The sheriffs of London
presented a petition from the lord mayor, alderman, and commons, of the city of London, in common council assembled; setting forth, 807 "That the petitioners have learnt with apprehension and regret that measures subversive of our free constitution have been submitted to parliament by the ministers of the crown, on the pretext of conspiracy for the destruction of all religion, government, and property within the realm; for the defeat of so monstrous a design, did the petitioners believe in its reality, they would be most anxious to employ all the means that they possess; but while such an alarm rests merely upon unauthenticated or anonymous statements which have been Submitted to no investigation (however countenanced by the turbulent conduct and inflammatory writings of some misgaided or evil-minded men), the petitioners cannot perceive the necessity of any abridgment of oar liberties; deeply lamenting the prevalence of discontent, the petitioners humbly recommend to the House, as its only proper cure, a sincere and earnest endeavour to remove all just ground of complaint, and, sensible of the inconveniences arising from frequent large assemblages, and from the want of respect and affection between the magistracy and the people, they respect-fully submit that a constitutional remedy might be found in the establishment of a due representation and liberal municipal constitutions, agreeable to the ancient usage and analogy of our government, for those places in which population has extensively accumulated, but which do not yet enjoy them; that the petitioners fully participate in the disgust excited by some late publications hostile to the Christian religion and the public peace, yet, as they immediately became the objects of general detestation, and could have been at once submitted to the judgment of the laws, and as they bear an infinitely small proportion to those productions which are favourable to knowledge, virtue, and religion, they seem to the petitioners to afford no reason for subjecting the press to enactments calculated to harass all who are connected with it, to destroy its freedom, and to prohibit some of its most useful labours; that the petitioners trust therefore, that at a time when they anxiously expected an investigation into transactions which have recently called forth an expression of general disapprobation, and hoped for such a redress of grievances and reform of abuses as might allay the irritated feelings of the people, the House will not hastily, and without inquiry, during the prevalence of an unfounded 808 or exaggerated alarm, pass laws on account of a partial and temporary evil, tending permanently and universally to affect the liberty of the subject, and to produce increased irritation, while they are inefficient as to the purposes for which they are designed; the petitioners therefore humbly pray, and earnestly entreat, that should however some measures be thought necessary for the preservation of the public peace, that the House will adopt such only as shall be limited in their extent and duration, and that the next care of the House may be (rejecting the desperate counsels, of those who would refuse all concession) to apply itself to the effectual correction of those abuses and defects which have given rise to the prevailing discontent."
§ The petition was read, after which,
Mr. Alderman Wood
observed that, in moving that it be laid on the table, he should say a very few words. He could not, however, consent to give a silent vote upon these bills: he had attended with the utmost diligence to the protracted debate upon them, and had not heard a single argument to convince him that an inquiry ought not to be granted before they were passed. After commenting on the statement made by lord Castlereagh, of the immense number of stones found on the place of meeting at Manchester, the day after the meeting had occurred, and after treating as absurd the supposition of the noble lord, that the reformers had marched thirty or forty miles with these stones in their pockets, he proceeded to argue, that great advantage had been derived to the supporters of ministers from the candid manner in which another noble lord (Stanley), had expressed his sentiments on the fatal events of the 16th of August. Both in the House and out of the House it had been supposed that that noble lord had spoken of the facts to which he alluded, from his own personal knowledge, whereas he had fairly acknowledged that he only spoke upon information derived from others. He himself (ald. Wood) had heard nothing but opinions upon this subject: he had heard no facts; and facts were the most important points in this discussion. There were, however, some points on which they were all agreed; and one of these was, the existence of great distress in the nation. Hence arose our existing discontents; and what, he would ask, were the means which had been taken to 809 allay them, or to remove the cause from which they originated? A committee had, indeed, been appointed, to take into consideration the state of the poor laws. What had been the result of their labours? Why, they had done nothing more than bring forth some new regulations regarding the law of settlements. What might they not have done, and yet what had they really done, with regard to Ireland? It was in evidence before the House, that in that country, there were above six millions of acres uncultivated. Had one of them been put into cultivation? No. And yet the House had voted during the last session 50,000l. for the use of those who were willing to emigrate to the Cape of Good Hope. The streets of the various towns in this country were filled with numbers of the lower Irish, who deprived our own population of employment to a certain degree. Surely, it would be as well to send some of them back to their own country, and employ them upon the millions of acres which it contained in an uncultivated state, and yet of a nature fitted for cultivation. This would be a means of relieving part of the existing distress. Other gentlemen would be able to devise other methods; and therefore he implored the House to institute, as soon as possible, a committee of inquiry regarding the most effective way of relieving the miseries of the unfortunate poor. During the course of the debate, none of the speakers, except some of those on his side of the House (indeed from the other side it would be quite idle to expect it), had entered into the cause of their distress; he therefore had great delight in seeing several hon. gentlemen with whom he generally acted, and among them the member for Durham, determined to force upon the House, and not to blink the question of parliamentary reform. Reform was now an object dear to the people: reform they would have; and all the House could do, either by restrictions on public meetings, or restrictions on the press, would be useless. The people would meet, and do as he himself had seen done in manufactories in France and Italy: one person would read to twenty, and the whole twenty, though they might read less than they did before, would certainly hear more read to them. The effect, too, of what was read would be stronger, from the different comments which would be made upon ft. Those comments would lead the parties to attach 810 themselves together more closely in private societies; and those societies would eventually prove much more dangerous than the late tumultuary meetings.
§ Mr. Alderman Thorp
expressed his satisfaction that ministers had at last determined to render these measures temporary. In saying this, he did not mean to admit that a case had been made out for even a temporary enactment of them. He thought that an exaggerated degree of alarm had been excited, by the large meetings which had been recently so common throughout the country, as many persons attended them from distress, find not from seditious motives. It Was' his opinion, that the House would have done more to conciliate the people by granting an inquiry, than it could ever do by resorting to measures of severity and coercion. He hoped the bills would receive further modifications when they were in the committee.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
expressed his decided approbation of every sentiment contained in the petition, and his firm conviction, that, if the evil were so great as had been represented, it would increase, and not diminish, under the present restrictions.
§ Ordered to lie on the table.