HL Deb 14 March 1839 vol 46 cc561-3
The Duke of Rutland,

on presenting a great number of petitions against the repeal, said, that some of them were signed by several agricultural labourers. He asked one of them whether he knew what was the object of the petition, and his answer was, "Yes, it is to maintain the present law." The noble Duke then asked him wily he had signed a petition, belonging, as he did, to a class of persons for whose benefit, it was said, the repeal was called for? His answer was, "I signed the petition, because I thought it would prevent a revolution." Now, how could he use any argument stronger than that which was thus used by this labourer because he was firmly convinced, that if the present Corn-laws were repealed, the aristocracy of the country would receive a severe blow, and the landowners and labourers would be plunged into an abyss of ruin altogether?

The Earl of Radnor

wished to know from the noble Duke whether he asked this labourer, who was afraid of a revolution, how he supposed the repeal of the Corn-laws could produce a revolution?

The Duke of Rutland

replied, that he certainly did not ask the labourer that question, but he went on to interrogate him on several other points. He asked him, whether, if the price of corn were to go down lower than 40s or 35s. a quarter, he expected his wages would remain at 12s. a week, and his answer was, that he did not expect they would. He also asked, not only him, but six or seven other labourers who were present, what they thought their masters could grow wheat for, and be fairly and properly re- munerated. He begged them to take time to consider the point. He would not tell them what was his own opinion upon the subject, but said, that he wished to learn what was theirs, telling them that they had as much right to have an opinion upon it as any one of their Lordships had. After a little while they replied, that they thought their masters should have 3l. a quarter.

The Earl of Radnor

asked whether those labourers knew the fact, that the Corn-laws had never kept the price of wheat up to 3l. a quarter?

Lord Brougham

was quite ready to pay every attention to the opinions of day labourers on this subject, for no people had a greater stake in the question than they had. It was his opinion, that if they were better instructed than they were, as to what concerned their own interests, they would be more likely to agree with his noble Friend (the Earl of Radnor) and himself on this subject. He hoped, however, that it was not the agricultural interests whose opinions were alone to be cited as of high authority, and great weight in matters of legislation. The noble Duke had cited the opinion of six or seven day labourers, most respectable individuals, no doubt, in favour of 3l. a quarter. That was their opinion; and they were unquestionably most important members of the community. But, then, he would go one step further, and say, that the manufacturing labourers ought to be consulted as well as the agricultural labourers, and not merely upon the Corn-laws, but upon other subjects. He could cite to the noble Duke certain other important questions upon which day labourers had a very strong, clear, and unhesitating opinion, such as reform, for instance; a much easier question than that of the Corn-laws. There were not only six or seven of them, but six or seven millions who were agreed in opinion, that they were not fairly represented; and when he should bring that subject before their Lordships—[The Earl of Stanhope: What subject?] Why, the extension of the Reform Bill. When he should bring that subject forward, he intended to consult the labourers as well as the noble Duke. What was fit for one was fit for the other. It was with the greatest satisfaction, therefore, that he had the noble Duke's concurrence in the propriety of consulting the opinions, not only a six or seven day labourers, but of six or seven millions. He should very soon present a petitition from these day labourers, all claiming to be represented in the Legislature, not only upon the subject of the Corn-laws, but upon all other subjects.

The Duke of Rutland

entirely concurred with the noble and learned Lord, that the opinions of the manufacturing labourers should be consulted as well as of the agricultural labourers; and he was, therefore, happy to have the opportunity of laying before their Lordships a petition against any alteration in the present Corn-law from the very important manufacturing borough of Leicester, bearing the signatures of no less than 1,175 manufacturing labourers, 1,600 and odd shopkeepers, 71 master manufacturers and bankers, 118 gentry and clergy, and 307 other residents—the whole number of signatures being 3,285; and if the noble and learned Lord would go with him to Leicester, he would engage to take him to the residence of every man who had signed the petition.

Petition laid on the Table.

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