measures whatever calculated to attain the object in view. All he could say was, that if 80,000 persons were in great distress, and Parliament could afford them no relief, he did not know what the House sat there for. He would maintain that the wrongs of these people could be redressed, not by the measures which had been recommended, but by the peculiar means which he had brought forward. The House could give relief to all the labourers of the kingdom complaining of distress, and he trusted, that the House would take the subject of the currency into its consideration, with a view to redress all the wrongs of all the labourers of England—he meant not only the agricultural labourers, but of labourers of every description.

Mr. Hume

said, that no man in that House who had attended to the evidence on the Table, could avoid desiring to afford the sufferers every possible means of relief. He had stated, when the last Committee was formed, that every measure advanced before that Committee would fail in its object, but he had nevertheless voted for the Committee, in order that the parties suffering might have an opportunity of stating what their sufferings were. That Committee had gone into a full statement of the distress, and he now wished to ask his hon. Friend who had made the Motion, whether it was his intention to go into any further evidence?

Mr. Hutt

said, that the last Committee had followed up the evidence with ability, and it was because he was interested in the sufferings of these labourers, that he was anxious not to let it go forth amongst them that relief could spring from the present proceedings. Legislation on this subject would disgrace the reign of Henry the 8th, and much more disgraceful was it to the present age, which had acquired such additional lights upon political science. He was opposed to the proposition before the House, because he was convinced that it would afford no help to the suffering classes.

Lord Francis Egerton

rose to return his thanks to his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, for acceding to the Motion before the House. He was fully aware of the inconvenience, nay of the dangerous consequences, of holding out hopes of relief to unfortunate persons, which Parliament might find it impossible to realize. In supporting the Motion for the appointment of a Committee, he felt that it was, in his situation, a primary and imperative duty to avoid, for any purposes of partial or temporary popularity—for a very temporary popularity it would be —holding out to distressed classes of labourers, any hopes of relief which might not ultimately be fulfilled. Anxious as he was, to meet the question of the distresses of the very extensive classes which were suffering the privations that had been proved; anxious, as he was, to convince them that Parliament had given the fullest attention to the subject; he was still bound to confess, that he could not entertain a hope that the plans which had been advocated, would be found capable of producing that substantial and practical relief, which all men must join in wishing that Parliament could afford. The extent of the distress, and the exemplary patience with which it had been borne, in the county which he had the honour to represent, he could bear testimony to; but he was bound to say, that the distress arose from causes, which it would be very difficult for legislation practically to remove. He was not going to detain the House by entering into any statements relative to the distress, as there would be little or no opposition to the Motion before the House, but he had thought it necessary in justification to the distressed individuals themselves, to guard them against expecting relief from the inquiries into which the House was about to enter. He was convinced, that the doctrine of the minimum rate of wages could not be brought into operation, at least with any practical advantage to the distressed labourers. No man could be more deeply concerned than he was, in the subject, not only by his feelings, but by what were called worldly interests, to convince the poor that Parliament would not turn a deaf ear to their complaints, or neglect any plan of relief, that could be proposed with a fair prospect of success.

The Committee was appointed.

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