§ MR. FERRAND
Sir, I am about to claim for a very few minutes the attention of the House while I defend myself against a personal attack which was made on me last night by no less than four Members who sit on the other side of the House. As I said at the conclusion of the debate last night, if I had received the slightest intimation of the course those hon. Members were going to take, I should have been here in my place to meet any attack. I should also have been here at the reading of the first Order of the Day yesterday, but for a particular engagement elsewhere. Sir, in the first place, I have to thank an hon. and gallant Member who sits on the opposite benches for the very handsome manner in which he stood forward to defend me, against what I have no hesitation in calling a most unmanly attack; and I have also to tender my thanks to the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis), and another hon. Friend of mine (Mr. Colquhoun), who sit immediately below me, for the part they took in my behalf in my absence. Sir, when I addressed the House the other night, I made no statement that I did not solemnly believe to be true; and I feel thoroughly convinced that I shall be now able to justify every expression I then used, and for which I have been attacked by those four hon. Members to whom I refer. Sir, the attack was commenced by the hon. and learned Member for Bath. I think his remarks were so personal that they carried along with them their own antidote; and, therefore, it is scarcely necessary for me to allude to it any further than to say that I think the hon. and learned Member for Bath was the last person in this House who ought to have made use of the following expression, which I believe I shall quote correctly:—I am quite sure that if this House is in any way whatever to maintain its dignity or command respect, it is not by vulgar vituperation, indecent menace, or violent language.Sir, if I am not very much mistaken, I remember the case of an hon. and learned Member of this House standing on this floor, and with language far more violent than any I have used, and far more indecent, throwing down The Times newspaper, and recommending hon. Members on both sides of the House to horsewhip a gentleman who is in every respect the superior of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman then went on to say— 230But, I would ask, what is the worth of that hon. Member's opinion? I will measure it by the ordinary test which is applied in my own profession. Would any one give, I do not say a guinea, or even half a guinea, but even half a crown, or half a farthing, for any opinion he could express upon gentlemen's conduct?Sir, I believe that the public have that opinion of the hon. and learned Member, that they would not give one quarter of it farthing for his opinion; and in short, that this is one of the sore points which continually rankles in the hon. and learned Member's breast. Sir, I shall not condescend any further to allude to the attack made upon me by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, but shall at once proceed to notice the attack made on me by the hon. Member for Durham. Sir, that hon. Member said—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 was utterly untrue. Mr. Wilson never called a meeting of the starch manufacturers, having reference to the question of protective duties; he never presided at such meeting; he formed no part of a deputation who came up to Government on the subject.But, Sir, the hon. Member for Durham has put words into my mouth which I never used. I never said Mr. Wilson formed one of a deputation which waited upon the Government on the subject of starch. What I said was this—The Chairman of the Anti-Corn-Law League convened a meeting at Manchester of all the starch-dealers in the kingdom, at which he presided, and a resolution was adopted to the effect, that a deputation should go from the meeting to the right hon. Baronet, and use their influence with him in favour of starch. The deputation waited on the right hon. Baronet, and were successful; and I believe that lobsters and starch were the only things which obtained the slightest mercy in the TariffThe House will perceive from this that I never said in that speech that Mr. George Wilson was a member of the deputation which waited on the Government on that subject. I shall, however, proceed to justify the statement which I made to the House. Sir, on the 7th of February, 1843, I received this letter from a gentleman, Mr. S. Burlington, of Manchester, addressed to B. Ferrand, Esq., M.P.:—I take the liberty of troubling you with a few particulars, which, I think, will show to you the sort of disinterested reformers some of the leading members of the Anti-Corn-Law League are. You will please to satisfy yourself of the correctness of this statement before you make any public use of it. When Sir R. Peel published his new Tariff, he put down starch at 5l. per cwt. duty from any foreign country; it before was 9l. something. No 231 sooner did Mr. G. Wilson, chairman of the council of the League, and a few other leading men, hear of it, than they summoned a meeting of all the starch-makers in the kingdom to meet at Manchester; and Mr. G. Wilson took the chair. Now, what do you think this meeting was for? You would suppose to take off the whole duty, as the whole population are consumers of the article? No such thing. Mr. G. Wilson, Mr. John Rawsthorne, Mr. Halliday, and others, were starch manufacturers; and, although there are only about 300 of them, masters and men, yet the whole population of Great Britain and Ireland must be taxed for their individual interests, and not taxed at 5l. per cwt. (25 per cent upon the cost of foreign starch); but they wanted the tax to be prohibitory, and actually succeeded in doubling the duty. They appointed a deputation from the meeting, consisting of Mr. J. Rawsthorne, Mr. Halliday, and others, to wait upon the Board of Trade. These are self-styled disinterested reformers. You must not suppose that I am not for free trade: on the contrary; but I cannot join such free traders as these; and think every man of principle should show them up to public indignation.With respect to this letter, I will only add that I did satisfy myself of its correctness before I used it; and the first public use I made of it was on Tuesday evening last. Sir, in the month of December I was in the town of Manchester; I saw several gentlemen there, whom I asked as to whether the statements made in that letter were correct: they informed me that they were entirely correct, and they also added that they believed that Mr. Wilson was a member of the deputation that went up to the Government. On the following day after this statement was made to me, I attended a large meeting at the borough of Stockport. I made use of this communication, adding to it that Mr. Wilson had been a member of the deputation. The Manchester Guardian, which is the paper of the League in that town, attacked me in a leading article for that statement: they denied that Mr. Wilson had formed any part of that deputation, though they admitted that the deputation had waited on the Government. That paper, however, did not in the slightest degree deny that Mr. Wilson convened that meeting at Manchester, nor that he presided, nor that the resolution for the appointment of the deputation was agreed to at that meeting. Sir, I have seen three gentlemen to-day who are acquainted with the circumstances of the case, and they having seen my statement declare that it is entirely correct. To that statement I am prepared to adhere. I shall not retract one particle of it; and, until the hon. Member for Durham shall convince the House and the country that Mr. George Wilson did not preside at that meeting, that he did 232 not help to convene it, and that the resolution I have referred to was not put to that meeting while he was in the chair, I shall still maintain my original statement. I must, however, say, Sir, that the hon. Member for Durham is the last man who should stand up and attack another hon. Member for making unfounded statements. Is the hon. Member aware of the public meetings which have taken place in the county of Lancaster, to rebut statements he has made in this House, and also to assert before the world that they were utterly without foundation?—ay, and that one of those meetings took place in Rochdale, the town in which the hon. Member resides when he is at home? As the hon. Member has made this attack on me, I shall defend myself, I shall justify myself, and leave it to the House to decide how they can place confidence in his statements after they shall have heard what I am going to read. This is an extract from the Bolton Chronicle, the town represented by the hon. and learned Member opposite (Dr. Bowring) who was also one of those who attacked me in my absence. The hon. Member was proceeding to read the extract from the newspaper, which began by referring to the debate on Lord Ashley's Bill, when he was interrupted by
§ THE SPEAKER
, who, said, that it was contrary to the rules of the House for an hon. Member to read from any paper which referred to a debate in that House.
§ MR. FERRAND
Very well, Sir, I will do my utmost to leave out what refers to the House of Commons. Of course. I am under your orders, and I shall instantly obey if you intimate that I am doing wrong. The hon. Member then proceeded to read the following passage from the newspaper in question, leaving out the allusion to the House of Commons:—The statements made by Mr. J. Bright on the night Lord Ashley introduced his Bill into Parliament, have created such a sensation in the manufacturing districts, that some difficulty is experienced in allaying the ferment—Preston and Rochdale being particularly involved in the slanders put forth by the hon. Member. The people of those towns immediately proceeded to hold meetings, with a view of rebutting Mr. Bright's calumnies. The people of Preston did ample justice to their character, and proved that there was not one word of truth in the allegations made in the House of Commons. Rochdale has also raised its voice; and on Monday night, one of the most crowded meetings of factory operatives ever held in the town, took place in the People's Institution. The object of the meeting was chiefly to disprove the statements made by Mr. Bright, that gentleman having stated that the people of Rochdale 233 were not favourable to the Ten Hours' Bill; and that the meetings in favour of it were composed of, and conducted by, handloom weavers, who wanted to retard the progress of machinery for the benefit of their own trade. The meeting was called for eight o'clock; but long before that time every corner in the spacious hall (the largest room in the town) was crowded to suffocation, and hundreds were compelled to go away who could not obtain admission. Mr. John Whitaker, the high constable of the borough, presided; and it is a remarkable and gratifying fact, that the whole of the proceedings were conducted by factory workers. There were present a large number of factory girls, who appeared to take a warm interest in the proceedings.The proceedings concluded with the following resolution:—'That the present system of long hours in factories is very injurious to all the persons employed in them, as twelve hours' labour per day is more than the human constitution can endure without injury; and that the practice of working long hours, deprives us of every advantage in literature and science, and reduces us from the condition of social beings to that of mere serfs, without any of the enjoyments of social life. And this meeting is further of opinion, that the adoption of the Ten Hours' Bill would be a very great improvement on this system of over-working, as it would afford us an opportunity of improving our physical, mental, and moral condition; and we pledge ourselves never to relax our exertions until this measure becomes law.' Mr. Stephen Clark, a cotton-spinner, seconded the Motion. He said he belonged to the Short Time Committee; and they considered they would not be doing their duty unless they gave the factory workers of Rochdale an opportunity of contradicting the—Sir, I must break off here; I am afraid to use the word with which the statements of the hon. Member for Durham are characterized, The newspaper goes on to say—Immediately on the statement made by that gentleman coming to the knowledge of the operatives, no less than eighteen or twenty mills met and agreed to hold a public meeting to denounce the statements as false and slanderous; and the crowded state of the meeting which he was then addressing, was a strong indication of the sentiments of the operatives, and a convincing proof of the utter falseness of the statement made by Mr. Bright. That gentleman had been invited to attend the meeting and defend his statements, but he had not made his appearance.Now, Sir, that is the result of a meeting of the operatives of the town of Rochdale, the town in which the hon. Member resides when he is at home. I must say, I think it would be well if the hon. Member were to be more careful in future before he makes attacks on me or any other Member of this House. Sir, I now come to the hon. Member for Bolton, who also made an attack on me last night, in which he misrepresented what I said on Tuesday 234 night, although he was present and heard my speech. The hon. Member quoted me as having said these words:—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 ask him whether he means to say that I used those words? [Dr. BOWRING made a gesture of assent.] I suppose the hon. Member means that I did. Then I mean to say that I never used such words. But the hon. Member, standing up in my absence, puts words into my mouth which are calculated to harm me in this House and with the country, and words which I never used. The hon. Member was present and heard what I did say. Sir, I ask is this fair? Is it manly? Is it honourable? I am prepared to fight my own battle on fair and open grounds; and I never made a charge in this House which I do not solemnly believe, and which I am not prepared to stand by. Now, I ask the House to listen to the words I did use. They were these:—At the very time he (Ashworth) complained that the handloom weavers' wages had risen 10 per cent, a Committee was inquiring into their condition, and hearing evidence, which proved that the men surrounding this man's mill were living on 2¾d. a day. Nay, more than this, it was proved that the handloom weavers were in such a state that many of them had not worn a shirt for five years, that they were clothed in rags, that they had no furniture, no plates to eat from, no chairs or tables, only a chest that served them for table and drawers, which was all the furniture in their houses. That was the state of the handloom weavers when this letter was written.When I had concluded those observations, there was a cry of "hear, hear," which showed that hon. Members quite understood what I said. When Mr. Ashworth made that complaint that the wages of the handloom weavers had risen 10 per cent, it was in that letter of his to the Poor Law Commissioners, in which he asked them to send down labourers from the agricultural districts to his mill; and the Committee I referred to was that of which the hon. Member for Oldham was a member. I call on that hon. Member to lay aside all feelings of private friendship towards me, and to stand up as an independent Member of this House, and deny what I state if he can. Now, Sir, what is the authority on which I made the statement to which the hon. Member for Bolton objects? It is the evidence of Mr. John Makin, a manufacturer of Bolton, given on the 17th of July, 1834, before that Committee, Mr. 235 Ashworth's letter having been written on the 9th of June, only nine weeks previously. Mr. Makin, who was called by the hon. Member for Oldham, was asked—Can you tell the Committee what description of food the weavers are generally obliged to put up with?—The description of food is chiefly oatmeal porridge and potatoes, with occasionally a small quantity of butchers' meat, which they may obtain once in the course of a week. Are there any of them that are not able to procure a sufficient quantity of that coarse food with the wages they now earn?—I have made a calculation, by which I estimate that, if a man has to support himself and wife, and fire children, with the assistance of two children and his wife labouring with him, they will not be able to earn, for food and clothing, more than 2¾d. per day. I was not aware of the state of things, although I was familiarly acquainted with the trade, until I sat down and made a calculation for myself, and I must confess I was startled with the fact.—Then the distress of the weavers far exceeded what you had any conception of till you made the inquiry from your own books, and from pursuing the inquiry to other sources, that enabled you to come to those conclusions?—It did. If they are so distressed for food, how are they off for clothing?—I cannot recollect an instance but one, where any weaver of mine has bought a new jacket for many years. Then, they are literally clothed in rags?—Yes. I am only sorry I did not bring one or two jackets to let the Committee see the average state in which they are clothed. Is their bedding and their furniture of the same inadequate description with their food and their clothing?—I have not been in many of the weavers' bedrooms, but I have been in some, and they appear to be very bare of clothing. I have known some who have not had a blanket at all, merely a coarse coverlid, of the value perhaps of half-a-crown when new. What is the nature of their furniture?—I have observed both on Bolton-moor and at Torkholes, where I go to manufacture, that they are generally without chairs; I have seen many houses with only two or three three-legged stools, and some I have seen without a stool or chair, with only a tea-chest to put their clothes in, and to sit upon.Sir, that is my authority for the statement I made as to the distress of the handloom weavers; and I call on the hon. Member for Bolton, in the presence of the hon. Member for Oldham, to refute one atom of that evidence if he can; and if he cannot, then I call on him, as a Member of this House, and as a gentleman, to retract the charge which he made yesterday. Sir, I see the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire in his place. He also referred to me yesterday. From what I know of the noble Lord, I am sure he would shrink with horror from making any statement that would be injurious to the character of any individual. I do assure the noble lord that at the time I presented those petitions, I was justified in making 236 the statement I did. The noble Lord 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.Now, what I said was, that manufacturers in the West Riding who were members of the Anti-Corn-Law League compelled their workmen to sign petitions for the repeal of the Corn Laws. I am prepared to prove that statement before a Committee of this House; and Sir, I do think it is high time that the House take up the subject, and inquire into the manner in which petitions to this House have been forged and manufactured, and this not only under the sanction of the League, but paid for with the money of the League. This I am prepared to prove before a Committee of this House, and to produce a man who was paid so much a day, and who wrote down signatures by thousands. No less than 14,000 names were written by one man. I am ready to prove it before a Committee. Sir, I will read a letter which I received yesterday morning. [The first part of this letter related entirely to the Ten Hours' Bill. The latter part said]:—I felt well pleased at your putting the question to Lord Morpeth with regard as to how the signatures had been obtained for a total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. You may depend upon it the same means have been resorted to here as you spoke of.For obvious reasons I do not state the name, but it is here. The letter is dated from Holbeck, and I am ready to place it in the noble Lord's hands, because I know he will not make an unfair use of it, or allow it to be used to the injury of the writer. Sir, that is my defence, and if any further attack is made on me, I shall be as ready to defend myself again.
§ MR. CRAVEN BERKELEY
said: I rise, Sir, to corroborate the statement of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, in his statement as to the manufacturing of petitions. Now, Sir, I hold in my hand a petition which was presented at my residence by the postman on Wednesday last. It purports to be from Cheltenham, and there are 594 signatures. But my attention was attracted by seeing the post-mark. "Manchester," instead of Cheltenham. I immediately sent the petition to the town of Cheltenham, and wrote to my Agent 237 there desiring him to ascertain whether the signatures were genuine, and whether such a petition had been got up there? I also wrote to five genrlemen whose names appeared first among the signatures on the first sheet of the petition, requesting to know whether they had signed the petition, and whether it had been got up in that neighbourhood. The first name attached to the petition is "Stephen Reid;" and the following is the answer I received from him:—Cheltenham, Feb. 20, 1846.Sir—I knew nothing of the petition referred to in your letter of yesterday's date. I have signed no petition, and certainly have not authorized any body to sign it for me; and as I know no other person in Cheltenham of the name but myself, I doubt the honesty of the petition, and would with great respect caution you in acting upon it. I suspect but one person who would use my name, and he may possibly may have done so for his own purposes.The next letter is from my Agent, to whom I sent the petition:—Cheltenham, Feb. 20, 1846.I have perused the petition from Manchester. It contains some signatures which were genuine; but I venture say they never were put to the present petition. I have seen Mr. Perry, the miller, at Alston-mill, whose name appears in the first sheet of the petition. He says he never heard of it before, though he would certainly have signed a petition for the immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. Most of the names seem to me forgeries, or at all events not written by the parties represented. I don't think the petition ought to be presented as that of the inhabitants of Cheltenham. I never heard of it before, nor have I met with any householder that ever did.During the fourteen years I have held a seat in this House, I have always voted for the Motions made in favour of free trade. I supported the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) in 1841, when he brought forward his proposition for a fixed duty. I have always supported the hon. Members for Wolverhampton and Stockport when they have brought forward Motions either for free trade, or for inquiry into the burdens which affect land. But I scorn to support any Motion or any system by such means as the present. I say unless the question of free trade can stand on its own merits, it will only be hindered by such impositions as this; and now I beg to give notice that on Monday next I shall bring forward the case I have now mentioned as a breach of the privileges of this House. I claim the support of those hon. Members who are members of the Anti-Corn-Law League in my attempt to trace out the author of the forgery; for, if I don't get 238 their assistance the obloquy which attaches to the author of the petition will also extend to them. [Hon. MEMBERS: What is the prayer of the petition?] The petitioners, after stating some arguments, "most earnestly implore the House, at once and for ever, entirely to abolish all, duties tending to diminish the supply of the people's food."
§ MR. BRIGHT
The hon. Member for Cheltenham has done what he could to corroborate the statement of the hon. Member for Knaresborough. I believe that no one Member can be more willing than another that a case like that should receive the fullest possible investigation. I recommend him to move for a Committee to inquire, and I shall be most glad to second the Motion, and to join him or any other Member upon the Committee in sifting the case most thoroughly. The hon. Member for Knaresborough has endeavoured to answer the attack which he says I made upon him; but he has merely recited what he said a few nights before, giving us, in addition, a letter he has had in his pocket for some two years, as a proof that his assertions were correct. Now, I am prepared still to say, that I believe every part of his statement is utterly unfounded. I have here a letter from Mr. Rawsthorne, whose name has been mentioned, and who formed one of the deputation to the Board of Trade respecting the duty on starch. He states distinctly, that Mr. George Wilson did not issue the circular requesting the starch manufacturers to assemble in Manchester—that Mr. George Wilson did not act as chairman of the meeting. That is the reply to two of the statements the hon. Member has made. He denies that any meeting of the kind took place, and consequently that no deputation proceeded from such meeting, either of individual members of the council of the League, or of any other gentlemen. It is true, he adds, that two other gentlemen and himself waited upon the Minister, but that Mr. Wilson was not one of them—that they proceeded to London, their object being not to seek protection; and this was clearly stated at the interview with the Board of Trade. If they were permitted to use the raw material, wheat, free of duty, that was all they desired, and not any protective duty whatever on the manufactured article, starch; they only asked a duty equivalent to that which was proposed to be levied on the raw material. The following is an extract from the memorial 239 presented at the time. [The hon. Member read a quotation from the memorial, stating that with a free trade in wheat the starch manufacturers were not afraid of foreign competition; but that while the price of the raw material was kept up by the operation of the Corn Laws, the proposed small duty of 5s. per cwt. on foreign-made starch threatened their trade, and all hopes of competition with the foreign manufacturer.] Judging from the speeches of some hon. Members, it is possible that this explanation will not be understood. The hon. Gentleman, for instance, may not perceive that a duty on the foreign article, to counterbalence the duty on the raw material from which that article is made in this country, is different from a protective duty. The statement of the hon. Member for Knaresborough has been thus met and refuted. I have proved that Mr. Wilson never convened the meeting. I say, therefore, that to assert that he did, is positively and utterly unfounded: that he presided at such a meeting is not more true. The hon. Member has made other extraordinary statements as to Mr. Wilson; but it will be recollected that, as to some of his assertions, an offer has been made to meet him in a court of justice. [Mr. FERRAND: No.] Does the hon. Member recollect that he once charged Mr. Wilson and Mr. Rawsthorne with being present at a meeting in Liverpool, during which a proposition had been made to commit the frightful crime of assassination? Does he recollect that Mr. Rawsthorne's solicitor wrote to the solicitor of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, to ask him if he was prepared to stand by his statement; and that the reply was that the hon. Member was willing to stand by the report in the Morning Post? The solicitor of Mr. Rawsthorne next wrote to Mr. Coulson, of Bradford, the solicitor of the hon. Member, to request, in order to be saved the inconvenience of proceeding against a newspaper, that the hon. Member would give an admission of the accuracy of the report in the Morning Post, and give the newspaper a guarantee. The hon. Member agreed to do so: he intimated that he would give the guarantee, in order that the proprietor of the Morning Post might be saved harmless from the costs. Had the hon. Member ever given that guarantee? Every particle of the statement of the hon. Member was as untrue as anything that had ever been uttered by human being on this earth. It could be proved to be untrue 240 in all its parts; but the hon. Gentleman did not dare to go into a court of justice. An hon. Member suggests that I ought to state why the prosecution was not followed up. We of the League appealed for the success of our cause to public opinion; and it would ill become us to prosecute an editor engaged in the honourable and meritorious undertaking of giving good speeches as well as bad to the public. The hon. Gentleman read a letter from Rochdale, and an extract from a Tory newspaper, published in the town of Bolton. Well, I am prepared to stand before the people of Rochdale on whatever small merits I possess. I don't want the hon. Member to stand sponsor for their opinion of me. They know me intimately, and I know them; and I am quite sure that Rochdale is the last place in the country where the hon. Gentleman would be received in a manner on which he could congratulate himself. He must have a recollection of the reception he met with in the theatre of the town. I shall now say no more than that his statements as to Mr. Wilson are utterly unfounded, and, if I may use the words of a resolution on the books of this House, that they are "calumnious, and altogether unfounded."
§ DR. BOWRING
I think I am called on to say a few words, and they shall be very few. The hon. Gentleman complains that he was not answered immediately after he sat down—that I was present, and did not rise to reply to him. Now the hon. Gentleman detailed accurately the sufferings of a portion of the labouring community in Bolton and its neighbourhood. He spoke of the miserable way in which the people were fed, clad, and housed, and of the wretched wages which they were enabled to get. He introduced the name of Mr. Henry Ashworth, and mentioned him as an individual who was mainly instrumental in removing large numbers of the agricultural population to Bolton and its neighbourhood, and thereby directly causing the distress of which he made such complaint. He appealed to the House against what he called the "cold-blooded cruelty of this Quaker." And what is his statement now? Why, that he never referred to Mr. Henry Ashworth at all. [Mr. FERRAND: No.] The hon. Gentleman says to-night that the scenes which he described took place in Mr. Ashworth's neighbourhood, in some mills away from his abode, and he completely disconnected Mr. Ashworth's name from the cruelty 241 with which he endeavoured the other night to associate it. I took the liberty of writing to the noble Lord the Member for Newark on this subject; and certainly his testimony must be of a disinterested character, because he has given us to understand that he does not mean to support the measures of the Government. Now I only ask him to say whether Mr. H. Ashworth deserves, from the hands of the hon. Gentleman, or any one else, to be charged with "cold-blooded cruelty?" The noble Lord visited his establishment, and made himself acquainted with its details and with the condition of the people in attendance there; and I am quite willing to leave the whole case in the hands of the noble Lord, whose love of truth will enable the House to judge between the statement of the hon. Member and mine.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I think I was perfectly justified, by all the rules of courtesy observed in this House, in presuming that the hon. Member, who occupied two hours and a half of the last hours of the debate of one night in a very fierce attack on Members on this side of the House,—["No, no;"]—yes, and on persons out of this House, who could only be defended by those who sit here—would, as a mere matter of fairness, be in his place to hear the answer which could be made to his vituperation. If he was not here, the fault was the hon. Member's. An opportunity was afforded me by the forms of the House of complaining of the way in which the time of the House had been wasted. I availed myself of it, as it was my right to do, and I complained of the language of the hon. Gentleman. And now, Sir, I shall not attempt to answer the sort of attempted sarcasm in which the hon. Gentleman has indulged with respect to me. It is an attack on me for what he is pleased to call my failure in life. If I have failed, Heaven forbid I should attempt to deprive the hon. Member of so noble a topic of congratulation! But I will say, that in all my misfortunes never has it been my fate to have a body of Gentlemen assembled in England declare that which I stated to be a falsehood and a calumny. The resolution passed by this House has descended to posterity on its records, branding a Member of it with being guilty of unfounded calumny with respect to two Members of this House. The hon. Member says he founded his belief of a calumnious statement, which he uttered in this House, on a resolution passed by certain persons in the town of 242 Rochdale. I must also express my belief in the Resolution of the House of Commons, designating the hon. Gentleman as the disseminator of a calumny utterly unfounded. He has never answered that resolution; and so long as it remains the unanimous declaration of the House of Commons, he is welcome, so far as I am concerned, to any assertion he may please to make. It will be weighed in that balance which the House applied to his former statements, and will be cast aside for that worthlessness by which, at present, all his asseverations are characterized. That, Sir, is my answer to the "hon." Gentleman. One word, and one word only, in reply to the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis). He says, that I have offended not only by words, but by my gestures. As to the latter charge, some of us have, unfortunately, peculiarities of that kind which we cannot get over. But the hon. Gentlemen says I pointed out five or six individuals, and named them, and accused them of being guilty of corrupt practices at elections. Sir, I did so. And the hon. Baronet calls that personality! If that is so, an indictment is personal. I charged certain Members with corrupt practices, and I proved my charge. [Major BERESFORD: No.] An united Committee, without a single division, placed amongst those Members guilty of "corrupt practices" the hon. Member who now cries "No." That is my answer to the hon. Baronet. And when he says, with respect to me, "who would listen to the Gracchi complaining of sedition?" I feel honoured by his comparing me to two of the greatest names which Rome produced.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I am one of those who very much regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Knaresborough should think it his duty on several occasions to make attacks on gentlemen whom I call members of the manufacturing body. I entirely differ with him in his general views on that subject. I have often, indeed, remonstrated with him upon the subject. But this I can say, that my hon. Friend says the same things out of the House as he says in it. He is honest. He is sincere. It is his conviction. He believes he is fulfiling his duty; and I cannot see that in the way he has executed it upon the present occasion, he has done anything to call forth the expression of disapprobation, on the part of the House. Now, Sir, with regard to the several individuals whose names have been brought into the discussion: take, for instance, Mr. George Wilson, chairman of 243 the League. I know nothing personally of him. I believe (that is, I dare say) he is a "very good sort of person"—and when you know a man, you generally find him to be a "very good sort of person." But he has for a series of years been an agitator. He has filled a very distinguished post in public demonstrations of the League, and has been in the habit of expressing himself on public matters and public men with very little reserve. And I must say, that I was astonished that such an individual, or his representatives and apologists here, should on every occasion show the very thin skin which Gentlemen opposite generally evince. So again I must say to Mr. Ashworth, I am convinced that my hon. Friend feels assured that he was authorized in making the statement he has made. What that statement was, I do not exactly know—any more than I understood what was the statement as to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State (Sir J. Graham) as to which the memorable resolution of this House was come to, which has to-night been by the Member for Bath, so theatrically appealed to. I believe, in fact, that the statement and the resolution were equally worthless. But I am bound to say, I don't desire to listen to all these stories myself. I am as prejudiced one way on the subject, as my hon. Friend is the other. I believe the Messrs. Ashworth have done great good. That is my opinion. I have formed that opinion on what I have heard and seen. And my hon. Friend has formed his upon what he has heard and seen. But what I want to impress upon the House is, that it is not desirable, perhaps, that every man in the House should have the same opinion. All men have prejudices, in which they differ from each other; and some men have the frankness freely to confess them. But, speaking seriously, I think that really my hon. Friend has to-night had much the best of it. I deprecate the introduction of these personal topics; but I think that he has entirely substantiated the position he took up, although I regret that he took it up at all. Now, Sir, the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Bright) has made a confused and clumsy sort of statement as to some supposed accusation by my hon. Friend about Members of the League being abettors of assassination. Whether my hon. Friend did make such a charge or not—whether he was correctly reported—whether the parties accused should have prosecuted or not — all these circumstances 244 are left in darkness and doubt. Nor do I think the House cares much about the matter. But I do recollect hearing Members of the League accused of abetting assassination in this House—by a very distinguished individual at the head of the Administration. Why not prosecute the right hon. Baronet? Here is an "antler'd monarch of the woods:" why hunt "small deer?" If you wish, you Gentlemen of the League, to vindicate your character as to assassination, for which I certainly never gave you credit—you have ample opportunity. Extract from the pages of Hansard the statements you may there find; ask the right hon. Baronet if he admits them; and I doubt not he will directly give you a "guarantee," and you may prosecute at once. Now, I must say I think there has been a great deal too much made by the Member for Bath of the resolution of this House a year or two ago, as to a certain statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Knaresborough. I really think a more ridiculous resolution never was passed; and the more so, as I fully believe the right hon. Baronet, who was forced into the painful position of bringing it forward, and who has a natural taste for humour, was keenly sensible of it, for he did all he could to avert the ridiculous catastrophe; and neither he nor his right hon. Colleague (Sir J. Graham) denied the "vindication" in any way. They did not originate the proceedings. No, Sir; it originated in a quarter whence the most disagreeable proceedings naturally emanate—with the Member for Bath; and when the Member for Bath dilates, with all the dramatic effect worthy of a minor theatre, upon this famous "resolution," which he says denounced a Member for calumnious statements, he should remember his Friend the Member for Cork, who was once placed in a similar disagreeable position — when reprimanded by the Speaker for calumnious statements as to the conduct of Election Committees of the House. I leave both Gentlemen to deal with the respective "resolutions" as they like. I only set the one resolution against the other. Sir, I have not had any resolution passed yet against me; and I think if my hon. Friend had taken my advice never to abuse anybody, but rather to resort to such language as our English tongue and the forms of this House permit for the expression of opinion, he would never have been in the position in which the "resolution" referred to, I think, unjustly 245 placed him. But, Sir, the Member for Bath, to whom (as usual) we are indebted for these discussions, as well as to that extraordinary "resolution" which hangs around my hon. Friend so awfully—the Member for Bath says, "I have been unjustly accused by the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford (Sir R. Inglis), who says I have pointed my finger at Members and accused them: this is not personality. It is the discharge of public duty, and I was justified in so acting," &c. It is all "very fine," Sir, for the hon. Member thus to "ride off on the high horse;" but it is not the fact. The fact is, on the contrary, that the hon. Member is perpetually, constantly, habitually infringing upon the rules of the House, and, what is more, the proprieties of gentlemanlike demeanour. I know in my own case, and in the case of several hon. Gentlemen on this side, when we have on various occasions uttered our opinions on public affairs, he has got up, and (in direct violation of the rules of the House that you ought never to impute motives to Members) has imputed to us motives most corrupt, most sinister, and most ungentlemanlike. Some of my hon. Friends have noticed it. I never have. I always felt that in this world you must bear a good deal—excited as it was, occasionally, throughout, by the characteristic and inimitable composure and quiet humour which marked the hon. Gentleman's delivery; and that even in this indulgent, though dignified assembly, where, by our "rules," we endeavour, as far as possible, to carry on public affairs without any unnecessary acerbity, still, we must occasionally submit to some things which the rules of this House do not permit, I could, no doubt, easily have vindicated my character; but that would only have made the hon. Member for Bath speak once or twice more: and really I have never any wish to hear him; for I "take things as I find them." I have had the most corrupt motives imputed to me. But I know how true it is that a tree must produce its fruit—that a crab tree will bring forth crab apples—and that a man of meagre or acid mind, who writes a pamphlet or makes a speech, must make a meagre and acid pamphlet, or a poor and sour speech. Let things, then, take their course. But for the Member for Bath! for him—extraordinary purist as he is!—to come forward and complain—as if he had never conducted himself against the rules of the House!—as if he had never been in the 246 habit of imputing improper motives to Gentlemen! Sir, I am in the recollection of the House when I state that the hon. Gentleman by no means represents himself faithfully or consistently; and I think that he—though now assuming the functions of general instructor—as formerly of general accuser—that he would do well to profit by his own precepts, and eschew his melodramatic malignity and Sadler's Wells sort of sarcasm. Sir, it is very easy to put on this sort of air—wagging the finger—'bating the breath — and "looking daggers, though he use none." This is all "extremely fine;" and if it comes from one who is justified in using such language, and having recourse to such gestures—I might say it was simply ridiculous. Coming, however from the quarter whence if does, it is more than ridiculous, it is offensive.
Though I have been often the subject of debate in this House, I thought it hardly possible that my name could be dragged into this discussion. The hon. Gentleman is not correct as to his facts, and he supplied by his imagination the defects of his memory. I was not accused of calumniating any Member of this House. I spoke of a system as being characterized by frequent instances of perjury. That was determined to be a breach of the privileges of this House. I was censured accordingly by the late Speaker, who read me a lecture, and the moment he had done, I repeated my words. The House has since confirmed my words, for it has changed this tribunal. I was a martyr in working out the cause, of truth and justice on the occasion alluded to, and am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an opportunity of saying so.
§ MAJOR BERESFORD
The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck) says I was one of those against whom corrupt practices were proved. I deny that the hon. and learned Gentleman established a single case of bribery against me; and I certainly consider that I was on that occasion unjustly and acrimoniously attacked.
§ MR. B. ESCOTT
gave the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ferrand) notice that he should in the debate coming on attempt to vindicate the character of some persons whom the hon. Gentleman attacked, and he gave him this notice that he might be present or not as he chose.
§ LORD J. MANNERS
said: I cannot see how any testimony of mine in favour of the admirable manner in which Mr. Ashworth 247 conducts and superintends his mills, can bear upon the points that have been alluded to; I believe that Mr. Ashworth himself would rather that I remained silent on the subject; but, as I have been appealed to by the hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring), I am perfectly ready to say that, as far as I know, Mr. Ashworth has a deep sense of the responsibility that devolves upon him as one of the great cotton barons, as I may call them, under our present system—a responsibility greater than ever rested on the barons of olden time. I have great pleasure in bearing my testimony to the excellent way in which Mr. Ashworth discharges that responsibility.
§ MR. FIELDEN
said, many of the speeches of that House would be found objectionable, if subjected to the same scrutiny as that applied to his hon. Friend's (Mr. Ferrand's). If hon. Gentlemen in that House would read more and talk less, it would be much to the advantage of the country. With reference to the statements of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, he could only say there were facts contained in them which could not be denied — facts founded on evidence before that House, which his hon. Friend thought it his duty to state. In the year 1834, both Mr. Ashworth and Mr. Greg wrote to the Poor Law Commissioners, requesting that labourers from the southern districts should be sent to the north, for the avowed and express purpose of equalising the wages of the manufacturing artizans. Those letters caused a strong sensation at the time among the working population; for they understood by the term "equalising" the reduction of their wages to the level of that paid in the agricultural counties. On the recommendation and request contained in these letters the Poor Law Commissioners acted, and established an office in Manchester for facilitating the immigration of labourers from the south of England. It had been proved that no less than 10,000 of those labourers had been sent in consequence into the manufacturing districts; but at length the Commissioners relinquished their scheme, and the office in Manchester over which Mr. Muggeridge presided had been given up. As to the cruelties committed in the factories, if hon. Members referred to the Report of Sir Robert Peel's Committee in 1816—if they looked to the Reports of Mr. Sadler, and of the Factory Commissioners, owing to which the Factory Bill of Lord Althorp 248 had been passed, they would be convinced that in all he had said the hon. Member for Knaresborough had not made any overstatement; and that his assertions on those points could be proved on undeniable evidence.
§ SIR R. PEEL
Certainly, Sir, in the very harmless discussion which has just taken place, I did not intend to have taken any part; nor would I do so, were it not for some allusions made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. That hon. Member thought fit to recall to the recollection of the House something which took place about three years since in the course of a heated debate, when I put an erroneous construction on some expressions used by the hon. Member for Stockport. An explanation was given of the meaning of those expressions by that hon. Member; and my intention at the time, after that explanation, was to have relieved the hon. Member for Stockport in the most distinct manner from the imputation which I had put upon him. If any one who was present at that debate had stated to me that my reparation was not so complete, and the avowal of my error not so unequivocal as it ought to have been, I should at once have repeated it more plainly and distinctly. It was my intention to have made the fullest explanation: that my intention must have been so will indeed appear on reference to my speech. I am sorry certainly that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury has thought fit to revive the subject, or, at least, I should have been so if his reference to it had not given me an opportunity of fully and unequivocally withdrawing an imputation on the hon. Member for Stockport, which was thrown out in the heat of debate under an erroneous impression of his meaning.
§ MR. COBDEN
felt very happy in having the opportunity of expressing his feelings on the remarks of the right hon. Baronet. At the time the occurrence took place he felt—he might say the country felt too—that the right hon. Baronet had not made that distinct disavowal of the imputations which had been long expected. Still the matter itself had been also so extraordinary that there might have been much room for mistake, though it would hardly have borne the interpretation which had been put upon it. He took the present ample and distinct disavowal of the right hon. Gentleman as entirely satisfactory. He was glad the right hon. Baronet had made it; for it had given him an opportunity quite as pleasant 249 to his feelings of stating that he too felt regret for the terms in which he had alluded to the right hon. Baronet. He sincerely hoped that all either he (Mr. (Cobden)or the right hon. Baronet had previously said on that subject, would be obliterated from their recollection, and that no one on either side of the House, after what had passed that night, would attempt to revive the matter, or make any allusion to it.
§ Subject at an end.