HL Deb 27 April 1820 vol 1 cc13-26

His majesty's most gracious speech having been again read by the lord chancellor, and also by the reading clerk at the table,

Lord Viscount Granville

rose to move an address of thanks. The noble lord said, that being of late not much accustomed to public speaking, he felt considerable embarrassment in addressing their lordships on the present occasion, and that embarrassment could not fail to be increased when he considered how many noble lords there were now around him who were far better qualified than himself to do justice to the task he had undertaken; but it was at the same time highly satisfactory to him, while performing this duty, to reflect, that the speech which had, on this important occasion, been delivered from the throne, was one the language of which was of a nature almost to preclude discussion; and that the sentiments of the address he was about to move, were such as must necessarily command the general, he might say the unanimous, concurrence of their lordships. This consideration was more peculiarly satisfactory at the present moment, for there never was a period when it was of so much import- ance for both Houses of Parliament to show unanimity in their devotion to the throne, and attachment to the institutions of the country; and the spirit by which they were animated would be best proved by abstaining from introducing topics calculated to create division. The occasion on which he addressed their lordships was most important, whether considered as the commencement of a new era or the close of one that had passed. In looking back to the history of the country under his late majesty, they beheld a period marked by various and important vicissitudes. The annals of the late reign afforded more historical lessons than those of preceding centuries. In them their lordships might learn what ought to be avoided, and what it was fit to imitate. They would see how, in another country, an event which had commenced with appeals to philanthropy and humanity had soon changed to anarchy and bloodshed, and had finally terminated in a military despotism. This example warned them carefully to maintain the constitution from which they had derived such benefits. He was old enough to remember the time when the people of this country were instigated to imitate France; and the spirit which then prevailed was of such a nature, that it justly excited alarm. He who now were the crown of these realms, notwithstanding there were among his earliest friends come who held opinions different from his, was among the first to give to the measures of government the support of his name and authority. His great example was followed by the most distinguished men of that day, and by the great majority of the country. The consequence was, that discontents were suppressed, and the designs of the disaffected were defeated. It was with great propriety, then, that they were this day called upon by the crown to imitate this example, and to discountenance those principles of sedition and irreligion which had been disseminated with such malignant perseverance, and had poisoned the minds of the ignorant and the unwary, and of the fatal effects of which their lordships had already had so much experience. The danger of the country in those times was not, however, completely removed by the defeat of the internal enemies of the constitution. The great military power of France formed a most formidable external danger, and threatened the country with invasion. France being at last enabled to command the resources of almost all the countries of Europe, and to bring them against Great Britain, the contest became most arduous, and the difficulties were such as could only have been overcome by a people fully sensible of the advantages of the constitution under which they lived, and resolved to sacrifice every thing in its support. It must, however, be admitted, that the exertions made by the country were almost beyond its means. The effects of the exhausting efforts which were made during the war were now severely felt. While the contest continued no distress was experienced, because, from the manner in which the contest was carried on, it secured to this country a commercial monopoly. Thus, the means of carrying on the war increased with the progress of hostilities; but the growth of commerce, and the extent to which it was pushed, created a mass of manufacturing population, for which it was impossible to find employment on the restoration of peace. To the embarrassment occasioned by this state of things was to be added that arising from the number of men discharged from the army and the navy. These men, accustomed to warfare, were not disposed to suffer privations quietly, and all their habits prepared them for taking part in the scenes of turbulence which had agitated the country. To remove the difficulties arising from these circumstances was obviously one of the most important, and, at the same time, one of the most difficult problems that could be submitted for legislation; but, in whatever extent the distress of the country might exist, it certainly was not by seducing the poor from their daily labour, and by sowing sedition among the lower orders, that a cure could be obtained. At then of the last century, when the demand for labour far exceeded the supply, the labourer not only obtained higher wages than formerly, but, comparatively speaking, had it in his power to enjoy luxuries. It was not then surprising that the labourer should severely feel the difference which the change of circumstances had produced in his situation. It was therefore matter of compassion rather than of anger, that men so situated, and necessarily ignorant with regard to great questions of policy, should be disposed to attribute their sufferings to causes quite foreign to the real ones, and should wish to resort to remedies incapable of affording them any relief.—There was another circumstance which distinguished the present from all former periods, and which could not be overlooked in any view of the state of the country—he meant the great diffusion of education. This was regarded as one of the greatest advantages of the present age; but, in making this admission, it must at the same time be allowed, that it afforded an opportunity for the dissemination of dangerous doctrines; and when men in a state of the greatest distress were daily told that all their sufferings were owing to the government, and that its overthrow would relieve them, they must be sanguine indeed who could suppose that the constant inculcation of such doctrines made no impression. This state of things doubtless occupied the attention of government, and he hoped that, in the application of the law to the correction of the evil, a broad distinction would always be made between the deluded and the deluders. It was the indispensable duty of those who administered the government, first to secure the safety of the state and maintain its tranquillity; but, having accomplished that great object, it became next their, duty to discriminate between the parties by whom the safety of the state had been endangered.—His majesty had informed parliament that he had received renewed assurances of the friendly dispositions of foreign powers. Their lordships had, therefore, no reason to apprehend any foreign war. Still, however, it was impossible not to perceive that the continent of Europe was far from being in a settled state. In the events which had recently taken place there was a conflict between good and evil; and, upon the whole, they were of a nature which did not permit the statesman or the philosopher to con tern plate the result without apprehension.—Their lordships' prayers would doubtless be for the establishment of a well ordered; system of liberty; but if, instead of that, I anarchy or civil war should unhappily be inflicted, he trusted that the consequences of such a state of things would not reach this country. While freed from apprehension with regard to our foreign relations, it was satisfactory to be informed, in the speech from the throne, that the country was not to be called upon for any fresh burdens, not even for any thing towards the maintenance of that civil establishment which they were always bound to support in a manner becoming the dignity and honour of the crown. The speech from the throne, while deploring the distress of the country, looked forward to its removal. It certainly was not reasonable to expect that trade should again be carried on to the extent in which it existed during the late war. Our monopoly had ceased, and it was now our well-understood interest, that every nation should have its share in the commerce of the world; and one effect of the peace, he hoped, would be to produce a more equal and liberal reciprocation of commercial advantages.—The great difficulty which opposed the accomplishment of this important object existed in our restrictive laws, the operation of which had been on a former occasion described to their lordships by a noble baron whom he did not now see in his place. Still, however, he was not without hope that some alteration would be made in that system of prohibitions by which commercial enterprise was so severely checked. He was not fond of legislating on such subjects, but he could not help expressing his conviction, that the revival of manufactures would soon be followed by a nourishing state of agriculture; for their interests were inseparable. He should now conclude, satisfied that, while their lordships looked forward to better prospects, and recollected the great examples of the late reign, they would feel the necessity, as members of parliament, of discharging one common duty, by drawing closer the bonds which unite the sovereign and the people. With that view he moved the address.—His lordship then read the address, which repeated, as usual, the sentiments of the speech.

Lord Howard

of Effingham rose to second it. The noble lord alluded particularly to that part of the speech which related to the distress of the country, and the necessity of protecting the loyal and peaceable against the effect of those principles of sedition and irreligion which led to riot and disturbance, by taking advantage of the irritation which that distress created. It was not strange, he said, that severe distress should be felt, when the fluctuation of our commerce and industry were considered. At one time we had nearly the commerce of the world, and our population was fully employed in branches of industry, either for the supply of domestic or foreign demand. Now that commerce was much reduced by being shared among other nations, and our manufacturers aid artisans were thrown out of work. They were consequently reduced to a state of poverty, and became an easy prey; to the arts of the designing and the wicked. But, from whatever cause disaffection arose, the peaceable, the loyal, and the industrious, must be protected in their persons and property from its violence. He trusted that, by the firmness of the constituted authorities, the turbulent and seditious would be restrained, and the dissemination of their pernicious doctrines prevented.—Those who had been deluded would, he hoped, then return to their former habits of industry, which would be found not only beneficial to themselves, but conducive to the interest and tranquillity of the state. At the same time it was to be dreaded, that many, who could not plead distress as the cause of their discontent, entertained designs against our constitution which must be resisted and put down, and were making endeavours to realize schemes of government which must be strenuously opposed. The people of this country would never yield to designs of this kind. If their authors endeavoured to intimidate the authorities, and to drive some part of the people to violence, he trusted their designs would be frustrated and destroyed by the loyalty and good sense of the great body of the nation, and that the government, supported by all classes of men, would preserve unimpaired our excellent constitution and invaluable privileges.

Earl Grosvenor

said, that in speeches from the throne, at the commencement of a new session of parliament, it was generally thought proper to include a view of the system which ministers meant to pursue for the year; and it was a general practice, in those opposed to them, to enter into a discussion or consideration of all the topics so introduced. But on such an occasion as the present, at the commencement of a new reign—when his majesty had been in the House for the first time since his accession—when he had addressed to their lordships his first speech—it was desirable to avoid the introduction or the discussion of any subjects which might lead to a difference of opinion. Although, therefore, he felt, that at other times it was proper to discuss the topics of speeches from the throne, to whatever difference of opinion they might lead, he was glad that such a course was not necessary now. It was in every respect, to be wished that the first address to the throne from the first parliament of his majesty's reign should be adopted unanimously; and, to be Unanimous, it was desirable that no discussion should be provoked on subjects likely to create disunion. Entertaining this wish, he must give ministers praise for the manner in which they had worded the speech. They had abstained from the mention of any topics that were likely to divide the House. Therefore, as the speech and the address were such as to meet with his general approbation, he should have great satisfaction in saying "content." He could have wished that the speeches of the noble mover and seconder had as studiously abstained from all subjects likely to create a difference of opinion. But it seemed to him, that his noble friend who moved the address had gone out of the natural track of the speech to find topics of difference. He agreed with his noble friend in some parts of what he had said; but from other parts of his observations he entirely dissented. This was not the occasion, however, for the discussion of those points of difference; and the same motive which induced him to wish for unanimity in the address would prevent him from introducing opposition in the debate. He could not, however, let one remark of his noble friend pass, without expressing his dissent from the principle which it implied. He could never admit the truth of the insinuation, that the diffusion of education among all ranks of the community could be dangerous to any, or that a system of education like that followed generally in this country could be pernicious, or could create mischief. Although the speech from the throne alluded only generally to our foreign relations, and mentioned no nation in particular, his noble friend had, in a qualified manner, adverted to the late events in Spain, he could not, therefore let the opportunity slip of expressing, in a more unreserved manner, his great satisfaction at the glorious revolution which had taken place in that country. Knowing that Spain was once a great, an enterprising, and a victorious nation; knowing that its resources had been dried up, and its energies repressed, by the accumulated evils of tyranny, priestcraft, and superstition, and expecting from the late changes a revival of its ancient splendor, he could not but rejoice at the issue of the late events, so creditable to those engaged in them.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

said, that he looked with sincere satisfaction to the course which had been pursued, and the result to which their lordships were likely to come. For, whether he considered the nature of the topics introduced into the speech from the throne—whether he considered that this was the first time that his majesty had addressed their lordships in this House—or whether he adverted to the various important and painful circumstances connected with the situation of the country, and recent events—he saw abundant reason for wishing as great unanimity as possible to prevail on the present occasion. He therefore solemnly declared that he felt the greatest satisfaction in being able to concur in the speech and the address, and in not being compelled, from duty or policy, to make the least opposition to it. His uniform private sentiment, and constant public declaration, being, that as great a practical retrenchment of our expenditure, and as economical a management of our finances as possible, were the only source of relief to the country—that they would constitute, if not remedy for the public distress, at least an alleviation of its pressure—that they formed at least a line of conduct, which, whether it sensibly ameliorated their condition or not, the people had a right to expect from their government, out of respect to their feelings—that their rulers could only obtain their cordiality and support by making such endeavours for their satisfaction;—such, he said, being his sentiments, so long cherished and so maturely considered, it was with peculiar pleasure that he saw a disposition to set a noble example from the throne, of that economy which he had recommended—an example which he hoped would be followed as zealously, as sincerely, and as extensively as possible by the king's ministers in all the other branches of the public expenditure. They ought to follow up such an example in the true spirit of it; and, if they did not wish to do so, he hoped that parliament would compel them. By such conduct, by a careful attention to the distresses or the people, and a zealous endeavour to reduce their burthens, the ministers and the legislature would do more to recall them to their duty, to allay their discontents, to secure their obedience, and to ensure their cordial co-operation in maintaining peace and tranquillity, than all the restrictive measures which the House could enact, than all the privations or suspensions of liberty which they could inflict. He had heard with great satisfaction many of the observations of his noble friend who had moved the address, and most cordially concurred in most of them; and, without following him in some of his speculations, he would merely say, that he concurred with him in his prospective system, especially with regard to our foreign relations. These he had truly described as too uncertain in their issue to be the foundation of any distant hope; but he joined with his noble friend in the firm expectation and belief, that nothing which had occured, nothing which was likely to occur, could for some time to come disturb those relations of peace and amity which were so necessary to promote the general interest, happiness, and prosperity of nations, and to heal the wounds which a protracted war had inflicted on Europe. In alluding to Spain, his noble friend who had moved the address, and his noble friend who spoke last, had used language somewhat different. His noble friend who had spoken last called the issue of the late events in that country a glorious revolution, and his noble friend opposite had described the changes going forward as a conflict between good and evil. When he thus described the late changes as painful in their progress and uncertain in their issue, he must remind his noble friend, that this conflict between good and evil was occasioned by the long prevalence of evil; that it was caused by bad government; that the abuses of power led to the necessity of change; and that, if that change was attended with uncertainty and danger, it ought to teach a lesson to sovereigns not to create the necessity, and to subjects not to hazard it unnecessarily. The people of this country ought to learn from it not to run the risk of changes that must be attended with danger, and perhaps followed by despotism; while we enjoyed amid our distresses a great portion of practical freedom, while we had an equal administration of wise laws, and while we possessed a constitution, which, though it might contract blemishes or acquire defects by time and neglect, might by its own operation be brought back to its first principles of purity, without shock or commotion, and which constituted our present happiness and future security.—In that part of his noble friend's speech which referred to another topic connected with our foreign relations, he cordially concurred—a topic which was not adverted to in the speech from the throne, but which his noble friend could not pass unnoticed—he meant a relaxation of our restrictive system as it regarded foreign commerce. He sincerely hoped that our prohibitory system would soon be brought under the view of the legislature. It was a subject which he had much at heart, and which he had often intended to bring forward. That it might now obtain the attention of government and of the legislature, would be to him a solid satisfaction, and, he was convinced, would give satisfaction to the country. But while he thus expressed his expectation along with his noble friend—while he indulged this hope—a hope entertained and indulged by others, it ought to be recollected, that great firmness would be necessary to effect any change—that the application of general principles to our system of commerce must be a work of great delicacy and difficulty—that many partial interests must be encountered as obstacles, and that much immediate and partial distress must be incurred to establish a broad, general, and permanent system of national advantage and commercial freedom. To effect this, nearly as much courage and firmness would be requisite as in encountering the other difficulties of the country. Firmness, however, for that duty, he hoped, would not be wanting in the king's ministers—firmness, he hoped, would not be wanting in the legislature; and he pledged himself, whenever the subject of a relaxation of commercial restrictions—a great relaxation—was brought forward, he would lend it his utmost support. Some inquiry—some step in this important business—could not much longer be delayed; it must come before parliament, and he hoped ministers had made up their minds, as he had made up his. He agreed with his noble friend, that the magistrates of the country had on late occasions discharged their duty manfully, firmly, and ably; and he might add, still more the juries. He was the more induced to mention them with merited praise, as not many months ago it had been said in that House, that they were reluctant to give verdicts; and it had been insinuated that they favoured the bad principles of which they would not authorize the punishment. They had nobly replied to that insinuation. He meant to allude to no particular verdict when he said that they had shown themselves equally unawed by the power of the Crown or the influence of popular feeling. He was the more disposed to mention this circumstance with satisfaction, as on the due execution of the office of the jury depended our civil privileges, the confidence of the middle classes of the people (classes which generally remained, he would say, untainted by those pernicious doctrines which were said to be diffused among them) in the administration of the laws, and the protection of these rights and privileges which, according to the expression of the speech from the throne, "have secured to the British nation the enjoyment of a larger share of practical freedom, as well as of prosperity and happiness than has fallen to the lot of any nation in the world." The noble marquis concluded by giving his concurrence to the address.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, he hoped their lordships would excuse him if he trespassed on their attention for a short time. After the manner in which the address had been moved by his noble friend—after the speech in which it had been seconded; and after the manner in which the two noble lords opposite had concurred in the address, he trusted he should not be considered as rising on this occasion to detain them for more than a few moments. He could assure their lordships it was not his intention to bring before them any topic which could create a difference of opinion, or which could tend to prevent that unanimity so desirable at the present moment. That unanimity must be desirable to their lordships, from every circumstance connected with the business of the day. This was the first occasion that they had met their sovereign in that House, and it was most desirable that their lordships should be unanimous in going up to him with an address of thanks for his most gracious speech. But when they looked at the tenour of that speech—when they viewed that part where the illustrious individual was personally concerned—he was satisfied they would take that opportunity of going up with the address with unanimity and gratitude for the gracious sentiments which he had expressed. The noble lord who moved the address had well said, that his majesty had that day given a proof of magnanimous disinterestedness in everything which concerned himself. This was important in itself, as it was calculated to rivet him in the affections of his people; it was important, as it afforded an excellent example to those who were under him—and it was important, as it showed that strict adherence to the principles of economy were to govern his majesty's councils, principles which would afford the best security for the government and the people. In looking at this part of his majesty's most gracious speech, it was a great satisfaction to find that the address was unanimous.—Having said thus much, he did not wish to detain their lordships by going into the other topics which had been noticed in the speeches of the noble earl and marquis opposite; but he was anxious to correct a mistake into which a noble lord had fallen, relative to what had been observed by his noble friend on the subject of the general education of the lower orders. He had understood his noble friend to have said, that general education was a great national blessing, but that, in proportion as it was general, care should be taken that it was guided by sound principles, lest, by a deviation from those principles, that which was calculated to be a blessing might be made a curse and a great national evil.—Of the situation in which we stood with respect to foreign powers he would not then speak, further than to say, that nothing was more important in our present circumstances, or I in any circumstances, than that we should be on terms of strict friendship with other nations—that we should adopt a real pacific system in all our relations with those powers. As to what was passing in some of the countries of Europe, though it might be important, it was not, he considered, a fit subject for discussion then. The noble marquis had made an allusion to the state of our commerce with respect to some prohibitory laws which had, for a considerable time, been acted upon, and which at present formed a part of I our commercial code. On this subject a great deal more might be said than would be consistent with the discussion of that evening. He did not, therefore, intend to enter upon it. But, though at present he would abstain front it, he could assure their lordships that it was a matter upon which he was by no means indisposed to enter on a proper occasion. It was one, to which he and others of his majesty's ministers had given no inconsiderable degree of attention. His own opinions upon it were well known to many most respectable individuals in the city, and he should I be prepared to declare them to their lordships whenever a fit occasion offered. At the same time he wished to guard their lordships, and those more immediately concerned, from any delusion on the subject. As to whether more good or more evil resulted from the operation of the present system, he would not now say; but perhaps, in some of the general principles respecting it, he did not differ from the noble marquis, though they might not agree in the minor detail. Not that by this he meant to convey that something might not be done, and some alterations might not be made; but their lordships would admit that it was a subject which should be approached coolly and dispassionately, and that too much should not be expected from its first agitation. There was only one other topic on which he was disposed to trouble their lordships—it was with respect to the administration of the laws, and the distinction which should be made between those who were wilfully guilty, and those who were only deluded by the artifices of others. He hoped it would be found that this was the policy which his majesty's government intended to pursue. He trusted that, in looking at the disturbances which had arisen in places where distress was known to exist, it would be found that, of those engaged in them, there were men, aye, and bodies of men, who had been deluded into those practices, and had not been guilty in the first instance. He hoped, also, that the same feeling which should urge the punishment of those who were really guilty, would induce them to allow for the delusion into which others had been led, and that their lordships would agree in the policy of bringing them back I to a sense of that duty from which they had been induced to swerve. The noble marquis had alluded to another and a great subject—the issue of the late trials in several parts of the country. He was unwilling to mix up any topics in the discussion which might detract from the unanimity so desirable on the present occasion; but he trusted he might be allowed to congratulate their lordships on the; result of those trials in one respect—on that respect for its laws, which had been evinced by the middle orders. The conduct of the juries had shown, that whatever extent the influence of delusion might have been supposed to reach, that order was still attached to the laws and constitution of the country; they had proved themselves determined to do their duty, and toe persist in spite of violence intimidation, and threats, to bring offenders against the law to the condign pu- nishment which they had incurred by their offences. The integrity of that order was if great importance to all governments; but it was particularly of importance to all, where, if we had any advantage above other nations, and we had many, the advantage was, that the due administration of the laws rested in a main degree upon those who constituted so large a portion of the political society. After apologizing for having occupied so much of their time, the noble earl concluded by congratulating the House upon the prospect of perfect unanimity on the present occasion.

Lord Holland

said, he was very unwilling to detain their lordships at the present moment, and in the few observations which he should offer he would abstain from every topic which might tend to disturb the unanimity of the House; but if he concurred, as he was certainly disposed to do, in this address, he must not be supposed to pay any compliment to the wisdom and energy of the last parliament, or to retract any thing which had been said on certain subjects by noble lords on his side of the House. He conceived that some of the last acts of the late parliament had been productive of nothing but mischief; and, if there was any improvenent visible in the country since then, which he hoped might be found to be the case, it was by no means to be attributed to the operation of those acts. With these reservations he would support the motion.

The address was then put, and carried nem. diss.