§ Lord A. Hamilton
presented a petition from the Weavers of Glasgow, and of the county of Lanark, representing their extreme distress, and praying for relief. The noble lord observed, that it was exceedingly painful to him to read the description of the state of destitution, hopelessness, and helplessness under which the weavers of the county which he had the honour to represent were suffering; knowing, as he did, how accurately that description conformed to the melancholy facts of the case. Many 228 of them, they said, were without any employment at all. That he knew to be the case; and that of course they were in utter want, and suffering absolute starvation. They said that most of them had worked for fourteen or sixteen hours a day, and at the end of the week earned only six, five, and some as little as four shillings and sixpence. That he also knew to be the fact. It was further stated by the petitioners, that in consequence of their necessities they were destitute of decent clothing, and were thereby prevented from attending divine service. Their representations on this head, so far from being exaggerated, to his knowledge, fell short of the truth. The families of the weavers were crying to them for bread, which they were unable to give: how then was it possible that they could afford clothes? He knew many worthy and honest men among the weavers, who lamented this circumstance, with reference not only to the present calamity, but to the evils which it would entail upon their offspring, whom they could not send either to schools for education, or to places of divine worship, and who would therefore lose every opportunity of becoming imbued with those right principles which alone could safely guide them in their progress through life. He declared that he had not overstated the case of by far the larger portion of the petitioners. The prayer of the petition would make good his assertion; for what did it ask? It did not ask for charity; but, feeling their utter helplessness and hopelessness, the petitioners asked for that which was the punishment of crime— exile: they asked for the means of emigrating from their native land. That of itself spoke volumes as to the actual sufferings which they were enduring. Indeed, they were too evident to admit of any contradiction of the statement. His object was to ask the House to permit the petition to lie on the table, in order that the case of the petitioners might be before every one; and, having done that, he had done all that he could do. His hope was, that some opinion would be now expressed upon the subject by his majesty's ministers, as the case was growing worse and worse every day for the sufferers. The subject was of the most general interest to the country, but more especially was it of importance to that portion of the community in whose behalf he presented the 229 petition. He must now allude to the large number of Irish, who emigrated every year to the western parts of Scotland. It might fairly be said, that it was by the weight of these Irish emigrations, that the unfortunate Scotch were obliged to resort to England for employment. He begged the House not for a moment to suppose that it was his wish to question the right of the Irish to go wherever they might think proper, but it was evident that in proportion as they turned out large numbers of the Scotch from employment, in the same proportion must the Scotch resort elsewhere. The state of destitution in which the lower orders in Ireland had long been left, and in which they now continued, had arisen from the misgovernment of that country. It was a permanent evil, and deeply affected Scotland, by causing such an influx of destitute Irish into that country. Even emigration was not at all likely to be of any permanent benefit to Scotland, unless some means were devised of checking the Irish from flowing into that country, and filling up the void. He had lately seen an account of a meeting of the magistracy of Cork, the result of which was a resolution, that a portion of the Irish should be invited to go over to England, and that the proprietors of steam boats should be requested to give them a passage gratis. This measure had been adopted upon the vague notion, that trade was reviving in some degree in the latter country. If there were means of putting the Irish in a better situation than that in which they now were, and for a long time had been, perhaps these unfortunate Scotch would not be under the necessity of making any such demand as that stated in the petition. The Glasgow and Strathaven weavers had associated themselves, under the notion that they would be permitted to go out in a society. The bonds of affection and the ties of kindred would not then be severed, and the pain of separation from friends, from country, and from the early associations of life, would be mitigated. But he feared that such an arrangement, however, in some respects desirable, could not be made. As the petition asked for the pecuniary means of emigration, he was aware that it could not be received, except by the consent of the ministers of the Crown. He trusted the petitioners would receive that consent; especially if it were clearly understood 230 that such a consent would not be misconstrued into any pledge to grant the prayer of the petition.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that the noble lord, in bringing forward the petition, had expressed himself in a manner which reflected the highest honour upon his feelings, and which was most creditable to him as the representative of the district in which the distress existed. He could assure the noble lord, that he participated fully in his sympathy for the sufferings of the petitioners. There was no part of the empire, in which distress had been deeply and for any length of time experienced, where the people had evinced a more laudable conduct than in the part of Scotland from which this petition proceeded. Their sufferings had been borne without leading them to deviate from the most exemplary conduct, or to forfeit their high character, although the sufferers were in a very humble sphere of life. It was not possible for more patience and forbearance to be evinced, than had been manifested by these unfortunate people; and he gave this opinion, from having had frequent opportunities of ascertaining their sufferings and of observing their conduct. He well knew how imperfect were sources of private information in cases like the present; but, since the last session, a single week had not passed without his having been in constant communication with the committee now sitting in the country upon the subject. That committee had devoted its attention to the subject, in the most exemplary manner. It had used its most zealous exertions to mitigate the sufferings in that part of Scotland. The noble lord's proposal was, to present a petition, praying for a grant of public money; and he had very properly observed, that the consent of the Crown was necessary to the reception of such a petition by the House. He hoped that the House would not be disposed to enforce its regulation strictly in this particular case. Although the petitioners did in effect pray for a grant of public money, they rather called the attention of the House to a public measure, for which a grant of public money was necessary. He was not quite sure whether this was not a public petition, or that the consent of the Crown was necessary. Were such a consent essential, he should be very unwilling to refuse it. At the same time, he felt peculiarly anxious, that 231 what he said might not be misconstrued, so as to excite false notions, that granting the consent of the Crown implied an opinion in ministers, that any good could result to the petitioners from receiving their petition. He should not enter upon the policy or effects of emigration, no notice whatever had been given of an intention to discuss the subject; and to go into it at present, would, he thought, be premature. Emigration involved many subjects of the utmost importance, and the interest was much enhanced by the present state of the country. A committee had been appointed in the last session to sit upon the subject, and their report, and the evidence they had put forward, contained a mass of valuable information. It concluded with a recommendation, that another committee should be appointed in the present session to consider some parts of the subject which had been imperfectly considered in the previous inquiry, as well as to suggest some definite plan on which a system of emigration should be adopted. He might observe, that no plan of emigration could be carried into effect before the ensuing month of May. The result of the evidence before the former committee was, that autumn was the best period. He hoped that the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, after the recess, would propose the appointment of such a committee. It was necessary to inform those individuals from whom the petition came, that emigration would afford them no material relief. It was necessary that precautions should be taken in the colonies to insure proper accommodation for the parties who arrived. To ship off ten or twenty thousand men to Upper Canada, incapable of adopting agricultural pursuits, would inevitably lead to their extreme misery. It would be necessary, previous to their arrival, that lands should be located, roads made, and other measures adopted; or the situation of the emigrants would be most calamitous, and the sufferings of which they now complained greatly aggravated. It was also necessary, whenever any plan was to be carried into effect, that there should be a judicious and discriminating selection of the individuals to be sent out. Those very parties that might be the greatest objects of sympathy, on account of their sufferings, might, from other causes, be of all others the most unfit for emigration, A man, might be 232 unable to support himself in a manufactory from extreme age or a debilitated constitution, and yet would be a most unfit object to select for emigration. It would be necessary to select only those who were capable of availing themselves of those resources which would be alone open to them, after they had arrived in the colony. He thought it right to make these observations, to put the matter in a proper point of view, and to prevent his consent to the reception of the petitions being misinterpreted. He was anxious not to encourage false hopes, at the same time that he would be sorry to damp legitimate and reasonable expectations. It was not his intention to object to the petition's being received and referred to the committee of emigration when appointed; but he trusted the parties in question would not, through the indulgence of fallacious expectations, neglect to seize such other favourable opportunities as presented themselves for their relief. Ordered to lie on the table.