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take a war without principle, conduct it with incapacity, and be acquitted of all his misdeeds immediately upon the patching up a peace. He trusted that, with the return of peace, we should also have a return of the constitution. He should truly rejoice if, with the blessings of peace, we were also to have the next desirable blessing, that of freedom, of which we were about to be deprived. With regard to some persons in the cabinet, with whom he had been long in the habits of agreement and friendship, he knew not what effects peace was to produce upon them. They had differed upon the principles of the present war. if peace should put an end to the differences between them, and restore them to their former habits of thinking and acting, he should undoubtedly see the day with peculiar sensibility. He owned, however, that he had very little expectation of such an event. He was not so sanguine as to look for such a return. However that might be, he should ill discharge his duty to his country, if he did not steadily resolve to do his utmost to bring ministers to a strict account for all the calamities that this war had engendered. He sat down, begging not to be understood as opposing the address, or disapproving of the sentiments it contained. He only wished that it had gone as far as the amendment which had been proposed by his honourable friend.
Mr. Sheridan's amendment was negatived without a division ; after which the original address was agreed to.
MR. WHITBREAD'S BILL TO REGULATE THE WAGES OF
LABOURERS IN HUSBANDRY.
(R. WHITBREAD presented to the House a bill “ to ex
plain and amend so much of the act of the 5th of Elizabeth, intituled, An act containing divers orders for artificers, labourers, servants of husbandry, and apprentices,' as empowers justices of the peace, at, or within six weeks after, every general quarter sessions held at Easter, to regulate the wages of labourers in husbandry." The bill was read a first time. On the motion for the second reading, Mr. Whitbread said, that he had brought forward this bill under the idea that it was possible, by adopting its regulations, to give great relief to a very numerous and useful class of the community. The act of Elizabeth empowered justices of the peace to fix the maximum of labour. This bill went only to empower them to fix the minimum. However, the House might
decide with respect to his bill, he trusted at least that the act of Elizabeth would be repealed. He should move that the bill be now printed, and read a second time on an early day after the holidays.
Mr. Fox said, that the bill was undoubtedly a bill of great delicacy and importance, and with respect to which, he admitted that, to a considerable extent, there might exist a rational difference of opinion. The act of Elizabeth, as his honourable friend had truly stated, empowered the justices to fix the highest price of labour, but it gave them no power to fix the lowest. . It secured the master from a risk which could but seldom occur, of being charged exorbitantly for the quantity of service; but it did not authorise the magistrate to protect the poor from the injustice of a griping and avaricious employer, who might be disposed to take advantage of their necessities, and undervalue the rate of their service. If the price of labour was adequate to the support of the poor in ordinary times, though not equal to the accidental high price of provisions at the present moment, it might be contended, that there was less necessity for any new legislative regulation. But, taking the average price of labour for some years past, including that period during which the scarcity had operated, no man could deny that the price of labour was greatly disproportionate to the rate of provisions. That the general price of labour should be adequate to the support of the general mass of the community was indisputably a right principle. They all knew that a very extensive tax was exacted from the country, under the denomination of poor rates, and that such a tax must be continued. It was understood, that to this fund none could apply, but those few to whom, from particular circumstances, their labour might not be sufficiently productive to secure an adequate support. But he feared that the reverse was the case; that the exception was with respect to the few who derived sufficient means of subsistence from their labour, and that the great mass of the labouring part of the community were under the necessity of applying to this fund for relief. If the House, as was proposed, were to form an association, in order to pledge themselves to use only a particular sort of bread, with a view to diminish the pressure of the scarcity, ought they not at the same time to form an association, in order to raise the price of labour to a rate proportionate to the price of the articles of subsistence? With this view, he called upon the House to consider the principle of the bill and its provisions. He would call upon them also to attend to the subject, in a constitutional view, though he could not hope, from the complection of recent
transactions, that this was a view of the subject which would have great weight. It was not fitting in a free country that the great body of the people should depend on the charity of the rich. In the election of members of parliament, all those were strictly excluded from exercising any franchise, with a very few exceptions, who had at any time received relief from the parish. Was it becoming in a country like this, that the general mass of the labouring part of the community, excepting those who derived relief from the bounty and generosity of individuals, should be excluded from the exercise of their most important privilege as freemen? He admitted many of the rich to be humane and charitable; but he could not allow that those who were the most useful and industrious members of society should depend upon a fund so precarious and degrading, as the occasional supplies derived from their bounty. If the price of provisions had for two years been such as to put every poor man under the necessity of applying for the aid of parochial charity, and if that circumstance constituted a positive disqualification with respect to the exercise of a constitutional right, what, he asked, was the state of a country which first compelled every poor man to dependence, and then reduced him to servitude ? If they were to go into associations, pledging themselves to use a particular sort of bread, with a view to alleviate the scarcity, it was surely of more importance that they should associate in order to redress the more material grievance, and strike at the fundamental source of the evil. With this view he should be glad, as he had already suggested, to see an association in order to put the price of labour upon a footing adequate to the rate of provisions. If the regulations of the present bill should not be adopted, he should be happy that any other legislative enactments should be brought forward, in order to afford relief and protection to the poor.
February 12. 1796.
Mr. Whitbread moved the second reading of his bill. He was supported by Mr. Honeywood, Mr. Lechmere, and Mr. Fox; and opposed by Mr. Burdon, Mr. Buxton, Mr. Vansittart, and Mr. Pitt.
Mr. Fox said, it was necessary for him to say a few words to explain the reason of the vote he should give, if there should be a division upon the subject. No man was more against the idea of compulsion as to the price of labour than he was himself. His opinion he had often expressed to be on the other side. The question now was, not on the general
principle, but on that particular state of the law, which rendered some measure necessary to be adopted for the relief of the labouring poor, while the law, as it stood, was saddled with so many restrictions. He approved of the bill proposed by his honourable friend, as calculated to correct that which was bad in its present operation, and to secure at least to the labourer the means of partial relief. But if the House objected to the measure as improper, if they were of opinion that it was not the most judicious or desirable that might be applied, under all the circumstances of the case, he hoped that they would go to the root of the evil, and provide some remedy adequate to the extent of the grievance. If, therefore, they should give a negative to the second reading of the bill, he should cons sider that by so doing they pledged themselves to take the subject into their early and most serious consideration. And however eligible the proposition of his honourable friend might be, he was convinced that if what he had brought forward should induce the House to go into a full examination of the subject, and to provide a remedy commensurate to the evil, he would not only have accomplished his own benevolent intentions, but would have done a much greater service to the country, than even if the bill which he had now brought forward were adopted.
The motion for the second reading of the bill was negatived.
MR. GREY's MOTION FOR PEACE WITH France.
"HIS day Mr. Grey moved, “ That an humble address be pre
sented to his majesty, stating, that it is the desire of this House, that his majesty may graciously be pleased to take such steps as to his royal wisdom shall appear most proper, for communicating directly to the executive government of the French republic, his majesty's readiness to meet any disposition to negociation on the part of that government, with an earnest desire to give it the fullest and speediest effect.”. He observed, that contrary to general expectation, the ministry, in lieu of a negociation for peace, were making preparations for a continuance of the war. But with what well-grounded hope of success could they persist in this unfortunate system? There was no confidence nor unity of views in the remaining parts of the coalition; and yet this country was to bear the weight of this pretended alliance in favour of the common interest of Europe. The public was exhorted to rely on the dis
cretion of ministers : but were they worthy of any trust, after being deceived in their allies in the most material points, and still expressing a forwardness to depend on promises so repeatedly broken? The French, it was now acknowledged, were in a situation to be treated with; we ought, therefore, no longer to stand aloof.—Mr. Pitt opposed the motion. He urged the necessity of confidence in ministers, and observed that, if the House thought this confidence could not be safely vested in them, the proper mode was to address his majesty for their removal. He asserted that the French had almost exhausted their means of carrying on the war; and said that, since his majesty's message had been delivered, ministry had taken every measure, consistent with the interests of the country, to accomplish the object of it. The point to be considered was the probability of obtaining just and honourable terms; but such terms must be very different from those which the public declarations of the French had for a long time past indicated.
Mr. Fox rose and said:- Notwithstanding, Sir, the mode of arguing which the right honourable gentleman has adopted this day, in introducing matter somewhat irrelevant to the question at issue, I intend to confine myself almost entirely to the subject of my honourable friend's proposition. The House will pardon me, however, if I make a few preliminary observations upon the manner in which the right honourable gentleman commenced his speech. Far be it from me to discourage any inclination that may be shewn to negociation, or in any degree to retard the advance to peace; for whether the season for negociation be advantageous, when compared with those which have occurred at periods which are past, it is certainly advantageous, when compared with any that may be expected in future, however numerous our victories, or however unprecedented our success. I cannot, however, refrain from saying a word or two upon the past, not with a view to exaggerate the difficulties of the present, but merely in my own vindication, for having proposed pacific measures, when they were refused to be adopted. Will it be said, that when the Low Countries are in the hands of the enemy, when Holland is become a province of France, and when they are in possession of St. Lucie and St. Domingo, that we are in a situation in which more honourable terms of peace may be expected, than when they were driven out of the Dutch provinces; when they were routed in every battle in Flanders; when they were compelled to retreat within the limits of their own territory; when Valenciennes was taken; when a considerable impression was made upon them by the emperor in the north, and by Spain upon the south; in short, when they did not hold an inch of ground without the boundaries of Old France? Then we were told, that it would be hu