§ Mr. Holme Sumner moved the order of the day for resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for appointing a committee on the agricultural distress. The Speaker put the question—"that Mr. Holme Sumner be a member of the committee." Upon the suggestion of Mr. Baring that it would be more convenient that the committee should, in the first instance, be named generally, the Speaker read over the names of Mr. Holme Sumner, Mr. Forster, Mr. Canning, Mr. F. Robinson, Mr. V. Fitzgerald, Mr. Huskisson, the Lord Mayor, lord Milton, sir J. Newport, sir T. Ackland, Mr. Irvine, Mr. Western, Mr. C. Dundas, Mr. J. Benett, Mr. Baring, Mr. Brougham, Mr. Coke, Mr. Gooch, and Mr. Frank-land Lewis. On the name of Mr. C. Dundas being put from the Chair,
rose, and observed, that he could not allow even the reading of the names to be concluded without expressing his decided opinion that a committee so formed could not leave a moment's doubt 706 as to the nature of the report at which they would arrive, even before they proceeded to examine a single witness, or to inspect a single document. At the same time, after the majority which the hon. member for Surrey had obtained last night, he was not prepared to say that the hon. member was not justified in the course he was now pursuing, and he begged merely to enter his protest against being supposed to consider this committee so appointed as likely to do any thing to elucidate the subject, or to benefit the country. He knew as well as if it were now upon the table, what kind of report would be made, and the whole formation of the committee was such as to excite the most just alarm in every part of the kingdom.
§ Sir J. Newport
did not think the hon. member at all justified by the fact in the remarks he had made: if he (sir J. N.) entertained the same opinion of the committee, he would unquestionably refuse to belong to it. He should enter upon the inquiry with a firm conviction that it was his duty to point out such measures as, while they relieved the agriculturists, would not only not injure but advantage, every other class; and if he thought that the other gentlemen named would not commence the subject with the same disposition, he would not act with them.
§ Mr. Sumner
complained that he had not been quite fairly dealt with. The hon. member had desired time last night for the choice of the names to which he intimated that he should not object, under these circumstances an objection from him came rather ungraciously. Besides he had no right whatever to stigmatise the supporters of the inquiry, and to hold them up to the country as a source of alarm. He believed the members he had selected; for the committee were as fair and honourable men as could be chosen, and were as little calculated to excite public alarm as the hon. gentleman himself. He could only say, that it was impossible for him to know with any precision the sentiments of others; but as far, as he had been able to arrive at any degree of certainty upon the subject, he could assert that he had only done what it would have been absolutely foolish in him not to have done in the situation in which he stood; that is, he had procured for himself a fair majority [a laugh]. Was it to be supposed that he should propose a committee with a majority against himself? 707 He did not know what had excited the risibility of gentlemen on the other side he had proposed nothing unreasonable—nothing inconsistent with the ordinary practice on such occasions on both sides, of the House; if a committee were to be appointed from the treasury bench, ministers took care to secure a majority; or, if their antagonists prevailed on any question of inquiry, they also took care not to be in a minority on the committee.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, that when he voted last night in favour of the committee, all he meant was, that he could not reconcile to his judgment or to his feelings to refuse to so large a proportion of the inhabitants of the country an inquiry into a subject which appeared to them to be of so much importance. He did not know how to say to the agriculturists, who stated themselves to be starving, "we will refuse to take your case into consideration." He had never intended by his vote to hold out an expectation that the committee would be able to grant a partial relief beyond what the agriculturists at present enjoyed. If the cultivators of the soil could make out a case, he did not wish to deny them the opportunity; but when the hon. member for Surrey mentioned, that he had taken care to appoint a committee which would give him a decided majority, he went a little farther than he (Mr. Smith) intended to proceed. There were two questions; first, whether the case should be taken into consideration—and upon that point the hon. gentleman was undoubtedly in the right to make out a list of members who would entertain the subject; but if he endeavoured on the second question, the relief that ought to be granted, to secure a majority for the purpose of changing the present system, and rendering it more favourable to the landed interest, then he contended, it was not such a committee as the House ought to appoint. The right hon. baronet had insisted that the members were as fair and impartial as any that could be selected. He did not mean to say that any gentleman would act unfairly according to his own views of fairness; but if 12, or 13, or even if 11 gentlemen out of 21 entered upon the inquiry with a full conviction that more relief ought to be granted to the farmers, the report would, of course, be accommodated to their views of justice and propriety.
§ Mr. Sumner
declared, that in the expression that he had secured a majority in 708 the committee, he simply meant that he had secured a majority, not for absolutely granting relief to the agriculturists, but for taking their claims into consideration.
said, that when he had voted against the appointment of a committee, he was aware that a certain degree of distress prevailed among the agriculturists, but he could not conscientiously consent to inquiry, when he heard its advocates talk of nothing but relieving the country at large by increasing the price of corn. He had, in fact, refused it entirely on this ground. When, too, the hon. member for Surrey, by gaining a majority, had become, as it were, in his own person the government of the country, and had taken upon himself to name his own committee for his own purposes, he took it for granted that he would appoint such gentlemen as were favourable to his views: on that very ground he had felt alarm, and on that ground he thought that alarm would be felt throughout the country. As to the distress of the agriculturists, though he was convinced that it existed, he was convinced also that it had been extremely exaggerated. He had gone through various parts of the country, and he had had intercourse with gentlemen largely concerned; and from all he could see and hear he was satisfied that this extreme agricultural distress was never heard of but within the walls of the House [Hear, hear!]. He used the words "extreme distress" purposely, for he remembered that the hon. member for Essex (Mr. Western) four or rive years ago, had made an admirable speech upon the subject, had given details from different parts of the country, had dwelt upon the number of farms that were unlet, upon the executions in the houses of broken agriculturists, and of the amount of rent remaining in arrear; but where were such statements to be found, on the present occasion? He must say, that he had never heard a case more partially stated; nothing but corn was talked of, though he should like to know whether the stock-farmer had not been prosperous: if the grower of grain had been unfortunate, what was the state of the breeder of cattle; and had he been an equal sufferer? He would only add, that, though he would not turn a deaf ear to the number of respectable petitioners who presented themselves, yet he thought it was matter of alarm to the nation that such a vote had been passed as that of last night.
§ Mr. Brougham
suggested, that it might be convenient if hon. gentlemen would confine themselves to the question really before the House. This was not the ordinary case, where form was of no importance, and substance every thing: the substantial question regarding the instruction to the committee would presently be introduced; for he now learnt with surprise, that the vote of last night was to go for nothing, and that a new discussion of the whole subject was to be invited: if the division and majority were indeed to be passed over he could not help it; he was ready to debate again, and to divide again only he sincerely hoped that the result would be the same. He trusted that gentlemen would so far consult the convenience of proceeding as to confine their remarks to the point of nomination; to the formation of the committee merely, for that was all that was now before the House. In his opinion, it was a great mistake to assert that eleven or even ten of the members selected, were in favour of extended relief: he had looked over the list, and could assert that there was a bare majority of those who were disposed only to inquire. The hon. members for Devonshire and for Waterford and himself were pledged only to the extent of inquiry in deference to the claims and great interests of the petitioners. They were by no means sure that any relief ought to be granted; and he mentioned this fact only to show how erroneous the impression was that the majority of the committee had pledged itself to raise the price of corn. He had been astonished at the merriment excited because the hon. member for Surrey wished to secure a majority. Suppose he were in a minority, the result would be, that on the first meeting of the committee, the chairman would be directed to report progress, and not to ask leave to sit again; or even if the numbers were equally balanced, nothing could be done, and the matter must be left in a state of neutrality and inaction. A majority was thus absolutely necessary. He pledged himself that nine gentlemen of the committee were absolutely opposed even to inquiry, and such being the fact, could any man assert that a fairer committee had been ever struck?
§ Mr. C. Dundas
declared, that if he did not consider that the interests of the agriculturist and the interests of the manufacturer were inseparable, he would not consent to act as a member of the committee.
§ Mr. Bright
observed, that he found his name among those whom it was proposed to appoint on the committee. If it were imperative on him to attend, he would certainly do so; but after the declaration of the hon. member for Surrey, that he had secured a majority, if be could by any possibility decline being on the committee he would; and he therefore put it to the courtesy of the hon. gentleman to excuse him. It appeared to him that the hon. gentleman had let out the whole mystery of appointing committees; and, as a young member, he had received a lesson that night which he should not readily forget.
objected to wandering from the simple point at issue, and expressed his approval of the nomination of Mr. C Dundas.
§ Mr. Spooner
felt a strong objection to the composition of the committee, as on looking over the list of names he found that not one member from the great manufacturing counties of Warwickshire, Staffordshire, or Lancashire, had been included. If any good were to be derived from the inquiry, which he greatly doubted, it must be accomplished by conveying to the public, that it had been conducted by those who were most competent to give the great subject a fair, full, and dispassionate investigation. Two points were to be considered; first, if relief were necessary, and next if that relief could be supported by the manufacturing interest. If the committee came to the conclusion that a high price for grain would relieve the manufacturers, he hoped it would not be done without at least the show of justice, by adding some members connected with the great counties he had mentioned.
said:—It would be unfair to the hon. mover, if I did not state that one of the members of the manufacturing counties was nominated in his committee, before I requested that my name might be erased. Feeling, as I do, that no method is fair, just, or efficacious, but that obtained by a protecting duty, I thought myself unfit to be a member of a committee, whose avowed object was, to adhere to the principle of prohibition. No wish to avoid the unpopularity which it might have given me, would have had the smallest influence in leading me to this resolution, because I am confident, that the petitions of the agricultural classes particularly demand our consideration and our regard, these constituting the great market for manu- 711 factures, and being the great interest of the empire. When I state to this House, that the county which I have the honour to represent, is supported for nearly ten months in the year by imported grains; that the condition of the manufacturing classes is more deplorable and more afflicting there than in any part of the British empire; that my personal interests are dependent upon, or at least essentially affected by the distress or the prosperity of the manufactures and commerce of the county, it will be seen that my prepossession must be favourable to the views of the trade of the country. But, Sir, I am not so ignorant of the real interests of the state, nor So ill-informed of the principles of sound policy, as to imagine that there is a difference of interests in the relations of the manufacturer of grain and the manufacturer of clothing, food, tools, and machinery indispensably necessary to the farmer. Will the farmer gain by making the labourers of the manufacturer and the merchant pay more for their food, when the value of those materials which they produce, and he buys, entirely depends on the wages which they require to buy food? Will the farmer gain by making I the butcher, the baker, the brewer, the carpenter, blacksmith, tailor, miller, miner, charge more for the flour, fuel, plough, I spade, meat, bread, beer, clothing he is to use, and without which he cannot exist? But, Sir, if it were decorous or just to suppose, a class whose interests were at variance with those of the rest of the community, it is the persons who navigate, and the persons who make the goods for the foreign consumer. It might be supposed, and with far more appearance of probability, that they have an interest which has been so unjustly alleged against the agriculturist—an interest, not in steady prices, not in a regular market, not in improvement of the empire, but in the export of goods and import of grain, whatever might be the tendency of their system, and whatever the dependence on our neighbour, perhaps our enemy, which it might produce. I would, however, venture to suggest the propriety of adding the names of Baring and Ricardo, the hon. members for Taunton and Portarlington, to the list, as men whose views would never change or influence the truth, whatever way the investigation might present it. I cannot sit down without stating, that I am sensible my vote may gain me unpopularity and dislike, and without expressing my 712 belief, that the hon. member for Winchelsea and the hon. mover will one day have the gratitude of the country, and particularly of the working classes and distressed manufacturers.
§ The motion was agreed to. On the question that Mr. Bright be a member of the committee,
§ Mr. Sumner,
adverting to the wish expressed by that hon. gentleman to be excused from the committee, observed, that he had not the honour of knowing him, but that he had named him because he understood he was a man of talents, and because he was a member for Bristol. On the same principle he had nominated Mr. Canning and the Lord Mayor. He repeated his explanation, that in using the word "majority," he had merely meant a majority of persons disposed to inquire into the subject.
§ General Gascoyne
said, there was no member of that House to whom, individually, as a member of the committee, he should object. His objection was to the constitution of the committee altogether. It was of the highest importance for the public to be convinced that the committee was selected in the most impartial way; and the mode he proposed was by ballot [cries of No, no]. Gentlemen might say "No, no;" but let the question be put, and they would then have an opportunity or supporting their negative. The feelings and even the prejudices of the public must be consulted [A laugh]. Gentlemen might laugh; but that laugh proceeded in some degree from want of reading, for it was at variance with the opinion of every author who ever wrote upon political economy. The hon. member concluded by moving, as an amendment, that the committee be chosen by ballot.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
thought it extremely fortunate that no one had seconded the hon. general's amendment. He certainly regretted the decision which the House had come to on the preceding evening; but he trusted that the House would now take a course which should completely dissipate the alarm which, in certain quarters, that decision had excited. The country had little to fear from the committee, as proposed by the hon. member for Surrey: the members for Liverpool, London, and Bristol, afforded sufficient 713 guarantee for the security of the manufacturing interest. It was, he thought, the very objections which were made by persons of rank and of intelligence to the committee as proposed, that were most likely to create distrust and suspicion in the minds of the inferior and less enlightened classes. Had he been in the House last night, he should certainly have voted against the motion of the hon. member for Surrey; he should now be happy to give his vote for any proposition which should go to confine the powers of the committee; and he sincerely lamented any proceeding which tended to light up the torch of discord between two classes whose interests ought always to be considered as united.
was free to declare it to be his opinion, that if the House evinced any disposition to follow the course indicated by the gentleman who had moved and supported the motion, there would be ample ground for alarm, and he, for one, would be ready to pull the tocsin with all his might. If the House was determined to take such measures, the country could not take the alarm too generally nor too immediately. He trusted that he should not be misunderstood, and that no one would suppose that he could wish to favour the promotion of irritation, or hold that such measures ought to be opposed by tumult or commotion. Gentlemen who were members of that House at the time when the last Corn bill was passed, might remember that it was, at last, owing to such commotions that the bill was carried—[No, no!]. Certainty, whatever might be the opinion of gentlemen, the opposition of the House to that measure had rather been weakened than strengthened by the popular clamour. He was, however, of opinion, that if the House did propose to take the course to which he had alluded, the country could not too soon feel that alarm which should induce them to oppose it by constitutional measures. To use the language of one of the greatest and most eloquent men who ever sat in that House, "the alarm-bell at midnight, which disturbs our rest, may perhaps prevent us from being burnt in our beds."
§ Mr. Brougham
saw some little inconsistency in the feeling of the hon. member, who, while he deprecated alarm as one of the worst effects likely to be produced by the appointment of the committee, proposed to be the first who should pull, 714 what he called "the tocsin," upon the occasion. Now, alarm was either good or bad. If good, pull the tocsin; but then why deprecate it? If bad, why promote it? Why deprecate alarm as the worst effect the measure could produce; and yet think it so necessary, and so valuable, and so salutary, as to say, "I must pull, pull, pull the tocsin as hard as I can? "He did not doubt the motives of the hon. gentleman; but he must venture to doubt the good effect of pulling the tocsin.
in explanation, said, he wished to avoid giving any unnecessary alarm; but the great evil was, that the alarm might, as in this case, be so well founded, as to show that the thing which created it was prejudicial to the best interests of the country.
§ The Speaker then put the question, that Mr. Bright, sir Thomas Ackland, Mr. John Fane, Mr. Bankes, Mr. Brougham, Mr. J. Benett, Mr. Irving, Mr. Coke, Mr. Gooch, and Mr. Frank-land Lewis, be members of this committee, which was carried.
without renewing the discussion which had taken place upon the preceding evening, would simply explain to the House why he now took a course which he had not then adopted. He objected to the principle upon which the motion of the hon. member for Surrey had been brought forward. Those particular circumstances as to which, in his opinion, inquiry might have been beneficial, did not, he thought, afford ground for the appointment of a committee; and therefore, although he should not have objected to an amendment, he did not propose one. An hon. friend of his had proposed an amendment, and the House had only been prevented from coming to a decision upon it by a point of form: it appeared that the hon. member who moved the previous question could not withdraw it without the unanimous consent of the House. He thought it his duty, however, since the House had determined that inquiry should take place, to limit that inquiry within the narrowest possible bounds; at least, within those bounds which he believed could alone lead to any practical advantage. The right hon. member then moved, "That it be an instruction to the said committee, to confine their inquiry to the mode of ascertaining, returning, and calculating the average prices of corn in the twelve 715 maritime districts, under the provisions of the existing corn laws, and to any frauds which may be committed in violation of any of the provisions of the said laws."
did not last night wish to obtrude himself on the House. He was most anxious, however, that measures should be taken to suppress that dreadful system of gambling to which the corn trade at present was so peculiarly liable. Serious disadvantage resulted from the difficulty which existed in getting fair returns of the inferior sorts of corn. His right hon. friend, the president of the board of trade, thought that much of this inconvenience might be remedied by the interference of magistrates; but he (Mr. Wodehouse) was persuaded that magistrates would, in such a situation, be exposed to considerable difficulties. He knew of no act giving magistrates a controlling power in this respect, except the 31st of king George 3rd. This gave the magistrates an opportunity of checking the average, if the inspector were incorrect by the official corn returns; but that was insufficient. An hon. gentleman who sat near him felt somewhat incredulous as to the frauds committed in the corn trade; and he had himself, at one time, been nearly as incredulous as that hon. gentleman; for, though he certainly believed that frauds were practised, yet he had, as certainly, no conception of their importance, and of their extent. He was far from intending to raise a hue and cry against any trade; but he had received information from a quarter which he could not doubt, although he was unwilling to disclose it, of a fraud which had been committed, doubtless unintentionally, by one of the very first houses in Hamburgh. One of the principal dealers at Hamburgh had shipped a considerable quantity of wheat to this country, of a very superior quality. From the peculiar quality of this grain, the shipper was desirous to see it after it was warehoused; but, on inquiring at the warehouse, he was told that he could not see it; it was gone. He (Mr. Wodehouse) did not know that his credulity might not have been imposed upon; but it was important that the public mind should be set at rest. There was considerable difficulty in procuring, under the existing regulations, correct returns of the quantity of corn grown in large districts. To show the uncertainty of any average prices, founded upon the general returns, he would mention a 716 single circumstance. On the 7th of November, 1815, a return was made from Lynn, in Norfolk, of 1,053 quarters of wheat, which cost near 3,000l. averaging a price of 56s. per quarter; while a return on the same day was also made from Mold, in Flintshire, of two bushels, which cost 1l.. 5s., averaging, therefore, 100s. per quarter. Now, in the general average which was struck of the price of corn, the two bushels at Mold had as much influence in determining the amount as the 1,053 quarters at Lynn!
§ Mr. Walter Burrell
remarked, that it was evidently the intention of his majesty's ministers to fritter away every power and important function of the committee. He was sorry to find that an inquiry into the distresses under which agriculturists laboured should be so strenuously opposed. On the subject of averages great abuse existed. The county of Sussex, for instance, sent its corn to the London market, and therefore the averages were taken from the latter place, where the increased charges were added, and not from the place where the corn was grown. It was high time to speak out. He was decidedly of opinion that the agriculturist must be supported, or else he could not pay his taxes. The landholder wished not for monopoly, but for justice; he wished to be enabled to pay the fundholder his dividends. It was most unfair to charge him with being the cause of those public burthens, which, in fact, were imposed by the expenditure and taxation of the country. Unaccustomed as he was to address the House, he should say no more, but conclude by moving, as an amendment, "That it be an instruction to the committee to inquire whether the present mode of taking the averages ascertains the actual market-prices of grain throughout the United Kingdom, or whether any other method may be better adapted to accomplish that purpose."
Mr. Stuart Worthy
admitted, that indeed it was high time to speak out when such doctrines as the House had just heard were gravely laid down. He then, for one, must fairly say, that the country was not at this moment in a situation to bear a higher price of corn. He admitted, with the supporters of this motion, that the agriculturists were entitled to every protection which could be consistently extended to them; but he was convinced, that of all classes they were suffering the least, and that their distress bore no pro- 717 portion to that of the manufacturers. Had he been in the House on the preceding night, he certainly should have voted against the appointment of a committee, being satisfied that the country could not afford to pay the landowners a higher protecting price for their produce than was already paid; and he trusted that the House would not be induced to make experiments, which could only end in proving the correctness of this opinion. He should therefore now support the instruction to the committee proposed by the right hon. gentleman at the head of the board of trade.
of Wiltshire, denied that he had ever been an advocate for high prices, and said he looked on the appointment of the committee as one step to their permanent reduction. Could it be supposed, that if the whole land were thrown out of cultivation, and we depended on foreign supplies alone, that the price of corn would be low in this country? Surety not; and whatever therefore tended to the protection of our agriculture, and to preserve us from foreign dependence, must have a tendency to avert the evil of high and fluctuating prices. It had been shown, in Mr. Colquhoun's book, that, in those years when we were under the necessity of importing corn in the greatest quantities, we never received a supply from abroad more than sufficient for 39 days consumption in the year. A good deal had been said with regard to the high price of cattle during the last year; but the fact was, that about four years ago that pi ice was so low as very materially to check the propagation, and the present rise was but a reaction from the scarcity so produced. The great mischief of the corn laws, as now framed, was, that they kept alive a constant anxiety in the minds both of the farmers and merchants. He had not the honour of a seat in the House when the measure of 1815 was adopted, or he should have stated this objection, for at that time he clearly foresaw the evil to which he was adverting. He wished to see another system substituted, and a direct duty imposed on foreign corn, equivalent to the superior taxation which we had to support. It had been truly said by a great authority on subjects of political economy, that, were it not for our immense debt and taxation, no protection would be wanted; the land, as well as the manufactures, would then be able to maintain itself; but 718 then, while those burthens remained upon us such duties were necessary, or else our land must go out of cultivation, and our population be reduced to the utmost distress. Foreign corn might now be imported at a price absolutely lower than the amount of our taxes, added to the tithes, the poor-rates, and the wages of labour. One of the first consequences, therefore, of large importations of foreign corn, must be a reduction of wages greater than the disgraceful and unjust reduction (he meant in proportion to the difference in the price of corn) which they had already undergone. Another opinion which he had been led to form was, that there was no very large portion of surplus labour in the country; for, although wages were so low that the agricultural labourer could hardly procure bread and water, yet in harvest-time a sufficient number of hands could not be obtained, even at double the former allowances. He had only to add, that if he should be on the committee, he, for one, should have no wish to extend the protection beyond the point fixed in 1815; but he trusted that the committee would not be restrained from making a full report, and investigating every branch of the subject; as nothing would tend more to the satisfaction, if not to the relief of the suffering parties.
§ Mr. Monck
thought it but just to recollect that the question related not only to the price at which the farmer could grow his corn, but to what the poor man could afford to pay for it. The great objection to the corn-laws was, that they affected the poor in a cruel and disproportionate manner. It appeared that we might now, if there was no restriction, import corn at 50s. per quarter, but, in consequence of that restriction, the price was between 70s. and 80s. This was a matter of little moment to a man of large fortune, though perhaps he had a family of eight children. He did not altogether consume more than eight quarters of corn per year, and of course the addition of 8l. per year to his expenditure was not perceived. But how did it operate upon a man with eight in family, who perhaps had only thirty pounds a year? An additional charge of 8l. was in fact a tax upon him of twenty-five pounds per cent and must ultimately ruin him. It was a tax also from which he could not escape, for he must either pay it or cease to live. The House now saw the result of the Corn bill; namely, 719 that it caused the greatest disproportion between the reward of labour and the price of the necessaries of life; and the consequence was, that a great body of the people were reduced to the dreadful alternative of starvation or pauperism—This, to be sure, was a frightful statement, but it was as true as it was frightful; and he therefore considered it to be his duty to vote against the committee, because he was persuaded that, if their deliberations were not utterly useless, they would only have the injurious effect of raising prices, which in his opinion were already much too high.
§ Earl Temple
entertained a hope that, as the committee was appointed, its inquiries might be productive of advantage; but at the same time he took this occasion of stating, that he for one would resist any measure that might be introduced, the object of which was to add to the price to be paid by the labouring classes for their corn or bread. They ought to be cautious how they raised the provisions beyond the ability of the people to purchase. Had he been present on the preceding night, he should indeed have felt inclined to oppose the appointment of a committee on the subject. He was certainly not prepared to name any specific remedy for the distresses of the agriculturists; but he thought it clear that these were not times for tampering with the feelings of the community. They were not times for legislating on the price of an article necessary to the existence of all. He did not mean, however, to say, that he regretted the appointment of a committee, because he trusted some good might arise from it; and with this impression he should vote for the original motion.
§ Mr. Wilmot
thought it was paltering with the agriculturists to grant a committee, if there was not an intention to support remedial measures in their favour. It would have been better to oppose the appointment of a committee than to resist all practical measures which it might recommend. He could not conceive any thing more futile than to agree to a motion, and then set one's face against the objects proposed. On the Catholic question, for instance, a subject which was to be shortly submitted to them, if any member were to say that he supported going into a committee, but at the same time stated his determination to oppose every object of that committee, what could be more contradictory? His own belief 720 was, that all they could do was by a legislative process to extract from the manufacturer something to be given to the agriculturist. He approved of protection to a certain point, and the price fixed in the year 1815 had been virtually increased by the alteration in the value of our currency. The only remedy was to be found in a remission of rent upon poor lands, when the existing leases should expire, and new contracts be entered into. It ought, however, to be observed on behalf of landlords, that they were as much entitled to protection for the capital which they had vested in land, as if that capital were employed in any other way. They ought to be considered in the light of manufacturers of corn. He agreed with the remarks that had been made by the hon. member fer Portarlington; but yet he thought they were rather theoretical than practical. The principles of political economy might serve as beacons to enable us to direct our course; but as, in mechanics allowance must be made for friction and resistance, so in legislation reference must be had to the actual situation of affairs. As he understood the right hon. gentleman's proposition, it was of a ministerial nature, having for its object only to render perfect the execution of the act of 1815, and to this he was ready to give his support. If any improvements could be made in the mode of taking the averages he would wish that they might be made; those improvements were due to the public, but beyond that he thought it would be trifling with the agricultural interests to hold out any expectation.
apprehended, that the hon. gentleman who spoke last had assumedtoo much when he stated to the Housethat there was but one remedy for the distress under which the agriculturists laboured. He (Mr. Bankes) approached the subject with great hesitation and doubt, but not without hope that some benefit might result from inquiry—that some relief to the agricultural interest might be found practicable, without injury to any other. Unquestionably that interest was intimately blended with the commercial and manufacturing, and the last twenty years had furnished various examples that the difficulties of one were sure to extend themselves to all. As to what had been said with regard to this being a time for speaking out, he feared that more indiscretion than sound sense had been manifested 721 by an adherence to this principle. He believed the result of inquiry would be to alter some opinions which had been expressed in rather an unqualified manner on both sides. If he should be on the committee, he should go into it without any fixed or determinate opinions, but with a hope of receiving very important information, and of being able to render effectual that protection which parliament had intended to afford to agriculture. Beyond that he was not disposed to take one single pace, but it could not be disguised that the protection to which he alluded was at present ineffectual and nugatory. Whether the committee were so instructed or not, doubtless they would look at the practical machinery of the law. He recollected, that when this subject was last under discussion, a meeting took place at lord Liverpool's house, and the point adverted to was the mode of taking averages. A wish was expressed that they should be put on some better footing, to which it was replied that the matter had been long under consideration, but that no improvement had been suggested. The incorrectness of the averages was generally admitted, but it was remarked that an error in one district might be balanced by an error in a second; and somehow or other the whole meeting acquiesced in a continuance of this slovenly system. It was difficult to conceive what objection there could be to the elucidation of a criterion, or to the establishment of securities against fraud and combination. The appointment of a committee was desirable, if for no other purpose. The evil complained of was, that the average prices in the Gazette returns did not fairly represent the state of the market. This then ought to be a preliminary subject of investigation; but the whole business of a committee, appointed as this had been, ought not to be confined to it. If the committee failed in devising a better system of taking averages, were their eyes to be shut, and were they to be restrained from taking an extended and general view of the whole question? The first thing for the committee to consider would be the manner in which the present law was executed, and to suggest a correction of any deficiencies that might be detected. The second object would be to inquire what farther remedy could be applied to the existing distress of the agriculturists, provided the correction of any defects in 722 the administration of the present Corn laws was not sufficient. To restrain the committee from any inquiry into the latter object would be to render its appointment of less importance than the hon. mover or those who supported him last night, anticipated. That the present law was defective would appear to every one who considered the mode in which the averages were struck. It appeared by the statement of an hon. member that two bushels of wheat sold in a county of North Wales weighed as much in these averages as above 1,000 quarters in one of our agricultural counties. The question before the House was whether the committee should have that scope for their investigation which was contemplated by the majority who supported the motion of last night, or whether its powers ought to be so restricted as to defeat and get rid of that vote. An unreasonable degree of alarm was likely to be excited by the speeches of the members who opposed the appointment of a committee; and though he would not impute wrong motives to them, he could not help animadverting on the language which they employed. In agreeing to execute the law of 1815 in the spirit in which it was enacted, no rational apprehension ought to be excited among the other classes of the community, while the agricultural class would receive only that protection to which it was entitled. The agricultural interest bore a greater share of the burthens of the country than other interests, and had a right at least to equal protection. They could not enjoy prosperity without extending it to the other classes. But if the complaints which they made were just, and if the committee did not make the extensive inquiry required, so as to carry into complete effect the law of 1815, the agriculturists would be held out as a marked class, to whom the legislature offered an ostensible protection which was entirely defeated by the defective nature of the measure by which it was to be carried into effect. It would be trifling with the feelings of the respectable majority who supported the motion last night to turn round upon the committee and give it instructions which would narrow its inquiries to matters of comparatively little importance.
said, he was anxious to rise after his hon. friend. His hon. friend, by taking the narrow ground, had 723 placed the true practical question in a clear and able manner before the House. It was natural, on a question like the present, where the interests of so many persons were involved, that a strong degree of feeling should exist to travel into the important and extended views of general policy; but if he could fix the attention of the House on the true point at issue, the House would then judge for itself, and by confining its attention to the real object of discussion, it would apply general principles to that point, and form a decision on the important question before it with greater ease and with greater certainty than by entertaining the various views presented by hon. gentlemen. On a point less intimately connected with the tranquillity of the people, and involving less their highest interests, he would have been disposed to enter more readily into the feelings of his hon. friend, and allow that the mode in which the vote of last night was given should be interpreted into an agreement with the views of those who now supported the motion. As it was, however, he did not hesitate to say, that the vote of last night, considering too the manner in which that vote had been given on a previous question, did not conclude the question; that vote, however, established this conclusion, that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the state of the agricultural concerns of the country, and that committee was appointed with out limitation of their powers. He was by no means disposed to deny to the agriculturists every fair opportunity of stating their claims. Looking at the interests of this great country, the interests of the commercial and the agricultural class should be held as inseparable—should be connected in one system of general prosperity or of general decline. There was no class in the country which he was inclined to treat with more deference—for whom he entertained a greater respect—than he did for those who pressed forward the consideration of this subject;—he meant not merely the landlords and proprietors, but also the great body of the tenantry of the country, whose interests were so closely connected with the proprietors, and who with them must either stand or fall. To the committee proposed by his hon. friend he could have no objection—as far as the general character of that committee went he could have no hesitation to deliberate with them—but that 724 committee and the House must feel the perilous situation in which they stood with respect to this question before the country. He was convinced that they were bound to speak out their opinions, and to pursue a straight-forward, open, and manly course. They should not create hopes where there were no prospects whatever of realizing them. This was his feeling, and he submitted to the House that the agitation of this subject was likely to call up those hopes, and to create a misconception in the country, which would operate to the great prejudice of the public interests. If such effects were likely to attend the agitation of that question at that moment, it was their duty to consider the probable results which the committee would come to. He entered fully into the general feeling, that it was the duty of the House, when complaints were made by a great and respectable body of the people, to look into the nature of those complaints, and if any indulgence could be afforded, if any rational hope existed of applying a remedy, it was their duty to apply it. But the distress of the agriculturists was not the only question at issue—great and; general distress prevailed in the country; they might differ as to the nature of that distress, they could not settle in their own minds the nature, the causes, and the extent of that distress, but of the existence of the distress itself there could unfortunately he no difference of opinion; the agricultural interests shared in that distress, and the question was as to the nature of the remedy to be applied, if indeed any remedy could be applied; always recollecting that the distress was not confined to that class, but that it was shared with many others—Having assumed the fact as to the existence of the distress, the question was as to the remedy to be applied. Was there any additional protection to be given exceeding the protection of 1815, or were they to look at the regulations of the Corn law with a view to execute the intentions of parliament on that subject? It was material that they should come to a clear understanding on this head; if they did not understand each other in the first important step they took, they might move in a circle without coming to any explanation, and remain at cross purposes with each other. It was material to settle this point, and he thought that the hon. member for Sussex, who moved the amend- 725 ment before the House, put this point directly at issue. He would read the amendment of the hon. member to the House in order, so that the House might see whether it was calculated to arrive at a sound and fair exposition of the regulations of 1815. The amendment was, "that instructions be given to the committee to inquire whether the present mode of taking averages, in order to ascertain the market price of grain throughout the kingdom, was effectual, or whether a better mode might not be adopted? "The hon. member had assumed, that the object of the law was, to apply the price of eighty shillings as a scale of protection. If the hon. member was correct in his exposition of the law of 1815, he would willingly vote for his amendment, and he would separate that amendment from the motion of his right hon. friend, the president of the Board of Trade. He joined with the hon. member in an anxious wish to detect every fraud, and to adopt every measure that might ameliorate the condition of the agriculturist. He repeated, if he thought the hon. member right in his view, it would decide his vote, and he might venture to answer for his right hon. friend, that he would withdraw his instructions to the committee. But he did not at all agree in the view of the hon. member: he must altogether deny, that the basis of the act of 1815 was such as that hon. member conceived; on the contrary, that act was founded on a principle long established by the preceding laws. The basis of the act of 1815 was founded on this principle, that the averages should be taken from the prices in the 12 maritime districts of the country. It had been argued, that the result of the averages was this—that there was a difference of six shillings, if not of eight shillings, between the average prices in the maritime districts, and the average prices throughout the whole country. It was further understood, that the difference between the scale of averages formed in the twelve maritime districts, and that formed from the price of grain in all the markets of the kingdom was 6s.; and that, when the former would give 80s., the latter would give only 74s. Now, had the averages not been to be struck in the maritime districts, but been to be taken from the markets of the whole kingdom, those who in 1815 voted for the protecting price of 80s. would have supported that of 74s. Let not the House then be deceived. There were two ways 726 of raising the protecting price on imported grain; namely, either by increasing the scale of prices at which it might be imported, or by altering the mode of striking the averages, by which the importation price was settled. The average of the whole country of England would be very different from that of the maritime districts; it would still be more varied by including Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The law of 1815 was framed with no reference to this extensive range of averages, but was founded on the base of that of the maritime districts only. The regulations of 1815 were founded on facts, perfectly well understood—they were founded on the broad practical result of the averages in the maritime districts distinct from the averages of the whole United Kingdom. The reason, therefore, why he resisted the more extensive inquiry, which, though it might not lead to the adoption of this average, might yet make it the subject of investigation, was, that it would be a mode of again agitating that mighty question, the Corn laws, which, from the effect it would produce on the public mind, ought not to be discussed uselessly or lightly. The House should not excite discussion and agitation in the country by appointing committees and entertaining inquiries when no good could be done, and at a moment when the people were in a state of suffering—when their feelings were agitated and discontent excited—No man was more ready than himself to meet and to oppose the popular menace directed to control the proceedings of that House; but at the same time he felt that there was a mighty responsibility indeed attached to those who would fruitlessly agitate a question so likely to promote discontent amongst the people—so unlikely to afford relief to the petitioners. But if, at the same time, the House did think that the public interests would be promoted by giving a still greater protection to the agriculturist than was given by the act of 1815, let them not disguise their object, but meet the question as the parliament met it in 1815; then the parliament felt and said that the public interests called for the measure; he supported that measure because he was impressed with the necessity and policy of it—the necessity for the measure at that time was as great as the arguments in favour of any alteration now appeared to him to be weak and untenable. He could not but consider 727 that the time selected by the petitioners was very unfavourable to their claims—
All the ports were now shut against foreign grain. The agriculturists had, in fact, possession of a complete monopoly of the corn trade, and they had had that monopoly for the last 18 months; they could not therefore complain that they suffered from foreign competition, or that they required additional protection against the foreign grower. This, therefore, was an inauspicious moment to agitate unnecessarily this very sensitive question—the whole practical argument was against them. In 1815 he supported the corn bill, and every consideration he had afterwards given to that measure, convinced him of its necessity. Had the House not protected the agricultural interests at that period, their distress would have been excessive; but it would not have been confined to them, the manufacturer would have had his full share of suffering and endurance; and he firmly believed that had that bill been passed one year sooner than it was, much of the distress of the country would have been prevented. At that period the agriculturists put their case in a strong position—they showed the causes of their distress—they showed the country the necessity and the justice of the measure; but how different was the case now? Would they, when every argument lay on the other side, and every fact told against them, would they argue this irritating question upon mere speculative grounds, upon mere apprehensions of some future contingent evil? Surely common prudence would suggest that every topic of discontent ought to be avoided at a moment when general distress pressed upon every class of society—when one class was vainly complaining of another; vainly imputing to others the cause of that public distress which pressed upon all with a universal pressure, which came from the hand of Providence—which no member could answer—which no measures of wisdom or of foresight could prevent. He could not help observing, that there appeared a great laxity in the reasoning of those who wished for additional protection. They called for that protection at a moment when the farmer had a monopoly—had the home market to himself, without the intervention of foreign grain. To that course he entirely objected. But if the House should take the course now recommended, by his right hon. friend, and ex- 728 amine if the law passed for the protection of the agriculturist was abused in its administration, that consideration would indeed present a large field for discussion, into which he would have no objection to enter. The hon. member for Norfolk had stated direct cases of fraud, and justly argued the necessity of putting an end to those frauds. He agreed entirely with the hon. member. If the law was so defective as to admit of frauds in its execution, it ought to be corrected; and even though those frauds were imaginary, the real sufferings of the agriculturists were so great, that they ought to be relieved from even groundless anxiety. The public would have no objection to a measure of pure regulation. If the ground which parliament would take were made intelligible, they might proceed without danger—the country would understand the alterations they might contemplate, and would go with them; but if, under colour of interfering with the averages, they should seek for an alteration in the scale of protection, they would agitate the country to its centre. His reason for not wishing for the proposed inquiry was, that he could not see his way. He did not look on this agitated period the best time for raising so irritating a question. If the broad inquiry were permitted, there would be discussion out of doors; there would be applications to the House; constitutional, he trusted; there would be general anxiety and alarm, which would in themselves be an evil. If it were necessary for the public good that such a measure should be carried, he would be willing to encounter any degree of danger or odium; but why agitate the public mind without object or advantage? It was not intended to propose a reduction of price. The public would, therefore, during the six weeks which the committee sat, if the range of their inquiry was not limited, be always in fear of a report proposing an augmentation. He would object to a mode of striking the averages, by which six shillings would be added to every quarter. He was decidedly adverse to any proposition of that kind. The country would not endure it—policy could not recommend it. He saw in the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman opposite, so many qualifications, so much caution, that he could not for a moment think that he had any notion of recommending any extension of protection. He would now suppose that the committee had com- 729 menced its labour—so far as to take the general question of average under consideration, what would be the result? After sitting for six weeks or two months, they would perhaps bring forward a report recommending an attack on the Corn laws. But he did not think that the committee would recommend any measure to increase the protection of 80 shillings; he had too high an opinion of their prudence—they were too wise to recommend to the House a measure that would only have the effect of rendering the situation of the country still worse. He looked upon the agitation of this question at this time to be a great public calamity, and he would intreat his honourable friend to pause, and to consider well its consequences. He knew that his hon. friend, though connected with the landed interests, had too liberal a mind not to see that the interest of all was the interest of each, and he would not hazard a step which would raise the discussion of the whole question. He would rather meet the question openly, than under the cover of the question of averages, and he hoped the House would feel that it was the wisest course to meet the question of abuse. The act of 1815, did not apply to the averages taken from the whole kingdom, but from the maritime districts, so that those who voted for the 80 shillings then, must have voted for 72s. or 74s. had the averages been taken from the whole country, and if Scotland, and especially if Ireland had been included, they must have advanced to 85s. or perhaps upwards. If they opened other questions, he could see nothing specific which it would be in their power to do; for it was quite impossible for him, holding the opinion which he entertained, to take up the measure in the way the hon. member for Surrey recommended. The proposition of his right hon. friend was kept within proper limits, while the amendments went to alter the average altogether, and to destroy entirely the existing scale. The former might be useful; the latter was a critical, if not a dangerous experiment, and would be the means of bringing forward the pretensions of the agriculturists under the worst aspect. The present system had worked favourably. He did not mean to say that it had worked favourably at all times, and had been found completely adequate to the wants of the country; but for five years, it had produced, within a fraction of the average price, what, in the year 730 1815 was considered a fair remuneration. It had also worked well in another point of view; because, under it, the raising of corn had arrived at such a height as gave them a hope, independent of the casualties of seasons, that sufficient could be grown for their own consumption. The agriculture of the country, was, at least in amount, very extensive; and he would ask whether it could be thriving in amount, and at the same time losing in general profit? That was impossible. Farming capital certainly might be wasted and improperly laid out; and thus the profit might not bear a due proportion to the amount of capital expended. Whether that was so or not could only be shown by considering what was produced within the country, and what was procured from without. Here it appeared that there was no want of supply from within. For 18 months the ports had been shut, and it should be recollected that the two last harvests, though not calamitous, could not be deemed good ones. He did not mean to say that great distress did not exist, or that averages might not have been struck at particular periods since the corn law was passed that were not favourable. But taking the whole of the period since it passed, the circumstances proved any thing but the inefficacy of that law. There was no moment in which the agricultural interest had less reason to call for an alteration of the law than at present, and with the utmost respect for that interest, he must vote for the motion of his right hon. friend, as the only one that could be entertained either with advantage or safety to the country.
§ Mr. Sumner
said, the noble lord had accused him of imprudence, because he brought forward this motion, when the times were in so ticklish a state, and the public mind was likely to be agitated by it. The noble lord appeared, however, to have forgotten the disturbed state of the agricultural mind, although he had considered the feelings by which all other parties were agitated. It was that agitation of mind which caused such a number of petitions to be laid on their table—petitions from that class of people who formed the great source of our wealth, and who were, therefore, the first in importance. He did not mean to speak invidiously of the other classes. He looked on agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, to be the first pillars of the state. But, considering agriculture as the 731 foundation, they ought, whenever any part of the edifice seemed to be out of order, to examine whether the defect did not arise from some deterioration of the basis. Allusion had been made to the bill of 1815, and to the alarm and terror that were then excited. He, however, felt more determined to proceed, when he saw an attempt made to create alarm. Neither the threats that had been thrown out on that side of the House, nor the sounding of the tocsin of alarm by gentlemen opposite should prevent him from doing his duty. The noble lord had said, that if the measure of 1815 had been adopted sooner, many of the evils since experienced would have been avoided. He (Mr. Sumner) would say, that if they declined inquiry now upon the principle which he recommended, their situation must in all probability, become worse instead of better. With respect to the bill of 1815, he begged to call the attention of the House to the report on which it was founded. For this purpose one extract would be sufficient. The report set forth, "Your committee report to you that it is the concurrent opinion of most of the witnesses that 80s. is the lowest price per quarter that will afford the grower of corn a fair remuneration." But other individuals of equally high character mentioned in the report declared that 80s. would not afford a sufficient remuneration to the grower. On this report, however, the bill was founded; and, when the legislature intended to grant a protection of 80s. they in fact gave the grower only 74s. It was, therefore, a fair subject of inquiry, whether the act in question did make sufficient provision for carrying into effect the undoubted intention of the legislature. He should not go into the committee with the intention of proposing any measure to increase the protecting price, but neither did he mean to exclude himself from concurring in such a measure if it should be proposed through the medium of the averages. He could have wished that this great cause had rested on other shoulders than his own, but as to the restrictive motion of the right hon. gentleman, he thought it held out a deceptive view to the agricultural interests under a form in which nothing could be realised for their advantage, and should therefore oppose it.
said, as the hon. gentleman who bad just sat down had thought fit to 732 remind the House of the basis formerly adopted when this subject was under discussion, he would take the liberty of reading an extract from the Journals of the House, to show the hon. gentleman what was the real foundation on which the law of 1815 proceeded. It happened that he took a more active part on that question than he was usually in the habit of doing, and therefore he might be presumed to know something of the matter. He had differed from the majority of the House on that occasion. But the bill passed into a law, and he had no wish to meddle with it, because he believed it had operated rather beneficially for the country. The hon. gentleman observed, that neither the menaces of the noble lord, nor the tocsin of alarm which was sounded on that (the opposition) side of the House, should deter him from proceeding. He (Mr. Calcraft) had heard no menaces, and, as far as he was concerned, no tocsins of alarm had been sounded. The hon. member conceived that he was taking the proper line of his duty, and he hoped he would do him (Mr. Calcraft) the credit to believe, that he also was pursuing that which he conceived to be his duty; and a most painful duty it was, which seemed to place him in opposition to those with whom his interests were so strongly bound up; because, if there were any one body to whom he was more attached than to another, it was the agricultural interest. He however approved of no restrictions, but such as were imposed for the benefit of the community at large; and when they conceded protective restrictions to manufactures, or to commerce, it was not with a view merely to the persons connected with those branches, but for the service of the whole country. They ought now to see whether the course they were called on to take was calculated to be of general benefit. By referring to the Journals of the 27th of February 1815, the condition on which the protecting price of 80s. was inserted in the act, would be at once seen: the entry was this, "Resolved, that the average price of the several sorts of British corn, by which the importation of foreign corn, meal, or flour, into the United Kingdom is to be regulated and governed is to be continued to be made up and governed in the manner now required according to law." This was the basis on which the act of 1815 was founded; it was on this condition that the restriction 733 was conceded; and as the noble lord had stated, if it had been thought necessary to go to the other mode of taking the averages, which would have made a difference of 6s. or 8s., it would at that time, have caused a diminished scale. Now, notwithstanding what the hon. gentleman had said, he would ask the House whether what he had advanced was not an appeal for a higher protecting duty? He would put it to every gentleman who considered the subject, whether the effect of meddling with the average, as prescribed by the act of 1815, could be any other but that of adding to the price of this commodity? Did the situation of the agriculturists themselves require a higher price? When for 18 months past, they had a monopoly of this article, for which they received 78s. 6d. per quarter, being within 1s. 6d. of the protecting duty established in 1815, was it reasonable to ask for any addition to that protecting duty? The hon. gentleman had stated the average for five years, in which he had included the year 1815, which was in truth before the passing of the bill. By so doing he considerably reduced the average. If he had taken the 4 years since the passing of the act, the result would have been very different, for in 2 of those years, 1817 and 1818, the grower received an average price of upwards of 80s. for his commodity. He had some time since presented a petition, the parties to which called for inquiry, and he could say, if the question was not argued as it had been, that he also would have approved of investigation. But he could not countenance any attempt to raise the protecting price, which was the present object. He had advised individuals, when consulted on this subject, not to agitate the question, because he believed that the distress of the agriculturist arose more from the general distress of the country than from any peculiarity in his situation. His sincere opinion was, that if the general situation of the kingdom was amended, the agriculturists would immediately find their own situation considerably improved. Many very invidious observations had been directed aginst those who were setting themselves up in opposition to what was called the primary interest of this country, and he was surprised at what had last night fallen from his hon. and learned friend, whom he did not see in his place, who appeared so anxious and so zealous for inquiry into the distress of the agriculturists. His hon. and 734 learned friend, a few days ago, if his recollection served him, when a petition was presented from the manufacturers of Birmingham, for whose interests he appeared to feel very deeply, declared, that in his opinion no inquiry should be instituted, that he thought it ill-advised, and that if any relief were to be expected, it must come from the executive government, and not from a committee of inquiry in that House. It was indeed extraordinary, that his hon. and learned friend should have called for inquiry, on the part of those who demanded increased protecting prices, when a few days before he objected to a similar inquiry which was requested by other petitioners. He agreed in many things however, which his hon. and learned friend had said in favour of the agricultural interest; and if means could be found to spread the poor-rates more equally over the country, it would be of great advantage, and at the same time would be strictly just to those whose petitions they were now considering. The hon. member for Southwark had called on the House to look at the large body of people who had approached them with petitions couched in respectful language, and had argued that it was quite impossible to refuse inquiry into their grievances. But that observation lost much of its weight when they recollected how those petitions were canvassed for. They had been sent to different parts of the country, and persons being told that it would be beneficial to them if they signed such petitions, affixed their names to them without farther consideration. But he knew that a very large body of agriculturists, yeomen, and farmers of all sorts, thought this was not the time to approach the House with petitions of such a nature. It was also remarkable, that these petitions were not introduced by that display of arrears of rent, want of markets, executions, and various other symptoms of distress which distinguished the speech of an hon. friend of his in 1815. He was glad of it, for he was sure that the farmers did not now suffer what they endured at that period, and he believed the most reasonable part of them were satisfied with their situation, and not anxious to press their claims at the present moment. With respect to the proposition of the right hon. gentleman, he would adopt it as a choice of evils: he regretted, however, that they were beaten on the vote last night, because much of anxiety, of alarm, and of fake expectation, 735 would have been saved, if that question had been differently determined. The proposition of the hon. member for Sussex went to disturb that law under which agriculture had flourished, while that of the right hon. gentleman was as limited and reasonable as the nature of the case would admit, and therefore it should receive his support.
§ Mr. Brougham
observed, that he was unwilling to intrude himself on the patience and attention of the House, when he knew that the natural desire of gentlemen was, to conclude this discussion as soon as possible. After having stated his opinion perhaps at too great length on the preceding night, on the general merits of this question, it would not be necessary for him to enter minutely into the subject on this occasion. But they were now placed in a most peculiar situation, in consequence of the conduct adopted by his majesty's ministers, and he was bound to state the grounds on which his vote should be given. He felt almost precluded from entering into the merits of the question, even if he had more to answer than was advanced this night, for how did they find themselves placed with regard to those proceedings? A notice was solemnly given—a proper length of time was allowed to elapse—an opportunity was afforded by the hon. mover, for all gentlemen to consider the subject so that they might speak their sentiments deliberately and fully. He brought forward his proposition, and, after a debate—by no means a short one, and not confined to one branch of the question, but in the course of which every branch connected with it was presented to the House—at the mature hour of between three and four in the morning the House felt itself ripe for a division; and on what point? The question was this—whether or not they should refer the petitions to a select committee, who were to report their opinions to that House? On what were they now to be instructed to report? On something different from the contents of the petitions; on something not contemplated by the petitioners; on something not to be found in any one of those petitions. He had read the petitions down to the 26th day of May, which was the last he had printed before him. The petitions were numerous; they were various in their views, and different in their plans; but the one thing omitted in them all was this question of averages, which it appeared was the only 736 point which his majesty's ministers would consider. There was one thing, which, he presumed, was agreed upon between both sides of the House—that they were bound to consider these petitions. And he would ask the right hon. gentleman whether his motion (and in fact the right hon. gentleman's motion was only an amendment upon the debate which had been settled last night, and which he thought, therefore, a most extraordinary and unjustifiable proceeding)—he would ask him, whether it was not to worse than insult the petitioners, not to consider the subject which they prayed the House to inquire into; not to investigate the subject matter of the great majority of those petitions, but to enter, in point of fact, upon the prayer of one almost unconnected with them—one single petition from Carlow, in Ireland, about the averages of corn! This was the only one not entitled to be considered under that committee which the sense of the House had last night considered expedient to be appointed, and yet it was with this favoured petition alone that they were to deal. He besought the House, if it set the least value upon the prayers of the petitioners—if it had the least regard left for its own dignity, for the consistency and the seemliness of its own proceedings—if it would remember its own character, and the character of the country—to consider well what the noble lord asked of it. And here he would entreat the attention of the noble lord himself, for he really seemed to have forgotten what had happened. The noble lord had said, "Oh, really, I am quite surprised that we should have been beaten last night!" Whether the noble lord had been beaten because he had abstained from stating his argument last night, or whether it was because he had made no formidable preparations for a subject upon which he might have supposed there would be no argument offered, certainly the noble lord was quite surprised. But the noble lord had explained what was the cause of so unexpected a defeat; if he had known of the discussions being of such a nature, he could have told this and that hon. member, and they would have come, and they would have voted, and the result would have been very different. Nay, the noble lord was asked by several of his friends how the debate was likely to go; and, as he thought that there was little or no likelihood of a discussion, he had given them a little hint, or so, that their attendance would 737 not be necessary; and therefore it was that the division had gone against the noble lord. Finding, however, that it was just possible there might be another debate upon the same topic—finding that he himself, not having taken the trouble of bringing forward one single argument why the petitions should go to a committee, the House had determined that a committee should be appointed—surely the noble lord had no right to complain that his no argument had had no effect. But he (Mr. Brougham) would now call upon the hon. member for Bristol to open his eyes and ears, if he would. The hon. gentleman could hardly repress his astonishment. "Good God!" said he, "is it thus that committees of this House are appointed? Is this the way in which committees are struck, so as to go into action? Are they merely to report the number of inquiries they have made, and then to ask leave to sit again" Now, from the bare possibility of its not standing stock-still, it would seem, the hon. member for Bristol had added, "I will take care how I enter upon a committee." The hon. member having gone through one lesson of parliamentary tactics, might learn to-night another lesson from the noble lord; and he (Mr. Brougham) would call his attention to it; he would endeavour to teach him this new mystery, although he could not do so with all that lavishness of instruction which the noble lord, with whom he seemed to be agreed upon this occasion, would have him parted to him. The hon. member would find, that after one night's debate and decision against him, the potent magician next night would wave his enchanted wand, or what the hon. member would hear more technically termed a whip; and then, wonderful to behold,Apparent dirae facies, inimicaque TrojaeNumina magna—At that magic impulse he would see hastening into the House learned judges, who, not having heard an argument, came, not to listen, but to vote—not to canvass, but to reverse what had been maturely decided; and who, not having been present during the debate, arrived just in time for the division. But he (Mr. Brougham) appealed to those hon. gentlemen who were so much alarmed about alarms; to those whose terrors terrified the land; whose fears were excited at one time about the price of bread, at another time about the price of bullion, and at another about the 738 law of the land, as established—ever since 1815; at one time about this thing, at another about that—he appealed to them on the present occasion. He called on them just to apply a little of their alarm to this subject; and he would ask them whether there were not just as solid grounds for that alarm about the effects which might follow the rejection of these petitions; for the course proposed would be to reject them. He looked at the value of those hon. members votes first, and then at the value of their authority; and he called upon them to consider whether no inconvenience was to be apprehended from such a course of proceeding. What! was the agricultural interest not likely to understand what had been done? Was the result of the debate last night no vote of the House? Right or wrong, he considered that by that vote they had pledged themselves. Ministers found themselves in a minority where they had calculated upon a certain majority; and they, therefore, were now endeavouring to get rid of the result of a solemn debate by a sort of side-wind, by an unfair manoeuvre, by a something which out of that House, he would designate by a single syllable. Would it not be the ready way to drive the agricultural classes to absolute despair by first extending to them the cup of relief, and then dashing it down, untasted, from their lips? He called upon those hon. gentlemen to consider whether here was no ground for alarm. He trusted that because a population of crowded artisans were apt to be more decided in their complaints, and more rapid in their movements, the Mouse would not on that account neglect the claims of a hard, patient, bold, and manly peasantry. It was, unfortunately, too much the fashion to cry up the distresses and the forbearance of the artisans alone, forgetting the claims of the more scattered, and no less meritorious, peasant—to fear the resentments of the one, because they were a more organized and more collected community than the other, who were more thinly spread over a larger surface. Unless their feelings were to be falsified, and themselves to be lessened in the eyes of the country, he thought that hon. gentlemen ought to consider what had occurred last night as a solemn discussion of the merits of a question, which was now sought to be got rid of without one tittle of argument beyond what had been endeavoured to be then sustained. He was 739 satisfied with the vote he had given last night, and he doubted not that no hon. member wished to retract his; but he thought that even the common forms of the House would not allow them to do so. The question had last night been solemnly decided in favour of an inquiry; not one argument had been used against inquiry, which had not, in the opinion of the House, been fully answered; and if it had not been for mere accident, that the gallant general, who was not then present, had moved the adjournment, by which the hon. member for Coventry was prevented from withdrawing the previous question; were it not that the gallant general, who had not that evening been able to get a seconder, made a motion yesterday evening, which, by the rules of the House, could be made at any time by any member, without a seconder; if the House had then been, as it was now, in the dark shade of the gallant general's absence, the amendment which was now proposed would have been put, and no doubt carried, and the whole matter would have been decided in form, as he contended it had been in substance—The question, last night, was, as between the hon. member for Surrey, and the right hon. president of the board of trade; and by carrying the motion of the one, the House had, in truth, negatived this amendment of the other. Again, he asked, if it was fair to expect that the agricultural interest would be at all satisfied with this mode of treatment? He did not wish to create or raise up any unpleasant feelings in any quarter; but there was too much reason to fear that they would exist. Was it to be imagined that these parties could be satisfied with this sudden alteration, if it stood upon no better grounds than a point of form which had been moved by an hon. friend of his through mistake, in some measure; a matter which was half chance, and half an airy, evanescent distinction, upon which not one man among millions could comprehend how the House could be induced to retract the boon which they themselves had last night offered? He felt it utterly impossible to consent to such a proposition, and many who had voted against the motion of the last night, would he had no doubt now feel it to be their duty to abide by the resolutions of the House. As to the opinions which he had given on the general question, they were not lightly adopted on, the critical 740 circumstances of the moment. He appealed to those who had witnessed his conduct in parliament, whether, during the last five years, he had not expressed the same opinions in nearly the same words, though he now acknowledged that the circumstances of the times were such as to warrant those who had formerly been of a different opinion, in taking another view of the question.
said, that of all the extraordinary instances of forgetfulness that he had ever witnessed was that displayed in the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman. He appealed to the House whether the hon. and learned gentleman had not expressed his regret last night that the forms of the House did not allow an amendment to be put, which was the same as the motion which he (.Mr. R.) had that night proposed. The amendment had been read by his hon. colleague, the member for Ripon, in the very terms in which the motion was now put, and it was stated distinctly by the hon. and learned gentleman, that he lamented that the motion of the hon. member for Coventry precluded that amendment from being put [No, no! from Mr. Brougham]. What then was it that the hon. and learned gentleman did regret? It was plain he wished the motion to be narrowed in some way; but if he thought fit to narrow it, were other members to be bound to do so precisely in the same manner as the hon. gentleman? With what fairness could the hon. and learned gentleman apply the word trick, for that, no doubt, was the word hinted at, to any such proposition? He hoped he should be incapable of any such miserable trick, as to attempt, by any indirect means, to get rid of what the House had decided upon.
§ Mr. Brougham
explained, that he had last night copied what he understood to be the substance of the amendment of the hon. member for Ripon (Mr. Gipps), and had given it to the hon. member for Sussex, to whom he appealed, whether such had not been his understanding at the time.
§ Mr. Gipps
said, that the amendment which he had last night moved, was, at the beginning, in words the same as the motion made by the president of the board of trade that evening; in the latter part the motion was more limited than his amendment had been. The support of the hon. and learned gentleman had encouraged him to offer his amendment, 741 which, on account of the forms of the House, had not been put into the hands of the Speaker.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, he could retort on the hon. and learned gentleman the charge he had made on others of neglecting the debate; for he contended, that the amendment proposed, but not put, last night, and the motion now before the House, were in substance the same. It was quite usual for the House to restrict committees by instructions.
§ Mr. Brougham
explained, that he had consented last night that some limitation should be made to the motion. What he understood that limitation to be, he had stated to the hon. member for Sussex, by whom it had been put as the amendment now before the House.
§ Mr. Tierney
stated, that as he intended to vote for the proposition of the right hon. gentleman, and as his learned friend had imputed to that right hon. gentleman an attempt to play off a trick on the House, he was anxious to exculpate himself from being party to any trick, or from voting for the proposition on any such grounds. He could not but consider the debate of tonight as a continuation of that of the night before, and that the proposition now made had only not been made on the preceding evening, because the debate had been prolonged to too late an hour. He indeed understood the question of adjournment to be moved entirely with a view of giving an opportunity for the introduction of this proposition, which the forms of the House had then excluded from discussion. He was ready to admit, that if this proposition had been deferred until after the committee had sat some time, it would be open to the objections which had been made to it by his learned friend; but having been brought forward as a part of the preceding debate, as the condition under which the committee had been acceded to, he saw nothing in the course now pursued that was not consistent with the usual and fair parliamentary practice. With respect to the interests of the agriculturists, he could only say, that he had never heard of that degree of distress which had been pleaded in their behalf—that he had not heard of rents unpaid, or executions, or other symptoms of distress in an aggravated degree, nor did he believe them to exist. His great motive, 742 however, for supporting the right hon. gentleman's proposition was, that the rejection of it would not benefit the lower classes of the agriculturists. It could not affect the labourer or ploughman, though it might operate, he did not deny, to the benefit of the landlord and some farmers; while, on the other hand, the increase of the price of bread would at once affect all the other classes of the community, and lead to distress, dissatisfaction, and tumult, even beyond what the House had found to exist in other times when such objects had been in agitation.
§ The question being put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question," the House divided: Ayes, 251; Noes, 108. The main question was then put and agreed to.