§ On the Order of the Day for resuming the Debate on the Distress of the Country being moved by Mr. Herries,
§ Mr. Huskisson
rose and spoke as follows:— Sir; I rise to request your indulgence for a very short time upon a subject personally interesting to my own character, and in which, I may add, that of this House is in some degree concerned. Every Gentleman who hears me is aware of the great exertions that are made by the daily press to give to the public the speeches made in this House, within a very few hours after they are delivered. This arduous task is executed, I believe, honestly and impartially; but from the difficulties which attend it, especially in protracted debates, it cannot be matter of surprise that inaccuracies sometimes occur in the reports. Upon ordinary occasions, I am sure that I am the last man who would trouble the House by calling your attention to any trifling inaccuracy; but, Sir, a mistake, which I find has inadvertently been made in sending forth to the world some words, purporting to have been used by me on the motion of my noble friend, respecting Portugal, is not of that immaterial character. In that Debate I spoke very late, and in the course of what I addressed to the House, after comparing the character of the present Ruler of Portugal to that of our Richard the third, I added something to this effect:—That if there should ever arise a struggle for the throne in Portugal, between the usurping uncle and his niece, the legitimate Queen, for one I should not be sorry if the issue of that struggle should complete the parallel:—that it would be something for the honour of high lineage and royal blood if a life of wickedness were closed by a death of courage. I am the more sure that I used expressions to this effect, as I followed them by stating that Don Miguel would then, at least, redeem himself in history from the character which had been given him in another place, of being cowardly because he was cruel. Now, Sir, in some Newspaper of the next morning, I am made to use the following words, "It was to be hoped that he would finish a life of infamy by a death of violence.'' Not having read the Debate, it is only very recently that I have been made acquainted with the fact of this misrepresentation. Every Gentleman must be aware that the 790 sentiment put into my mouth is calculated to convey a meaning, of all others, the most abhorrent to the feelings of an Englishman. I have some reason to apprehend that such a meaning has, some how or other, abroad, been assigned to it. I have said enough, Sir, to rescue myself from the possibility of so horrible a misconstruction, and, I think, quite enough to satisfy the House that I owed it to them, as well as to myself, to trouble you with this explanation. I am perfectly sure that, if what fell from me in the Debate to which I have alluded, could, by possibility, have conveyed such an impression to the mind of any one individual in this House, an immediate burst of indignation would have given me the opportunity of an instant disavowal; and I am equally sure, that the mistake of the Newspaper must have arisen purely from haste and inadvertency, because I cannot believe that any man, having English blood in his veins, would ascribe to another the use of expressions which might seem to imply, if not to justify, assassination.
§ It will be seen by referring to the report given of Mr. Huskisson's Speech, March 10th, in these Debates [see Part 1. vol. xxiii. page 141,] that we did not fall into the error alluded to. We were indebted to the first authority for a correct version of what was spoken by the right hon. Gentleman. Circumstances such as these give to this Collection of Debates a peculiar value, and explain why this is "the Document usually consulted by Members of Parliament." [See Commons Debate, Sir Charles Wetherell's Speech, June 10th.]
§ [The Debate on the Distress of the Country was then resumed.]
§ Mr. O'Connell
said, he felt that some apology was due from him to the House for having been one of the persons who protracted this debate beyond the third evening; but he had an apology, and a strong one, in the sense of the duty he owed his constituents, and in the conviction that the subject ought not to be disposed of without the House being made acquainted with the great and unusual distress of the people of Ireland. The Members of that kingdom constituted more than one-seventh of the whole House of Commons, but yet, with the exception of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. L. Foster) not one of them had said a word on the question. He avowed that, as he felt it his duty, so he should make it his object, to support one or other of the motions for inquiry. A plain case had been made out 791 for inquiry, which was all he demanded. Although he thought that the original Motion was the more dignified and useful, yet, if any good reason appeared for preferring the Amendment, he was prepared to vote for that. His reasons for supporting inquiry were these:—It was generally admitted that there was very great distress in England. That fact had been admitted by the right hon. Secretary of State; and it was impossible to controvert it, unless it could be proved that the petitions, greater in number than had ever before been presented to the House, were a mass of misrepresentation. It was also alleged that there was distress in Scotland; not so great as in England—but still of awful magnitude. That there was distress in Ireland was equally indisputable. Early in the Session he had made that statement. It had not since been contradicted; but, on the contrary, had been confirmed. He had declared that there was great distress in Dublin, in Cork, and in Bandon; and to these he was sorry to say that he was now able to add, in Drogheda, in Newry, and in Kilkenny. He had previously declared, and the declaration had been subsequently but too well established, that in Ireland hundreds and thousands of the people were in a state of starvation. The entire agricultural population of Ireland (and in Ireland the population was almost solely agricultural) was in the deepest distress; except in those spots in which the wheat farmers had more than usually good crops last year. The condition of the grazing counties of Ireland was such, that cattle purchased a twelvemonth ago, were sold for less than they cost, so that all the expense of their food for that period was sacrificed. The only Irish Member who had spoken in this discussion was the right hon. Member for Louth, who had been pleased to say, that although in particular instances he (Mr. O'Connell) was right in his statement of distress in Ireland, yet that the general rule was the other way. He had, however, waited in vain to hear some proofs of that assertion. The right hon. Gentleman had been seeking for information with respect to the alleged distress in Ireland. Now there were two classes of persons who sought for information: the one who sought where it was to be found, and the other who sought where it was not to be found. The right hon. Gentleman ranked among the latter. He inquired respecting the condition of 792 the people from the Receivers of the Court of Chancery. Now it was well known that in the collection of rents those receivers received only one half-year within the other. At the time, therefore, at which the right hon. Gentleman made his inquiry, they were only receiving the rents for May; and consequently could know nothing with respect to the ability of the tenants to pay the rent which had subsequently become due. They might fairly say, therefore, that there was then no arrear. But the inference which he drew from that circumstance was the reverse of that drawn from it by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman then talked of something which he called prosperity at Belfast. It turned out, however, that this supposed prosperity was founded on the fact that some persons in the county of Lowth were earning the enormous sum of 4s. a week by weaving for the Belfast manufacturers. What was the case, however, at Drogheda, and at Newry? From Drogheda he (Mr. O'Connell) had presented a petition, declaring that out of 16,000 persons, 8,000 were destitute of the means of subsistence. In Newry also the distress was, to his knowledge, extensive. It was thus clear, that there was great distress in England—that there was great distress in Ireland—that there was great distress in Scotland. He called on the House to inquire into that distress. He must not be told that a Committee had been already appointed to inquire into the state of Ireland. The Committee appointed was only to inquire into the condition of the Irish paupers—not to investigate the general distress of the country—not to ascertain how the property of the industrious classes had been taken from them by an enhancement of the value of the currency, and by other causes. The pauper class, however, was not the only class which required relief; Ireland did not want hospitals and workhouses. The class that never begged was now demanding assistance. The industrious classes require to be relieved from the pressure that weighed them to the earth. The national energies wanted full play, and how were they to receive this—how were the burthens to be removed successfully if the House refused to inquire into their effects. The character of the present distress in Ireland was this:—On former occasions, when the artisans and manufacturers of that country were distressed, and especially when that sickly exotic, 793 the silk manufacture, was distressed, abundant funds were collected by public benevolence for the purpose of affording relief. In the present year, however, instead of as formerly collecting 15,000l., 16,000l., or 20,000l. in Dublin, the whole sum collected was 3,500l., of which the Lord Lieutenant had contributed 500l. This was a proof that the distress was of a character which stopped the sources of charity, and prevented the benevolent from rendering their benevolence available. This was a new feature in the state of Ireland. Under all these circumstances, the people had a right to ask the House to endeavour to relieve them. For what purpose were they sent there? Not merely to vote large sums of money for the maintenance of our Army and Navy. If they were unable to inquire into the distresses of the people, why did they not abdicate a post to which they acknowledged themselves incompetent? It was a confession of their deficiency either in intellect or in honesty. Now he by no means wished to calumniate the House. He was sure that no persons in that House would abstain from affording relief to the people if they knew how to afford it. He was sure that neither those who delighted in the name of Whigs, nor those who thought themselves honoured by the appellation of Tories, nor the small and sacred band of Radical Reformers, to which he boasted of belonging, were deficient in inclination to relieve distress. But was it not proper that an inquiry should be entered into to ascertain how far that general inclination could be gratified. If it were impossible to relieve the people, at least let them not be disappointed of the hoped-for inquiry. The refusal to enter into an inquiry into the distresses of the people afforded a striking contrast to the manner in which the French Parliament had recently behaved under similar circumstances. In their answer to the speech with which the King opened the Sessions, that illustrious assembly, which had since had the honour conferred on it of being prorogued because it had declared its determination to vindicate its independence, thus expressed itself; "The reduction of the public revenue which your Majesty has announced is a symptom of an afflicting nature; we shall do all in our power to investigate the cause of the distress which it announces." This was a specimen of the real representation of the people which existed in France; a repre- 794 sentation connected with no oligarchy— with none of those higher, those towering stems, which were secure from the storms that blew on the humble shrub and withered it in its lowliness. But surely it ought not to be said that the gentlemen of England, of Ireland, and of Scotland were not equally willing to inquire what relief could be given to the distressed population of their own countries? Would they abstain from all efforts, and wait patiently on the strand until the tide should come in and float the grounded vessels? Would they leave that to chance which ought to be subjected to the dominion of an over-ruling intelligence? The proposition for inquiry had been resisted on various grounds. In the first place, the Vice-president of the Board of Trade said, that Government had already afforded the people relief by taking off taxation. He could not, however, concur in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman that that was a sufficient relief. Three millions of taxes were to be taken off the people of England; but then they were not to be taken off until October. It was an odd species of relief to tell the sufferers that if they survived until the month of October they should then drink beer cheap. So much for the people of England; but what was to be said to the people of Ireland? From the taxation of the people of Ireland the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken off 30,000l., or 40,000l., in the shape of Leather duty. It was well done; and as far as it went he was grateful for it; but then the right hon. Gentleman had added 110,000l. on Stamps, and 20,000l., or 30,000l. on Spirits. If, therefore, the Vice-president of the Board of Trade's principle, that to diminish the taxation of the people of England was to diminish their distress, was a good principle, it followed that to increase the taxation of the people of Ireland was to increase their distress. The people of Ireland found it impracticable to bear their present weight of distress; and to make them go more easily, it was proposed to make them carry double. An admirable plan! Let it be remembered, however, that it was not an Irish Parliament which had voted this kind of relief. His countrymen did not blunder practically in that way, nor fancy they relieved the people by increasing their burthens. They were said to be of such a happy temperament, that they laughed at distress; the right hon. Gentleman seemed determined that they 795 should have enough to laugh at. The hon. Member for Newark, whose talents he respected, and whom he was sorry to hear ridiculed by an hon. Gentleman opposite, had denounced the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman on that subject. He would not use so strong a word as denounce; but he would proclaim that to diminish the distress of England by diminishing the taxation, while we increased the distress of Ireland by increasing the taxation, was a measure of which the Irish people had just cause loudly to complain. It had been said in that House that Ireland was not taxed so much as she ought to be, in proportion to England. That he denied. Calculating the rental of both countries, he maintained that Ireland, even in paying the four millions which she did pay, was burthened with more than her proportion. Let it be recollected that from four to seven millions of her rental were spent out of the country. Let it be recollected that she was taxed above a million annually by Grand Jury Presentments and Vestry Cesses. Did he want to abolish taxation in Ireland? No. What he wanted was inquiry. And was that to be refused, lest its results might be unpleasant to this country, though it would be salutary to Ireland? The principal opposition which the Motion had met with was from the Secretary of State for the Home Department. His speech was luminous—the talents of the right hon. Gentleman of course rendered it so; but it was also humorous. If there were misery without, there was certainly merriment within doors, and sorry was he to say, that the misery of Ireland had been considered a fit subject for mirth in that House. The spectacle had been presented at one and the same time of perishing; artisans and labourers, a facetious Privy Councillor, and a laughing Legislature. For his own part, that which entertained others, filled him with sorrow. He should have preferred hearing the people told, that they should not receive relief, even that no inquiry should be made into the cause of their distress, in the sepulchral tones of the undertaker, rather than with a merriment of manner fit for another stage. After a triumphant reply on the part of the right hon. Secretary of State to the hon. Member for Liverpool, he placed the objections to the Motion on two grounds—grounds, indeed, which had been over and over again repeated in the course of the Debate. The first was, the fear lest the inquiry 796 might be suffered to unsettle the principles of Free Trade; the second was, the fear lest it should compromise the eternal fixity of the Currency. For his part, he thought that we had not enough of either of these matters; that we had not enough of Free Trade, and that we had not enough of Currency. The Vice-president of the Board of Trade, in advocating the principles of Free Trade, had said very justly that it was the interest of every country to buy wherever it could obtain a commodity at the cheapest rate. True. But why did the right hon. Gentleman forget corn? What article was there which it was so desirable the people should buy cheaply as bread? To talk of the principles of Free Trade, and to maintain the Corn Laws, was absurd and inconsistent. What reason could the right hon. Gentleman give for taxing the hon. Member for Newark with inconsistency, when he himself advocated the principles of Free Trade; and yet, before he sat down, interposed his shield between the Corn Laws and abolition? Then came a gallant officer, who talked of the advantages of low wages and low prices. But to be advantageous they must be universal. Let the gallant officer repair to the levee-room of an illustrious Field Marshal in full pay, and talk to him of the advantage of low wages. It was a little too much to tell the poor of the advantages of low wages, when they were starving upon them. The gallant officer might find that the commendation of low wages was not always so safe a doctrine as it was in the House of Commons. When that gallant officer led his columns against the enemy, no man could do his duty more bravely or better. But if the gallant officer were to draw up his regiment in a hollow square, and talk to the soldiers of the advantage of low wages, it was not very likely that he would produce conviction, though he might mutiny. The people would feel deeply and long any haughty refusal to go into an inquiry with a view to ascertain how far it might be practicable to relieve them. With respect to Free Trade, therefore, it appeared that if there was any difference between himself and the opponents of the Motion, it was that they thought that those principles had been carried far enough, and that he did not think so. He pressed those principles as a reason for inquiry. He wished it to be ascertained whether an extension of the principles of Free Trade might not alleviate 797 the distress of the people. Then it was said that the currency was fixed and settled, and could not be altered. He utterly denied that the currency was settled. In fact, it was anything but settled. There was one kind of currency in England, another kind in Scotland, and a third kind in Ireland. There was one banking system in England, another in Scotland, and a third in Ireland. With these three variations, to tell the people that the currency was fixed and settled, was to tell them that at which they would laugh. It might be right that the currency should be fixed; but in order to fix it they ought to go into an inquiry to ascertain which of the three systems was the best. Let him not be accused of a disposition to run into a wilderness of worthless rags: he wished for no such thing; but he called on the House to deliberate on the present state of the currency. Some hon. Gentlemen had talked of the spoliation which would ensue, if, after eleven years, an alteration were made in all the bargains concluded in that time, by introducing a change in the circulating medium. The reasoning of these hon. Gentlemen was good, but their premises were false. With equal justice might it be asserted by other hon. Gentlemen, with reference to England and Scotland, as he asserted with reference to Ireland, that the change of a paper currency into a gold currency had violated all the contracts which had been made since 1797, as all those contracts had been made in a paper currency. For want of some accurate solution of the important problems of the currency, many classes had already been deprived of their property—and in particular one class in Ireland, in behalf of which he desired to say a few words. Since he had been in that House, he had several times heard the middle-men in Ireland traduced. He was quite prepared, however, to stand up in their defence. They mitigated the evils of absenteeism; they gave employment to the labouring poor. In the year 1798 they formed the yeomanry cavalry of Ireland, and prevented the Revolution of France from spreading to that country. If it had so spread, what, he would ask, would now have been the value of the English funds and of English property? What was the consequence to those individuals of the change which had taken place in the currency?—That they, the most industrious members of the community, who had laid 798 out their property in various ways for the improvement of the land, were robbed and deprived of the advantages to which they were entitled, which advantages were given to persons who were not entitled to them. By that change in the currency, the Clergy (whose emoluments were settled by no fewer than five Tithe Composition Acts) were in many cases in Ireland receiving a fifth where they ought only to receive a tenth. The difficulties of what was called equitable adjustment had, he thought, been exaggerated; at least, he denied that in Ireland the complication which was said to be a good reason for not attempting it was as great as had been supposed. He was thoroughly convinced that much misery had been occasioned in Ireland by the change which had already taken place; and it was surely desirable to inquire whether that misery might not be alleviated by another change. Let the first instruction to the Committee be, to report upon the Banking-system. The right hon. Secretary had gone back to 1793, to show that distress was not caused by his bill, but at that time and at other periods of distress, the people had been relieved by an issue of Exchequer Bills. Why then was that not done at present, or an inquiry instituted to prove that it was not necessary. The country was told, indeed, that the recent law on the currency would be useful to future generations, though it inflicted present evils; but, for his part, he must confess that he disliked these experiments upon human nature. What was this but the Jacobinical arguments used in the French Revolution—what signified 20,000 heads, or making 20,000 widows and orphans, if the sacrifice had the prospect of making a millenium for the next generation? All he argued for was inquiry, and no changes that were not the result of mature deliberation. The people were not to be told that the legislature had nothing to give them but speeches for three or four nights, the objects of which were to delude them. He entreated the House not to grope about like children in the dark, but to seize the torch of truth, and light it with the flame of patriotism, and he had no doubt that its blaze would direct attention to something advantageous to the country.
§ Sir H. Vivian
said, that he had been completely misunderstood by the hon. Member for Clare. He never uttered a word about low wages; and of course never argued in favour of them. What 799 he said was, that in consequence of low prices our manufacturers would be better able to compete with foreigners, and the people would have a better chance of getting employment. With respect to what the hon. Member had said about the army, he was sure that they would always be ready to make sacrifices, in common with the rest of his Majesty's subjects.
§ Mr. O'Connell
admitted that the gallant officer spoke only of "low prices;" but the necessary consequence of low prices, he thought, was low wages.
Lord F. L. Gower
said, that he would confine the few observations he had to make almost exclusively to Ireland, with a view to reply to the statements of the hon. Member for Clare. When that hon. Member found that the usual supporters of the side of the House on which he sat were shrinking from so general an investigation as was proposed by this Motion, and when he found that there was a disposition not to make the state of England a subject of inquiry; he dexterously shifted his ground, and made the vast distress which prevailed in Ireland the reason for demanding inquiry. That severe distress prevailed in many towns in that country he admitted; but the House must recollect, that a committee was sitting up stairs, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman was a Member, to devise the means of alleviating that distress. The whole question therefore, as respected Ireland, was virtually and practically disposed of. If the hon. Member for Clare meant to assert that the distress which now existed in Ireland was greater than that which prevailed at any former period of the history of that country, he (Lord Gower), with every respect for that hon. Member, would beg leave to deny that assertion. He did not understand that there was such an outcry in Ireland now, as to the non-payment of rents, which was heard throughout this country, and that circumstance he took to be a proof that the agricultural interests in Ireland were not suffering as severely now as in former times. In fact, he believed that at no former period were the rents of Irish landlords more punctually paid, or more likely to be so, than at present, and he would ask whether that was evidence of the existence of agricultural distress in Ireland? With regard to the commerce of Ireland, he 800 believed that not only in the centre of business, Dublin, but that in north and east, in west and south, according to what he had heard, the commercial interests of Ireland were advancing towards prosperity. The noble Lord proceeded to illustrate the progress which the commerce of Ireland had made within the last few years, by a reference to the increased commercial intercourse which the power of steam had created between that country and England. It was his fortune to pay a visit to Ireland for the first time in 1820, and from that time forward he had felt an interest in the welfare of that country —which was then manifested, perhaps, with an idle and boyish zeal—but which it had since become his duty to entertain as a salaried officer of the Crown, and which, he would venture to say, would never be extinguished in his breast, even if it should please the Crown to discontinue his salary. He well remembered that but very few steam-vessels then sailed between England and Ireland. Government, which was always more slow to adopt improvements than individuals, had not then engaged steam boats to carry the mail, and the consequence was, that while the vessel in which he was embarked, moved like a thing instinct with life, the Government packet, it being a calm, lay like a dying whale on the deep, flapping the air with its sails, but moving not. There were now thirty-five steam-vessels engaged in the trade of Dublin alone— seventeen of these were employed in the trade between Dublin and Liverpool—the total tonnage of which amounted to 512 tons, and which brought into action 2,960-horse power. There was a curious fact in reference to this subject, which he would mention, and to which he invited the attention of the gallant Member for Liverpool. From the year 1824 to the year 1830, the number of voyages performed by these vessels between Dublin and Liverpool amounted, according to a return which he held in his hand, to 2,017, the number of cabin passengers from England to Ireland during that period was 12,771, and the number of cabin passengers from Dublin to England 14,388, leaving a balance of 1617 more of cabin passengers coming from Ireland than proceeding thereto. Now with regard to the deck passengers—those whom the gallant Member for Liverpool looked upon as paupers—he had a curious fact to 801 mention. The number of deck passengers that left Liverpool for Ireland during that period was 37,970, and the number from Ireland to Liverpool was 16,625, leaving a balance of passengers for Ireland to the amount of 21,345. He left the gallant Member for Liverpool to draw his own conclusion from that fact. With regard to the extraordinary facilities which steam navigation had afforded for the transport of cattle and other produce from Ireland, he should mention a fact stated in a Liverpool paper, as to the transport of cattle from the west of Ireland—from Ballinasloe to Liverpool. In a Liverpool paper of the 1st of March, it was stated, that twenty-nine head of cattle, which had been shipped on board a steamer in Shannon Harbour on the 24th of February, were landed at the Brunswick Dock, Liverpool, on the day before, and from the time they were shipped on board, in Shannon Harbour, till they reached Liverpool, not one of these cattle had touched ground. Here was a decisive proof of the increased improvement not only in the external, but in the internal commerce of Ireland. Those who argued so strenuously for the distress of Ireland ought to take into the account these indications of increasing prosperity. He would leave Ireland to exert her own energies, and suffer the great measure recently passed to work its effects, for Catholic Emancipation he maintained to be the moral panacea of that country. One of the first results of that measure he anticipated would be an influx of British capital into Ireland, and he had not been disappointed. In 1824, when the hopes of Catholic Emancipation had been raised to the highest pitch, there had been a considerable inclination in British capitalists to invest their capital in Irish securities. In May 1825, Lord Liverpool's speech had dashed the hopes of the Catholics to the ground, and immediately afterwards he had found British Companies absolutely refusing to advance any money upon Irish securities. At present advances were making to the full extent that they had been made in 1824. If the inquiry were to be refused in reference to England, he had stated these facts to show that there were no grounds for instituting such an inquiry in regard to Ireland.
§ Mr. Beaumont
said, that he differed entirely from the noble Lord who had just addressed the House as to the utility of an 802 inquiry, but he preferred the Amendment of the hon. Baronet for a Select Committee, to the original Motion for a Committee of the whole House. He considered an inquiry into the distressed state of the country absolutely necessary. But that distress he believed to be general throughout the country. He did not know upon what principle support could be given to the Government from that side of the House upon this Question. Was it on account of the existence of a confidence in the Government? He had not heard any hon. Gentleman near him express a confidence in Government for what had been done, but what left regret that more had not been accomplished. If the Motion were carried it would convey, it was said, a direct censure upon his Majesty's Ministers; and as they seemed to discourage the statements of distress from either side of the House, he must confess that, in his opinion, they did not believe that the distress existed to the extent that had been stated. When it was said that they ought to have confidence in the Ministers he was surprised that no one on that (the Opposition) side of the House had risen to say, that everything that could be done by them for the relief of the people had been done. It was because he did not feel this to be the case, and that he wanted confidence in the Administration, that he should vote for the Select Committee. He regretted that the best argument against turning the present Ministry out was, that they did not know where they could get a better; but the question was not whether this Administration was better than the last, but whether it was one suited to the spirit of the times? and for his own part, he thought that the present Government had not abilities for times like the present. A very good reason for not placing confidence in the Ministers was, because they said that they could not see the present distress. To him it was evident that there was something wrong in the machinery of Government, or Ministers would feel it to be their duty to face a case which was confirmed to them on every side. Parliament might go on siding with the views of Government, but the end of it must be, that the people would come to the conclusion—not that the distress was beyond the control of Parliament — but that Parliament was within the control of Government. The remedy for the distress 803 was quite within the reach of the legislature. Taxation was the great grievance, and that was within legislative control. He should therefore vote for inquiry. The remedy consisted simply in a great reduction of the taxation which pressed so heavily at present upon the country. He would have the taxation and the expenditure of the country reduced to the lowest possible scale consistent with the due maintenance of the service of the country, and if that did not relieve the distress, he should then tell the fund-holder that he should share with us in the diminution of his revenues. The people were losing confidence in the Government; a revolutionary spirit was becoming general at home, while abroad the country was sinking into disgrace and discredit, which made him think that the House ought to enter into the proposed investigation.
§ Mr. W. Peel
said, that he did not deny, and the Government did not deny, that distress existed in the country; but he was of opinion that no good whatever would result from the proposed inquiry. He could not help thinking that a great deal of time had been already wasted in the course of the debate as to the question of the degree of the distress. If a ship were in distress, it would be very odd for the sailors, instead of taking steps for its preservation, to set about calculating what was the quantum of danger by which they were surrounded. As it appeared to him, these were not points on which it was for the Government to contend. They were rather to come down to the House, and propose such remedies as seemed to them most effectual. The Government had already shown every disposition to do all in their power to relieve the distress by the remission of taxation, and they should be allowed to proceed in the good work of reduction and retrenchment. There were some Gentlemen who appeared willing to attribute the present state of the country to the measure of 1819, but he could not agree with them. The hon. Member for Callington had said, that a sovereign now would go as far as two then; but if the hon. Gentleman contrived thus with his sovereigns, he certainly could do much more than other people. It was said by an hon. Member, that England had never been so degraded in the eyes of Europe as during the administration of the Duke of Wellington, and that Englishmen never 804 met with so much insult abroad. For his own part, he so far wished that this was the case as to drive back to this country the hundreds and thousands who were spending abroad those incomes which they drew from this country, and only for the purpose of making themselves ridiculous by apeing those manners which they could not imitate. He therefore wished that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would add a million to his Budget by laying a tax on this property. The hon. Member opposite had every right to withdraw his confidence from the Government if he thought fit, but he had no right to say that the Government did not possess the confidence of the country. The fact was quite the reverse. He thought, also, that attributing a revolutionary spirit to the people was not only not. true, but that it was unjust towards Englishmen to attribute such a feeling to them. As he believed that the distress was not universal, as had been represented, so he was of opinion that what there was of distress would soon be got over, and the country would become as flourishing as ever.
§ Mr. Beaumont
explained that he had not said that the Government had lost, but that it was losing the confidence of the country.
§ Sir Thomas Gooch
was fully impressed with the conviction that great distress existed in the country, but he thought this Motion for inquiry, if successful, would be productive of no practical good. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had already done much, but he hoped Ministers would redeem the pledge which they had given by doing much more hereafter in the way of remission of taxation. He thought it absolutely necessary that a very great reduction should be made in the taxation which pressed upon the productive classes of the country, who were now principally suffering under the prevailing distress. He should vote against the proposed committee, because he saw no good likely to follow from it. The subjects of inquiry proposed were so multifarious, that the country would be ruined, or relief would come of itself, before that committee could make its report. He conceived that there should he a revision of our system of taxation—that those taxes should be removed which bore principally upon the productive classes of society, and the deficiency supplied by the imposition of a modified property tax. He thought that by 805 a well-regulated and modified property-tax, to the extent of five per cent, we might be able to raise 5,000,000l. annually, and that we could in that way afford a reduction to that amount in the taxes that peculiarly pressed upon the productive classes of society in this country.
The Marquis of Blandford
said, that he could not refuse to give his assent to a Motion, of which the object was, to inquire into the condition of the productive classes of society, with a view of affording them some relief from the distress which at present was pressing them to the earth. He would briefly point out to the House the course which he thought Ministers ought to pursue in the present crisis of the country. They ought to remove at once from 10,000,000l. to 12,000,000l. of taxation, and to accompany that removal by a considerable reduction of expenditure. They ought to abolish all sinecures, pensions, and useless places. They ought to modify the taxes, which they left upon the country, and for that purpose he would have no objection to concede to them a tax upon all descriptions of capital. If they would not acquiesce in this willingly, they would, ere long, find a spirit excited in the country which would compel them to do it, however reluctantly. There was at present, he was sorry to say it, but little sympathy between the representative and the constituent body. It was in vain for the people to waste their time in petitioning; either House of Parliament: let them, therefore, respectfully, but firmly, pour in their addresses to the Throne from all parts of the country, stating that they could no longer endure in patience the sufferings which overwhelmed them. Then perhaps their grievances would be redressed and the Constitution regenerated. In his view he would say, adopting the language of Lord Chatham, "the present is a perilous and tremendous moment. Flattery cannot save us in this awful crisis. It is now necessary to instruct the Throne in the language of truth; we must if possible dispel the darkness and delusion which envelope it, and display in its true light and genuine colours, the ruin which is brought to our doors."
declared his intention of voting against the proposition for a committee, because he was convinced that the granting of a committee would not relieve the distress which he acknowledged to exist 806 in the country. After the speech made by the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department on a former evening, it would be unfair not to admit that Government had taken a correct view of the extent of that distress. He was convinced that, at present, Ministers were pursuing a right course; and if he differed from them at all, it was as to the extent to which they thought it expedient to go. He thought that the country had a right to demand a greater reduction of taxation than had hitherto been made, and also a greater reduction of expenditure. In the salaries paid to our ambassadors there was great room for retrenchment; and he thought that we should be only acting with wisdom if we imitated the frugal example which had been set to us by other nations in that respect. He should certainly vole against the Motion of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury.
§ General Gascoyne
supported the Motion for a committee, and in reply to the observations of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, contended that whatever might be the case in Liverpool, there was in the districts which ranged within a few miles around it, greater distress than in any Other portion of the United Kingdom. Indeed, he could not help wondering at the language employed on this subject by the supporters of Ministers. To judge from their speeches, there was no distress in the country; but unfortunately for their veracity, the Ministers themselves admitted the distress of the country to be the main cause of the defalcation in the last year's Revenue. Besides, the recent proposal to repeal taxes was an indication that Ministers were at last becoming sensible to the existence, if not to the extent, of the distress. He was surprised to hear an hon. friend of his, (Sir Thomas Gooch) who some years ago had proposed an inquiry in its nature precisely similar to the present, rise up to make a speech in opposition to this Motion. The simple question then before the House was, whether the numberless petitions presented from the people were worthy of consideration, and if they were not, why were the people ever allowed to petition at all. To refuse inquiry was to tell them their complaints were of no consequence. He trusted that the people would not forget the votes which might be given that night. He trusted that those Members who now showed them- 807 selves callous to the sufferings of their fellow-countrymen, and who denied that those sufferings required to be relieved, would meet with retribution for such conduct when least they expected it. In the hope that the vote of every Member upon this Motion would hereafter gain full publicity, he would not torment the House and himself by making a longer speech, but would conclude by giving his support to the Motion for going into a committee upon the state of the country.
Sir F. Burdett
, [who had risen with several of the preceding Members, but had never been able to attract the notice of the Speaker,] then proceeded to explain the reasons which induced him to give a vote in opposition, he said, to that of several of his hon. friends with whom he usually acted. He thought that his hon. friend, the Member for Shaftesbury, was entitled to the thanks of the country for bringing this matter so distinctly under the consideration of parliament. It was impossible that a mass of Petitions, complaining so bitterly of distress, could be left unnoticed on the Table of the House of Commons; and though they referred to a subject of magnitude sufficient to deter many persons from bringing it forward, still such was the patriotism of his hon. friend, that he had not shrunk from the task of undertaking it. He had paid great attention to the course which this debate had taken, and he was now compelled to say, that his mind was confirmed as to the necessity of complying with the prayer of these petitions, not merely by the arguments of those who spoke in favour of his hon. friend's Motion, but also by the arguments of those who spoke against it. He could not concur with his noble friend, the Member for Northamptonshire, that it was any reason for not granting" this committee to the prayers of the people of England, that the vote of the House of Commons in favour of such a proposition might be construed into a vote of censure against the Cabinet. He did not think that there was any reason in the other notion of his noble friend, that if such a committee were granted, it would end in being a delusion on the public. If there were any truth in that argument, then all the functions of that House must in future be considered as a mere delusion upon the public. As to the distress of the country, it appeared to be at length admitted in some degree by the Ministers, but still it was 808 admitted in so slight a degree as to render the admission an aggravation to those who were suffering under its overwhelming severity. With respect to the letters which had been read, with a view of diminishing its extent, he had observed that no Member who represented a populous place had been able to get up and to declare it to be the opinion of his constituents that they were not in a slate of suffering. As far as the topics derived from those letters went, they had received a decisive answer from the hon. Member for Newark. Was it in the House of Commons that these private communications could be considered as a satisfactory contradiction to the statements embodied in petitions sent up to them by vast masses of the people? Was it likely that the people would see with patience their statements subverted by letters, which at best contained but the opinions of individuals? At an early period of the debate, his hon. and gallant friend, the Member for Windsor, had, in his very excellent and eloquent-speech, admitted that there was great suffering in the country, arising from the great depreciation of prices; "but," said his hon. and gallant friend, in continuation of his argument, "is it possible for this country, whilst it carries on intercourse with foreign nations, to maintain the high prices which it procured during the war?" Now he should answer that question by another, and that other would be simply this—"Why is it not possible?" The impossibility was a point which the other side took at once for granted, whereas his opinion was that the very reverse of the conclusion at which they arrived respecting the impossibility of maintaining high prices was the correct conclusion. It was with this country a question of high and of low prices. If high prices could be maintained, the country would be relieved; and it therefore ought to be clearly shown that high prices could not be had, and if had, could not be maintained, before a negative was given to the Motion for the appointment of this committee. He was as much surprised as the gallant Member for Liverpool at the avowal of his hon. friend the Member for Suffolk. That hon. Member had in the year 1822, brought forward a motion exactly similar to the Motion which he was now opposing. He had then said that the curses of the people ought to fall on the head of every man who refused to consider the remedies for 809 their distresses. If that were true in 1822, it was still more true in the present year,— if the curses of the people ought to have fallen heavily at that time on the heads of those who were then callous to their sufferings, they ought to fall on such persons still more heavily now; for the distress which prevailed now was far more general than the distress which prevailed then. In 1822 there was only agricultural distress. At that time the agriculturists fancied that their distress could be relieved though the distress of the other classes of the community remained unmitigated. Since that time agriculturists, manufacturers, merchants, ship-owners, in short, all classes had found out that they were all embarked in one bottom, and that they must sink or swim together. It was therefore worth inquiring whether there was any thing in the argument, whether it was or was not possible to return to and maintain high prices; for if that inquiry should lead to a result opposite to that which had been so readily taken for granted by his hon. and gallant friend, the Member for Windsor, then, without any other proceeding, the distress of the country might be relieved. In the year 1822 his hon. friend, the Member for Suffolk, had obtained relief for the class whose interests he represented; but how? by an issue of 1l. notes.— It might therefore be worth inquiring how far a similar expedient might produce a similar result at the present moment. The right hon. Secretary for the Home Department had made a very long, but not a very conclusive, speech upon this subject. He by no means answered the constitutional speech of the hon. Member, as he had almost called him, for Birmingham, but "by that all hail, hereafter." The right hon. Secretary had dealt in a multifarious mass of details, and enveloping himself in their obscurity escaped from the great constitutional points with which the hon. Member for Callington had so hardly beset him. The hon. Member for Callington had proved, beyond all contradiction, that if the House should, by its vote of that night, determine to abandon this inquiry, it would be guilty of an abandonment of its most important functions—it would sink to the level of an assembly formed for no other purpose than to register the edicts of the Ministry—it would become powerful for that purpose only, but would be impotent to relieve or remedy the distresses of the people. How- 810 ever satisfactory the reasons for coming to such a vote might appear in that House, they would be deemed most unsatisfactory out of it, and he therefore trusted that hon. Gentlemen would pause before they came to such a degrading resolution. The right hon. Secretary, in the course of his speech, had advocated a variety of mistaken principles and fallacious doctrines. He had said that he had a chart before him. It was certain that the right hon. Gentleman had a sea of distress before him. Whether he had a chart of it he could not say, but sure he was that the right hon. Gentleman was without a meridian line to direct his course. He was like a ship in a stormy ocean without rudder and without compass, driving about with every wind, and yet endeavouring with every shattered remnant of sail to keep out in that sea' of trouble into which he ought never to have launched. That was in itself an alarming slate of things, and rendered still more so by the conduct of another Minister in another place. When he heard that Minister stating, and showing by his statement, such a total unacquaintance with a subject of such vital importance to the country, that our currency and circulation were as great now as they ever were, at the same time that he supposed them not to amount to more than 28,000,000l.—when he heard that Minister moving for documents to prove that with a circulation of 28,000,000l. there was now a larger circulation than that which we had when we forced so large an issue of paper that not a single piece of gold could circulate with it,—when he heard absurdities so palpable on their very enunciation gravely submitted to, and admitted as correct, by the oilier branch of the Legislature, he thought that it became the House—indeed, that it was high time for the House—to step between the country and a Minister who entertained such erroneous and such mischievous notions. The right hon. Secretary for the Home Department said, that he had read a number of able writers on this subject, who, if a committee were granted, must all be examined before it. Gentlemen might perhaps read too much; and he recollected that old Hobbes, when asked, after spending an evening with several learned men, what he thought of them? replied, "If I had read as much as they have I should be as great a fool as any of them." If Mr. Tooke, for instance, were selected as a 811 guide, he maintained that money prices did not depend upon money, and he had collected a vast number of facts from which it was not only impossible to arrive at any conclusion, but to establish any principle. He would recommend to hon. Gentlemen to read one short essay of David Hume on the subject, and they would obtain clearer ideas respecting it than if they had the meridian line of the right hon. Gentleman to direct their course, and to guide them through the difficulties of the Question. The right hon. Gentleman said, that money had nothing to do with this Question; that there was distress in 1810 and in 1816, whereas the measure which was referred to as the cause of the present distress took place in 1819. But it was an error to deduce general conclusions from particular facts. he had conversed that morning with two intelligent persons from Birmingham, Messrs. Hadley and Spooner, both practically connected with these periods, upon this very point; and they remarked that the cause of the distress in 1810 was, that the Bank had pushed its issues too far, and suddenly contracted them, and to save itself ruined the bankers. Again, in 1816, before the birth of the adopted child of the right hon. Gentleman, its coming existencé was foreseen and foretasted by the country; in 1815 it was known that there would be a return to cash payments. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) had spoken of the nation as of a patient subjected to a system of doctoring; and, speaking of the proposed committee, that he was more afraid of the doctor than of the disease; but mutato nomine, the remark applied to the right hon. Gentleman himself—he was the doctor who had crammed down the throat of the country that empirical remedy, his fatal bill of 1819, and who had only one nostrum for all diseases, and that was, gold. Subsequently to that measure, there was a motion for a committee, by the hon. Member for Suffolk, which was obtained, and a partial relief was procured for the existing distress by the issue of 1l. notes. This was after the experiment had been only a short time tried. So that this was no new or theoretical complaint—there was experience as well as reason against the bill; but after the system had been altered and altered, it was now said, "we will never alter again." After the first, second, third, and he believed a fourth change, this experiment, this experimentum crucis, 812 might be applied to the country. It was therefore a fallacy in the right hon. Gentleman's argument, that the system had been going on for eleven years, He denied that it had been settled for eleven months. In spite of this metallic currency—this god of idolatry—this golden idol, which the nation was ready to worship, as besotted as the Israelites who set up their calf in Horeb, the public prosperity was below the standard of 1812, 1813, and 1814. Even during the profligate expenditure of the war, and profligate as were the ministers of that day, and confiding as was the House of Commons then, the country was in a more flourishing state than now. The measure of 1797 was one which, in the then state of things, had saved the country. Every thing settled itself to that state; and the industry and enterprise of the country were so great, that they produced more than sufficed for the expenditure of the war; and at the end of it, to the utter astonishment of those who had opposed the war, the country, so far from deteriorating, never was in a state of greater prosperity, fictitious prosperity as it was called, than in the last year of that protracted war. He was no friend to taxation—on the contrary, he thought needless taxation only extortion; but it was a mere farce to pretend that taxation was the cause of the evils now endured. At that time the taxation had reached a greater height than at present, and though he did not mean to say that it did not press with weight upon the strength of every individual, so as to retard the advance of the country to prosperity, it was idle to say, comparing taxation then with taxation now, that this was the sole cause of our disability. According to the right hon. Gentleman, a continuance of peace was the calamity— nunc patimur longæ pacis mala; but let the House go into a committee, and he would find men well versed in the affairs of business and trade to tell a very different story. He would produce two witnesses from Birmingham who, notwithstanding all that the right hon. Gentleman had said about gigs and railways, would contradict him on the flourishing state of that town, and would fully confirm all that had been advanced by a noble Duke in another place. The right hon. Gentleman might say, "returning were as tedious as to go o'er;" but he evinced a non-acquaintance with the great concerns and interests of the country, and 813 what would promote them, and he was convinced that if a committee of inquiry were to look into all the parts of the flattering picture which the right hon. Gentleman had drawn, it would be found false and hollow. He did not mean to say that the country might not still go on; it might go on till it reached destruction; he would say as Lord Chatham said, in the American war, looking at a list of generals, "I do not know whether it will affect the enemy, but it makes me tremble." It was said that we ought to be grateful to Ministers for the relief they had afforded; but gratitude was not a word to be used towards Ministers, especially when they had done no more than their duty, and which they were well rewarded for doing. He for one could not consent to compliment away the national prosperity lest the vote should imply a censure on Ministers. This was a question in which the public interests were at issue: when the salus populi authorised the Commons to interfere for the suprema lex, it involved the prosperity of all classes in the country, who were suffering from distress, all except placemen, pensioners, and public annuitants. If the House meant to stifle inquiry, they would be sacrificing the landed interest, the shipping interest, and the commercial interest, to the public creditor, to placemen and pensioners. He (Sir F. Burdett) was for sacrificing much, and thought that ample justice should be done to all; but the House should not be so fooled by words as to submit to be called cheats and robbers merely because they would have debts paid in the money in which they were contracted. He (Sir F. Burdett) had the highest authority, that of Lord Eldon, whose opinion on matters of equity and law he apprehended was indisputable, that there was no dishonesty in paying debts in the same money in which they were contracted. It appeared from a little pamphlet signed "Merchantman," that the debt contracted since 1793 amounted to 765,537,000l. for which we had received only 509,456,000l., or 66l. per cent, and, if the depreciation of the currency, estimated at sixteen per cent, were taken into account, we had not received more than 57l. per cent, for which we were now called upon to, pay 100l. They did not want reasonings, then; here were facts. We had received only 57l. and he did not comprehend the justice of the right boa, Secretary compelling us by his bill 814 to pay 100l. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether, after so long a period of war, we could expect to keep up our high prices? He clearly, therefore, by implication, supposed high prices necessary to the prosperity of the country. As to what the right hon. Gentleman had said respecting the improvement which had taken place in one corner or another of the country, he could assure him there was no such improvement. He then said, that the distress had been caused, not by transition, but by the different state of war and peace. War was often adduced as a reason for what it had nothing whatever to do with. It was a deceptive argument to say that war did this, and prevented that. Let the right hon. Gentleman show how these monstrous results could have been produced by war. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed great sympathy for the poorer classes, great sympathy for the manufacturing classes, and for all but the landed interest, which (and to this he begged the attention of the House) the right hon. Gentleman said should remain in its present depressed condition, [Here Mr. Peel expressed his dissent.] He (Sir F. Burdett) had understood so. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, that we were not to have high prices, that we must have low prices; and what was that but to say that the landed interest must remain depressed. When so many persons were ready to come forward and state that the landed interest was of no importance at all, he should be inclined to make a fight of it upon that point: he was happy to believe that no interest could flourish unless the landed interest flourished, and he trusted that the landed interest would lay this point to heart. This was the time for landed gentlemen to put to themselves the question asked by the Poet—Shall we, like exiles, still be doomed to mourn,And ne'er, with length of rolling years, return?Shall we, compell'd by fate's unjust decree,No more our homes and pleasant rallies see?Or shall we mount again our rural throne,And rule the rural kingdom once our own?He would call upon the landed interest not to give up their superiority. Gentlemen of landed property were the natural defenders of the people of England; and it was because such a class existed here, and in no other country, that we had been able to maintain our high character in war and in peace, and to resist with success the combined efforts of the civilized world. If the landed interest 815 were to be sacrificed, he should be glad to hear how the right hon. Gentleman proposed to maintain the manufacturing interest? How was the shipping interest to be preserved, and how were our merchants to be continued in their "pride of place?" Though last not least, he would ask, what would then become the condition of the labouring people? In the adherence to this pernicious system, he saw nothing but the reduction of Great Britain to a low grade in the scale of nations— incapable of looking in the face her enemies abroad, and of maintaining freedom and prosperity at home. This condition of degradation might yet be avoided by the abandonment of that experiment which had already produced such monstrous mischiefs. Among other points the right hon. Gentleman had urged, that it had not been shown that high prices were preserved in time of peace; and for a very good reason—but for the right hon. Gentleman's bill of 1819, high prices during peace might have been maintained. Aye, said the right hon. Gentleman, but then you would not have had gold. True, but of what benefit was gold? It was at this moment the greatest evil of the nation. Ministers, like Midas, had turned everything they touched to gold, and the consequence was starvation. Great Britain had nothing useful because she would have everything gold. Who was the Midas he would not say, for aurcs asininas Midas non habet. Next the right hon. Gentleman had inquired whether, for the sake of a paper currency, it was wished that every barber who could put up a board should start as a banker? Certainly not, any more than it was fit that every coppersmith should become a coiner. Neither paper nor gold should be debased, and there was no necessary connection between the use and abuse of anything. But it was said, if our high prices are kept up we can have no foreign trade. He (Sir F. Burdett) contended, that foreign trade had nothing to do with the question. Commerce, truly considered, was an exchange between different nations of equivalents; but how little was this considered when, instead of obtaining good wine from France at a cheap rate, we took bad wine from Portugal at a dear rate? To adopt free trade in the true sense of the words, would be to render unnecessary all the complicated and expensive machinery for the prevention of smuggling; trade with civilized France, 816 from facility of communication, would be of more value to England, than with all the rest of Europe. High prices might thus be maintained in peace as well as in war, and to restore high prices would be to relieve the country from all its difficulties. It was stated by some that Ministers had excellent dispositions to afford relief—that they had taken off the Leather Tax, the Cider Tax, and, lastly, the tax upon Beer, the effect of which would be, that in about seven months' time porter would be reduced one penny per pot. But what relief would this afford to the tradesman, to the manufacturer, and to the gentlemen of England? What sort of mockery was this. It would not impose even upon the most ignorant out of doors, and yet it was proposed as an adequate remedy for the distresses of the whole community. No hon. Member had yet remarked that there were two distinct causes of distress in this country: the distress alone kept in view by those who had spoken was that of the labouring classes, who suffered the uttermost distress, nakedness and hunger, and shame it was to any nation that did not prevent it— and shame to any government that refused to inquire. This species of distress might exist when all other classes were prosperous; it might arise from overpopulation, to answer that by saying that there were many lands still out of cultivation was nothing to the purpose. The question was, whether labour received its adequate reward; and whenever it did not obtain a remunerating price, the nation was over-populous. The distress was very severely felt by the landowners and all connected with them. The produce of an acre, which formerly sold for 9l., would now only fetch 6l. The consequences of their distress reached the manufacturer, who could not avoid being distressed when the landed interest were in difficulties. The merchant suffered from the distress of the manufacturer; and, in fact, the distress of the country was felt in all classes of its inhabitants. Under these circumstances he thought inquiry ought to be granted; and he did not anticipate, as some hon. Members did, that that inquiry would produce a monstrous mass of evidence, that would, by its bulk and the variety of subjects with which it was connected, prevent them from coming to any definite conclusion upon it. He implored the House of Commons to believe that it 817 was not out of their power, as it unquestionably belonged to their functions, to institute an inquiry, that he assured them was not beyond their reach; and not to consent to throw the last portion of misery into the cup of the people, and thus drive them into despair by refusing the Motion which was now made for an inquiry into the causes of their misery.
§ Mr. Peel
said, he wished to notice a most extravagant misconception of the hon. Baronet opposite. The hon. Baronet had charged him with having said, that it was a part of his policy to depress the landed interest. Every one who had heard him, except the hon. Baronet, must know that he had said nothing of the kind. His statement was, that during the war a great portion of inferior land had been brought into cultivation in this country, and that now, by the application of steam to navigation, and by the circumstance of the good land of Ireland and Scotland being better cultivated, the produce of the inferior land of this country was likely to be injured in the market. He had stated this as a fact; and he had added, that whatever might be the benefit to the country, he could not but view the consequences with the utmost pain, so far as they affected those individuals who would suffer from them. The hon. Baronet had entirely mistaken him in supposing that he had stated it as part of his settled policy to depress the landed interest.
Sir F. Burdett
did not mean to impute any wish of that kind to the right hon. Gentleman, and had only stated that the depression of the landed interest was the necessary consequence of the policy he had determined to pursue. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he acquitted him of any such intention, for no doubt there were few men who wished more heartily than the right hon. Gentleman for the prosperity of the landed interest; but there was as little doubt that the policy he had adopted, and that which he declared he intended to pursue, must have the tendency he had ascribed to it.
§ Sir T. Gooch
, in explanation, said, that the hon. Baronet had misrepresented him; he had never said that the petitions of the people ought not to be referred to a committee.
Mr. F. Lewis
said, that he did not much wonder at the opinions of Members who had not been in that House during discussions on the Currency Question, and who now seemed to imagine that a return to a depreciated currency would be a panacea for the evils of the country; but he did much wonder at hearing such opinions fall from the hon. Baronet opposite. He repeated, he could not but fuel the utmost surprise at the unqualified praise bestowed by the hon. Baronet on the Bank Restriction Act, and the more so when he recollected that the hon. Baronet sat in that House during the times of that mock prosperity which he alone had eulogized. The hon. Baronet had referred to the well-known Essay of Hume, but that would not support him in his views in favour of a depreciated currency. In that Essay, Hume stated that the prosperity of the country was connected with prices constantly increasing; but he had not said with a constantly depreciated currency. He had said the contrary indeed; for if the spirit of the Essay was attended to, it would be seen that he never intended to allude to any currency as advantageous to a country if it went on diminishing in value as it increased in amount. Of what avail was it to increase the amount of the currency by continually multiplying the issue of notes, which, exactly as they were multiplied in number, cut off a part of the value from those which had preceded them? The wealth of a country consisted in the abundance of its commodities; increase of commodities required, he knew, an increased amount of currency, but it must be a currency of the same standard and value; and its increase must be created with, and solely in consequence of, the increase of the commodities it represented. The hon. Baronet had been mistaken in asserting that Mr. Tooke had said that prices did not depend on money —meaning on the quantity of money. Mr. Tooke had not said any such thing, but had only referred to the difference between the Mint and the market price of gold, as one of the elements of prices in the country. He must confess that he was much surprised at the praise bestowed by the hon. Baronet on that most odious measure into which this country had been driven in her misfortunes to have recourse to—he meant the Bank Restriction Act. The hon. Baronet had proposed to have recourse again to a Paper Currency, seem- 819 ing to consider that that would remedy the evils under which the landed interest were now suffering. He, like the hon. Baronet, was a friend to the landed interest; but not even for their sake would he have recourse to a measure that would be productive of great injury to every other class in the country. He need not, however, go so far as to make that declaration, for he was satisfied that the return to a depreciated currency would not in the least benefit the agricultural interest. He begged to remind the hon. Baronet that a depreciated currency could not produce a new demand, or a new rate of profits; it could only for a time transfer them into different hands. He regretted as much as any man, the depression of the landed interest, but he could not consent that they should be upheld, even if that would be the effect of such a measure, by resorting to the depreciation of the currency, which created nothing, and threw the burthen exclusively upon others. The Bank Restriction system had failed by its own weakness already, and as inevitably would it fail again when they least expected, if they should be again so infatuated as to trust to it. In speaking of past depression, those hon. Members who had spoken on the other side entirely passed over the convulsion of distress which had been produced throughout the country by the sudden contraction of the currency in 1816. The hon. Baronet had affirmed that they might have what prices they pleased, and so certainly they might, if they agreed to allow a half-penny to pass for a guinea. They might have nominal prices, but the real value would necessarily continue the same. Although a landlord's rent were by these means quintupled, he would soon find himself, under the new state of things, worse than he had ever been before. The supporters of both the propositions before the House appeared to him under the influence of some vague dream or delusion, which led them to contemplate the possibility of a fluctuating standard, which the House he was sure would never countenance for a moment.
said, that as a representative of a great manufacturing and commercial town, which suffered much, he regretted to say, in common with the rest of the same class in other parts of the kingdom, he could not give a silent vote on a Motion having for its avowed object the relief of that distress, the existence of which no person denied. Although the latest ac- 820 counts had mentioned indications of a revival in trade, he much feared that a large portion of the manufacturing and agricultural interests still remained in absolute poverty and destitution. The Motion for a Committee of the whole House, however, did not seem in his opinion to promise either remedy or relief. They were not told how it was proposed that they should carry on their deliberations, whether by documentary evidence, by examination of witnesses at the Bar, or debate amongst themselves. The causes of the distress, and the remedy to be applied, were mere matter of speculation, and the time which they might consume in such an inquiry as that recommended he conceived would be worse than useless, as it would create considerable expense to the country and lead to no effectual result. Where, he asked, were they expected to stop? They were enjoined to treat in full of the Corn-laws, the Poor-laws, Currency Question, and principles of Free Trade. Then, of course, it was to be looked for as a natural consequence, that the hon. Member for Staffordshire should introduce the Truck System; that the hon. Member for Armagh should direct their attention to the Bogs of Ireland; that the hon. Member for Newcastle should draw down the whole subject of Emigration; and lastly, that the hon. Member for Newark should enter upon Irish Absenteeism. The proposal for a Select Committee he considered infinitely more objectionable even than the other. Their proceedings would be private, unknown to the public or to the House, and their number must be so limited that they could not fairly represent the opinions of the country, or of Parliament. But the third proposition which was suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Plympton he esteemed the most hopeless of any. That would have them to appoint a Select Committee that should be precluded from treating of the Currency, the very cause to which many Members attributed this distress. He hoped that Government would go still further in the reduction of taxation, which they had so laudably commenced, and he should be ready to support a Motion for the introduction of a fair property-tax, let it emanate from what quarter it might.
§ Mr. Western
began, by assuring the House that it was not his intention, at that late hour, to trespass on their attention for many minutes, and would therefore claim an indulgent hearing for the little he had 821 to say. Whatever might be the result of an inquiry, it was their bounden duty to enter on it, if for no other purpose but to manifest their sympathy for the distressed condition of the people, and he entertained no doubt but their refusal would occasion throughout the country very general dissatisfaction and disappointment. The evils complained of were not of one day's standing; they had been in existence, and had progressively increased for fourteen years. So great had been the distress, and so powerful its effects, that it had altered the moral character of the people in such a manner as to cause the most serious alarm. If it only to ascertain the cause of that change, and the possibility of finding a remedy for it, the House ought to go into a committee of inquiry. There was an increased activity in commerce—increased exports and imports— increased production—increased energy throughout the country; and yet there were difficulties and distresses such as could not be contemplated without commiseration. He wanted to know, what then was the cause of this distress? He heard none assigned which appeared to him probable. It was not taxation; that might augment the distress, but was not its cause. It was clear that taxation was not the cause, because it had begun as taxation was reduced, and it continued more severe than ever, though taxation had been diminished. He never was an advocate for the expenses of the war, but he denied that the country came exhausted out of the contest. We had burthens to bear; but we had by our increased commerce acquired strength to bear them. It was then to the change in the currency that we were to attribute our distress; while that was untouched we could bear greater burthens than at present without repining. The effects therefore of the measures of 1819, and 1822, and 1826 ought to be closely examined, and for that purpose a committee ought to be appointed. A depression in prices, fully equal to fifty per cent, had taken place in all commodities, which had been caused by the change in our currency, and which had extended its influence to every country with which we had commercial relations. If any Gentleman contemplated in 1819 the subsequent fall of prices, he had contemplated that which no member of the Bullion Committee had any idea of. In the discussions in 1811 on that question, the right hon. 822 Member for Liverpool had stated, that prices would never fall so low as we had unfortunately experienced them. In 1819 several members who supported government expressed their surprise that any person should be so absurd as to suppose that prices, even if they fell a little, would not speedily again rise, and remain at their former level. The price of corn, it was admitted, might be low for a short time, but it was strenuously contended that it would soon rise to 70s. or 80s. the quarter. Some of these predictions had been verified, and the Gentlemen who proposed and carried the law of 1819 are now proved to have been completely ignorant of what would be its results. Since the war, prices, instead of being steady, have been continually in a state of fluctuation, and they have on the whole fallen a great deal more than ever was expected. He was anxious to press on the attention of the House the impossibility of going on with a gold standard. A time would come when a demand might be made on the Bank for 20,000,000l. which it would be unable to produce, and ruin would ensue. He would not say more, than that the subject was one of the highest importance which could he under investigation.
said, that they had been now debating this subject four nights, and were not now much wiser with respect to it than at the commencement of the discussion; and he was sure that if they sat there for a month of Sundays they would be still in the same situation. If the hon. Mover had confined his Motion to the distress of the country he would go to the committee; but there were other matters included in the proposed inquiry which were not necessary. The distress of the country was unprecedented; but Ministers had done much in the way of reduction of taxation, much more than he had expected, or than he should have believed had any body told him of it when he was last on his legs in that House. Imputations had been cast on him by noble Lords and others, that he was sneaking after Ministers, and looking for the loaves and fishes; but he wanted no office or place. He had served his country without emolument; he entered into its service at fifteen years old, as a private soldier—perhaps they did not know that. He had carried "brown bess" on his shoulder for years; but there was only this difference between him and other private soldiers,—that he had the honour 823 of paying himself, of feeding himself, and of paying for his "brown bess" too. If, he were Prime Minister, he would propose a measure of relief: he would throw the whole of the assessed taxes overboard, and have a properly modified property-tax, which should be so laid on as to press on the absentees, and in that way he would afford effectual relief to the country. As to the causes of the distress, he would inform the House, that previously to the ruin of the country bankers in 1826, every farmer had a credit with his banker, so that if he could not sell his stock and his produce, he was neither forced into the market when things were cheap, nor forced to borrow at exorbitant interest, in order to pay his landlord. Now the farmer could get no assistance, and he was either obliged to sell his property at half-price, or neglect to pay his landlord, and so lose farm and all. That change had reduced hundreds of respectable farmers to break stones upon the roads. Never was the country so prosperous as when wheat was selling for 14s. a bushel. The farmers and their wives were then dressed in the best manufactured cloth in the country, and they lived luxuriously. Now they were in tatters, and feeding on butter milk and potatoes. That was a state of things that called for relief, and he hoped Ministers would do away with their own vile measures regulating the currency, before all the agriculturists were entirely ruined.
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey
said, that at that late hour it was not his intention to press upon the patience of the House, which he knew was nearly exhausted. He did not therefore intend to go into the subjects introduced into the discussion at any length. He rose rather for the purpose of correcting an error, an unintentional one, no doubt, into which the hon. Member for Essex had fallen. That hon. Member stated that the people of Essex wished for inquiry; now the fact was, that at the meeting the other day in Essex inquiry was not called for; the great majority of the people in the country did not wish for inquiry. They knew well enough the cause of the distress they suffered, and they plainly enough pointed out the means of relief. If he were not afraid of trespassing too long on the attention of the House, he would venture to reply to some of the extraordinary arguments raised by the hon. Baronet, the Member for Westminster; but though he would not follow 824 and refute them, as he easily might do, there was one so extravagant that he could not pass it over without notice. Some hon. Members on the last evening of that debate had said, that it would be useless to adjourn it, for that they could not expect to hear any novel thought on the subject. The speech of the hon. Baronet, however, had to-night shown them that they were much mistaken; for, to his great surprise, and to the surprise of most others who heard him, the hon. Baronet, the bold—the eloquent—the erudite advocate of the people,—he who had distinguished himself in their cause by the bitter sarcasms with which he contended against an attack on their rights,—who was the popular representative of a large and populous city,—who so eagerly desired that the distress of the country should be relieved —had that night told them, that reduction of taxation was a thing not to be cared for, but that the whole relief of the country was to be found in high prices. Why, of all the propositions that had ever proceeded from a fertile mind, this was, in his opinion, the one that had the least approximation to intelligence. Yet, at the same time that the hon. Baronet declared this, he also declared himself the friend of the shipping and the manufacturing interests. But in what way, he would beg to ask, could those interests meet the foreign competition against which they had to struggle, except by low prices? He could follow and refute some of the hon. Baronet's other positions, but he wished to keep his promise to the House, and not press farther on its patience.
§ Mr. Trant
rose amidst loud cries of "Question;" but he said, if he were not heard he would move the adjournment of the debate. He stood pledged, at a meeting of yesterday, to some of the most respectable gentlemen in London,—members of the committee for the Relief of the Manufacturing Poor,—that he would state to the House that which they communicated to him, viz., that, from the information they received by means of their communications with all parts of the country, they were convinced that the distress was overwhelming. These gentlemen ought to have an opportunity of being heard in a committee, in reply to the statements of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries) who spoke so much of the prosperity of the country.
§ Mr. Monck
was one of those who looked to a reduction of the taxes on productive 825 industry, and a concurrent diminution of the public expenditure, as the sole sources of national relief. He agreed with the right hon. Member for Liverpool, that if it were meant that we should have a foreign trade, we must have low prices for our manufactures, in order to compete with the foreigner in his own market, and from low prices low wages generally followed. The measure then, for the House to adopt was, so to place the labourer that his low wages may enable; him to command the necessaries of life; and that only could be effected by giving him cheap bread,—that is, by admitting corn of fertile and untaxed countries into this.
considered, that the distress of the country fell chiefly on the agricultural classes, and that to them, therefore, relief should be chiefly applied.
§ Mr. Benett
was surprised, that when the right hon. Member for Liverpool was quoting instances of the general wealth and prosperity of the country, he did not look to the very obvious proofs to be derived from the consumption of butchers' meat. If the right hon. Gentleman had looked to the consumption of the town of Birmingham alone, he would have found that that consumption had diminished one-third within the last year. He would support the Motion for a Select Committee, as he thought the numerous petitions presented to the House rendered some inquiry imperative.
Mr. Alderman Thompson
would vote for inquiry, and in doing so would appeal to any hon. Member acquainted with the city of London whether the trade of that city was ever so much depressed as at present? He was free to admit, that some improvement had taken place within the last fortnight; but it was only that something like a cost price could be obtained for some articles, while a month ago no sale could be effected at any price at all. With reference to the observations of the hon. Member for Bramber a few evenings ago, he begged leave to say, that the hon. Member was in error in asserting that an improvement had taken place in the iron trade. The contrary was the fact, and had been so for the last four or five years, during which immense sums — even millions—had been expended in that trade, without obtaining any profit, and even in some instances suffering an actual loss. It was a fallacy to suppose that because manufacturers went on manufacturing, that therefore they were reaping profitable 826 returns to their outlay. Those acquainted with the facts of the case knew that they did so to save their machinery, and because they could not think of throwing the thousands of workmen whom they had in a manner called into existence, out of employment. He was sure that the projected joint-stock banking system would turn out a failure, because it was not confidence in country bankers that was wanting on the part of the public, but confidence in the public, the borrowers, on the part of the lender, the banker. He thought, however, that a revision of our currency system was wanting, for that the paper currency of the country was not equal to its exigencies, and that the 26,000,000l. of gold which the Bank of England said they had in circulation would be found he believed to cost the country 40,000,000l. While he made these statements he begged leave to say, that he, as a member of the manufacturing committee, must protest against the statement just made to the House by the hon. Member for Dover.
, was confident that Ministers could not adopt a more mischievous measure just now, than a revision of the currency system, as its inevitable effects would be, to create such a run on banks as would destroy all those whose cash deposits were not equal to their issues.
§ Mr. Irving
[amid loud cries of "Question,"] in explanation of what had just been alluded to by the hon. Member for the City of London, begged to say that his references to the iron trade were to it as it existed in Sheffield and Birmingham.
§ Sir T. Acland
, as a Member of the manufacturing committee, must protest against the statement made in reference to that committee by the hon. Member for Dover. One fact would show, contrary to the declaration of the hon. Member, that the distress had diminished instead of increased within the last few weeks,—namely, that whereas heretofore it was found necessary for the committee to meet once a week, now, owing to a diminution of the distress, they met but once a fortnight.
rose to reply. The question, he said, after all the discussion, turned on the single fact, that numerous petitions from all classes, and all parties, and all places in the country, had been presented to the House for relief, and that if inquiry were refused, the only inference that the public could draw was, that it was useless to again petition a Parliament that 827 was deaf to their prayer. [The hon. Member proceeded at some length to address the House, but the confusion which prevailed, and the repeated calls of "Question! Question!" rendered what he said for a long time inaudible. At length silence was partially restored, and the hon. Member was heard to declare his intention of withdrawing the original Motion in favour of the Amendment.]
§ The Speaker
informed the hon. Gentleman, that if the original Motion was withdrawn, there would remain no question before the House, as an amendment upon a motion which was withdrawn could not be put.
§ On the Amendment the House divided, when the numbers appeared—for the Amendment 87; Against it 255: majority against the Amendment 168.