Saturday, 4 February 2012

4th February 1812: Questions in the House of Lords about Nottingham disturbances

On Tuesday 4th February, and after 3 months of disturbances, the Houses of Parliament realised something was amiss in Nottingham, and the disturbances were discussed in the House of Lords:

Lord Holland: said, he wished to ask the noble lord opposite, whether it was the intention of his Majesty's government to give any explanation to parliament, respecting the disturbances that existed in, and about the neighbourhood of Nottingham, disturbances which had now been going on for nearly a twelvemonth, gradually increasing in the numbers concerned in them, and in the extent of the depredations committed, and exhibiting as they increased principles and objects of a most formidable character. He did not mean, uninformed upon the subject as he was at present, to impute blame to his Majesty's government, but when disturbances of so formidable a nature, so dangerous to the peace and so injurious to the character of the country, had been going on for so long a period, and instead of diminishing, appeared to be increasing in violence, he thought it was due to parliament that some explanation should be given, as to what measures had been taken by government to suppress them.

The Earl of Liverpool: said, he had no hesitation in giving what explanation he could respecting the disturbances which unhappily existed to a considerable extent in the county of Nottingham, disturbances in which men were combined to destroy their own comforts, and even their own means of subsistence, and at the same time adopting a system which had naturally excited alarm. There might be riots more alarming in appearance, but arising from a sudden ebullition of resentment, and therefore easily quelled in a short time; but the system adopted in the county of Nottingham undoubtedly gave those disturbances a new character. It would not, of course, be expected, that on the present occasion he should enter into a detail of the circumstances attending these disturbances. His Majesty's government were fully sensible of the importance of putting an end to these excesses, and whenever the subject came before the House, he was persuaded it would be found that they had not been inattentive or remiss in taking those measures which circumstances required. Two of the most intelligent magistrates had been sent from London to Nottingham, with all the means which they could command, in order to take such steps as might be necessary. He was not sure that it would not be necessary to apply to parliament for some additional powers, in order the more effectually to repress these disturbances.

Lord Holland: was not quite sure that he had understood the noble lord: what he meant was, that it was highly necessary that some inquiry should be instituted in parliament respecting these disturbances, particularly as they had (if he was not much misinformed), within the last two or three weeks assumed a still more formidable character than they had hitherto displayed, and many days ought not to elapse before the inquiry was instituted.

The Earl of Liverpool: observed, that what he meant to have said was, that his Majesty's government were now taking measures, which must bring the subject immediately before parliament.

Lord Holland: said, that as so many months had elapsed whilst ministers were in contemplation, it was highly expedient that they should not be allowed to contemplate any longer.

The Earl of Lauderdale: contended, that the riots and disgraceful scenes which had occurred at Nottingham, might all be traced to the system and conduct of his Majesty's ministers, in reducing the commerce of the country to a gambling speculation. It thence arose that there was a great demand for articles of manufacture one week, and none the next, and the persons employed had one week much higher wages than usual, and the next their wages were reduced far below the usual standard. Was it not to be expected that men thus reduced from high wages to a state of poverty, would become discontented and riotous? He thought that parliament should not wait for any suggestion from ministers, but that they ought to institute an inquiry, to precede any measure suggested by ministers.

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