Imatges de pÓgina

he is not himself deceived. Upon these grounds I am anxious, that the clause proposed to be repealed should, now at least, be debated without regard to authority, which, as far as persons and personal considerations are in question, is seldom in favour of the poor. But the House, I well know, will not be the less disposed to support a just cause from its having nothing but its justice to recommend it. In

spoke last, and those of the noble lord who delivered his sentiments in an earlier stage of the debate, the principal objections to the present Bill are founded on the idea of its being a breach of compact, and a total departure from parliamentary faith. They have not, indeed, asserted that any positive agreement expressed in words was concluded with the shopkeepers, for the provisions of the last year's bill; but they intimate that a sort of tacit bar-what light, then, are we to view the power that has been given to the magistrates for the ruin of a numerous description of people; a power to commit without a trial; to condemn without a hearing; and to punish without even the suspicion of guilt? Sir, the law which gives that power violates the constitution, contradicts the express words of Magna Charta, and wounds the security of every individual in the kingdom. What principle shall be deemed sacred, when the first principles of justice are violated? what obligations shall be valued, when those of humanity are despised? or what government can be thought permanent, when the basis of civil society itself is thus wantonly attacked? Has the Legislature a right to establish oppression by law; to connect punishment with innocence; to invest its magistrates with a power which even in governments the most despotic would be considered as a just ground of dissatisfaction and complaint?-I know I shall be told, that the clause which conveys this power is not of a judicial nature, but is merely a regulation of police. Sir, to the subject, the name is immaterial; for, give to the Act whatever appellation you will, it still is an Act that renders the subject dependent for his safety, not on his own innocence, not on his strict observance of the laws of the land, not on the faithful discharge of every duty which he owes to the state, but on the casual opinion, the accidental humour, the mere caprice of the magistrate: nor is there the smallest pretext for giving this intemperate law the specious appearance of a measure of police; for measures of that sort can only be founded on necessity or expedience: now,


gain, deducible from the nature of the case, is understood to have existed; a bargain that, if the specific impost should be laid on the stationary venders of goods, the itinerant sellers should be subjected to proportionable burthens. With this compact the noble lord and the hon. gentleman have endeavoured to shew that the provisions of the present Bill are altogether inconsistent.-Sir, the primary object of the present Bill is the repeal of that clause in the Act of the last year, which enables the magistrates of counties, without a hearing, without the proof of any crime committed, without the charge, or even the suspicion of offence, to dismiss an entire class of his Majesty's subjects from their only occupation, and to consign them to misery and want.In what respect is this clause connected with the compact of last year? In what respect is the entire proscription of the hawkers and pedlars essential to their just taxation? Foreign to the principle, and unthought of by the framers of the Act of which it forms a part, this clause was proposed in one of the latest stages of the Bill. Few persons were present, and of those few, the greatest part seemed little disposed to exactness of investigation or minuteness of inquiry. Some of us, indeed, had also a powerful persuasive for acquiescing in the clause, in the confidence we felt in the character of its hon. mover: to his known integrity we trusted, that nothing which he recommended to the House could be intentionally wrong; and we trusted to his acknowledged good sense that he was not likely essentially to err. Sir, the uneasiness and strong remorse which from that hour I have almost un-of the first of these pleas, on the present ceasingly felt, have convinced me, that in occasion, the existence is not pretended; all cases, and more especially those in the law itself is a proof that the power which the subsistence of many hundreds which it gave to the justices, of proscrib of my fellow subjects is at stake, a vote of ing an entire description of people, was confidence is a most unwarrantable thing; not founded on necessity; for if the nefor though I may be perfectly sure that cessity of taking their livelihood from these the hon. gentleman means not to deceive unhappy men had existed, the law could the House, yet I never can be sure, that not have left the execution of the measure

hawkers and pedlars were useful, the magistrates, instead of forbidding their coming, would naturally encourage it; whereas in those counties where their presence, so far from being wanted, was deemed a nuisance, the magistrates were authorized to prevent their coming: but they were not to be sent to prison without a hearing; they had an appeal to the quarter sessions, upon whose authority alone they could be committed and detained; nor was it to be imagined that any gentleman in the commission would wantonly exercise his power over poor hawkers and pedlars.

Mr. Courtenay said, that an hon. baronet had given good, and indeed excellent reasons, why the Bill ought not to pass into a law. He had stated that the hawkers and pedlars carried about oldfashioned goods; undoubtedly the hon. baronet would be exceedingly shocked at perceiving any thing old-fashioned about him. He had also said, the hawkers and pedlars had no resident place of habitation, and that they travelled about from one part of the country to another. This was also an excellent objection, for how dare such humble individuals follow the order of nature? Why had they not learnt the art of being in two places at one and the same time? And yet, no doubt, they had the impudence to justify their conduct, by declaring that they could not stay at home, and travel about with their packs at the same period. The justices also had acted wisely in prosecuting these hawkers and pedlars, and they had assigned admirable reasons, as justices always did, for their proceedings. They had stated, and he had that day read it, that the hakwers and pedlars imposed on the people, by carry

Mr. Marsham remarked, that when the shop tax was proposed, it had been expressly stated, that hawkers and pedlars should be abolished, and under that sug-ing about English goods and pretending gestion, many gentlemen had consented they were smuggled from France. This to vote for the shop tax: afterwards, when was indisputably a gross and scandalous the idea was departed from, and a tax on imposition; for what could be more na hawkers and pedlars had been proposed, tionally injurious than to cheat the public and the subject came into discussion, it into the purchase of British manufactures? had been urged by several gentlemen, that There were other reasons of an equally there were parts of the kingdom in which serious tendency, to be urged in justificahawkers and pedlars were extremely use- tion of adhering to the Bill of the last ful from the scarcity of villages and towns, year. Perseverance was a noble and a their extreme distance, and the consequent magnanimous virtue, and surely persevedifficulty of getting at shops without great rance in the wrong shewed more magnatrouble and loss of time. On the other nimity and firmness than perseverance in hand, it had been stated, that there were the right. If the House made an egreother parts of the kingdom where villages gious mistake in passing an unjust Act and towns were numerous, and shops al- against hawkers and pedlars last year, most every where within reach; his clause, why should they avow their pusillanimity therefore, had been calculated to meet by acknowledging their error? It was both these arguments: in counties where much better to be firm, and to prove

to the uncertain decision of the magistrates. Equally obvious it is, that this strange and unprecedented delegation of power was founded on no expedience, for the persons to whose judgment you appealed for the propriety of the measure, the very magistrates themselves, by their almost unanimous refusal to execute the law, have emphatically declared, that the measure is inexpedient, is unjust, is inhuman. On what grounds, then, was this reprobated clause recommended to the Legislature? Unconnected with the principle of the Bill of which it forms a part; alien to the laws; incompatible with the constitution, and adverse to every principle of expedience, of justice, and of humanity, on what foundation does it rest? Sir, it rests on a foundation so abhorrent to every honest and honourable feeling, that I cannot without the deepest concern describe it to the House-it is founded on the spirit of monopoly; on commercial hatred; on the eagerness of one description of traders to ruin and destroy another: to such views the members of this House will never deliberately give the smallest support. They who advise an opposite conduct; they who propose that the measures of the House should take their direction from the dictates of private animosity, and of trading rivalship; they who would make the Legislature itself the instrument of injustice, and an act of parliament the mode of sanctifying oppression; are as careless of the honour of the House, as they obviously are of the happiness and prosperity of the kingdom.

beyond possibility of doubt, that the House | taken to the prejudice of one set of men, would maintain its proceedings right or and in alleviation of another, was, in his wrong. There might, to be sure, be some mind, proceeding upon a false principle of weak-minded men, who, thinking that taxation. Equally false in principle and justice was a better cause than obstinacy, unwarrantable in practice, was it to take a might be inclined to favour the hawkers load off the shoulders of one set of men, and pedlars; and as their weakness was and place it on the shoulders of another an amiable one, their want of magnanimity set of men less capable of bearing it; and might be forgiven. Indeed, if the number yet this had actually been done in respect of gentlemen of this description should to the country shopkeeper and the hawker prove successful, he believed the world and pedlar. As an inducement to the would admit they were in the right, and former to submit to a harsh and severe that they stood fully justified to their con- personal impost, the hawker and pedlar stituents in particular, and to their country had been heavily taxed and rigorously reta in general. strained within certain convenient limits, and now, after the country shopkeeper had been relieved almost entirely from his burthen, the load was to remain on the back of the hawker and pedlar. This mode of proceeding was unjust and indefensible. He, therefore, felt himself obliged, in a conscientious discharge of his duty, and with a view to measure out equal terms to both descriptions of men, to give his vote in support of the Bill.

Mr. C. Robinson stated, that hawkers and pedlars were only forbidden from entering market towns, except on fairdays, but that cities and capitals were open to them; and that if the Act had not contained such a restriction, they all knew that by the charters of many old corporations, the corporations themselves enjoyed rights and privileges tantamount to the keeping out hawkers and pedlars. There was an implied compact held out to the shopkeepers during the last session; and under the faith of that, his constituents had cheerfully paid the tax. Mr. S. Thornton declared, he had given his consent to the shop tax, under an idea that hawkers and pedlars were to be abolished.

Sir Adam Fergusson said, he had given himself the trouble of examining what the sum was, that the country shopkeeper paid for the shop-tax, upon which so much stress had been laid. The sum paid by shopkeepers renting houses from 5l. to 10. and even up to 251. a year, was from 3s. to 6s. 8d. and up to 19s. He dwelt on the extreme injustice of depriving a large description of industrious individuals of the means of earning an honest livelihood, in order to compensate a shopkeeper of extensive dealings for the trifling tax of 19s. a year.

The Lord Advocate said, he had been instructed by several of his constituents, who were shopkeepers, to support the present Bill, and to endeavour, as far as in him lay, to obtain a repeal of the severe clause against hawkers and pedlars.

Mr. Windham declared, that however confident he might be, from the liberality of his constituents, manifested already towards him in a very exemplary manner, that to vary from their sentiments would not injure him in their opinion; yet that an opposition to their wishes must even on that account give him particular pain. It was not, therefore, without a sacrifice of his private feelings to his sense of pubhe duty, that he rose to declare he held the singling out of any particular description of persons, as the objects of taxation, to be to the full as unjustifiable, as it would be for the minister to put his hands into the pockets of an individual, and insist on the state's sharing with him in the contents of his purse. All taxes should be governed by some general rule or other, indiscriminately applying to the people universally; and any distinction



Mr. Pulteney, as the person who had introduced the Bill, wished to offer a few words upon the subject. With regard to the idea suggested of the hawkers and pedlars cultivating the waste lands, the hon. gentleman, it was evident, had been but little used to cultivating land, or he must have known that it was very expensive. The hawkers and pedlars who had formed a settlement in Staffordshire, had, for a number of years, applied the profits of their industry as hawkers and pedlars, to the improvement and cultivation of the soil around their habitations. If they were suffered to continue their industry unrestrained as before, they would be enabled to continue their agricultural improvements; but the hon. gentleman wished to deprive them of acquiring an honest profit, and yet would set them down as culti vators of the soil, without any money to

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carry on that business. He stated the extreme difficulty that must attend their complying with the clause of the Act, which restrained them from coming within two miles of the center of a market town. In some cases, two market towns were so near each other, that it was not possible to be at the distance of two miles from the center of one, without being within that distance of the center of the other.

Mr. Pitt said, that the hon. gentleman opposite seemed to be mistaken in the statement he had made of the circumstances under which that Bill first came forward. It did not arise, as he had stated, from any opposition to the Shop-tax, but was in fact opened to the House at the very time that that tax was first mentioned. On his intention to propose a tax on retail shops, he had thought it necessary to consult some of the best mercantile authorities on the subject, and had collected from them that the only method by which that body of people which were intended to be made the vehicles of the tax to be raised for the use of the public, could be reconciled to it, would be by withholding the licences of the hawkers and pedlars; by which means, as a compensation for the new burthen to be imposed upon them, they would be relieved from what they already considered as a severe grievance, the unfair competition between them and the hawkers and pedlars. He disclaimed the doctrine of any pledge from the Legislature to a body of men, who seemed proper objects of a tax; and above all, a pledge that it would omit to do what might in future occur to it as just and politic; but yet, though he should by no means admit such a principle, he thought that the circumstances attending the introduction of the two Bills last year, and the one being made a palliative to the other, and many gentlemen having agreed to both, who would have objected to one of them separately, he thought, without admitting any idea of the public faith of Parliament being committed, that there was sufficient reason for the House to withstand any proposal of a repeal of one of them, unless upon the most mature deliberation and the strongest arguments. The justice of the restraints on the hawkers and pedlars arose out of the very nature of commerce, in which so much depended upon a competition, that it would have been the most unwarrantable measure to have laid one set of traders under a burthen, and at the


same time to have left their competitors free from it. The intention of the Legislature in imposing the tax on retail shops was, that they should indemnify themselves, by adding an advance to the prices of their goods; but, if the hawkers and pedlars had been left upon their old footing, they would have been under no such necessity of increasing their prices, and consequently would have been able to undersell the shopkeepers, and by that means deprive them of their trade. To illustrate this, he made a supposition that there were in the city and neighbourhood of London eight distillers; would it not, he said, be impossible to impose a heavy tax upon seven of those persons, and to leave the eighth free and unincumbered, without doing a material injury to those who were obliged to pay it? Admitting, merely for the sake of argument, the propriety, and even the urgency of a repeal, it behoved the House not to suffer it without the utmost circumspection.

Mr. Wilberforce said, he felt himself warranted to declare, that he had good reason to think that the hawkers and pedlars were a very honest, industrious, useful description of men; that they had been too severely dealt with, and merited the attention of that House.

Mr. Gilbert, describing the large colony of hawkers and pedlars settled in Staffordshire, declared that it had been uniformly so unexceptionable, and at the same time so praise-worthy, that the House ought to consider hawkers and pedlars as objects of its protection and kindness rather than of its severity. That settlement was not the only stationary proof of the industry and laborious exertions of the hawkers and pedlars; they had furnished other proofs, and were really so well worthy the care of Parliament, that he trusted the humanity, as well as justice of the House, would be evinced, by their suffering the Bill to be read a second time.

Sir Watkin Lewes said, that with respect to the shopkeepers of London, he must beg leave to inform the House, that the restriction imposed on the hawkers and pedlars, was so far from being a relief to them, that they considered it as an additional burthen.

The House then divided on the question, that the Bill be now read a second time: Yeas, 49; Noes, 99. After which, the Bill was ordered to be read that day three months.

Earl Stanhope's Plan for rendering the Reduction of the National Debt permanent.] May 22. The Bill for the Reduction of the National Debt was read a second time. On the motion that it be committed,

Earl Stanhope rose. He observed, that he should never have taken the liberty to have troubled the House with a notice of his intention of bringing, that day, before their lordships the whole of the great question relative to the reduction of the national debt, if he had not conceived it to be a question of as high importance as any that ever did come, or any that ever could be brought, under the consideration of Parliament. He contended, that it was in the first place the most important of all possible questions of finance; that it included every question in which Englishmen were deeply interested; that it involved the subject of taxation in its full extent, and the future diminution of the burthens of the people; and therefore that it involved also the consideration of the price of labour, which was so considerably affected by the injudicious manner in which many of the taxes were laid in this country: that the question of the price of labour involved the consideration of the price of manufactures, and consequently the most extensive consideration of commerce and of foreign trade; that commerce and foreign trade most materially affected the naval strength of this country, and of course the defence of this kingdom, and the defence of all our foreign possessions in every quarter of the globe.

This great question before their lordships relative to the reduction of the na tional debt, included the wealth, strength, prosperity, and even the sovereignty and independency of the state; and no question could more deeply affect the foreign politics of this kingdom. This was also a question of liberty and of the constitution: taxes begat the necessity of revenue officers to collect them; and the swarm of excise officers, of stamp officers, of customhouse officers, and of revenue officers of every description, tended in a great degree to increase the unconstitutional influence of the Crown: and, therefore, every Whig, who wished to reduce the influence of the Crown, must wish also to reduce the public debt. This great question, then before their lordships, was a question of liberty and the constitution in a still more important point of view, inasmuch as it was a question that so peculiarly affected the [VOL. XXVI.]

independence of the country: the question then before the House in fact was, whether this kingdom should hereafter become a conquered province to some foreign state, or should remain a free and independent country, the pride of Europe, and the envy of the world. His lordship then enlarged upon the necessity of reducing the public debt, and particularly upon the danger of the diversion of the new Sinking Fund in time of war by Mr. Pitt's Bill then before the House. He stated, that four million of free revenue (to which the Sinking Fund was finally to accumulate), if applied by a minister to the interest of new loans, would enable him to obtain eighty million by way of loan, in order perhaps to apply those 80 millions to the most absurd, or to the most profligate purposes; and that the only way to prevent future ministers and future parliaments from diverting this new Sinking Fund was, to institute a bargain, and solemnly to pledge the public faith.

Earl Stanhope next spoke of the new clause introduced into Mr. Pitt's Bill in the House of Commons on the motion of Mr. Fox: upon the whole, he much approved of that clause, though it was certainly liable to some objections. The saving of the bonus upon a considerable loan was no immaterial advantage; but the principal advantage of that new clause was, that by diminishing the quantity of money really to be borrowed, it made the minister so much more master of the bargain; and that clause was not liable to the objections which would attach_upon any diversion of the new Sinking Fund; insomuch as that clause was so contrived as not to break in upon the admirable operations of compound interest. His lordship then alluded to the speech of Mr. Pitt, in the House of Commons, in which he had stated, that it was a recommendation of Mr. Fox's clause, " that it tended to diminish the temptation to divert the new Sinking Fund." Earl Stanhope said, that any man who could use such an argument, absolutely abandoned the defence of the new Sinking Fund Bill. What, diminish the temptation to do that which is stated to be impossible! It was admitting, that by the new Sinking Fund Bill, there was a temptation to divert the surplus: it was admitting that there was a temptation (though a diminished temptation) to divert it; and that by Mr. Pitt's plan, the diversion of the new Sinking Fund was possible. Earl Stanhope then



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