Sir Gilbert Heathcote
rose, and after stating that he was afraid to trust his feelings on this occasion, he proceeded to observe, that, when he witnessed such a multitude of petitions laid on the table of that House, and saw how little they were attended to by those who, no doubt, were desirous of being considered the representatives of the people, he could not help believing that the people had just reason to complain that they were not freely and fairly represented. Those who were enemies to parliamentary reform ought to mark the powerful engine, which, by their neglect, they placed in the hands of those who contended that the representation was not what it ought to be. No person could suspect that he was hostile to the agricultural interest; but he could not forget the great services which the commercial interest had performed for the country; services by which the empire was enabled to make the effectual struggle which had been so gloriously terminated. The hon. baronet then proceeded to animadvert on a speech delivered on a former evening by Mr. Yorke, at the delivery of which, he acknowledged he was not present. The right hon. gentleman, he observed, appeared all of a sudden to 59 forget the commercial interest entirely, and called on the House to support the agricultural interest alone. For his own part, he thought it better to adhere to a system already tried, and found efficient, than to adopt experiments, however beautiful the theory by which they were supported. He should always prefer making the amount of the rent depend on the price of corn, rather than render the price of corn consequent on the amount of the rent. He concluded by moving, "That the Report be brought up this day six months."
denied that he had ever spoken of the commercial interest in the manner attributed to him.
rose to second the amendment. He said that on the same grounds on which the other night he had voted against going into a committee, he should now give his hearty and decided vote against receiving the report. Under an impression of the difficulties with which the question was surrounded, and the importance of the interests involved, he had, not without some hesitation, arrived at a decided opinion by which to direct his conduct. But the question, as it now stood, involved other considerations besides those of the ultimate expediency of the legislative, measure. He thought the question had been hurried through the House, up to its present stage, in a manner indecorous to Parliament, and injurious to the people of England. On a question of such intricacy, and such importance to our commercial as well as landed interest, time ought to have been given to members to instruct and satisfy their own minds, so that, even should they be disposed to concur in the necessity of the Bill, they might have means and opportunity to reconcile, if possible, the wishes and feelings of their constituents. No such opportunity had been given, and the Bill had been hurried through with a haste ill becoming the importance of the subject, or the gravity of Parliament. The people of England were at the doors; he meant not in riotous and tumultuous meeting, but in respectful, constitutional, and rightful remonstrance, by way of petition. This was not a moment for hurrying such a Bill, or for running as it were a race for time against the petitions of the people. He trusted he was as little disposed as any man who heard him to concede any thing to the outcry of a mob, which was as contemptible as it was violent. He felt 60 as strongly as any man, that the deliberations of the House, to be useful to the country, must be unbiassed and unintimidated; and never would compromise the freedom of so important an agency. But, on the other hand, as an humble individual sitting in that House, he could not consent that the people of England should be thrust from the bar without time for petition, nor that the voices of those by whose franchise gentlemen sat there should be unheard or disregarded. Besides this view of the subject, on which he mainly and readily rested his vote, there were several considerations on which he should pause, both as to the justice and the policy of the measure. He thought that it was imposing a high standard price on an article, which as it had fluctuated under the burthens and chances of war, so would it, under the influence of peace, find its own proper and natural level. The measure would, he thought, encourage to an alarming extent emigration among the middling orders, particularly among manufacturers, who would, export arts, enter-prize, and hands, to those countries where sustenance was cheaper, and the wages of labour corresponded better with the means of life. He thought no case had been made out to convince the House that this minimum standard would have the ultimate effect of keeping corn at a more moderate level; but he was convinced that the immediate operation of it would be the reducing the labouring class to a more wretched dependence on parochial assistance than the poor-laws had already placed them in. It belonged to older men than himself to recollect the good days of the English peasantry. The high and honourable pride which once kept the peasant from stooping to parochial relief was now extinct, the possibility of his maintaining himself and his family by honest labour was now no more; and laws such as these would perpetuate this wretched change, would make it worse, and bring down a free and gallant peasantry to the abject state of serfs of the soil. The English peasantry had done much in our support; had made many sacrifices, through a long, arduous, and, at one time, nearly hopeless war. We had animated their exertions by bidding them look to the blessings of peace, whenever, under Providence, peace should arrive. They had abided with us, and for us, the pelting of the storm. The storm was overpast, and what was the poor man's reward in peace? What were 61 the blessings of peace to the poor man? Did they consist in a lower price to him for his luxuries or his plearures? No. In the low price of bread. How did we render the blessings of peace intelligible to a poor man's mind? By talking to him of a lower price of his daily bread. And now we barbarously and insultingly told him to enter with us into an abstract and distant speculation, on a standard price of corn, which began by raising it, and by placing him for ever a wretched dependant on the bounty of a parish overseer. He had never given a more cordial or eager vote than the one he should give for the hon. baronet's amendment.
completely acquiesced in the principle of the Bill, though he thought the price of 80s. too high: that point being fitly arranged, he was convinced that it would promote materially the general prosperity of the empire. It should be recollected, that it had been two years under the consideration of parliament. With respect to the exorbitant rents, it should be remembered, that in what were called the good old times, the landlord was in the habit of receiving rent to the amount of one-third of the produce, but now all that was allowed him was a fourth, and sometimes only a fifth. It was only by acting in a liberal spirit that our manufactures had flourished; and the agriculture of the country, with the same encouragement, without detriment to trade, would thrive in an equal proportion. It was said that land-owners had derived great advantages from the events of war; but the liberal principles on which they had acted ought not to be forgotten. It was impossible that the labouring agriculturists could subsist in England as they did even in the most favoured countries of the continent that he had recently visited, and where he saw the peasants living upon peas, beans, and the lowest fare, in order to supply wheat to the peasantry of Great Britain. He allowed that the petitions upon the table were numerous, but the condition of the people and the means they possessed of forming an accurate judgment ought to be considered when the value of those petitions was to be estimated. Those who were most deeply interested on the other side of the question had comparatively few opportunities of coming before Parliament, and, besides, the arguments employed against the Bill were such as readily to alarm the prejudices of the lower orders of the community.
§ Mr. Philips
said, that according to the argument of the hon. gentleman, agriculture had stimulated commerce; but the fact was, that commerce had stimulated agriculture. One object, it had been urged, was to prevent fluctuation of price; but no argument had been employed to shew how it was to be prevented; and yet, before that was shewn, the House was to be told that the restricting price was to occasion cheapness, and prevent fluctuation. If high rents could be fairly and justly obtained, he would not object to them; but those who opposed this measure, complained of landholders taking unnatural and artificial means to increase rents. During the last twenty years, the value of the fee simple had been doubled, and rents had been raised in proportion. Gentlemen had boasted of the superior condition of the agriculturists; but he maintained, that it was the manufacturers who had chiefly contributed to the support of the country. The House should, therefore, pause, before they adopted a measure which could not fail to be injurious to that description of persons. It was by means of the demand for agricultural produce that high rents had been obtained, and that demand had been from the manufacturers. From whence, he would ask, had our army and navy been supplied? It had been said, from the agriculturists only; but the noble lord at the head of the war department could not fail to acknowledge, that they were furnished also from the commercial and manufacturing classes. It would be a great misfortune to the country, if the people were to be told that the commercial and manufacturing interests were to be little attended to, and all the consideration was to be given to the agriculturists. Proper respect should be paid to the voice of the people, and he trusted that those who had been advocates for this measure would not proceed in a course which must tend to increase the popular ferment.
§ Mr. Wellesley Pole
said, that not having yet spoken upon this subject, he was anxious to take an opportunity of expressing his high approbation of the measure before the House, in all its parts. He wished it to be distinctly understood, that it was his decided opinion that a wiser measure could not have been brought forward; and he hoped that his right hon. friend would not be induced to shrink from his duty, or to alter the measure in any respect, either as applied to the prin- 63 ciple or to the execution. He thought 80s. was the price that ought to be fixed, to protect the grower of corn, and to enable him to compete with foreign markets: it ought to be recollected, that it was only a protecting price, and not a sum which the farmer would obtain for his wheat. He was persuaded that no Bill could have been introduced that would at once so well consult the interest of the grower and the consumer, the farmer, land-owner, and manufacturer. Was it politic and just to reduce the rental of the whole kingdom one-fourth? Would the hon. member for Wiltshire support those who professedly wished to reduce the rents in so great a proportion? The situation in which Ireland was, was an argument in favour of the measure before the House. Ireland was one of the great sources of our support, and might with proper encouragement render us independent of foreign aid. We obliged her to take our manufactures, and in time of scarcity stopped the distilleries, which were the great sources of her revenue, in order that we might derive supply from them. And in our turn should we not give her the preference over foreigners? It was necessary, also, by some legislative measure, to prevent the fluctuation of prices. He should not, therefore, be induced by any consideration to give up any part of the Bill before the House. As to the charge of precipitation which had been brought against the supporters of the Bill, it had been three years ago before the House, and three weeks under discussion, and the debates had gone to a length almost unexampled. He gave due weight to the petitions; but when he had once made up his mind, no quantity of petitions heaped on the table, or of clamour out of doors, should induce him to give his vote against his judgment.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
said, that last year he had not voted for this Bill, because he had no information upon the subject. He had since, however, considered the measure, and was sure that protection was necessary to the farmer. To what extent that protection ought to go, however, was another question. In his opinion, the prices at which lands were at present let, must be reduced; and he was satisfied the true English landlord, when he saw the necessity of such a step, would not hesitate to adopt it. It was necessary and good for all orders of the community, that rent should be at a fair and moderate rate; but at present the prices were unques- 64 tionably too high. He thought, too, the proposed restrictive price of 80s. was much more than was necessary to protect the agricultural interests, and under that impression alone he should vote for the motion of the hon. baronet. He took the opportunity of stating, that he had presented a petition from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, signed by 25,000 persons, which had been agreed on at a meeting where the business had been transacted with the utmost decorum and unanimity. He was sorry that he could not go the whole length of the petition, which stated that no legislative measure was necessary.
§ Mr. Methuen
said, he should oppose the Bill at all events, whether the cousequence was to lower the price of rents or not. Though the House should not be influenced by clamour, yet when the voice of the people was so unanimously expressed in a constitutional manner by petitions, it should be attended to.
§ Mr. Calcraft
said, that so many circumstances had occurred since the committee on the subject of the Corn laws had terminated their labours, that that circumstance alone would have induced him to press the necessity of further investigation. It was said that the measure was not precipitated, because some change in the Corn laws had for three years been agitated. But had it been discussed in three years of peace? Had the price of labour been reduced for three years? Had the property tax been removed during that period? The country was now in a totally new state from that in which it was when the question was first brought forward. A great deal had been said on the subject of Ireland; and he thought it proper, that consistently with moderate cheap prices to the people of this country, Ireland should have the monopoly of the home market. But he had heard nothing to prove that so high a price as 80s. was necessary to protect the interests of Ireland. There was nothing to prove that by agreeing to the protecting price of 72s. he had been a niggard as to the Irish interests. As the wages of labour depended on the price of bread, it was not possible to apply the same prohibitions to the trade in wheat as to that in cottons or other articles of manufacturing produce. He agreed that rents must and ought to fall. Rents were the effect and not the cause of prices. The landlords had properly taken advantage of the high prices to raise their rents, and they should, now 65 the prices were low, reduce them, and would not be worse off with the lower than they had been with the higher rents. The farmers were aware that the object of the measure was to clinch the present high rents, and therefore were hostile to it. The first effect of the measure would be to throw the labourer on the parish, from which necessity he had been just escaping. Such would be the effect, at least in England. In Ireland and Scotland wheat did not form the common food of the people. Much as he deplored all that had passed in the metropolis, and however he should have been disposed, if the cause had been that of the rabble of the overgrown metropolis, and not of all the people of the kingdom, to withdraw his support, he should not be induced to vote in favour of the Bill even by the disgraceful conduct of the mob; and be hoped the House would not draw inferences unfavourable to the petitions which had been presented to them, from the conduct they had witnessed.
§ Mr. Charles Long
said, in considering this question, his object was to do that which was most beneficial to all, and particularly to the labouring and poor classes of society. The more he had reflected upon the subject, the more he was convinced, that the manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the farmer, and the labourer, had not, with reference to this question, as some gentlemen supposed, distinct and contending interests, but that the interests of all were inseparably connected and united. The hon. gentleman who spoke last had said, that the wages of labour had fallen very much, in many parts of the country, and he asked whether this was not a great blessing? Whether it was a blessing or an evil depended upon the cause; if the wages of labour had fallen because the farmer could not afford to employ the labourer, and on this account many of the industrious classes of society were thrown out of work, which he believed to be the fact, the fall of the wages of labour, in that case, he considered to be a great evil; it was a mockery to tell the labourer that he was to have bread cheap, if you did not give him wages to buy it. Many of the poor he had heard had signed the petitions against the Bill, upon being asked whether they wished to have bread cheap or dear. Who did not wish for cheapness, as far as it was practicable to attain it? But if they had been told that a very low price of bread would necessarily 66 be accompanied with a proportionably lower price for the wages of labour, if they knew their own interests they would not have petitioned against the Bill. The truth is, that if the farmer cannot grow his corn to a profit, he will not employ the labourer at the same wages to cultivate it; in that case the labourer cannot purchase of the shopkeeper as he was accustomed to do, or the shopkeeper of the manufacturer; so that though the farmer may feel the present evil in the first instance, the labourer will feel it shortly, in the loss or lowering of his wages, and the shopkeeper and manufacturer in the diminished sale of their goods; and those who say that things might be cheaper than they are, and yet bear a relative proportion to each other, forget that the taxes cannot now be reduced, if we mean to keep faith, as he trusted we always should, with the national creditors. Some of the opponents of this measure had said, that the evil complained of might be remedied by the landlords lowering their rents: he did not agree with those who said that rents had nothing to do with the price of corn; he considered rent as one of the charges which the farmer incurred in the cultivation of his land, and he knew that rents had been raised in some instances exorbitantly high. Adventuring land-jobbers had been found to give extravagant prices for land, and adventuring farmers had given enormous rents for them; but this was in contemplation of much higher prices of corn than he hoped we should ever see again: the rents of such lands must come down very much, and would come down, whether this Bill passed or not; but he did not believe that, generally speaking, the rents of the country gentleman had been disproportionably raised, or that the rent he now received would purchase more goods, than the rent he received twenty years ago:—the evidence before the two Houses of Parliament proved this; and, if so, we had no more right to call upon the landlord to reduce those rents, which were not unreasonable, than we had to call upon the manufacturer to sell his goods at a less profit than that at which he now sold them. Nor would such a reduction of rent, if we could enforce it, cure the evil; for there is much land now in the cultivation of corn, which would not pay the expenses at the present price, even if it were let to the farmer rent-free. Several gentlemen had argued that the protecting price of 67 80s. the quarter, would be the actual price: the protecting price, and the actual selling price had no reference to each other, and to their arguments he would oppose facts. They would find, for 70 years previous to the year 1763, the actual price had been very considerably indeed below the protecting price: the protecting price had been raised in 1791, and for five years after, the actual price had been very much below it; this he thought was conclusive upon this point. Some gentlemen had also argued, that the evidence before the House did not support so high a protecting price as 80s. the quarter, because it was agreed to take off the property tax, since the evidence was given: but it must be recollected that the witnesses did not speak of the protecting price, but of the remunerating price to the farmer; and if the protecting price was 80s. the price received into the farmer's pocket when the average amounted to that sum, must be less, because the charges of conveying it to the port where the average is taken, must be deducted. If, therefore, it was the intention to give the farmer as his remunerating price 80s., before foreign importation is permitted, the protecting price should be set higher; but for this nobody contended;—and all he contended for was, that evidence justified the price which was proposed. It had been said by the opponents of the measure, that the effect of it would be to make corn generally dearer; he was convinced that for any number of years, it would make it generally cheaper, by creating an independent supply. With the encouragement the Bill held out, Great Britain and Ireland would, generally speaking, grow sufficient corn for the consumption of the empire. If we depended upon foreigners, we were at their mercy as to price, or as to any supply whatever, and they might with hold it when we stood most in need of it; and it was in evidence before us, that they always raised the price in proportion to our wants. If there was a large body of the people who did not look deeply enough into questions of this sort, thoroughly to understand them, and who would prefer present plenty to future famine, he trusted the Legislature would not participate in any such delusion. Many of our manufactures had been protected by restraints and prohibitions upon foreign importation: the Legislature had done this, not for the sake of the manufacturer, but for the general interests of the community; so he would 68 protect the agriculture of the country, not for the sake of the farmer, with whose separate interests he had nothing to do, but for the general benefit of the people at large.
stated, that in the part of Scotland with which he was acquainted, the rents had increased from 10s. or 15s. an acre, to 28s. and thence to 40s. This increase had arisen from the increased, industry and skill of the farmers. The leases were granted for nineteen or twenty-one years, which gave the farmers confidence, so that on farms of 500l. a year, 2,000l. capital was frequently employed. The tenants would be very unjustly treated, if after having expended large sums on their land, they were exposed to foreign competition. The labourers at present in Scotland lived much better than the tenants had lived formerly, and wheaten bread was substituted for oatmeal. The measure was, therefore, as warmly supported by the lower as by the higher classes in his part of the country.
§ Mr. Finlay
said, he approved of the principle of the Bill, but wished the price to be fixed at the lower rate. He thought that 80s. was by no means to be warranted: and that the House, in adopting that high price, would be doing what was unnecessary and uncalled for. He wished the matter to be re-considered, and would therefore support the amendment.
§ Mr. Huskisson
expressed his astonishment that the hon. gentleman who had just spoken should have declared himself in favour of the principle of the Bill, and yet declare his intention to agree to a proposition which would at once prevent the possibility of that principle being recognized in any shape. He considered the best course would be to permit the report to be received, and then to propose any alteration in price which the House might think it expedient to adopt, in preference to the sum suggested by his right hon. friend who brought in the Bill.
§ Mr. Finlay
, in explanation, said, he had not misunderstood the question, for he meant the measure should be amended by another bill.
§ Mr. Tierney
said, that if he were satisfied it was meant upon bringing up the report to take it into farther consideration, with any view to conciliation, he should not think the amendment necessary. But seeing that so many gentlemen on the other side declared their determination not to give way, that indeed they would 69 make no concession whatever to the opinion of the country, if this resolution were not relaxed, he should feel it his duty to take every opportunity of opposing such a measure. If it were stated from any authority that it would be proposed in any future stage to reconsider the Bill, in order to reconcile the public to its adoption, he should not resist the original motion; but if the gentlemen opposite continued to press the measure in its present shape, and with the rapidity that appeared the wish of some members, he should feel himself bound to avail himself of every occasion that offered to oppose its progress and adoption.
§ Mr. Preston
renewed his former sentiments in favour of the measure, and denied that the tenantry were inclined to give up their leases from any pressure of high rents. In his opinion the Bill was essential, and that to fix upon a lower price than 80s. would only be deceiving the House and the country.
thought it would be an outrage upon the opinion of the public to press the measure with the precipitancy alluded to, but which he could not believe to be seriously intended by the gentlemen on the other side, until the design was actually avowed by some authority. A measure of such importance had certainly never been so hurried through the House. On all former propositions with respect to corn, the public were allowed ample time to consider and understand the subject before it was passed into a law. He hoped that a similar opportunity would be afforded upon this occasion. If, however, his hopes were unfounded, and it was the intention of the promoters of this measure to push it forward with such rapidity, he should think it his duty to oppose it in every stage.
said, that from all the information which he had received, and especially from Scotland, 76s. was deemed to be an amply sufficient protection, for our agricultural interest: if it was intended, therefore to persist in fixing upon 80s., he should think it his duty to vote for the amendment.
§ On a division, the numbers were.
|For the Amendment||50|
§ The report being then brought up,
rose and deprecated the haste with which it was apparently intended to proceed with this Bill. When 70 the Bill was about to be committed, it was said by its promoters, that when it had gone through the committee, the country would be best enabled to understand and judge of its merits; but now that it had passed the committee, it seemed the resolution not to afford the country time to judge upon the subject; nay, nor even due time to let the people at large become acquainted with it. He maintained that no instance had ever occurred in which a measure of importance had been so hurried, even where there was no such manifestation of public opinion. But the differences which existed among even those who were essentially of the same opinion as to the principle of the Bill, furnished a reason for farther deliberation. Some differed upon the question of average; others upon the subject of assize. In his opinion, as the House determined to grant what was called a protection to agriculture, it would be better to settle this matter by duties than by prohibitions, because, by such an arrangement money would be received by our own Exchequer, instead of being put into the pockets of foreigners. For if the import price were settled at 80s. it would be absurd to expect that corn could be had from foreigners at less than that price. Indeed, such corn could not be looked for at less than 82s. or 83s. and the difference would, of course, go to foreigners, instead of being received, as he proposed, by our own Treasury; but the plan would be still more productive if the scale of duties commenced at 63s. It seemed, however, that the advocates of this measure objected to his proposition, however preferable for the public interest, lest the idea of a duty upon corn should excite an outcry. These gentlemen were probably influenced in the choice of prohibition rather than duties, by a mere wish to catch at a little popularity. ['No, no,' from several voices]. Weil, these gentlemen possibly contemned popularity, although, God knew they wanted it. But his Majesty's ministers might perhaps think the public voice entitled to some regard, and, if so, they must feel the propriety of consulting the judgment of the country upon this important question. That judgment, however, could not be ascertained unless time was afforded. In every direction the people were collecting to express their opinion. This day a meeting was to take place in Wiltshire, in order to consider the question. All was hurry and bustle to petition the House, 71 for every heart and head in the country was interested in the subject. He should be glad, then, to hear from ministers any reason why in decency such a measure should be precipitated. According to the language of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was truly unworthy of the dignity of the House to allow its decision to be affected by the petitions of corporate bodies, or to pay any deference to fur gowns or gold chains: but he differed most materially from that right hon. gentleman; and he thought the extreme interest and anxiety which the public manifested upon this occasion, was entitled to the most deliberate consideration. Surely ministers could not pretend to hurry the bill in consequence of any of those riots, which were a disgrace to our police; and really with such a measure as the evidence of the magistrates at the bar described, it would be matter of surprise if the peace were not disturbed. These riots he deplored and deprecated, and the more so because such riots were always calculated to injure the object the rioters professed to regard. Indeed, if an artful contriver wished to promote a measure of this nature, he could scarcely hit upon a better expedient than a riot. He had, however, no suspicion of such an expedient on this occasion, for he was quite sure that the right hon. gentleman who brought forward this measure had not contrived the sacrifice of his own windows. But all these riots were attributable solely to the gross neglect of the home police; for if it were not such neglect, how could Westminster-hall have become a scene for discussion between the Attorney-General and the mob? There were, it was notorious, no riots in the city, the police of which was superior to that of Westminster. In the city, from which a petition so numerously signed was laid on the table of that House, the people proceeded with the utmost tranquillity. In Manchester and Liverpool, also, the public peace was in no degree disturbed. But notwithstanding the public anxiety which prevailed in all the populous towns from which petitions had been presented, no disturbance had occurred. Indeed, the public meetings upon this subject were generally remarkable for a degree of order and decorum, which might be held out as an example to much more exalted assemblies in which more order and regularity was to be expected. Even at the Westminster meeting yesterday, although an attempt was made to couple the measure with parliamen- 72 tary reform, the public peace was in no degree disturbed. But had a ferment even prevailed, would any gentleman state that as a reason for precipitating the measure that produced the ferment? Could any man decently state such a reason for enacting any measure without due deliberation? The hurry of this measure was, in fact, a great cause of the uneasiness out of doors: such, indeed, was the anxiety created by this hurry—such the apprehension out of doors, that sufficient time would not be allowed for considering the subject, that not unfrequently half a pamphlet was advertised through the country, promising the other half if it could be brought out in time before the Bill was passed. But the advocates of this measure seemed resolved to prevent the fulfilment of these promises, and were literally running a race with all the printers' devils of the country. That this measure had had plenty of discussion in that House, he was ready to admit; but he denied that the country had had a sufficient opportunity of considering it, and therefore he should propose to postpone the further consideration of the report until the first Monday after the Easter recess. If, however, be should fail in his motion, and the measure should still be hurried, it would not be his fault if the Bill had not that title annexed to it which it deserved. The hon. member adverted to the difference of opinion as to the amount of the import price, which was evinced among the meeting at lord Liverpool's, and which difference also prevailed in that House. This difference was indeed such, that if gentlemen would vote only as they spoke, without as well as within the House, a decisive majority would appear against 80s. But some gentlemen seemed to act on this question as members of a political party were sometimes understood to argue, namely, 'let us go without our friends, and not split hands to divide our party.' It was evident, he thought, that this must be an importing country. For the last twenty years we had imported corn; and if our manufactures did not decline, we should continue to import it. 'But,' said some agriculturists, who supported the measure,' let us have the monopoly of the home market, and we will supply you with sufficient corn.' But to those gentlemen he would answer, that they with that monopoly could not afford to supply the market at less than double the price; that is at 80s. while corn was 73 to be had elsewhere at 40s. As to the capacity, however, of those genlemen to supply the home market, he must be allowed to doubt it. For he could not help preferring experience and evidence to conjecture and speculation; and hence he was led to conclude, that we should continue to import corn. Having that prospect then before us, he considered the present measure as peculiarly objectionable, and, setting aside the question as to the interest of our manufacturers altogether, he would put it to gentlemen, whether, if the case of any third country were under consideration, it would preclude that country from buying food horn any other nation, although it could obtain that food at half the price that it could afford to grow it? As to the case of Ireland, he thought that question disposed of by the admission on the other side. For the Irish being free from poor-rates and other burthens to which the agriculturists of this country were subject, of course that price which would afford protection to the latter must amply secure the former. The Irish growers were therefore quite safe; which gave him the utmost satisfaction, feeling, as he did, a lively solicitude for the interests of that country. The hon. gentleman then repealed his former arguments against the measure and its precipitancy; and denied that those who thought with him were at all exposed to the consequence of being indifferent to the agricultural embarrassments of the country, although they would not support a permanent measure, which, in their opinion, could be obviated with full effect by one of a temporary operation. He concluded with moving, That the further consideration of the report be postponed until the first Monday after the Easter recess.
rose to observe, that he had already suffered so much from the consequences of misconception and misrepresentation, that he was the less inclined to allow any opportunity to pass when he was so assailed, without meeting it as he conceived he was entitled to do. With this feeling, therefore, he desired to know, what the hon. gentleman meant when he asserted that he had, for the sake of catching at popularity, consented to sacrifice, in the choice of the present measure, what he knew was for the best interests of the country? He did not believe an import duty would be preferable to a prohibitory price; on the contrary, he had expressed himself quite of a different opinion; and 74 he was at loss to know what the hon. gentleman had seen in his public life to warrant him in supposing he could act with such duplicity, or what right he had to suppose that he would condescend to lend himself to such a line of conduct.
said, that he did not mean to apply the observations personally. What he had stated in the way of argument was, that an opinion generally prevailed, that it would have been preferable to have imposed a duty. He did not mean to imply that the right hon. gentleman, with such a conviction on his mind, had nevertheless proposed the prohibition, from any desire to obtain popularity; but he certainly did state that ministers had abandoned their duty in advocating a prohibition, because they thought a duty would have been unpopular.
replied, that his reason for calling upon the hon. gentleman for an explanation, was because he had affirmed that they, his Majesty's Government, had abandoned what they knew to be the better course, and had adopted another, from motives, the mere suspicion of which was degrading to them. If, however, the hon. gentleman denied such an application of his words, there was of course an end of the matter; but for his own sake, he could not permit it to pass without notice.
repeated, that he had no such intention, and especially that he had no thought of personally alluding to the right hon. gentleman. He had made the observation, because not only himself, but several sensible persons with whom he had conversed, were of opinion that a duty would have been the better mode of proceeding.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that when he heard the conduct of that House charged with indecent precipitation in prosecuting the present measure, he felt it his duty to repel that charge in the most distinct and positive manner. Every member must know, on the contrary, that few questions had undergone so much deliberation; and as no change had been suggested of the plan originally brought forward by his right hon. friend, he did not see the necessity for delay; and he trusted the House would not suffer itself to be taunted, by the imputation of precipitancy or cowardice, into a dereliction of its duty in bringing the measure to a conclusion. Whatever suspicion might be thrown upon himself, he would 75 not pretend to the apathy of being insensible to the danger of protraction. He would not disguise his apprehension, that any unnecessary delay might only tend to disturb the peace of the metropolis; in his opinion, there would be more real cowardice in giving way to the threatening riots which existed, and in transferring the legislative functions from their constitutional guardians, the King, the Lords, and Commons, to an outrageous mob. With regard to what had fallen from the hon. gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, he had certainly been of opinion last session, that a duty would be preferable to a protecting price; but he had since seen reason to alter his opinion, and having already stated the grounds of that change, he should not think it necessary to imitate the conduct of the hon. gentleman, and repeat his speech for the sixth time. As to the petitions which had been presented, no member of that House felt more disposed to listen to them with respect than he did; but, at the same time, he apprehended they were not to consider the opinions of furred gowns and golden chains, as authoritative upon a subject like the present. It would become those magistrates to open their Egyptian-hall again, to call together their thousands and tens of thousands of petitioners, to tell them that they had, upon their information, petitioned Parliament without any just cause, to confess that their arithmetic was false, that their arguments were unsound, that their conclusions were erroneous, and that they had better re-consider the subject well before they petitioned again, or not petition at all. One common error had run through the whole of the discussions upon the present subject, that of confounding the protecting with the remunerating price, which were not necessarily or naturally the same, as had been proved by the experience of half a century. With regard to steadiness of price, there was nothing more certain to secure that, than a source of supply which we could always command; and as far as human wisdom could secure any thing, it appeared to him that the present system was calculated to secure for us such a regular and steady supply. He begged to express his most positive denial of any thing like a combination on the part of the Irish members for the support of interests peculiarly Irish; for he was convinced that the interests of England, which comprehended the welfare of all, were as 76 dear to them as those of the country they happened to represent in that House. He agreed with the hon. member that to pass a corn law was a 'tough job;' and it ought to be so. In an evil hour, about forty years ago, they had departed from that system under which the country had found prosperity for above half a century; he hoped, however, they would return to it again as soon as possible, and having returned, adhere to it. [Hear!]
§ Sir James Shaw
said, that the observations which had fallen from the right hon. gentleman, respecting furred gowns and golden chains, called for some reply from him, and he hoped the House would indulge him for a very few moments. He could not help complaining of the right hon. gentleman for his personal allusions; but in the statement which he (sir James) had made, and had made after consulting with persons better acquainted with the subject than himself, he conceived that he was only discharging his duty. Since that time he had conversed with other individuals, by whom his statements had been completely confirmed.
§ Sir J. Newport
vindicated the conduct of the Irish members upon the present question, and contended that the English manufacturer had no right to complain that Ireland was driving them to extremities, while they commanded the monopoly of the Irish market; and all that Ireland required in return was, to have her agricultural interest preferred before those of Poland and France. He deprecated the idea that the measure before them should be considered as a divided one between the two countries, when, in fact, it comprehended the interests of the whole empire.
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
said, that he considered 76s. a sufficient protection to the farmer; but to obtain that for him, it was necessary to adopt one nominally higher, and that, therefore, he voted for 80s. He denied that there was any intention on the part of the supporters of the Bill to keep up the rents; on the contrary, he was convinced that the ultimate effect of the Bill would be the reduction of the rents. Nor was there any just ground for the charge of precipitation, for the measure had been in contemplation for a considerable time, and had undergone the deliberate consideration of committees of both Houses of Parliament. With all due respect for the petitioners on this subject, he conceived that those petitioners were 77 one party in the country, and the House had therefore to determine between the two parties who had appealed to them for justice.
§ Mr. W. Smith
stated, that his reason for voting for the postponement was, because he did not wish to see the House pledged against the common sentiment of the people. If it was discovered that the acting upon a confessedly uncertain opinion produced tumult, it would be wiser not to push the matter to extremity at once, but to wait and see the effect of further deliberation and delay.
§ The House then divided on Mr. Baring's amendment.
|For the amendment||57|
§ The Speaker informed the House that the next stage of the business was to decide whether the price of 80s. which had been named in the committee should be agreed to.
§ Mr. Calcraft
reminded gentlemen that all who were not prepared to say that as high a price as 80s. was necessary, whether they thought 72s. or 74s. or 76s. or even 78s. the proper limit, were bound to negative by their vote the present question.
§ The House again divided:
|For the price of 80s.||184|
§ The other parts of the report relating to the inferior grains came under discussion; after which, the Bill, with amendments, was ordered to be engrossed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, then moved that the Bill should be read a third time on Friday next.
said, that he must take the sense of the House upon this question although after so long a discussion he did not think it necessary to adduce any further arguments. He considered that the Bill was hurried through the House with indecent precipitation, and must enter hi protest against it. He moved as an amendment, that the Bill be read a third time on Friday se'nnight.
Sir Gilbert Heathcote
seconded this amendment. The right hon. gentlemen on the other side of the House were much mistaken, if they supposed that the passing in a hurry a Bill so repugnant to the feelings of the people could have the effect of allaying those feelings.
|For the amendment||46|
§ On the re-admission of strangers into the gallery,
, cheered by the whole House, was strongly insisting on the propriety of calling out the military, when the civil power was not sufficiently strong to repress the multitude out of doors, who wished to influence the proceedings of the House by their violence.
thought what the hon. gentleman had just uttered must be in unison with the feelings of every man in that House, and with those of every man out of it who knew how to value the British constitution, and the blessings which he enjoyed in this free and happy country. If the legislators of Great Britain might not debate on those measures which to them appeared to demand their consideration, without being threatened in their persons and injured in their property, the liberties of Englishmen were gone. And if the persons concerned in the tumults out of doors thought their representatives in parliament so lost to themselves, and so forgetful of their duty to the community, as to suffer these disgraceful riots to have any influence on their conduct; if they thought their outrages would incline them to the smallest relaxation of their duty—they little knew what those who sat in that House felt they owed to their own character, and to the interests of those who sent them there. He hoped by their conduct that night, they would teach the ignorant and infatuated persons (for such he trusted they were) with whom these diorders originated, that they knew their duly, and were not to be deterred from performing it by clamour nor by outrage. He, however, was anxious that that which had occurred should not be exaggerated. Some houses had certainly been attacked; and this, in a city so large as London, might be easily effected by a few wicked men, proceeding from one place to another; but it was right to state, that the metropolis generally had not been thrown into a state of clamour or disaffection. The police had not been negligent; but no police could prevent such attacks from being made in different parts of the town under circumstances like the present. It would be false mercy not to take the most effectual means to check such outrages; the hon. gentleman might be assured, the Executive felt this to be their 79 duty; but a desire to forbear as long as possible from proceeding to extremities, was, he was certain, that line of conduct which would best secure the confidence of the House. The Executive would firmly stand by the Legislature, and make every exertion the emergency of the case might demand to protect them, and with them the laws and liberties of the country.
§ Mr. Whitbread
fully concurred in many of the sentiments that had fallen from the noble lord, and was equally persuaded that all attempts to compel members to vote in opposition to their consciences would be fruitless. On the contrary, it was known that in some cases the effect was directly the reverse, for several members had voted in favour of the Bill, because such means had been resorted to in order to influence their conduct. What the noble lord had said respecting lenity, particularly as applied to the police, however, was very distinct from negligence. From what passed on the former night upon this point, the majority of members must be convinced that effectual steps had not been taken; and Mr. Whitbread scrupled not to say, that those to whom the public peace had been entrusted, had not done their duty. On a former night, he had suggested a distinct inquiry into the conduct of the High Bailiff of Westminster, and of the magistrates whose presence had been required; but the suggestion was over-ruled. How necessary it was, subsequent proceedings of the riotous mob had shewn. He did not mean to assert that the police of the metropolis generally had neglected its duty; but it was to the Secretary of State for the Home department that the House and the country must look for security; and he hoped the right hon. gentleman opposite would be able to give satisfactory information, first, as to what measures of precaution, and next, as to what measures of prevention had been resorted to, and what safety the metropolis was to hope for in future, should these outrages be continued. Although it was true, as the noble lord had said, that the danger was not exceedingly great, yet the fact was known, that so negligent had the police been in the discharge of its duty, that the populace who had on the previous night attacked the house of a right hon. gentleman, had been able in the broad noon-day to renew and prosecute that attack. The noble lord had assured the House that the Executive Government would stand by the Legisla- 80 ture, but in the present circumstances something more than a mere assurance was required. He called upon Mr. Hiley Addington to state what the Secretary of State had done upon this subject, that his conduct at least might stand justified to Parliament.
§ Mr. Addington
expressed himself obliged to the hon. member for giving him this opportunity of stating what steps the Secretary of State for the Home department had taken to secure the tranquillity of the metropolis. He was sure, that merely to state the outlines of the various measures of precaution and protection would be sufficient. The first step was taken as early as Monday last; indeed, on the evening before, they had been commenced, but on Monday last lord Sidmouth had sent a letter to the lord mayor, pointing out the necessity of paying a strict attention to the preservation of the peace of the city. Afterwards ten magistrates were appointed to different districts, that had been previously arranged.
Sir C. Burrell
spoke to order: he thought such a disclosure of the steps taken by Government likely to defeat the very object in view.
observed, that the statement might be contrary to discretion, but could not be contrary to order. Of the propriety of making the statement the right hon. gentleman was to judge.
observed, that there was, in truth, no question before the House, and recommended the reading of the other orders of the day.
§ The Speaker
admitted that there was no regular question; but suggested, that on important occasions like the present the ordinary regularity of proceeding was dispensed with.
§ Mr. Addington
said, he was only about to state the outline of the proceedings of the Executive Government, in pursuance, as he understood, of the wish of the House. If it were their pleasure, he was quite willing to proceed with his statement; [Cries of 'No, no,' from all sides,] at least it might be some satisfaction if he assured the House upon his own responsibility, as far as it was of value, and he pledged himself to prove the fact incontestably, that every possible measure of precaution and prevention had been resorted to; that no means had been omitted, and no expedient left untried.
rose, but, from the great confusion prevailing, in the House, could 81 not for some moments be heard. He agreed that it was wise to give directions to the police and military to be as forbearing as possible, since the subject was one, of all others, on which some degree of intemperance might be expected and excused; but if this intemperance were pushed too far, forbearance would be construed into pusillanimity. It ought to be remembered in censuring the police, that in a large metropolis, it was impossible for the police to be present at all points of attack. It was far better, however, to err on the side of lenity than of severity: severe measures, in his judgment, ought not to be resorted to until there was not a man in the metropolis, with the exception of those who suffered from them, who would not admit that they were justifiable.
was not aware that members had sustained any personal injury or inconvenience in attending their duty in parliament since the former night. Riots of this kind were happily not of frequent occurrence in this metropolis, and consequently the means of preventing or quelling them might not so readily be resorted to. He hoped that hon. gentlemen would feel the same spirit of forbearance before they attached blame to the magistrates, who had not been guilty of any pusillanimity, although they might have acted with too little severity on particular occasions.
§ Mr. Whitbread
said, that though he did not mean to assert that the magistrates might have prevented the tumult or the interference of the military when it was excited, yet he thought that a reprimand to them would have been well timed, and might have prevented many calamities. On a future day he hoped that due inquiries would be made into the steps adopted by the Executive Government. The House could not be ignorant that an unconstitutional police had been raised by act of parliament at a great annual expense, for the express purpose of rendering unnecessary the interposition of military to preserve the peace of the metropolis. He hoped, on investigation, that it would turn out that the police had been properly distributed, and that its timely aid had been required: no man was more anxious that lenity should be shewn than himself; but it should remembered that if recurrence were had to severe measures, they were made requisite by the negligence of the police.
thought it quite nugatory to 82 talk of the police of London, or any police that could be sufficient to oppose such, tumults. If the Government and Parliament neglected to take proper measures to repress them, it would be quite idle and ridiculous to continue talking in that House about the rights and liberties of Englishmen, at a time that no man was safe in his own house. If such proceedings were allowed to continue, there could be no government or parliament in the country, unless the parliament was withdrawn from the metropolis, and summoned to meet in some other city or town in the kingdom. He trusted, however, that those disgraceful scenes would be soon terminated.
§ Mr. Alderman Atkins
thought the danger so pressing, that he recommended the immediate introduction of a bill, which might then go through the first stage, for establishing additional magistrates in all the parishes of the metropolis, with a proportionate number of constables.
§ Mr. Huskisson
remarked, that a bill was not necessary for such a purpose, if additional aid were required. After what had passed that night, and after the devastations the infuriated and blind rabble had committed, he hoped that no member would again venture to assert that the proceedings of the House had given sufficient provocation to the people of England to commit these outrages. The greatest danger had resulted entirely from the mode in which these debates had been conducted. This night he had heard with indignation that he could scarcely repress, the basest motives and lowest designs attributed to the supporters of this measure.
§ The Speaker
here interposed, and reminded the right hon. gentleman that there were several orders of the day to be disposed of.
rose with considerable warmth, conceiving that he bad been personally alluded to by the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down. He hoped that the House would allow him to say a few words to vindicate himself from what he considered a most unprovoked attack.
interposed, and said that if Mr. Baring had any claim to be heard, Mr. Huskisson had a right to conclude what he was about to say when interrupted by the Chair.
§ Mr. Tierney
conceived that Mr. Huskisson had finished the accusation he made upon his hon. friend, who had a right to be heard in his own vindication.
repeated his remark, but from the confusion prevailing in the House, it was scarcely audible.
§ The Speaker
, when order was restored, remarked, that he had interrupted the right hon. gentleman, conceiving that he was transgressing the bounds usually assigned. If he were allowed to conclude, after due reflection, upon what he had before said, it would be but just that Mr. Baring should be permitted to reply.
§ Mr. Huskisson
added, that he had stated his confirmed opinion, and could not be induced to retract it. The hon. member had said, as he understood, that the disturbances had been occasioned by the provocations afforded by the House. This was a sentiment on which it became any and every member to animadvert. What he was about to say further at the time the Chair interposed, was, that he implored the House not to attribute the basest and most unworthy motives to members who defended the Bill, but in future discussions to avoid accusations, and discuss the measure upon its real merits.
said, that what remarks he had made upon the Bill he had offered in the conscious discharge of his duty, from which nothing should induce him to shrink. It was most unjust and unfair that any individual in that House should point out another, from the line of conduct that others pursued, as the author of the ill-treatment of the members, and of the disturbances in the metropolis. Whatever were his opinions upon this Bill, he had declared them, and would still avow them, and what effect those opinions might have out of doors was not for him to consider or care. Free discussion was most necessary upon a measure like the present; and if gentlemen on the other side were not to be terrified into voting against the Bill, he was not to be awed into an acquiescence in what he thought a ruinous measure, lest popular feeling should be excited and expressed. He had given it as his opinion that there was no danger which ought to induce the House to precipitate the Bill, and what he had stated was only to induce the House to proceed with due deliberation. He admitted, that if the complaints of the people were ill-founded, nothing ought to induce the House to go a line out of its way. He again protested against any member rising and pointing out another as the author and abettor of the disgraceful riots that had lately disturbed the metropolis. 84 Nothing, however, should deter him from stating fully, fairly, and freely, the deliberate convictions of his mind.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer then moved the other orders of the day, and the subject was dropped.