HC Deb 12 December 1857 vol 148 cc679-81

Sir, I am unwilling to allow the House to adjourn without calling the attention of Her Majesty's Government, and I do so with no invidious spirit, to the wide-spread and increasing distress among the operative classes. The accounts I have received from my own district, the accounts which I have seen in the public papers concerning other districts, and communications which I have had with many hon. Members, convince me that, although Parliament is about to separate without doing more than sanctioning the measure of relief which Her Majesty's Government thought fit, and I think most wisely, to adopt, I ought not to leave this House for the recess without expressing my conviction that if this distress increase in intensity, and Her Majesty's Government adopt other and further measures of relief, they will have the full sanction of Parliament for the adoption of such measures. I may, however, be asked to propose some plan of action. Sir, I know too well the fate of measures proposed by the Opposition; but I trust the House will not think that I am taking up their time unreasonably in expressing that which is not only my own opinion, but must, I think, be the feeling of the House—namely, that it is the duty of the Government, as charged with the interests of the country, to show those who are exposed to the pressure of distress that the Executive is not indifferent, and that the House of Commons does not expect or wish it to be indifferent, to the situation in which the working classes are now placed. I almost regret that the House is to separate for so long a time; for although I do not look to any immediate remedy being suggested by the Committee on Commercial Distress—although I cannot hope for any specific remedy from them—still I would impress upon the Government that to leave this distress unmitigated would be to engender in the minds of the people of this country the feeling that we are indifferent to a state of things which every man of feeling ought to lament, and which I am sure every hon. Member of this House does deplore. I shall not detain the House any further than by simply reminding the Government that so far as I am concerned, and so far as the majority of the Members of this House are concerned, we have expressed our intention to support them in any measures which they may adopt in order to meet the distress which now, unfortunately, exists to a vast extent amongst the operative classes of this country.


said, that it had been stated in Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne that a great deal of local, and, he trusted, what might turn out to be temporary, distress had been occasioned by the recent commercial failures, which had the effect of throwing a large portion of the population either altogether out of employment, or of seriously reducing their wages. He was bound to say that, notwithstanding that melancholy circumstance, the conduct of the working-classes entitled them to the strongest sympathy of the House, and that sympathy he was sure they had. He was, however, anxious to say one word with respect to the observations which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had just made, he was sure, in the best spirit. He did not wish it to be understood that the Government acquiesced in the opinion that it was in the power of the Government, or of that House, to meet the case of local or temporary distress by any specific measure. If the hon. Gentleman's observations had reference to the general laws in regard to trade and commerce, then he (Sir George Grey) did not disagree with him, for he thought it the duty of both the Government and Parliament to see that no obstructions lay in the way of a proper development of the operative skill and industry of the country. He should add to his statement that he was happy to say the accounts which he was receiving from the country went to show that the distress was rather diminished, but it was as yet impossible to pronounce any definite opinion on that subject. He, however, trusted that the conduct of the public would continue to be as highly creditable as it had hitherto been, and demonstrate that they appreciated the privileges of the constitution under which they lived. As it was, nothing could be more creditable than their conduct during the recent privation to which many of them had unhappily been subject.