§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the Order of the Day for a Committee of Ways and Means.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
rose to submit to the House the resolutions of which he had given notice. The House having recently consented to place at the disposal of her Majesty the means necessary for increasing the military force of the country, he thought, they as the representatives of the people, owed it to the distressed millions of this country, from whose pockets those means were collected, to do something more than merely vote money and agree to measures of coercion. It was also due to them to admit that their manifold grievances were not altogether unfounded, and that there were many just causes of the late and existing discontent, which coercion alone, would not put an end to, but which ought to be met by a disposition to redress. It might be very easy for hon. Members in that House—it might be very easy for those who were basking in the sunshine of a Court—it might be very easy for those who were enjoying all the blessings of affluence and prosperity, to blame the people for their impatience and unreasonableness; and it was also very easy to attribute the dis- 159 turbed state of the country to the exorbitant demands made by the working classes—but if that House would look a little into their own conduct with respect to the practical grievances of the people, they would, as honest and impartial men, be compelled to admit that they were not altogether exempt from blame, as regarded the condition in which the country unfortunately was at present. He readily admitted that many of the charges and allegations in the resolutions which he was about to move might be extremely disagreeable and very painful to many hon. Members of that House; but, at the same time, if they were true, assuredly, in the present state of the public mind, the House ought not to shrink from admitting their justice. He would not be so vain and presumptuous as to imagine that when her Majesty terminated the Session of Parliament, and when the Speaker was called upon by the Crown to explain, in the name of the Commons of England, the manner in which the Session had been occupied, they would-find in his resolutions anything that would lead them to solve what appeared to him to be a most perplexing question; but he could not help thinking, that when hon. Members met their constituents on those different occasions—dinners, meetings and the like, that were apt to occur during the recess—when hon. Members were expected to give an account of their proceedings, if they took a bill of fare for their dinner, they would find it a complete answer to those inconvenient and disagreeable interrogatories with which hon. Members were often at such a time assailed. And here let him warn the House, that it would not be sufficient for them on this occasion to put one of their cold, chilling, contemptuous negatives on these resolutions. If they could not be refuted, they ought to be adopted. He was not going at that late hour to enter at any length into these resolutions; but he challenged them to deny the truth of the most important statements they embodied. For instance, could it be denied that, in the course of the present Session, that House had refused to remove the restrictions on foreign trade, and especially upon the trade in corn, Could it be denied that, while enforcing the new poor law, they had told the poor that the object of the measure was to compel them to rely on their own resources, at the same time that, after they had toiled from sunrise to 160 sunset, they desired to carry the produce of their labour to a cheaper market, the Legislature refused to allow them to do so, by interposing an exorbitant restrictive tax? To do this, at the same time that you told them they must rely on their own resources, was a heartless mockery; it was adding insult to injury. Could it be denied, that measures for securing a cheaper and more expeditious administration of justice—measures that were promised at the commencement of the Session—had been abandoned, while the salaries of justices had been augmented? In the very first clause of the Queen's speech at the commencement of the Session, the attention of Parliament was called to the necessity for introducing such measures as would render justice cheap and accessible to all. Had not those measures been abandoned? Yet the votes of the last few days were in evidence, that the salaries of judges had been recently augmented. Another grievance, that of church-rates, did it not remain un-redressed? Was a settlement of the church-rate question any nearer now than it was nine years ago, when the Whigs first came into office? Some few years ago there was a vast expenditure of virtuous indignation from hon. Gentlemen who now occupied the Government benches; yet at this very hour there were victims expiring in gaols because of the non-payment of church-rates. Another pretext for increasing the number of troops was the existing state of Canada. It was said that the condition of that colony was such, that a considerable increase to the army was imperatively called for; and, at the same time, a promise of settlement of the affairs of the colony was made. The augmentation of troops had taken place, but there had been no settlement; and the last accounts from the colony showed that they were in a state of despair on account of the postponement of the settlement. From his own personal observation of affairs in that colony in December last, he could state, that wealthy and influential inhabitants of Canada were then in the expectation that Parliament would have immediately met, in order to examine into their grievances, and apply a remedy. Parliament, however, did not meet until February, and what had they done since towards redeeming the grievances of which the Canadians complained? Nothing. Report had it, that his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, was 161 going to try his hand at a settlement of the affairs of Canada. He did not know whether the report were true or not; but if it were, he would recommend his right hon. Friend to make haste, otherwise on his arrival on the other side of the Atlantic, he might find no colony to govern. He might also refer to the motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny, as regarded household suffrage; and to the motion of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Preston, on the 10l. household franchise in counties; or even to what took place on the first day of the Session, when he (Mr. Duncombe) moved an amendment on the Address, to the effect, that, as the House very well knew, reform had disappointed the expectations of the people, and calling upon the House to proceed to the consideration of the subject, with a view to fully carry out the objects of the reform Act,—how was that motion met? By an observation, that such a course was a very inconvenient one. There was no want, in that address, of empty compliments to the Crown. When, again, the Irish vote of confidence was brought forward, the House was ready enough to vote compliments to themselves and the Government, to induce them to vote compliments to them; but the expediency of granting further reforms to the people was denied. Yet such reforms would produce contentment, and secure the permanent welfare of the country. Then, with regard to the question of vote by ballot, all knew that the ballot was denied when asked for during the present Session; yet on all hands hon. Members were ready to admit that corruption and intimidation were rife in every part of the country. What hope, he asked, could the people entertain that this House would ever grant them any redress of their political and social grievances? Every vote of this long, tedious, and unsatisfactory Session, had given them reason to complain; and, unfortunately, nothing had occurred to afford reason to indulge the hope, that in a future Session anything would really be done for the people. Was it, then, surprising that the people should have been dissatisfied? It was not, however, yet too late for them to confess their errors. If they agreed to these resolutions, they would give universal satisfaction to the people of England. Much of the existing discontent would be removed; the loss of many lives during the coming winter would probably be 162 saved. At all events, by adopting them, a guarantee would be given to the people that the next Session would not pass away unprofitably, as had been the case with the present Session; that the course and spirit of legislation would in future be changed; that the manifold grievances of the people would be fairly and cordially investigated, and a reasonable hope afforded, that, in the course of next Session, these grievances would be generously redressed. The hon. Member, in conclusion, moved the following Resolutions:—
- "1. That in agreeing to provide the means for an increase of her Majesty's military forces, called for by the Executive Government at an unusual time, and under peculiar circumstances, it is the duty of this House to declare—
- "2. That the troubled state of the country arises from causes which the application of repressive means, against large classes of her Majesty's subjects, will not remove
- "3. That the existing discontents are, in no small degree, to be attributed to the neglect of Parliament, in not taking measures for the improvement of the social and political condition of the people.
- "4. That, in particular, in the present Session, Parliament has refused to remove restrictions on the foreign trade of the country, especially the trade in corn; thereby limiting the demand for English labour, and diminishing its remuneration, while the cost of subsistence is increased; and the new Poor-law is enforced, with the view of teaching the people to rely on their own resources, by the same Legislature which prevents the poor from exchanging their labour for the cheaper food of foreign countries.
- "5. That the measures promised at the commencement of this Session, for rendering justice cheap and accessible to all, have been abandoned, while the salaries of judges and magistrates have been augmented.
- "6. That the grievance of church rates remains unredressed.
- "7. That for a national education a very small and inadequate provision has been made, while the military and naval expenditure had been greatly augmented.
- "8. That any necessity for an increase of the army is mainly occasioned by the disturbances in Canada, and that, until a satisfactory arrangement of the affairs of that colony be effected, the relief of the people of this country from the expense of its military occupation is not to be looked for; notwithstanding which, the Session has passed away without any attempt by Parliament to effect such settlement.
- "9. That the prayers of the people for further reform have been disregarded.
- "10. That protection to the elector, in the free exercise of the suffrage, was denied, by
163 the rejection of the motion to establish voting by ballot.
- "11. That this House has not only refused to grant any extension of electoral privileges, but even to take into consideration the prayers of upwards of a million of her Majesty's subjects, who solicited attention to their claim of franchise.
- "12. That no hope has been held out to the people that, at any future time, Parliament will grant redress of their social and political grievances.
- "13. That until the spirit and course of legislation in the Imperial Parliament be changed, and proper regard had to the welfare and wishes of the whole people, instead of the interests of predominant classes, no security from the recurrence of such disturbances as the Government now demands the aid of Parliament to repress, can be reasonably expected."
§ Lord John Russell
said, considering the length of these resolutions, the hon. Member had certainly not made a long speech in support of them; and as the hon. Gentleman had not thought it necessary to enter into detail on the subject, he did not think it necessary to take a different course. The main gist of these resolutions seemed to be, to call on that House to resolve, that if a different policy had been pursued as to certain measures, the existing discontents would not have prevailed to the same extent, and the application of repressive means would not have been required. One fact was quite clear, that those who were most discontented, and whose prayer the House had refused to take into consideration, had been themselves the most opposed to those very measures which the hon. Gentleman had declared were necessary in order to satisfy them. First, as regarded the Corn-laws, He had been in favour of taking that subject into consideration, and of the House resolving itself into committee on the question; and if there had been at the time a very general opinion expressed on the part of the people against the continuance of the Corn-laws, he thought it not at all improbable that the motion might have been attended with success. But so far from that being the case, one of the most prominent points insisted upon by those who had so petitioned Parliament at their public meetings, was a determined opposition to repeal the Corn-laws, and they endeavoured to prevent petitions for repeal from coming to the House. The usual supporters of the Corn-laws, in fact, considered that they had achieved a great triumph 164 when they received the support of those who called upon the House to consent to a reform in the representation of the people. Similar occurrences took place with regard to the question of the ballot. He had seen many arguments against the ballot very strongly put, but none more vehement than those with which he had met in the Chartist newspapers. They warned the House against adopting the ballot. Nothing, they said, was more likely to promote discontent, and increase the dissatisfaction of the people, as they would then have no chance whatever of attaining their rights, and would lose that degree of controul which they now had. So much for two of the measures which the hon. Member declared would, if agreed to, diminish the discontent of the people. With regard to the Corn-law question, he must say, that the hon. Gentleman had put the question somewhat invidiously as affected the whole House. The hon. Member had also somewhat invidiously mixed up the Corn-law with the Poor-law. He said that the poor were told to subsist upon their own resources, at the same time that they were prevented from purchasing their corn as cheaply as they elsewhere could purchase it. This must entirely depend on the view taken by hon. Members individually of that question. If hon. Gentlemen agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury, then, undoubtedly, they would be very wrong to attempt to force the Corn-law on the people. But how stood the facts as regarded the operation of the Corn-laws upon the poor? Why, it was said, that a large portion of the people—the agricultural labourers having mostly large families—so far from being aided by a repeal of the Corn-law, would be thrown out of employment and prevented from maintaining their families. He did not say, that was correct, but it was most harsh and invidious to impute to the House that it dealt selfishly with the people in not repealing the Corn-laws. The hon. Member also complained of the measures for rendering justice cheap and accessible having been abandoned. But the hon. Member seemed to forget, that every Session measures were obliged to be deferred for consideration to a future Session, when it was found to be impossible to carry them through. The mere circumstance of these bills having been deferred, did not prove, that Parliament had any hostility to ren- 165 dering justice cheap and accessible to all. Undoubtedly, the grievance of church-rates still remained unredressed, but it was a question on which there was a great division of opinion in that House, and it was one which Parliament would still have to consider. Nor could he agree in the eleventh of these resolutions, that no hope was held out of a redress of social and political grievances at any future time. During the present Session he was sure, that no question that had been mooted had been discussed in any other spirit than with reference to its tendency to do away with social and political evils. As regarded many of those measures, there were, no doubt, great party differences, but on the other hand, when the House became satisfied, that any particular measure would be conducive to the removal of social and political grievances, there was no difficulty in passing such a measure. If any measures of the kind were proposed, he would be very glad to support them if he approved of them; but, at the same time, he would oppose them if he did not think them calculated for the good of the community. He would himself be ready at any time to bring forward any measures for the redress of political and social grievances, as he had already from time to time done. Looking at the acts of the Government during the last ten years, he really did not think indifference could be fairly charged against the Government. To assert that the Government had set their faces against all reform, was to commit a great injustice. The hon. Gentleman asserted that the House had refused to listen to the prayers of a million of her Majesty's subjects, but this was scarcely a fair mode of stating the case. The real question was, whether the House should adopt universal suffrage, annual Parliaments, and vote by ballot, and abolish all property qualifications for Members of Parliament. Those were the demands of the petitioners, and he had never heard those who advocated their prayer, state that they would be contented with any but the full measure of their demands. They never adopted any disguise as regarded their views. Nothing less than the full amount of their demand would satisfy them. To those demands he was opposed, and, therefore, he had voted against the petition. They surely could not complain that he had deceived them in the vote which he gave on that 166 occasion. But, assuredly, if hon. Members had voted for that petition, and had afterwards come down to the House with propositions that did not go so far as the prayer of the petition, they would have more irritated the petitioners and have given just cause to more discontent than the refusal to receive the petition had occasioned. It might be thought the propositions of the Chartists were beneficial in themselves—they might possibly have a prospect of being proposed and carried; but this he felt, that persons who armed themselves to take away the property of others even to the extent of assaulting the officers of the law, would by no means be satisfied with less than a change of places in society—that they would take the property of those who had property, and confiscate it to their own leaders; and he believed the object of those leaders was to get possession of as much property as they could, while they deluded the people by holding out great advantages to them, and to enrich themselves by spoliation, robbery, and depredation. That was his belief as regarded the Chartists, and, therefore, he thought it much fairer, when the subject of the petition was before the House, to declare his opinion that the greater portion of them were deluded than to support the prayer of their petition. With respect to the various points contained in the resolutions of the hon. Gentleman, there was no doubt that there were times when certain measures were more peculiarly pressing on the attention of Parliament, for the remedying of some great grievances, and there were undoubtedly other times, when, together with the consideration of such measures, you must take measures to support the authority of the law and of the Government, and to maintain the institutions of the country. It was his conviction, in the course of the present year, that it was incumbent on him to take measures to maintain the authority of the Government both at home and abroad. The hon. Gentleman had made it part of his charge that the Government had maintained the authority of the Crown in Canada without having at the same time introduced any measure for the settlement of the differences that gave rise to the necessity for so doing. Why, some persons of very high authority, thought, that Government had proceeded too quickly to the settlement of the affairs of Canada. But the hon. 167 Gentleman forgot that even if a measure for the union of the two colonies had been carried, or any other measure for the settlement of the question, Government would have not the less required, both for this and the next year, sufficient military force to repress the disturbances in Canada. For, to suppose that, by an Act of Parliament, you could at once not only satisfy, be it remembered, one discontented party, but restore to harmony the two contending parties in Canada, and that, too, without the aid of a military power, was a notion too chimerical to be for a moment entertained. Taking, then, the whole arguments into consideration, he entirely disagreed with the hon. Gentleman's resolutions. It was quite clear that the intention of the hon. Member was not so much to get the consent of that House to them, as to place on record censure both on the Government and the House. He did not feel that either the House or the Government were liable to the censure which the hon. Member proposed to cast upon them, and he should, therefore, certainly vote for going at once into the business of the evening, and against the resolutions.
§ Mr. Wakley
saw nothing in the resolutions open to the objections of the noble Lord. Upon this subject he should regard himself as one of the most cowardly of mankind if he did not, in the face of the House and the country, declare that he considered the conduct of that House as infinitely worse than that of her Majesty's Ministers, and there was no ground whatever to justify the House in the course that it had pursued. The Ministers had every temptation to do wrong—they met with every encouragement from the House in their bad proceedings, and they hardly met with support in their good measures. He did not think, therefore, that his hon. colleague would have been justified in placing the censure entirely on the Government. He did not believe that the people would get better treatment from a Parliament, constituted like the present, than they got this Session. He felt satisfied that it was not in the nature of the House, constituted as it was, to pass any great legislative measures for the benefit of the country. Hon. Members almost seemed disposed to treat the people like a set of untameable wild beasts. They seemed ever desirous that the liberties of the people should be abridged. Was it then to be expected 168 that the great bulk of the community could be satisfied? The people would only be worthy of being scourged if they were not dissatisfied until they attained the objects essential to their well being, and until the evils to which they were now exposed were redressed. He trusted until this was done that they would continue to feel some discontent and cause uneasiness. He trusted that they would not allow the two Houses of Parliament to rest on beds of roses while they were exposed to so much oppression and injustice. That House was constituted to attend to the interests of the great mass of the people, and not merely to uphold the privileges of any particular class. The noble Lord had complained of the length of the resolutions, and of the shortness of his hon. Colleague's speech; but he thought that if matters were changed, and the resolutions had been shorter and the speech longer, the noble Lord would not have been better pleased. He had prescribed only three powders to the noble Lord last year, but the noble Lord was equally dissatisfied now when his hon. Friend gave him twelve. On this subject, therefore, it was a matter of considerable difficulty to please the noble Lord. The noble Lord said, that the success of measures that would have been found beneficial had been impeded by the Chartists, who had come forward and excited such a strong feeling in the country, and he added, that if different conduct had been pursued, it would have led to a different result. But what was the fact; the people had long petitioned for the ballot, short Parliaments, and an extension of the suffrage; but they had not got one of them, nor did there appear any disposition on the part of the House to concede them. What right, then, had the noble Lord to suppose that the people would have succeeded in getting a repeal of the Corn-laws from that House; and above all when he had said, with respect to the Reform Bill, that the framers of it had intended by it to give the landed interest a predominance in that House? [Lord John Russell—"No, no!"] At any rate, the noble Lord said, last year that he knew that that would be the effect of some of its provisions; and this was still worse, because it was a foregone conclusion. The people came to that House and said, that they wished to be put on a footing with the inhabitants of foreign nations with respect to obtain- 169 ing cheap food. But their prayers were directed to the great landed proprietors of England, who had such a powerful interest in keeping up the Corn-laws. These great monopolists, however, decided in their own case, and were judge and jury in the cause in which they were interested. Unless, therefore, the screw was put on them pretty tightly, was it to be supposed that they would yield? But was it to be supposed that hon. Gentlemen were so blinded to their own interests, that they would hold by the monopoly they enjoyed until the commerce of the country declined at such a rapid rate, that the remedy would come too late. Every person who reflected on the subject must know and feel, that whatever might have been the effect of the Corn-laws in past times, their tendency was to ruin the commerce of the country; and that, therefore, they must cause the greatest mischief to the community; for if they were continued, it was impossible that our manufacturers could maintain the struggle on such terms with foreign nations. Was it either just or reasonable that the landed interests should derive advantages from a monopoly at the expense of all the rest of the community? They had succeeded in many instances in deluding the farmers into the belief that the repeal of the Corn-laws would be followed by the rise of English agriculture. He believed that a number of the landed aristocracy never went into the country without going to some farm-house or other, and making a speech of that kind. They were very fond on such occasions, of describing the farmers as most intelligent men; but, when an appeal was made to that House, to enable the farmers to exercise their free judgment in the selection of their representatives, they were the most strenuous opponents of the proposition, and on no consideration would they consent to the measure by which the farmer could exercise his franchise freely, and according to his inclination. They always said, that it would be un-English, and a mode of voting that would be disgraceful to an honest person. The fact was, that the nation had been cajoled and deluded into a state of quiescence, which should not be allowed to exist. He said quiescence, for if the people were alive to their true interests, the landed aristocracy and that House, never should be allowed to have an hour's peace, until the Corn-laws 170 were repealed. He was as convinced as he could be of anything, that this country must inevitably sink in the scale of nations, if the Corn-laws were not repealed. The House refused to sanction the motion of his hon. Friend to go into Committee, to take the Corn-laws into consideration, with the view of altering them, but he trusted that the demand would become loud and general for their total repeal; for he was of opinion, that there should be no protecting duty, and no restriction on the importation of food, but that it should come to every man as freely as the air he breathed. It should be recollected, that foreigners, as well as ourselves, possessed energy and intelligence, and they possessed all the means of manufacture, in an equal degree in this country; and was it to be expected, that we could run the race of competition in manufactures, with a millstone around our necks? It was most astonishing to him to see how quiet the people of this country were, under such a grievous injustice. He was sorry that there had been found people in this country, who had been alluded to, who could be so much in error, as to draw the attention of the working-classes from this important subject. He admitted that there might be some difficulty in making generally intelligible, or carrying into effect, a measure involving complicated theories, but he thought that it was almost obvious, that the greatest good would result to the working-classes from the repeal of the Corn-laws. He was sure, if public attention was directed to the subject, that these laws would not last three years longer. It might be supposed, that while the Corn-laws thus oppressed the people, they were to a considerable degree relieved from taxation, and that landed property was heavily taxed. But that was not the case at all. Every article that the poor man consumed, with the exception of water, was taxed heavily, while the richer classes were almost entirely exempt from taxation. The amount of the malt-tax in a single year, was 4,500,000l., and all this was derived from the working and middle classes. He believed that the people never would be content, until property was taxed. If the House would not repeal the Corn-laws, he trusted some means would be devised of raising and levying a tax upon property, and he hoped that there would be an effective agitation for this purpose, and h at thus 171 at least, some burdens would be placed on the shoulders of the aristocracy. They had constant demands made on them to afford relief to the agricultural classes, but they had too great influence already, and the whole system of legislation in this country, was in their favour, while it pressed most unjustly on the commercial and manufacturing classes of the nation. It was said that manufacturers had protecting duties in this country, true, but the manufacturers said, let the Corn-laws be repealed, and you may take off all those protecting taxes. He would conclude with entreating the noble Lord to promise before the Session closed, if he could do so with any regard to his sense of duty, that something should be done next Session—that he would hold out some expectation that some little thing would be done next year, on which the hopes of the people might rest during the vacation. He would not name or specify what should be done, but he trusted that the noble Lord would indicate in the House, that attempts would be made to do something for the people next Session. He should be very ungrateful if he did not thank the noble Lord for what he had done with respect to the post-office. It was a very great thing for the public, and he was sure that they would be grateful for it, but he feared that the working-classes would not feel the immediate benefit of it. He felt this, because he knew that they were too distressed, in consequence of the pressure of the Corn-laws, and were too much oppressed to be enabled to indulge in correspondence. It was not a pleasure to those classes to send accounts of their distresses and sufferings to their relatives; but let the Legislature give them a freer scope, and a greater power to act—make them more comfortable, and then their imaginations would soar into the regions of delight, and they would freely correspond with their friends. He, however, thanked the noble Lord for this boon, and he was sure that it would be productive of the greatest benefit to the community, which would feel grateful for it. He trusted, however, that the noble Lord would turn his attention to the situation of the working classes, and see whether something could not be done to relieve their condition. The people of this country were neither disloyal, discontented, nor sanguinary, and would not endanger either life or property; but they 172 had been exposed to the most cruel sufferings, and only required to be treated with justice. He knew that a great deal of dissatisfaction prevailed, and this would continue until every essential wrong was redressed: he would not encourage violence, but he trusted the people would continue to demand justice, until their just grounds of complaint were removed.
§ Mr. T. Attwood
perfectly agreed in all that had been said by the hon. Member who had just sat down, and only regretted that the other hon. Member for Finsbury, had made his resolutions so long. The discontent that prevailed amongst the working-classes, arose from the want of employment, or low wages, or both. It happened that when the people of England had full wages, they only got half work; and when they had full work, they only received half wages. There must, therefore, be something vicious in the state of society, to lead to such a result. There must be some great organic disease of the body politic. The noble Lord had addressed the House very much in the tone of a very excellent man who had been his predecessor in that House as the representative of the Government, who on one occasion said, in reply to a complaint of distress, that he was surprised to hear any person make such an observation in that happy land, as he had never heard of it before. This was Lord Spencer, who complained that any one should assert there was distress in that happy land. This reminded him again of an old lady, who was sitting down to an excellent dinner during the riots of the Luddites, and who exclaimed, "How can people do so in this happy country, where God Almighty provides such plenty." Persons who had large incomes in the funds, or held mort gages, were always exclaiming that England was the envy of surrounding nations, and the admiration of the world. It might be so to these mortgagees and money-mongers; but it was not so to the suffering labouring population. He would remind the House of what had brought the monied aristocracy into the powerful situation which they filled. He was sure, that the noble Lord, from his appearance, knew what he was about to say. About twenty years ago, this monied aristocracy, by means of a legal quibble, got this great advantage to themselves, and they behaved like Nicholas of Russia. They did not, like Alexander, fix the metallic 173 standard at five shillings in the pound, nor do what the right hon. Member for Tam-worth should have done, fix the standard at ten shillings, but, unhappily, they went back to the ancient standard. They, by some hocus pocus, persuaded the Legislature to change the paper money of ten shillings in the pound, to the old standard of gold. They could not at first persuade the landed interest to consent to this, but they succeeded at last by giving them the Corn-laws, and then they were allowed the money law they required. They said, we will shut out all foreign corn, and see how we shall all prosper, for you will keep up your rents, and we shall keep up our dividends. A member of the aristocracy told him a short time ago, that things would not go right in this country, until the merchants were driven back into the city [oh, oh!]. He dared say that was an aristocratic cheer, and he roust observe, that he wished his hon. Friends behind him, would behave as well as his hon. Friends, or opponents, in front, for he found that he constantly met with better treatment from his political opponents, than from his political friends. The peer and the baron had laid their heads together, and driven the weakest to the wall, making the labourer suffer in his wages, while they divided all the benefits between themselves. Grinding poverty was the disease under which the country laboured, and until this was relieved, no coercion would repress the discontent of the working-classes. He hoped, that amid the many dangers which threatened the country, the noble Lord would hold out some expectation to the people, that he would next Session introduce some measure, by which they might earn fair wages for fair work.
said, there was considerable analogy between the course taken by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last and that of the Chartists at their public meetings. The hon. Gentleman was always repeating the opinion that he received more favour at the hands of hon. Gentlemen opposite than from Members of his own side of the House. The fact was, that there was something so singular in the matter and so eccentric in the manner of the hon. Gentleman, that he contrived to throw discredit and ridicule on almost every question he touched upon in the House. He did not say, of course, that this was intended by the hon. Gentleman, but most 174 certainly this was the effect he produced. In spite of that, however, he should support the resolutions proposed by the hon. Gentleman near him, because they were clear, and distinct, and true, and because he thought it important the House should admit them to be so; because he thought the proceedings of the House were not worthy of the purposes for which it was assembled; and because he thought that its first great step towards repentance was to admit its sin. There might be some persons who thought that the course which the Legislature had taken was the right course, and it was well that the British public should know what legislation was thus thought right; but he, for one, thought that the course which had been pursued in the House—he said it without casting any reflection on the Government, or any particular portion of the House—but he certainly thought that, as a general result, the course which had been pursued had a tendency not to raise, but greatly to lower the House in the estimation of the country, a result which every right-thinking and patriotic mind could not but regard as a most serious evil. He thought there was something in the mode of legislating—something in the nature of the legislation itself—both what had been done, and what had been left undone, which was calculated to produce this most undesirable effect, and he considered it well to have this review of the conduct of the House drawn out and presented to the House and to the country, that it might be seen what were the omissions which had to be remedied. There were only two ways in which they could allay the discontents of the country, and restore its confidence in that House. The first was for the present House to legislate for the people as it ought to legislate for them; or that there should be included such a sufficient number of the people in the constituencies who were stated to be represented in the House, that on the people might be justly cast the blame, if the legislation of the House was bad. He thought it highly doubtful whether the first of these objects could be thoroughly carried out in the present constitution of the House, under the existing franchise, and mode of exercising it, which gave the aristocratic interests a great preponderance over national interests. At present he believed that all the sinister, all the sectional interests were represented in the 175 House, but not the national interests. It was this neglect of the national interests that occasioned the national discontent. For the security of the country it was necessary that the middle and working classes should be satisfied with the legislation of Parliament. He believed, indeed, that it was only the lowest and most ignorant of the people that talked of violence against property, and he believed that their violent and criminal intentions, as expressed at public meetings, need be treated with no other feeling than entire disregard, and the absence of all apprehension, if the classes immediately above them were not discontented; but there was much cause for alarm when it was considered that these classes, too, were dissatisfied. He trusted these resolutions would be agreed to, in order that the country might derive some hope for the future, from the admission which the House would thus make, that all had not been done which ought to have been done.
§ Mr. Warburton
would support the resolutions most cordially. They went nearly on the same grounds which he himself took in opposing the extension of the standing army. The discontents which prevailed were not confined to the lowest or most ignorant classes. There was a large number of steady and thinking persons in the country who had been the supporters of moderate reform from the time when the Whigs last came into power, and a very considerable portion of these were entirely dissatisfied with the course of legislation which that House had pursued. The noble Lord said, that it was the Chartists themselves who had interrupted the progress of the Corn-law question; but this was not because they were in favour of the continuance of these laws, but because they considered that to petition the House, in its present constitution, to abolish those laws, would be utterly useless. Looking to the non-progress of the measures brought in for the good of the people, the people had a right to conclude, that the constitution of the House was not what it ought to be. It was because of the finality principle, and of the discontent which it caused, alienating from the Government the affections of the middle classes, the best supporters of order and the public peace, that violence had been supposed to exist. He hoped that principle would be abandoned, and that her Majesty's Government would advance the cause of reform. If they 176 persisted in refusing to do so, some other Ministers must be found who would take a contrary course.
said, that when the hon. Member for Birmingham ascribed the present condition of the country to the state of the currency, he thought he would find a more obvious cause in the systematic attacks which had been made since the Reform Bill upon the civil rights of England. Of late years, the Government of the country had been engaged in assailing the rights of the people, and the people had turned round with an instinctive spirit, and assailed the constitution of the realm. That he believed to be the real state of the country at the present moment. If hon. Gentlemen would only take a retrospective glance at what had passed during the last seven years, and see what the Government of this country had done in attacking the civil rights of the people, they would not be surprised at the effect which had been produced. Within the last seven years they had attacked the Church; they had totally revolutionized the parochial jurisdiction of the country—that most ancient jurisdiction, an institution bringing much finer and nearer relations between the people than any political institution they could boast of; they had attacked the ancient police of the country; they had attacked the old local administration of justice, and confiscated the ancient patrimony of the people. They had attacked trial by jury, and had destroyed old corporations. He should like to know what could create discontent throughout the country, if conduct such as that would not. Every public sedition, that had spread, had always originated from an attack upon the civil rights of the people. Generally speaking, sections of the aristocracy had taken advantage of the circumstance, and placed themselves at the head of the people in the political movement. It was a most remarkable fact, however, that in the present instance there was no portion of the aristocracy whatever connected with the movement of the people; and yet there was a deep and a wide spread organization. What might be the cause of that, it was the duty of the House to inquire. The noble Lord was not only a political student, but an eminent historian. The noble Lord, it seemed, had discovered the cause of sedition. Far be it from him to cope with the noble Lord in endeavour- 177 ing to trace the pedigree of sedition; but he readily confessed, that he felt disposed to trace it to a higher source than Mr. Oastler. Yet true it was, that the noble Lord had traced it to the single efforts of that now celebrated personage. When the noble Lord ascribed the present discontent to the agitation which had taken place upon the Poor-law Amendment Act, he quite forgot the support and the means by which the Reform Bill had been carried. So far from the outbreak in Birmingham, for instance, being attributable to that agitation, every one who was at all acquainted with Birmingham, knew, that it was a subject which had produced less effect in that town than almost any other which had become matter of public discussion. There was a time, as they were all aware—namely, after the Reform Bill had passed that House—when they were told 200,000 men were to march from Birmingham, to assist the decision of the other House of Parliament, That was before Mr. Oastler's time. Well, it seemed that this great body militant were now about to arrive to assist the noble Lord in his decision; in what spirit the noble Lord would receive them, it was not for him to project. But when the noble Lord ascribed the present disturbances to a few demagogues, and to an Act passed more recently than the Reform Bill, he ought first to remember, that his predecessor had received a deputation from Birmingham, headed by a tricoloured flag. The noble Lord regarded the Chartists of England, as if they were the first body of men who had appealed to physical force, and as if physical force had not previously hastened many a man into place and power. With that idea, the noble Lord called upon all parties in that House to adhere together, and to invest the Government with fresh and invigorating powers. He talked as if the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had never appealed to the support of 500,000 fighting men. That, he must suppose, was an appeal on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman, to the intellect, the vigour, and the moral energy of his country. The people of this country, had, in fact, been debauched by agitation, which it had been the interest of a particular party to encourage. He did not mean to say, that that morbid feeling alone, would have produced the present result. But when those men who assisted 178 in carrying on a great revolution, found, that the change had only effected a systematic attack upon their rights—surprised at the result, they turned round upon their instigators, used the very weapons with which they had armed them, and had recourse to the arts and devices which they had taught them. They might depend upon it, that they had not that hold upon the mind of the people which would enable them to arrest their course whenever they pleased. It might not be flattering to their self-complacency to say, but it nevertheless must not be forgotten, that they were the youngest representative assembly in the world. They were younger even than the Chamber of Deputies in France. They bore the ancient title, it was true, of the House of Commons, but they had no prescriptive right to it. They could not appeal to what Lord Bacon styled "reverend antiquity." Instead of cultivating the affections of the people, and exciting their respect for antiquity which they naturally admired, they were perpetually taking away their rights, and disturbing the foundation of everything ancient in the nation. Formerly they were supported by an overwhelming majority of that House. What had since reduced the constitution of the country to a state of political paralysis, for that was the state which it was in at present? Who could deny, that all that could now be said of the once celebrated constitution of England, which certainly had been the pride of Englishmen, and which he believed had also been the admiration of Europe, was, that it was a system of polity under which the Sovereign could do no wrong, and the Government no right? The paralyzed state of the constitution was owing, as had been confessed by the hon. Member for Bridport himself, to the weakness of the Government, who he contended should either make larger concessions, or allow themselves to be displaced. A beneficial change from the present state of things, could only be effected by a strong Government. Whether Chartists required an agrarian republic—whether Whigs required place—or Tories power, one thing was certain, that the country required a Government. Unless they had a Government which could pass measures—a Government in nature, not in name (for who could pretend that the noble Lord 179 and his colleagues were a Government—what did they govern, or what did they administer?)—they could not expect the people to return to tranquillity. He was not ascribing this state of things to the personal faults of the noble Lord and his colleagues, but to the faults of their party. That state of things was the necessary consequences of a party which was opposed to the national institutions of the country. He did not so much accuse the Ministers of the Crown of attacking the institutions of the country, as of attacking the habits, manners, prejudices, and feelings of the people. Not a week passed in which some bill was not produced which outraged the prejudices of the nation. It was with views like these that he looked upon the present discontents, and it was with a mind occupied by reflections of this nature, that he considered them to be much more serious than his hon. Friends seemed disposed to admit. He was rendered the more alive to these dangers from seeing that the discontented portion of the people were without leaders. If a man of great and commanding abilities, of subtle mind, and of loose principles, appeared to stand forward as the instructor and the guide of the popular party, much of the existing discontent might be imputed to the influence of personal character; and when such a man disappeared, the great causes of popular commotion generally disappeared with him. The absence of this species of chief it was, which rendered the present feelings and sentiments manifested by the people in many parts of the country so much the more fearful, which imparted to them evidence of being in a far more inflamed state than if led on by an individual. A great portion of those who might be included amongst the discontented, were not men who could be reckoned on the fingers as those might, who had signed what was called the National Petition. There could be no doubt that a great section of the country—some three or four millions of the people—were under the influence of great discontent, and Parliament was about to prorogue, under circumstances which rendered it necessary that Parliament should be assembled. They had done nothing since they were called together. They had entered upon the business of the Session under circumstances of alarming colonial disturbance, and now they were on the point of separating, the whole nation was disaffected.
§ Mr. Ewart
thought, that the hon. Member, in his stock of grievances, might have omitted the abolition of the ancient constabulary, who had gone to their political grave—the brethren of Dogberry and Verges. With one part of the hon. Member's speech he agreed, and that was, it was desirable to have a strong government—that it must be a government strong, not by coercion, by having enlisted in its favour the affections of the people. He deeply deplored that one of the characteristics of these times should be a division between the friends of a sound and rational reform. He regretted that the middle class of Reformers should be unhappily at variance with the more popular class, who seemed recently to have run wild—severing their connexion with those who might have guided them. He could not but lament, what seemed to be approaching, an isolation between the different parties, in which the extremes of wild liberalism drawing off on one side, and the high aristocracy on the other, the middle classes would be left alone. But he trusted that this would not be lasting, and that the spread of education would teach those who were disposed to violence, that it was not by a sanguinary movement that they could attain their end, but by a steady progress, founded on claims of substantial justice. Whatever wildness and enthusiasm might prevail, he believed there was some injustice at the bottom of it all; and where that was an ingredient in the condition of society, there could be no content. The real cause of discontent was the undue ascendancy of the landed interest, who had exclusive power in one House of Parliament, and a predominance in the other. He, for his own part, abjured violence, and hoped for improvements through the determination and energy of the really liberal part of the community. Believing the motion of his hon. Friend to be in accordance with these principles, he would give it his cordial support.
§ Sir H. Verney
expressed his belief that the present disturbances had arisen entirely from the increase in the population not having been followed up by an adequate increase in that moral and religious instruction which the people ought to receive. These alone were the means by which peace and tranquillity could be obtained; and it was well known that in the disturbed districts sufficient moral and religious instruction were not afforded to the people. 181 He hoped, therefore, that the number of churches and chapels would be multiplied in the manufacturing districts, and that proper schools, for the education of all children, whether in connexion with the Established Church or Dissenters, would be established by the Government with as little loss of time as possible.
§ Mr. Hume
rose amidst loud cries of "Divide." He thought that the hon. Baronet had misrepresented the cause which the people had for discontent. The truth was that the contest now going on was one between the aristocracy and the democracy. The laws were made by the aristocracy, and what was the consequence? Why, that they oppressed the poor, and favoured the rich. In this country it might be said that industry was unprotected and oppressed, and sure he was, that unless they gave the people a larger share in the representation than they now had, discontent must continue.
§ Mr. W. Stanley
said, that he believed the present disturbances were owing to the conduct of certain parties in that House in connexion with certain other parties out of it. These parties pressed for alterations in the constitution which it would be neither wise nor safe to make, and it was because they were unable to attain their object that they set the people against the laws. This was the true way in which to account for the present state of discontent which existed.
§ The House divided on the original motion: Ayes 51; Noes 29: Majority 22.
|List of the Ayes.|
|Adam, Admiral||Macaulay, T. B.|
|Baring, F. T.||Mildmay, P. St. J.|
|Berkeley, hon. C.||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Bernal, R.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Broadley, H.||Palmerston, Viscount|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Parker, R. T.|
|Chichester, J. P. B.||Parnell, rt. hn. Sir S.|
|Dalmeney, Lord||Pigot, D. R.|
|Donkin, Sir R. S.||Praed, W. P.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Price, Sir R.|
|Fitzpatrick, J. W.||Pryme, G.|
|Gordon, R.||Rice, rt. hon. T. S.|
|Henniker, Lord||Rolfe, Sir R. M.|
|Hinde, J. H.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Hobhouse, right hon. Sir J.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Russell, Lord J.|
|Hodgson, R.||Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.|
|Hoskins, K.||Seymour, Lord|
|Howard, P. H.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Howard, Sir R.||Smith, R. V.|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Stanley, hon. W. O.|
|Lushington, rt. hn. S.||Steuart, R.|
|Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.||Wood, Colonel|
|Thompson, Alderman||Worsley, Lord|
|Verney, Sir H.|
|Waddington, H. S.||TELLERS.|
|Wood, C.||Stanley, E. J.|
|Wood, G. W.||Parker, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Jervis, S.|
|Attwood, T.||Lushington, C.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Muskett, G. A.|
|Brotherton, J.||O'Connell, D.|
|Currie, R.||O'Connell, J.|
|Easthope, J.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Ellis, W.||Scholefield, J.|
|Ewart, W.||Thornely, T.|
|Fielden, J.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Finch, F.||Villiers, hon. C. P.|
|Hawes, B.||Wakley, T.|
|Hector, C. J.||Warburton, H.|
|Hill, Lord A. M. C.||Williams, W.|
|Hollond, R.||Duncombe, hon. W.|
|Hutt, W.||Hume, J.|
§ House in Committee of Ways and Means.
§ The annual votes were agreed to, the House resumed and adjourned.