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September 30, 2011

 HC Deb 24 June 1833 vol 18 cc1130-5 1130 

Mr. Thomas Attwood presented a petition from 150,000 persons, assembled at a public meeting of the inhabitants of Birmingham, at New Hall Hill, against . . . all taxes on industry. The meeting from which this petition emanated was one of the best conducted he had ever attended. 

He would prove that . . .the condition of the people of England were deteriorated fifty per cent. The fact was, that the population had increased thirty percent, while the land had been deteriorated twenty percent, and thus the people had been reduced to the condition of subsisting upon one half of their former food. 

Ministry succeeded Ministry, and still no relief followed, and the people were left to perish gradually. But they put forward, and adopted in Lord Liverpool’s administration free trade; this they boasted was as great a discovery as the Elixir Vitæ. But he would undertake to prove, that the free trade they granted had only the effect of reducing the rate of labour, and impoverishing the people, who had still to pay the same amount of taxes . . . 

He had another small petition to present from the same meeting of 150,000 people, against the house and window taxes exclusively. The petitioners complained, and he agreed with them, that they and the country were unable any longer to bear the present pressure of taxation. The country was groaning under them; the people cried from one end to the other that they would not pay any more; the Ministry seemed determined to compel them to pay, to get blood from a stone: bat he would bid them beware. Though the poor people of England were devoted to the aristocracy, still there was such a thing as spurring a willing horse to death, and treading on the worm till it turned on its oppressor. 

In opposition to evidence of the prosperity of the manufacturing part of England, given before the manufacturing Committee, he must say, that he believed that for the last seven years there had been, and was, no prosperity in the country. What was it which caused them to cry out for reform, if prosperity existed? Was it prosperity which made almost every man among them politicians, and politicians determined on having redress? Was it prosperity which caused, within the last few years, thousands of broken hearts to emigrate from England—this happy country—merry England, as it was called in old times? 

No, it was the criminal conduct of an ignorant and ungrateful Government, who would rather sacrifice one-half of the people than give up any preconceived dogma or sacrifice a single atom of a favourite theory. He would ask, was it happiness and prosperity which caused an increase of crime to a fourfold amount within the last few years; and urged the agricultural population to those burnings, which were at once the disgrace and the proof of the poverty of the country? No; it was vain to talk thus. 

Prosperity was no longer among the people of England, and would not be while the present system was kept up. He had also a petition to present from George Solly, praying for an issue of one pound notes payable in silver, and expressed his entire concurrence in the prayer . . . A great outcry had been raised against the issue of paper money; but no reason had been given against it. He, however, could give some in its favour; for there was Russia, the most barbarous power in Europe, able to ride down England, enslave Poland, to paralyze France, and annihilate Turkey, and put the world in fear; and all this was in consequence of her paper money. In Russia too there were no complaints of poverty among the people; and, although he would admit their paper issue had sunk in value three-fourths, what harm had it done the country? The people were comfortable, and the government was all powerful. . . 

He would conclude by presenting a short petition from the council of the Birmingham Political Union against the conduct of the new police at the late Coldbath-fields’ meeting. In the prayer of the petitioners, and the opinions they expressed of the conduct of the authorities on that occasion in the subsequent proceedings in the Court of King’s Bench he most cordially concurred.

They deprecated them, and so did he, as much as man could. He did not mean to say, that the meeting was a legal or an illegal one: but he would not hesitate to say that it was a most wanton and disgraceful attack on the liberties of the people of England which he, on his conscience, believed they were as much opposed to, and as willing to ride down, as any Tories in existence ever were.

He would warn them not to touch too much on public privilege, for there were limits, after passing which, resistance was lawful in every sense . . . Where would they end? He thought the system of police as at present established, wrong. If it were paid by the parishes, and the power over it taken from the hands of the Ministry, he should be satisfied; but otherwise, he would always oppose the cursed, rascally system. They were going too, to spread it all over the country—to introduce it to Manchester and Bristol and Birmingham: but he could tell them the people of Birmingham would never have it, and he hoped the country, generally, would act in the same manner. Petitions to lie on the Table.

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