HL Deb 10 December 1830 vol 1 cc957-64
The Earl of Radnor

presented a petition which had been voted at a most numerous meeting held of the Vestry of the parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, in the month of June last, complaining of distress, and praying for a reduction of taxes, especially the taxes which pressed most severely upon the poorer orders of the community, such as the house and window taxes, and the taxes upon malt, sugar, &c. The petition further prayed, that the Church lands and tithes should be applied to defray the civil and military expenses of the State. The noble Lord remarked, that this petition was well worthy of the consideration and attention of their Lordships. It had been voted at a very numerous meeting, and it gave a frightful picture of the distress that prevailed in that parish, so far back as the month of June last. It stated that the parish contained 70,000 inhabitants and 7,000 houses; the whole rental amounted to 132,000l. and the poor-rates to 34,000l. a year. There was not one person in the parish who kept a carriage, and many of those who were obliged to pay to the poor-rates were compelled to deny themselves animal food. Since the meeting at which the petition was agreed to, the parish had been getting worse, and tradesmen who were in the habit of receiving 20l. a week did not now receive 20s. He had been informed by the person who had handed this petition to him, that the most frightful state of distress, and consequent demoralization existed at present in that parish,— a demoralization, which was not owing to the want of the means of spiritual instruction afforded to the people, but, as his informant had stated, to the dreadful poverty in which they were sunk. He produced this petition in answer to the challenge of the noble Duke (Wellington) last evening, who then called upon him to make any statement which would show that an inquiry had been called for oh the part of his Majesty's late Government. Here was an instance of distress which existed in June last, long previous to the dissolution of the late Ministry. Several such instances had been mentioned to their Lordships last Session. It therefore appeared to him that it would be a mere farce if Ministers should thus shut their eyes to what was passing before them. They should have known the existence of such distress; and if they did not know of it, they should have inquired about it; and if they were aware of its existence, and did not take any measures to remedy it, their conduct was still more deserving of reprobation. A responsible Government was a mere farce, if things, such as he had stated, which were passing within three miles of the house in which he was speaking, should not have been inquired into, and if no attention was given to the applications of the people for relief. That was his charge against the late Government.

The Duke of Wellington

was sure, that the noble Lord who had just sat down would have the candour to say, that when he stated) last night, that he would, if he had a seat in the other House, bring forward a motion for a committed of inquiry to ascertain whether it was fit to impeach the persons who had served his Majesty in the late Administration, — the noble Lord would surely have the candour to allow, that when he made that statement, he did not advert to the distress which existed in the parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, or in any parish in the kingdom, or in all of them together. What the noble Lord then said was, that the country was in a difficult and dangerous situation—that the Government which succeeded the late Administration had found the country involved in a difficult and dangerous situation, and that the Members of the late Administration were responsible for that, and they ought to be impeached for it. He had said in answer to that statement at. the time, and he should now repeat it, that he called upon the noble Lord to bring forward a distinct charge against his Majesty's late Administration, and he should be ready to meet it, and defend his Majesty's late Government against whatever charge the noble Lord might think proper to prefer against them. The noble Lord now brought forward a petition from the parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, and he made a statement, not founded on the petition, but upon the assertions of a nameless person, whose assertions he backed with his authority; and he then said, that his Majesty's late Government was responsible for the distress which existed in that parish in the month of June last. For himself he had stated before, and he would repeat it, that he never could, or would, make himself responsible for any act that was not his own, or for any thing which it was not his duty to see put to rights. He would maintain that he had nothing to do with the management of the poor in the parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, even if they were twenty times worse off and worse managed than had been stated. The King's Ministers were not responsible for the suffering or distress in that parish or this parish. They were not responsible for that which it was not their duty to set right. The noble Lords opposite, who had taken upon them the Government of the country, must see that they could do nothing in such a way as that. They might subscribe, and recommend his Majesty to subscribe, in such cases, but it would be found that the late Ministers did the same, and that his late Majesty subscribed as much as he could. It was not in the power of Ministers, and it would not be legal for them, to interfere in any other way in such matters. If the noble Lord could bring forward a distinct charge against his Majesty's late Ministers, he (the Duke of Wellington) should be ready at any time to meet it.

Earl Stanhope

maintained that the cause of the distress which prevailed now, was only to be found in the measures of that House, which had refused to inquire into the distresses of the people. That distress had existed for a long time, it existed throughout the country, and had been frequently, both by him and other noble Lords, brought under their Lordships' notice. The distress was not the consequence of local but general causes, and he was extremely sorry to find that the present Ministry had adopted the views of the late Ministry, and meant to refuse inquiry. He had been informed by a dignitary of the Established Church, resident in Sussex, that the resistance offered by the Ministry last night to the motion of the noble and learned Lord would occasion great disappointment and be most calamitous in its results. In his opinion he coincided, and would on no account take on himself the responsibility the Ministry had incurred by refusing to grant the inquiry moved for.

Lord King

said, that no such preposterous charge had been preferred against the noble Duke by the noble Earl (Radnor), as that he, when Minister, should have superintended the management of the Poor-laws in any particular parish. What the noble Lord had said was, that the cause of timely relief not being afforded, was ascribable to the noble Duke, who had put into the mouth of his Sovereign, at the beginning of the last Session, the statement that only "partial distress" existed. The disgust and irritation which that untoward language produced throughout the country compelled the Ministers to make those reductions of the taxes which they afterwards made, and which, in his conscience, he (Lord King) believed that they never intended at the beginning of that Session to make, or they would never have put into the mouth of the King such unfortunate and exasperating language,—language which was only paralleled by the strange and infatuated declaration which had expelled the noble Duke and his colleagues from power.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that the noble Lord lay under a complete mistake as to the reduction which had been made in the taxes. That reduction was made in consequence of the repeated reductions of expenditure which had been effected in the course of three consecutive Sessions of Parliament, and in consequence of the great reduction, amounting actually to more than a million sterling, which had been made in the interest of the National Debt. That reduction in the interest of the National Debt was effected in the last Session of Parliament; but until it was completed, it was impossible for the Government to make any reductions in the taxes, nor could they decide which it was their duty to reduce; and that duty was not performed until the moment came for making the reductions.

Lord King

did not think that he was at all mistaken as to the cause which had compelled the late Ministers to effect such a reduction of the taxes. There was nothing of which people in such a situation as the late Ministers filled were so fond of as a large margin, and he was sure that the noble Duke would have kept the large margin if he could, and that he would have employed it against those "deplorable events" of which the noble Duke had spoken last night, if it had not been taken from him. He was convinced that the noble Duke would have kept the large margin if he could, and that, if he had remained in power, he would in that case have done something against those events which he had last night so much lamented.

The Earl of Rosslyn

said, it was extraordinary that the noble Lord should persist in an assertion which he must know was contrary to the truth,—namely, that the late Ministers did not intend to reduce the taxes at the commencement of the last Session of Parliament. The fact was, that the details were then all prepared, and as soon as the reduction of the interest of the four-per-cents had been effected, the intended reductions in the taxes were made.

The Earl of Winchilsea

said, that the course which his Majesty's late Ministers had pursued, in doing every thing to prevent inquiry into the distresses of the people, had met with the reprobation of every well-wisher to the country. If an inquiry had been granted last Session, he was of opinion that the present disturbed state of the country would not have existed at this moment, and he would assert, that in that case the spirit of disaffection which existed amongst the great body of the people towards the Legislature of the country, for turning a deaf ear to their complaints, would not be in existence. Such he was certain would have been the good effects which we should now witness if the Legislature had then entered upon an inquiry into the distresses and grievances of the people. He denied that the present Ministers were taking the same course as that followed by the late Ministers, for they had already granted an inquiry into the state of the Poor-laws, which inquiry he firmly believed would be productive of great advantage to the country, and they had pledged themselves to apply their attention to the state of the country generally. He must say, that he had been quite convinced by the arguments used by the noble Earl (Grey) last night, against the expediency of the kind of inquiry which was then called for.

Earl Stanhope, in explanation, said, that the present Ministers were imitating their predecessors in refusing inquiry.

The Marquis of Clanricarde

said, that the question at issue last Session was, whether the distress was partial, as had been alleged by Ministers, or whether it was general, as it really was, and as every one out of doors believed it to be. Though he supported the Motion for inquiry last Session, he did not deem it at all inconsistent, under existing circumstances, to oppose the Motion made last night for inquiry. That Motion went to a full inquiry into every interest of the State, and it was made when Parliament was about to rise for the recess, when one committee had been appointed and when the Government, far from denying the distress, admitted it, and had pledged itself to consider the subject. He was in hopes that in a few weeks the Government would redeem that pledge, but thinking the inquiry proposed last night much too extensive, he had voted against it.

The Earl of Radnor

explained. The difference between the late and the present Administration was this,—that the late Administration refused inquiry, and denied the existence of distress, while the present Administration admitted the existence of distress, and said that they would apply their minds to find a remedy for it, while, at the same time, they granted a committee of inquiry into the state of the Poor-laws. The noble Duke had said again to-night, that he (the Earl of Radnor) might bring a specific charge against the late Ministers if he chose. He, however, would repeat what he had said last night, that he should do no such thing; for that his only object in bringing such a charge would be, to remove the noble Duke and his colleagues from power, and that, fortunately, was already done. As to the intention of the late Ministers to reduce taxation, since the noble Duke and the noble Earl below him had declared that they had positive knowledge of such intention, independent of the cry of distress that was raised, he certainly, without any knowledge upon the subject, could not assert that no such intention existed. However, the general belief of the country was, that the Ministers were forced into those reductions by the cry that was raised in the other House; and if such intention existed, he could only say, that the deplorable prospect presented to them at the opening of the Session was the more remarkable. Besides, nothing could be more astonishing, with this view of the subject, than the lamentable exhibition which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made last Session—nearly all the financial measures except the Beer-bill having failed or been withdrawn: and if, therefore, the Ministers had really matured their plans, and could, nevertheless, make no better appearance than they did make, the country had another reason to rejoice at the removal of those Ministers.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that he had voted against the committee last night, and against the committee proposed while he was in the Government for the same reason,—namely, that he thought them both useless. Noble Lords might talk from this time till to-morrow, and still they could not deny that the late Administration had done all they could. Was the Beer bill nothing? Was the reduction of 3,000,000l. of taxation nothing? He did think that the late Government was a little ill-used when these measures were forgotten. He repeated, that the late Ministers, seeing that they could reduce expenditure, and that they should be able to reduce the interest of the four-per-cents, had always determined to reduce taxation, and that the reductions they had made were not forced upon them, but had been all along contemplated by them. The measures which the noble Earl had mentioned as having been withdrawn, were those respecting the Spirit-duties and the Sugar-duties; but these merely effected a transfer, and not a reduction, of taxation. As to it not being known that reductions were intended, he begged to remind the noble Earl, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his financial statement as early as six weeks, he believed, after the meeting of Parliament. For this,—for allowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take that course,—he was ready to take great blame to the Government, for he was convinced that many of the difficulties with which the Government had had to contend, arose from their permitting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come forward so early with his financial statement. He would take this opportunity of observing, that although he did not wish to take away any merit from the present Government,—indeed he was ready to give that Government all the assistance he could consistently with his sense of duty, and no man was less inclined to throw obstructions in its way than he was,—he would take this opportunity of observing, that the Poor-laws' Committee, which had been so often said to be a measure of the present Government, was actually consented to by him, as he was sure his noble friend who moved for that committee would admit. He thought this conversation very uncalled for, and would only repeat, that he was ready to meet any charge that might be brought against him.

Lord Wharncliffe

thought, that the case of the parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch— which was a parish peculiarly situated— had nothing to do with the charge which the noble Earl (Radnor) had brought last night against the late Government. Whatever might be the condition of such a parish, it would not make out the position of the noble Earl, that the late Ministers ought to be impeached. With regard to motions for committees for general inquiry, these were mere delusions: they were very good means in the hands of persons who desired to embarrass a Government, but even the persons who originated them never dreamed that they would come to anything. He thought, that the noble Duke might safely appeal to the acts of his Administration,—to the Test Act,—to the Catholic Relief Bill,— to the Beer Bill,—as proofs that he had done all he could. Though he had opposed the noble Duke where he had found it his duty to oppose him, he was ready to admit, that the noble Duke had done much, and that what he had done ought not to be forgotten. The noble Earl (Stanhope) at the Table said, that he himself could have done more. Yes, he knew that the noble Earl had a nostrum in his pocket; but allow him to tell the noble Earl, that the country would not take the medicine. The nostrum was merely an alteration in the currency, and it had been refuted over and over again in this, as well as in the other House of Parliament, until people were tired of exposing the mischiefs of it. He admitted that the present Administration had more power than the late Administration had to benefit the country; but he did not believe that the late Administration was inferior to the present in good intentions.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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