§ The Order of the Day for renewing the debate on this Question was then read.
§ Colonel Sibthorp,
who was in possession of the House, immediately rose and went on to say; when the important measure that was introduced last Session to the House was brought forward, the right hon. Gentleman who proposed it, defended it on the ground of expediency; he wished that the Government would attend to the same feeling in this instance, because he was convinced that it would lead them to meet the universal wish of the people. It was retorted upon those Members who most pressed this point, that it was their unwillingness to lower their rents. Now, for his own part, he had no unwillingness on that head, because he was convinced of the necessity for such a proceeding. One of the most striking instances of the present state of things was to be found in the Wool trade; and of the state of that trade what was taking place in Lincolnshire might be taken as the criterion. The price of that article was now reduced to about 5s., and 250,000l. was annually lost to the country by that falling-off. Cattle prices had also followed in the same train, and the farmer now was unable to procure for his fat beasts what he 625 had formerly given for his lean ones. These positions had been contested, because a Mr. Bull had taken upon him to state the contrary, and, in consequence, Mr. Bull, and Mr. Jacob, and Mr. Giblett, went to Lincoln. They, however, got such a confounded rowing there, that he believed they would never shew their faces there again. It was said, that if they were to grant this inquiry it would be the means of deluding the people. He could not, however, agree in that observation; it was not in mortals to command success, but they might at least endeavour to deserve it, and though relief might be beyond their power, at all events they were bound to do their best to attain that object. It was true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had done something by the taxes he had remitted, and he thanked him for it, though he feared that they would afford but little benefit to those who needed relief the most, as the farmers were unable to pay their labourers any wages. On the previous night of the debate the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liverpool, had made a very long speech, but he could not find that it embraced or proposed any one point of relief. At the commencement of that speech he had said that the agriculturists were not wholly ruined; which certainly was not a very satisfactory statement, coming, as it did, from that right hon. Gentleman. It was evident that the country required relief; and if it were not afforded by that House, the sooner, as an hon. Member had said, they were all thrown into the Thames the better. The Duke of Wellington had endeavoured to make out that timber was now at as high a price as it ever had been. He could state the contrary from his own knowledge; and if timber were imported to the extent of 550,000 loads annually, as had been mentioned, they would very soon be unable to get any price at all for it. The right hon. Gentleman had taken occasion to say, that some of those who thought as he (Colonel Sibthorp) did were Currency-mad, but he believed he might retort the charge by alleging that the right hon. Gentleman was Free-Trade-mad. Another flourish that had been made was about the gold and silver plate ordered for use, and on which duty was paid, but that he thought had very little to do with the real prosperity of the country, and only reflected shame on those who might have employed their money so much better, when there 626 were so many unfortunate persons who had not even an earthenware plate to use, and if they had, could find nothing to put on it. The only satisfactory point connected with the subject was, that there was to be a further reduction of taxation, though he did not think that the promised reductions went to a sufficient extent. The petitions of the people were decisive on the question of distress. Those petitions came from the persons whom that House ought to represent, and he therefore trusted that they would be attended to. To these things he desired to call the attention of the Government; but whether he were successful in that or not, at least he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had listened to the dictates of his own heart in endeavouring conscientiously to discharge his duty.
observed, that in his opinion a sufficient case had been made out to call for the appointment of a committee; but after having heard what had fallen from the hon. Member for Shaftesbury, and the hon. Member for Newark, with respect to the question of currency, he said that it would be impossible to vote for the Motion without broaching that subject, unless it were an understood thing that the currency question should not be entered upon in the committee. He was convinced that the people would not be satisfied if they found that inquiry was refused because they were at variance on one point; and yet many Members would be compelled by the obstinacy (if he might use the term) of those who brought forward the motion on the question of Currency to vote unwillingly against it. With reference to the distress, he knew that it existed to a great extent among all the manufacturers. In particular, he was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say the other evening, that there was no distress in the iron trade, when, if there was one trade of the kingdom more distressed than another, it was the iron trade. He knew that several furnaces had been blown out.
in continuation, said, that the anonymous authority of one iron master ought to have no weight with the House, when it contradicted such a well-known fact as the general distress of the iron manufacturers. The hon. Member then proceeded to read an extract from a news- 627 paper, to shew that a considerable body of weavers had emigrated from Paisley, and had carried with them our manufactures to New York. This emigration was the result of excessive taxation, and Great Britain, like Holland formerly, was banishing her most industrious subjects from her, by the burthens she imposed on them. He believed with the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liverpool, in whose speech he generally concurred, that our exports and our business had increased; but the increase had been at the expense of the weavers, who, while the increase had been going on, had hardly been able to subsist. The low prices, which were ruinous to them were beneficial to the annuitants, the pensioners, the holders of the national debt, and all salaried persons. They profiled by low prices. Lawyers and physicians also did not reduce their fees—among them there was no distress, and they did not complain—but all the productive classes, including the labourers, were suffering and complaining. One right hon. Gentleman had quoted the quantity of timber imported as a proof of our increasing trade; but what did that show? Why, that foreign timber was used instead of British timber. He knew that in his own neighbourhood no timber could now be sold. He admitted, with his gallant friend who spoke last evening, that the price of commodities in the foreign market regulated the price here; and admitting that, he said that it was the business of Government to place the producers here as much as possible on a level with those on the Continent, by a reduction of taxation. At present the foreigners who used to be the consumers of our commodities were become our rivals in other countries, and met us on equal terms in the markets of South America and the Eastern world. He was glad to acknowledge that something had been done towards reducing taxation, but removing the Beer duty would not, he thought, be a great benefit to the lower classes. They were generally in so low a condition that they had no money to spare for buying beer, and must be satisfied if they could obtain food, clothing, and a lodging. He should wish to see a still further reduction of taxation. The House ought to begin by giving the people cheap bread; it ought to reduce the Assessed Taxes, and take off the Malt duties. To meet these reductions he would reduce our expenditure; and with an honest House of Commons—and 628 this was necessary—a reduction of our expenditure in the Army, in the Navy, and in the Colonies to the amount of four millions, might be made. To cover any deficiency arising from the reductions he proposed, he would have recourse to a property-tax of two per cent, which, if extended to Ireland—and he did not know why it should not be—would be amply sufficient. Hut he did not think, even if the legislature, in addition to abolishing the taxes he had already mentioned, were to reduce the duties on sugar, on tobacco, and other similar articles, that there would be a large diminution of the Revenue. We had on former occasions tried the effect of lowering the duties, and we had found that the result was, to increase the Revenue. In conclusion the hon. Member regretted, considering the number of petitions presented to the House, and being anxious, as he was, to attend to the prayers of the petitioners, that such a motion should have been so introduced, so worded, and so connected with the currency question, as to extort from him, and those who, like him, were anxious to relieve the distress of the people, an unwilling opposition. He would implore the hon. Member, if he were present, to withdraw his Motion, as it was impossible, with any regard to consistency, in respect to the currency question for him to vote for the Motion. He had only made these few remarks, because he had been anxious to explain why he could vote neither for the Motion of the hon. Member, nor the Amendment of the hon. Baronet.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
said:—It had been my intention to abstain from troubling the House with any observations, or from voting at all on the present occasion. As far as the situation of the country has come under my purview, I agree with all that has been stated by the hon. Member for Essex; and as to the causes which have produced that situation of things, I also entirely agree with that hon. Member; but I am compelled to confess, which has also been not obscurely indicated by the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade as his opinion, that things so standing, I do not exactly see how to mend them. The very able speech, however, of the right hon. the Member for Liverpool has induced me to throw myself, for a few minutes, on the indulgence of the House. That right hon. Gentleman has proved, that all the commercial measures of the Go- 629 vernment have been distinctly right; that, under the system which they have introduced, the external commerce of the country has increased; that its internal commerce has greatly augmented; that, had the old system of prohibitions and restrictions been obstinately persevered in, the commerce of England would nearly have reached its extinction; in fine, that, were it not for some one general pervading cause of distress and bankruptcy, the country ought, by the shewing of the right hon. Gentleman, to be in a state of singular prosperity. Now, Sir, to me it does seem perfectly clear, that the one and only source of all our difficulties, and of all the distresses that press so large a portion of our population to the earth, is the affair of the money—the great and inconceivable error of the legislature in 1819, in making gold their only standard of value, at the price arbitrarily fixed on in 1711; when all other commodities, which they were thenceforward to value in it, had increased in their prices, perhaps three-fold: so that every product, of whatever nature, must of necessity be continually, Just in proportion as that standard shall be practically applied to it, shrinking in marketable price in the hands of the holders: that is to say, the legislature in 1819, after a long course of paper prices, did not even content themselves with reverting to the ancient standard of the country, but thought fit to adopt a standard which was a mere fancy of the first Lord Liverpool's, introduced by him in 1774, and which, in twenty three years, had brought itself to its own consummation—the stoppage of the specie payments of the Bank of England in 1797. And now, Sir, of this Bank Restriction of 1797—it has been called a measure to save the Bank of England; but, in truth, it was no measure at all. The Bank of England could have paid all the demands of their creditors, if their debtors could have paid them; but the Government was the great debtor to the Bank, and the Government could not pay. Loan on loan, and taxes to meet the interest had necessarily brought up prices beyond the point at which guineas could be procured to represent them; internal transactions could not stop, and when the coin could no longer be found, it was of hard necessity that the token was substituted. The right hon. Gentleman has stated, that the gross amount of taxes has been lowered in a greater proportion than the compara- 630 tive value of the currency; but this very circumstance is in itself a proof, that a lower taxation does not meet the great evil—the pressure from private engagement—only to be discharged by the sale or transfer of articles, which have been, by means of the changes in the currency, perpetually falling in marketable value, on the hands of the producer, or the holder. As far as my memory serves me—I think in the debates of 1819—the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liverpool, dwelt particularly on the advantages to the labouring classes which would result from the return to a metallic currency; but our unfortunate experience has completely proved the fallacy of that opinion. I speak not of what ought to be, but of that which is; and in all changes, and the pressures attendant on them, the weakest go to the wall. When driven to a severe and unwelcome economy, every one endeavours to preserve untouched the means of his personal enjoyment, and to economize at the expense of other men; every one throws out of employ some of those at the moment dependent on him for subsistence. These find all callings occupied: the wages of the labourer become more and more inadequate; and, in the tremendous act of sweeping spoliation—if spoliation that can he called which has benefitted no one—the sufferers throughout have been the debtors and the poor. The right hon. Gentleman then comes to the nature of our taxation, and states that our indirect taxation is the greatest, our direct the lowest in Europe—that with us the capitalist is most spared, and the industrious classes are the most pressed upon. Now, in this it is hardly possible to conceive a more extraordinary course, (for I would not use a harsher epithet) than that which has been pursued by the Parliament of England. The first thing, after the conclusion of the tremendous struggle in which the country had been engaged, and which had been avowedly commenced for the protection of property, was the refusal to continue a limited property-tax; since which, imposition after imposition has been mitigated; the assessed taxes have been diminished; every thing has been done towards the encouragement of the extravagances of the opulent; whilst every tax has been left unaltered which presses upon the necessaries or the luxuries of that class whose labour is their only possession. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, greatly to 631 his honour, appears to have discovered the error, and to be pursuing an opposite, course. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liverpool, has stated it as his opinion, that a revision of the system of banking might give a greater facility to credit, and thereby operate considerable relief to the country. Now, I am far from denying that some system might be devised, which might conduce, in a certain degree, to a greater steadiness in commercial transactions; but relief as to prices, under the present standard of gold payments at 3l. 17s. l0½d. an ounce, there can be none. There is no want of credit now, to those who are able to repay: the right hon. Gentleman complains of the country bankers being unwilling to advance on projects at home, and sending their surplus monies to London; so creating a glut on that money market: but would the right hon. Gentleman wish the country bankers to lend the money committed to their care to parties whom they knew to be bankrupt? or to those who, by the depreciation of their property, they thought were becoming bankrupt? or would he have them lock up monies payable by them on demand, in loans which they knew could not be repaid when the money was demanded? The right hon. Gentleman then blames the Bank for having locked up their capital too largely and improvidently; that is, he blames the weaker body for not having ventured that assistance which he considers it an imprudence in the stronger one to have supplied. On the whole, if the Government shall be able to maintain the present standard, three consequences necessarily follow:—first, the continuance of low prices; secondly, low rents, and, for a time, very ill paid; and thirdly, very low interest of money. If either the pressure or the dissatisfaction arising from this process compel the Government at any time to give way, it is my individual opinion, that the very worst species of circulation, and the one most certain to produce calamitous revulsion, would be the issue of the small notes of private parties, payable on demand in gold of the same denomination, at the present standard. As the gold, whilst things went smoothly, would never be demanded, commodities would approximate to their paper prices, and when the difference had reached a certain point, by driving gold to other countries, there would be a rush for the more valuable material, which, at such a juncture, it would 632 be found physically impossible to supply. I can see only two courses that the Government can take, if they find some relief must be given: the one, an issue of Government paper left to find its own depreciation,—which, if received for taxes, and kept considerably below the receipt of the revenue, would probably not be great: the other what has happened over and over again in every civilized country under Heaven, and without any very great or permanent inconvenience,—the open and direct alteration of the standard.
§ Mr. Leslie Foster
said, it appeared to him that nearly all the Members who took any part in the debate on this question, were of opinion that the distress was to be ascribed to the diminution of the currency. He repeated, that many Gentlemen had expressed an opinion to that effect, and he was satisfied that it was founded on very erroneous conclusions. It was a gross error to suppose that the distress would be alleviated by any artificial addition to the currency. He would ask the Members to look at the state of trade, and at the condition of the various branches of our manufactures. In the iron trade they would hear that so much iron had never been required before. In the silk trade they would hear that the importation of the raw material was greater than it had ever been, and in various other manufactures they would perceive steady demand and constant employment. But then, with all this demand, and with the employment of a vast deal of capital, there was still a great quantity of capital in the country which could not be advantageously invested, and which yielded but a very small return. Suppose, then, that this capital thus unemployed was still further increased, what would be the consequences? Why, a host of mere adventurers would be let in to the ordinary paths of commerce, the profits on capital would be still further diminished, and capital itself must unnecessarily be increased. The trade of the country did not require currency so much as customers. It required the opening of new channels for the direction of the industry; or, still better, that the people of Great Britain, the best and the surest, should become customers themselves. This was a good to be obtained by the removal of the burthen of taxation in such a manner as to increase consumption, and to that object the Government had already successfully applied 633 itself. He thought that great exaggeration had gone forth on the subject of distress in this country, as well as in Ireland. He had made very minute inquiries on the subject, and he found that in Dublin and London there were great numbers suffering privation; but instead of selecting these places as affording proofs of the general distress, they ought rather to be mentioned as the places in which that distress was most to be found. He had consulted a great many persons connected with Ireland; and from all the information he could collect, he was satisfied that capital was never so abundant—trade never so flourishing, and rents never better paid in Ireland than at the present moment. Many of those Gentlemen who acted as Receivers for the Court of Chancery had informed him that the rents were regularly paid, although they complained, in common with many others, that the lands were too much crowded with a labouring population. When there was a great quantity of produce which found a regular market, there must be profit. Now, by the returns of the quantity of produce which found its way from Ireland to England, through the means of the different steam-boats, he found that the value of that produce amounted to three-fourths of the whole of the highest sum paid as rent by the land in Ireland. This was the result of the returns of the account of the Irish produce imported annually into England. In fact it was astonishing to what an extent provisions of various kinds had been sent into England. Eggs were sent from Connaught into Yorkshire, showing that many good things were imported from Ireland besides men. It had been said that the population of Dublin was much distressed: there were, he believed, about 2,000 mendicants in that city at present; even in the most prosperous times the number was not much less; but there were also 7,000 operatives unemployed, and suffering under great destitution. This, however, was a state of things to which that city had been subject at all times. There were at all times instances of depression and prosperity in the population of Dublin, even in the most flourishing times, and therefore this could not be taken as an indication of universal distress. Before the restrictions were removed from trade in Ireland, the industry of the people was cramped for want of demand, and since they had been removed 634 it was cramped in the same manner by the rivalry of the manufacturers of England. The purchasers of goods always went to the market where there was the greatest variety; and as the manufacturers of Manchester always took care to vary the fashions of their fabrics, it was evident that the greatest quantity of goods would be purchased in those places where the fashions were attended to, and where the consumption allowed them to be attended to. In Bandon there was also a good deal of distress, but it was mainly to be attributed to the failure of an attempt to establish the cotton manufactures—an attempt made on a small scale, and not persevered in with an extensive capital. In Belfast, however, that trade had taken a deeper root, and he was happy to say that it presented instances of large establishments flourishing with as much vigour as any of those described by the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Phillips) on a former occasion as proving the prosperity of the cotton trade in Lancashire. The district of about sixty miles round Belfast was full of weavers in active employment, and the hand-loom weavers were only earning about 4s. a week, being pretty much the same as in Lancashire. The hon. Member, after again praising the course adopted by Government in reducing taxation, concluded by observing that he considered the inquiry not to be desirable, for several reasons. All the good that could be expected from it had been already done—the distress, partial as it had been, was already diminishing, and an inquiry would only tend to mislead the public and produce disappointment. He disapproved of the inquiry, too, because those who sought for it would select extreme cases in proofs of the truth of their opinions, and the result would be to lead other countries as well as ourselves to believe that we were on the verge of destruction, and to produce, therefore, a state of exasperation which must aggravate, in a great measure, the real difficulties of our situation. Another and a stronger reason for resisting the inquiry was, that although it proposed to go into all the subjects which had been mentioned, it would really be confined to those which were least to be desired—an alteration in the currency, and a new Administration.
§ Mr. Holdsworth
said, he had heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liverpool, with regret and 635 satisfaction. He was pleased to hear of the increase in our commerce, but pained to learn that there was no hope of prices and wages rising in this country above their level on the Continent. While the right hon. Gentleman professed this opinion, he seemed to think that the wages of the artizans were much too low. How the state of things could be reconciled to an idea of national prosperity, or how it was possible for it to continue, was past his comprehension. It seemed to him a dilemma from which there was no escape. If the wages of workmen were already too low, and if raising them would be impossible without injuring our foreign trade, he did not see how we could escape from our distress. To refer to the subject before the House, he must, although he was persuaded that the motives of the hon. Mover, and of those who supported the Motion, were most conscientious, yet as he felt that the inquiry could lead to no beneficial result, and, therefore, that to enter into it would do more harm than good, he must refuse his assent to the Motion. A committee appointed with the view proposed would have to look into the state of the shipping, manufacturing, colonial and landed interests: it would have to inquire into the effects of the war and the peace upon all classes; into the effects of the change of the currency, and into the results of the alterations of our commercial system; but these subjects were so important, as well as so numerous, that it would be impossible for any committee to prose-cute inquiries info them all with any success, or come to any satisfactory conclusion. In his opinion, therefore, it would be far better not to make the attempt. Much of the present difficulty, in fact, arose from want of confidence, which would most certainly not be increased by a measure which gave rise to hope that some alterations would be recommended in the laws concerning trade. Much of it arose also from the changes which were going on in the seats of several manufactures, and he was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Bramber (Mr. Irving) made the subject of attack for having asserted that the woollen manufacture was now emigrating from Gloucestershire to Yorkshire; nothing was more true; and at all times it appeared that trade had been subject to these changes, producing great temporary distress. Devonshire was 636 formerly the most manufacturing county in England, and woollens were then exported to France from Devonshire, and linens brought back inexchange. Any hon. Member who had any doubts on the subject, might refer to the Statutes. It was natural that we should try to imitate those linens, and Dorsetshire became the seat of the linen manufacture. In the reign of Henry 8th, Bridport was the chief place in the kingdom for manufacturing cordage, which probably contributed to promote the linen manufacture in the same neighbourhood. For a long time the supply of the west of England was confined to that neighbourhood, but the linens of the west of England were driven out of the market by the Scotch linens, which, in their turn, have been superseded by cottons. Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, had each in its turn, been the seat of a considerable woollen manufacture, no trace of which, in most of those counties, could now be found. All had yielded to intellect and machinery. The advantages possessed by the coal counties had drawn all manufactures to them, and Spitalfields, Norwich, and Gloucestershire were yielding to the same influence which had previously attracted manufactures from Kent and Sussex into Yorkshire. He had alluded to this subject, having a local attachment to it, because Newcomen, the great author of the Steam Engine, as a motive power, who had prepared the way for Watt, was a native of his own town. It should also be recollected, that when one trade is declining, men will change to another. The patent net trade left Loughborough: it fled from the Luddites into the west, where it found a more congenial soil, and a smaller host of envious and jealous operatives. As to the distress, he was about to state an unpopular opinion, but he was convinced that the great pressure of distress was not so much on the poorer classes as on the classes immediately above them,—on the small shopkeepers, and small agriculturists; and he feared that the difficulties under which they were labouring were beyond the reach of legislation. There was a want among them of that commercial confidence which was essential to prosperity. The argument against the existence of any distress, which had been deduced from the fact that most of the manufactories were still going on, was fallacious. They were going on, because the masters were in 637 hopes that circumstances would improve, and because they apprehended that if they gave them up, they might not be able to recover them at any future time. As to manufactures flourishing in the hands of large capitalists, the cloth trade of Leeds would suffice to bring that assertion to the test of fact. He had, within two months, seen the great activity that prevailed about Huddersfield, and Leeds, and Halifax. He was satisfied, too, from what he observed during a residence of two months in that part of the country, that the agriculturists were the chief sufferers. In the Bradford market, in last December Scotch mutton sold at 3d., and beef at 4d. per 1b. The agriculturists, he believed, wanted capital; they had been too much reduced to carry on their operations; but that was not the case with the manufacturers. He knew a bank, in a manufacturing district, which had in circulation, in December 1828, 28,000l. and in December 1829,23,500l., while its deposits during the same periods were as 86 in 1828, to 136 in 1829. In the latter period, however, the price of the chief article made in the neighbourhood had fallen from 13s. 3d. to 11s. 9d., showing, that the circulation between 1828 and 1829, had decreased about 14 per cent, and the prices about 12½ per cent, while the deposits had increased to nearly 50 per cent. These facts showed that there was no want of capital in the manufacturing districts, though, in consequence of the fall of prices, the amount of active circulation was decreasing. The state of the manufacturer was very different from that of the farmer. The former could tell pretty nearly how much raw material he could work up in a given time, what quantity of the manufactured article it would make, and how much the latter would sell for. He could calculate the results of his operations with some nicety. But the farmer never knew what his labour was to be worth. He might sow, and manure, and improve his cultivation, but could not tell beforehand what his labours would produce. He was obliged to go to market to pay his rent and his taxes, whether his bullocks or his corn had thriven well or not, and whether they were worth any thing in the market or not. The result was, that he was always at the mercy of the capitalist. He was obliged to sell his goods below their proper price; and the late distress having driven more farmers than usual into difficulties, more 638 corn and cattle than usual had been sent to market, and the prices had been unusually low. Part of this evil was to be traced to the want of confidence in the agricultural districts, in which scarcely any man would lend a farmer 50l. although his stock might be worth ten times as much. He lived in a commercial country without possessing the power to avail himself of its advantages. He was able to do that before the country banks were destroyed, but at the very time that he required assistance most they had been done away, and he had been ruined. No man laboured under such disadvantages as the farmer. He was obliged to make advances, very large advances, in cultivating the soil, and he was obliged at particular seasons to send his crops to market. He would have the great landed proprietors look well to the condition of the farmers, for unless something were done they would find half the land in the country changing hands. The farmer too was bound by a lease, he made a contract to pay a specific sum every year, though he was dependent on the vicissitudes of the seasons. The crops might be affected in value also by our policy; they had been so affected, and just at that moment the Government had deprived him of that assistance he used to derive from the country banker. He would not inquire into all the consequences of a re-issue of small notes. He was only anxious that the farmer should be placed on a footing with the rest of the community, and he knew no better way of accomplishing that than by having recourse again to small notes. He did not care much about the means, but the result he was anxious to obtain; and bad as the resource might be, he was satisfied that an issue of small notes was the only mode in which the farmer could be assisted in his distresses. He would be one of the greatest men in the country who could devise the means of enabling the farmer, when he wanted it, to obtain a similar assistance on his goods as the manufacturer obtained. Let the House consider what would be the effect if things went on as at present; let it decide whether it would have the trifling evils of one-pound notes, or see the farmer ruined by being hampered with contracts, and having to pay large fixed sums, that were not and could not be raised by him at the present prices of his produce. No man would lend him gold. To transmit gold from London to the dis- 639 tant parts, where the farmer most needed accommodation, would not pay the expense. The banker would gain nothing by it. In the large towns the case was different. The great amount of the business there transacted by bankers, the extensive undertakings of the persons they dealt with, made the trifling profits on one-pound notes of no consequence to them; they dealt in fifties and hundreds, but the small banker, in a distant town, dealt in smaller sums, and must be contented with less profits, which he could not obtain without having recourse to the issue of small notes. All that he wished for was, to see the farmers throughout the country able to obtain the same accommodation as all other traders. He was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liverpool, recommend an inquiry into our banking system, because that might be useful. On the whole, conceiving that no good could be obtained by going into the committee, he should vote against both the original Motion and the Amendment.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
said, the debate had taken an extraneous course. The questions for the consideration of the House were—Did the distress complained of exist?—What was its nature and extent, and from what causes had it arisen? Were the proposed reductions in taxation calculated to give the necessary relief, or what other remedies could be applied? He gave the Government credit for good intentions, and admitted that the taxes proposed to be repealed were well selected. The present Ministers had done as well or better than the administrations that had gone before them, but that was not enough: the country was now under extraordinary circumstances, and required much more; further reductions could not probably be made with our present enormous establishments, but had the estimate of Lord Castlereagh in 1817 been adhered to, more than a hundred millions, including interest, might have been saved to the country. That distress, to a great extent, existed was admitted by all, although some Gentlemen denied that it was extensive, and had produced letters to support their statements; but such documents, opposed as they were to petitions from all parts of the country, were worth nothing. All the productive classes, whether engaged in agriculture, mercantile, manufacturing, or trading concerns were alike suffering, and those who had fixed incomes, or who 640 subsisted upon the taxes, were alone exempt; but those who were the most severely affected were the labouring classes, many of whom were in a complete state of destitution.—It was not the latter who complained—it was not those who subsisted upon charity, or who were supported in the poor-house, who now petitioned Parliament, they were broken down in spirit as well as circumstances, and past such an effort:—but those who now laid their complaints before the House were those who felt they were verging towards ruin—those who felt the ground sinking from under them, and their property melting from their grasp, and who called upon the House to avert the calamity. The farmers could not quit their farms and relieve themselves from their burthens and liabilities—the manufacturers and traders who were paying high rents and taxes for situations adapted to their business could not run away from their establishments, in which much fixed capital was engaged—they could not escape from their burthens, or enter into other and more profitable occupations; but while their capital and profits had been reduced one-half, they had to make a hopeless struggle against an immense amount of oppressive taxation, which in effect was increased to double its former amount. He agreed with the right hon. Secretary to the Board of Trade, that a return from war to peace had caused a great reduction of prices, and also the repeal of the property-tax: but we were now suffering after fifteen years of peace, and those causes had ceased to operate, and we had since enjoyed several years of boasted prosperity. In consequence of those causes the fall in prices had, in the year 1817, amounted, as appeared by calculations founded upon official documents, to about twenty-eight per cent, and in the year 1818 a re-action took place, and prices advanced full five per cent. We were then recovering, but in the year 1819 the bill affecting the currency passed, which caused a further depreciation to the extent of forty per cent, making the whole amount of depreciation sixty-three per cent, thus reducing every hundred pounds of a man's capital who was embarked in trade or agriculture to be worth only 37l.; and as most concerns were conducted in part upon credit, this reduction, in thousands of instances, had destroyed the entire capital and consigned the individuals to absolute ruin. The amount of the returns and 641 profits upon trade had all been proportionally reduced, as well as the price of labour, which was the grievance under which all the productive classes now suffered. What effect could the removal of two or three millions of taxes have on the people while the House refused to inquire into the causes of their present grievances?—or how could they again confide in the promises of that House? Unless an adequate remedy were provided, consequences the most fearful were to be apprehended, and there appeared to him, as he had on a former occasion stated, to be but two ways of escaping—either to reduce taxation to prices, or to raise prices to taxation. They had been told that eight millions of taxes could be taken off—that did not appear to him to be possible: he had no wish to break faith with the public creditor, and when he considered that the interest of the national debt amounted to nearly thirty millions per annum, he did not see how it was possible to meet the present difficulties in that way—if the attempt were made, it must be with an unsparing hand—every branch of the expenditure must be cut down to meet an evil so extensive in its nature and effects. The House was told that trade is reviving, and confidently assured that the present difficulties of the country will be of short duration. But could the House confide in any such assurances? Could any temporary flush of trade relieve the country from its present embarrassments, or replace the suffering individuals in their former state of comfort and comparative affluence? Had not the same assurances, year after year, been as confidently held out to them for years past, and had not they been uniformly disappointed, the country going continually from bad to worse? Distress and embarrassment had heretofore often appeared, but they had been temporary, and could be traced to some particular causes: some ray of hope then appeared, but now they have been of several years continuance, and have been yearly increasing; could the House, then, without a total abandonment of its duty, reject the prayer of so many petitions? From the very top to the bottom places, pensions, and appointments must be abolished or reduced. The church, the army, and in short all fixed incomes could not escape, without which no adequate remedy could be so applied. He was not wedded to any particular mode of relief: there was another, from the con- 642 sideration of which all inquiry seemed proscribed—no man could even venture to allude to it without encountering heavy denunciations. The House would perceive that he meant the Currency question,—at the very mention of which some Gentlemen were so much alarmed, that they would not vote for inquiry, if that question were to be mooted. But why, if it was a measure of such justice and expediency should they be so alarmed at any investigation? He would ask whether a measure passed by a former Parliament was to be of so sacred a nature, that all inquiry was to be forbidden, and that it must never again be touched upon? Were they so far to subscribe to the wisdom and infallibility of those who passed this measure, as to preclude all investigations upon it? Were they, when the people state this to be one, and the principal cause of all their suffering, to forbid all inquiry? What magic was there in the word Currency, that he and others should not be allowed to exercise their reasoning faculties upon it? He saw none, and would not submit to such proscription; every evil was ascribed to a paper currency, and the Bank and the country bankers became the objects of crimination. He believed that the evils that had arisen from a paper currency were chiefly, if not wholly, to be ascribed to the measures of the Government restricting the Bank of England from cash payments, and not merely to a paper circulation, or to the country bankers; for all those schemes of 1825 were concocted by speculators in London, and not by the country bankers, most of whom had suffered by such speculations, though they honourably fulfilled all their engagements. No man had now in contemplation a recurrence to the Bank Restriction, although it was very generally felt that a greater facility of circulation to country banks was highly necessary in the present state of the country; they had been useful in times of danger and difficulty, and were now most unjustly calumniated. The capital of the country might be great, but a further medium of exchange was certainly wanted, and this, among others, was a fit subject for inquiry. He now felt himself called upon to notice some observations which the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Huskisson), had, in a considerable portion of his speech, directed to statements which he (Alderman Waith- 643 man) had made upon a former occasion to the House. The right hon. Gentleman had prepared himself with partial extracts from official papers, and drawn from them inferences founded upon mere hypothesis, to shew that his (Alderman Waithman's) views with respect to foreign trade were erroneous. According to the right hon. Gentleman's statements in his inferences, it would appear, that the country was in a most prosperous and flourishing condition—overflowing with comfort and happiness; but he had, however, answered himself, and the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech gave melancholy proofs to the contrary, and he had described the existing distress and privation in gloomy colours. The right hon. Gentleman talked of having laboured for the good of the State as a public servant, and that he could not help putting forward his opinions, now that he stood as an isolated Member of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman passed for high authority in that House upon matters relative to trade, and it was difficult to deal with him; for he possessed so much adroitness, and shifted his ground so dexterously, that it was no easy matter to get at him; but upon whatever unequal terms they might contend, he felt perfectly confident that he could show the fallacy of the right hon. Gentleman's statements, to the conviction of every unprejudiced and impartial man acquainted with the subject. Last Sessions of Parliament the right hon. Gentleman stated, that there had been a great increase in the exports of the preceding year, and he stated this as a proof of commercial prosperity. They had, he said, exceeded those of 1826 (which it should be remarked was a year of great depression) twelve millions, while he (Alderman Waithman) made it then appear, from parliamentary documents, that the exports in real value was less than the amount quoted by fifteen millions. The right hon. Gentleman had now chosen to go to the imports, and had selected five years, 1824 to 1828, both inclusive, in order to show that there had been an increase in the quantities of certain articles, as compared with five years from 1816 to 1820 inclusive; and from these and some intricate and erroneous calculations he had made, the right hon. Gentleman had inferred the great increase of internal consumption, and of course the great increase of comfort and happiness of the commu- 644 nity. Now, had such increase taken place, it would only have borne a relative proportion to the increase of the last thirty years, and to the increased population. But he would ask, why the right hon. Gentleman had made his selection of these years for comparison? Why had he slipped over the intervening years? Why did he include the years 1824 and 1825, years of the greatest speculation ever known, in which the imports had increased eight millions over the preceding year? And why did the right hon. Gentleman select, as a point of comparison with those years, a period including 1816 and 1819—years of the greatest depression that had ever occurred—the imports of one of those years having been seven millions, and those of the other nine millions less than those of the preceding year? It was well known also that some of the articles he selected, Cotton and Tallow in particular, were the articles in which the largest speculations were made; and so far from proving an increased internal comsumption, the importations were far beyond the demand, and great part remained on hand. The right hon. Gentleman also made his estimate of home consumption by calculating the number of yards of cotton exported, reckoning one pound for five yards exported, and one pound for six yards for home consumption, inferring from thence the quantity in weight of the raw material retained for home consumption, a calculation so erroneous that the very reverse is the fact, for it was known by every man conversant in business, that the general shipments are of the coarsest and heaviest goods, and those for home are the finest and lightest. After such statements, what faith could be put in the representations of the right hon. Gentleman? He would not impute to him a design to mislead the House, but rather to error, however unwarrantable such error may appear; but be the cause what it may, he should, after this, have very little reliance on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman; and having pointed out those errors, he did not feel it necessary to enter into details to expose further inaccuracies. The right hon. Gentleman had represented him (Alderman Waithman) as having stated, that our foreign trade was the bane of the country—he would appeal to the House, and call upon any hon. Member, to say whether any thing of the kind had ever fallen from him. No one was more sen- 645 sible of its importance. What he had said was, that the measures of reciprocity and free trade, as they were called, of the right hon. Gentleman were wholly inapplicable to the state and circumstances of the country; that its internal trade and prosperity had been sacrificed for the alleged purpose of increasing our foreign trade; and that since those measures had come into operation, so far from having promoted our foreign trade, as the House had been confidently assured they would, it had rapidly declined, and hod actually fallen off in real value, not merely compared with the official, but as compared with the real amount for a long series of former years, to the extent of several millions a year, and which he now pledged himself would clearly appear whenever those accounts for which he had moved should be laid before the House. There could, he maintained, be no free trade without an equivalent; this was the principle which Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, and all the great statesmen of that day maintained, as might be seen by a reference to the discussions that took place upon the commercial treaty with France—this was the sound and rational principle by which the Legislature should be guided, however it might be exploded by the philosophy of the present day. This country had only its labour to exchange for the productions of other nations, and that labour was taxed in various ways to the extent of seventy-five percent; how was it then to contend against the untaxed labour of foreigners by the 'free trade' or 'reciprocity system,' as it was erroneous called of the right hon. Gentleman; a tide of foreign manufactures were let in to inundate our home market and drive out our own labour, while foreign nations prohibited our manufactures, and thus, under the name of 'reciprocity' and 'free trade,' a deep and grievous injury was inflicted upon the trade and manufactures of the country, and its starving weavers and artizans, thousands of whom were driven by poverty and distress to commit crimes to support existence. Nothing in his mind could be more visionary and dangerous than those projects. They had all, no doubt, read that excellent and well-authenticated history, entitled, "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent.;" in that excellent work it appears that Mr. Walter Shandy, the father of Tristram, was a deep and subtle philosopher—he had his theories. In the course of his 646 profound researches into all the depths and mysteries of science, he discovered that for four thousand years the world had been in egregious error, and that our forefathers had obstinately persisted, during those dark ages, in the absurd and perilous practice of bringing children into the world the wrong end foremost, to which erroneous conduct he attributed many, if not most, of the evils of human life; he was the founder of the theory called the Shandean system. Now the right hon. Gentleman had his theories, some of them not quite so rational, and had formed his system. He, like Mr. Shandy, had discovered that all who had gone before him had been wrong, and exploded all those doctrines and principles upon which our ancestors erroneously imagined the wealth and prosperity of the nation were founded; but, unlike Mr. Shandy, he would not abandon his projects, but, regardless of consequences, would persist in his experiments, whatever danger might ensue, and in defiance even of his own former principles and opinions. He had formerly contended for protection for landowners; had said rents could not be reduced, prices could not be lowered, bread could not be cheaper with the present taxation: he is now beating down prices, for a reduction of rents, low profits and low wages; but he could not better exhibit the inconsistency of the right hon. Gentleman than by letting him speak for himself; he would therefore beg to read his own words from a speech he delivered some time since, when a committee was moved for upon the Corn-laws (June 6,1814): then, indeed, he thought the complaints of the petitioners should be inquired into, but now no such inquiry must be granted. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken then as follows:—"With respect to the encouragement which ought to be afforded to the farmer, it should be considered, that there was now a great diminution in the value of money; and that the capital necessary for carrying on of farming operations must now be double to what it was before the war. The noble Lord (Lord A. Hamilton) deceived himself, therefore, if he thought that things could return to what they were before the war. This was one of the most dangerous errors which could be entertained. What was like to be the permanent charge of this country, now that the war was at an end? The whole expenses of this country, including all our estab- 647 lishments before the war, only amounted to sixteen millions. Would this produce no alteration in the money value of articles? When Gentlemen talked of the increased price of bread, was not every thing else raised in proportion, and that not in consequence of the high price of bread, but the amount of taxation? It was impossible for the country to return to the prices before the war. It had been said, that the obvious remedy was to lower rents. He had not the good fortune to be a landholder, and he had no interest but that of the public in general in view. The proportion of the gross proceed of land which now came to the landlord, however it might be represented in money, was now much less than what it was in 1792. Previous to the war, in a farm of moderate extent, the farmer considered himself requited if he made three rents from it. But it was necessary in the case of such a farm now, that the farmer should make at least five rents to be enabled to go on. If even the whole rental of the country were remitted, it would be impossible to return to the prices before the war. He was not afraid to declare that the people of this country must not expect, be the law what it may, that, with our burthens, the price of bread can ever be less than double what it was before the war."* Such were the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman at that time, which he would have him to reconcile with those he had more recently advanced, and to the measures he had since introduced. He (Alderman Waithman) would repeat, that he believed, that however other circumstances might in some degree have operated, that the present distress and difficulty under which the country laboured, had chiefly arisen from unjust and erroneous legislation, and that it was in the power, and was the duty of Parliament, to apply such remedies as would in a great measure remove them; and that the House could not, without a dereliction of duty, shut out the petitions of the people, and refuse to inquire into their grievances.
§ Mr. Fyler
felt called on to make a few observations, in consequence of what had fallen from the honourable Members for Bramber and Liverpool. Of his own knowledge he could say, that the Silk Trade was in a most deplorable state, and* See Hansard's Parl. Deb. vol, xxvii. p. 1096.648 that the suffering of the people was great. He considered too that it was a great aggravation of the public distress to have honourable Gentlemen get up and endeavour to fritter it away. The Silk Trade, which was a most important branch of the commerce of the country, was in great distress, and the necessity of relieving it would be manifested when it was considered that half a million of persons were employed in it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had talked of that trade as a new creation; but if it were so, it was a branch of industry that had been most rapidly increasing for fifteen years preceding that in which the right hon. Gentleman's measures had been adopted. Since they had come into operation there had been a great reduction in it—a reduction amounting, since 1828, to 20 per cent, and since 1827, to 30 per cent. It was true that lower prices would alone enable us to compete with foreigners; but how were people to go on with prices lower than they were at present? If he were called on to state what were the causes of the present depression of the manufacturing interest, he should not say that it was entirely owing to the late measures, but partly to them, and partly to the position in which the country stood at the end of the war.
§ [The call for Mr. Peel becoming general, the right hon. Gentleman rose, but Mr. Bramston (a new Member) having risen at the same moment, Mr. Peel gave way.]
§ Mr. Bramston
proceeded to say, that a very few days had elapsed since he had the honour to be returned to the House for a large and important agricultural county, whence he came convinced of the reality and prevalence of distress—distress, not indeed universal, but by far too abundant. He had entered these walls an advocate of inquiry; but, after listening patiently to the arguments offered for it during three nights, he felt his desire for inquiry arrested by the state at which the discussion had arrived. He found that two objects which a committee, if appointed, would have to take into consideration would be, the state of the currency and taxation. As to the currency, even if the principle acted on by the House in 1819 were an erroneous one (which he did not admit), it appeared to him, that in the present state of things, and after a lapse of eleven years, we should only run the risk of encountering still greater evils by abandoning the present and recurring to the former system. 649 One of his objections to a return to a paper currency was, that it would tend to raise the price of the necessaries of life—the produce of the soil: and although there might be an apparent advantage to the agricultural classes in such an advance, Gentlemen must not shut their eyes to the fact that it would be inconvenient and unpalatable to the community at large: and as to the interest of the agricultural classes themselves, if corn were permitted to rise in price, it would lead to so large an importation of foreign grain, under our present system, as ultimately to injure the home-grower. With regard to taxation, he felt disposed to place confidence in the statements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Monday last, in reference to the financial condition of the country; and believing that a revision of taxes would be carried by Ministers as far as prudence could justify, he was content to leave the matter in their hands. But if it were considered desirable to carry reduction of taxation further, there were other means of effecting that great object besides referring it to a Select Committee. It had been stated that there was already a notice of motion for a repeal of the Malt-tax upon the votes, and if any other measure of a similar nature were desired, let some hon. Member bring it forward in a distinct and substantive form, when, no doubt, it would receive proper attention. He thought that the efforts of a committee must be unavailing, either to elicit information, or recommend measures on those points which it was proposed to refer to the Committee moved for by the hon. Member for Shaftesbury, and therefore he could not vote for its appointment.
§ Mr. Lockhart
was much astonished at the declaration made by the hon. Member who had just sat down—that he had entered the House the advocate of inquiry, but was now opposed to it. With regard to these debates, he did not look at them as argumentative, but as evidential; and the evidence they afforded was, that distress existed to a great extent. Under these circumstances, the House ought not to abdicate its right of inquiry, especially since the distress appeared to arise from a new combination of social circumstances, before unknown. They might not be able to reduce taxation, but the right hon. Member for Liverpool had admitted that there might be a new arrangement of the taxes. There was now a suction upon the productive 650 industry of one class, from whose pockets money was taken, to be put into the pockets of others, who were a mere caput mortuum for all purposes but their own existence. It was said that the country was improving. If so, the inquiry would be the easier; and on every ground he should support the Motion for a committee.
Mr. W. Horton
said, that the committee he had proposed, to inquire into the subject of colonization, had been refused, on the ground that the inquiries involved were too extensive—an objection which he thought peculiarly applicable to the present Motion. There were already committees appointed to inquire into the state of the poor in Ireland, and into several other circumstances connected with the national distress, which made the hon. Member's Motion of less utility, and therefore he should certainly vote against it.
said, the House were not called on to inquire now what were the causes of the present distress, and the speech of the right hon. Member for Liverpool had, therefore, been out of place—it would have been more appropriate in the Committee. The question was, whether there did exist such a degree of distress and suffering as demanded the attention of the House. He should have preferred a Committee of the whole House, and to have had evidence given at the Bar, as more suitable to the magnitude of the occasion. He would take the state of the country from the speeches of those from whom he differed. He would take it even in the mitigated language used in the Speech from the Throne, and of which the President of the Board of Trade had told them he had the confirmation in his pocket. If what that right hon. Gentleman produced to this purpose was to be called confirmation, never was any so unworthy of the original document. The right hon. Gentleman said, that he had received letters which had been sent him from different parts to inform him that the King's statement of the condition of the country was correct, although that statement was in direct opposition to the voice of the people. If the Ministers thought that there was but a trifling amount of distress, he thought the patient attention with which the House had listened to these discussions must have convinced them of their error. The proposed Committee was objected to, because it was so extensive in its nature that the Corn-laws must form one of the subjects of inquiry, 651 Were they not inquired into among the people, and were not the people divided on that question? He must quarrel with the speech of the hon. Member for London (Mr. Ward), who had given them only half of his opinion. That hon. Gentleman had said that rents must fall one-half, but he had not told the House the reason why they must fall. He would supply that deficiency—the fall arose from the alteration of the standard of value. The late bill had, in fact, fixed the amount of the value of wheat at 40s. or 50s. a quarter. The hon. Gentleman must know that the landed interests of this country were under engagements from which the monied men were free; and he ought to know that a fall of one-half in their rents would occasion the destruction of the landed proprietors. He would not say whether the measure of diminishing the standard of value was necessary or not; but he would assert, that as far as the landed proprietors were concerned, it was a direct confiscation of one-half of their property, and that a formal confiscation of one-half would not produce a more complete effect. The rate of interest of money had been stated as a proof of improvement in the country, but he begged to deny that the rate of interest in the London market was any criterion of the rate of interest elsewhere, governed as it was in London by Stock speculations, and a variety of other circumstances, which left its exchanges without any known rule by which they were guided. The conduct of Government respecting the currency had operated as a confiscation of the property of the landed man for the benefit of the monied man. The right hon. Member for Liverpool had contended that the question was too mighty and too extensive for inquiry by the House of Commons; but did it become the representatives of the suffering people to occupy themselves only in imposing taxes and voting supplies, until ruin became inevitable, and from one end to the other, the country only exhibited the spectacle of a struggle for the spoil. Another right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries) in the course of his speech, had quoted private letters, but it would have been far better if he had referred to the petitions of the people from Glasgow, Birmingham, Renfrew, and many other parts of the kingdom. He had said at the time that the contents of those letters would be heard with satisfaction by the House: the only satisfaction he (Mr. Attwood) had 652 derived from them, was a conviction that the whole theory of the other right hon. Gentleman was fallacious. In their petitions the people not only expressed great distress but great distrust: they demanded a reform of Parliament, and let it not be forgotten that that demand no longer came from a decided minority. The objection formerly was to the original constitution of the House of Commons, and to this the triumphant and conclusive answer was, that although imperfect in construction, it was perfect in practice. Now, however, that reply was inapplicable, for the character of the House of Commons was changed: it no longer dealt with the interests of the people for the benefit of the people, and the disposition of the people was to deal with the House as it dealt with them. The 658 Members of which it was composed were, no doubt, respectable in their private capacities—sufficient in eloquence, and earnest in midnight debate; but the people fell, and did not scruple to assert, that in their collective capacity they were incompetent, corrupt, and partial, and negligent of their important functions of guarding and preserving the national welfare. He could very well account for the reluctance of the right hon. Member for Liverpool to enter into inquiry. He had said that for the last thirty years he had been more or less engaged in the transactions of the country, but he had forgotten to add that he had only influenced its councils during the decline of its prosperity. Quorum magna pars fui, he might well claim to be during the whole period of calamity, but his connection with public affairs was evidently slight during the period of prosperity. It did not, however, become the House of Commons to take its notion of the real condition of the people from any individual. The Representatives of the people ought to communicate their deliberate opinions to the Ministers of the Crown. At this moment an important crisis was hanging over the country—not commercial, but financial and political; and no more fatal error could be indulged than that the Government should be guided by individual views and partial interests. The only salutary course was pointed out by experience, and upon this point the right hon. Gentleman had reminded the House of the tremendous difficulties with which the country had had to struggle at former periods. He had talked of the Mutiny in the Navy, of 653 the Rebellion in Ireland, and America rising in monstrous and unnatural arms. In those struggles, however, the strength and resources of the country had been more than equal to the claims upon them, and the result was triumphant. What was the contrast at this moment? After a long continuance of peace, when the people hoped for ease and relaxation, and for a reduction of their burthens—those burthens, under the pretence of diminution, had been insidiously and most onerously increased. Then it was, that the strength of the country began to break down—that its resources began to fail, until it was reduced to a condition so deplorable, that it was contended that Parliament, in the exercise of its great functions, could afford no relief. Nevertheless, he called upon the House of Commons to discharge its most important duty—to exert its deliberate wisdom—to vindicate its ancient character—and to endeavour to discover, by inquiry, what was that mysterious power which blasted the efforts of industry, deprived labour of its just reward, and peace of all the blessings by which it ought to be accompanied. Let it ascertain what had rendered this country, once the awful safeguard of Europe, now its scorn and opprobrium—a by-word for weakness and vacillation. It was the first duty of the House, without a moment's delay, to commence the investigation, and to learn and proclaim to the people the real causes of their sufferings. The most ridiculous attempts had been made to account for the disastrous change, and the bad harvests of 1821 and 1829 had been mentioned, as if a frost or a south-west wind were capable of effecting the ruin of a nation. Would the thrice-told tale of over-population again be revived? Or would it be contended, that the introduction of machinery had produced calamity, and that it was fit to introduce some new law to limit the employment of the steam engine? Was the notion again to be broached, that bad bankers had destroyed the country? Or were they now to be called upon by the issue of notes to retrieve the nation they had before ruined? It was quite clear that the Branch Banks had not answered the purpose for which they were established; and now, perhaps, resort was to be had to Joint Stock Banks, although it had been formerly argued that the panic of 1825 had been produced by Joint Stock Companies. In this hour of distress, unexampled in our 654 time, he begged to recall the attention of the House to what had been its conduct during the last few years. It had been engaged, among other things, in establishing a system of free trade; and what had been the consequence? That it was rejected by all the other nations of the world, and that Great Britain had rendered herself the common laughing-stock of the civilized world. Next Parliament had employed itself in tampering with the monetary system, so delicate and sympathetic that it shrunk from the slightest touch of the hand of Government. The currency had been subjected to incessant and eternal change, until not only a new material but a new value had been substituted. The object had been to give what was called a wholesome circulating medium, and yet let the House remember, that at that moment was given the last finishing-stroke to the ruin of the country, and all classes were involved in the general calamity. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that distress existed in foreign countries; and if that were the fact, it was the duty of those governments to inquire and to remedy. It was impossible that Great Britain could be in her present condition of poverty and misery without producing an injurious effect upon other nations: it must be felt in America, India, China, and in almost every corner of the universal globe. At that late hour, and after the ample discussion the question had already undergone, he would only, in conclusion, call upon the House to bear in mind, that in the midst of the triumphant majorities which carried the question of the change in the currency, there were found men of deep and long experience, and of great sagacity, who did not concur in the policy and justice of that change—who warned Government of the dangers to which it was about to expose the country, and reminded it of the debt of eight hundred millions contracted in paper, and which, according to the pending measures, was to be repaid in gold. These individuals, whose opinions were then rejected and ridiculed, had anticipated, even in some of their minutest details, the calamatics by which the country had since been visited; and he could not look back to the prophecies of those men, and to the progress of those calamities, without some feeling of satisfaction, however melancholy, because they afforded decisive proof that the prevailing evils arose from arti- 655 ficial causes, and not from natural necessity—though appalling, they were vincible; and as they had arisen from legislation, by legislation they might be remedied. Looking to the past, he could not persuade himself that (he House would refuse inquiry, or that Ministers would take upon themselves the tremendous responsibility of recommending and enforcing that refusal; and if an inquiry were instituted, he pledged himself to prove that the existing distresses were susceptible of remedial measures, not only involving no breach of public faith or national honour, but tending directly to the preservation of both, as well as to the restoration of the country to its once envied power and prosperity.
felt the full force of the observations of the honourable Mover, on the importance and extent of the inquiry; and he agreed, also, that each branch of the subject demanded the most patient investigation. Of the various topics introduced by the hon. Baronet, the Member for Cornwall (Sir It. Vyvyan), there was one which he (Mr. Peel) begged altogether to exclude—he meant the reference made by the hon. Baronet to party considerations. He declined following him upon that point, because he was anxious to enter upon the consideration of the sufferings of the people, without that temper of mind which party questions were likely to. produce. In steering his course through the crowded chart of facts and arguments adduced, he felt the want of a meridian line by which he could be directed, and perhaps, therefore, it would be better for him to pursue the track of those who had preceded him in debate. Acting then upon that view of the question, he had not the slightest hesitation in urging that it was the imperative duty of the Legislature to review all the means calculated to mitigate the existing sufferings of the country—taking especial care that they adopted none which were not perfectly compatible with the real and permanent interests of the whole community. Deeply lamenting, as he did, and as no man in the country of just feelings could help doing, the existence of the public distress, which he admitted to exist, though not in the degree, and to the extent which some hon. Gentlemen asserted—deeply lamenting, he repeated, the existence of that distress, he was most anxious to do all that could be done for its mitigation. He once more repeated, 656 that admitting its existence, he most decidedly differed from hon. Members, as to the nature and causes of that distress. But before he proceeded with any more general observations on that point, he wished to call the attention of the House to a statement made by his right hon. friend, the Member for Liverpool, a speech, as able as it was candid, and the temper and moderation of which he should be proud to imitate; the statement to which he alluded was respecting the Savings Banks; the deposits made in them, and the degree in which those deposits might be supposed to indicate the nature and extent of the prevailing distress—which, if the statements of his right hon. friend were borne out by the facts, must be considered a degree of distress universal and overwhelming. He stated that the deposits in the Savings' Banks had materially diminished in the year 1829, as compared with the year 1828. In 1828 the deposits amounted to 945,000l., and the sums withdrawn amounted to 678,000l. In 1829, the deposits were 449,000l., and the sums withdrawn amounted to 1,445,000l., and these facts his right hon. friend regarded as a conclusive evidence of general distress. Now could the facts not be accounted for in a manner the most complete and perfect, he should certainly agree in the conclusion which had been drawn from that statement. But he should have no difficulty in satisfying his right hon. friend that those circumstances did by no means warrant such an inference, or furnish the degree of proof sufficient to sustain the alarming position for which his right hon. friend contended. It would afford him also, he was sure, sincere pleasure to hear the satisfactory answer which might be given to that argument; and as the House must feel a deep interest in any thing so materially affecting the condition of the poorer classes, he begged that it would grant him some indulgence while he entered into the detail of the subject. In the year 1828 a law was passed, the operation of which had a most material bearing, upon the deposits in the Savings' Banks; and that law was quite sufficient to account for the disproportion between the deposits and withdrawals of the one year and the other; namely, 1828 and 1829. The operation of that law commenced in November, 1828. Previous to that time the interest allowed at Savings' Banks was three-pence per diem, being 657 4l. 11s. 3d. annually. In November, 1828, the dates of the statements he spoke of commenced, and it would be found that the period at which the diminution began exactly coincided with the time when that law came into operation. The interest on deposits was changed from 3d. to 2¼d.; and it was further enacted, that in one year the amount of deposits should not exceed 30l. from each individual; and that when the deposits, interest, and principal should amount to 200l. from that time forward all interest should cease. It must be obvious to the House, that the immediate effect of such a law must be, that considerable sums would be withdrawn from those establishments. He was sure his right hon. friend would be glad to hear that the persons making small deposits in 1829 were much more numerous than those making small deposits in 1828. He had lately obtained returns of the number of deposits in and near the metropolis, and in other parts of the country, distinguishing those who had deposited under 20l. and above it; those who had deposited 50l. and under 100l.; above 100l. and under 150l.; above 150l. and under 200l. He found from the return, that in 1828 the number whose deposits amounted to above 20l. was 2,273, and in 1829 they were reduced to 1,850; but in the latter year the number of deposits under 20l. had most materially increased, so much so, that the total number of one year was upwards of 4,000 above the other. In 1828 the total numbers were 66,240, while in 1829 the numbers were 70,150. He should make no apology for occupying so much of the time and attention of the House in details so minute, for he was assured that they could not fail to feel that deep interest in anything affecting the labouring classes which their condition called for, and which at all times the House of Commons was forward to manifest. This subject was one on which much stress had been laid by his right hon. friend, and from which, he was sure, when the real state of the case was known, his right hon. friend and the House would draw a different conclusion from that to which he had come. He would therefore state to the House the names of some of the places in which an increase of the deposits of the sums last mentioned had taken place, and he would do this to show that the improvement of which he took it to be a proof was not confined to 658 one town, or one district of the country. He had returns from Liverpool, Norwich, Panton-street Haymarket, Shrewsbury, Sheffield, Southampton, Truro, Warwick, Worcester, Exeter, and Leeds, and in every one of those places the number of depositors under 20l. had increased. Hence it was evident that the inference of his right hon. friend had no foundation—for the total increase of 1829 over 1828 was 4,000 depositors, and the diminution in the amount of deposits was fully accounted for by the law of which he had just spoken. No man could feel more strongly than he felt the imperative necessity which then existed of consulting the interests of the labouring classes, and no man could approach the consideration of those interests with a more earnest desire to promote them than he should. He thought it one of the first duties of the legislature to do all in its power to excite a taste in the humbler classes of society for those comforts and those enjoyments—those luxuries, he might add—of civilized society, the desire for which, and the habitual possession of which, would form the best guarantee for their good conduct, and the best guarantee that the higher classes could have for the possession of their property and their power, as at present enjoyed. It was urged, and with perfect justice, that the remission of taxes was amongst the means by which that most desirable object could be chiefly effected; and he would ask, had not the Government of the King proposed the remission of taxes to a great amount? The noble Lord opposite (the Member for Northampton) had given his Majesty's Government credit for the selection of taxes which they made for the purposes of repeal—for having made that selection more with a view to the real interests and necessities of the people, than to anything which might promote the influence of their own Administration in that or the other House of Parliament. That was testimony of a satisfactory kind, and upon which he set considerable value; but the facts spoke for themselves. Their best vindication would be found in a reference to the taxes actually repealed. His right honourable friend seemed to recommend a more extensive commutation than had yet been thought of, and the levy of taxes too, on something else, in lieu of what, for the relief of industry, might be repealed. The House could not fail to observe, 659 that his right honourable friend most skilfully avoided the enunciation of what that something else was to be; but his drift was not to be concealed. The House might naturally suppose that amongst the various subjects connected with the finances of the country, which had occupied the attention of Government, the question of a Property-tax had not escaped them; it was one of those that they had most seriously mooted. It was a question which, if they had not most maturely deliberated on, they should ill have discharged their duty as exercising- the executive power of the State. They had most attentively considered the bearing of such a tax as affecting the commercial, the professional, and the landed incomes of the country; and also the question, if such a tax were resolved upon, what might be the effect of confining it to the landed incomes, and excluding the other two classes. After those mature deliberations, then, the conclusion at which they arrived was, that they should best discharge the duty they owed the country, by repealing this year 3,400,000l. of taxes—that was the measure which to their minds appeared best calculated, in the way of reduced taxation at least, to relieve the necessities of the people. In doing that, however, and in making these observations, he begged to be understood as giving no pledge upon the subject of a Property-tax, or making no assertion with respect to it one way or the other—standing in the situation in which he did, it would be extremely injudicious in him to restrict himself by any pledges whatever on either side. The course which they had adopted pretty plainly proved that they had not resolved upon submitting to Parliament any proposition for a Property-tax. Another subject which had been touched upon by his right hon. friend was the system of Banking, and what might be done with a view to its improvement. This also was a topic which he thought could not be adverted to by him with too great care and delicacy. He was not one of those who under-rated the value of the important services which bankers rendered to the country. Indeed, in looking to the utility of the whole as a body, he thought they were too apt to overlook the general advantage derived from them, and to dwell on individual cases of abuse. He, however, was not of this number, and he did hope that it might be possible, in any im- 660 provements that might be made in the system, to reconcile the interests of the body to which he alluded with those of the public. Upon the nature of any improvements that might be made in the system, he was not then disposed to enter; but he must say, that to throw open the Banking System to every adventurer,—to consent to the establishment of Joint Stock Banking Companies, with only a limited responsibility, while the responsibility of the private banker extended to his entire properly, were measures which ought to be considered with great caution. He would now approach some of the remarks made by the hon. Member who last addressed the House, and he must own that the speech of the hon. Member confirmed him in what he had all along feared,—that whatever might be the views of the hon. Member who brought forward this Motion, those of very many by whom it was likely to be supported would be directed to some inquiry, which would go to a revision of our Currency system, and also to that of Free Trade. If he might take the hon. Member's speech as an indication of the general intentions in this respect, there could be no doubt on the subject; and he was glad of it, for he did hope that their discussion of that night would put an end to the Currency Question. He knew the hon. Member could agitate it again and again, if he pleased, but he was willing to believe that this, the seventh or eighth decision of the House upon it, would put an end to all further doubts upon the subject, and that they would now debate it for the last time, by showing that it was their firm determination to adhere to the system already adopted with respect to our currency. But the hon. Member (Mr. Attwood) asked with great force of declamatory eloquence, "Will you abdicate the functions of Parliament by refusing to enter into an inquiry on a question so important to the country?" He (Mr. Peel) would answer, Yes. Parliament had now discussed the question so frequently and so fully, that Members were already in possession of every thing which could be known respecting it. Did the hon. Member, by the proposed inquiry, mean that the standard of value should be altered, or was there any great error which he would wish to have corrected in the measure of 1819? If he did, he hoped the House would now pronounce its opinion upon 661 both points. As the author, in a great degree, of the measure of 1819, he begged the House would indulge him while he offered a few remarks in support of its principle, and the more particularly as he trusted they were now discussing the question for the last time. The two questions he would ask the hon. Member were—had there been an error committed in the measure of 1819, and in what way were they to correct that error? Let the House bear in mind that ten years were now elapsed since the adoption of that measure, which had since been farther confirmed by repeated decisions of that House. Upon that adoption, and its subsequent confirmation, a variety of contracts, mortgages, and other pecuniary engagements, had been entered into, on the faith that the measures of Parliament would be strictly persevered in. He asked, then, was it advisable that the whole of those engagements should be given up?—that the faith of Parliament, pledged for the measures in which they were founded, should be broken? But what course would the hon. Member take? Would he have a paper currency convertible into gold? Would he alter the standard of value, or would he have an inconvertible paper currency? If any one of those were the measure he would point out, and to some of which in his own declamatory mood, he had alluded, why should not he, who knew so much on the subject, provoke a discussion by the introduction of a short bill? A single sheet of paper would contain a bill for any of those objects: why then not introduce it at once? But as the hon. Member had shrunk from such discussion, he would not then enter minutely into it, but would make a few observations on the facts brought forward by the hon. Member. The hon. Member stated, that we had 800,000,000l. of debt, which had been contracted for in a currency depreciated more than twenty per cent below that in which it was to be paid. But if the hon. Member looked to the real facts of the case, he would find that this was not so. Let him consider that a large portion of this debt was contracted in a currency nearly as high as that in which the public creditor was now paid. But suppose the public creditor was to be paid only in the currency in which the debt was contracted, he would ask the hon. Member to discriminate who were the parties to 662 whom the depreciated rate of payment was to be made? A great majority of the original contractors had passed away, and since 1816 a vast portion of the public funds had got into the hands of persons who did not pay for it in a depreciated, but in an improved currency;—not in the value which the hon. Member would set upon it, but in the improved mercantile value. Surely the hon. Member would not turn round on those parties and say to them, "you must be the dupes of your confidence in the resolutions of Parliament, which state that faith should be kept inviolable with the public creditor!" When the hon. Member deducted from this 800,000,000l. the amount standing in the names of those who purchased at a rate nearly equal to the present value, and those who had since purchased at a full value, he would find that this sum would be reduced to a very small amount indeed. He would now come to the alteration in the standard of value. It had now existed for eleven years, and under it a variety of contracts and obligations had been entered into. Would it not, then, he would ask, be a greater evil to depart from the system, than to persist in it as it is? If the hon. Member thought not, he would again tell him that his best mode of bringing the question to an issue would be to introduce a measure by which he might show, if it could be shown, that no inconvenience would result from the alteration. Refer-ring again to the Bill of 1819, however unpopular the assertion, or to what ever degree of obloquy it might subject him, he would affirm that the introduction of that bill was no error. No doubt many hon. Members then in the House, who had taken an active share in the discussion of that measure, would be ready to relieve him from any degree of personal responsibility attached to it, by stating that it was one in which they also had joined. Indeed, when he mentioned that it was a measure that had been sanctioned by the legislature, he might relieve himself from all equitable or legal responsibility. But without sheltering himself under that, he would then contend, that in that measure Parliament had pursued the wisest and safest course for the welfare of the country, and nothing could be more grossly incorrect than the assertion that it was not so. It was said, that this change in the currency had depreciated the value of commodities more than twenty per cent, 663 and in fact every degree of distress, every depression of trade, every panic or commercial revulsion that had since occurred, had been attributed to that bill. Now it might not be unimportant to ask whether there had been no convulsions, no panics, no depression, before it became a law? Let him beg of the hon. Member to consider what had taken place in 1793, just at the commencement of the war. What was the situation of the country in 1797, when we had restricted the issue of gold, and had substituted a paper currency? What was the state of the country in 1810, when there was not even a whisper of intention to return to cash payments? Why, in that very year, a committee was appointed to inquire into the distress, and it reported that credit had been destroyed in the country, that many of the commercial transactions of the country were carried on at a loss of from sixty to seventy per cent, that a number of manufacturers continued their men in employment only to afford them a precarious subsistence, and to prevent the injury to their machinery which inaction occasioned. Every symptom of the country at that time was much worse than at present, and yet there was then no appearance of a return to payments in gold. He would next direct the attention of the House to the year 1816, and he begged, in doing so, to remind the hon. Member for Essex, that he then brought forward a resolution affirming that agriculture was, at that period, in a state of very great distress. He did not know whether the hon. Member had lately referred to the able speech which he then delivered on the causes of the distress, or whether, if he had, he might not think that the different circumstances of the country since then would be a just ground for having altered his opinion. In that speech, the hon. Member attributed the agricultural distress to a fall of prices, and he argued very powerfully to show, that an inconvertible paper currency would have a prejudicial effect on the value of the produce of home tillage. The hon. Member had also then argued that a paper currency was the effect, and not, as it had been since asserted, the cause of high prices, He (Mr. Peel) was willing to admit, that at the time when the hon. Member made his speech, the Bank of England had given some intimation of returning to cash payments. This induced him to revert to 664 another point connected with the subject—namely, the decline in prices. He would admit, that great distress was occasioned by that decline, but he did not believe that one tenth of that distress could be fairly attributed to the resumption of cash payments. While he was on this point, he begged to say one or two words to rescue the memory of the late Mr. Ricardo from an imputation which had been unjustly cast upon it. Mr. Ricardo was stated to have said that, the differences between the prices before and after the resumption of cash payments was only from three to four per cent. Now Mr. Ricardo said no such thing. What he did say was—that the great difference between prices before and after the resumption of cash payments was a difference—he (Mr. Peel) did not know at what amount Mr. Ricardo stated it—not referable to the change of currency, but referable to the change from war to peace; but he said that the amount of reduction of price in consequence of a return from paper to gold was not more than from three to four per cent. Now, when he (Mr. Peel) admitted that a great change took place in prices after the resumption of cash payments, he must look to other causes for that change. Let him refer to the war, which was of thirty years' duration, and let him look at the prices to which all articles were raised during that war, and he would ask whether it would be possible, under any system of currency, to have kept up these prices in time of peace. To the return, therefore, from war to peace must be attributed the difference of prices, and not to any change in the currency. Now, going to the period of the French war, which he would not stop then to defend, he would only say, that in his opinion—and he agreed with an hon. baronet who said it was a war for the support of existing institutions—that it had tended to promote the (he hoped) permanent settlement of Europe. Now, if he divided that war into two periods of fourteen years, in the first of these, the expenditure of the country exceeded its revenue by 189,000,000l. In the second period, the excess of expenditure above revenue was 236,000,000l., making an excess in the two periods of 425,000,000l. After such an extraordinary expenditure as that, could it be expected, he would ask, that the country should resume its ordinary condition without great depres- 665 sion, and whether the same high prices could be continued as in war? It was with a nation as with an individual: if he had, for some cause, whether necessary for his credit or not, made a large anticipation of his income, he could not return to his former condition without great weakness being apparent in his resources. Another cause of this great difference in prices was, that by the system which Napoleon obliged us to adopt with respect to our colonies, we became possessed of the monopoly of the trade of Europe, and of course that monopoly raised the price of every article here, and of the value of the labour expended in its production. That system was now at an end, and of course the high prices ended with it. It had been repeatedly said, that the transition from a state of war to one of peace ought to have been over before this; but no mistake could be greater than that under which those persons laboured who entertained such an opinion. They should have recollected that it was not possible for countries on the continent of Europe to enter all at once into a competition with England, the seeds of manufacturing industry were so completely blighted every where amongst them by the long continuance of hostilities. In fact, immediately after the cessation of the war, our manufactures received an impetus rather than a depression; but gradually, as continental industry resumed its tone, we were driven to the necessity of struggling to maintain that pre-eminence which we had before uninterruptedly enjoyed. And who could now shut his eyes to the conviction that we should be obliged and compelled to regulate our prices by theirs, if peace continued and capital increased in the hands of our competitors, and machinery should be introduced amongst them, which we, even if that were desirous, had it not in our power to prevent? We should be obliged, he repeated, to regulate our prices by existing circumstances, altered as they were to our prejudice, and to abandon those which we could exact in the days of our monopoly during the war. Was it fair, then, to load the authors of the Bill of 1819—he could not say with calumnies, because no personal charges had been made against him, but—with accusations of being the causes of evil which was referable to circumstances over which neither they, nor Parliament itself, could 666 have any possible control? Even from the battle of Leipsic, from the first symptoms of the downfall of Napoleon's power, the real causes began to operate; nor were they long in operation before they exhibited their effects. It would be found, by a reference to dates, that the fall in the price of wheat, for example, was not coincident with changes in the circulation. On June 1st, 1812, for example, the price of wheat in the country was 164s. per quarter; on the 1st of July it had fallen to 141s.; on June 1st, 1813, it was 113s.; on the 1st of November, 1814, it was 76s.; and on July 1st, 1815, the quarter of wheat which in the same month in 1812, had fetched 140s. was sold for 53s. This depression was not produced by any alteration in the currency, for no alteration took place. It arose from general causes, which were then coming into operation, and the effects of which still continued. On those subjects which, he regretted to say, were but little understood, hon. Members would derive much valuable information from a perusal of the many able works which had been published in order to put political men in possession of the facts and arguments necessary to a proper knowledge of what was allowed to be so important. But he more particularly alluded to the labours of Mr. Tooke, to whose abilities and information he was happy to have an opportunity of bearing testimony. No man felt sincerer or more cordial sympathy for the landed interest than he had always entertained. From political considerations alone he should deeply lament their permanent depression, as he thought it necessary to the welfare of the State, and the proper balance of society, that those who were possessed of incomes amounting to from 1,200l. to 1,500l. a-year should be upheld in their station, and it was at all times painful to his feelings to be a spectator of their depression or decline. After the restoration of the peace, however, it was unreasonable to expect that they could maintain the old prices which had existed in times so different from the present. There was one cause of the distress now complained of by agriculturists, which was certainly beyond legislative control, and which, at the same time, appeared to him to be greatly underrated—he meant the improvement in steam navigation and the mechanism of modern machinery, which suddenly brought the bad 667 land of this country into competition with the richest land of Ireland and Scotland, which imported agricultural produce into England with a facility of conveyance unprecedented hitherto. A steam-vessel was incessantly employed in transporting the produce of the most fertile districts in the west of Ireland to Liverpool, whence it was as rapidly transmitted to Manchester, where the cargoes were immediately disposed of. In short, the effect of this introduction of Irish produce on the agricultural resources of England was precisely similar to that occasioned in the West-India islands by the annexation of the rich land of Demerara to the British Crown. The causes which he had mentioned would continue to operate, maugre all our anxiety to remove them or to neutralize their necessary effects. He had taken leave of the Currency Question, and did not intend again to resume it. The hon. Member opposite, he perceived, shook his head on his saying this; but he hoped that he would not shake it again during the Session, if the gesture was indicative of a resolution to bring the subject again under their consideration. In reply to those declaimers who had so vehemently condemned the bill of 1819, as ruinous to the country, he should not deal in counter-declamation, or answer their vague assertions and inconsequent conclusions by a similar mode of defence, but would rather confine himself to a few facts, which he submitted were quite sufficient to confute their misrepresentations. He had endeavoured to ascertain the bearing of this obnoxious measure in several of the large manufacturing districts, by inquiries into the condition of the population now, as compared with what it was at the period of its introduction. In the town of Manchester a very animated controversy, the House was probably informed, was at present going forward, as to whether the inhabitants were distressed or not; some contending that they were, and some that they were not; nor was it probable that the contest would ever know an end until circumstances should decide the question by their indisputable authority. He should, then, pass over Manchester, and likewise Liverpool and Leeds, as there were others better entitled by local knowledge to speak as to the existing state of those places than he could pretend to be, but he would select the fairest example, where he could meet the hon. Member on fair grounds, as 668 he might himself be said to represent the district to which he alluded, and could contradict him in any statement he should advance if it was incorrect or erroneous. Birmingham was the part of England he would select; and he did so more particularly, as it was the nucleus of a certain political union, which had extended its ramifications elsewhere, originating in Birmingham, he presumed, on account of the pre-eminence of suffering among the inhabitants over their fellow sufferers in distress. Most willingly would he give the hon. Member his choice of a test or criterion of prosperity, and by his own selection he should abide. His object was, to compare the circumstances of the inhabitants in 1818 with those under which they were so loudly complaining in 1830, in order to ascertain how far the bill of 1819 had operated as a cause of their depression. And first as to the population. In the year 1818, there were 18,000 premises, including warehouses, in Birmingham; whereas, in 1828, it contained no less than 22,000 inhabited houses, exclusive of warehouses. The hon. Member's arguments went to prove that the alteration in the Currency had depressed the value of property, but he was assured that there was, nevertheless, in Birmingham, a great increase in its value since the bill had been introduced. Three acres in the neighbourhood of the town had been purchased in 1827 for 600l., which were since sold for 2,426l., and ground rents, where forty years remained unexpired, were disposed of at 100 years' purchase. Land which had teen sold in 1826 at 3,500l., was bargained for in last November at 4,200l. The number of licensed traders amounted in 1820 to only 198, but might be estimated in 1829 so high as 1,150. Then with respect to the consumption of the luxuries of life, there was an increase in exactly the same ratio. The four-wheeled carriages which were charged with assessed taxes in 1819 were only 38; in 1822 they were 44; in 1824 they reached 94; in 1826 they amounted to 106; and in 1828 to 157. The hon. Member might say that four-wheeled-carriages were the vehicles of the rich, he would descend therefore to those of the poor: the number of two-wheeled-carriages in Birmingham in 1819 was 301; in 1822 321; in 1823 386; and in 1828 no less than 471; so that whether the House looked at the vehicles of the poor or those of the rich, 669 the result was equally a proof that Birmingham had increased in prosperity since 1819. Horses which were charged assessed taxes in 1819 were in number 923; in 1822 they amounted to 791, but in 1823 and 1825, when the tax was taken off, there were no means of ascertaining the progressive increase. In 1828, however, they might amount to 977. The manufacturing activity, he thought, would be best estimated by the amount of tolls on the roads in the vicinity of Birmingham; and here also the same increase was manifest; for the tolls on the Holyhead, Stourbridge, and London roads had been let, in 1822, for 1,200l. a year; but in 1829 they brought 1,767l. The tolls on the Kidderminster-road, likewise, were let, in 1820, at 1,100l. a year; whereas in 1828, they were raised to 1,655l. The tolls on the Bromsgrove and Birmingham roads let in 1822, for 1,164l.; in 1824 for 1,556l. and in 1828 for 1,722l. A like increase took place in the item of canals. The custom on the Worcester and Birmingham canal, in 1821 and 1822, averaged at 100l., and in 1828 and 1829, its relative prosperity was marked by the average of 165l., making a difference of 65 per cent. The old Birmingham canal in 1821 and 1822, averaged at 93l. and in 1828 and 1829 at 105l. These facts, in his opinion, clearly established the conclusion, that the bill of 1819 had not been productive of that overwhelming distress which was described as the consequence of its operation. Touching the subject of that night's debate, which, after all, had no very considerable share in the discussion, he could not see what they were to do with the Motion of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury, who had proposed that the House should resolve itself into a Committee to consider of the causes of that general distress complained of in the petitions, and endeavour to devise a remedy for the same. On his asking the hon. Member, at a quarter to six, what was the precise motion which he intended to bring forward, the hon. Gentleman replied, that he was too old a soldier to give him any information upon the subject. The result, however, of a fortnight's deliberation, was a motion for a committee of the whole House, instead of a Select Committee, and he thought that the hon. Member had judiciously preferred framing his Motion as he had done. But the hon. Baronet, the Member for Shoreham, had certainly not treated him well. He had not paid the 670 originator of the first Motion that deference and respect to which his zeal, assiduity, and long cogitation upon the subject had so deservedly entitled him. The Motion of the Member for Shaftesbury he considered by much the better of the two. If such distress as was described did in reality exist, it was greatly preferable that an inquiry should be conducted by a committee of the whole House, where all Members were on a fair equality, and where the public was thoroughly acquainted with their proceedings. But the hon. Baronet proposed the appointment of a committee of twenty-one Members, who were to sit and inquire by oral evidence into the extent and causes of the distress, and also to suggest a remedy. Was it possible (he put it to any dispassionate man) that such a committee, with such a subject before them, could present a satisfactory report during either this or the ensuing Session. He hoped that the House would reject both Motions, not because most of those who supported them would desire to have an alteration in the currency, but from a conviction, that if an inquiry of this nature were instituted, large classes in the country would immediately infer that a depreciation of the standard, or some measure affecting the currency, was contemplated. Certain indications of a return to prosperity were at present beginning to exhibit themselves, and he had received, no later than that very morning, letters from Manchester and Leeds, which induced him to believe that we had already reached the lowest point of depression. Hon. Members had observed, that we were entitled at this peculiar season to witness a revival of our manufactures, if the distress was not entirely irretrievable, and he concurred with them in thinking that the breaking up of the severe and long-continued frost ought to produce such an effect as they anticipated. But he feared the disease less than the remedy. The hapless fate of a patient under the joint superintendence of three physicians was adverted to in the progress of the debate, and he should entertain similar fears for the nation, whether submitted to the doctoring of 658 of the faculty, as proposed by one Gentleman, or to twenty-one as suggested by another. He did not like to trust the constitution of the country to either of those hon. Members, with their bundle of prescriptions, which only excited in him an involuntary shudder when they were 671 produced. In refusing to assent to both propositions now submitted for their adoption, they were not abandoning their duty, but acting consistently with the true interests of those whom it was intended to relieve, shunning an inquiry which would only cause fruitless anxiety and excitement, and awaken hopes that were doomed to disappointment ere they were formed.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
said, he was not a little surprised that nearly the whole speech of the right hon. Secretary was a defence of what was called his own bill, and that scarcely five minutes had been devoted by the right hon. Secretary to the discussion of the real practical question before the House. Nor had the hon. Member for Callington been behind him in steering from the subject. They had agreed in nothing but in going astray from the question under consideration. The hon. Member for Callington was particeps criminis with the right hon. Secretary in committing this offence against the proceedings of the House. The real question was, whether so much of agricultural and commercial distress prevailed in this country as would justify the House in instituting the proposed inquiry. The right hon. Secretary, and his Majesty's other Ministers said, that there was no distress at all. [Cries of "No" from all parts of the House.] [Mr. Secretary Peel said, he must beg the hon. Member's pardon: but his Majesty's Ministers said no such thing.] Well, then, the hon. Member for Bramber had said so, and the speeches of many other hon. Members had gone to the same extent. There were great contradictions on this point. The hon. Member for Bramber (Mr. Irving) said that, far from there being any distress at Coventry, the weavers there were as fresh as a bunch of their own ribands, while the hon. Member (Mr. Fyler) near him, who was in the habit of visiting these weavers, and shaking hands with them, said that their distress was great; and he was inclined to take the opinion of the hon. Member for Coventry in preference to that of the hon. Member for Bramber, who did not live at Coventry, but, he believed, in Richmond-terrace. Then, again, they were told by some hon. Members that there was no distress, or next to none, at Leeds; but in contradiction to such statements, they had the authority of an hon. Member whom he was afraid he should not describe correctly,—he meant the able, the enlightened, the accomplished Member for Newark—able 672 as a writer and as a reasoner,—striking in his eloquence,—well versed in ancient and modern learning, and accomplished in his mode of applying that learning. [The loud and general burst of laughter which followed this sentence prevented our hearing whether the hon. and learned Member finished the encomium here.] The authority of men like the worthy Member for Newark was at least better than the unopened budgets of the right hon. Secretary and the right hon. Master of the Mint. He meant to support the amendment for the appointment of a Select Committee. He thought that the country had a right to information by means of its Representatives; and he believed the best way, as well as the most usual and parliamentary way, of gaining that information, was to appoint a Select Committee. He rejected and repudiated the notion that those who voted for this Motion meant to disturb the present currency, and to substitute a paper currency. He meant no such thing; and to prevent this, and get rid of the objection on this account, let there be an instruction to the committee that they should not entertain the Currency Question. He begged to press upon the consideration of the House this mode of getting rid of the objection which induced the right hon. Secretary to oppose the Motion. A committee would at least obtain some valuable information for the House. The right hon. Secretary had alluded to several periods of distress subsequent to 1792, but in 1793 and in 1811, under the administration both of Mr. Pitt and Lord Liverpool, when distress prevailed, those Ministers proposed that committees should be appointed to inquire into the distress: with these illustrious examples before the right hon. Secretary, it was extraordinary that he should pursue a directly different course. Conceiving that the appointment of a Select Committee would be neither derogatory to the dignity of Ministers, nor imply a censure on them, while it would give satisfaction to the people, he should certainly vote for the Amendment of the hon. Baronet.
§ Mr. O'Connell
rose amidst loud cries of "Question." As soon as the hon. Member could obtain a hearing, he said that he felt he could not at that late hour do justice to his constituents, and that he begged, therefore, to move that the debate be adjourned. [Cries of "No, no."]
said, it appeared to him that this discussion might be very easily brought 673 to a close now, and that he did not think they would be consulting the public interest by devoting their time for a fourth night to a measure which caused all other business to be neglected. He had done all he could to bring on this Motion, and to have it fully discussed, and he should therefore oppose the Amendment of the hon. Member for Clare, and take the sense of the House upon it if it were necessary.
§ [After a desultory conversation on the question of adjournment between Mr. Hume, Sir E. Knatchbull, Mr. Huskisson, Mr. Davenport, and other hon. Members, the gallery was cleared for a division. While we were excluded from the gallery, we understood two divisions took place: the first on the simple question of the adjournment of the House till Monday, on which there appeared—Ayes 9; Noes 341. The second division was on the Motion, that this House do now adjourn: Ayes 12; Noes 329.
§ [An Hon. Member, as we were informed, then expressed his intention of re-dividing the House on the Motion of adjournment till Monday: upon which
said, he should be unwilling to throw any obstruction in the way of hon. Members expressing their opinions, and therefore would propose that the further discussion of the Question should stand over till Tuesday.—Ordered accordingly.