§ Mr. Gooch
rose to present a petition from the county of Suffolk, which had been placed in his hands under peculir circumstances. There was no man who was less disposed to allow his own political impressions to sway him, in attending, so far as was consistent with a sense of independence, to the wishes of every portion of his constituents. The petition was perfectly correct, and couched in proper language. It was agreed to at a county meeting convened by the sheriff, at the requisition of the Whig aristocracy of that county principally. There were not more than six signatures of any other party. The requisition was carried round so quietly, that he did not believe its existence at the time was known through that great space of the county from Ipswich to Norfolk. That was the more surprising, because there was not an individual of his acquaintance that would not have signed the requisition. But the great object was, to have a unanimous meeting to take the distress of the agricultural body into consideration. For that beneficial purpose it was arranged that all political discussion should be avoided. The subject of parliamentary reform had, however, been introduced. The sheriff refused to put that question, as it was not stated in the requisition; and he did not wish to take the county by surprise. After that meeting was adjourned, he, with a few friends within a morning's ride of Stow-market, where the meeting was held, went home. The sheriff received a second requisition, comprehending the question of parliamentary reform, and was persuaded to convene the meeting on the same day. The question of reform was completely carried, and the petition entrusted to his hon. colleague, whose absence from indisposition he most sincerely regretted. That petition, though handed about for six weeks, was not very numerously signed. To a reform of abuses, to the punishment of offences against the law, 984 to the retrenchment of a lavish expenditure, he was as anxiously disposed as any man in that House; but to the specific measure of a change in the state of the representation, he was not prepared to give his support.
observed, that constituted as that House was, he was well convinced that neither the petition before them, nor indeed, petitions from every county in the kingdom, would be attended with any beneficial result. The hon. member had said something which tended to depreciate the character of that meeting; and yet he had admitted that it was most respectable. There could be no surprise on the county, as the meeting had been long advertised. The petitioners looked for parliamentary reform as the only effectual remedy. They were right. It was in vain to look for redress in any other measure. How was it possible, after witnessing the decision of the House the other night upon the subject of the salt-tax, when about 60 or 70 placemen voted at the command of the noble marquis, for any one to suppose that that House would attend to the prayers of the people? The hon. member for Suffolk had himself declared to his constituents at the meeting, that he would support that part of the petition which called for the repeal of the taxes on leather, malt, salt, and other necessary articles of consumption. [Mr. Gooch dissented.] The hon. member shook his head in denial, and he therefore supposed the information was incorrect. But, he was the more ready to believe so, because the hon. member had voted against the proposed repeal of the salt-tax. As to the plan which the ministers had promulgated for relieving the distresses of the country, it had operated most injuriously upon the agricultural interest. The promulgation of that plan had already caused the price of barley to decline from 11s. to 4s. 6d. For his part, he could make neither head nor tail of the noble marquis's oration. Widely different was the speech which his learned friend (Mr. Brougham) had made a few nights previously. The object of that speech was a reduction of taxation, which was easily understood. But when any reduction of taxation was proposed, the noble marquis marched up with his band of placemen and pensioners to overthrow the proposition. In such a state of things, the country could only look forward for relief through the means of a reformed 985 House of Commons. If the noble marquis desired to see the effect which his plan had produced, he would advise him to proceed to Mark-lane, in company with the hon. member for Suffolk.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, that after what had recently passed, immediately affecting the domestic happiness of the hon. member for Norfolk, he had hoped to have found him in a better temper [a laugh.] If the hon. member's mind had not been engaged on a more interesting subject, and he had been left at liberty to attend to the arguments of ministers on the subject of the agricultural distress, he believed the hon. member would have spared some of the observations which he had made. The hon. member had advised him to go to Mark-lane, to see the effect which his plan had produced. Now, he believed the gentlemen at Mark-lane were much more sagacious than the hon. member imagined, and that the granting or denial of reform would be the last circumstance that could affect the price of corn. He was also of opinion, that the gentlemen at Mark-lane would be the first to complain of a reduction of taxation to an extent that would injure public credit. With respect to the question before the House, he was always inclined to manifest great deference to the proceedings of any public meeting, but he could not admit that because the meeting which voted the petition was called a county meeting, it therefore represented the collective sentiments of the wisdom, property, and education of the county.
§ Mr. Lennard
said, that his constituents felt a very strong interest in the present petition. The meeting had been convened in consequence of a requisition signed by all parties. That meeting came to an unanimous adoption of the petition. The result of such a meeting would, he had no doubt, be a lesson to the hon. member for the county (Mr. Gooch), and to those other members of that House who did not represent venal places.
§ Mr. J. Macdonald
observed, that the ill-timed pleasantry in which the noble marquis had indulged, would, he did not doubt, be a source of satisfaction to his own mind, but it would be viewed with different feelings by the people out of doors, who were anxiously watching the proceedings of that House. The noble marquis had thought fit to taunt his hon. friend, the member for Norfolk, and to 986 allude to some circumstances, he presumed, of a domestic nature. The noble marquis would allow him to say that his hon. friend held a place in the esteem and love of the people which he (the marquis) had never, during the course of his administration, enjoyed. The noble marquis might envy the love of the people which his hon. friend possessed, but he could not deprive him of it. After listening to the observations of the hon. member for Suffolk, he had almost come to the conclusion that there existed within the walls of that House some spell or fascination. The instant honourable members entered that House, their tone became changed, and they not only forgot what they were in the habit of speaking in private, but even what they had said to their constituents at county meetings. The hon. member, upon presenting the petition, had said very little with respect to the meeting at which it was agreed to. He had said it was a respectable one. Now he (Mr. M.) was present, and he would say that the word "respectable" alone was not the epithet which ought to be applied. The meeting consisted of between 6,000 and 8,000 persons, and he would assert that a more respectable meeting never was held in that county. One feeling pervaded the meeting; namely, that the distresses under which they laboured did not arise from any calamitous visitation of nature or Providence: they attributed it to political misgovernment, and to that alone; and they called on ministers to grant them political reparation. They did not ask the House for any artificial remedy which might be peculiarly advantageous to themselves. They desired nothing which it was not in the power of the House to grant, consistently with public faith. They asked the most uncompromising and unsparing reduction of expenditure. They also prayed for a diminution of the heavy burthen of taxation. They added that such an alteration in the state of the representation was necessary, as would prevent a recurrence of the evils of which they complained; and whether they were right or wrong in the view which they took of it, the noble marquis, with all his gaiety, had not been able to impeach the solidity of their reasoning in favour of such reform. After all that passed on that occasion, after all the professions and promises of economy, on the part of the hon. member for Suffolk—professions, which were loud enough to 987 fill the market place; promises, which seemed to assent to all their propositions, except that for reform—what he would ask, would be the astonishment of his constituents at finding that all those promises had vanished into air? What would be the astonishment of those persons who attended at the Suffolk and Norfolk meetings, to find that the two gentlemen (Mr. Gooch and Mr. Wodehouse) whose votes might be said to have decided the balance in favour of a continuance of the salt tax were the very individuals who on the hustings in their respective counties had been the loudest in favour of reduction of taxes. With respect to his hon. friend (Mr. Gooch), he firmly believed that he did intend to fulfil all his promises at the time they were made; but he afterwards suffered himself to fall into the trap which was laid by the noble marquis, and then he found that the public faith must be kept. Now, let the House see how this case stood. Three years ago, the chancellor of the exchequer, the celebrated recorder of resolutions—he who submitted the famous anti-depreciation resolution—came down with a resolution, that it was necessary there should be a sinking fund—he who had annihilated Mr. Pitt's sinking fund, which he had once so much praised. He (Mr. M.) did not doubt the efficacy of a real sinking fund, when it arose from a surplus of expenditure; but then the right hon. gentleman set to work by an artificial system, and after imposing a tax which was equal to four millions in the present day, and at the very time that he was sanctioning a measure, the direct and necessary effect of which was the increase of taxes at the present time by nearly ten millions—after all these artificial means, it was not until the present year that the right hon. gentleman found he had what might be called a sinking fund. Now, during all this time, what had been the conduct of the hon. member for Suffolk? Did he not remember having voted against the agricultural horse-tax, when he used the homely adage of a country gentleman, that "a man could get no more from a cat than its skin." Had he not also voted on the malt tax? Was he not in the majority when the House decided against that tax—a decision which, by the way the noble marquis had, in a manner unexampled in parliament, succeeded in rescinding: but all this time the hon. member had no feelings of conscience on 988 the subject of public faith. This had not at all come in the way of his votes. But, down came the chancellor of the exchequer with a repetition of his former resolution on the subject of the sinking fund, and at once the hon. member finds that it is necessary to support public faith, and he votes for the continuance of the salt-tax. This was a difficulty from which the hon. member would be glad to be released; but if in getting out of it he should say that he had fallen into the trap of the noble marquis, his situation would be worse than before: for though the noble marquis had been understood to state that the sinking fund was to act by simple interest, and the produce was to go to the reduction of taxation, yet it was soon seen, as was frequently the case, that whatever impression the noble marquis's statement might have made on the House, it made none on himself; for having probably got some votes by it, he forgot it himself, and it afterwards turned out, that the simple interest was no longer to be thought of, nor the produce to go as matter of course to reduce taxation. The hon. member for Suffolk could not, therefore get out of his difficulty in that way. There was, however, one way which was still left open for him to get out. Let him look at our enormous expenditure in the collection of the revenue, which was increased fourfold since 1792: let him look at the immense amount of the civil list; let him look at the other branches of our annual expenditure; and then let him ask, whether a doubt could exist that it would not be competent for a willing ministry to reduce those branches by as much as would not only cover the salt-tax, but also the taxes on leather on soap, and on candles? But then ministers would tell the hon. member, that they could not go on with the government if such reductions were made. Let him not trust them too much. They said the same thing with respect to the property tax. They said last year, that if seven lords of the Admiralty were not kept up, let others manage the public affairs, for they could not. But the property-tax was abolished, and they had done without it; and on Friday last, two of the lords of the Admiralty were cut off, and they would go on as well without them. Let the House rest assured, that if reductions on a much larger scale were enforced, ministers would still contrive to carry on the government just 989 as well as before. With respect to the cause of the distress, he would say that a great part of it arose from that fatal measure, the Bank Restriction act of 1797, which gave rise to boundless expenditure, and extravagant speculations. But, let the causes be what they might, the House was bound to give a remedy. That remedy would be to suit the demand to the supply, and this would be effected by a reduced taxation, for what was taken from taxation was always given to consumption; and what was thus taken might be supplied, he would say by the magnum vectigal parsimonia. He admitted that it might be proper to keep up a sinking fund; but if we kept the public debt on a decrease, as we hitherto had on an increase, to argue whether the sinking fund should be three, four, or five millions was absurd, so long as the interest of the public creditor was paid. This was clearly proved by what had already taken place: they had seen that consistent financier the chancellor of the exchequer lay his sacrilegious hands on the sinking fund, and yet the price of stocks had not been varied by it the 100th part of a fraction. A clamour had been raised against those who objected to the financial plans of the right hon. gentleman; but those against whom it was so raised had as much regard for the security of public credit as any gentleman on the other side. They believed that it could not exist while there was a pre-disposition to public disturbance, but that its best and firmest basis must be the ease, repose, and contentment of the people.
The Marquis of Londonderry,
in explanation, observed, that nothing could have been further from his intention than to make any remark that was calculated to wound the feelings of the hon. member for Norfolk.
§ Mr. Gooch
said, that the hon. member had stated, that he had pledged himself to the repeal of certain taxes. Now he begged to say, that he had done no such thing. All he had said was, that he would vote for the repeal of taxes, wherever they could be taken away with safety to the public credit; and that as fast as our expenditure could be reduced, he would support the reduction of taxation. He thought it of the utmost importance, that faith should be kept with the national creditor; and that though we might be a poor, we ought to be an honest nation. The hon. member had stated that the pre- 990 vailing opinion of the people of England was, that a reform was necessary. That might be the opinion of the populace, influenced by speeches in and out of that House, but he did not believe it was the opinion of the thinking part of the community. In the other assertion of the hon. member, he was inconsistent with himself: he stated, that a disposition prevailed not to petition that House, but in the same breath he described a meeting of 6,000 or 8,000 persons assembled for that purpose. As to the manner in which he should conduct himself in parliament, he wanted not the hon. member's instruction. As long as the freeholders of Suffolk should send him to parliament, he would discharge his duty, without fearing the hand of power or the clamour of party. The hon. gentleman seemed to think there was something so fascinating about the noble marquis and the chancellor of the exchequer, that he must yield to them on all occasions. "This," continued Mr. Gooch, "reminds me of a circumstance which occurred to me a short time back, and which, as it is in the hon. gentleman's own way, I shall state to him. I was out shooting the other day with my gamekeeper, when one of the dogs ran after a hare, which, amongst sportsmen, is a great fault, as great perhaps, as the political one with which I am charged on the other side, I said to the gamekeeper 'How's this?' He answered, 'Lord bless you, sir, a hare is the most enticing of all vermin in the world, except a woman.' Now I suppose the hon. gentleman would say, "except the noble marquis and the chancellor of the exchequer." [A laugh.]
§ Ordered to lie on the table.