HC Deb 19 July 1844 vol 76 cc1084-120

On the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair,

Mr. M. Gibson

said, it was now his intention to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice relative to the incendiarism now prevalent in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Cambridge. He did so because he felt a question of this importance did not stand in that position in which it ought to do, inasmuch as the explanations given on the subject in that House had not produced the impression on the public mind that a full inquiry had made into the subject, or that there might not be on the part of the Government considerable misapprehension as to the causes of these atrocities. He was aware that during the last week or two, and at the present moment, these awful crimes had somewhat subsided, but so short an interval could scarcely be relied on, and he thought this ought to be an additional reason for inquiring into the condition of the peasantry, and endeavouring to trace, as far as they could, into the causes of discontent which had given rise to them. The extent of the crime of Incendiarism had been very great during the last six or eight months; so much so, that he believed he spoke within the mark when he stated, on information which he had received, that considerably more than 100 separate offences of this kind had been committed in the county of Suffolk alone, and he believed upwards of 200 in the two adjoining counties. He had it also from good authority, that insurance-offices which insured something like 4,000,000l. of agricultural property had lost more than four times the amount of all the premiums paid to them on insurances of this description. If, therefore, these incendiary practices continued, the insurance-offices must either increase their rate of insurance to such a degree as materially to restrict the insurance of agricultural property, which it was very desirable should be insured, or they must exclude from the insurance contract the risk of incendiary fires, just as they did that by civil commotion, foreign invasion, or other contingencies not within the ordinary calculation of chances. But although he had thus alluded to the pecuniary loss and the effects of these crimes on the insurance system, he still conceived it was a much more serious consideration to reflect, that during this short period they had seen in these counties so much malignant feeling, and such disregard for the rights of property, as had been evinced by these incendiary fires. They knew that various causes had been assigned for the discontent which it was alleged had originated incendiarism; and the Motion he meant to make was for an Address to the Crown to send into these counties trustworthy, discreet, and careful men, for the purpose of inquiring into the general condition of the agricultural labourers there, and to ascertain what were the grievances under which they were supposed to surfer. He had hinted to the right hon. Baronet a few nights ago, that he thought it would be desirable to issue a Commission for the purpose of inquiring into these matters; and the reply of the right hon. Baronet was not such as gave him to understand that he (the right hon. Baronet) was averse to such an inquiry, though he was not prepared to give his assent to it without further consideration. He trusted, however, that the further consideration which the right hon. Baronet had been able to give to the subject would induce him to assent to sending down some discreet persons to make this inquiry. He would not suggest that it should be made through the Poor Law Commissioners—not but that he should have the greatest confidence in them, and in any report which they might make to the House—but that it was said a feeling with reference to the Poor Law itself, amounting to a "detestation" of it, had given rise to the discontented and, consequently, he feared that any, report made by the Poor Law Commissioners on this subject would not be satisfactory to the public, but would be regarded rather as an attempt to make out the good working of the Poor Law than to show the actual condition of the agricultural labourer. The right hon. Gentleman, the other night, said, that trials were about to take place of many persons who were in custody charged with offences of incendiarism, and he suggested that it would be better to wait the result of those trials. Now he called on the right hon. Baronet rather to take a statesman's view of the question than that of a police-officer or administrator of the criminal law. He called upon him not to take what had been designated "a chief-constable's view" of this question. They wanted to go beyond the mere detection of particular offenders, and to ascertain what were the exciting causes of this crime, that, if possible, they might guard against it for the future. It might be said it was too much to assume that distress and misery were the causes of this incendiarism, since many persons were charged with the crime who were not in those distressed circumstances which could have urged them to commit it. But it was well known, nothing more so, that when considerable discontent prevailed among the labouring population, individuals were always to be found to gratify malignant passions, by doing the work of violence for those who deemed themselves suffering under oppression. He was induced on the best authority to think that in the eastern counties this incendiarism must be regarded as a symptom and a proof that a dangerous and deep-rooted discontent was smouldering amongst the labouring population. He was using the expression of a Gentleman whose name would carry great weight in that House, and who was the best authority on this subject in the county of Suffolk — he meant Sir H. Bunbury—who, in a letter recently published in the public papers, said, "I must avow my conviction that these incendiary crimes are symptoms of smouldering and dangerous discontent." He thought it right, therefore, to call upon the Government to send some persons in whom they could confide, to investigate the truth of the different allegations respecting the cause of these outrages. He thought it peculiarly right to call upon the Government to do so, considering that they upheld, in reference to the rest of the people, laws and restrictions which they only attempted to justify on the ground of the well-being and happiness of the rural districts. They avowed that it was their first duty to maintain order, morality, happiness, and prosperity among the rural population. Other classes were called on to make sacrifices for this express purpose — trade was interfered with, and restrictions were upheld, to maintain those scenes of rural felicity which the right hon. Gentleman once said would cease if the Corn Laws were abolished. He considered, therefore, that this gave him a peculiar claim to call upon those who took upon themselves to sacrifice other interests to maintain the good order and happiness of a particular class to institute an inquiry, when they were informed on so high an authority as Sir H. Bunbury, that the incendiarism which prevailed was symptomatic of deep and dangerous discontent among the rural population. He knew it had been alleged, and Sir H. Bunbury mentioned it, that the New Poor Law was the cause. But he wanted to know if it were the New Poor Law? It was said, that under the Old Poor Law and the allowance system, and when the amount of out-door relief given to the poor was considerable, incendiarism prevailed to as great an extent as it did at present. It had existed under the old Poor Law; it now existed under the new; and, therefore, he concluded, that something beside the mere mode in which relief was administered had given rise to those feelings among the rural population. Considering the great number in this country who were driven, from want of employment, to parochial relief for their support, he much doubted whether any system could be adopted by which they could avoid complaints against the administration of the Poor Law. He himself had witnessed even the distribution of coals, raised by subscription for the poor, give rise to as much bickering, bad feeling, and charges of favouritism, as the administration of legal relief. No doubt similar cases would occur to hon. Gentlemen opposite. In these counties there were many charitable subscriptions to relieve distress; but all these were temporary expedients, resembling that of the charitable sermons which the Government appointed to relieve the manufacturing population, and were not likely to be permanently effectual for the relief of the agricultural labourer. With regard to the other statements of the operation of the New Poor Law without going into the question, he could not help feeling that there might be some truth in saying that the labouring classes were prejudiced against it. But he did not think it was the main cause of the present alienation of the peasantry from the landowners and occupiers in those counties. He believed that no class in this country comprised men better disposed, more industrious, more willing to bear up cheerfully against the pressure of distress, than the agricultural population of the counties he had mentioned. He believed that no class in this kingdom—and he spoke from his own personal knowledge of them—could be so well brought forward as instancing general good conduct and industry as the agricultural population of the eastern counties. He could not help thinking, therefore, that the pressure must be strong indeed, and the discontent very deeply rooted, which could induce men, naturally so well disposed; to give almost direct encouragement to the commission of so awful and horrible a crime as that of incendiarism. He saw the hon. Member for West Norfolk in his place, and he could not help regretting the remarks he made to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, when alluding to the conduct of the Lord-lieutenant of Norfolk. The hon. Member seemed to him to overlook altogether the pressure of distress and the effect of want and despair upon men's moral perceptions. He seemed to take the old view which had been so long relied on, and with so little effect, that nothing could be done but through the instrumentality of the dungeon and the gibbet. The hon. Member had not used these words, but still he inferred from the question he put, that he found fault with that exercise of mercy which the Secretary of State had felt it his duty to recommend to the Crown, in the case of two persons convicted of incendiarism. He would not say the hon. Member actually made such a remark, but any one who heard his question would infer, that in those cases he impugned the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department. In his opinion crime had thriven under severe penalties, and never would be put down by an increase of capital punishments. Before the hon. Member ventured to question the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy, he ought to have recollected for how many crimes the State was answerable. By bad legislation the wants of the lower orders had been augmented; they saw themselves neglected, and that nothing was done to mitigate the evils under which they suffered. Such a course could not conciliate the lower orders or tend to diminish crime. There certainly was a growing feeling among the labouring classes, that all legislation was in favour of the middling and upper ranks of society, and that as long as the wealth of the rich was swelled, the poverty of the poor did not merit consideration. Even the Clergy had contributed to nourish this feeling, and a distinguished divine had very recently printed a letter to the Duke of Richmond, which having appeared in the London papers, was soon transferred to the weekly journals circulating among the labourers of the country. He would take the liberty of reading an extract from it:— At a meeting lately held in London, a deputation of landowners and tenant-farmers waited upon you, and of course did all in their power to apprize you of the dangers that threaten and the difficulties that now beset them; but I do not find that any one appeared at that meeting to represent the agricultural labourer. … And now I will only add, that if your Grace will kindly accept this assistance—if you and your Colleagues will only give to the labourers' condition one half the attention you have given to the condition of the landlord and tenant, and the improvement of the condition of your cattle—I have no doubt but that you will arrive at the conclusion at which I have arrived—that there is no one creature belonging to the farm, there is not an animal you rear, to use or to sell, that has been the subject of so much neglect, in everything that tends to his improvement, as the labourer. Compare the way he is housed, fed, clothed, and valued, with the way in which the animals he tends are treated in these particulars, and then answer to the public and to yourself—why in the present agitation is he overlooked? Such was the language of the Rev. Godolphin Osborne, a gentleman of unquestionable authority, and possessing great local influence, and thus it was seen that the pastors of the people themselves propagated the notion, that the welfare and interests of the lower orders were disregarded by the higher. When, in answer to this, augmented penalties were asked for, could it be wondered that alienation was increased? It had been urged, that in some of the manufacturing districts, disorder had been produced by the want of pastoral care—by the absence of a sufficient number of clergymen; but, in the district to which he was now adverting, it could not be said that there was any deficiency of spiritual instruction, if the abundance of the Clergy might be taken as a test. The true deficiency was a deficiency of physical comforts; and what did the Rev. Godolphin Osborne state upon that point?— Neither law nor gospel can avail, when hopeless indigence has made a man hate the power that checks him in getting the food he needs, but cannot earn; when he sees, in a land of churches, the poor left to struggle how they may against circumstances that keep them down in the very lowest stage of civilised existence—a stage in which they find much in the condition of the brutes about them to envy. He (Mr. M. Gibson) entirely concurred in these expressions, and did not think that any extension of Church accommodation, any increase in the number of clergymen, any attempt to keep up the price of corn by legislation, would conciliate the working classes, or would ward off at some future day the serious disorganization that might be anticipated, looking at the limited surface of our island, and at the rapid growth of population. Increased population had been assigned by some as the cause of distress; and the hon. Member for East Norfolk, some time ago, attended a meeting where he recommended the production of flax as a means of giving employment to the poor. He had to charge Gentlemen opposite, though he was sorry to make a charge on a matter of this nature, because he wished to say nothing the least intemperate, and most sincerely desired that the right hon. Baronet would agree to his Motion, and send down Commissioners to inquire; but he must complain of Gentlemen opposite for strengthening prejudices among the labouring classes—prejudices upon subjects which were very likely to lead to acts of violence and incendiarism. There was no doubt that machinery had lately been much applied to the purposes of agriculture — there were threshing machines, machines for hoeing wheat, and for other purposes; in fact, the peasantry saw machinery supplying the place of manual labour, and the argument on this subject, applied to the manufacturing districts, might, to a certain extent, be applied to the agricultural. At public meetings on the Corn Laws, landed gentlemen had not hesitated to revile the manufacturers, and to utter tirades against the use of machinery. No argument was more in vogue than that the use of machinery in manufacturing districts was the cause of distress; and agricultural labourers finding that such an argument had been employed against others would not fail to apply it to their own cases. The labourers were aware that the indifference shown to the manufacturing operatives existed as regarded themselves. He charged landed gentlemen with augmenting these prejudices—and he farther charged them with doing it for party purposes—to excite a feeling against the manufacturing interest, and now it recoiled upon themselves. Then, again, on the question of wages, a similar attempt had been made to delude the poor labourers, and it was said that the farmers gave too low wages. The fact was that the farmers could not give what wages they liked, for they must be regulated by circumstances over which they had no control. Nevertheless, landed gentlemen endeavoured to produce a prejudice against the farmers, that they were screwing their labourers down to the lowest amount of wages, and not doing them justice. This was a most improper statement to make. [An hon. Member: Who made it?] It had been made repeatedly. Great incredulity was affected whenever the statements of the Times on the Poor Laws were mentioned; but he (Mr. M. Gibson) believed that what was said by its correspondent on the question on wages was true. A farmer who held only a small quantity of land, as he could not increase that quantity, and was required to increase his rent, being afraid of being outbid, was driven to save where he could, and that saving must come out of the pockets of the labourers. But rendering the barrier between the manufacturing and agricultural classes more impassable, was to augment the difficulty, and to promote emigration to the manufacturing districts. Labourers were redundant, farmers were obliged to pay higher rents, and the money saved out of the wages of the labourer found its way into the pocket of the landlord. He would also direct attention to the promises of protection held out up to a recent period, promises that the price of grain should be maintained by Act of Parliament. He was happy to say that confidence in the durability of that protection was not so great as it had been. He had been lately in the country for change of air, and had made it his business to inquire into the subject, and he found that even the last declaration of the Head of the Government was considered somewhat equivocal. He had felt it his duty to increase that opinion, and he would continue to do so while he saw the present uncertainty, and felt that there was no real intention to maintain the Corn Laws for any lengthened period. Interested as he was in the prosperity of the occupying tenantry, he had thought it his duty to caution them not to build on a rotten foundation—not to trust to a broken reed. Such, he believed, was the opinion of the agricultural tenantry, and as far as it went it was conducive to good. The more the farmers were disposed to rely upon natural instead of artificial prices, the more profitable would be their business, and they would thus be enabled to employ agricultural labourers at fair wages, and to carry out the various improvements in agriculture. Agricultural labourers were deeply interested in the prosperity of the farmer, and the prosperity of the farmer depended upon his belief that Parliament would do nothing for him. He called upon the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) to meet him fairly upon this Motion, and he trusted that he would pardon him for having said one word which might indispose some Gentlemen to concur in a proposal for inquiry. It was not unprecedented; not long ago an inquiry had been instituted into the condition of the Aborigines, the Hottentots, and the Esquimaux; and why should not an inquiry be undertaken into the state of persons severely suffering at our own doors? Some might urge that there was no distress, but there could be no doubt that the most grievous distress existed. Magistrates had stated, that where labourers did not perpetrate the crimes themselves, they looked on with a sort of satisfaction while the flames were destroying their neighbours' barns and stacks. The Chairman of the Bury Sessions, Mr. Bevan, was reported to have used these words:— At the occasion of the late calamitous fire at Tuddennam, while the populace did all they could to extinguish the flames, others of the Mildenhall people did all they could to promote the fire by casting fuel upon it. A certain magistrate who was present had said he had seen fuel placed on the fire, and could not prevent it. More important evidence than even this had recently been obtained, and Professor Henslow had published a pamphlet containing the following:— Notwithstanding any assurances that I have heard to the contrary, I feel convinced that it is want of employment among the labourers which must be considered as the proximate of those motive causes to the incendiarism which has lately prevailed. The labourers themselves refer the fires to this cause; and although the great majority of them hereabouts acknowledge the folly and wickedness of incendiarism, some of the worst disposed refer to them too significantly not to have it understood that they are rejoicing in these exhibitions of infatuation and cruelty. Although he would not for one moment assert that the whole body of the labouring population, or any large proportion of it, viewed incendiary fires with any other feelings than those of abhorrence; yet, when he found some of them talking with apparent satisfaction of what had occurred, it could not fail to increase his conviction that not only discontent but bitter hatred existed among them. He had put his Motion into writing, but he did not wish to confine the right hon. Baronet to particular words, if he would consent to send down a Commission, consisting of persons unconnected with the Poor Law, and likely to give an unbiassed opinion after an impartial investigation. His proposal would be in the form of an address to the Crown for a Commission to inquire into the discontents in the counties of Suffolk, Essex, and Cambridge, with a view to ascertain the causes of grievances under which the working classes there suffered. It might be said that he limited the investigation to two or three counties, but after that part of the subject had been gone through, if it were thought desirable to extend it, he should be most happy to do so. The result, he believed, would be to show that the condition of agricultural labourers was deplorable; and if the investigation were deferred much longer, the country would have to rue the delay. The hon. Member concluded by moving as an Amendment, that, An humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, representing to Her Majesty that there is reason to believe that the Incendiarism which has for some time prevailed in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Cambridgeshire, is caused by deep discontent amongst the labouring population of those counties, and praying Her Majesty to issue a Commission to inquire into the condition of the agricultural labourers in those counties, and to ascertain what are the grievances from which they suffer, The Motion was then put from the Chair, and on the question that it be agreed to.

Sir J. Graham

Sir, after the speech which has been just delivered by the hon. Gentleman opposite, it seems to me that it becomes imperatively my duty to offer some observations upon the subject. During the delivery of the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, I asked myself more than once, what is the object of the hon. Gentleman in delivering the sentiments he is now uttering. I could not fail to remember that the hon. Gentleman himself is a Suffolk country gentleman, and no doubt entertains suitable feelings of regard to the county with which he is connected, and thinking that it was hardly possible the hon. Member intended by his speech needlessly to fix public attention on those crimes which disgrace that district, I concluded the hon. Gentleman had been impelled to the ungrateful task of making the speech he had just delivered by a severe sense of public duty. The hon. Member stated at the early part of his speech what is quite true. I heard the statement with satisfaction, and if he had not made it I should have felt it to be my duty to communicate to the House the fact, that although a crime so disgraceful as incendiarism has a tendency to spread, and is of a contagious nature, it is rapidly diminishing in the counties where it is said to be prevalent; and this makes it the more extraordinary that the hon. Member, after making the admission, should have felt it to be his duty to address the speech we have just heard to the house. The hon. Member cautions me not to take a chief constable's view of the subject. I certainly shall not take any such view of it in the observations I am about to address to the House; but I think I am bound to observe to the House, that such a Motion as this must have a direct tendency to increase the number of incendiary fires. Discussions of this temper and kind relating to a crime which has become prevalent have generally had the effect of increasing the frequency of the commission of the offence. There is, Sir, such a thing as fanning the smouldering fire into a flame; and it may so happen that the hon. Gentleman, by provoking injudiciously a discussion such as the present, may cast fuel upon that flame, which true lovers of their country, would eagerly endeavour to extinguish. Why, I ask, is it that the hon. Gentleman has introduced so many topics of an exasperating nature, which have nothing to do with this discussion? Why has he introduced this accusation against this House, that the labouring classes are neglected by their representatives in Parliament, when we have been ceaselessly engaged for four days, both in the morning and at night sittings, in devising means to provide more effectual and comfortable provision for the destitute of that class? Whilst we, Sir, were so employed, the hon. Gentleman, as appears from his own confession, was engaged elsewhere in seeking that relaxation and recreation in which we would have gladly joined, had we not been engaged here in attempting, with much trouble and attention, and with more diligence than the hon. Gentleman can boast, to seek out the means of ameliorating the condition of such of the labouring classes as misfortune or indigence may have rendered fit objects of the law. What, I would ask, was the meaning of his allusion to the Committee of Inquiry upon the condition of the aborigines in distant colonies, to the Esquimaux, to the Caffres, and to the Hottentots, and to our comparative indifference to the condition of our own labouring population? What was, I ask, the meaning of his allusions to the cold hearted landlords of this country—what the meaning of his quotation from a rev. gentleman in corroboration of his statements? I may, with the utmost respect for the general character of the Clergy of the Established Church, be permitted to say that there are some indiscreet individuals, nay, unfortunately, there is to be found in the present day some popularity-hunting parsons as well as agitating Members of Parliament—men, who, though filling offices sacred, are unfortunately found arrayed against the charity and harmony and good will which it; is their duty to attempt by all means in their power to inculcate amongst all classes. It can hardly escape the eye of a casual and inattentive observer what are really the objects of the hon. Member in introducing topics so irritating into his speech to night. I will assert, in answer to his assumption, that there is no need of appointing a Committee to inquire into this subject. I have already stated that the assizes, which are holden at this period, would throw, I hoped, some light upon the causes of incendiarism in the eastern counties, and I have had communications from the Judges, who are now on circuit trying these cases; in which they state that there has been no difficulty experienced in administering the law at the assizes in these districts; that witnesses come forward freely to give their evidence; that jurors have given their verdicts with impartiality and with just discrimination, finding the incendiary guilty, and giving to the accused, where there existed a doubt of guilt, the benefit of that doubt. I am told, moreover, upon good authority, that there are no symptoms discoverable of a generally discontented state of the public mind in these districts, and that the crimes which have been brought to light have been attributable to personal malignity, or have been perpetrated by very young offenders. I have been informed that convictions have taken place of four young persons arraigned, whose ages were eight, nine, ten, and twelve years; that a conviction had taken place of one young person at Huntingdon Assizes whose age was not more than eight years, in consequence of which I shall have to propose that the punishment of whipping shall be superadded to the usual punishment in respect to young offenders convicted of this offence. The House may remember that with reference to another class of cases to which I will not more particularly allude, in which juvenile offenders had sought a bad notoriety, this course was adopted with the best effect; and it has been suggested to me to follow the example then set with respect to this class of offences. I am bound to add, with reference to these juvenile incendiaries, that, as far as can be ascertained, they are incited to the commission of these offences by bad example, and by a desire to attain a bad notoriety; but, these circumstances appear to me to furnish no proof whatever of a generally diseased state of society in that district. On the contrary, there exist proofs that the crime of incendiarism for the last two or three weeks has decreased; the law has been vindicated and enforced without difficulty; and the number committed for trial is not so great as to occasion a departure upon the part of the Crown from the usual course of trial on such occasions, by appointing a Commission for the purpose of instituting inquiry into the causes of the crime of incendiarism. In respect to the other topics which the hon. Member has introduced into his speech, I do not apprehend that the course he has adopted, nor the language in which his charges were couched, nor yet the violent invectives which he dealt out so unsparingly upon a most respectable portion of society, I mean the county magistracy, will have the effect of inducing any large number of the Members of this House to countenance either his speech or the Motion with which it concluded. I am, and the House, I trust, will also be of opinion, that the effect of such a speech cannot be to diminish the inducements to the commission of a crime, to check which he affects to be desirous. My thorough conviction that both his ill-judged speech and the success of his Motion must have the effect of increasing the frequency of outrages we all deplore, renders it imperative upon me to give to the Motion my most decided opposition.

Mr. Wodehouse

said, that other opportunities would be afforded of replying to by far the greater part of the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester; and he would therefore confine himself to noticing one or two points which, in his opinion, demanded immediate attention. The hon. Member had distinctly charged him with presuming to call in question the exercise of the Royal clemency. He distinctly denied any such intention. The case to which the hon. Member opposite had referred was one of a peculiar nature; it was that of two persons tried for incendiarism, who were found guilty, and sentenced to fifteen years' transportation each, but who a few weeks afterwards received a free pardon. The hon. Gentleman had charged him with being the advocate of vengeance and cruelty; but he was at a loss to know on what ground that charge rested. It was, in fact, the invention of a heated mind. He was convinced that if the hon. Member for Manchester inquired into this question he would find that the fires did not result from the ill-treatment of the labourers. Several charges of incendiarism were now pending in the county with which he was connected, and therefore to them he would not allude; but he might be allowed to mention one or two cases which were past. In one case, a boy eleven or twelve years old was tried for incendiarism on a farm of Lord Stafford's, where he was employed, and where there had been three fires; but the case could not be brought home to him. The next case was that of a deaf and dumb man, who was charged with incendiarism on Lord Leicester's property. He was convicted, but a memorial was presented to the Secretary of State in his favour, and a poor woman who had given evidence against him was burnt in effigy. One of the hon. Members for Sussex could testify that eight fires had been kindled in that county by one man, who had nothing whatever to do with agricultural pursuits, but who was a cooper by trade. It was his opinion that the discontent to which the hon. Member referred was mainly to be attributed to (he could not use a more appropriate phrase) the nonsense circulated by the hon. Member and those who generally acted with him on the subject of wages. When the hon. Member accused him of desiring to interfere with the Royal mercy, the hon. Member had not the slightest foundation for his statement. He gave that charge the most unqualified contradiction.

Mr. Darby

should not have risen if it had not been to reply to some imputations contained in the letter which the hon. Member opposite had in the course of his speech read to the House with reference to the conduct of the Duke of Richmond. The hon. Member had thought proper to make an attack upon hon. Gentlemen connected with the agricultural interest, by charging those gentlemen with having at agricultural meetings excited the prejudices of that portion of the population against those connected with the manufacturing districts. It was not his intention to say anything in the way of retort to the hon. Member; but he would ask the hon. Member what object he had in view when he and his friends visited the agricultural districts and told the farmers that Her Majesty's Government, contrary to their expressed declaration, intended to alter the Corn Laws? Did that not look like party excitement? The hon. Member had thrown out certain imputations against the conduct of the Duke of Richmond. Only this very Session the Duke of Richmond had attended a large meeting of labourers at Goodwood, with the view of promoting their interest. He felt assured, and he spoke the opinion of many hon. Members in this and the other House of Parliament, no one had paid so much attention to the condition of the labouring class, and no individual was so much beloved by the labourers, as the Duke of Richmond. That was the opinion of every person conversant with the character and conduct of the Duke of Richmond, particularly of those resident in the neighbourhood of the Duke's property. Now, with regard to the Motion which the hon. Member had submitted to the House, he thought that the hon. Member had not selected the most fortunate time for the discussion of such a subject. It was a well-established fact, that the discussion of the causes of particular crimes at the period when those crimes were being committed had the effect of increasing those particular offences. No matter what crime it was, persons conversant with the administration of the law knew that there existed in the minds of many persons a morbid desire to make public statements, and that this publicity invariably led to the commission of similar crimes. It was well known, also, that particular crimes prevailed at particular periods, and that circumstances ought to be taken into consideration in discussing the subject. He was anxious, in connexion with this subject, to bring under the notice of the House a fact which occurred in the neighbourhood of Battle. Eight fires had taken place in succession. It was the opinion of many persons these places were fired by a disaffected person connected with the agricultural districts—that they had their origin in agricultural distress. Such, however, turned out not to be the fact. It was proved that one man, without any concert with any other person, had committed every one of these crimes. This man was tried and convicted. He was found to be, instead of an agricultural labourer, a cooper. He set fire to the stack hoping, as he afterwards confessed, by so doing that he should burn his house and thus be enabled to reside in the town instead of the country. He thought that the hon. Member opposite had exhibited a want of fairness in bringing under the notice of the House a question so general in its nature, and therefore he should consider it his duty to vote against it.

Mr. Bright

said: I have observed ever since I have had a seat in this House, and also from what I had previously read of its proceedings, that there is always a very strong disinclination to inquire into anything connected with the agriculture of the country, and that the convenient time for such an inquiry never arrives. Why is all this extreme sensibility, except from the fear that inquiry might lead to some explanations on a subject which I deem all important, but which hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to think it intrusive to trouble the House with? The right hon. Gentleman refuses to grant the inquiry now proposed by my hon. Friend, the Member for Manchester, and has thought it right to taunt him with the fact of his having been enjoying himself in the country, whilst the right hon. Gentleman was engaged in looking after the interests of the poor, in legislating on the amended Poor Law. It was an excellent occupation, and some legislation is, doubtless, much needed; but it may be just as useful that some Members of this House should be endeavouring to discover the causes of pauperism with a view to its prevention, as that others should be engaged in devising schemes for its temporary relief. The right hon. Baronet has also thought fit to apply the term "popularity-hunting parson" to an authority quoted by my hon. Friend. Nothing is more easy than to use epithets of this kind, and nothing is more common than for persons in a debate to attempt to ride off upon some such phrase, rather than grapple with the facts and arguments brought forward. And who is this popularity-hunting parson? He is a man of aristocratic family, and has the prefix "honourable" to his name; he is a clergyman of the Established Church, and men of such a class are not generally chargeable with a dangerous amount of sympathy for the poor. No one connected with the county of Dorset can fail to know, that Mr. Osborne is a man indefatigable in the discharge of the duties of his office, and anxious to mitigate the sufferings and to better the condition of the poor around him; and he may well afford to despise the taunts and insinuations of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the information he has received from the Judges now on circuit, as a reason why the inquiry is now unnecessary. Doubtless, witnesses may be found to give evidence and juries to give honest verdicts; and it is also true that for some days past the fires have been less frequent than before; but are we to suppose from this, that the cause of these dreadful outrages is removed, and that we may not again be startled by the recurrence of them? Many threatening letters have been received in various parts of the county of Suffolk; and I suppose it was only because my hon, Friend, the Member for Manchester, did not wish to add to the alarm which already exists, that he did not mention some facts which have recently come to his knowledge, and which go to prove that the destructive and vindictive spirit still prevails, and that there is great risk of its assuming even a more dangerous character. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have spoken of the question of wages, so little understood by the labourers generally. Now, I can truly say that among all the meetings held by my hon. Friend, the Member for Stockport, and myself, in the rural districts, there is not one at which we have not endeavoured to elucidate the question of wages, and to show to the farmers and labourers that the amount of wages did not depend so much upon the will of either party, as upon the number of labourers in relation to the amount of work to be done; and if the hon. Gentlemen opposite, in this House, and at their meetings in the country, had taken the same course, much of the ill feeling which now exists between the employed and the employers in the manufacturing and agricultural districts would have been spared. But hon. Gentlemen opposite are unwilling to inquire; we can never catch them in the right mood. One of the earliest questions of the present Session was a Motion of my hon. Friend, the Member for Stockport, for inquiry into "the effect of protective duties on the interests of the tenant-farmers and farm-labourers." The President of the Board of Trade did not strongly object to it on any ground of apprehension in his own mind, but there was a sensibility which recoiled, not only from touch, but from sight, among the country Gentlemen and in order that he might not alarm them he decided to refuse the inquiry. Then, again, the hon. Member for Manchester suggested an inquiry into the produce of the agriculture of the country. You know how much cotton is imported, manufactured, retained for home consumption, or exported, and these statistical Returns are deemed very important; and why should we be kept in total ignorance about the produce of the soil? The Government admitted that the proposition was an important one, and promised some attention to it; but there was evidently a great timidity on the part of many of their supporters. Surely there must be something very rotten and hideous beneath the surface to create all this jealousy and this fear lest any investigation take place. But why is the Motion of to-night refused? The right hon. Baronet says the fires are less frequent, and nobody in the disturbed districts wishes an investigation. Now, at a meeting of the farmers and inhabitants of the parish of Rattlesden, to take into consideration some statements in the Times paper, there was great anxiety expressed that an inquiry should be made; here is one of their resolutions:— We are anxious and desirous that Her Majesty's Government should immediately issue a Commission to inquire into the true condition of the poor in the agricultural districts, and into the causes of the alarming and increasing spirit of incendiarism which unhappily prevails. This is the opinion of persons who do not agree with the Times or with us, but who see the necessity of the case; and I do think that the Government fail in their duty if they allow these desperate outrages to continue without endeavouring to discover the true cause of them, that the true remedy, if there be one, may be applied. I am sure the taunts of the right hon. Baronet, and of hon. Members opposite, will fall harmless upon my hon. Friend who has brought this Motion forward. He is a Suffolk landowner, and a Member of this House, and as such has performed his duty in bringing on this question. For nine months at least have the incendiary fires been raging; some hundreds of fires have taken place, and yet not one of the Members for the counties in which they have chiefly prevailed has thought it his duty publicly to ask the attention of the Government to a state of things so alarming. Why, Sir, if Lancashire or Yorkshire had been thus troubled, if not 250 fires in nine months, but if one fire in each month had occurred, how great would have been the interest taken in the state of the manufacturing districts by Members opposite, and how loud their condemnation of the conduct of the manufacturers to those they employed! I ask the Government if they consider this subject of incendiarism alarming or not? Is it nothing that insurance offices should be at their wits' end, and be losers of sums so large as to make it doubtful if they will continue to insure farming stock? Is it nothing that farmers are in a state of constant alarm, having a watchman to guard every homestead from the torch of the incendiary? Is it nothing that the demoralization of the unhappy peasantry should be completed? Is it possible that one of the worst crimes human nature can commit should be going on over several counties for many months, and that Government should have no concern about it? If, however, the Government refuse to appoint a Commission, the Times and the Chronicle have not forgotten their office. Their reporters differ greatly in one point, but on the truly important one they are perfectly agreed. The Times, says the New Poor Law, is the main cause of incendiarism, and the Chronicle asserts that this is not the fact, because the crime existed under the old Poor Law; but both Reports come to the conclusion that security to property is not compatible with the terrible distress which exists among the labouring population of those counties. It may be true that the New Poor Law is harsh in its operation. Only yesterday I passed through a part of the county of Kent, and met one of the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster of the Forces (Sir E. Knatchbull); I asked him if the Poor Law has worked harshly to the poor? His answer was, that the Clause making 25l. a year of rent the qualification for a guardian was very unfair and injurious. In many unions none but farmers could be guardians under this Clause; and thus the labourer when seeking relief had to apply to the very men from whom alone employment was to be had, and was subjected to every description of hardship which farmers and guardians chose to inflict upon him. But if it be granted that the Poor Law is a harsh measure, and I willingly grant that it is, we must never forget that a man has other evils of no light character before he feels the Poor Law. Distress and poverty have attacked and overcome him before the Poor Law finds him, and he must be a miserable legislator indeed who fancies that any change in the Poor Law could secure permanent comfort to the people. The great and all-present evil of the rural districts is this,—you have too many people for the work to be done, and you, the landed proprietors, are alone responsible for this state of things; and, to speak honestly, I believe many of you know it. I have been charged with saying out of doors that this House is a club of landowners legislating for landowners. If I had not said it, the public must long ago have found out that fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport on one occasion proposed that, before you passed a law to raise the price of bread, you should consider how far you had the power to raise the rate of wages. What did you say to that? You said, that the labourers did not understand political economy, or they would not apply to Parliament to raise wages; that Parliament could not raise wages; and yet the very next thing you did was to pass a law to raise the price of the produce of your own land at the expense of the very class whose wages you confessed your inability to increase. What is the condition of the county of Suffolk? Is it not notorious that rents are as high as they were fifty years ago, and probably much higher? But the return for the farmers' capital is much lower, and the condition of the labourer is very much worse. The farmers are subject to the law of competition, and rents are thereby raised from time to time so as to keep their profits down at the lowest point, and the labourers by the competition amongst them are reduced to the point below which life cannot be maintained. Your tenants and labourers are being devoured by this excessive competition, whilst you, their magnanimous landlords, shelter yourselves from all competition by the Corn Law yourselves have passed, and make the competition of all other classes serve still more to swell your rentals. It is for this object the Corn Law was passed, and yet in the face of your countrymen you dare to call it a law for the protection of native industry. The hon. Member for East Norfolk smiles, and probably pities the ignorance which can make statements like these, so contrary to the rules of his political economy. The hon. Gentleman has probably asserted at farmers' meetings that this law is for the protection of native industry. How have you protected it? You have limited the supply of food and the field of employment, but you have not prevented the increase of the population or of the number of labourers. You have protected yourselves only by your legislation. Take the county of Suffolk as an example. I find that in that county for the quarter ending Lady Day, 1843, out of a population of 314,722 persons, there were 39,489 receiving parish relief, being 13 per cent., or more than one in eight of the whole population. In the county of Essex, out of a population of 320,818, there were 44,694 receiving relief, or 14 per cent., or about one in seven of the whole population. In the county of Norfolk, out of a population of 343,277, there 37,666 receiving relief, or 11 per cent., or about one in nine of the whole inhabitants of the county. Is this not a proof that you do not find employment and wages for all your population? And other evidence is not wanting. From the late census it appears that the increase of the population throughout the country has been 14 per cent. during the ten years, from 1831 to 1841. There is no reason to suppose the number of births above deaths to be smaller in Suffolk than in other counties. Now, of this increase of 14 per cent. in ten years how much was maintained upon its own soil? Not more than 6 per cent. of increase, and the remaining 8 per cent. have been driven away to other counties by the necessities of their position. If we look to the chief agricultural counties, we shall find they do not on the average retain half the real increase of their population. The increase of population during the ten years has been, in Buckingham, 6.4 per cent.; in Cumberland, 4.9; Hereford, 2.4; Norfolk, 5.7; Oxford, 6.2; Westmorland, 2.5. These are purely agricultural counties, and, although so many have left them, yet they are the counties which complain most of a surplus population. The following counties have found room for about half their natural increase:—Devonshire, 7.8; Salop, 7.2; Somerset, 7.8; Wilts, 7.7; North Riding of Yorkshire, 7.0; and Essex, 8.6. As it is evident these counties have got rid of some portion of their natural offspring, let us see where the outcasts have found a home. The increase in Monmouth has been 369 per cent.—railroads and steam-engines, and the increased consumption of iron, of course, account for that; Lancashire shows an increase of 24.7; Durham, with its mines, 27.7; Staffordshire, 2.43; Cheshire, north division, with its manufactures, 18.3; Warwickshire (Birmingham and its district), 19.3; and the West Riding of Yorkshire, 18.2. These are manufacturing counties; they provide for their own increase of population, and find a home for those you cannot support in the agricultural counties. If these statements be correct, how dangerous must be a system of protection which diminishes the demand for labour! The free competition under free-trade would stimulate a better cultivation of the soil, and find increased and steady employment, whilst extended and prosperous manufactures would give great additional employment and wages to the people. You mistake altogether if you fancy you have got rid of this question. If the League would even cease to trouble you, there is a more formidable and more unrelenting foe coming upon you. The increase of population will force a settlement of this question; and so long as it remains unsettled, you will have to sustain a constant return of the difficulties which now embarrass you. This House is responsible for the state of things in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Cambridgeshire; it springs from your legislation; and nothing can permanently heal it but a change in your policy, and a common-sense course of proceeding with respect to the trade of farming. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem wholly to forget that property has duties as well as rights. I would not greatly complain if quod tuum tene were your motto and your rule. But you are not content with your own. Your acres are yours, but the labour of the people is not; and you have no right to enhance the value of your estates by a system of spoliation on the estates of all other men. Do you want proof of your disregard of all rights but your own? You have a law to raise the price of the produce of your land, and great fluctuations in the price occur. The farmers are often ruined in great numbers. In one Suffolk paper last year, I saw ninety-eight advertisements of the sale of farming stock, showing how many changes of tenancy were taking place. Prosperous farmers do not change much. Are these changes hurtful to the landlord? To some small extent they may be so; but you have cunningly devised another law, by which, when your tenant can go on no longer, you sweep off everything he has left to satisfy your demand for rent, and often and almost always leave the other creditors without a farthing. Your tenant probably owes money to his wheelwright, his grocer, or his draper; but the landlords' law of distraint for rent sweeps all away, and no dividend is left for them. You shelter yourselves thus from the consequences of the farmer's ruin. He leaves his farm; you see him take himself off along the high road; another tenant succeeds him; a fierce competition makes him give even a higher rent than his predecessor, and he runs the same career of hopeless struggle, and at last sinks into the same ruin. Again, see how you treat the tenantry in respect of preserving game. Have you nothing to answer for on this score? A noble Lord, a relative, I believe, of the hon. Member for East Norfolk, lately spoke of or quoted, in another place, a Mr. Neave, whom he described as a very respectable man. What says Mr. Neave about the game? A letter in the Times says, "The farmers, with much justice, complain of the enormous quantity of game. They say they are quite eaten up by it." I quote Mr. Neave, by his permission, as my authority for saying, that the game in several parishes destroy more food, and deprive the farmer of more means than would keep all the poor of the parish. Mr. Neave instanced one farm to me of 400 acres, on which last year upwards of 2000 rabbits were killed. It is said that five hares consume as much as a sheep (and this is too low an estimate, as a hare destroys more than it consumes); suppose seven rabbits do this, and you have on this farm the rabbits consuming as much food as 300 sheep would. The farmers dare not destroy them; they would forfeit their leases if they did; they dare not even complain, or they would be looked upon as dissatisfied characters, and be got rid of at the termination of their leases. Again, "a rural police is kept up by the gentry, the farmers say, for the sole use of watching game and frightening poachers, for which formerly they had to pay watchers." Is this true, or is it not? If not, let some hon. Gentleman get up and deny it, and prove it to be false, and I for one will never again repeat these charges either here or elsewhere. I say, then, you care everything for the rights, and for something beyond the rights, of your own property, but you are oblivious of its duties. How many lives have been sacrificed during the past year to the childish infatuation of preserving game? The noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, were he present, could tell of a game-keeper killed in an affray on his father's estate in that county. For that offence one man was hanged, and four men are now on their way to the penal colonies. Six families are thus deprived of husbands and fathers that this wretched system of game-preserving may be continued in a country densely peopled as this is. The Marquess of Normanby's gamekeeper has been murdered also, and the poacher who shot him only escaped death by the intervention of the Home Secretary. At Godalming, in Surrey, also a gamekeeper has been murdered; and at Brick-hill, in Buckinghamshire, a person has recently been killed in a poaching affray. This insane system is the cause of a fearful loss of life; it tends to the ruin of your tenantry, and it is the fruitful cause of the demoralization of the peasantry. But you are caring for the rights of property;—for its most obvious duties you have no concern. With such a policy what can you expect but that which is now passing before you? It is the remark of a beautiful writer, that "to have known nothing but misery is the most portentous condition under which human nature can start on its course." Has your agricultural labourer ever known anything but misery? He is born in a miserable hovel, which in mockery is termed a house or a home; he is reared in penury, he passes a life of hopeless and unrequited toil, and the gaol or the union-house is before him as the only asylum on this side the pauper's grave. Is this the result of your protection to native industry? Have you cared for the labourer till, from a home of comfort, he has but a hovel for a shelter, and have you cherished him into starvation and rags? I tell you what your boasted protection is—it is a protection of native idleness at the expense of the impoverishment of native industry. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Colonel Rushbrook) has been understood to advocate a resort to the punishment of hanging for the crime of arson. I confess I am surprised that any man at this time of day should make such a proposition. If there is one thing more clearly proved than another it is this, that capital punishments fail to prevent crime. I have here a return of the number of committals, convictions, and executions for incendiarism, during the six years from 1831 to 1836, and for the six years from 1837 to 1843. In the former period there were 493 committals, 119 convictions, and 58 executions. Imagine, for a moment, the state of things in which not less than 58 human beings had been put to death, and 32 of them in the space of two years, for the single crime of burning. This horrible and most unchristian punishment has since been abolished for this crime. It is the proudest boast of the late Ministry that they did so much to mitigate the severity of our criminal code; and I trust the present Administration may hereafter be entitled to equal praise for similar changes during their tenure of office. From this return it appears that from 1837 to 1843 the number of committals was 344, of convictions 117, and of executions none. It will be observed, that the convictions are more in proportion to the committals in the latter than in the former period, owing, doubtless, to the repugnance of juries to convict when death was to be the penalty; thus choosing the side of mercy rather than give a verdict according to evidence which would consign a fellow-creature to death. I believe there are many persons in the counties where incendiarism prevails, who are anxious for the restoration of capital punishments. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not wish it, but some of those they represent do. This wish arises from the appreprehensions under which they live; cruelty and fear generally go together. They see no remedy, and probably many of them make no efforts to discover one; they therefore turn to this desperate and inhuman punishment as a means of suppressing this appalling crime. The hanging of incendiaries will do no good; their crimes cannot be put down by halters and penal colonies. These have been tried before and they have failed, and they will fail now if tried. You know that your peasantry are poor, helpless, hopeless, and despairing; and yet not one of you has ever proclaimed the sad condition of your labouring population; no, you have left that task to others, to my hon. Friend here, whilst you have done all you could to conceal it. You taunt us with a wish to produce discord in the rural districts; I throw back the imputation with the scorn it deserves. You have laboured long and hard to provoke discord in the north of England; your newspapers and your hired agents have done their worst; whilst, on the other hand, we have had no meeting in your counties at which we have not explained the true principle of wages, endeavouring to soothe the minds of the labourers, and to soften their feelings towards the farmers. But what has been your conduct to your tenantry? Instead of showing them how worthless is the policy of protection, and how rotten and precarious as a resource for their prosperity, you have taught them wholly to rely upon it. Instead of showing them how certainly free-trade was approaching, you bade them rely on the dictum of the right hon. Baronet. You have magnified the difficulties which free-trade presents to them As foolish nurses frighten children with tales of hobgoblins, so you have worked upon the ignorance and the fears of your tenantry, and your conduct in these respects has been as absurd as it will prove itself injurious. Surely your policy has had a sufficient trial; your farmers are not prosperous—"protection to native industry" has placed your labourers in hovels, gaols, and union-houses. Try something else: it is not the halter and the convict-ship, but a little justice, a little fair dealing, a little common humanity, a little common sense, that your peasantry require at your hands. Your labourers are every day increasing in numbers — you have no employment for them—what are you to do? The time is coming when you will know what to do: it may then be too late. Your ancestors 400 years ago were as wise as you, and you are as benighted as they were. From a law passed in 1441, it appears the landowners of that day thought and said, that "the people engaged in husbandry were greatly endamaged by reason of bringing grain from beyond the seas to sell in this country, to keep down the price of the grain of this country." Our ancestors 400 years ago were barbarians compared with our present population, and yet you have not abandoned one of their most childish follies. They had some excuse, you have none; with them restriction was the rule in almost every case, with us it is the rule in almost no case but your own; for them Adam Smith had not written, and political economy was unknown; they had no leaders, as you have in the present Administration, from whom you receive lessons on common sense and common justice as fast as you are able to bear them; and yet, with all your advantages, you have not made a step in advance for 400 years. But here you sit, representatives of the people, Legislators of this great commercial empire, making laws for your own exclusive gain, and denying the most natural and incontestible right of all men, the right to live by their industry, to the great mass of those for whom you profess to legislate. You, the magnanimous aristocracy of Britain, you own the soil, you boast of ancestry, you amuse yourselves with much painting on the panels of your coaches—and yet you make laws in this House to enrich your own class at the expense of millions, to whom you deny all political power; and to whom you give no protection whatever. For all this you must one day answer, and the worst I wish you is, that, when the time of retribution shall come upon the landed proprietors, it may please Heaven to visit them with more of mercy than they have ever shown to the poor of this country.

Colonel Rushbrooke

said, that there were two charges made by the hon. Member against himself and his Colleagues the Members for Suffolk. One was that they had not come forward to suggest any mode for inquiring into or alleviating the distressing state of things at present prevailing in that county. Now, without making any display they had, in fact, had interviews with the right hon. the Secretary for the Home Department as to the subject of Suffolk. The hon. Member then said that he wished for the penalty of death for this crime of arson. Certainly, he did echo the expressions of a petition which he had presented, that in consequence of the wholesale amount of these fires it would be better that capital punishment should be held over the heads of these parties, that it might be exercised in extreme cases. Speaking from his knowledge of his own neighbourhood, he should say there was no destitution; what might be the case on the eastern side of the county he did not know. It had been said that lowness of wages was the cause of the fires. That could not be the cause, for near him there had been a number of fires, all of them where the wages were the highest. Then it had been hinted that a deep-laid scheme existed, but no such thing appeared; several of the fires had been the work of mere boys who had no pretence of distress to urge. As there had been no reports for several days of any more incendiarism, he hoped it was over, and he hoped that no one in that House would do anything to fan the flames.

Mr. Bramston

, as Foreman of the Grand Jury of Essex, must protest against the taunt thrown out by the hon. Gentleman on juries and witnesses with respect to these fires. If the hon. Gentleman had shown that there had been any difficulty in obtaining convictions, he would have had a better right to taunt witnesses with giving evidence contrary to their consciences, and juries with returning wrong verdicts. [Mr. Bright: I did no such thing.] The hon. Member at least had said that it would have been very easy to obtain convictions, but if he had not meant to state what he had imputed to the hon. Member, he was very sorry, but he had put what he had thought was the fair interpretation on the hon. Member's words. If a Commission in the spirit of the speeches of the two hon. Gentlemen opposite had been sent down, he was sure that they would have had a general conflagration in Essex, the reason he rose was principally to state the opinion of the learned Judge who presided on the criminal side at the assizes for the county of Essex, Mr. Baron Parke, than whom there was no man more able or more respected for his talents throughout the country, said in his address to the Grand Jury that he regretted to find many instances of a crime which had become so common of late in this and the adjoining counties—the destruction by fire of ricks, stacks, hay, and other farming produce; but that it was satisfactory to find that the fires were not caused by the labourers in most cases, but by boys and girls of tender years. In none of these cases was the cause distress or poverty. Though he knew the county he represented would not shrink from any Commission of Inquiry that might be sent into it, yet, believing, that the Commission proposed by the hon. Gentlemen opposite would do more harm than good, he for one deprecated the appointment of it.

Lord Henniker

, as Member for East Suffolk, and resident in a part of the county where conflagrations were most numerous, and where the greatest kindness had prevailed towards the labouring class, wished to offer a few words. He had felt it his duty to apply to the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department on more than one occasion in reference to this subject, and he begged to bear testimony to the willingness and earnest desire the right hon. Baronet showed to promote an investigation into the causes of these unfortunate occurrences. He had not expected, after the speeches which he had heard from the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Gibson), when he used to attend meetings of the landlords of Suffolk, in which they considered the means of benefiting the labourers and promoting their interests, to have heard such a speech from him as the House had heard that evening. The hon. Gentleman must have known in what degree the interests of the labourer occupied the attention of the Gentlemen of Suffolk, and he ought not to have spoken as he had. That the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) could know but little of the history of Suffolk was plain from the tone he assumed in speaking of the Gentlemen of the county. The noble Lord concluded by reading part of a letter from a person in Suffolk, to shew that it was by no means right to say that the fires appeared in proportion as wages were low.

Mr. Villiers

said, that he thought that if the right hon. Baronet had not before regretted the tone and manner in which he had met the Motion of his hon. Friend, when he charged him with calling for a needless and mischievous inquiry, he must feel that he had reason then for doing so, for the noble Lord who sat behind him, and who represented the county of Suffolk, had just disclosed to the House, that such was his apprehension of the state of his county, such was the necessity which he considered the extent of the crime in question had caused for instant inquiry, that he had himself, in the discharge of his duty as a proprietor and a Member of that county, gone to the right hon. Gentleman to request him to institute some inquiry into the causes of its present condition; and he had farther told them, that the only reason why he had not made the Motion of the hon. Member for Manchester himself was, that he had implicit confidence in the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department. This was the calm, deliberate, Conservative feeling of the noble Lord who represented that county. Why then, he asked, was his hon. Friend (the Member for Manchester) who, in the absence of any investigation having been made, in the absence of any confidence in the right hon. Baronet, a proprietor in the county himself, sharing in the same feeling with the noble Lord, desirous of inquiry—to be precluded from making a Motion to that effect in the House by the fear of the charge or imputation of deliberately promoting crime? The right hon. Gentleman certainly said, that it did not become him to impute motives to his hon. Friend. He wished he had thought it as little becoming in him to insinuate motives, for that was what he did; there could be no mistake as to the purpose of what he said; and, considering the character of his hon. Friend's speech, a more unworthy insinuation he had never heard; for he ventured to say, that a speech more moderate, more confined to the points in question, or more careful in steering clear of those objections charged upon it, he had never heard. His hon. Friend had a right as a proprietor, wishing to live well with his neighbours, as the right hon. Baronet admitted he did, wishing that the truth should be elicited as to the cause of the odious crime that prevails in his county, with a view to its prevention in future—he had a right to ask the Government to attend to it, to set the public mind at ease on the subject—to ascertain its extent, and at least determine, if possible, what was or was not the cause of it. Where would the objection of the right hon. Baronet end if it was good in this case—that to mention a grievance tended to create discontent? It would go to stop agitation on any question which was always said to disturb the public mind; if so, what chance was there of a single evil or grievance ever being removed? Where was the single instance of this House volunteering any measure of public good that did not spring out of agitation, almost amounting to violence? The right hon. Gentleman had taken credit to himself for amending the Poor Law. Why had he done it? Why, he admitted he did it reluctantly, and why? because what he called the evils of the law had been so frequently pressed upon him; and whenever there had been any inquiry into the condition of any portion of the people, or any concessions of any good made by the Government, it had usually been introduced with an apology, that resistance was no longer possible. Everybody had been charged in the same way as his hon. Friend had that night. Was his hon. Friend, moreover, the only person by whom, or was this House the only place in which these matters were discussed? Was there not in the two leading journals — The Times and Chronicle—at least a column and a half every other day referring to the state of these counties, and speculating upon the causes? If the discussion of the state of the poor was so mischievous, why did the right hon. Gentleman not reprove his Friends on his own side of the House, who, in their addresses against the Poor Laws, made speeches far more inflammatory and violent, more calculated to excite discontent among the poor, than any that the hon. Member for Manchester had ever made. The hon. Member for Durham had just explained, that by referring to this peculiar sensitiveness on the score of mischief, whenever the Corn Law is mentioned; touch and attack what else you please, and how you please, and nothing will be said; bat allude to the evils of the Corn Law, and there is no crime that will not be imputed to you. Now, the fact was, the Corn Laws made the application of his hon. Friend to the Government peculiarly in season, for he and all those who complained of the impediments thrown in the way of trade, thereby depriving thousands of their bread, had a right at all times to invite public attention to the condition of the agricultural districts, seeing that the enormous mischiefs which were occasioned by these monopolies were defended, and defended solely on the ground of the great advantages they conferred on the labourers of the country. It was not him and his Friends on that side who introduced irrelevant subjects into a discussion of this kind, if that law which makes food scarce is to be called irrelevant to an inquiry into the state of the poor. It was those who defended this law, who invariably intruded upon a discussion of the Corn Law the blessings it entailed on the agricultural population; and when the whole country was roused by the unceasing and shocking distresses of these people, they had a right to remind Gentlemen opposite of their plea for upholding a law so obviously maintained for their own interest, on the ground of its profit to the poor. Such a plea required to be supported by the strongest evidence to gain the slightest credit, and might well deserve the character it obtained when it was rebutted by every day's and every hour's experience. But the Motion is proper at any time that it may be made, for the condition of the agricultural people in these counties is not new. It is one of the grounds for inquiry that it is traced to causes which have had existence subsequent to the distress in question. It is a common notion, that the discontent of the people is referable to the New Poor Law alone, which is not the whole truth. There was abundant evidence to show that the people were precisely in the condition they then were a few years before the New Poor Law, and that then the evil was traced to the maladministration of the Old Poor Law. He would read a letter addressed from the county of Suffolk to The Times newspaper, in the year 1830, complaining of distress, and alluding especially to the cruelty and hardships of the old law. The letter purported to be from a day labourer, and it seems made a great sensation in the county at the time. The letter says,— Sir,—As I hear that you always put into the paper anything likely to do good to poor people, I make bold to write to you. I am told that the great people talk of nothing but the riches, the happiness, and the flourishing state of the country; but, Sir, I see nothing but famine misery, and distress; and I think that if our Parliament men knew the real situation of myself and thousands of my fellow-labourers, they would do something for our relief. I am an industrious labourer, about thirty years of age, with a wife and three young children. I have regular work, which is more than half my poor neighbours can say. How then, it may be asked, come you to be distressed? Why, Sir, because my wages are not enough to put bread into the mouths of myself and family. The wages have been for a long time 7s. a week; and, as it is impossible to live upon this, I am obliged to beg every week at the vestry. The writer then proceeds to show the way in which his wages are made up out of the parish fund, and how the whole is applied for his maintenance, and says, Thus, Sir, after having provided myself and family with a cottage to live in, and about one pound of bread for us to eat, I have 6d. a week left to supply us with clothes, cheese, potatoes, candles and firing. Think, Sir, on the miserable, hopeless, half-starved condition of myself and family; and then, Sir, think of the far worse condition of nine-tenths of my neighbours, who have not such good health and regular work, or who have larger families than myself. Don't you think (he farther says) that for the employers to pay their labourers half their just wages, and to send them to the parish to beg a wretched pittance, is like defrauding them of their hire, and is what is called in the Bible,' grinding the faces of the poor.' And after dwelling upon the effect on strength and health of the inadequate requital for their labour, and saying that half of them are supported in beggary, he says, He does not understand much about law making, but that he has heard that a law has been passed to keep up the price of corn for the good of the farmers, and that surely it would be but just that another law should be passed to make those who employed the labourer to give him wages in proportion to the rise in the price of food. Now, the Times of the day in which that letter was inserted invites general attention to its contents in a leading article, and says:— We know that the statements which it contains are true, and that they apply to a very large district in a quarter from which the letter comes, and some thousands of parishes in England. He referred to it to show that this bad condition of the people in these districts was not new, and that, however angry the people might feel with the mode in which relief is given to them now, yet it could not be considered to be the cause of their distress. The Times is right, and does much good in pointing to the wretched state of the rural population; but it points too exclusively to the New Poor Law as the cause of that condition. There was a deeper cause of their deterioration, and one which punishment—which the hon. Member seemed to believe was the care—will be far from removing. It would seem, when the gentlemen connected with the county hear that magistrates dare to commit, and juries dare to convict, that all is done that is required, but that is far from satisfying the question. It is clear that the evil was not mending; for upwards of twenty years before the New Poor Law, the people of these and other agricultural counties had been deteriorating; and unless the great fact of increasing numbers and diminishing employment was met boldly in the face, no amount of punishment, or no amount of caution in refusing inquiries of this kind, would stop the evil. In the year 1824 there was a Committee in this House to inquire into the operation of the Old Poor Law, and persons the most competent to describe the real state of the rural population—clergymen, proprietors, overseers—all agreed in depicting the people as fearfully distressed, immoral, and discontented; the evil, then, existed at that time, continued still, and was getting worse; and it could not be otherwise while a law to impede trade and check the supply of food, and thus lessen the demand for labour, continued. Since the prices became first so high, since it was attempted to continue them so by legislation, without making adequate provision for the wants of increasing numbers, so long have the people been sinking, and so long would the people sink; and hon. Gentlemen opposite should really reflect upon the fact they cannot dispute—that it was just at those intervals when the Corn Law fails in its purpose and there is abundance of food that those very people, those labourers whom they profess to care for, were well of. That the people were ill off in these counties was not disputed, he believed, out of this House, but he had heard it denied this evening. Well, grant it that they were not distressed; was it not ground for inquiry that the contrary was very generally believed; and was there any fear of inquiry, or of increased incendiarism, if they were well off? It was said that these fires were caused by others, and not by the people of the county. Well, then, the people would be thankful to have that elicited, and there was no fear of exciting them to the commission of crime by inquiry. He knew that divers reasons had been assigned for this offence in those counties, and he believed that in the insurance offices there was an idea that some of the persons insured were not so careful as they might be, for being fully insured offered a great temptation to their not being so; but the more conflict of opinion there was, the more doubt as to whether it was an act of despair on the part of the people in the hopelessness of their condition, surely the more reason was there for inquiry. In short, as coming from his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, as a proprietor in that county, he could conceive no Motion more appropriate, more called for, or more likely to be useful, and, presented as it was in a very careful speech as he thought, he should give it his cordial support.

Sir J. Tyrell

said, that the speeches made that night on the other side of the House were marked by all the characteristics and requisites of incendiary speeches. He had no intention of imputing motives to any hon. Member. He did not state with what purpose those speeches were made. All he would say was, that they contained the characteristics and requisites of incendiary speeches. He himself belonged to that class who were said to be of very obtuse intellects, but yet he possessed sufficient acuteness to see clearly enough the tendency of those remarks which that night fell from hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House; for his part he did not pretend to much enlightenment; but though the perceptions of those Members who represented agricultural districts might not be very acute, yet in the present debate those Members were not altogether without the possession of some advantages. He had lately come up from the country, though he had not been, like the hon. Member for Durham, out upon an agitating tour. He repeated, that he had no intention of attributing motives — it would be very wrong to attribute motives — but when the House heard the speech of the hon. Member for Durham they could not fail to remember that he had been acting as a lecturer on the subject of the Corn Laws, and, in fact, that they might consider the present discussion as nothing more nor less than an adjourned debate on the Corn Laws. It was his fate whenever he came into that House to hear little else than debates on the Corn Laws. The hon. Member for Manchester told the House that want of employment was the cause of distress, and that distress caused the fires. He himself had been a farmer for upwards of twenty-five years; and he therefore could not help regarding the condition of the farmer with peculiar interest; but he frequently read the articles on the money-market and city intelligence which daily appeared in the newspapers, and he could not shut his eyes to this fact, that railways and other speculations received the most ready encouragements, though propositions for the improved cultivation of land were always very coldly received. The most hopeless speculation would receive support in the one case, and the most promising be allowed to fall in the other. No matter how wild or visionary the speculation might be, there was always capital enough for anything but cultivating the land; and that caused the want of employment. The hon. Member for Durham referred to the disposition which prevailed in Suffolk to recommend the adoption of a system of severe punishment. It did not happen that he was present at any of the meetings held upon that subject. But it was understood that more children than adults were concerned in those fires; and that in one case an adult was said to have committed the offence from a wish to be transported. It was probably thought by those who recommended severer measures that if such were adopted no one would commit crime for the sake of being punished; at least, that no one would become an incendiary with a view to being hung. To these remarks he wished to add that he was not an advocate for any increased severity.

The House divided on the question, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question — Ayes 130; Noes 41: Majority 89.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Forbes, W.
Acland, T. D. Forman, T. S.
Adderley, C. B. Fremantle, rt. hn Sir T.
Ainsworth, P. Gardner, J. D.
Alford, Visct. Gaskell, J. Milnes
Allix, J. P. Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.
Antrobus, E. Gladstone, Capt.
Archdall, Capt. M. Gordon, hon. Capt.
Arkwright, G. Gore, M.
Baillie, Col. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Baring, hon. W. B. Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Granby, Marq. of
Baskerville, T. B. M. Greenaway, C.
Bateson, T. Greene, T.
Beckett, W. Grogan, E.
Bodkin, W. H. Hampden, R.
Boldero, H. G. Hardy, J.
Borthwick, P. Harris, hon. Capt.
Bowes, J. Henley, J. W.
Bowes, Adm. Henniker, Lord
Bramston, T. W. Herbert, hon. S.
Broadley, H. Hervey, Lord A.
Bruce, Lord E. Hinde, J. H.
Bruges, W. H. L. Hodgson, R.
Buckley, E. Hope, hon. C.
Burroughes, H. N. Hope, G. W.
Campbell, J. H. Hornby, J.
Chelsea, Visct. Houldsworth, T.
Chetwode, Sir J. Howard, P. H.
Childers, J. W. Hussey, A.
Clerk, Sir G. Hussey, T.
Clive, hon. R. H. Hutt, W.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. Jermyn, Earl
Cole, hon. H. A. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Colvile, C. R. Jones, Capt.
Compton, H. C. Ker, D. S.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.
Cripps, W. Knight, H. G.
Damer, hon. Col. Law, hon. C. E.
Darby, G. Lefroy, A.
Denison, W. J. Lemon, Sir C.
Denison, E. B. Lincoln, Earl of
Dickinson, F. H. Lockhart, W.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Douglas, J. D. S. McGeachy, F. A.
Eliot, Lord Manners, Lord J.
Entwisle, W. Marsham, Visct.
Escott, B. Meynell, Capt.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Mundy, E. M.
Flower, Sir J. Neeld, J.
Newdegate, C. N. Smith, rt. hon. T. B. C.
Nicholl, rt. hon. J. Smyth, Sir H.
O'Brien, A. S. Somerset, Lord G.
Palmer, G. Spooner, R.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Stuart, H.
Peel, J. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Plumptre, J. P. Talbot, C. R. M.
Praed, W. T. Thesiger, Sir F.
Pringle, A. Trench, Sir F. W.
Repton, G. W. J. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Richards, R. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Rolleston, Col. Verner, Col.
Round, J. Wodehouse, E.
Rushbrooke, Col.
Russell, J. D. W. TELLERS.
Sanderson, R. Young, J.
Sibthorp, Col. Lennox, Lord A.
List of the NOES.
Barclay, D. Plumridge, Capt.
Barnard, E. G. Power, J.
Bellew, R. M. Protheroe, E.
Bernal, R. Pulsford, R.
Brocklehurst, J. Rawdon, Col.
Brotherton, J. Ross, D. R.
Browne, R. D. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Browne, hon. W. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Busfeild, W. Stock, Serj.
Chapman, B. Villiers, hon. C.
Collett, J. Walker, R.
Elphinstone, H. Warburton, H.
Esmonde, Sir T. Wawn, J. T.
Forster, M. Wilde, Sir T.
Gill, T. Williams, W.
Hill, Lord M. Wrightson, W. B.
Martin, J. Wyse, T.
Mitcalfe, H. Yorke, H. R.
Morris, D.
Morrison, J. TELLERS.
Muntz, G. F. Bright, J.
Philips, M. Gibson, M.