HC Deb 26 February 1846 vol 84 cc115-21

On the question that the Order of the Day be read.


, before the Order of the Day was read, wished that they could come to some understanding as to the time when this prolonged debate was likely to end. The reason why he asked this question was, that it appeared to him the debate had taken a turn by which it seemed there was a disposition among a certain party to waste the time of the House, rather than to improve it. It had been his unfortunate fate, with that of a great many other hon. Members, to be obliged to listen on Tuesday night to a Gentleman who, for a period of two hours and a half, had occupied the valuable time of the House in speaking upon a variety of topics that were relevant to any other subject than that upon which they were debating. He had heard the hon. Gentleman speak on that occasion in a manner that did not confer honour on that House, nor promote its character for decency or order, or add to its great commanding dignity, for the period of two hours and and a half—two mortal hours and a half by the clock. He was at a loss to understand how the hon. Gentlemen opposite could fancy that they were deriving an advantage to their cause by enlisting this hon. Gentleman in their ranks, and obtaining his great assistance in the vociferations with which he dealt out his numerous assertions. He was sure that if the House wished to maintain their dignity and to command respect, they could not effect either object by encouraging this vocabulary of vituperations, those indecent menaces, or such violent language in that House. The hon. Member came forward like Orson, as it were, with a club in his hand, to beat down all those opinions to which he was opposed, by the most violent language—by furious, out-spoken, unmeaning —; there were words so aptly expressive of his (Mr. Roebuck's) opinions in respect to such conduct, but out of regard to this House he did not like to employ them. ["Oh, oh!"] In describing the hon. Gentleman's manner, he felt that he was driven to some periphrasis, which perhaps would be less expressive than decent. The difficulty was not created by him (Mr. Roebuck), but by that hon. Member who violated all decency in that House in the language which he used. ["Order, order!"] Oh, they cried out "Order" now, but did they cry out "Order" when these violent statements were being made by the hon. Gentleman? ["Hear, hear."] No, that was just what he complained of. There was a party opposite who were so hard put to it, that in place of argument they were content to rest their cause upon the violent, outspreading, swaggering, blustering, unmeaning abuse of one hon. Member. If they were obliged to consume another night in this discussion, he hoped that they would have something to occupy their attention beyond the manifestations of that unextinguishable hatred and those intense exhibitions of passion which characterized the speeches of the hon. Gentleman to whom he was referring. The hon. Member had almost the whole of that period of two hours and a half occupied the time of the House by reading the former opinions of hon. Members who sat upon his own side of the House; and their conduct he designated as dishonourable, because they did not do what he thought that they ought to do. What was the worth of that hon. Member's opinions? He would measure it by the test that was adopted in his own profession. He would then ask, was there a human being who would give the Gentleman one guinea, or a half a guinea, or a crown—ay, or even half a farthing, for any opinion that he could express in respect to the conduct of another? He had heard it stated, before the hon. Gentleman had addressed the House, that he was coming down to speak, and that he was to occupy three hours of the time of the House; that he was about to make a speech which would prevent any of the League Members giving a vote in favour of the measure before the House. Now he was free to acknowledge, for the honour of the House, that there were men of great ability to be found amongst the agricultural Members opposite. He acknowledged that he had been delighted at the varied talents that had been displayed by the supporters of that interest during this debate; but at the same time he must be allowed to say that it was not by such exhibitions as this that the character of that party was to be raised, nor was their cause to be supported by any such unmeaning violence as they had witnessed. If that cause were good, or of any value, it was not to be sustained by such expressions as had been used. He hoped, for their honour and credit, that they would get something better to exhibit in the shape of argument than what they were obliged to listen to on the last night of the debate. He had no personal feeling against the hon. Gentleman; but he was too long accustomed to the atmosphere of that House to be afraid of meeting as they deserved any such expressions as had been made use of by the hon. Gentleman to whom he was alluding. He trusted that that party would not be driven to such straits as to hope for support in their opposition to any measure from such an advocate as had started up on the last night. If they were to decide upon the merits of this question, let them have some argument to influence them in their decision; and he hoped that before the debate closed the party opposite would furnish them with something like argument and reason, and not waste their time in exhibitions such as this, or in hearing vulgar hatred expressed in violent vulgar language.


said, he did not think the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken was out of order, because if he were liable to such a charge the Speaker would have interrupted him. He, however, accused the hon. and learned Gentleman of setting a most inconvenient precedent, which if fully followed, would give an opportunity for every individual to repeat his speech a second time in the House. He accused the hon. and learned Gentleman of having taken advantage of the absence of the hon. Member to make his attack upon him. If that hon. Member were in his place he would have been perfectly competent to answer him, and to vindicate his own character from the aspersions which had been cast upon it. The hon. and learned Gentleman's eye, however, while he was addressing the House, was fixed upon the vacancy caused by the absence of the hon. Member. If the hon. Member were present, there was not a charge made on the present occasion that would not have been completely answered. Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes. The hon. and learned Gentleman, above all others, had less right than any other to express surprise at, or to complain of, personalities. Did not the House recollect the significant mode in which he pointed his finger when on a former occasion he, here, there and everywhere addressed hon. Gentlemen? Were there no personal allusions then made? Was that no personality? No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman thought at the time that he was in the discharge of his duty. He did not mean to deny it; but he said that if personality had constituted the chief part of that speech, the hon. and learned Gentleman was not the man who ought to complain of it in another; nor should he now be so mealy-mouthed; at any rate he hoped that he would not now form an example for others to imitate. He rose rather for the purpose of protesting against the custom of speaking on the main question, or one collateral to it, when the Motion before the House was merely the reading of the Order of the Day. He, however, would not follow the example of which he was complaining; but he hoped that when the hon. and learned Member next addressed the House, it would not be for the purpose of complaining of personality.


I agree with the hon. Baronet that this is not a time to enter upon the discussion of this matter; but I am anxious to say a few words with respect to a statement which was made by the hon. Member for Knaresborough, bearing on the conduct of an intimate friend of mine who is not present to defend himself—I mean Mr. George Wilson, the chairman of the League. Now, I don't wish to go into any long details about the trade in starch, for I confess I do not well understand it; but I will take the liberty to say, that almost every portion of that which the hon. Member for Knaresborough stated as fact with respect to that gentleman, and every par- ticle of that which he stated as inference, was utterly untrue. Mr. Wilson never called a meeting of starch manufacturers, having reference to the question of protective duties; he never presided at any such meeting; he formed no part of a deputation who came up to Government on the subject; and the object of the starch manufacturers was not to obtain protection; but, as the raw material was enhanced in price by protective duties, they thought it, therefore, necessary that the import of the article should have a corresponding duty upon it, on the same principle as there is a duty on foreign malt which comes into this country equal to the duty on malt made from English barley. I have only to say, further, that there is this great defect in all the speeches of the hon. Member—that he makes assertions which he is never able, so far as I have heard or read, to substantiate.


I shall not follow the hon. Member for Durham into the question of starch, any more than I shall follow the hon. and learned Member for Bath in his lecture on personalities. I rise merely to say that I perfectly agree with the hon. Member for Oxford, that nothing could be more inconvenient than the course which the hon. and learned Member has adopted in raising a discussion of this kind on the reading of the Order of the Day. I am perfectly certain that the hon. Member for Knaresborough would not have shrunk from the discussion, had he been in his place; but I do not think it very convenient for the House to have a duplicate of the discussion raised upon the reading of the Order of the Day; and I do not think it fair, in the absence of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, to raise a question personal to himself, and to defend the character of gentlemen whose conduct he is said to have attacked. I can assure the hon. Member for Durham that the hon. Member for Knaresborough, when in his place, will be ready, I have not the least doubt, to defend all the statements he ever made. ["Oh, oh!"] I repeat that the hon. Member will be prepared to stand by what he has stated; but it will be much more convenient to take up this subject when the party is present, and when we are engaged in discussing the question to which his observations refer.


I have great reason to complain of the observations of the hon. Member for Knaresborough. There were serious charges in his speech directed against a personal friend of mine—a man whose benevolence is only equalled by his intelligence—I mean Mr. Henry Ashworth, of Bolton, whose "cold-blooded cruelty," to use the expression of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, was brought before this House. The hon. Member talked of the poverty of the people in Mr. Ashworth's employment—of their nakedness, of the wretchedness of their dwellings. Now, I had an opportunity of knowing what was the state of things among that population; and I will venture to say that, during the period of distress which assailed Bolton a few years ago, the population connected with the mills at Turton and Egerton, formed a striking contrast to other places in the neighbourhood. I hope the noble Lord the Member for Newark is in his place, and also the hon. Member for Canterbury, who visited Mr. Ashworth's mills some time ago, for the purpose of ascertaining, from personal observation, and by going into the minutest details, the condition of the numerous body of work-people engaged in these mills. I appeal to them whether there is any truth in the representations which the hon. Member for Knaresborough has made here and elsewhere respecting Mr. Ashworth? If they are present, I know they will do homage to truth and justice, by stating what the facts of the case were which they examined into. I will venture to say, that the statements are altogether untrue. I feel bound to say, further, that if there is any Member of this House who is bound to be singularly scrupulous in the statements he makes here—who ought to examine most fully and attentively and inquiringly into the facts which in his place he ventures to speak of, it is the hon. Member for Knaresborough.


said, as this discussion had been raised, he would read a letter which he had received on the subject of one statement of the hon. Member for Knaresborough. It was from the operatives of Union Mill, whose attention had been attracted by a statement of the hon. Member to the effect that many of the operatives had been compelled by their masters to sign petitions against the Corn Laws. The letter accompanied some petitions, and it said— You will receive herewith three petitions; they are signed as free as the air we breathe, and so, as far as we know, have been all the petitions on the same occasion. We make this statement in consequence of what has been said by Mr. Ferrand; and we can say more:—we are more anxious than even our employers are for the total and immediate repeal of all duties on the importation of provisions. He had received other letters to the same effect.

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