HL Deb 16 June 1842 vol 63 cc1599-607
The Earl of Radnor

said, that in rising to move for the returns of which he had notified his intention to move, he should take this opportunity of endeavouring to learn whether any intention existed on the part of her Majesty's Government to take steps before the prorogation of Parliament to relieve the distresses which now existed to so great an extent in the manufacturing districts, and indeed in every part of the country. In what he did on this subject he confessed* that he was actuated in a great degree by hostility to the present state of the Corn-laws. He had no hesitation in saying so, and he thought that the Government ought either to do some- thing on behalf of the suffering people of this country, or that her Majesty's Ministers should give some reason why they abstained from adopting some measure, and they might do this without expressing any opinion whatever on the existing Corn-law. The motion which he was about to make called for an account of the quantities of corn admitted into this country under the acts of Parliament passed in the years 1825 and 1826—measures which had been introduced by the Government of that time, in a state of things very like that which now existed, except that the distress of the country at the present time was very much greater than any which then prevailed. Those measures, which were the acts of the 7th George 4th, c. 70, and the 7th George 4th, c. 71, were introduced for the purpose of relieving the existing distress. At the present time the existence of distress could not be denied, and surely this was a time, too, when some steps should be taken towards securing the same object. Their Lordships, he was sure, were not aware of the extent of the distress which prevailed in various parts of the country—they could scarcely conceive the misery which existed. In Manchester, arrangements had been made by benevolent individuals, by which soup was distributed to the poor. The kitchens at which this distribution was made, were opened as early as eight o'clock in the morning, but so eager were the poor creatures, the recipients of this bounty, to secure their share, that they were in the habit of assembling at the doors at the hour of three in the morning, in order to be sure to obtain the supply. An amount of not less, he believed, than 16,000 quarts weekly, was distributed by these establishments; but he was informed that the supply was still inadequate to meet the demand. This was a statement which rested upon no mere assertion of any Anti-Corn-law journal, but had been communicated to him in a letter from the Dean of Manchester; and though the fact had been since stated in one of those papers, it had originally reached him through the source, which he had referred to. In Sheffield, the distress which existed was of a still more painful nature, and he had been furnished with papers containing information which would fully establish the suggestion which he had made. These papers were as follows:—

Numbers in Poor-Houses Able-bodied men out, receiving relief. Annual Weekly Average payments to regular poor. Annual Weekly Average payments to regular poor out-door abled-bodied men.
March, None. I was told in these words, "Not so many as to carry an inmate that died to the grave;" but now increased to £. £. s.
1837 261 62 13 15
1838 401 65 39 0
1839 386 76 47 0
1840 443 77 50 0
1841 490 81 140 0
Now, June, 1842 600 1,000 men;and now to with families and being estimated last week by the vestry clerk at 4,000 individuals. 81 and now to 380 0 last week
Total Payments to regular Poor To Casual Payments To out-door, &c. Total Payments to Poor, and absent. To Strange Poor in the Town.
March, 1836, £ £ £ £
to 1837 3,251 715 4,571 None
1838 3,390 2,045 5,999 867
1839 3,992 2,460 6,932 820
1840 4,017 2,612 6,945 898
1841 4,236 7,315 11,790 1,157
1842 Going on at this time at the rate of 15,000l. for the year.
Year. Paid for Flour Oatmeal. House Department. Total Expenses. Paid for the County Rate.
Ending £ £ £ £
March 1837 760 2,095 10,548 1,712
1838 1,996 3,734 14,084 1,712
1839 3,121 4,787 15,516 1,196
1840 3,357 5,368 18,065 2,430
1841 5,237 7,557 23,806 2,453
1842 not made up 40,000 increased again.
Notes.— There is a part of the building set aside for receiving the destitute every night. In the former part of the time few or no applications were made, now a great many every night, forty to fifty.
At present there are upwards of 2,000 houses standing empty.
The different trade funds are all exhausted.
Crime has increased so much, that the sessions are now held twice, instead of once a quarter, as before.
He had dwelt thus long upon this case, in order to bring the fact of the existence of distress distinctly under their Lordships' notice, and also to found on it an application to her Majesty's Government to do something, before the close of the Session, for the relief of the poor. For that application an example was afforded in the year 1826. In that year, Lord Liverpool was the First Lord of the Treasury; the present First Lord of the Treasury was Secretary of State; the noble Duke was Master-General of the Ordnance, and the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the course of that year, measures were introduced into the House of Commons for the alteration of the Corn-laws by Mr. Whitmore, which were negatived by a large majority. There had been some notion held out that in the Session of that year there would be a revision of the Corn-law; but in consequence, as he apprehended, of the money-panic in the winter of 1825–6, it was thought by the Government that the time was not an advantageous one to open the question. It was not denied by them that some alteration in the law was necessary, but it was said that that was not a favourable time to effect such an alteration. In a fortnight or three weeks after this motion, such was the nature of the distress that the Government deemed some measure for its relief to be essential. When that measure was first introduced into the House of Commons, it was brought forward by Mr. Canning, and he described the state of the country to be such as to prevent his bringing forward any measure for the repeal of the Corn-laws. He spoke of it as being "a time of the greatest distress, of the utmost excitement, and of extreme anxiety," and these were reasons which he had given for abstaining from moving for a revision of the Corn-laws. Mr. Canning said— For three weeks before the hon. Member for Bridgnorth made his motion, there had been a gradual inclination to a rise in price; for three weeks since there had been the same; so that for six weeks—with the exception, he believed, of the last few days, when they could mark a slight decline—a constant tendency to rise had been visible in the corn-market; and that rise had been accompanied by a state of terror and alarm, which, although he did not mean to make any prophecies of famine, indicated an approach to a state which no man could contemplate with satisfaction. Now what were the measures which had been introduced? They were two short acts which were brought in and passed in the month of May. The one was to enable the holders of corn in bond to take a certain quantity of corn out of bond, on payment of certain duties, within a certain time. The state of the law at that time was this:—the act of 1815 was then in force, which prohibited the admission of corn until the average price had risen to 80s., and had continued at that price for three months; but this act had been in some degree qualified by an act of 1822, which enacted that when once corn had risen to 80s. it might be admitted, and that from that time forward it should be admissible at 70s., on payment of a duty of 12s. In 1825 there had been an act passed similar to the first of those passed in 1826, for the admission of bonded corn on paying the duty of 10s.; but the statute of the year 1826, cap. 70, was an act enabling certain parties to introduce corn, to the extent of one-half of the amount which they had in bond, at a duty of 12s., between the 31st of May and the 1st of July of the same year; and also enabling parties to introduce an amount of wheat to the same extent as that first introduced, between the 1st July and the 16th August in the same year, at the same rate of duty. The other bill was an authority to his Majesty by advice of the Privy Council, to admit any quantity of wheat not exceeding 500,000 quarters, after the prorogation of the then Session of Parliament, and before a certain time in the following year, at any duty which might be determined on, not exceeding 12s. This was done at a time when distress existed to a great extent, and with a view of relieving that distress. What he wanted to know was, whether her Majesty's Ministers, many of whom were persons who had introduced these measures, and had supported them with zeal, whether they had any intention, seeing that the distress was of the same sort, to introduce that or any other measures for relieving distress. There were many circumstances of great similarity between the distresses of that and the present time, and also of great dissimilarity. The House of Commons of that time had refused to interfere with the then existing Corn-law; in the present Parliament, changes had been made—changes which, in his view of the subject, only strengthened the necessity for some new measures to be taken, and for this reason, that the new Corn-laws had not produced any relief whatever. From the moment that Corn-law had passed, the price of corn had been rising, and the duty had certainly fallen to 11s. The duty under the old law would have been 22s., and that would have been a prohibitory amount; but the new law had effected no improvement in this case, for whether the duty was 22s. or 11s., it was equally efficacious in preventing the introduction of foreign corn. Any argument, therefore, which might be raised upon the circumstance, that in the present Session of Parliament the Corn-law had been changed, but that in 1826, it had not been changed, was fully met by the answer that the alteration had produced no beneficial effect. The noble Lord went into the details of numerous returns, which showed, that wages did not rise with the price of bread, but that on the contrary, in the years in which bread was dear, wages were low, and in the years 1834 and 1835, when bread was cheap, wages were high. He argued, that from similar returns, he was justified in stating, that crime increased as the price of bread increased, and on these grounds, he contended, that some provision for the wants of the people was requisite. The noble Lord concluded by moving, for a Return of the quantities of corn entered for home consumption (if any) under the provisions of the 7th Geo. 4th, c. 70; and also, a return of all foreign corn admitted for home consumption by any order or orders issued by his late Majesty George 4th, by and with the advice of his Privy Council, under the provisions of the 7th Geo 4th, c. 71.

The Duke of Wellington

had no objection to the motion of the noble Earl, who, in introducing that motion to the House, had taken the opportunity to put two questions as well as to make a speech. In answer to those two questions, all he could say was, that he had no knowledge of any intention on the part of the Government to introduce any measure of this sort to the consideration of Parliament. It was very true, that the distress of the country was very great, but a variety of measures had been introduced, and were now under the consideration of Parliament, which he hoped would tend to relieve the commercial and manufacturing interests of the country, the result of which must be, the relief of the existing distresses, because it was thought, that those distresses, particularly in so far as they concerned our commerce and manufactures, had proceeded entirely from the oppressed condition of that department of trade. He would not enter into a discussion of the questions referred to by the noble Earl, or detain the House by a consideration of what had passed in the years 1825 and 1826. He did not at all object to the noble Earl's bringing forward and discussing these topics, if he thought proper to do so, on a motion for the production of accounts of corn under certain acts of Parliament which were passed in those years; and if he thought fit to do so, it was natural enough that he should advert to the then existing state of things. But these acts of Parliament had been passed for temporary purposes. The revision of the Corn-laws had been postponed, and, in point of fact, the revision of the Corn-laws did not actually take place until 1827. At the time when these acts were passed, the law required the corn to be held in bond until the price came to 70s., and these two acts were passed, in order to enable holders of corn in bond to introduce their corn into the country at a low rate of duty. He did not know whether it would be right again to introduce such measures, nor did he know whether any others besides the noble Earl thought so; but the noble Earl might introduce a bill to renew such powers, if he thought proper, and the Government and Parliament would give it their best consideration. The noble Earl might also, if he thought proper, introduce a bill for the repeal of the act passed during the present Session of Parliament; but all he could say for himself was, that he had no intention to introduce any such measures as the noble Earl had contemplated.

Lord Kinnaird

very much regretted to hear the noble Duke say, that it was not the intention of her Majesty's Government to introduce a measure on the subject of the motion of his noble Friend. This was the second time the noble Duke had told them that they must wait, and it was hard, indeed, for the people, in the state of misery to which they were reduced, to receive such an answer to their demands. What his noble Friend had said respecting Sheffield, he was able fully to confirm by a letter he had received from a most respectable manufacturer, which stated that the writer formerly employed 700 people, but now only 200, and those he did not expect to continue for two months longer. The same manufacturer's correspondents in America had informed him that if they were allowed to send meal to this country, they would take his goods in return; and they urged him to come over to them with his best hands, and no longer reside in a land where such laws prevailed.

Motion agreed to.

Lord Kinnaird

moved for Copies of the instructions given or sent to Mr. Commissary Twisselton and to Mr. Commissary-general Ramsay, and to state if they were communicated to the magistrates of Paisley, to Sir William Napier, bart., to Mr. Sheriff Robertson, or Mr. Sheriff Substitute Campbell, or to the magistrates of Renfrewshire; as also copies of any replies or remonstrances against the instructions sent to, or orders issued by, the aforesaid commissioner and commissary, or by any of the authorities before named, respecting the food and treatment of the unemployed and destitute. Also copies of any reports which may have been made by one or more medical men attached to the military force quartered at Glasgow, or other professional gentlemen from a distance to Mr. Commissioner Twisselton, or any of the above-named authorities, and specifying to which (if to any), respecting the health of the destitute and unemployed in Paisley. And also the amount of funds placed at the disposal of Mr. Commissioner Twisselton, or the source from whence these have been derived.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that certain persons had been sent down by Government to make inquiries into the state of distress at Paisley, who had also been employed under the directions of the Secretary of State to dispose of certain funds, not public money, but money contributed by her Majesty, and derived from other sources. The directions were not official, but private and confidential, and the reports made by the persons employed were precisely of the same character. He objected., therefore, to the productions either of the directions or of the reports.

Lord Kinnaird

observed, that complaints had been made respecting the distribution of a second fund raised for the relief of distress. The collection had been made in the county, and the objection was, that the money thus obtained had not been distributed, as was intended by the donors, in the villages round Paisley, but merely in the town. Perhaps, however, the facts would come better before the House in the shape of a petition.

Lord Wharncliffe

remarked, that the commissioners had found that the fund first subscribed had been improperly distributed. They, therefore, distributed the second fund on an entirely different principle. It was true that no public money had been applied to this purpose, but in order that no mistake might arise he would mention that 500l. had been advanced from the civil contingencies, which sum was repaid in the course of forty eight hours. All the commissioners had done was to see that the second subscription was properly distributed.

Motion withdrawn.