HC Deb 18 June 1833 vol 18 cc964-76
Mr. Fryer

, after presenting a Petition from the inhabitants of Wolverhampton, praying for a repeal, or at least considerable alteration, of the Corn-laws, proceeded with his Motion for leave to bring in a Bill to alter and amend Act 9, Geo. 4th, c. 60, commonly called the Corn-law. The hon. Member, in doing so, observed, that this was a far more important measure than any which had been brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers; it was a measure that regarded the support and maintenance of the people of this country. What was it he wanted? What did he aim at? His object was, to procure sufficient employment and sufficient food for the people of this country. Radical reformer as he was, that was all that he aimed at. He did not seek to pull down the aristocracy, or to dethrone the King; all that he aimed at was, to obtain for the people employment and bread, and he wished to effect that object by repealing one of those bad laws which had been made in that House by a landed oligarchy in despite of the people. His end was good. Now, what were his means? His means were honest. He wished to abolish all monopolies, and, first and foremost, that, without the repeal of which nothing else would avail—the monopoly of food, the monopoly of labour—by repealing the Corn-laws. The repeal of taxes, such as the House and Window-tax, would do no good unless the Corn-laws were repealed. The Corn-laws prevented us from exporting our manufactures to corn-growing countries in exchange for their corn, and limited our consumption of corn. The opening the trade to China would only render tea cheaper, it would effect no other good, as we could not send manufactures there: but we could send our manufactures to corn-growing countries if we were allowed to take their corn in exchange. What was the nature of slavery in the West Indies? There the slaves were forced under the fear of the cart whip to labour for the advantage of their masters. The white slaves in England were forced to labour for the advantage of their landlords, who had made wicked laws, like the Corn Bill, to compel them to do so. In the year 1815, when that bad Bill was brought forward, it was opposed by Lord Grenville on the principles of justice, though Lord Grenville was a Tory. And there were Tories now a-days; but what were they? They glorified Pitt, but knew not how to imitate him. Expediency was their motto. They were all their lives voting against emancipation, like the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth, when all on a sudden they veered round, and voted for it. Why? Because it was expedient. The same with Reform. They had always opposed Reform; but in one day turned round and were ready to vote for it, and upon the same plea, namely, that it was expedient. Oh! these were bastard Tories, born on a dunghill. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite had no occasion to laugh at the Tories. They were themselves degenerate, apostate Whigs, possessed of no statesmanlike principles; who, having been borne into office on the shoulders of the people, had since deserted the popular cause; ingrates, who had kicked down the ladder by which they had mounted to power, alike dishonest to their friends and enemies to themselves. Taxes should be placed upon fixed property, and not upon the backs of the people, until the last feather broke them. On what ground, he would ask, did the landlords call for protection? He would denominate the protection which they got nothing but robbery. One pretence for this law was, that it gave remunerating prices to the farmer and encouraged agriculture. He was as anxious as any one could be to encourage agriculture; but he would contend that this law did no such thing; it merely rendered the farmer a conduit-pipe to put greater profits in the pockets of the landlords. The farmers were rendered by this law mere serfs and vassals, and sponges for the landlords to squeeze. It was said, that the farmers suffered from the pressure of the Poor-rates. Who caused the Poor-rates? [An Hon. Member: "The Manufacturers"]. No, it was the landlords who caused the Poor-rates; by their exactions they prevented the farmer from cultivating and manuring his farm; they ate up his capital, and in that manner brought him to starvation. The landlords asserted, that heavier taxes were imposed on them than on the inhabitants living in towns. Even if that was the case, which it was not, it ought to be so. They had no right to pay the interest of the debt by taxes on labour. Such taxes should be laid on the property of the country. He was not one of those who would take off taxes so as to violate the public credit, or so as to prevent the Government from doing all the good they could; and he would therefore say, tax all the luxuries of life—tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, &c., but let the people have their labour free, and get in exchange for it cheap food; tax those luxuries, but let the industrious have cheap bread. The price of food affected the manufacturers because the master could not afford to give the same wages for ten hours of labour as he could for sixteen hours, and therefore the labouring classes were obliged to work the greater number of hours, in order to maintain themselves and families, and without which excess of labour it was impossible for the manufacturer to compete with foreign countries. When the abolitionists came to ask him for his support, he had asked them, whether they would do away with the Corn-laws? They told him they did not understand the question. "Then away with you," cried he. He, however, wished to make friends, and he would ask those who cried out for the abolition of slavery, and had crossed the Atlantic to find it, to look at home, and endeavour to free the white slaves in England; he could assure them, if they did not vote with him to-night, the people of England would say that all their zeal and exertions to accomplish the abolition of negro slavery were based in cant, and (he would add) hypocrisy. The Cotton Lords, too, instead of asking for delay with the Factory Bill, for which he would vote, in order to rouse them, ought to come forward, and boldly and stoutly demanda repeal of the accursed Bread-tax, and also the repeal of all taxes upon raw materials of manufacture; he should vote for the Factories Bill, in order to compel the Cotton Lords not to grind down the labourer. The repeal of the Corn-laws would work beneficially for the interests of the country, by effecting a rise in the price of corn in other countries, and thereby disable them from competing in manufactures with this country, or at least would bring them to the same level. There were some who cried out for emigration, and said, that emigration was good, because it enabled people to live abroad who would starve here, and leave a plenty for those who remained behind; and the best of our workmen accordingly left us; but, he would say, instead of sending them abroad in search of food, let them stay at home and import it, in spite of all the borough mongering landed oligarchy. Let the funded interest look about them too, if this 20,000,000l. for the Colonists be added to the funded debt, for it was a debt that would taint the whole, and would be sponged off with the rest. As for the Ministers, they did not seem to know what they were about, the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer could not tell one day what he meant to do the day after. "Oh! there must not be this vacillating; it will never do." As to the Corn-laws, their continuance on the present system would ruin the farmers, and, eventually, the landowners; and these richly deserved it. The noble Lord had all but called the hon. member for Whitehaven a rogue; but the noble Lord was to do something like what was proposed by that hon. Member. This looked something like the Barringtonian method. Ministers looked upon this question as upon others—as Basil Hall went to America—with one eye; and here he would repeat what the Massachusett farmers said to Basil Hall, "that the English landed interest were killing the goose for the sake of the egg." If he was asked who were the greatest enemies to the important interests he had mentioned, he would point to those now occupying the Ministerial bench, because they went with the oligarchy in supporting and keeping up this unjust tax, and the consequent cruel and baneful monopolies. If he spoke to Christian men, he need not say more; the justice of his cause was as immutable and unchangeable as the heavens themselves. But before he sat down, he must say a word or two to his Majesty's Ministers. Some time ago they had agitated the country from one end to the other—they had indirectly, if not directly, encouraged Political Unions—had advised the King to dissolve the Parliament—had told the Bishops to put their house in order—and, to crown the whole, they had (to use the slang terra of the day) swamped the House of Peers. For what had all this been done? The Government had answered, "why, for Reform." But he begged to ask where the Reform was, or in what it consisted? Surely there was no Reform in the Irish Coercion Bill? There was no Reform in the Irish Church Temporalities Bill; in short, there had not been a single measure brought forward that would benefit the people of England. The expediency-Tories were laughing, jeering, and sneering at their adversaries opposite, and crying out to them "that they had got the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." True it was, that the people had got" nothing but the Bill." The noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) had himself admitted the other night that he had abstained from bringing forward certain measures, dear to his heart, because he was afraid of a collision. This statement he (Mr. Fryer must say was not statesmanlike. The noble Lord ought to bring forward these measures even in defiance of the House of Commons, and then, if that House should refuse to do justice, it would be open to the noble Lord to appeal to the people by a dissolution. That would be the truly fair course, and it must come to it. There was now, it was well known, a strong impression abroad that affairs could not remain as they were at present, great apprehensions were entertained of a great and sudden change. The country stood now, as it were, upon a Vesuvius, and there must either be Reform or Revolution. He sought by his present Motion, which was for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Act 9th George 4th, c. 60, commonly called the Corn-Law, to return back to the system which prevailed in the year 1791, when the country flourished and prospered. At that time, when the price of wheat was between 50s. and 54s. the duty per quarter was only 2s. 6d. He should hope the noble Lord opposite (Lord Althorp) entertained something of the same opinion on this subject as himself, at least he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade ought to do so, for if he (Mr. Fryer) had read the right hon. Gentleman's speech correctly, he had at Manchester hoisted the flag of free trade.

Lord Althorp

thought, that the question having already been fully discussed during the present Session of Parliament, it was not now necessary to enter into another discussion upon it, particularly as the hon. Gentleman must be aware that the ground of the former decision of the House upon the Motion of the hon. Gentleman's colleague was not a direct rejection of the Motion, but merely that at the present time it was not desirable to enter into it. He was ready to tell the hon. Gentleman, that his (Lord Althorp's) own opinion accorded with many of the statements which had been made by the hon. Gentleman, but he differed from him in the mode in which he proposed to deal with the subject. He (Lord Althorp) considering the quantity of business still before the House, and the advanced period of the Session, could not think it convenient to enter into a discussion of this question, and the more so because at present, as the hon. Gentleman well knew, there was no immediate necessity for legislative interference in this respect, but, on the contrary, the manufacturing districts were admitted to be in a much better situation at present than the agricultural districts, and therefore the question did not seem to press so much as the hon. Gentleman inferred. Under these circumstances, he should not now enter into any argument on the topics introduced by the hon. Member, but should do that which he had done on a former occasion when the question was introduced—namely, move the previous question.

Mr. Hume

thought, that many of the topics which had been urged by the hon. member for Wolverhampton were well worthy the attention of the House and the Government. The real question was, whether it was fit that the people of England should get their food as cheaply as possible and be fully employed. The present system effected neither, and he agreed with the hon. member in thinking that a change would effect both those objects. Was the present system of injustice to continue until the next Session, or was the Legislature to perpetuate the misery and starvation arising from the existing law? It ought not to be. He concurred with the hon. member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Fryer) in thinking, that the present system would ultimately ruin the landholders. If they wished to persist, he (Mr. Hume) cared little if they were ruined, and in that respect they might have their own way. But this question affected other parties besides the landed gentry, and whom it was the duty of the Government to protect. He could not help thinking that the landed proprietors ought themselves to be the first to advocate a chance in the system, the abolition of which would give renovated vigour to all the interests in the country. In every point of view he could not but express his opinion, that no subject could more deserve the attention of the Government, and that six weeks of the present Session would have been much better employed on this subject than in discussing the Irish Coercion Bill. The greatest measure of relief to the country that the Government could take up was the opening of a free trade in corn, which, instead of injuring, would really be productive of good to the landed proprietors, would increase the revenue, and generally benefit the whole community. He, therefore, could not understand how the noble Lord opposite could satisfy himself by a postponement of the question for another year, and particularly at the present time; when the manufacturing population were not in deep distress and up in arms, afforded a most fitting opportunity for a discussion. He with pleasure supported the view of the subject taken by the hon. Member who had brought forward the Motion, and only regretted the Government should not now meet the question.

Colonel Wood

said, it appeared that with the hon. member for Middlesex, it was a matter of utter indifference whether the landlords and agriculturists were ruined or not. He was glad the noble Lord had not taken the advice of the hon. member for Middlesex, and foreborne from going into an inconvenient discussion on the subject. He was quite sure that if the six weeks employed on the Irish Coercion Bill had been employed on the Corn Question, the result would have been a Report from the Committee that the present Corn-laws gave to the grower and the consumer the fairest price that could be established for the interests of both. The law as it now stood was not originally adopted by a willing House of Commons, but had emanated from the distress in which both the manufacturers and the agriculturists were involved, and this circumstance forced Gentlemen on both sides of the House to unite in placing the question on its present basis. He was sure that the landed interests were quite as much identified with the lower orders of the people as the manufacturers. The hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion charged the agriculturists with being the cause of dear bread, but he admitted that the manufacturers worked the children in their factories sixteen hours a day. He would say, let us adhere to the adage, "Live and let live," Convinced he was, that so far as regarded rents, the agriculturists did not look to the Corn-laws to keep them up. If the whole rental of the country were abandoned to-morrow it would not make a difference of 1s. in the price of wheat. He wished that his Majesty's Ministers were in a situation to go fully into the question, for at present the non-settlement of it threw doubts upon the relations between landlord and tenant. As, however, they were not in such a situation, he would vote for the Amendment.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the hon. and gallant Member misunderstood what had fallen from the hon. mover in reference to factory children. That Gentleman had expressed his determination to vote for the Factory Bill, though one of its effects was, to diminish the amount of wages. That Bill was undoubtedly called for by humanity, although it must be admitted, that the parents of the children would not have their condition much improved by it. But still it was necessary, and he hoped it would speedily be carried. Surely, if any thing ought to be free from a tax, in a manufacturing and industrious nation, it was food; and it was in consequence of its being taxed, that children were obliged to work sixteen hours a-day. He, for one, entered his solemn protest against any measure tending to make food more dear, and on that account would support the Motion.

Major Handley

said, that if the Corn Laws were as disastrous in their effects as they were described to be, they ought to be instantly repealed; but he should be prepared to show, whenever the proper time came, that the effects of those laws were very much misunderstood. He deplored very much the jealousy which was getting up between the different classes, which could only be injurious to both. For the agriculturists, he claimed a protection commensurate to the heavy burthens which were laid on the landed interest; and he was sure, whatever the manufacturers might suppose, that the ruin of the agriculturists would be the annihilation of their own hopes. He wished the manufacturers to look to the home market. There was a time when the use of tea, and sugar, and fine clothes were unknown, but they were now found in every cottage in the country. The farmers formerly spun and made their own cloth, and went without these luxuries, and probably were as happy then as now; if they were to return to their former habits, it was not for him to say who would be the principal losers. If the Legislature relieved the farmers from the Poor-rate, which, in 1792, was 2,000,000l., and was now 9,000,000l., and from the national debt, the interest of which was then 10,000,000l., and was now nearly 30,000,000l., he should most readily consent to a complete free trade in corn and all other things.

The Earl of Darlington

regretted, that the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) should have deprecated discussion, should have proposed no measure to amend the laws, and yet should have stated that those laws wanted amendment. Such conduct could only have the effect of unsettling the public mind. At present, no contract could be made about land, no farms could be let, no land could be bought or sold, because the question was in an unsettled condition. He conceived that the present Corn-laws were the best possible for the farmer and for the consumer; but if they were to be altered, the sooner that were effected the better. He hoped that the noble Lord would propose the alteration which he thought necessary, and not leave people continually to expect an alteration which never was made.

Lord Althorp

never said, that he meant to make any alteration. He had merely admitted, in reply to the hon. member for Wolverhampton, that these laws were not the best possible.

Colonel Evans

said, the Corn-laws were a monopoly of the worst description, and he could not understand how any Administration which advocated free trade, could keep up that monopoly. They were about to open the trade to China, why not open the Corn monopoly. He thought this a very good opportunity for making the alteration; for, by letting the Colonies send all their produce here, we might make some abatement in the 20,000,000l. it was proposed to grant them.

Mr. Mark Philips

thought, as respected the end of the Session, that this was not a favourable opportunity for making the present Motion; but, as respected the full employment of the manufacturers, it was a most favourable time to alter the Corn-laws. It would be far better to do it, when the manufacturers were employed and contented, than to do it under the pressure of their great distress. He would not then enter into the subject; but he could not avoid making an observation or two. For example, he put it to Gentlemen to consider for one moment what would have been the state of the hand-loom weavers in Lancashire at this time, if the Corn trade had been thrown open, and kept open since the peace? It was plain, that there would have been a steady demand for the produce of their labour to pay for the foreign corn, and they would have been much better off than they now were. If that market had been established, they would have been continued in employment, and they would not have had the mortification of seeing the raw material—for he could call cotton twist nothing but the raw material, it having undergone only one operation—exported, instead of the produce of their labour. With free trade in corn, cotton cloth, and not twist, would have been exported. That was a view of the question which was of great importance to these people. He believed, that when it was closely examined, it would be proved that the present system was the worst possible. We could not wholly dispense with foreign corn, but instead of obtaining a ready supply by means of our cotton goods, continually exported, whenever it became necessary to buy foreign corn, gold had to be sent out of the country in the first instance. The exchange went against us, and there immediately ensued a risk of a panic. He had seen only one, but that was a time which he never wished to see again. It was necessary to keep a supply of precious metals, but there was great danger of that supply being diminished under the present system; whereas, if there was a regular trade in cotton and corn, the deficiency of a harvest would occasion no such evil consequences. The landed Gentlemen spoke as if they bore all the burthen of the Poor-laws. That he denied. The large manufacturing towns absorbed a large part of the surplus population of the country, and when that population was not employed, the town people had to support it. He believed, that the manufacturing community with which he was connected, supported not less than 40,000 natives of the sister kingdom. He was quite ready to go into an investigation of the subject, and he regretted that it had not been brought forward at the lime when a subject of far less interest, the Coercive Bill for Ireland, occupied the attention of the House. They might then have had time to do an act of justice to the country, and till that was done, till the Corn-laws were repealed, all the reductions in expenditure which could be made, all the reductions of taxation possible, would give the country no relief.

Mr. Pease

did not defend the Corn-laws on principle, but he was satisfied that the present was not the proper time to alter them. He was connected with both manufacturers and agriculturists, and he was convinced, that his manufacturing constituents were assured, that if they crippled their agricultural neighbours, they would cripple their best customers. They were also assured, that if the Corn-laws were repealed, it would not be one part only of the land which would go out of cultivation, but the whole. If the manufacturers were willing to take upon themselves the whole burthens of the landlords, they might open the Corn trade; but unless they were willing to do that, to open the trade, to allow of importation, even at a low rate of fixed duty, would not destroy a part of the agricultural interest, but the whole. Till the manufacturers were ready to take upon themselves all the burthens of the landed interest, the protecting duty must be continued.

Mr. Whitmore

said, that he would support the Motion on this ground, that if the Motion were carried, and a Bill brought into the House, they would then be able to say what alteration could be effected in the present system of Corn-laws. He would have contented himself with this declaration, had it not been for the extraordinary conclusions at which the hon. member for Durham (Mr. Pease) appeared to have arrived. He (Mr. Whitmore) denied the accuracy of those conclusions, contending, that if the trade in corn were to be thrown open, very little of the land, if any, would be thrown out of cultivation. The Corn-laws were greatly injurious to the agriculturists themselves, and, if repealed, a greater impulse, he contended, would be given to the manufactures and general commerce of the kingdom, and consequently greater prosperity to the agricultural interest. They rested, in fact, on no solid foundation in reason. He had so recently, however, discussed the merits of the question, that he would not now take up the time of the House by making any further observations on the subject.

Mr. Benett

said, that to have an open trade would lower the price of corn in the first instance, then the land would go out of cultivation, then would come scarcity, and then there would be a famine price. Under the free system, the people would be continually exposed to fluctuations—one year starving, and the other rioting in abundance; one year the manufacturers would be plunged in the deepest distress, and the next the agricultural labourers would be out of employment. A free trade in corn would not be advantageous till there was a free trade in every thing else; and though a good deal was now said about free trade, there was in fact no such thing known. Some persons said, it would be desirable to have our population crowded into workshops. He did not think that; he desired to see the present mixture of manufacturing and agricultural pursuits, and he thought the Legislature ought to maintain it. He could say, that at present, the manufacturers were flourishing, which showed that they were not starved by the Corn-laws. If they did not get adequate wages, that was owing to the avarice of their masters. The agricultural labourer now got good wages, and had not been so well off" for thirty years. He had made these observations only to show, that the Corn-laws did not, as was said, starve the people.

Mr. Leech

said, that he had never raised his rents for upwards of forty years, and that they were not so well paid now as formerly. This he mentioned to show the "great advantage" he derived from the much-talked-of monopoly of the Corn-laws. He presumed that other agriculturists were enjoying the same beneficial effects from it. He could not, of course, know what proportion the rents of others bore now to that which they did in the first period. He knew, too, that many respectable tradesmen of the different towns in his neighbourhood complained most bitterly, and most justly, of the very high prices of corn during the extravagantly dear times; but when corn afterwards fell to ruinously low prices, those very gentlemen assured bins that they suffered greatly from being thereby deprived of the custom of their best friends.

Mr. Aglionby

would support the Motion, as it did not go to put an end to the Corn-laws, but only to modify them. Certainly the present laws had been intended to protect the agriculturists, and in that light they had failed.

The House divided on the Motion: Aves 47; Noes 73—Maiority 26.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Buller, E.
Attwood, T. Collier, J:
Bish, T. Colquhoun, J. C.
Brotherton, Joseph Cornish, James
Buckingham, J. S. Evans, G.
Evans, Colonel Rippon, Cuthbert
Ewing, James Romilly, Edward
Fielden, John Ronayne, Dominick
Forster, Charles S. Ruthven, Edward S.
Gaskell, D. Scrope, Poulette
Grote, George Sharpe, General
Hawkins, J. H. Strutt, E.
Hill, M. D. Scholefield, J.
Hornby, E. G. Sheppard, T.
Hughes, Hughes Thicknesse, Ralph
Hume, Joseph Whitmore, W. W.
Hyett, W. H. Wedgewood, J.
Kennedy, T. F. Wallace, Robert
Lloyd, J. H. Whalley, Sir S. B.
Lushington, Dr. S. Walker, Richard
Maxwell, Sir John Williams, Colonel
Morrison, James Wallace, Thomas
Philips, Mark
Potter, Richard TEILERS.
Oswald, R. A. Fryer, R.
Richards, J. Warburton, Henry