HC Deb 14 February 1837 vol 36 cc522-4
Mr. Harvey

said, that while he readily recognised the salutary rule which the right hon. Gentleman in the chair had laid down, and generally enforced, precluding all observations on the presentation of petitions, except so far as to state the names of the petitioners and their object, yet he felt assured that the petition he had to present, and its objects, would receive from the House its kind and prompt attention, and would also afford, not only an apology, but a justification, for his calling the attention of the House to its contents, though briefly. He should not have pursued this course, but for the announcement which he regretted had been made by the leader of his Majesty's Government in the House, that it was his intention to restrict the motion of which notice had been given by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), in a way that he could not help thinking would impair, if not destroy, its utility. He had now to present two petitions, each stating the same matters, and aiming at the same object. One was signed by nearly 10,000 persons residing in the town and neighbourhood of Merthyr Tydvil, and the other signed by 1,500 inhabitants of Kendal, Westmoreland. Both complained of the harsh operation of the Poor-law Act, and more especially of the unconstitutional powers which were for the first time conferred upon commissioners, to create and enforce laws, coeval in their influence and in their effect with the positive powers of legislation. As the subject would shortly come under the consideration of the House, he would not go at length into it at the present time. But when the House called to mind this circumstance, and it ought to be strongly impressed on them that these petitioners, who formed a greet mass of the productive industry of the country, had no direct representatives in the House, and that they were only connected with it by the slender cord of suspicious sympathy, he (Mr. Harvey) could not help thinking that the Speaker would not interdict him while simply stating their case. This law was affecting them most grievously, and, as they thought and as he thought, most cruelly and unjustly. He would not, however, illustrate this position further than by simply calling the attention of the House to the facts, not furnished by the petitioners with the object of harrowing up the feelings of the House or the country, but of showing the real effects of this law upon their humble fortunes. He held in his hand a statement to the effect, that there were in these houses aged persons, who had for many years passed that period when all is sorrow to man—who had reached the age of eighty or ninety years—who had enriched their country by the labour of their youth— fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers—who had been in the receipt of 2s. a-week, had actually been subjected to a reduction of twenty-five per cent. in their incomes. That was the way in which the House ought to look at the subject.

The Speaker

requested the hon. Member to confine himself to the facts stated in the petition.

Mr. Harvey

said, if he confined himself to the facts stated in the petition, and were at liberty to enter into, and dwell on, the facts, he should occupy far more time than by calling attention to the individual circumstances; because, if he took this petition as the text of his remarks, it would, in effect, open the whole history and operation of the Poor-laws, which would come under discussion that day week. But he should be extremely sorry (whilst it was his intention to bow to the just judgment so well exercised) that it should go to the world, that when the poor, the pitiless and the houseless, presented themselves to this House, it was difficult for their humble advocate to obtain a hearing. And, therefore, he would voluntarily yield to the suggestion of the Speaker, rather than that it should be supposed it was by a positive interdict of the House upon the receipt of the petitions of the people. With this remark he would bring up the petition.

Major Beauclerk

had been requested to support the prayer of the petition, and would do so as shortly as possible. He perfectly agreed with many of the observations of the hon. Gentleman who had preceded him. He considered the law too harsh in its enactments, and regretted to learn that his Majesty's Government were determined to resist a Committee for a full inquiry into the subject. He should give his support to inquiry, for which he was convinced the country loudly called. If there was nothing to hide, why should they refuse inquiry? He would say no more than express his hope that the opinions of the Administration would change on this question.

Petition laid on the Table.

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