§ Mr. Ferrand
said, that, in rising to submit his motion to the House, respecting a grant of money to the distressed manufacturers, overflowing as its benches were (there were barely forty Members present), he was prepared to offer his testimony, residing, as he did, in the heart of the manufacturing districts, and having means of ascertaining the truth, not only from what he himself saw, but from the best authority, to the fact that distress of the most fearful description was now raging in every quarter. He must appeal to the House to do their utmost to relieve the poor industrious classes in the manufacturing districts, and save them from starvation. He believed that there was no one in that House who would stand up and declare that the labourers in the manufacturing districts were not suffering the most fearful distress, and the House had it on the highest authority that the people had borne this distress with a patient endurance which claimed not only respect, but an earnest desire to relieve them. He found that in the speech from the throne her Majesty used the following language:I have observed with deep regret the continued distress in the manufacturing districts of the country. The sufferings and privations 1641 which have resulted from it have been borne with an exemplary patience and fortitude.He was prepared to prove, that the legislation of that House had caused this distress, and therefore they were bound to assist in relieving it. He made this statement, not only on his own authority, but on that of the right hon. Baronet, the Prime Minister of this country, who said on the 9th of February of the present year, when addressing the House on the Corn-law question.If you look to the immigration of labour from the rural districts to the seats of manufactures, and to the immense increase of mechanical power which took place in the course of the years 1837 and 1838, you will hardly be surprised to find that the result which has before attended similar excitement and stimulus should again ensue.This great immigration of the working classes into the manufacturing districts was caused by the New Poor-law. He held in his hand a letter written by a large cotton-spinner in Lancashire to Mr. Chad-wick, the secretary to the Poor-law commissioners, relating to the removal of labourers from the southern districts to the north, part of which he would take the liberty to read to the House. The writer said,—Perceiving, as I do, that the right understanding of this subject of immigration may become a means to promote the future welfare of the workmen and their families, some of whom may be suffering great distress, that by immigration they may be enabled to elevate themselves and their children to the honourable condition of independent labourers, I feel anxious that the best attention of the Poor-law commissioners should be directed thereto, and I would respectfully suggest, that one or more of the body should come down to this neighbourhood to ascertain the condition and prospects of the working classes, to examine the extensive preparations now making to furnish further employment, and thereby judge for themselves what course they can best recommend or adopt.That letter was dated the 13th of February, 1839, and signed, H. Askworth. After the poor people had been removed according to this plan from the rural districts of the south of England into the manufacturing districts a stimulus was given for a time to trade, and things went on with apparent prosperity. During that time he found, that the House of Commons voted 20,000,000l. of money for the emancipation of the black slaves of 1642 the West-Indies—men, who he was prepared to prove were a thousand times happier, and more contented, more prosperous, and better provided for, than the workmen of the manufacturing districts of England were at the present time. He would give the House the opinion of a Gentleman, who he was proud to say, was a fellow-countrymen of his own, a Whig in politics, and a Roman Catholic in religion, respected by all who knew him, and deservedly so. He found in Mr. Water-ton's work, describing his wanderings in Demerara in 1816, a passage denying in the strongest terms, that the condition of the slaves was so deplorably wretched, as it had been represented. Mr. Waterton said,—It is not so. A Briton's heart, proverbially kind and generous, is not changed by climate, or its streams of compassion dried up by the scorching heat of a Demerara sun; he cheers his negroes in labour, comforts them in sickness, is kind to them in old age, and never forgets that they are his fellow-creatures.What a pity it was that the manufacturing workmen of England were not at the present moment so well off as the slaves of Demerara had been. Were their masters' hearts open to their wants and distresses? Were they ready to relieve them? Did they soothe their hours of sickness and declining years? Were they not cast out to perish at the present moment, and dying at the doors of their masters? There was no one to relieve them and protect them, and he would appeal to the House of Commons, the representatives of the people, to save them from destruction. He asked for a grant of the public money to the manufacturing labourers, on the broad ground, that it was their right. The Legislature of the country had reduced them to their present state. Were the working classes of the north of England dying of want before the New Poor-law passed? Were they starving before the Poor-law commissioners passed them by tens of thousands into the manufacturing districts, and decoyed the poor wretches from their homes in the south by telling them their removal would put an end to their distress, would procure every comfort for themselves and their families, and would save them from want in old age, by enabling them with frugality and industry, to retire to competence. He would now quote the language of a noble Lord 1643 justly respected not only in that House House, but throughout the whole country —he meant the Secretary for the Colonies. On the 33rd of July, 1833, during the debate on the Slavery Abolition Bill, the noble Lord, when calling upon the House to agree to a grant of 15,000,000l. by way of compensation to the West-Indian planters, was interrupted by Mr. Fryer, who asked,—Why should we pay anything?And the noble Lord said,—The hon. Member has asked a short and pithy question. He would tell him why the planter should be indemnified, because the principles of justice required that no man's property should be taken away without compensation.But the working classes had their property taken from them without compensation. What right had they to send forth a mighty mass of labourers from the south to the manufacturing districts of the north, for the purpose of relieving the proprietors of the soil? The noble Lord went on to say,—Because the laws of England forbade taking away a man's property without the consent of the owner: because in this case the property would be taken away in a manner the most offensive.Could anything be more offensive than the manner in which the men from the south had been made as strangers in the land to compete with those in the north? Could anything be more disgraceful to England than the state of the working classes in the north of England at the present moment? The noble Lord continued:—Acting on the principles of justice, the House had declared that emancipation and compensation should go together.Well, then, the landed interest in the south of England had been emancipated from the charge of the poor, by which means it was calculated they had put into their pockets at least 2,400,000l. This was not a party question; both sides of the House were to blame, the landed proprietors of England, for agreeing to carry out the principles of the New Poor Law, and the manufacturers of the north were most reprehensible for holding out to the working classes inducements to migrate thither which they knew they could not realize. Those poor people had been sent from the south into the manufacturing districts un 1644 der promises the most exaggerated—with pledges not only from the Poor-law Commissioners, but also from the owners of the soil, as well as the manufacturers themselves, that they should never again know distress or want. Oh, what a frightful state the north of England was in at this moment! He stated what he knew to be true, that there were thousands of the working classes, those who had been induced to migrate from the south, now actually living on boiled nettles, drinking the water in which the nettles had been boiled as a beverage, and lying in bed during the day for the purpose of saving their bodies from the exhaustion of walking about. And what were the measures which had been adopted for the purpose of rescuing the working classes from the deplorable condition in which they were involved? The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had satisfied an immense majority of the people that he was exceedingly anxious to relieve the necessities of his indigent and distressed fellow-subjects; and, although differing from the right hon. Baronet on some of the questions brought forward, he would say there never had been in the history of this country a Prime Minister who laboured with such mighty determination, and such great talents, to bring about relief to the working classes. He would quote a sentence or two from him; and call upon the manufacturers of England, to whatever party they might belong, to learn thence their duty to those who had built up their enormous wealth, and who were literally dying from want at their very doors. The right hon. Baronet said, in words that ought to be written in gold, to be remembered while he lived and long after he was dead:—I am one of those who have derived our fortunes from the industry of the operative classes, and I trust that others, who owe their prosperity to the same cause, will feel as I do —that it is our duty to relieve the public, by taking on ourselves the charge of a just requital to those classes from whom our prosperity has sprung.Here was an appeal to the manufacturers; had they responded to it? Had they done their duty? Had they rendered a just requital to the working classes? Had they not rather stood by and seen them die by their side? Did any one ever see a more paltry sum than had been raised for the distressed manufacturers' 1645 committee? It was a disgrace to England; and he would tell the House whose fault it was that the subscription had been a failure. It was to be ascribed to the efforts of those wicked and unprincipled men who were abroad in the country endeavouring to take advantage of the distressed state of the working classes—hired lecturers, base and cowardly wretches, going about like thieves in the dark, striving to excite men to rebellion, but who, in the hour of danger, instead of appearing at their head, skulked off, and left their ignorant dupes, when the law performed its office, cither to be trampled under foot by the military or led to the scaffold. Throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire they had circulated a beastly, filthy placard, headed "Murder," and stated that a minister of the gospel in the neighbourhood of Stirling had declared that a shopkeeper and a constable, having gone into a poor man's house who had stolen three potatoes, found a pan on the fire (if fire it could be called where there were but a few burning embers), and in the pan a dog boiling with the three potatoes. He had it from the best authority that there was not a syllable of truth in the whole statement, yet it was circulated at enormous expense by men having education, and who under the blessing of God, and the laws of this country protecting them, had been enabled to amass millions in order to excite the illiterate and distressed into rebellion. But he was happy to say the working men resisted the base instigations of these evil men, and appealed with loyalty and devoted affection to their Queen and country, to the House of Commons, the representatives of the people, saying, "In God's name have mercy, help and save us from death." The distress which prevailed pressed heavily on the mind of our devoted, beloved, affectionate, and maternal Queen. Her Majesty, deeply commisserating the sufferings of her people, had appealed to the affluent, in what was called "the Queen's Letter," imploring them to come forward and rescue the working classes from destitution and misery. Had the Queen's Letter been responded to as it should have been? It had not. The Queen felt more deeply for the distress and suffering of her people at the present moment, because there was none to deliver them. She had done her duty towards her poor subjects; an obstacle stood in the way, or she would have relieved them long ago. That impediment was the Bri- 1646 tish House of Commons. With deep humility he suggested a response to the wishes of her Majesty; and in the name of the distressed among the working classes he called upon that House, in whose hands alone were the means of saving them from destitution and death, to relieve their dreadful necessities. He begged leave to move—That the House will, on Tuesday, the 21st of this instant June, resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, for the purpose of taking into consideration the following resolution:—that it is the opinion of this House that immediate measures be taken to alleviate the deplorable distress and destitution which now afflict many of the working classes in the manufacturing districts, and that an address be presented to her Majesty, beseeching her Majesty to employ for their temporary relief a sum of money not exceeding 1,000,000l, sterling, and that this House will provide for the same.
§ Sir R. Peel:
Sir, I hope that the decided opposition which I shall feel it my duty to offer to this motion will not be construed into any symptoms of an indifference on my part to the distresses of the people. I feel, Sir, most deeply for those distresses, but feeling for them and deploring their existence, I still never can consent to establish so fatal a precedent as to give my assent to this motion, on behalf of the Crown, nor will I ever consent to sanction so fatal a mistake as to imply that the distress of the people at large could ever be alleviated permanently or properly by such an expedient as to temporary and a limited grant of the public money. If the allegations of the hon. Member with respect to the sum of 2,400,000l., saved to the landowners of the south, by the emigration of the working classes to the north, be true, it is upon them that the burden of giving temporary relief ought to fall. How could the sum of 1,000,000l, which the hon. Member proposes to grant, be levied but by taxation; and upon whom does this burden of taxation fall but upon the labouring classes, who are the chief consumers of the articles upon which taxation is levied?. If the motion of the hon. Gentleman were to be granted, it would establish, I beg to say, a fatal precedent, and one which would be constantly recurred to in similar cases. One of the bad consequences which would arise from it would be the immediate cessation of all efforts at raising charitable funds in the locality 1647 of the distress. The obligation to make strenuous efforts to raise funds for the relief of the poor, was both legal and moral upon those who were resident in the same locality with them, I will not enter upon this subject further, nor am I willing to go into a discussion of the facts, so called by the hon. Member for Knaresborough. But when he states, that he has inquired into the story of a dog having been boiled with three potatoes, and that he had found it to be false from beginning to end, I confess, 1 think it might have been hoped he would have exercised the same prudent caution with respect to the story of the boiled nettles; and he might have been expected to have suppressed that statement unless he had cautiously assured himself that it was not an exaggerated story. I entirely agree with him in one respect, that the distressed people have a strong claim on the munificent charity of the opulent classes; and if the public attention be strongly called to these charitable endeavours much good may be done by them. I hope that those who are affluent will contribute liberally as soon as they find their efforts are still needed; and, moreover, I hope that the opposition which I must offer to the hon. Member's motion will not be construed into indifference; for I can assure the House, that the Government is labouring silently, though indefatigably, to alleviate the sufferings of the working classes, and with some hopes of success. I trust, therefore, that the House, however alive it may be to the distresses of the people, will never consent to establish such a precedent as would be created by any attempt to interfere, by legislative grant, for the purpose of affording relief under the circumstances of the case.
§ Mr. F. Maule:
Nobody could question that a deep feeling of sympathy prevailed, on both sides, with the sufferings of the working classes; but he must deprecate such language as that used by the hon. Member for Knaresborough, who, at a time when the people were suffering severely, thought fit to say of the manufacturers, who raised this country to its present greatness, that the people were perishing at their doors. He regretted the use of such terms, when speaking of a population which was undergoing great misery. He should oppose the motion.
§ Dr. Bowring
wished to make one observation. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. 1648 Ferrand) was in the habit of condemning the emigration from the south to the north of England. He felt bound to say, that a friend of his an intelligent and excellent man, was a party to that immigration. He proposed, that the working classes of the south should have the advantage of higher wages than they possessed in their original place of habitation. He (Dr. Bowring) had the advantage of seeing these people lately, and he ventured to say, that all connected with Mr. Ashworth stood in advantageous contrast to much of the misery by which they were surrounded. There was no living man who had a stronger desire than Mr. Ashworth to benefit the working classes, and if the hon. Member for Knaresborough wished to see a population contented and happy, he should point to those who were privileged in having Mr. Ashworth as a master.
§ Captain Polhill
said, that as the hon. Member had received an assurance from the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government that her Majesty's Ministers deeply sympathized with the present sufferings of the population, he would, probably, feel that it was merely superfluous on the part of an individual Member to take up a measure of this kind. His hon. Friend could not do better than trust the matter to the care of the Ministers and withdraw his motion.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he could not consent to accept the vote of his hon. Friend who had just spoken, on account of any misconstruction of the observations which had fallen from him. He objected, decidedly, to a vote of public money being taken with a view to ameliorate the distress of the country; and his hon. Friend must not suppose that in the event of the failure of the present motion, Government would take any similar measure into consideration.
§ Mr. Ward
gave the hon. Member the fullest credit for a sincere desire to alleviate the distress of the country, but it was his firm belief that the hon. Member's proposition, if carried, would rather tend to aggravate the distress and drag down those classes which were still sustaining themselves against the difficulties of the time to the same level as the class it was now proposed to relieve. The present distress, he feared, was not of a temporary nature, and the proofs of its magnitude were rushing in every day. He had received a letter from one of his constituents 1649 in which it was stated, that it was impossible to overrate the prevailing distress among the labouring and commercial classes. Those who four years ago were in a state of comparative prosperity now saw hardly a hope left them. They certainly did not see hope in those changes which the right hon. Baronet had effected in the tariff, though they were all in the right direction. But they did not come home to the point—they did not open a sufficiently wide field for our trade elsewhere, and especially in the United States. He had been entreated to make a statement of the actual condition of the labouring population in Sheffield, and contrast it with the condition of the population in 1836. In the latter period there was not one man of common industry and decent character who was not employed at good regular wages. Since that time the progress had been constantly downwards. No effort of industry could enable the population to make good their ground against the influence of the narrow commercial policy of the country. The trade with the United States was destroyed by the refusal to take American flour, and so far from the spring having brought with it a better prospect of relief, as the right hon. Baronet had anticipated, all hopes of the amelioration of the distress had vanished. Whereas, in 1836, there was not one individual to be found in Sheffield on the casual relief fund, the sums paid to men willing and able to work up to March in the present year had been 229Z. perweek. Since then it had gone on increasing to 312l, 350l., 370l., and 3901., and in the last three weeks the sum paid was 1,115l. The policy of the right hon. Baronet had not gone far enough, but must be extended. The right hon. Baronet must therefore take the subject of the present distress into his serious consideration, but not with a view of temporarily relieving it by the expedient of a money vote, which would not enable the Government to alleviate the distress by any possible devices which they could adopt. In point of fact, the ruin of the country, or its escape from its present state of suffering, depended entirely on the policy of the Government in the succeeding year. For these reasons, though deeply sensible of the sufferings of the population, he was unable to support the motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ Captain Polhill
begged to say one word 1650 in explanation. He had been misunderstood by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel). He did not mean to say that Government would attempt to alleviate the distress by a grant of money from the public funds, but only that they would use their best exertions to alleviate it whenever it was brought under their notice.
§ Mr. Villiers
rose in consequence of the right hon. Baronet having adverted to a statement made by him relative to the distress in a certain district of Scotland. It alluded to a poor Catholic family, who were found in such destitution, that they were actually eating a dog which had been boiled in the house. The hon. Member for Knaresborough, who was not in his place, stated that there was no foundation for that statement. He would ask the House to pause before they believed that there was no foundation for that, when he told them on what authority he made that statement. Seeing the hon. Member in his place, he would again repeat that he hoped the House would pause before they supposed that that statement was without foundation, as the hon. Gentleman himself often made statements which were loose and turned out to be untrue. No doubt the hon. Member believed them, but he did not take the trouble to inquire into them. The statement he had made he had seen in a Scottish newspaper, and the paragraph had been copied into an English paper. This it was that he stated to the House, and he had since written to the Provost of Stirling, and he had received an answer, saying that he would inquire into the subject. His hon. Friend gave the hon. Member credit for benevolent motives. He did not wish to dispute his benevolence, but he did not agree with his system of personal attacks. Both from the hon. Member's manner, and the topics he introduced, he always seemed to have a party object. He had described persons who were going about the country lecturing for the purpose of misleading the people. He begged to tell the hon. Member that the people of this country were well enough informed to appreciate the motives of such persons. He begged to remark that the hon. Gentlemen who had brought these charges had been for nine months resorting to every topic calculated to excite the common people both in that House and out of the House. The hon. Member had referred to the ill usage of men by their masters. The hon. Member had alluded in the most violent language 1651 to the mode in which the public relief had been administered. But the people were in a far different state to what they were in when the hon. Member first began. The people's patience was nearly exhausted. He had stated these things so frequently, that the people now began to believe them, and he could not help thinking that the hon. Member was beginning to be a little alarmed at the aspect and state of the country. He thought the hon. Member had pretty strong evidence on his own committee. It was there stated that one cause of the riots of Newport was the exciting topic of the truck system.
§ The Speaker
intimated that what had occurred oh a committee then sitting could not be alluded to by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Villiers
only mentioned this to show that the hon. Gentleman was beginning to get alarmed. He thought he could not read a newspaper without seeing some cause for apprehension from the distress and temper of the people. Complimented they had been, no doubt, on their patience, but there was something different in their spirit. Now the hon. Member came forward, without the most distant chance of success, and in the most reckless and loose manner proposed that one million should be given to the people. Did the hon. Member mean to say, that even for one instant the hon. Member had an idea that the grant would be made. What was the course of the hon. Member on every single measure that was calculated to relieve the people? If those who advocated the repeal of the Corn-laws were wrong in proposing that relief, they had also proposed to give the people the power to legislate for themselves. The hon. Gentleman refused them that relief— he refused them the power of legislating for themselves. He had refused to repeal bad laws, causing a burden to the people of millions sterling a-year. The people came there and claimed their political rights, they claimed to have the power of redressing their grievances, and pointed at the character of the legislation which caused them. Where was the hon. Gentleman then? Was he for extending that power? The hon. Member condemned that House, he had said that it was standing between the benevolence of the Crown and the poor. But when the question of reform of abuses came before the House, where was the hon. Gentleman? Did the hon. Gentleman think the 1652 people were so stultified as to give credit to his motives in proposing a measure which could not relieve the distress such as had been described 1 He could not suppose that the hon. Gentleman could believe that the House would grant his motion. He could not believe that the hon. Gentleman was earnest in his proposition. There were four millions in the country—say two or three millions—who required relief, and were suffering the greatest distress. What was a million of money to those people? Every head of a family was supposed to represent five persons. What was a million of money distributed amongst those people? The hon. Gentleman was violent against the New Poor-law. What had the Poor-law to do with the distress of the country? Did not the hon. Gentleman know that before the present Poor-law was passed the agricultural labourers were much worse off than now? Did he not know that those agriculturists were then treated worse than the people were in the collieries, as described the other night? How then could he attribute the distress to the operation of the New Poor-law? No, there was a more permanent cause than that. This was the opinion of more experienced men than the hon. Member. The hon. Gentleman seemed to him to come into that House as the champion of restrictive laws, and in order to be consistent with that character, he asked for a grant of money, to save the people from the consequences of those laws, or rather to save the landed proprietors. The poor-rates were increasing in the agricultural districts, and the reason was, the people were going back, from the manufacturing and commercial districts, by shoals, to their parishes. The hon. Member would find that the agriculturists were suffering; and he would tell the hon. Member another thing, that the consumption of agricultural produce was diminishing. Well might the hon. Member come forward as the champion of the Corn-law, and ask for a million of money. Anything that was not a permanent relief, was a mockery. This proposal was almost an insult to the people, and was making them paupers.
§ Mr. Wallace
said, the extent of distress that prevailed in the country was by no means generally known. Although he differed from the right hon. Baronet in the principle he had laid down, and thought that the time might come when it would 1653 be necessary to alleviate the distress with public money, still he agreed with him, that it ought to be the last resource. As a matter of principle, therefore, had he felt bound to vote in maintenance of it, he should have divided with the hon. Member for Knaresborough, much as he regretted the manner in which his motion was brought forward; but agreeing entirely in the sentiments so ably expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, and feeling that this amount would be but a drop in a bucket, he thought it would be wise before taking any step to make every possible inquiry on the subject. If the hon. Member proceeded to a division, he should certainly not divide with him.
§ Mr. Escott
thought the motion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough a most extraordinary one. He could not, consistently with what he felt due in the discharge of his duty, refrain from saying that he not only thought it an extraordinary motion, but also a most mischievous motion. He felt, too, that not only was the motion mischievous, but he would tell his hon. Friend and the House plainly, that he thought the speech with which it was introduced a mischievous speech. There was one charge that his hon. Friend had made in that speech which, as long as he had the honour of a seat in that House, he would never hear made by any hon. Gentleman without rising in his place to protest against it. His hon. Friend said in his speech, after stating the distresses of the people of this country, that that House stood between the people and their relief. He positively denied that charge. That charge was not fair to that House. It was not fair to the Government. In the same speech in which his hon. Friend made that charge, he admitted the Government was doing all in its power to relieve the distress which every feeling man so deeply deplored. Upon the principle of the motion, he would say one word. His hon. Friend proposed a grant of public money for relieving the distress that prevailed. Now, he believed that if that motion were carried, there was no one mode which his hon. Friend could devise, that would be so likely to draw off the attention of the Legislature and of the people from those measures which might be necessary at some future time, for relieving the distresses of the people; He must also protest against the doctrine, that be- 1654 cause there happened to be a great pressure of distress at a given time, they must have recourse to a grant of public money, which must come from the pockets of the people who were so distressed, and which, being- so taken away, must throw an additional pressure on their industry. He hoped, however, that his hon. Friend, seeing the feeling so plainly manifested on both sides of the House, would not trouble them by proceeding to a division, but would withdraw his motion.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
said, that as the hon. Member for Knaresborough had mentioned the name of his Friend, Mr. Ashworth, he wished to state, that he concurred with his hon. Colleague, in the character he had given of that Gentleman, and in hoping, that the hon. Member for Knaresborough would, at some future time, pay him a visit, and allow him to take him over Mr. Ashworth's manufactory, feeling sure, that the hon. Gentleman would be quite satisfied with the manner in which Mr. Ashworth conducted his business. At the same time, if the hon. Gentleman proceeded to a division, he felt bound to give him his support.
§ Mr. W. Williams
considered the cause of the present distress in a great measure, to be the high price of provisions in this country, as compared with the prices of provisions in other countries. Now, the speech of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, and the votes he had given in the House, were strangely inconsistent; for upon every occasion, that a proposition was made to relieve the distresses of the country by reducing the price of provisions, the hon. Gentleman had been universally opposed to such a measure. Had he not opposed the removal of the tax upon bread in every shape that it was brought before the House? And had he not stood forward above all other individuals, in bringing charges against those persons who had been so active in their endeavours to do away with the tax on corn? Had he not brought those charges from time to lime in that House? Had he not made attacks on individuals, and the whole of that body called the Anti-Corn-law League, whose object Was to remove the tax on the bread of the people? Had he supported any measure in that House to reduce the price of food of the working classes? [Mr. Ferrand: Yes; the tariff on foreign cattle.] [Laugh-ter.] He thought the hon Gentleman was 1655 not in the division for admitting foreign oxen into this country at 1s. per head. Did he vote for the lowest duty upon foreign cattle? He believed, that the hon. Gentleman did not.. Was the hon. Gentleman aware, that two-thirds of the taxes, from which he would take this 100,000,000l., were actually paid by the poorer classes of this country upon the necessaries of life? If the hon. Gentleman would assist in removing those taxes, no motion of this kind would be requisite. He believed, however, that the working classes of this country had too much good sense to be led away by any motion so delusive. They knew too well, that it could not relieve them. It might afford some relief to send large sums of money to large towns, but the question would be, to which towns the money should be sent, and how it should be applied, and there would be a scramble for it without its producing any general or extensive benefit.
§ Mr. Cobden
was deeply impressed with the condition in which this country was now placed. It was such as ought to engage the serious consideration of all who had anything at stake. He had long been anxious, that the House should take the subject into its serious consideration; that the facts should be brought out, without its being made a question of Whig or Tory; and he should before then have brought forward certain facts connected with this subject, had he not been constantly met with the charge of impeding the tariff, which it was said, was calculated to restore in some degree the prosperity of the country. He believed, however, that there was no hope in the country, that that would be the effect of the tariff. [Cries of "Oh, oh ! "] Hon. Gentleman might say "Oh, oh !" but he would tell them, that the number of unemployed was greater, and the amount of Poor-rates higher now than ever. Capital was wasting away, and there was no means of employing it in trade. [_Cries of " Oh, oh," and laughter.] When the hon. Gentlemen said "Oh, oh!" and shut their ears, let them ask themselves what would be the consequence if that state of things went on? In Stockport, twenty-nine large concerns were closed; they did not belong to members of the Anti-Corn-law League, but chiefly to persons who agreed in political opinions with hon. Gentlemen opposite. In that town, there was an 1656 instance of one concern, which seven years ago was estimated to be worth 100,000l. The senior member of it retired after thirty years hard labour, thinking himself worth 100,000l., but the son of that individual was now receiving parish relief, and showing the mill at 1s. a-week. What, too, were the Poor-rates there? Why, a 2s. rate only yielded now one-sixth of what it did two years ago; and a 1s. rate only two-thirds of what a 6d. rate did at that time. Of a rated rental of 80,000l., only 36,000l. was received. Several years since that state of things had been foretold in the Chamber of Commerce at Manchester. But were they solitary in their distress— were they not a link of one great chain? Were not the various commercial interests of the country in the same depressed condition? He implored the House then not to separate, until they had done something directly and avowedly for giving contentment to the people. He entreated them not to separate now, and defer until next spring the consideration of this measure. The hon. Member for Sheffield said they must next spring reconsider the Corn-laws; but he would say they could not wait until the spring, and that they must throw open their ports for grain if they wanted to have peace in the country. He had lately received a letter from Sheffield which pointed to that place as one of the most perilous in the kingdom. He entreated the right hon. Baronet, then, not to think of dismissing the present Parliament without taking measures to relieve the distresses of the people. The right hon. Baronet would certainly be compelled at the opening of next Session to reconsider the corn question. Nor would he want a most just vindication for his consistency in such a course, for the right hon. Gentleman had expressly declared that he had brought forward his Corn-law measure from a conviction that trade was reviving. Now the very reverse had proved to be the case since the right hon. Baronet spoke thus; and the measures which had been brought forward by the Government had not at all been suggested even as remedies for the national distress. On the contrary, the right hon. Baronet had distinctly disclaimed any persuasion that his measures would remove that distress. The consequences to be apprehended from a continuance of the existing state of things were most serious. Not that he was desirous of employing language to provoke 1657 alarm or imply menace. He would not say that there was any prospect of popular outbreaks, which might peril the parks and the palaces of the Conservative party. He knew well that in the desperation of distress—in the frenzy of famine—the friends not less than the foes of the people would suffer; and his apprehension was not so much that the people might break out into violence as that the nation might break down altogether. He commended, then, this condition of things to the earnest consideration of the Legislature, that ere too late some measures might indeed be taken for the averting of dangers so imminent and so appalling.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
said, had he entertained any doubt at all as to the propriety of supporting the motion, that doubt must have been entirely removed by the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down. That hon. Member had vigorously pictured the national distress, and had contended for the necessity of an inquiry. Now, the present proposal was for an inquiry. The terms of the motion involved necessarily, first, a committee for the purpose of inquiry; and true it might be, that the object professed was the granting of pecuniary relief to the people. Now, his only objection to the motion was that it did not go far enough, seeing that it limited the amount of that relief to a million, whereas he should be prepared to support a vote of not less than five millions, convinced that not less than five millions would really relieve the distress of the people. It was said that the motion was without precedent; so far from it, there had been plenty of precedents. There had been in 1832 a vote of a million to the Irish clergy; and there were constantly votes to refugees — Polish, French, or Corsican, &c. His firm belief was, that the House really knew nothing of the popular distress. And whose fault was that? Why, the fault of the Gentlemen opposite. When it had been stated that poor wretches had been reduced to positive carrion, the statement had been treated with perfect indifference. It had been disbelieved. The majority opposite could have, indeed, no sympathy with the people. They had been returned by gross bribery. The right hon. Baronet, the leader of the party had declared it. Could any one deny it? The people knew it to be true. The Government had been forced into power by such means. Why, would 1658 they dare dissolve to-morrow? Would the right hon. Baronet the Member for Kent (Sir E. Knatchbull) like it? Depend upon it there would he more heard of the tariff then than now. [" Hear!"] The right hon. Baronet cheered. He did not like to hear of the tariff. Truly, the House had heard enough about it, and so had the country, and the people knew it to be one of the grossest delusions ever practised on a nation. But now to return to the question at issue. The people would never obtain redress till some 400,000 or 500,000 men from the manufacturing districts came to the metropolis to demand it. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes; and he knew that preparations were making with that intention. And not till those thousands came would their condition be attended to or their wrongs redressed. Then, indeed, they would obtain relief. The Corn-laws might be repealed. While they continued, distress would remain, which the Legislature was bound to do their utmost to relieve. But a most instructing spectacle had the House that night presented. First, all relief whatever had been denied to the Dissenters; and now all hope of relief was about to be withdrawn from millions of loyal and industrious, but distressed and suffering people.
§ Mr. Ferrand
would not notice the speech which had just been delivered. As to the remarks of the hon. Member for Stockport, about the distress caused to the manufacturing interest by the Corn-laws, it certainly was strange that any one should make such statements who recollected, that in despite of all the agitation of the question in the most populous manufacturing districts, Anti-Corn-law candidates had been defeated. Now it had been said that he had excited the people. To that he replied, that when he took his seat in that House he found that in the manufacturing districts there had been for some time a system of agitation for the purpose of exciting the people against the Government of the country. He found that gentlemen belonging to the party opposite had hired men, utterly devoid of honesty and reckless of truth, to use among the people the most outrageous language. He found, nevertheless, that notwithstanding all the expenditure of money and mischievous energy, they had entirely failed to win the people to their side, and to accomplish their great object of replacing Gentlemen 1659 opposite in office. How was it that the League as a body had been quite annihilated? True, there were some mischievous incendiaries going about the country, endeavouring to raise a popular excitement, endeavouring (under the sanction of gentlemen belonging to the party opposite) to excite the people to rebellion; but they would fail, as hitherto; or, if they succeeded unhappily in exciting the people into acts of violence, they would exhibit the cowardice common to those who for selfish purposes led others into unlawful proceedings. He had done his duty in that House— supported by a consciousness of rectitude— he trusted he had been of some service to the country in telling the truth manfully, and in thus putting down the hired agitators of selfish men. As to what had been said of the looseness of his assertions, he regarded them not, for he was sustained by his own conscience and by the belief that the people at large gave him credit for his intentions and his integrity. With respect to the particular instance of the dog, adverted to to-night, his denial of the story had been supported by communications direct from the locality alluded to, declaratory of perfect ignorance of any such circumstance. He had now to leave in the hands of the House a motion which was justified by the precedent of the great grant of 20,000,000l. for purchasing the freedom of the West-Indian slaves, whose condition, even in slavery, had been far better than that of millions in Great Britain, and who now were positively acquiring something like the position of independent proprietors. He should, at all events, continue to pursue the straightforward course which he had marked out for himself, and in which he believed he had not less the approbation of the country than of his own conscience; for he was persuaded that the people put more confidence in his assertions than in those of the whole party opposite.
§ The House divided: — Ayes 6; Noes 106; Majority 100.
|List of the AYES,|
|Ainsworth, P.||Johnson, Gen.|
|Blake, M. J.|
|Crawford, W. S.||TELLERS.|
|Heathcoat, J.||Duncombe, T.|
|Hindley, C.||Ferrand, W. B.|