§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson moved the Order of the Day for resuming the adjourned debate on Mr. E. Davenport's Motion on this subject.
§ The Order of the Day having been read,
said, that although the hon. Member for Shaftesbury (Mr. E. Davenport) had, on the previous evening, accused the Members who were of the same opinion with himself of being luke-warm in the cause, he (Mr. Fergusson) must say, that he had not perceived any behaviour to justify that accusation. For his own part, he thought that nothing like apathy had been displayed; for scarcely an evening during the present Session had elapsed without the subject being adverted to in one shape or another. Neither did he think, though he should perhaps have to vote against the Ministers that night, that they had thrown themselves open to the charge of having been negligent of the state of the country. On the contrary, after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a few evenings ago, the House was bound, he thought, to believe that the Ministers were really willing to do whatever was in their power. The hon. Member for Shaftesbury having moved for a committee of the whole House, he should have felt some difficulty in supporting that motion, knowing that the time necessarily occupied by such a proceeding might be advantageously employed in the other affairs of the country. The Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Shoreham, however, relieved him from the difficulty that he felt on that head, and he should therefore vote for the appointment of a Select Committee. The only ques- 549 tion that ought to be considered with reference to the appointment of such a committee was, whether a sufficient case of general distress had been made out; and the fair way of looking at that was, by turning to the numerous petitions which had been presented to the House, and to the almost universal county meetings that had taken place on the subject, rather than to statements made on the strength of private, and, in some instances, anonymous informations such as had been produced on the former evening, by the President of the Board of Trade. But even if those private communications were correct, they only went to show that there had, till very lately, been very severe distress; and he did not see how, on the strength of a few orders transmitted to Manchester or Glasgow, it could be asserted that all that distress had disappeared, especially when the House had lying on their Table petitions from the counties of Renfrew and Dumbarton, complaining of the existence of distress. It might be true that there was less distress in Scotland and Ireland than in England; but even if such were the case, he did not see how it could be contended that the diminution of suffering in some places ought to preclude inquiry into the distress that existed in others; and which every where partook of this one remarkable feature, never, perhaps, experienced before—which was, that the distress did not affect this or that particular class, but all the productive classes of the country. The orders that had been spoken of might, in the course of a few days, turn out to be nothing but a passing dream, and then what would they be able to say to the people of England? The distress of the country, no doubt, was not universal; but neither was it necessary that he should show that it was universal to establish sufficient grounds for the House to interfere. Though he agreed with the hon. Member for Shaftesbury in many of the points he had stated to the House, he was bound to differ from him in what he had urged with respect to the currency. A great part of the distress, he believed, took its origin from the suppression of the small notes. Nor was this felt in England only; it necessarily reached Scotland, because the markets of that country in a great measure depended on the markets in England; and only that very day he had heard, that at the Dumfries market it was 550 impossible to find purchasers for cattle at any price. Prosperity would never, he thought, be restored to this country till the injury which had been done to it by the destruction of the country banking-system had been remedied. In his opinion, no set of men had ever been so ill treated as the country bankers. He did not, however, think that the right hon. Gentleman deserved so much blame as had been attributed to him on the previous evening for having introduced the bill on that subject, because, though it was true that he had brought it in, it could hardly be called his measure, as he had been called upon from all sides of the House to bring the measure forward, and in the end it was carried by acclamation. If, however, they wanted to get at the real source of the mischief, they must go still further back, and trace it to the restriction on cash payments that was enacted during the French war. So many causes had been assigned for the distress, that the very different opinions entertained were to him a satisfactory reason why there should be a committee to examine the subject. It was only by inquiries, in such a committee, that they could ascertain the true cause. Those who opposed going into a committee ought to be able to show, both that a committee would do no good, and that the distress was beyond legislative control. If it were not in their power to relieve the distress, they had better tell the people so, and that they were not fit to be there, and were unable to carry on the business of the country and of the Government. If all the papers referred to by the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade the other evening were correct (and he had some doubts on the subject), they only showed that there could be no danger from the inquiry. They would show that the distress was passing away, and that the country might look for better times; but if that gleam of hope were to pass away, and the country were to remain in the same state of distress as it had been in for several years past, they would all deeply regret that they had refused inquiry, when they had an opportunity to inquire, and when inquiry and redress were demanded by the petitions of the people.
§ Mr. W. Whitmore
was ready to admit that there had been distress in the country during the last year; but he thought it would be better to look at the causes of that distress, to ascertain whether it 551 were likely or not to be permanent, than to content himself, as the last hon. Member had done, with affirming its existence. He did not concur with those who said the distress was exclusively caused by a change in the currency; other causes had contributed, and they were bound, before again changing the currency, to inquire if such a change would not cause greater mischief than allowing it to remain unchanged. Two effects had resulted from a change in the currency, the one physical, the mere change in the price of gold, and the other moral. He believed that when Mr. Peel's bill was passed, the difference between the market price of gold and the Mint price was not move than three per cent, and that, therefore, would not, of itself, have produced any important consequences. But any man who knew this country must be aware, that in all our towns, and in every part of the country, great speculations had been entered into, and great undertakings begun, by men who had not sufficient capital to complete them. They borrowed of bankers. The little depreciation in prices, occasioned by the change in the currency, caused the property on which they had advanced money, to be scarcely sufficient to repay them; they sustained a loss, and restricted their business; they ceased to make the same advances as before, and the industrious manufacturers, not being able to obtain accommodation to the usual extent, there was an actual and a considerable contraction of the currency. A panic was the consequence. Capitalists saw their property was falling in value; that to lend was to lose; they would not lose, and that caused a stagnation. Moreover, we had two bad harvests consecutively, which contributed to augment the distress. He believed, however, that this panic was not likely to be permanent. Paper money could not increase the production of the country; that was regulated by the capital of the country, and would be carried to the same extent with a metallic as with a paper currency. Another cause of our temporary distress was, the gradual fall in the price of all species of produce, which had taken place, independent of the change in the currency. Since 1814, various new sources of supply had been opened for cotton, coffee, and all colonial and tropical produce. The countries beyond the Cape of Good Hope had since then sent their productions to the market, which had di- 552 minished the price of the article. A vast supply had been obtained of coffee also. The trade of South America had been followed by similar effects. Sugar had been sent to Europe from many new places, and in vast quantities. Our only supply of wool formerly came from Spain; now we obtained a large quantity from Germany. Since the peace, too, the capital that had before been employed in war, had been engaged in production, and had had the effect of augmenting supply and lowering prices. But while a fall was taking place, there was no encouragement to extend production. Stocks were not laid in more than was absolutely necessary, because the holders might expect to lose on them. No works were undertaken which could be avoided; but he believed that the fall from these causes had now reached its limits. He hoped, indeed, (not as the President of the Board of Trade had stated, that prices had risen, and that manufactures were reviving, but) that a rise would speedily take place, and that manufactures would speedily revive. He would also mention, that he believed the diminished supply of the precious metals from South America, had occasioned a fall of prices, and this cause would probably continue to operate for some time. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, he saw no reason to doubt that the country would soon get through its present difficulties, and would again increase in prosperity, population, and wealth. He found evidence, indeed, that it was not at present declining. Not only were the exports greater last year than before, but almost every description of raw materials had been used to a greater degree last year than in former years. In 1820 the quantity of cotton consumed was 470,000 bags; in 1829 it was 780,000 bags. The quantity of silk consumed in 1823 was 2,104,000lbs; in 1829 it was 4,547,000lbs. The amount of our exports, the quantity of raw materials worked up, and the number of ships employed, all showed that there was a great deal of business going on, though he believed it was, in general, carried on at a low rate of profit, and sometimes at a loss. For whatever distress now existed, he did not believe any remedy could be found in returning to a depreciated currency. He approved of the right hon. Gentleman's bill of 1819; and had we not then regulated the currency, he believed that instead of now suffering only temporary dis- 553 tress, capital would have gone out of the country, and would have sought employment where it was not subject to a ruinous fluctuation. He would also state (as it was said that nobody would defend such an opinion, though he would not then enter into any argument on the subject) that he believed we had done right in selecting gold for our standard instead of silver. He would take that opportunity, also, of declaring, that he could not agree with the hon. Member for Newark in any one of his propositions. That hon. Member would find employment for our agriculturists by making the people eat dear bread, and prohibiting the importation of foreign corn. That hon. Member would find employment for our manufacturers by excluding them from the foreign market, and would crown all by a return to a paper currency. In no one of these propositions could he agree with the hon. Member for Newark. If the legislature would give employment to the people, and profit to capital, it must open the markets of the world to us by extending the principles of free trade, and removing, as far as possible, every restriction on enterprise. There was an inquiry going on into a most important subject; and if that should turn out as he desired, if free access were to be allowed to the East Indies, (as sound policy, reason and argument, were they allowed their due weight, recommended) more would be done to relieve the distress of our manufactures than could be accomplished by any other measure. He implored the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Peel) to look at the case with his own eyes, and judge of it with his own understanding; and if he saw all the benefits likely to result from the opening of the trade, he would be sure to come to a conclusion that it ought to be opened, and he would lay a permanent foundation for prosperity in India and in Britain. He hoped that the prejudices of the members of the Board of Directors, or of that Board which controlled the affairs of India, would not be suffered to influence him; that he would judge for himself, and grant the country those means of permanent improvement which it was in his power, by opening the trade to India, to bestow.
§ Sir George Philips
said, if he could believe all the representations made by hon. Members, he must suppose that there was no employment in the country, and that the people were actually dying of starva- 554 tion; but while he admitted that there was partial distress, he did not believe in the universality of that distress among the manufacturing classes, which had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Kirkcudbright. He would state to the House what he knew of Lancashire, with which he was best acquainted, and of the state of which he had been at considerable pains to obtain correct information. That which he should submit to the House was obtained from gentlemen who had not taken part in the controversy now going on in Manchester on this subject, and whose opinions, he believed, were not biassed either way. He had received this information partly by means of letters, and partly from gentlemen who had lately come to town from Manchester, and confirmed the statement lately submitted to the House by the hon. Member for Bramber. Gentlemen acquainted with the manufacturing districts must be aware that it was impossible to obtain an average of the wages of labour in them, such as might be obtained of the uniform labour of agriculturists. He must, therefore, state the wages of different classes, and he would begin with that most extensive class—the hand-loom weavers, who were some of the most distressed. The wages of this class were, in Manchester—women, from 4s. to 5s. a week; and men, from 6s. to 7s. Of late there had been a small rise, so that what was done for 10½d. now produced 1s. and what used to be done for 6s. 6d. is now paid for at the rate of 7s. At Manchester, he understood that at present the hand-loom weavers were generally employed. At Blackburn, the wages of the same class of persons was 5s. per week. At Ashton-under-Lyne, the wages of the hand-loom weavers, who were principally (we understood) employed in making ginghams, were better, and amounted to 10s. per week. At Bolton, the weavers earned from 5s. to 6s. per week for sixty-reed cambric. The weavers of fustian were also earning from 5s. to 6s. a week. At Tyldesley the weavers of quiltings get 12s. a week. These were some of the lowest prices that had ever been paid in the manufacturing districts, and it certainly was much to be regretted that the distress of the masters had ever compelled them to pay their workmen at such a rate. The hon. Baronet then proceeded to state the prices given for various kinds of labour in cotton factories. The power-loom, weavers, he 555 understood, were earning according to their skill and age—women from 7s. 6d. to 12s. 6d. per week, and men from 12s. to 15s. Of all classes the weavers seemed the worst paid, the wages of a man and boy, or a woman and girl, making together from 15s. to 20s. a week. There were other descriptions of persons engaged in the factories to whom he would then advert. Females in the factories could, from the age of thirteen to sixteen, earn about 5s. 6d. a week as carders, and from the age of eighteen to twenty, about 8s. or from that to 8s. 6d. and 9s. 6d.; females working as cleaners earn from about 6s. to 7s. Males employed in carding got, if youths, 7s. a week; young and good hands get from 13s. 6d. to 16s. Cotton mixers earned 12s. In spinning, to which he would next advert, the wages were paid according to the weight of the yarn, and one statement he had received said that the average wages of spinners was from 26s. to 30s., while another represented it as from 20s. to 32s. The women engaged in the mills made from 16s. to 18s.; little piecers, boys and girls received from 6s. to 9s., while children under ten years of age earned 2s. 6d. per week. The over-lookers got from 20s. to 40s., but the fine spinners got more—from 35s. to 40s. These were the wages generally; but at Glossop and other places the spinners received 21s. a week, although they had formerly 26s. At Oldham, where there was a great population, females of twenty years earned, as spinners, about 8s. a week, while the men got 30s. a week for fine work in some places, although the average was about 25s. a week in the district. It was proper to observe that the spinning trade was continually on the increase, and that the wages had a tendency rather to rise than fall, an effect which had been in part produced by the use of machinery causing such a large demand for twist. Indeed such was the demand that the manufacturers were compelled to employ machinery. Bleachers, (the hon. Baronet continued) worked twelve hours a day, and earned 16s. a week. Calico printers, who, on an average, were employed only nine months in the year, gained 30s. a week, but it was intended to reduce their wages and give them constant employment. Dyers are exposed to great fluctuations, and last winter they suffered great depression, but they are now recovering It was natural to suppose that 556 other persons who, like them, were employed out of doors, suffered severely during the continuance of the late frost. Bricklayers, carpenters, and boatmen, being unable to find employment, were of course compelled to be economical, and the result was distress among the small shopkeepers; for if the customers had no money, they could not indulge in their usual luxuries. But he believed that the distress arising from that cause, and among that class of people, had been much exaggerated. He would take the liberty of calling the attention of the House to some observations on the condition of the working classes at Preston. Mr. Taylor of that place said, "with respect to persons employed in making machinery, and in cotton and linen factories, power-loom weavers, and other artizans, that little or no distress exists, they being generally fully employed, and at the same wages that have been paid to them for some years past, with the necessaries of life much lower in price." Of another class, the out-door labourers, such as bricklayers, masons, &c. he says that they have suffered more than is usual from the lengthened severity of the weather. He adds, "The third class, and, I am sorry to say, the most numerous, is formed of the hand-loom cotton weavers, whose situation is become, in very many instances truly deplorable, arising from underpaid labour in proportion to the prices of the necessaries of life; which labour has gradually been reducing in price for several years, and has now arrived at such a point of depression as to be inadequate to supply them with proper food and clothing. It must, however, be admitted, that there are gradations in this class, and that one part is in a better condition than the other, arising from the whole family of some weavers not being dependent upon the wages of hand-loom weaving. Many heads of families, for want of better employment, are yet obliged to keep to the hand-loom, but where the children are growing up, they are frequently engaged in the spinning factories, or in power-loom weaving, where their employment is constant, and wages considerable. But in the recent visitation of the town, a great many cases have been found of a whole family, composed of a man, his wife, and perhaps three or four young children depending entirely upon the man's earning at the loom, eked out by the miserable 557 pittance from the parish. In comparing the present state of the working classes of Preston with that of other times, when subscriptions have been made for their relief, and the town has been visited, the committee will, I think, bear me out when I say, that distress has more generally prevailed at other periods, when employment has been scarce, and provisions much dearer, but at no time, I believe, have there ever appeared so many individual cases of complete destitution and misery among the weavers as at present. With respect to the probable continuance of the present distress, I think it will be seen by a review of what has been previously said, that there is no prospect of hand-weaving generally being ever again a proper employment for a man, the master, and principal supporter of a family; but that there will always be such employment, is certain. The coarse light description of goods may, in my opinion, always be produced for a less sum by hand than by power; and there will be many difficulties to encounter to make the very finest descriptions of cloth, and many of the fancy cotton goods, by the power-loom. The former will, however, be never more than fit employment for children and old people, but the latter, that is the fine and fancy cloths, will require good and experienced hand-workmen, who may probably always obtain fair wages for their labour." The favourable part of Mr. Taylor's representations concerning Preston applied, he knew, in a still greater degree to Manchester, because there the hand-loom weavers bore a smaller proportion to the whole number of manufacturing labourers. It had been contended by an hon. Member near him, in the course of the discussion—an Alderman of the City of London (Waithman)—that trade was in the manufacturing districts at the very lowest ebb, and that it had been constantly carried on for several years at a great loss; that the merchant had ceased to export, and the manufacturer manufactured in vain, and without the slightest hope of obtaining an adequate profit. He was quite ready to admit that the merchant had ceased to export at his own risk, and that the manufacturer exported his own goods. This seemed to reverse the order of trade, and to be at variance with improvement; but was in fact its natural order, and thus doing away with the middle man, as it were, was a great gain to 558 the manufacturer, and attended with one obvious advantage to the consumer, namely, that it placed one profit the less on the price of the goods. The manufacturer and the consumer, the buyer and the seller, were brought more into contact, and could understand the wants and demands of each other better than when the merchant interfered betwixt them, but besides that, it was a diminution of risk to the manufacturers. In ordinary times the manufacturer gave the merchant who ordered goods from him for exportation a credit of eighteen months, and thought himself lucky if he got paid in two years. Now, however, the manufacturer manufactures goods for exportation at his own risk; and it was one of the best advantages of the increased facility of communication, that the Birmingham or Manchester man was enabled to send his goods abroad without the expense and the risk of the intervention of the merchant or middle man. Besides all that, however, the Alderman should understand that the manufacturer who is thus become his own merchant does not manufacture himself the twentieth part of that which he exports. He buys the linen cloths and the cotton yarn from others, and so gives increased facilities and spirit to the general trade. The hon. Alderman contended, he recollected, that this trade was carried on at a loss. That he (Sir G. Philips) denied. It was carried on with advantages, and great advantages, else why had it been carried on for so many years at all? It was absurd to suppose that it would be continued if loss was the certain consequence. The hon. Alderman said, they were forced to carry on the export trade because the manufacturers made more than the country required. But he could tell the hon. Alderman that there were manufactures carried on expressly for the foreign market. The export of cotton was double the amount of the quantity consumed at home. And why was the trade continued and extended? Why, but because the manufacturers found it for their advantage. That they should wilfully ruin themselves, seemed to him an extraordinary proposition, but he could tell the hon. Alderman that if he were to broach his doctrine at Manchester he would be laughed at. Another doctrine of the hon. Alderman's was, that the manufacturers did not look much to the price of the raw material, and that it was of little consequence whether cotton was a 6d. dearer or a 6d. Cheaper. Why 559 nothing could be more erroneous. A manufacturer calculated the one-eighth of a penny in the pound, and if he could buy at that one-eighth of a penny cheaper he did so. It was attending to advantages of that kind that so many large fortunes had been realised in the course of the last few years. As to the complaints of the worthy Alderman and others about machinery, all he could say was, that they were not new; machinery had been improving for the last thirty years, and the distress was not greater now than during those periods when machinery formed no part of their complaints. Upon the whole, he was of opinion, that although the profits of trade were undoubtedly small, yet there were profits in every branch of industry; and although capital might not be increasing very fast, or so fast as some supposed, yet it undoubtedly was increasing. He thought, however, with the hon. Member for Bridgenorth (Mr. Whitmore) that the country was placed in circumstances which required the most watchful circumspection on the part of the Government. He rejoiced that Ministers had determined to lighten the public burthens—he thanked them for what they had done; and while he praised the liberality they had displayed in their domestic policy, he regretted that it had not been extended to their foreign negotiations. The plan of lightening taxation on some points, in order to increase the consumption in others, was highly praiseworthy; and he hoped that the doctrines of the right hon. Gentleman, the Master of the Mint (Mr. Herries), as laid down the other day, would be followed by the Government. He hoped, too, that some alteration would be made in the system of monopolies, and particularly in that of corn, which he was afraid both Whigs and Tories would unite to continue; but, in common with every person connected with the county of Lancaster, he implored them not to make any alteration in the currency. They had now the best currency in the world, and they wished to keep it, as they were satisfied that any attempt to tamper with it, or even to introduce silver as a standard as well as gold, would only enable foreigners to defraud us. It had been said, that there was a scarcity of money in the manufacturing districts. He knew as much of them as any one, and he never recollected money more plentiful there. His own residence, however, 560 was in the agricultural part of Warwickshire, and there too he found an abundance of currency. No man who had property could say he was not able to obtain money. There was no scarcity of currency with them when means justified credit. The honourable Baronet concluded by observing, that as he did not think any relief could be afforded to the really distressed by the inquiries proposed in the Motion of the honourable mover (Mr. Davenport), or in the Amendment proposed by the hon. Baronet (Sir C. Burrell), and as he thought, on the contrary, that an acquiescence in either of the motions would lead to delusive hopes which never could be realised, to expectations of improvements which Parliament had not the power to execute, he should feel it to be his duty to vote against both Motion and Amendment.
§ Mr. Bucknall Estcourt
said, that the subject was too delicate for a Member so young as he was to presume to pronounce an opinion on it, but he might say, that the present state of the country excited in him feelings of pain and deep concern, and that he could not look on the future without the most frightful forebodings. He thought that in a Committee the question of the public distress was likely to receive a better consideration than it could do in the House, and that the relative value of opinions could be ascertained with greater certainty, and their merit more fully appreciated.
§ Sir Hussey Vivian
did not deny that considerable distress existed; but was persuaded that many of the statements of it were greatly exaggerated. He entertained no despair of the country; but, on the contrary, felt convinced, that however serious the difficulties might be with which it was beset, it would rise superior to them all. With respect to the low prices, some of the causes of them were, in his opinion, sufficiently obvious. During the war, our manufacturers and merchants had a monopoly of the markets. Now, however, they were obliged to enter into a competition with foreign manufacturers and merchants. Now, as one-fifth of our industry was employed in the supply of the foreign markets, our exports being between fifty and sixty millions, and as the prices we obtained in the foreign markets must govern our prices at home, he thought there was little difficulty in accounting for the low prices. Among the causes assigned by various persons for the existing distress 561 were over-production, superabundant population, machinery, free trade, taxation, and the state of the currency. As to overproduction, the only consequence, as it appeared to him, of our producing less would be to throw a number of persons out of employment. With respect to superabundant population, to a certain extent the population might be said to be superabundant. But he should be very sorry to see the population diminished by the means recommended on a recent occasion by an hon. Gentleman, and he trusted that the House would never forgetThat a bold peasantry, their country's pride,When once destroy'd, could never be supplied.Machinery, in his opinion, so far from producing the distress, must have greatly contributed to prevent its increase; since it gave employment to millions, who would be otherwise destitute of it. A great portion of what was considered among the middle classes to be distress, arose, he was persuaded, out of the extraordinary change that had taken place in the habits of the people, who indulged in an extravagant expense of which their forefathers never dreamt; and who being now compelled to curtail that expense, felt the privation severely. The necessity under which they were of discharging a number of their servants, had also added to the general difficulty. He had made as accurate inquiries as he could into the real facts of the case, and more especially with respect to the parish, that of Lynn, in Hampshire, in which he himself resided. The hon. Gentleman here read a statement, by which it appeared, that although from the year 1813 to the year 1829, the Poor's-rate had increased from 2,700l. to 3,200l., the population of the parish from the year 1811 to the year 1829 had increased from 3,100 to upwards of 5,000. Under this latter circumstance, it was not at all surprising that there should be an increase of paupers. The hon. Gentleman then entered into a comparison of the quantity of tin and copper raised in the county of Cornwall in the years 1813, 1814, and 1815, as compared with the quantity raised in the last years; and maintained that the increase, combined with the foreign competition, was the cause of the present low prices. He was far, however, from thinking low prices an evil. If it were not for the low prices of hemp, of tallow, and of all the necessaries of life, tens of thousands of people would be 562 thrown out of employment, and thousands of tons of shipping would be laid up. As to Free Trade, he was convinced that it had nothing to do with the distress; and he was happy to make that avowal in the presence of the right hon. Member for Liverpool, as when the principles of Free Trade were originally discussed, he had expressed some apprehensions with respect to the result of their application to the commerce of this country. In his opinion, the great principle of Free Trade was briefly this: that as long as any of the manufacturers of the country produced a commodity for which there was an entire demand in the home market, we might protect them by duties; but that when they were obliged to go to a foreign market to sell their commodity, the price must be regulated by the price at which the foreign manufacturers were able to bring the same commodity into the market. This, as he had before observed, was one of the causes of the diminished price of the produce of the Cornish mines. But unless his information on the subject was very incorrect, there was no distress in the county of Cornwall, notwithstanding the low prices. In the meantime, those low prices had been very beneficial in other respects. What would our shipping—what would Birmingham and other manufacturing towns have done had the price of copper remained high? It was clear that to the low prices thousands of persons were indebted for their present employment. But it was asked, how could we go on with such low prices and with such heavy taxes on agriculture? He did not believe that those taxes bore especially on agriculture. He believed that they bore generally on the consumer; that they bore on the whole property of England. He considered available property to be property which a man possessed beyond taxation. If he had 1,000l. a year, and paid 500l. in taxation, he should consider that he had 500l. of available property. If that 500l. at the present prices would purchase as much as 1,000l. when the prices were high, he should have no right to complain. He would advert shortly to the remedies which had been suggested for the existing state of things. In the first place, there was what had been called an equitable adjustment. He had heard with the utmost astonishment what had fallen, upon that subject, from the hon. Member for Colchester. That hon. Member ought to re- 563 collect that what was law was not always justice, and that what was equity was not always equitable. It would be the extreme of injustice to make any attempt at reducing the property of the fund holder, and he trusted that no such attempt would ever be made. Of this, too, he was persuaded, that if a sponge could be applied to the National Debt to-morrow, the country would derive little or no benefit from the operation. The visits of the tax-gather would be exchanged for those of the parish overseer; and the population of our exchanges and markets would be transferred to our workhouses. The reduction of taxation was one of the remedies which had been insisted on. It was undoubtedly the duty of Ministers to reduce taxation as much as was consistent with the public service; and they had done that duty. But he was not one of those who fancied that any extraordinary relief could be derived from such a source; and he was one of those who would be very sorry to see the principle of reduction carried to such an extent as would compel us to disband our army, dismantle our navy, and close our arsenals and dockyards. He trusted, to use the eloquent words of a late right hon. Gentleman, "that the sovereign of this country would never be reduced to sit on a degraded Throne." A change in the currency was another of the nostrums recommended; nostrums so numerous, that they reminded him of some doggrel lines, with which he was familiar when at school:—One doctor physic'd him and purg'd;A second bleeding strongly urged;A third a tonic mixture tried;Among them all—the patient died!He had frequently heard of people being music-mad; but he believed that some hon. Gentlemen were currency-mad. His view of the currency question was this:—that if, as had been asserted, the substitution of gold for paper had produced a change of five-and-twenty per cent in the price of commodities, that proved that the former price was artificial. It was impossible to maintain a paper circulation while we kept up a commercial intercourse with foreign countries. We could not buy bread at home with paper, and cotton abroad with gold. If we were to return to paper to-morrow, we should speedily have two prices, a gold price and a paper price, as we had formerly; even although the House should again adopt a Resolution 564 declaring that gold and notes were equivalent. He was delighted, therefore, to hear his Majesty's Ministers declare that they had no intention of proposing any change in the currency. He apologized to the House for having trespassed so long upon their attention, and thanked them for their indulgence. What he had said was not said in a spirit of hostility to any interest. Agriculture and manufactures must flourish together. Although his particular interest did not he in that way, yet certainly, if he were called upon to give a preponderance to either, he would throw his weight into the agricultural scale. But not conceiving that to be necessary, and being persuaded that no measure could be adopted, the tendency of which would be materially beneficial to any interest, he must oppose the Motion.
§ Mr. Liddell
declared himself prepared to support the Motion of the hon. Member near him, though he trusted that in doing so he incurred no risk of being understood to pronounce any opinion condemnatory of the motives of his Majesty's Government. He was willing to give every credit to the right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House for the uprightness of their intentions, and for the earnest zeal with which they endeavoured to promote the interests of the country, as it appeared to them; but he must be allowed to say, that his views of the true interests of the country, and what its necessities at the present moment demanded, were quite opposed to the course which the Ministers of the Crown appeared determined to persevere in adopting. There was one proposition on which he would mainly rely, and which he did not apprehend that any hon. Member would attempt to controvert—namely, that at the present moment there was not profitable employment for the capital of the country. Notwithstanding the low rate of interest at which money could be borrowed, there were not to be found traders in the United Kingdom who could see any profitable means of embarking it in any speculation whatever—that he believed was true of nearly every branch of commerce and manufactures. Were the Government and Legislature of the country to allow things in such a state to take their course—were they to say to the people, "You must wait for the operation of natural causes, and not look to any amelioration of system for that relief of which you now stand so deeply and alarm- 565 ingly in need?" Amidst the various departments in which distress prevailed, if there were one which stood peculiarly forward it was the shipping interest. He had within a short time received a communication, in which it was stated that the spring freights opened at rates one-ninth lower than the former year; and in every point of view, however much they might have suffered last year, the present was infinitely worse than any preceding season. Those were facts, and facts well authenticated—facts which he believed would receive no contradiction; it was therefore that he stated them, and confined himself to them, for he might easily procure a variety of other statements, if possible more strong, respecting other departments of trade and manufactures; but he had no wish to exaggerate the distresses of the country. They were alarming and severe enough, without adding to the pressure of them by overcharged descriptions. One of his grounds of complaint against right hon. Gentlemen opposite was the manner in which they met the present Motion. They applied themselves, in the course of the debate, to any thing rather than what formed the question at issue. Thus, on the first night of the present debate, the right hon. Gentleman (the President of the Board of Trade) advanced with much form to the discussion of the Motion, and when he came to the most important branch of it, he suddenly started off, or to use a sporting phrase, baulked the fence, and left the House in the same state of uncertainty and ignorance as before he began his speech. He confessed that never, on any similar occasion, did he experience a greater disappointment than when the right hon. Gentleman declined to enter upon the considerations connected with the state of the currency, and the mode in which it affected the present distresses. He declared himself unable to comprehend how any Member of that House could profess to inquire into the distresses of the country, and pass by altogether a matter so intimately connected with them as the state of the currency—a matter which many held to be amongst the chief causes of that distress. Nobody could deny that there had been a great depression of price, and that, during that time, taxation had stalked like a giant through the land fattening on the ruin it created. To ascertain the influence of taxation on prices, and on the general 566 distress, some persons denying that it was injurious, and to ascertain the influence of the alteration in the laws concerning the currency, on prices, were, he had no doubt, among the most important duties of Parliament. For his part he must say, that nothing was better worthy the attention of Parliament—nothing which at the present moment could better occupy their attention, than to consider whether, without debasing the currency, it might not be so far replenished, by a judicious issue of paper, as would give a salutary stimulus to prices and manufactures, and revive the suffering commerce of the country. He thought that a committee might be very usefully employed in investigating the best mode of carrying so desirable an object into practical effect. The committee might also advantageously direct their labours to the subject of an improved system of banking, more calculated for the necessities of a commercial community than that which at present existed in this country. He had not the slightest hesitation in expressing his opinion, that the standard ought to be changed; and to this he would add, that he felt no doubt whatever, that if the well-known measure which bore the name of the right hon. Gentleman, and would continue to be known as his, were again to be proposed to Parliament, its authors would shrink from pressing it upon the acceptance of the Legislature; and sure he was, that if they were to go the length of doing so, Parliament, foreseeing all the evils that have since arisen from that measure, would reject it in a manner the most marked and decided. He was satisfied, that were the same Bill to be proposed over again, the consent of Parliament could never be obtained to anything so unjust and oppressive to the country. However, the deed had been done, and it was now the duty of all—when no perfect remedy was practicable to do what the circumstances of the case admitted; it was the duty of every man in the country to do the utmost he possibly could for the relief of the country; and it was the duty of every Member of that House to apply himself sedulously and seriously to the discovery of what might be done towards meeting the present emergency. He was convinced, indeed, that if something were not done, discontent would increase, and, like the earth-born giants of old, would shake the earth with convulsions 567 in endeavouring to cast aside its fetters. He was apprehensive that this might be the result, and therefore he said inquiry was necessary, and that every thing possible ought to be done by that House to relieve the public distress. He went further, and would say, that they ought to co-operate with his Majesty's Government in everything that they undertook for the public good; for the existing Administration was, generally speaking, well deserving the confidence of Parliament and of the country. There was no set of Gentlemen, on either side of the House, whom he should more desire to see in the Councils of his Majesty. He believed that a change of men could work no beneficial results—that none could be found to assume the reins of Government with better prospects of success than the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, though he must qualify this testimony in their favour by repeating his objection to the course they had thought proper to take in reference to the present Motion. So much he felt bound to say in vindication of himself, and in justice to the country and the Administration.
§ Mr. Courtenay
would state shortly his views to the House upon this most important occasion; in commencing to do which, he could not help saying, that those who were loudest in their expressions of sympathy with the sufferings of the people, were the slowest to bring forwad any measures of relief, or to pledge themselves to any definite proposition for the benefit of the country. It had been made matter of repeated accusation against the Ministers, particularly by the hon. Member for Newark, that at different times they had attributed the public distress to various and contradictory causes. First, they were accused—or rather he should say, not the present Government, but several successive Governments were accused—of attributing the distress, some years to a transition from a state of war to a state of peace. Now he believed that, at this distance of time, no one could doubt who looked at the condition of the country at that period, that the distress then prevailing was to be ascribed to that cause. At that period, the mere disbanding of the Army and Navy was in itself a considerable source of public inconvenience, and one of the most active causes of public distress; and he believed, that if the other causes to which, in truth and in justice, 568 his Majesty's Government felt bound to impute the distress, were fairly examined, they would prove not less to have produced the effects ascribed to them. In his opinion, the mistake most frequently made consisted in supposing that any practical measure to be introduced by the Government, could remove at once an extended evil, and one, the causes of which were, in many instances, beyond the reach of legislation. In the case of the public distress which took place at the beginning of the present peace, it was to be observed, that not only was there the transition, with all its attendant evils, but trade suffered, and those to whom the administration of public affairs was then intrusted, had the additional difficulty to encounter, which has only since their time been ascertained, that a great alteration in all the relations of the country—agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial, and of all other countries, was then in progress. Over-production was the next cause to which the public embarrassment was attributed. Of the reality of that cause—of its wide and powerful operations, he believed there would now be as little doubt as of any proposition which could possibly be announced. Not alone in England, but all over the world, did over-production prevail. With peace, then, came the loss of much that we possessed during the war—many sources of commercial wealth possessed through and by the war ended with it—many advantages incompatible with a state of peace were lost likewise, and added to these were the effects of overproduction, which we felt in common with the rest of the world. All those causes, though different, were real and effectual in their operations, and with them was combined extensive competition, which reduced prices to a level before unknown, and produced an amount of public distress which every one who aimed at popularity ascribed to all imaginable causes. The Bank Restriction Act, he was ready to admit, was not without its share in producing much of the public embarrassment which at different times had arisen; that measure gave a fatal facility to improvident speculation, and produced great injustice to many portions of the community. That restriction having been at length removed, and it not having been proposed by the hon. Member who spoke last, to repeal the bill of his right hon. friend, it would be unnecessary for him to 569 enter upon that topic. He heard no distinct proposition for the restraint of cash payments, and therefore he felt the less called on to enter upon that subject. He could not, however, pass to any new topic without observing, that the suffering of the several classes to which he adverted was aggravated by unfavourable seasons. In every instance, however, the effects produced by the weather were laid upon the Ministers, and they were held responsible for the dispensations of Providence. The hon. Member for Newark said of the Ministers, that they complained of the seasons, sometimes as being too wet, and sometimes too dry, as if such a complaint was self-contradictory. Now, to his mind it appeared the best founded and consistent mode of accounting for distress that could easily be imagined. Might not the hon. Gentleman himself on some occasions find his roast beef under-done, and at other times over-done, and in both cases to blame his cook. Again, another class of hon. Members, who professed to represent the country, urged that the public establishments ought to be reduced, and taxes repealed; he thought the time had at length arrived when a cry of that kind ought to cease. Since the termination of the war, forty per cent of the taxes had been repealed, and the public establishments proportionally reduced. But with objections of that class it was unnecessary any longer to contend. The real object of those who opposed themselves to the views of his Majesty's Government, upon a question of that nature was to procure a return to the small-note system. Now he would inquire in what way did those hon. Members suppose that the small-note system would restore the prosperity of the country; was there a want of circulating medium in the United Kingdom? If so, he wished they would supply Parliament with some more satisfactory evidence of that fact than had yet been adduced. Did they mean to say that the whole gold and paper circulation, taken together as it at present stood, was insufficient for the occasions of the country, and less than in its present state it required. If such was their view, he begged to be excused on that occasion from entering into any detailed reply to them. He would not then go into the statements and calculations necessary for rebutting an opinion so ill-founded; for he thought that in doing 570 so he should be but abusing the patience of the House, and wasting its time, in insisting upon truths already acknowledged by the great majority both of the legislature and of the more intelligent portion of the community. But this much, however, he would say, that if a return to the small-note system, by increasing the circulating medium, produced the required remedy, he would gladly learn what there was to prevent the increase of the circulating medium being made to produce all these beneficial effects if it were applied in metals instead of paper. He would not enter into calculation as to the amount of the currency, but he would say, that if hon. Members wished to remedy the want of sufficient circulation, gold would be just as effectual for the purpose as notes. Why then require an issue of 1l. notes? From his own experience of what took place in the west of England, he could state, that there was not a 1l. note withdrawn from circulation which was not replaced by a sovereign. But the true reason, as it appeared to him, why hon. Members required an issue of 1l. notes was this—that the country banker would be more disposed to lend five 1l. notes than five sovereigns, or ten half sovereigns—that he would not be so strict as to the security in lending notes as in advancing sovereigns. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to contend, that an extensive issue of small notes would have the effect of driving the gold out of the country—that gold would then become scarce and dear, and that the time would come when a demand would be made for it, and there would be a run upon the banks, and even upon the Bank of England, which they would not be able to meet, and the situation of the country would be worse than ever. It had been said, that this might be avoided if the system of banking were established upon a principle of greater security. Much as he would wish to see our banking system carried on on a principle of great security, he did not see any system on which the adoption of an extensive small-note circulation would not be liable to the evil consequences to which he had just adverted. The hon. Member for Newark had urged what he called the system of free trade as a cause of the distress of the country. He would ask the hon. Member what he meant by free trade? He would tell him further, that if he continued to blame the 571 Government for the passing of laws in which the great majority of the Members of that House had a share as well as any of his Majesty's Ministers—if the hon. Member for Newark continued this system of accusation, without himself introducing some specific remedy—he would denounce him to the public as a betrayer of his trust. He would say, that the Member for Newark evinced apathy to the distress of the people, and not the Government. The Government did all in its power—it had reduced taxes as much as the circumstances of the country would admit. The Ministers had applied the only remedy they could command by reducing taxation—and he repeated that if the hon. Member for Newark renewed his attacks on Government for what they had done—and for not doing something more, without some specific plan of his own—he would denounce him as a wordy man, without meaning, who did not do his duty to his constituents and his country. He would not waste the time of the House by going into the theory of free trade; he would state a few plain facts—one was, that the experiment of free trade had been successful as far as it had been tried, and he wished it had been carried further. There was not an interest connected with it which it had not bettered. He knew not if the House recollected, that about two years ago he stated in his place, that he had not given the subject of free trade much of his attention, and he used a phrase at the time with reference to his unacquaintance with it, of which he supposed he should never hear the last. Since then he had studied the subject, and he now confessed that he embraced it from a conviction of its superiority over any system which we had ever adopted. This acknowledgment he felt was but an act of justice to his right hon. friend, the Member for Liverpool. The right hon. Gentleman then adverted to the low prices throughout the world as a cause of the distress we felt, and contended that laws preventing importation would have no sensible effect in bettering our condition, even for a short time, while in the result such laws would aggravate the pressure on the country. If low prices had thus a disadvantage, they had also a compensating power of relieving the country by reaction, and then they would bring us to act on that which he took as the sound principle of free trade, viz. of procuring 572 the articles we might want where we could get them at the cheapest rates, be it in the domestic or foreign market. This was the principle of free trade on which the Government was determined to act. He had only one word more to say. The hon. Member for Newark had told the House, on a former evening, that he liked free trade, to a certain extent; that was, if they were to import the articles of other countries, let them give the produce of their own in exchange. He was really ashamed to have to answer such an argument in that House; but, plain as it was, it seemed not to be plain enough to meet the hon. Member's understanding. Did the hon. Member imagine that foreigners would give us their goods for nothing? We must give them ours in exchange, or, if not, we must give them gold; and where could we obtain the gold except as the price of our goods? He would put the whole question of the committee upon this point, and would consent to it on condition—that the hon. Member for Newark should go before the committee to be examined, and should submit to a cross-examination by, he would say, the hon. Member for Dover, who was well acquainted with the subject, and should, in a few plain answers, not exceeding four or five lines each, and, without epigram or metaphor, be able to show that it was possible for us to import the goods of foreigners, without giving our own goods, or money purchased by our own goods, in exchange for them. In conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman observed, that as he could see no measure likely to be proposed by the committee but a revision of our system of currency, and the issue of small notes, a measure which would raise expectations that could not be realized, he must give it his negative.
§ Sir Richard Vyvyan
said, he could not concur in the view taken of this subject by the hon. and gallant officer (Sir H. Vivian). He did not think the country was in a state approaching to prosperity; on the contrary, from his own knowledge of the condition of the people in Cornwall, and from his information as to the state of other parts of the country, he was convinced that it was suffering very severely. We were now in that situation, that if some remedy were not applied in time, they might, in three Sessions more, meet under a different form of government. He would not go into any detail 573 as to the state of distress in which the country was, but after the admission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Monday night, that the country was so pressed with taxation, that he felt it necessary to relieve it by taking off nearly 3,500,000l., it was hardly consistent with common sense in hon. Members at the opposite side to deny that distress existed. The admission was made by his Majesty's Ministers, and they acted upon it to an extent which he allowed would give some relief, though not equal to what the country required. Some hon. Members attributed the distress to the state of the Poor-laws—some to taxation—some to over-population—but all admitted that the body politic was diseased. As to surplus population, he would not admit that in a country capable of supporting a much greater number of people than it had at present, there could be a surplus population; but looking at the manner in which the labouring poor were treated, at the state of their small cottages, and at the whole system of the Poor-laws, he would say, that under such a system, a population of only half the present amount would be a surplus population. The hon. Member then adverted to the terms in which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtenay) had alluded to the sentiments of the hon. Member for Newark—terms so different from his usual mildness of temper, which, he must say, were not called for by any thing that had fallen from the hon. Member. Mr. Sadler, he believed, was perfectly sincere in the principles he advocated and was much respected by a very large portion of the community. He hoped, however, that those terms proceeded merely from the heat of debate. The mind of the right hon. Gentleman, which had undergone a change on the subject of free trade since this time two years, when, as he himself confessed, it was a sheet of white paper, had had certain principles written on it in respect of that system, one of which was, that we should purchase articles where we could get them cheapest, without reference to whether they were foreign or domestic. But what would the landed interest, who supported Ministers, say to such a declaration as this from the Vice-President of the Board of Trade of the country? How would it affect them on the subject of the Corn Laws? The hon. Baronet then proceeded to take a review of the causes of 574 the present distressed state of the country, and observed that many of them had arisen from circumstances which no Sovereign, however powerful, could control, or no philosopher, however wise, could remedy. He admitted the truth of a remark attributed to the Premier in another place, that the extent of our machinery was one cause. In the present state of civilization that could not be avoided. It was, however, an innovation of which future times would derive much greater advantage than we could at present, as the change caused by its introduction was productive of much present inconvenience. These causes had, indeed, been urged into increased effect by the actions of Ministers. In the year 1824 it was said, that it was utterly impossible to force the markets of the world, or to produce more in this country than could be consumed in the new States of South America, which were fast rising into political and commercial importance. That doctrine was most fully acted upon in this country in the year 1825, and the consequences were well known. In his opinion the government of that day had, in a great measure; instigated that immense trading; and it did not, as it ought to have done, express decided opinions concerning the course which English merchants and manufacturers were then pursuing. None of the Ministers had stood up in their place, and pointed out the ruin which must ensue from following such a course. For himself he would neither follow party nor prejudice—he would look at this, as at other questions, fairly; and no mere party feeling should induce him to say, that the Government was unworthy of confidence. Still, however, he could not overlook those instances in which he thought Ministers had acted with great indiscretion. But while, on the one hand, he would not for mere party feeling make the Ministry the object of his attack, neither would he, on the other hand, forget all that they had done wrong in consideration of any particular measure of theirs that might have been of advantage to the people. The nation was in distress. Was it enough to say that it must not be inquired into because the noble Duke at the head of the Government had done what he could to pacify the country? The people asked for bread—but then the right hon. Gentleman, it was replied, made a great sacrifice last Session, and it would be improper to desert him now. What 575 notion those Members who made that reply could have of the independence of Members, he was at a loss to discover. Could they turn, and turn, again and again, with every turn of the Administration. He was sorry he could not express his confidence in his Majesty's Government; but if any change of Administration should take place, and a new ministry should adopt measures that were agreeable to his ideas of what was for the benefit of the country, he should be most willing to join them. His friends and himself had abandoned no principle, but he could not say the same of some of those Gentlemen who now formed part of the Administration. There were some Gentlemen who in the year 1826 refused to form part of an Administration, because the right hon. Gentleman then at its head was stated to have in view a certain measure to attain an object to which they objected. In that refusal they were supported by the approbation of many Members of that House. But now both these parties came forward and claimed great merit—the one for having introduced, the other for having aided in passing that very measure. It was from seeing the constant attacks made by these parties upon those with whom he had the honour to act—attacks made in the public prints as well as in that House—and from the way in which the right hon. Gentleman addressed those with whom he had formerly been united, attacking them, and praising those from whom he had formerly differed, but to whose plans he was now a convert, that had induced him to speak so strongly. If in doing so he had said any thing that was unparliamentary, he was sorry for it; but he had felt strongly, and he could not avoid giving expression to his feelings. He would now make a few observations with regard to the currency question. It was not pretended that those who had borrowed in a depreciated currency could pay their debts under the standard established by the bill of 1826; but it was said that every pound note had been replaced by a sovereign. He might be misinformed, but he had made inquiries into that subject, and the bankers of the West of England had given him a very different account. It was said also, that the landed interest must make sacrifices. He did not know why, and why they had not received some information on that question. There was a reason given for the distress that happened in 1816, for that which took 576 place in 1819, and there was an evident reason for the panic of 1825; but no reason whatever was given for the distress that now weighed down the productive classes of the country. What a farce, then, was it to sit there and refuse a committee to inquire precisely, because no invidual could state the cause of the distress. Why, what was the object of a committee, but to find out that which no individual could of himself explain? A committee would see what was feasible in such a case, and for that reason he should support the amendment for a Select Committee. They must take care that the capital of the country was not destroyed. The land, the labours, the products of the country, were its wealth—the credit of the country might be destroyed, but the wealth would remain the same. The measures adopted within these few years had much diminished, and had gone near to destroy credit. The legislature would not allow of credit under 100l., but there had been a time when credit was given on so low a sum as 20l. He believed that one of the great causes of existing distress was, not that there were more or less sovereigns in the country, but that the bill of 1826 had annihilated a great portion of the representative property of the country. The Government admitted that there ought to be a representative property of 5l. and 10l. notes, but they insisted that the circulating medium should have a metallic basis. And so it might have with a less strict limitation of paper currency. There was no such thing as a fixed standard of value; because even gold itself, which was popularly considered as a fixed standard, varied with different circumstances in different countries. They had heard that a great part of the present evils arose from our National Debt—a debt which had been, it was alleged, contracted by a profligate aristocracy and an obstinate government. There was no man who had seen the result of that war, and who had benefitted by it (and there were many such in that House), who could lay it to the charge of Mr. Pitt, that he had unjustly entered into that war, unless he meant to say, at the same time, that he should have been prepared to consent to a change in the monarchical representative and religious system of this country. Fifteen years had now elapsed since the conclusion of the war—its effects we still felt, and could not get rid of them—our efforts, however, must be strenuously 577 directed to alleviate the evil consequences of the war. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had endeavoured to pursue a certain plan, part of which was to reduce the public funds. It had been said by some, that the fact of the public funds rising was an undoubted indication of national prosperity. He disagreed with that opinion. It was a well-established fact, that the public funds might rise in national prosperity and in national adversity—in prosperity on account of public confidence, as in the year 1825; and in adversity on account of the want of confidence, and the feeling among men that they had no other profitable means of investing their capital. He believed that money, to a large extent, had been sent up from the country to be invested in the funds, with the view of creating that rise in the price of stock which was said to be an index of public prosperity, but which, he contended, indicated no such thing. It was said that the re-issuing of paper money would bring this country into the same state as that of France just previous to the Revolution; and that if the Minister were allowed to pay the claims on the Government with Exchequer Bills, and to make them equivalent to money, he would not resort to taxation to furnish him with funds. The Government expenses were not merely those which the service of the country called for, but the payment of the interest of the National Debt. The whole of those expenses were raised from the people—the interest of the debt in the shape of Excise and Customs. The latter were now much diminished, and he must declare his firm conviction, that, sooner or later, the Government must resort to the measure of a depreciated standard—they must have a paper currency—or commit a direct and open bankruptcy; for they never could go on in their present course. In this condition of the country, what would be the consequences if we were compelled to go to war, or even if we could remain at peace? It was foolish to blind ourselves to the real position of the country. There was a work, an extract from which he would read, though he had little doubt that all the Members of that House were well acquainted with it, because it appeared to him particularly applicable to present circumstances. It was nearly at the end of Mr. Hume's "Essay upon Public Credit." Mr. Hume had, indeed, been a prophet; but he had never calcu- 578 lated that there would be at last found a Government that would, out of an unheard of principle of generosity, pay more than it had borrowed, and place the country in such a situation as that in which it stood at this moment. Mr. Hume said—"I must confess that there has a strange supineness, from long custom, creeped into all ranks of men, with regard to public debts, not unlike what divines so vehemently complain of with regard to their religions doctrines. We all own that the most sanguine imagination cannot hope, either that this or any future ministry will be possessed of such rigid and steady frugality, as to make a considerable progress in the payment of our debts; or that the situation of foreign affairs will, for any long time, allow them leisure and tranquillity for such an undertaking. What then is to become of us? Were we ever so good Christians, and ever so resigned to Providence; this, methinks, were a curious question, even considered as a speculative one, and what it might not be altogether impossible to form some conjectural solution of. The events here will depend little upon the contingencies of battles, negotiations, intrigues, and factions. There seems to be a natural progress of things which may guide our reasoning. As it would have required but a moderate share of prudence, when we first began this practice of mortgaging, to have foretold, from the nature of men and of ministers, that things would necessarily be carried to the length we see; so now, that they have at last happily reached it, it may not be difficult to guess at the consequences. It must, indeed, be one of these two events,—either the nation must destroy public credit, or public credit will destroy the nation." He thought these opinions were perfectly true, and what was the consequence? We were now at peace, but it was impossible that any man could say we should not soon again be involved in war. If we were, we must then be forced upon the consideration of the question of the currency. We must again go into the market—we must increase the amount of the National Debt—and finally, we must follow the system which all other nations had adopted, we must make a compromise with the public creditor. That was a part of the question on which it was a matter of great delicacy to speak. Those men were no patriots—they had no regard for the honour of their 579 country (an honour above that involved in keeping up the payment of the full interest of its debt), who, when large fleets and armies were wanted, would not keep them up, and put themselves to some inconvenience to maintain them. Before he sat down, he wished to call the attention of the House to the state of public fueling out of doors. It was most depressing—it was a state that must soon have an end, and he besought them to consider it with the most deliberate attention. If, in the course of the observations he had made, he had wounded the feelings of any individual, he was sorry for it, and he should much regret if he had said anything that would tend to diminish the value or importance of public credit. The circumstances in which we were now placed were stronger and more imperative than any common rule of action. We must trust for our deliverance to Providence, in some respects; but we must endeavour also, by our own exertions, and by the readiness of all to make sacrifices for the common good, to escape from our present difficulties. The public feeling out of doors had been sufficiently manifested by meetings and petitions without number, and it was their duty to respond to that feeling by a proportionate alacrity in examining into the sufferings of the people with a view to their relief, thereby demonstrating that the charges of apathy which had been brought against them were unfounded.
§ Mr. Courtenay
said, that nothing could be further from his intention than to say any thing personally offensive to the hon. Member for Newark, and if he had in his remarks passed beyond the fair line of controversial debate, he was bound to say that he was sorry for it.
said, it was their part to consider, first, what were the nature and extent of the distress; and secondly, what was the remedy which it behoved them to apply. The hon. Member for Cornwall had observed, that the Ministry themselves admitted the fact of the distress by their remission of taxes. But who, he asked, had been ever found to deny it? The gist of the question was, whether it was distress of a nature for the Legislature to control, or rather of a kind to be remedied by the natural operation of events. He certainly thought that it had been very considerably exaggerated. The petitions were at least of a very unselfish character, 580 as they chiefly complained of the sufferings of parties unconnected with those who were annexed to those documents themselves. The hon. Member for Newark had represented the statements of the President of the Board of Trade as contrary to the evidence of the nation, and referred at the same time to a petition from Leeds, signed by 1,500 of the inhabitants. He, however, taking this mode of computation for his example, thought he had an equal right to draw a negative inference from the numbers there and elsewhere, whose names were not attached to petitions. Now, the population of Leeds was estimated at 80,000, and the manufacturers themselves might be reckoned at 20,000; yet but 1,500 complained. Those hon. gentlemen who joined loudest in murmur, and reproach, and expostulation, it might be observed, still kept their eyes fixed on their favourite monopoly, with a constancy worthy the imitation of lovers, despite all the sympathy and patriotism of their professions. They talked of a change in the circulating medium, and were, no doubt, ready to maintain that Cobbett was the brazen serpent to which the children of Israel were to look for healing in the day of their distress. The agricultural distress might be imputed, in his opinion, to the operation of local causes,—causes of a temporary description,—and the distress in trade, he sincerely believed, was not so great as represented.
§ Mr. Huskisson
spoke in substance as follows:—Sir; The principal arguments which have hitherto been adduced in favour of the Motion,—I might, indeed, say the whole—by those who have given it an unqualified support, turn upon some undefined alteration which they wish to effect in our Currency. The hon. Baronet who lately preceded me (Sir Richard Vyvyan) has ventured into the field of prophesy. He predicts, that we must, ere long, come to one of these alternatives—either a depreciation of the Currency, by a return to an inconvertible paper circulation, or a national bankruptcy. The hon. Baronet fortifies himself in this prediction by quoting one from Mr. Hume, whom he describes as a true prophet, for having foretold, in his Essay upon Public Credit, that bankruptcy would be, at no distant period, the inevitable result of the extension of our debt. Many years have elapsed—more than seventy—since this prediction of the philosopher was given to 581 the world. I hope that the hon. Baronet may, for as many years, continue to survive his prophecy, and to serve his country; but however long his life may be, I trust that many more years will pass away, as in the case of Mr. Hume, before the hon. Baronet is found to have been a truer prophet than his predecessor has proved. Now, Sir, I trust that neither the hon. Member for Shaftesbury, who has originated, this motion, nor my hon. friend, the Member for Shoreham, who has moved the amendment, will consider that I am wanting in respect to them, if I decline to argue, at any length, the state of our Currency, in reference to the alterations which were made in it between the origin of its derangement in 1797 and its final restoration in 1819. From the period of the Bullion Committee, of which I was a member, in 1810, I have so often had occasion to state my opinions on this—the great, though not the only, source, of the difficulties of the country—that I willingly leave to others the task of following the hon. Gentlemen upon this exhausted subject. I will only state, that in 1819, when the bill, now called Mr. Peel's Act, was brought in, I was unavoidably kept away from the House by illness; otherwise I should have given to that measure my active and cordial support. In 1822, when a motion was brought forward by the hon. Member for Essex, for revising that Act, and altering the standard of value, I had an opportunity of stating very fully my sentiments upon the subject. To that motion I moved an amendment in the following words, "That this House will not alter the standard of the gold and silver coins of this realm, in weight, fineness, or denomination." In this amendment, after two nights' debate, the House concurred, by a majority of 194 to 30. If this, Sir, was the resolution of the House, three years only after the Act of 1819, how much more ought we to adhere to it in 1830! The greatest of all curses, to an opulent and commercial country, is a system of vacillation, unsteadiness, and alternation in its standard of value, frequently disturbing and unsettling the property and fortunes of individuals, and destroying the foundation of confidence and security in all contracts and pecuniary dealings between man and man, as well as in the honour and good faith of the Government. I wish I could say, that there are no other causes connected with our 582 Currency (even as it now is), which, by affecting commercial credit, render alternations in its value far too frequent, and which I think it ought to be our duty to endeavour to correct. Were I prepared to admit—which I certainly am not—that in 1819 we should have been justified in lowering the standard of our Currency, instead of simply restoring it, I must not the less contend, that we can exercise no such discretion now. I know there are many well-informed persons who take a different view from me of the course which we might have pursued in 1819, when we had to make a choice upon this subject. It is quite consistent in them, thinking that we committed an error in 1819, to maintain as most of them, I believe, do, that it is now better to endure the evils which that error has brought upon us, than to venture to disturb the settlement once made, at the risk of all the disquietude, alarm, and derangement, which would inevitably attend such an attempt. From the prevalence of this feeling, I am not afraid that any such attempt will find many partisans in this House; and I own that I consider it a necessary preliminary to the efficacy of every suggestion of relief, that we should, if possible, pronounce ourselves so decidedly on the permanence of our present monetary system, as finally to set at rest all hopes and fears on this too long agitated question. There is one branch, indeed, of this subject which docs not, I admit, involve any necessary alteration in the standard of our Currency: I mean, the circulation of one pound notes, convertible into coin upon demand. Their suppression rests upon distinct grounds. It is manifest that notes, of the same denomination with our principal gold coin, cannot be allowed, without the effect being to drive the latter out of circulation. Such, therefore, would be the consequence of small notes being again permitted. Upon the first excitement in trade, leading to a general improvement in prices, these notes would be largely issued to facilitate speculations. The foreign exchanges, for a time, would not be materially affected, because these speculations, as far as they led to payments abroad, would be provided for by the exportation of our gold coin. In this mode, the greater part of our coin, as well that deposited in the Bank, as that in circulation, might gradually disappear, the exchanges still re- 583 maining very slightly affected. The importation of foreign goods would be promoted by this large exportation of our coin, and by the rise of all commodities in this country. Every thing would appear prosperous; but the prosperity would be short-lived and delusive. The time would come, in which the Bank of England, alarmed for its own safety by the lowering of its treasure, would be under the necessity of taking decisive measures to protect itself. The effect would be a renewal of the panic of 1825, and of all the miserable consequences by which it has been followed. If, therefore, we make up our minds again to encourage the circulation of small notes, we must be prepared for one of these alternatives—either their paving the way for, and gradually leading to, another Bank Restriction (from which we so narrowly escaped at the end of the year 1825),—or for alternations of fictitious prosperity, such as immediately preceded that crisis, to be followed by overwhelming distress, such as that by which it was terminated. Upon this ground, it is a great satisfaction to me to find, that his Majesty's Government have resolved to maintain the suppression of one pound notes in England; not because they are in themselves depreciation, but because, so long as they are suffered to exist, you can only escape the greater calamity of restriction, leading to an inconvertible paper currency, by the evil only second to it in degree, that of such a calamity as befell us in the autumn of 1825. Looking to the Motion, however, in its more general character, I am not one of those who have underrated the present distress. The numerous petitions attest its existence, and a document, recently distributed to the Members of this House, is unfortunately no slight confirmation that their allegations are but too well founded. The document to which I allude, is "an Account of the monthly amount of the sums paid in and paid out, on account of Savings' Banks, for the two last years." The year 1828 exhibits the following amounts—paid in, 945,448l.—drawn out, 678,420l.:—the year 1829, paid in, 449,493l.—drawn out, 1,444,937l. The figures,* and the comparison which* This difference has, in some degree, been since accounted for, by a change in the law, and in the reduction of the rate of interest allowed by Government, which took place in November 1828.584 they afford, speak for themselves, and must be taken as a strong indication of the increasing difficulties of the laborious classes in the year 1829. But whilst I acknowledge, and deeply lament, the intensity of suffering and misery which have been endured in many quarters, especially during the last severe winter, I cannot take that gloomy and hopeless view of our situation to which some appear to yield themselves up. I never can believe, that a country like England, however crippled for a time by some derangement in the system of its interior economy, can be reduced, all at once, to a state of helpless weakness, and irremediable decay. I have a more just reliance upon the sources of our wealth and power, in every branch which constitutes the substantial riches and real strength of the country, its agriculture, its commerce, its manufactures, its immense accumulation of fixed capital, the energy of our national character, and the indefatigable industry of an ingenious, enterprising, and orderly population. I have a further ground of well-founded confidence for the present, and of sanguine hope for the future, in an enlightened public opinion, exercising every year more and more, under the benefits of free discussion, its salutary influence upon the councils of Ministers, as well as upon the deliberations of Parliament. There is no man, I think, who can read the signs of the times, who can recollect the occurrences of the last, or who witnesses those of the present Session—those I might say which have marked the present week—without feeling this consolation. This growth of intelligence, it is true, is not in itself either productive industry or national wealth: but it is the shield which protects both against the encroachments of power, and the errors of empiricism. It is the finger-post, which, in the hour of doubt and difficulty, points the path of safety, and guides us in the career of rational improvement. Admitting then, as I do, the existence of distress, but hoping, at the same time, that, for the present at least, we have seen its worst, it still becomes my duty, whilst I cling to that hope, to inquire into the causes which, in the midst of profound peace, have produced such frequent recurrences of public embarrassment. It appears to me, Sir,—and it is well known to several of my right hon. friends, that my opinion is of much longer standing than the present emer- 585 gency,—that the main difficulty, not an occasional, but rather an habitual difficulty, under which this country labours, is the too great pressure upon the springs and sources of productive industry: and that this pressure, from the very circumstance of its being too great in ordinary limes, becomes excessive, and is subject to fits of exacerbation, from any incidental casualty, such as an ungenial season, or a temporary derangement in any considerable branch of our manufactures or trade. To a casualty of this description we must always be liable, but it ought not to reduce us to suffering like that which we now endure, if we had been before in a robust and healthy condition. If I am asked the cause of the habitual existence of this too great pressure, I can only state the impression of my own mind.—It is simply this, that, in the distribution of the annual income of the country, by which I mean everything, having value in exchange, that is raised and produced by the labour of its inhabitants, and from which fund are derived the subsistence, the comforts, and the enjoyments of all, from the monarch to the peasant,—I say that, in its distribution, the portion of it reserved for reproduction is now, and has been for some years, less than it ought to be, either for the well-being of the labouring classes,—the immediate instrument of that reproduction,—or for the due maintenance, and progressive growth, of the capitals by which their labour is called into active exertion. I am aware that, in this statement, I have only said in other words, that the wages of labour have been too low, and the profits of fructifying or productive capital less than they ought to be: but there is an advantage, in a discussion like the present, in describing these evils, so as to trace them to their elementary causes. Many concurrent circumstances have contributed, since the restoration of peace, to produce this unsatisfactory state of things. Over some of the causes to which it may be traced, we have, from different reasons, little or no control: for instance, we cannot regulate the course of the seasons, or the competition of other countries with the products of our own in the foreign market. Neither can we interpose our authority—God forbid we should!—to slop the progress of improvement in mechanical or chemical science, or to interfere between landlord and tenant, or in the other pecu- 586 niary dealings of society. To the consequences of other causes of difficulty we have deliberately submitted, as the only way of escaping from far greater evils; for instance, in putting an end to an inconvertible paper currency. But there are causes which, if they have produced any part of the evil, are completely within our control. I allude now to that change in our commercial policy, to which so much of our present distress has been ascribed by clamour out of doors, and by more than one speaker in this debate. When people are suffering, nothing is more easy, and, with superficial observers, more common, than to raise, or join in, any cry which saves the trouble of thinking. Free Trade, as it has been absurdly nicknamed, by those who use words without knowing what they themselves mean, has in this way been denounced by the disappointed selfishness of some, and adopted without consideration by others, as the source of all our difficulties. It has been so designated by the honourable Alderman Waithman, one of the Members for the City of London, by the honourable Members for Cornwall and Newark, and by others; but none of these honourable Members ever condescend to tell us what they mean, or understand, by Free Trade. It is of this that I have before complained, and that I again complain on this occasion. Do they know the changes which have been made in our commercial policy, since the restoration of peace? If they do, why not point out to this House specifically the alterations of which they disapprove, and move, as it is fully competent for them to do, for the repeal of the particular Acts by which they have been effected, and for the revival of Acts, now no longer upon the Statute Book, by which industry and trade would again be placed under their former regulations? Would not this course be more consistent with the strait-forward duty of legislation, than to give their countenance to a senseless clamour, and to keep up delusion and irritation among a suffering people, instead of making any attempt to administer that relief, which, if they have faith in their own declamations, it is in their power to propose; I say now, as I have said before, it is the duty of those Gentlemen to toll us, intelligibly and in detail, what it is that has been done which ought to be undone, and what they would substitute for that which is now in existence. Every challenge of this sort 587 they have hitherto declined, forgetting that it is scarcely fair to arraign a system which they are not prepared to amend, and that they are sent here, not to aggravate what is wrong by inflammatory denunciations, but to correct it by calm counsel and appropriate remedies. This is a duty which they cannot expect to devolve upon those who differ with them in principle; and if they are not prepared to act upon it themselves, their omission is equally unjustifiable towards those who concur in their opinions, and towards Parliament, of which the measures are the objects of their obloquy and abuse; and when I say Parliament, perhaps, as the individual in this House most immediately responsible for those measures, and who, as such, has come in for the greatest share of that obloquy and abuse, I too may be allowed personally to complain of the injustice towards myself of this continued dereliction of their duty. Six or seven hundred statutes, passed for improving the commerce and industry of the country, by a system of protection, prohibition, restriction, and interference, have been repealed. How many of these laws do they propose to re-enact? Or do they wish to revive the whole, with all their vexatious, conflicting, frequently contradictory, and invariably absurd, regulations? Do they wish again to introduce prohibition as a principle for the encouragement of trade, and to revive monopoly as a benefit to the consumer? If they do, in God's name, let them make the attempt, and let Parliament, under the guidance of common sense and public opinion, decide between the advocates of such a system, and the support of what they deride, but dare not discuss, as the system of Free Trade. The honourable Baronet who spoke last, indeed, the Member for the county of Cornwall, has denounced that system as one which has for its sole object to force exports. There cannot be a more mistaken view of the subject. A forcing system, either of exports or imports, is altogether at variance with the policy which it has been my duty to recommend. That policy has been rather to put an end to such a system, and without any forcing, to leave to individuals to follow their own views, to regulate their own speculations, and to consult their own interests. This I consider to be a general rule, applicable alike to the industry and the commerce of the country. Exceptions to it may be justified upon grounds of special expedi- 588 ency; but they ought to be watched with the more jealousy, as every such exception is a departure from that course which, in the long-run, must be most conducive to public prosperity. We are told, indeed, by the honourable Alderman, and others of his school, who cannot deny that the quantity of goods exported of late years has greatly increased, that the more you export, the greater your loss; and the foundation of this almost ludicrous doctrine is, that the aggregate value of such exports has diminished in a greater proportion than the quantity exported has increased. Do the advocates of this doctrine seriously mean to contend, that our export trade, upon an average, is a losing concern, and that it goes on increasing, year after year, in proportion as it becomes more and more unprofitable? When I ask them this question, I do not mean to deny that some adventures have been attended with loss; that upon others the profit has been very small; but I cannot believe that men of common sense, prudence, and calculation, would, for a great length of time, persevere, much less that they should voluntarily increase their speculations, in any trade, when the amount of loss and not of profit (however low the latter) was to be measured by the scale of such speculations. In fact, Sir, I have one short answer to the tenets of that school of which the honourable Alderman and the honourable Member for Newark are now the acknowledged chiefs. It is this,—If you resort at all to the foreign market, you must be content to sell your commodities for the prices which you can procure in competition with the like articles, the produce of any other countries. You cannot control their capital,—you cannot regulate their industry—and do you expect to improve the chance of meeting them at equal prices by subjecting your own people to restraints and burthens, from which those with whom they have to compete are free? The honourable Alderman, therefore, must make his election;—either our export trade must cease, or we must be content with the price which the foreign market will yield. The purchaser in that market concerns himself very little about the cost of production here, or elsewhere; quality and price are the considerations by which he is governed in his choice between the British and the foreign competitor. Now, if this be the principle which regulates every foreign market to which our mer- 589 chants resort, does it not follow, as a necessary consequence, that the price, in our own market, of every article, the like of which we export for foreign consumption, must be regulated by the selling price abroad? If the price abroad be permanently depressed, the home price must partake of that depression. This must be my first answer to those who tell us, that the home market of the country is every thing, the only market deserving of encouragement. The home trade must, of necessity, be of great importance and value; but it has been sacrificed, ruined, and put down (we are told) by the forcing and encouragement given, under the new system, to our export trade. To maintain this position the following argument, if argument it can be called, is had recourse to. The increase of our export trade has been followed by a more than proportionate decrease of the home trade; by forcing the one you have injured the other, and the result is, that both have become unprofitable. I know not how to measure the home trade, except by the home consumption. It may be difficult, especially for an individual like myself, unaided by the facilities which office affords, to ascertain accurately the amount of that consumption. I have, however, endeavoured, by a reference to the returns to this House, and with the aid of some most intelligent friends in the mercantile line, to collect information upon this point; and I will now, with the permission of the House, state the result. I have selected articles of the most extensive use in the manufactures of this country, and I have made my comparison upon the consumption of five years; namely, from 1816 (I select this as the year of the highest return) to 1820, both inclusive, and in like manner for the last five years, from 1824 to 1828.
The first article to which I shall refer is Cotton-Wool. The average annual importation, from 1816 to 1820, was 139,141,646lbs.;—the average annual importation from 1824 to 1828 was 210,886,992lbs. The average annual exportation of Cotton-Wool for the same periods was, for the first, 1l,873,800lbs.,for the second, 21,298,800lbs.; leaving of Cotton-Wool for manufacture in this country, an annual average, for the first period, of 127,267,846lbs.; and for the second, 189,588,192lbs. These respective quantities were disposed of in each period, in the manufactured state, as nearly as can be ascertained, as follows; first—Cotton-Yarn 590 exported (one-eighth being added for waste), the annual average of the first period being 19,984,664lbs.,—in the second, 48,472,202lbs.;—secondly, Cotton-Cloth exported (computing six yards of cloth of all kinds to be produced from one pound of cotton), annual average of the first period 255,507,058 yards—in the second period, 360,265,256 yards:—thirdly,—Cotton Cloth retained for home consumption (computing one pound of cotton to make five yards of cloth) in the first period, 227,003,484 yards—in the second period, 399,678,923 yards. I may here just observe, that the estimate of six yards to the pound of cotton for foreign, and of five for home, consumption, is supposed to be the nearest approach to accuracy, by those who are practically most conversant with the manufacture. The next article is Sheep's Wool. The annual average importation of the first period is 14,443,834lbs.;—of the second, 28,356,417lbs.: retained for home use, in the first period, 14,430,917lbs.;—in the second, 27,629,561 lbs.: official value of woollens exported in the first period—annual average, 5,313,429l.;—in the second, 5,763,632l. Now, the principal quantity of the wool imported is of the finer qualities; and as the increase of export in the manufactured articles of woollen cloth is very trifling, it follows that a great increase of consumption must have taken place in this country; unless it be maintained (which it certainly cannot, the reverse being the fact,) that the growth of British Wool has been diminished in a degree corresponding with the increased foreign supply. The increased home consumption is principally in fine cloth made of Saxon and the highpriced wools. The next article of import is Silk. The averages are as follows. Raw and waste, from 1816 to 1820, l,444,000lbs.—thrown ditto,303,126lbs.—from 1824 to 1828, raw and waste, 3,437,432lbs.;—thrown,447,504lbs.:—the export of manufactured silk goods has varied very little, upon a comparison of these two periods. The importation of Flax is, for the first period, 368,371 cwt.;—for the second, 830,421cwt. I have not been able to obtain any satisfactory information as to the quantity of Linen Cloth exported, but there can be no doubt of a greatly increased consumption at home. Hides, in the first period, imported, 679,996;—re-exported 221,200; retained for home use, 458,796;—in the second period, im- 591 ported, 1,873,314;—re-exported, 211,448;—retained for home use, 1,661,866. The next articles are Tallow and Palm Oil, for the manufacture of candles and Soap. Imported in the first period, of tallow, 545,540cwt:—palm oil, 34,910cwt.—soap exported, official valuation, 116,037l.;—candles exported, weight, 4,931,597lbs.:—second period, tallow imported, 946,760cwt.—palm oil, 95,942cwt.—soap exported, official value, 183,849l.; candles exported, weight, 7,818,718lbs.
The last article which I shall mention is that of fir timber; the annual average import of the first period was 289,379 loads:—in the second, for four years ending 1827 (I have not been able to procure the return for 1828) 541,654 loads. There remains, however, one other branch of our national wealth and industry, to which I must advert before I quit this part of the subject. From its importance, both in a commercial and political point of view, I could not pass it over, even if it had been omitted by the hon. Members who have preceded me in this debate. I allude, Sir, to our Shipping, which is stated to be fast verging to decay and ruin. If it had been asserted that the profits of the ship-owner were very greatly diminished, as compared to the period of war, and that they were small, even when calculated upon the present reduced value of the ship, I certainly should not deny the position. I regret that the returns of capital in this, as in other branches of productive industry, are less than I could wish them to be; but when the interest of money and the profits of stock are generally low, it would be vain to expect that the capital employed in shipping should form an exception. Indeed, from circumstances peculiar to the shipping interest, it was likely to suffer a greater revulsion than any other from the restoration of peace.
At the close of the war, our shipping had engrossed the navigation of other countries; and near one-sixth of the tonnage of our merchant ships was employed in the public service as transports. The commerce and navigation of other nations are now returned to their usual course in peace, and nine-tenths of our transports have been discharged from the public service. By the Returns which were laid before the House of Commons in the course of last Session, it would appear that, in the year 1816 we had 25,864 registered vessels, measuring 2,783,940 tons; 592 —and that in 1828, the number of registered vessels was only 24,095, measuring 2,508,191 tons. This diminution has been commented upon as showing conclusively the gradual and melancholy decline of the shipping interest. It is, perhaps, scarcely worth while to observe, that by the same return, the tonnage appears to have been reduced, so early as 1823, to 2,506,760 tons:—that in 1827, it is stated at 2,460,500 tons; being, in the first of these two years, a trifle, and in the second 48,000 tons less than in the year 1828. But it is more material to state, that in the year 1816, the amount of tonnage was swelled by returning many ships which had long ceased to exist, and that at present the returns are accurately made. There is another parliamentary paper, however, which was also furnished last Session, and which, if properly considered, in conjunction with that to which I have now referred, will throw great and satisfactory light upon this subject. It is the paper which exhibits the number and tonnage of British vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards, in our trade with all foreign parts, for the same period as the former paper, namely from 1814 to 1828, both inclusive. We have already seen, that in 1816 the total tonnage of our registered shipping was 2,783,940: now, in that year, the total tonnage entered inwards from all foreign parts was 1,415,723—cleared outwards to all foreign parts, 1,340,277 tons—making together 2,756,000—being a fraction more than one ton of shipping for every ton of goods entered inwards and cleared outwards. In 1828 our whole tonnage, as I have already stated, was 2,508,191; but in that year the entries inwards were 2,094,357—and the clearances outwards 2,096,397—making together 4,190,754 tons, being somewhat less than five-eighths of a ton of registered shipping to every ton of goods entered inwards and cleared outwards, and being, moreover, a positive increase upon the entries and clearances of 1816, to the amount of 1,434,754 tons;—rather more than either of them separately amounted to in that year. I might further state, that the account of vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards for 1829 has been delivered this morning, and is as follows—inwards 2,184,535—outwards 2,063,179, making together 4,247,714 tons,—an increase, as the House will perceive, upon the antecedent year. Now I need scarcely remark to 593 the House, that the quantity of goods, carried to and fro' between this country and all foreign parts, in British ships, within a given period, is the true measure of the degree of employment and activity of our commercial marine. If our ships had been navigated backwards and forwards, at the same rate of movement in 1828 as in 1816, it would have required upwards of 4,200,000 tons to have executed the transference of goods, which, in 1828, was performed by 2,500,000 tons of registered shipping.—On the other hand, if the accelerated movement of 1828 had prevailed in 1816, the transference of goods which, in that year, required 2,783,940 tons, might have been accomplished by about 1,700,000 tons of registered shipping. If Gentlemen think this change a misfortune, nothing can be more easy than to rectify it. We have only to restore the vexatious and contradictory laws, partly fiscal, partly protective, as they were called, partly commercial, which threw impediments and delays in the way of our commerce and navigation. We have only to take care that ships should not load and unload, make their entries, and obtain their clearances, with the present ease and dispatch. We have only to restore in our Custom-houses the regulations which harassed the ship-owner and the merchant, and to provide that the convenience and expedition, now so conspicuous in our commercial docks, should be so checked and encumbered with dilatory forms and useless interference, as to bring us back to the more sober pace of our former system. This is a task which I can scarcely be called upon to undertake; let those who arraign these improvements as ruinous innovations, propose their repeal, and thus bring the two systems to a fair issue. But, before they attempt to effect their purpose, let them calculate the results to the shipping interest. In trade the economy of time will always be found to be the economy of money. Every restraint is an increased expenditure of the one or the other. It adds, in more ways than one, to the charge at which the raw material can be delivered to our manufacturers, and the manufactured article conveyed to the foreign market. It operates as a premium in favour of rival manufactures, and as a tax upon our own. From what fund is that premium to be drawn, and that tax paid, except from the profits of the manufacturer's capital, and the wages of the labourer whom he employs? 594 For, as was well observed by the gallant Member for Windsor, the price in the foreign market, be it what it may, must determine the price in our own market. If we are beaten in this race of competition, we shall want fewer carriers to effect the interchange of the products of our industry, against the raw materials of other countries. And how is the shipping interest to be benefited by the curtailment of our foreign trade? The truth is, that, under all the difficulties with which our general industry, including our shipping, has had to contend, since the restoration of peace—difficulties growing out of the enormous expenditure of war—the necessary restoration of our currency—and the active rivalry of other nations—nothing but a timely relaxation of our restrictive and expensive system, would have enabled us to bear up against the complicated disadvantages of our situation. That relaxation, so far as it has gone—and it ought to go further—has been gradually introduced, with due regard to the interests and arrangements which had grown up under a different system. But for the intervention of so many years of war, and of a war so peculiar in its character, these improvements would have been introduced, not only at an earlier period, but with less of friction and embarrassment in carrying them into effect. For I can take upon myself to affirm, from personal knowledge of Mr. Pitt's sentiments and views, that there was nothing which he more regretted, in the derangement of war, than the interruption which it gave to the improvement of our commercial policy,—an improvement which he looked to in the temperate and cautious liberation of trade and industry from all unnecessary shackles and impediments. These arguments, Sir, may have little weight with that select class, who claim to be, exclusively, our practical guides in political economy. With them, foreign commerce is a matter almost of indifference; according to them, England can be great, happy, and flourishing, within herself. Of what England they are speaking, I know not; certainly not of this country, as it now exists. The raw materials of every great branch of our industry (mineral wealth excepted) are derived, either wholly, or in great part, from foreign soils. Cotton,—which gives employment to perhaps two millions of people—wholly. Silk, which employs about I five hundred thousand—wholly. Wool, 595 in great proportion. Hemp and flax, in a proportion still greater. Fir timber, for all building purposes, nearly the whole. Dyeing drugs, the same. I say nothing of luxuries, such as wine, &c. But, looking only to the articles which I have enumerated, I would ask—are Gentlemen prepared to dispense with the comforts which the use of them here affords to our population? And if they are, are they still further prepared to tell us how that population could be maintained, if the conversion of these raw materials did not give employment to their industry? With what but that manufactured industry can we purchase them from other countries? Have we any superfluous raw materials of our own with which to make the purchase? Where is the spare corn, or the spare produce of our soil, which can be sent abroad for this purpose? No, Sir, of these productions we do not grow enough for our own wants. Our population, then, so far as it is employed in working up the raw materials of other countries, must find in its own industry the means of procuring those raw materials. Without them, that industry must cease; that population (it amounts to millions) must perish; and then, indeed, England—but not England great, happy, and flourishing—England, reduced to its former insignificance and barbarism—may disregard foreign trade. If, then, relief is not to be looked for by undoing, but rather by persevering in and extending, our present system of commercial policy; our next inquiry must be, how far that relief is attainable by a revision of the finances of the country. Within the limits of public faith, the amount of our taxation is under our control; and in respect to the mode in which it is assessed, distributed, and raised, the whole public revenue may be considered as liable to whatever alterations the wisdom of Parliament may find expedient. First, then, with respect to its positive amount, under the altered circumstances of the country, since the restoration of peace. I had occasion to state my opinion on this subject to the Committee upon Agricultural Distress in 1821, and as it is recorded in their Report, I beg leave very shortly to refer to it. It is as follows:—"Your Committee cannot disguise from themselves, that the weight of the public burthens of the country, their nominal amount remaining the same, must be more severely felt, in proportion as the money incomes de- 596 rived from trading, farming, and manufacturing capital and industry are diminished. No exertion, therefore, should be omitted to endeavour to reduce those burthens, as nearly as circumstances will permit, in the degree in which such incomes have been reduced: for, in considering this subject, it is important to bear in mind, that the general amount and real pressure of taxation have been positively increased in the proportion of the improved value of our currency." I still retain that opinion; indeed, every thing which has since occurred has only tended to confirm it. The course at which it points is obvious. It is that which, I willingly admit, is now followed by his Majesty's Government. Credit is due to them for the retrenchments, certainly not inconsiderable, which they have already made, as well as for the new checks which they have established, and the further ones which they contemplate, for repressing that tendency to the growth of expenditure which constantly prevails in every department of the public service. A tendency which, as it pervades all branches of expenditure, requires to be steadily watched, and kept within bounds—of late years it appears to have been most vivacious, if I may use the expression, in that branch which is familiarly called the Dead Weight. After all the details and explanations upon this subject, which I have heard with satisfaction from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I remain of opinion, that the proposed regulations ought, in some instances, to be drawn somewhat tighter, and that retrenchment may be carried considerably further. The Government has once gone over the wide field of expenditure, but what they have cut down is not adequate to the wants and expectations of the country. Let them repeat the operation, and they will find that more than gleanings are left behind. In the collection and management of the revenue, it was admitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there is still room for reduction and reform. The diplomatic and consular establishment may be pared down without detriment to the public service. The door of admission to half pay, retired allowances, and super annuations of every sort, must be further straitened and narrowed. A careful revision of the Colonial establishments will afford a considerable saving. The expenses incurred on the coast of Africa ought, on every con- 597 sideration, to be greatly diminished. The laxity of control over the appropriation of the revenue arising from Crown-lands calls for revision. This branch of the revenue, as much as the Customs or Excise, constitutes a part of the Consolidated Fund, subject to the expenses of management, Under this head of management it may be proper to include the expense of the maintaining, repairing, and keeping up that part of the Crown estate, which is expressly reserved for the recreation or state of the Monarch, such as parks, lodges, &c.; but as in the Civil List, so in this instance, a specific annual sum ought to be allotted for that purpose; not to be exceeded without an application to, and an express vote of, the House of Commons. There are also the savings which may, I hope, be effected in the great heads of our expense, the military and naval establishments of the country. I have made no objections to the estimates for the army and navy this year. In fixing the numbers, the Government, acting upon their information and responsibility, have a right to expect some degree of confidence from the House; especially if, from circumstances of notoriety, it should appear that, in the pending concerns of the world, some matters remain to be adjusted, and that every thing is not in its right place. If, by the next year, the mists which surround us shall be dissipated, if the political horizon shall be, on every side, clear and bright, if Ireland shall continue—as I am confident it will—to improve in its internal tranquillity, and in good feelings towards this country, I should, in the ensuing Session, expect no inconsiderable reduction in the amount of our public force. Whatever savings may be effected in all these branches of expenditure, or in any other, they will add so much to our relief. But, when the whole of the charge over which we can exercise any immediate control, is not more than 11,000,000l., the further reduction which remains practicable, to be consistent with the public safety, and the efficiency of Government, cannot be very considerable. Indeed I much doubt whether, if we are to retain a reasonable surplus of revenue—I will not say upon the principle of a Sinking-fund, but as the necessary guard and provision against the effect of those fluctuations to which our public income is liable—any further absolute reduction of taxation can be anticipated, from the utmost amount 598 of retrenchment that can be made, unless the produce of the remaining taxes should be very greatly increased, in consequence of the relief now to be given to the people. I will shortly state the grounds of this opinion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer estimates the surplus of the present year at about 2,600,000l. I will take for granted the data upon which this estimate was made. I hope my right hon. friend will not think that I am doing him a disservice, when I remark that he has understated the extent of relief which he is about to give to the country. He estimates it at 3,400,000l.: now the average nett payment into the Exchequer from the duties about to be taken off, for a period of the last five years, was 3,737,000l.; and as the barley crop failed in one of those years, 1827, I think it may be taken in round numbers at 3,750,000l., leaving, consequently, a deficiency upon the estimated surplus of this year of 1,150,000l. Now, if the reduction of the four per cents, taken at 700,000l., the new taxes proposed by my right hon. friend, estimated at 400,000l., and the further savings to be made, should amount altogether to 2,000,000l., our surplus would be rather less than 1,000,000l., being an allowance of about two per cent, upon our income, to meet all the incidents and casualties to which it is liable. Assuming, then, that absolute abatement of taxation cannot, for the present at least, be carried further, the question which remains for consideration (and I can assure the House that I have anxiously turned it in my own mind in the interval since the Budget was made known to us) is, will the proposed remission be all that is requisite for the effectual and permanent relief of the country? I am sorry to say that I incline to think it will not. In the view which I take of our present difficulties, the main cause of them, in my opinion, as stated at the outset of what I have now addressed to the House, and which that I may not be misunderstood, in substance I repeat, is this—that in the distribution of the annual wealth of the country, taking it according to the ordinary and admitted division into rent, profits of stock, and wages of labour, the two latter, from a complication of concurrent circumstances, of which taxation is one, are now in the receipt of less than their just share. I may further state, that such a condition of society cannot long be continued, with- 599 out its laying the foundation of national impoverishment. There is a short passage in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, which so forcibly points out the calamitous tendency of this condition of society, that I cannot forbear pressing it upon the serious attention of the House. "To complain," he says, "of the liberal reward of labour, is to lament over the necessary effect and cause of the greatest public prosperity. The condition of the labourer is hard in the stationary, and miserable in the declining state. The progressive state is in reality the cheerful and the hearty state to all the different orders of society. The stationary is dull—the declining melancholy."—If we are in danger of falling into this state of things, and if we cannot be adequately protected against the risk by any practical diminution in the positive amount of our burthens, may we not guard ourselves against it by some change in the principle and distribution of the remaining taxation? In approaching this part of the subject, I am aware that I am treading upon tender ground. I know that I shall not only meet with great difference of opinion, but that I shall expose myself, probably, to considerable clamour and obloquy. It is impossible to touch upon it without coming into collision with the interests (at least as the parties understand them) of many, and those, perhaps, the most powerful both in this House and in the country. But, Sir, when I am addressing you upon a subject of such deep importance, I feel myself bound by a sense of public duty, be the consequence to myself personally what it may, to state a strong doubt (I wish to put it no higher), whether we shall afford adequate relief, without removing a larger amount of those taxes which press directly upon income arising from capital engaged in industry, and upon the income of labour to which that capital gives employment;—transferring, as far as may be indispensable, the burthen upon all that class of income which arises from capital not so employed.
Sir, my gallant friend, the Member for Windsor, has called upon us to compare the habits of society, in the higher walks of life, with what they were fifty years ago. Like him, and with him, I have lived long enough to bear testimony to the change which has taken place. Let any man compare the Metropolis now with what it was at that period; not only its positive growth, but still more the extension of 600 splendor in buildings, in furniture, in plate, in the habits of luxury, and in display of every description. Having mentioned plate, Sir, I may remark, as a striking evidence of this change, the difference of the amount of the duty upon that one article between the year 1804 and the last year. The rate of duty upon silver wrought plate in 1804 was 1s. 3d., upon gold 16s. per ounce; it was afterwards raised to 1s. 6d. upon silver, and to 17s. upon gold. But what has been the increase in the nett produce of the duty? It has risen from less than 5,000l. in 1804, to upwards of 105,000l. in 1828; a rise of more than twenty-fold, notwithstanding the greatly diminished supply from the mines, and the consequent increasing value of the precious metals. It may be further remarked, that this augmented consumption shows how large a portion of gold and silver is annually diverted from the purposes of coin to those of ornament and luxury. Have the articles most necessary to the scanty comfort of the humble dwellings of the labouring classes been multiplied in the same proportion? I am afraid that, in too many cases, an inverse ratio would rather be the correct answer. Look at the earnings and condition of that population which raises the produce of the soil, or from early dawn till midnight throws the shuttle, for bare subsistence, and compare them with those of the artisans who minister to all the various enjoyments and gratifications of wealth in this great town. Contrast the hourly dealings for millions, at that great mart of money, the Stock Exchange, with the stinted transactions and falling off of our country markets. In London the bankers, the monied men of all descriptions, complain of the glut of money. We hear of seven or eight millions deposited, for want of employment, in the Bank of England alone. Ingenuity is incessantly at work in devising new and tempting speculations, to call forth these locked-up capitals, of which too large a portion has already been thrown away upon rash and gambling speculations, or placed at hazard upon the precarious security of foreign loans. In the country, you hear of nothing but the be wailings of industry, and the want of money, confidence, and credit. The country banker reluctant to make advances, and the prudent man, who is still solvent, cautious and tardy in applying for them, because productive speculation, however carefully conducted, holds out too little 601 prospect of gain to compensate for the risk of loss, with which, more or less, it must always be attended. It is notorious to all who know what is passing in the different counties of the kingdom, that country banks,—in better times those salutary reservoirs for the alternate deposit and distribution of circulating wealth, through all the ramifications of active industry—now send that wealth up to town, to be lent for short periods upon stock, and other floating securities upon the Stock Exchange. This system is, perhaps, safe for themselves, but, at best, of very doubtful benefit to the public; affording, for aught I know, to a few individuals increased facilities for gigantic speculations; swelling; still further the already overgrown fortunes of some, but bringing misery and ruin upon others; and diverting the thoughts and aspirations of all who come within its vortex, from the sober and steady courses of their fore fathers, to pursuits as little conducive, I believe, to individual happiness and moral worth, as they certainly are to the growth of wealth in the country; pursuits which, were they multiplied even an hundred-fold, could never add the value of one pepper-corn to our national resources, whilst all the classes, from whom alone wealth can really flow, are labouring under difficulties, and complaining of distress. In considering the effects of our present taxation upon the productive industry of the country, we must constantly bear in mind the necessary consequences of a state of peace, and of a free competition of the industry of other countries with that of our own, in the general markets of the world. These consequences, as it has been already so well stated in this debate, are, first,—that we cannot obtain for our commodities a better price than that at which, in this race of competition, the like commodities can be raised, produced, and brought to market, by other countries; and, secondly,—that the price at which we can sell abroad must determine the price in the home market. Now, Sir, let us follow out these admitted axioms in all their necessary and legitimate bearings and results. It will not be denied that a spirit of improvement, an anxious desire to promote industry, zeal for the diffusion of knowledge in all pursuits connected with mechanical and chemical science, and in the beneficial application of them to the useful purposes of life, are now the pervading feelings, not only of every people, but of nearly every government, in the civilized world. Nei- 602 ther can it be denied that, in several countries, a greater degree of freedom in their institutions, and a greater security for property, have, under the uninterrupted enjoyment of peace, promoted the growth of capital, and the other facilities which are necessary to manufacturing and commercial enterprise. This is the rivalry, every day growing more formidable, with which our capital and industry and skill have to contend. If we meet it under some advantages, we have also great and growing disadvantages to encounter. Do not let us lose sight of the fearful consequences which must ensue, if we are distanced in the race. The greatest of all follies, on such an occasion, would be to shut our eyes to difficulties which, taken in time, we may, perhaps, overcome, but which, by procrastination, we cannot evade. For a long time we have been the greatest manufacturing and trading nation in the world. We export for sale abroad, in a manufactured state, more or less of almost every thing which we raise or pro- duce. Of the raw materials of our soil the export is next to nothing. They are barely adequate, indeed I might say inadequate, to the subsistence of our population. Upon an average of years, we cannot do without a supply of foreign corn; and of cheese, butter, and other articles we have a large annual importation. Our Corn-laws, however expedient to prevent other evils, in the present state of the country, are in themselves a burthen and a restraint upon its manufacturing and commercial industry. Whilst the products of that industry must descend to the level of the general market of the world, the producers, so far as food is concerned, are debarred from that level. If the price of subsistence,—that is, the price of those particular articles which we never export, and are frequently compelled to import—be materially dearer here than anywhere else, that dearness cannot be shifted to the articles which we do export. It must fall in the way of deduction, either upon the wages and comforts of the labourer, or upon the profits of those who afford him employment. Here, then, is one inevitable cause, constantly operating to keep alive a struggle between productive capital and productive labour, with a constant tendency to bring both to a lower level:—because the disadvantage, under which they have to contend, arising from a difference in the price of the necessaries of life, is 603 increased in proportion as the progressive improvement of rival nations approximates their manufacturing skill and industry more nearly to our own. Are not, then, the circumstances, which enhance the price of subsistence in this country, a strong reason why we should endeavour to lighten, as much as possible, other burthens which, by their direct operation, tend to aggravate this disadvantage? See, to what an extent your Excise and Customs prove that you do not sufficiently attend to this consideration! Full three-fourths of your revenue are levied under these two heads; and by far the greatest proportion of that amount upon articles necessary, either for the subsistence, the clothing, or the humble comforts of the labourer; or of use in the fabrication of those articles to which his industry is devoted. Let any man look through the list of the Excise and Customs, even now that the Beer and Leather Taxes are removed, and he will find in how great a degree this observation still applies. Candles, hops, licences, malt, printed goods, soap, British spirits, tea, sugar, tobacco, rum, hemp,timber:—here is an enumeration amounting to near 30,000,000l.; but the incidental burthen of which, in restraint, impediment, and vexatious interference, may well be estimated at 10,000,000l. more. These are the consequences of monopoly in some cases, as tea for instance, and of the charge of collection, regulation, drawbacks, and such like interference in others. They are, perhaps, unavoidable under the complication of a system, which can only guard against fraud and evasion in the collection of the revenue, by impeding the development of industry, and sacrificing the improvements of science. It is a common remark, that the rich man does not require more food than his poorer neighbour; the difference between them must be in the quality. But, in many of the articles which I have enumerated, the consumption of the rich is less than that of the poor man. In others, his consumption may be greater, but in an amount altogether disproportioned to their relative means. The proportion, however, in this respect, is not so much the question now, as the different mode in which this system of taxation falls upon realised wealth, and upon productive industry. Every man's observation must satisfy him of the general truth of these remarks. It can scarcely be necessary that I should illustrate them in detail. In proportion as prices and 604 wages have fallen, has this class of taxes become not only more burthen some, but more vexatious, and more liable to evasion. Take for instance soap; the duty during the war might be about 70 per cent upon the raw materials; it is now from 120 to 140 per cent. If wages have fallen in the same proportion, how much heavier does this tax now press upon the labourer, and how much greater must be the temptation to resort to any means by which the duty may be avoided? If we advert to sugar, we shall find that the duty, which was formerly one half of, now exceeds the selling price. Looking to this article, upon which there has been no reduction of duty since the war, and considering the severe and general distress in which all West-India interests are involved, I cannot but regret that a reduction of the sugar duty seems now to be indefinitely postponed. As a measure of relief it is urgent. I still retain the opinion, which I have more than once pressed upon his Majesty's Government, that this relief might be given, without any great or permanent sacrifice of revenue. It is not to sugar only that this observation would apply. A general revision would point out many other articles, but the subject is one too extensive and too minute for the present occasion. The more general considerations, to which I now claim the attention of the House, are these: first, that no other country in Europe has so large a proportion of its taxation bearing directly upon the incomes of labour and productive capital:—secondly, that in no other country, of the same extent, I think I might say in none of five times the extent of this kingdom, is there so large a mass of income, belonging to those classes who do not directly employ it in bringing forth the produce of labour: thirdly, that no other country has so large a proportion of its taxation mortgaged;—in proportion to the amount of that mortgage are we interested in any measure which, without injustice to the mortgagee, would tend to lessen the absolute burthen of the mortgage:—fourthly, that from no other country in the world does so large a proportion of the class not engaged in production (including many of the wealthy) spend their incomes in foreign parts. I know I may be told, that, by taxing that income, you run the risk of driving them to withdraw their capital altogether. My answer is, first, that ninety-nine out of an hundred of these absentees have no such 605 command over the source of their income;—secondly, that the danger is now of another and more alarming description,—that of the productive capitals of this country being transferred to other countries, where they would be secure of a more profitable return. The relief of industry is the remedy against that danger. One of the objections made to any direct tax upon income, even limited, as I have described, to capital not directly employed in the pursuits of industry, is, that it may be very fit as a war measure, but that it is not suited to a state of peace. My answer is, that this proposition is too general:—what may be very well adapted to a state of peace or war under given circumstances may become inexpedient when the bearing of those circumstances is altogether changed. In war, the wages of labour and the profits of capital may be high. In peace, they may be greatly depressed. In the former supposition, taxes bearing upon industry will be more lightly felt; in the latter, their pressure will be very severe; and, if not alleviated, will daily become more so, by exhausting the very springs of that industry from which they are derived. Let Gentlemen seriously weigh in their own minds, whether this be not the risk against which it is most urgent to provide. I have already shown, upon higher authority than my own (that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer), that the amount remitted by a change in our taxation, would be a very inadequate measure of the real saving, and contingent relief, to industry; whilst, on the other hand, the produce of the tax to be substituted would be commensurate with what it might subtract from the incomes of the classes by which it would be paid. The landlord, the fund holder, the mortgagee, the annuitant of every description, would moreover be directly benefited, to the extent of his consumption of the articles upon which the present taxes might be reduced or abolished. Each would be indirectly benefited by the stimulus and additional ease which would be given to the industrious classes. Take, for instance, the landowner. Can any man doubt, that, in proportion to the relief afforded, would be the means and desire of the industrious classes to consume more of all the productions of the soil, which constitute their habitual comforts and luxuries:—more meat, more malt, more cheese, more butter, and more of all the other articles 606 which cannot be said to be of absolute and primary necessity? Can any man doubt, that the consumption of these articles is now checked, if not actually diminished, by the straitened circumstances of our labouring population? Should their condition become still harder,—and, in order to maintain our competition in the foreign market, I fear that, without the relief which I have suggested it must,—is it not obvious that the consumption of these articles, and, with the consumption, the price, must decline? Should this be the unfortunate career in which we are proceeding, we may have gleams of sunshine, but their transient brightness will not be sufficient to disperse the thickening gloom which will be gathering round us, and in which all interests and all classes will be finally enveloped. For the contentment of the poor man, for the comfort of the middling classes, for the enjoyment of the rich, for the security of all, it becomes the paramount duty of those, to whom the welfare and happiness of the country are committed, well to probe the sources of our present difficulties; and if they are satisfied that they are produced, in any considerable degree, by the causes to which I have adverted, not to be tardy or timid in applying the remedy. If I have dwelt upon these subjects at a greater length than I had intended, I have done so because I have thought it my duty, as an unconnected Member of Parliament, not to shrink from stating my views respecting them. The position of a Minister in this House is very different from that of an individual. I know how difficult a thing it might be for Government, even if they concur in my views, to carry them into effect; and I am fully aware of all the inconvenience which would arise from their at all hinting at that concurrence, unless they were prepared to act upon it. All I can say is, that ours is a choice of difficulties, and that the course which I have suggested would, I sincerely believe, be most beneficial to the country. If these views are not entertained by others in this House, or sanctioned by public opinion out of doors, it would be vain to expect that they should lead, at present, to any practical result. But if, at any future day, a sense of the public interest should induce his Majesty's Government to act upon them, I shall be prepared to give my most cordial assistance and support towards overcoming the various difficulties, which I 607 am fully sensible must arise in carrying those views into effect, and towards conciliating the feelings of all who might continue adverse to their adoption. In the course of this debate, allusion has frequently been made to possible improvements in the banking-system, as one means of affording some relief to the country: and I understood my right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Trade, to say, that he expected much benefit from a revision of the system of country banks, and from giving publicity to their proceedings. I am friendly to publicity. But if it be required from banking establishments in the country, I trust that the same rule will be applied to the bank of the State—the Bank of England. Had that system of publicity, of which my right hon. friend is the advocate, prevailed between 1824 and 1826, it would, in my opinion, have guarded us from the risk of such a calamity as that which was upon the point of taking place at a period of profound peace, towards the close of the year 1825. Far be it from me, in making this observation, to cast any reflection upon the Directors of the Bank of England. I know that they are zealous and disinterested in the management of the great trust reposed in them. But it is their duty in that management to look to the interests of the body of proprietors whom they represent. It is the duty of this House, on the other hand, if they think fit to grant a monopoly, to surround and fence it with such regulations as may prevent the public interests from being prejudiced by being placed in collision with the interests of those upon whom the monopoly is conferred. The first of all our cares, in revising the banking-system of the country, must be to satisfy ourselves that nothing is omitted, in the way of precaution, which may tend to secure the public against a possible recurrence of that greatest of all calamities, another suspension of cash payments. I cannot pass over even this opportunity of repeating my doubts, whether the affairs of the Bank are conducted with a sufficient regard to this paramount object. With their original capital all locked up upon loan to Government, they have, at the same time, nearly the whole of their outstanding credit resting upon securities equally unavailable. The sound system of banking, on the contrary, would appear to require that the amount of their issues should be more im- 608 mediately within their command, as the only certain protection,—for themselves, against those emergencies that will occur, even in time of peace,—for the public, against a recurrence of the dreadful effects of such a panic as that of 1825. There is no saying how soon, should trade revive with more than its usual activity, we may again witness another season of excitement, and extravagant speculation. Should an unfavourable state of the foreign exchanges be the consequence, their turning against us would, for a time, rather encourage than repress that spirit of speculation. The salutary check, under such a contingency, can only be applied by the prudence of the Bank of England. But how is that check to be called into action, without the risk of panic, if both the capital and credit of the Bank are locked up in Dead Weight, in Exchequer-bills, in mortgages upon land, in an advance to the rebuilding of London Bridge?—all of them, I admit, assets most perfectly solid and secure, but all of that inconvertible description, upon which no banking establishment, I think, having the whole of its outstanding engagements payable upon demand, ought to rest so large a portion of its liabilities. This, however, is a fit subject for a separate investigation, and into which, therefore, I will not go more at large on the present occasion. I have detained the House, I am aware, longer than any Member having no official duties to discharge, can be justified in claiming their attention. My apology must be, in part, that I have had to defend measures, for which I am more immediately responsible, as having brought them forward when I was in office; and, partly, that I have thought this a fit occasion for stating the views which I entertain of the present condition of the country. I cordially thank the House for the indulgence with which they have heard me upon these important topics. After all, do what we will, say what we may, the immense sacrifices and unparalleled exertions of the last long war must tell, in abridging the comforts, and adding to the difficulties, of the present generation. Fifteen years have now elapsed since that war was brought to a glorious termination. From its commencement I have been more or less in public life. In the course of it, there is scarcely a conceivable trial of fortitude to which the country, and those who administered its affairs, were not ex- 609 posed. Mutiny in our fleets,—civil war in Ireland,—the stoppage of the Bank,—defection of our allies,—the overthrow and subjugation of all the great powers of Europe by the enemy to which we were opposed,—our commerce placed under an interdict in every part of the civilized world,—these are some of the evils of which, having witnessed the first overwhelming shock, I shall retain through life a vivid recollection. But, amid all the scenes of alarm and despondency, I might almost say despair, occasioned by this succession of calamities, I tax my memory in vain for one single act of weakness or dishonour, of spoliation or bad faith. Never did such expedients suggest themselves to those great and firm minds that then presided over the destinies of the country. If in vain I tax my memory for one act of that description, upon which any man, the most envious of my country's fame, can put his finger and say, "this is a blot in your annals," give me leave to add, that should you, in an evil hour, venture to debase your currency, you will commit an act of fraud at which that finger of scorn will point for ever after, as the hour of your shame and humiliation; and that the period will not then be distant in which you will deeply repent, but repent too late, the irretrievable consequences of so ruinous a proceeding. For myself, I once more enter my protest against such an infringement of the national faith. I cannot vote either in support of the original Motion, or of the amendment. Taken abstractedly, they both embrace too wide a field for any useful inquiry. But my greater objection is, that I cannot separate the wish for inquiry, from the grounds upon which that wish stands recommended to the House, by almost every Member who has supported it. Again, to the form of the inquiry, as recommended in the original Motion, I have an insuperable objection. In the mode recommended by the amendment I might have concurred, had it been brought forward upon different grounds, and been more limited in its objects. From inquiries of this latter nature I expect much benefit; and his Majesty's Government do not appear to be adverse to them. They have already consented to grant a committee to inquire into the condition of the poor in Ireland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has given notice of his intention to bring in a bill to regulate the Dead Weight system; and has 610 said that he shall have no objection to refer that bill, together with the whole subject, to a committee up stairs. My hon. friend, the Member for Dover, has a notice on the Order-book, for a select committee to investigate the effect of the present system of our taxation upon the productive classes of the country. Whether the proposed committee will be granted or not, I cannot tell; but this I know, that whenever my hon. friend shall bring forward his Motion, he shall have my warmest support. We have already a committee sitting to inquire into the affairs of the East-India Company, and into their monopoly of the trade with China. In like manner, I hope we shall have a committee to inquire into the Banking-system of the country, in connection with the renewal of the charter of the Bank of England. It is by inquiries thus limited to specific objects that we shall arrive at more satisfactory results than by going into a committee purporting to be for an inquiry into the causes of distress generally,—a species of inquiry, which, in my judgment, could not possibly lead to any good, but which, in the expectation of its promoters, might lead to what I consider the greatest possible evil,—the unsettling and disturbing the present monetary system of the country.
§ Lord Althorp
rose amid loud and general cries of "Adjourn." After some difficulty the Speaker obtained order, and the noble Lord proceeded. He should have felt great difficulty in rising after the very able and eloquent speech of the right hon. Member for Liverpool, had he entertained any intention of following him throughout its various topics. But he had no such intention, for he nearly concurred in every syllable that the right hon. Gentleman had said. It had been stated by the hon. Member for Wootton Bassett, (Sir G. Phillips) that all the hands in the manufacturing districts were at present in employment, and in employment, too, at good wages. Now, if that were the case, it was quite impossible to believe that any distress existed in that quarter. He was afraid, however, from the general body of information which had been poured into the House from those districts, that the statement of the hon. Member was much too favourable. He believed, however, that it must be admitted that some improvement had commenced to exhibit itself in the country. He hoped that it would long continue; but he must say that his hopes 611 were not very sanguine, as he recollected that there had been before several symptoms of improvement, which had subsequently disappeared. He was therefore obliged to assume, for the purpose of argument, that there was great distress in the country; and then the question came to this—"Are the modes now proposed to us the best modes for obviating that distress?" or "Are we obliged to admit them to be such, in order to show that we have some sympathy for the people?" Now, for his own part, he had no hesitation in avowing that he had such confidence in the good sense of the people of England as to be convinced that they would not accuse their representatives of a want of sympathy with their feelings if it were made evident to them that the mode proposed for their relief was ultimately the best for their interests. Most, indeed all the speakers in this debate had declared the state of the currency of the country to be their main reason for seeking to go into a committee. They had said that the want of the 1l. notes was the cause of the distress. But if they were to enter into the discussion of that subject in the committee, it was necessary to see how the issue of 1l. notes at present would operate on the existing distress. It could only operate by raising the price of commodities, and depreciating the standard of value. Then the exchanges would turn against us, and a re-action, like that which was witnessed in the year 1825, would take place, unless we were prepared, which he hoped we were not, to tamper with the standard. Any measure which had the slightest appearance of tampering with the standard in a rich and commercial country like this was fraught with imminent danger. It was said, "Oh! but you will only make one alteration!" If they made one alteration, how could the public trust that they would not make another, and another even upon that, when another period of distress should come to pinch them? But it was said that such an alteration had been made before, in the year 1797. He admitted it; but all who had observed the conduct of the legislature in that year must be aware that the alteration then made in the standard was not foreseen—it was therefore unintentional. If the House made such an alteration now, it would be made knowingly and intentionally, and would therefore be a downright fraud. After the commission of an intentional fraud, they would have no right to 612 expect any longer the confidence of the public. If they went into the committee for the express purpose of inquiring into the state of the currency, the country would expect that a change in the currency would be the inevitable consequence. Confidence would be immediately destroyed, and a confusion would arise worse than any thing which the country had hitherto witnessed. He could not separate this motion from the question of currency, and he should therefore give it his opposition. It had not yet been explained what good this committee could produce; it might produce great evil; and therefore, though he was anxious to relieve the people from the burthens under which they laboured, he still felt it impossible to vote in favour of this committee. Besides, a motion to inquire into the state of the nation had generally been considered as a motion of hostility against the Government. He had brought forward and supported several motions of that nature on former occasions from such motives; but he felt that he could not support this Motion with any such hostile views. Towards the present Ministers he entertained no feelings of hostility; their conduct deserved no such attack as this Motion made upon them. He differed from them as to the amount of taxation and expenditure which it was possible to reduce; he thought that they might have gone further than they had done in those respects; but he saw no insincerity, nor any thing like insincerity, in what they had done. They had endeavoured to cut off a large amount of expenditure by casting a great mass of additional labour upon themselves. With regard to the taxes which they had taken off, he thought that they had acted wisely in the selection which they had made. They had also acted with great disinterestedness, for if they had sought to conciliate a powerful party in that House, they would have taken off the duty on malt and also upon sugar, by which they would have obtained the support of two distinct and powerful interests. Seeing no reason to think that the Ministers were insincere in their professions of economy, though he did not think that they carried their retrenchments and reductions far enough, he could not vote in support of a motion which was always based in a feeling of hostility towards the existing Administration.
§ Colonel Sibthorp moved the adjournment of the debate to the next day.613
§ [Considerable confusion ensued and prevailed for some minutes in the House. During the continuance of it, we saw Mr. Attwood and Mr. Alderman Waithman on their legs; but their words were completely drowned in the general turmoil.]
at length obtained a hearing. He said that if there were several Gentlemen still anxious to address the House on this subject, he should be the last man in the world to throw any obstruction in their way. The cries of "Adjourn" drowned the remainder of the right hon. Gentleman's observations.
§ The Question on the adjournment to the following day was then put and carried.