§ Mr. Harvey
took that opportunity of denying a statement made by a right hon. gentleman on a former occasion, that he was solicitor to the Trades' Unions. There was no foundation whatever for the statement. He wished it, nevertheless, to be understood, that he should not shrink from assuming that character, if he thought that his advice could be of any advantage to the labouring classes of the country. He regretted, that no Minister was present, as this was the third or fourth time the subject had been discussed without any practical result. These petitions ought to be disposed of in some way or other; for, to pass them over totally unnoticed, was only adding insult to the sufferings of the thousands of agricultural labourers who looked up to that House for justice and protection. From an examination of the legal merits of the question, and from an examination of the Acts of Parliament, and from the charge and sentence of the Judge, he was convinced, that these men were illegally convicted and unjustly sentenced. He was not disposed to place much weight on the opinion of lawyers, as such, in questions of equity and justice; but where they differed, the benefit of the doubts they had upon the law ought to be given to those who might come within its opera- 313 tion. He asked the House, then, if they were prepared to allow this matter to pass without some remonstrance? It had been truly said, that these men had been transported; not because they took oaths, but because they belonged to unions, which produced annoyance to the rich. The resolutions of these men did not contain anything improper or illegal. One of the private rules of the society was, that no immoral songs or toasts should be allowed to be sung or given in the society. Was not this a proof that the conduct of these people did not merit condemnation? The object of the unionists was to obtain a proper reward for their labour. Were they not justified in doing this? Why, in his neighbourhood in the country, a union had been established by the agriculturists. To be sure, it was not called a union; no, that phrase would not be pleasing to ears polite. It was called an association, and the object of it was to see, that no encroachment was made upon the landed interests. Were the trades not as much justified in uniting to take care of their interests as the agriculturists of the country? If they were to act as the agriculturists' associations had done—form Committees to sit in London and beard the Government—what denunciations would there not be against them in that House, and in a very short time a law would, no doubt, be passed to put them down. He contended, that the punishment awarded was most disproportionate to the offence, if it could be called an offence. Had they been convicted of sedition, which was comprehended in the same act, no greater punishment could have been awarded. He did not hesitate to say, that, in his opinion, Trades' Unions were proper; they were legal, and that labourers had an infinitely greater right to meet for the protection of their labour, which was their property, than any other class of individuals. Nevertheless, he thought they were mistaken in expecting they would be able to enforce an increase of wages; and if they followed his advice, they would aim only at reducing the public taxation.
§ Mr. Rigby Wason
thought, that a higher degree of punishment had been awarded than the nature of the offence merited; nevertheless, it was quite impossible for the Judge to have pronounced any other sentence. It was for the consideration of the Crown, whether, in such a case, the 314 punishment ought not to have been mitigated.
§ Mr. Pease
would be the last man in that House to stifle discussion, and particularly on a subject like that of the Dorchester Unionists; but he put it to the House whether, after the full discussion that had taken place on the subject, and after a day had been set apart entirely for the purpose of receiving petitions in their behalf, the present discussion was not highly inconvenient.
§ The Petition was laid on the Table.