HL Deb 20 March 1815 vol 30 cc0-259

The House was occupied for nearly two hours in receiving petitions on the subject of the Corn laws.

Viscount Melville

presented a petition from the city of Edinburgh in favour of the measure. He then presented petitions from certain of the incorporated trades in Edinburgh, and from several other places in Scotland against the measure. Among these was a petition from the town of Forfar. His lordship stated that the petition was on one skin of parchment, and the names of the petitioners on the other skins.

The Earl of Lauderdale

could not suffer the petition to pass, without stating to their lordships the contents of a letter which he had received, signed with the names of two gentlemen, whom he could take upon, himself to represent as among the most respectable in the county of Forfar, though he would not mention them, lest the circumstance of their writing to him on such an occasion might be attended with disagreeable consequences to them. The letter stated, that the House of Lords ought to be apprised that this petition could hardly be considered as the free and unbiassed opinions of those who signed it; that violence and intimidation had been used by the mob to procure signatures; that persons riding through the town had been compelled to sign it; that the mob had assailed a clergyman residing in the neighbourhood, with abuse and mud, because he refused to sign on compulsion, even though he might be adverse to the Corn Bill; and that though he had sent for assistance to the magistrates of the town, they had not even sent a town officer to his relief. His lordship said, that he had thought it his duty to lay the contents of the letter before the House, that they might judge what regard was due to such petitions.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that the petition could not in consistency with the rules of the House be received at all, there being no names on the skin which contained the petition, so that of those who signed, not a man perhaps might ever have seen it. He was always inclined to receive every petition as far as the rules of the House permitted; but it was his duty to state, that according to the rule on which they had hitherto acted, the petition could not be received.

Lord Melville

therefore agreed to withdraw the petition.

The marquis of Buchingham

said, that it would have been more creditable to his noble friend's cause, if he had refrained from reading the letter which contained a reflection on the magistrates, unless he had resolved to mention the names of those who had signed the letter.

The Earl of Lauderdale

observed, that it was important that the House should know the fact, and that the names of the magistrates only occurred incidentally.

Earl Grey

lamented that such violence should in any case have occurred; but his noble friend was by no means entitled to infer that the signatures of all or any were the consequence of any such violence. These ferments were unfortunately too often the effect of measures to which the mass of the people felt a strong repugnance; but the greatest part of the signatures to the petitions might be, and probably were the result of calm conviction in the petitioners, and ought not to be considered as in any material degree the effect of intimidation. If his noble friend meant to say that the mass of these petitions were signed from any such motive, and that there was really no feeling adverse to the measure existing in the great body of the community, his noble friend was very much mistaken. The noble earl then stated, that he held in his hand a petition which their lordships would be very anxious to receive, if possible. It was from the landholders, manufacturers, and merchants connected with the Staffordshire potteries, against the measure. The petition was on one skin of parchment, and the names on other skins.

The Lord Chancellor

said that he had always every inclination to receive petitions when properly worded; but it was contrary to the rules of the House to receive this petition, however respectably signed.

Earl Stanhope

said, the rule had by no means been universally acted upon; for instance, he himself had lately presented a petition which had been received under similar circumstances. This petition, therefore, he thought should be received.

Viscount Mclville

said that the Forfar petitioners had been very ill used if this were to be received.

The Earl of Limerick

slated that a petition from the county of Roscommon had been refused, on account of a similar objection; and it would be certainly unfair, if another petition were received, to which there existed a similar objection.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that no such petition had, in his experience, been received, where the attention of the House had been called to the circumstance; because, if such were to be the new rule, a petition might be prepared in London, and perhaps 40,000 signatures procured to it in the country by persons who might never have seen the petition. But the House had made this distinction, that where there were a few signatures on the skin containing the petition, it might be received as the petition of those who signed that skin.

Lord Grenville

said, that this was a new view of the question, for it now appeared that a petition, though signed by 40,000 persons, would only be received as the petition of the few who signed on the skin containing the petition. This must be the case, it appeared, because 40,000 names could not be crowded on the first skin. This was, in truth, to shut their lordships doors against petitioners. It was quite a monstrous doctrine, and could not be the rule of the House, and if it were, it would not afford the desired security, for if any one thought it worth while to attempt such a deception, he might easily put a few names to the first skin. It was clear the usage had not been uniform, and there was in fact no rule on the subject.

Earl Grey persisted in offering the petition, and the House divided on the question, whether the petition should be received. Contents, 13; Not-Contents, 44; Majority against receiving the petition, 31.

Lord Grenville

presented a petition against the Bill from Bristol, signed by 42,000 persons; one from Leicester to the same effect, signed by 8,000; one to the same effect, from Northallerton, signed by the whole population of the place; one from Sunderland, and a great number of petitions to the same effect from various parts of Scotland and England. He had besides several which he could not present in consequence of the determination which the House had just come to with respect to petitions.

Earl Stanhope

had a variety of petitions to present against the Bill; the number of signatures to the petitions which he had presented, and was now to present, amounted to about 500,000. There were two from the county of Wilts, both of them together signed by 25,000 persons, and one from Beverley, in Yorkshire. These petitions were powerfully bitter, but such as ought to be received. He had also one from Dalkeith, which would not do, in consequence of their lordships decision; one from Hungerford, which would do; an admirable petition from Stirling, which would do; one from Falkirk, containing excellent arguments, which for the above reason their lordships could not hear, and a great number of others.

All these petitions were laid on the table, with the exception of about ten or twelve, which were not received on account of the objection already stated.

The Marquis of Buckingham

put it to the candour of the noble earl whether he ought to persist in moving the third reading of the Corn Bill till those petitioners whose petitions were refused, on account of the objection taken in point of form, should have an opportunity of coming forward in a more formal manner. It could not be supposed that petitioners could have been accurately acquainted with forms of which their lordships themselves did not seem to have been well aware.

The Earl of Liverpool

saw no reason for delay. The petition from the Staffordshire potteries had been already published, and the nature and object of the rest must also be very well known.

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