HL Deb 10 March 1842 vol 61 cc413-8
Earl Stanhope

said, he had to move for certain returns, for which, as no objection would be made to them on the part of the Government, he did not feel it necessary to give a notice. The motion was for a return of the number of paupers admitted into each of the union workhouses from January 1st, 1836, to December 31st, 1841, and also of the number of persons accommodated therein, and the number of deaths occurring annually therein, specifying the cause of each death.

Agreed to.

Earl Stanhope

in presenting a petition to their Lordships would express a hope, that he should be more fortunate in getting the return which had just been agreed to than he had been with respect to certain returns for which he moved, and which had been ordered, nearly three years ago. The motion on that occasion was for a statement of the sums borrowed for each union workhouse, and also of the sums laid out in law expenses for periods of three years each before and after the passing of the new Poor-law Act; that motion was made and agreed to on the 16th of August, 1839, but from that time to the present, no return had been made to it. There was a point beyond which their Lordships' patience ought not to be carried, but in the present case he thought it had been carried to excess. Two Sessions had now and the returns were not forth coming. If any difficulties had arisen as to the making out of such returns, it was the business of those whose duty it was to make them to state those difficulties, that they might be removed. However, after this, he gave notice, that if not produced within a short time, he should move that the returns be made forthwith. He would take this opportunity of giving notice also, that if a bill which he perceived was now in progress through the other House, entitled "A bill for regulat- ing the duties on the Importation of Foreign Corn," should come up to that House, he would, on the question of its second reading, move as an amendment, that it be read a second time that day six months, and take the sense of the House on the amendment. He would now beg to call the attention of their Lordships, to a petition which had been intrusted to his care. It was signed by only one individual, a member of one of the humbler classes, but it spoke the language and expressed the sentiments of many hundreds of thousands of those classes. The petitioner was Abraham Leach, a poor handloom weaver of Rochdale, in the county of Lancaster. He complained that he was robbed, oppressed, and brought to beggary by the manufacturers, who had taken from him the means of labour, and had substituted for it untaxed machinery. It was not his intention to detail the sufferings of large bodies of the handloom weavers; he would not enter into the extent of those distresses, but would say a word as to their cause. The petitioner said, and said truly, that the system on which the manufacturers had acted for a long time was subversive of the great bond and compact of society, by which men gave up an equal claim to the productions of nature, in order that they should be guaranteed in the enjoyment of their fair share. The petitioner asked, and he (the Earl Stanhope) would be glad to hear some satisfactory answer to the question he asked, if the Government did not give protection to large classes of the people, were those classes bound to yield obedience to the Government? It had been always held, that if the one was not granted there was no legal claim to the other. It was said, that Government was instituted for the protection of the citizens of a state, and the petitioner claimed a right to such protection. He stated, that by untaxed machinery his labour had been rendered wholly unprofitable, and that his loom which, in 1805, would have produced 80l., was now not worth as many shillings. The prayer of the petitioner was, that their Lordships might take these matters into their serious consideration, and that he might be restored to those means of support which he formerly enjoyed as the price of his labour; but that if their Lordships should be of opinion, that this course would not be for the benefit of the nation at large, they would at least grant him compensation for the amount of the loss he had sustained. He (Earl Stanhope) thought that the prayer was most reasonable. All the petitioner claimed was, in strict conformity with the sacred principle of liberty which was at the commencement of the French revolution defined to be the right of every man, to do whatever he liked provided he did not injure another. He fully concurred in this principle, which ought to be applied in its fullest extent, and in every possible case, and he would contend that no man had a right to injure another, still less to injure whole classes of the community, by depriving them of the fair reward of their labour. The petitioner, then, was perfectly right in the call he made upon their Lordships, and all they could say or do, would fall short of doing him and his class justice, if they did not remedy the growing evil of which he complained. If he were asked what that remedy was, he would say it was this, that those who deprived others of employment in one particular business should supply them with an equivalent employment in another, or give them compensation to the extent of the loss they had sustained. The petitioner was borne out in his statement of the losses he had sustained in his business by the testimony even of the master manufacturers themselves, for he (Earl Stanhope) had been told by one manufacturer, that for certain articles of piece goods for which the weaver got 4s. 6d. in 1815, he now got only 10d. Was it possible to exist, or rather, to vegetate, on such a system as this? Was it possible to expect that men who were ground down by the loss of means of profitable employment should feel any attachment to the present system? No, but the system would beget feelings of revenge, which when roused under particular circumstances would show themselves strongly. He would, therefore, earnestly entreat their Lordships to take the circumstances into their most serious consideration. They might rest assured that the evils here complained of, would not be remedied either by a fixed duty on corn or a sliding-scale. The poor class of operatives could be relieved only in one or other of two ways —either by obliging those who deprived them of work in one way to supply it by work of another kind, or, as he (Earl Stanhope) had before said, by giving them compensation for the loss they had sustained. He might illustrate his meaning by a reference to a haymaking machine about which his opinion had once been asked. He would not prohibit its use, or prevent any person from endeavouring to avoid by it the risk arising from unfavourable weather, but he would compel such person to make full compensation to the labourer who had been employed by him in haymaking, for the loss of their earnings of which he had no right to deprive them.

Lord Monteagle

said, that with respect to the complaint of the noble Earl as to the non-production of the returns for which he had moved in 1839, he would find on inquiry, that the fault lay, not with the officer whose duty it was to make those returns, but with the noble Earl himself in not having renewed the order in the ensuing Session; for the noble Earl must be aware, that an order made for the production of returns in one Session expired with the Session in which it was made, and no more would be heard of it if not revived in another. He could not sit down without entering his protest against the doctrines avowed by the noble Earl. Was it to be tolerated, that in a country like this, which owed so much of its greatness and prosperity to the industrious application of capital to machinery, the people should be taught to regard with vindictive feelings those who employed that machinery, and should be taught to look upon them as wrong doers, from whom they were entitled to receive compensation? The petitioner, their Lordships would observe, was a handloom weaver. Was he not as such himself an employer of a machine? Let him ask had not that very handloom displaced in its day a more simple form, by which alteration manual labour was, in a considerable degree, dispensed with? Were artisans then to go back to the more simple form of industry, or were they not, on the contrary, bound to go on with new improvements in machinery,—with those improvements to which this country owed so much? If machinery was the cause of distress, why not go back to the primitive state of man and abolish the plough, which was a machine effecting a saving of manual labour? He must, therefore, again protest against the doctrine, that all or any of the existing distresses were owing to the employment of machinery. The fact was, that all and everything about them was machinery; there was nothing connected with the comfort and convenience of man which machinery did not place more easily and cheaply within his reach than it could possibly have been by manual labour. He was sorry to have intruded upon the attention of their Lord-ships by even one observation on the subject, but he could not restrain himself from thus protesting against the doctrines avowed by the noble Earl, who had held up as an object for vindictive feelings in the working classes a system which had produced and carried civilization all over the world, and without which they most be driven back to the barbarism of their remote ancestors.

Earl Stanhope

denied, that there was any neglect on his part in reference to the returns for which he had moved. Those returns had been moved for by an address to the Crown, to which an answer had been returned, informing the House that they should be produced, and he did not see why the lapse of a Session should prevent it. With respect to the observations of the noble Baron as to his opinions, he would only say, that when the proper time came, he should be able to defend those doctrines, as the noble Lord called them. The noble Baron had charged him with wishing to go back to a state of barbarism. He had not said anything of the kind, but he would now say, that a state of barbarism could not make the condition of some classes of the people worse than it was. Could a state of barbarism produce such an appalling fact as that 800,000 handloom weavers should be in a state of absolute destitution? [Noble Lords: No, no, not that number.] He had heard they amounted to that number, but he would not state it with certainty, He could declare, however, that in many places the handloom weavers were reduced to a state of destitution. In the town of Stockport alone there were above 15,000 persons whose average income did not exceed 1s. 1d. per week each. What could be worse than that condition? Talk of the prosperity of the country, why it could not be denied, that the country was more happy and prosperous—at least the people were more so —before this introduction of machinery. They had plenty of work and were well paid for it. The noble Baron need not be surprised at finding very strong language from the people on the great change which had taken place in their condition, nor need he be surprised, that the peace of the country should be endangered, when the poor working men found themselves in that state from which any change must be for the better.

The Earl of Devon

did not mean to prolong this discussion, but merely rose to observe, that the practice of Parliament was, that no adjournment of their Lordships' House should prevent the return to any orders made by them. All orders made in the Session were considered obligatory out of it.

Petition to be laid on the Table.