§ Mr. Baines
said he had to present a petition from the borough of Leeds, signed by upwards of 23,000 of the inhabitants of all classes— 218 merchants, manufacturers, bankers, retail traders, artisans, and manufacturing operatives. In presenting this petition, he should conform to the rule laid down by the House for the government of its Members, and state only its material contents; but he must claim the attention of the House to the allegations and to the prayer of this important document, engrossing, as it did, in clear and forcible language, the leading principles, arguments, and facts, upon which the petitions for the repeal of the Corn-laws were generally grounded. The petitioners alleged—That all men had an inalienable right to the free exchange of their capital, skill, and labour for the productions of the people of their own and foreign nations; and that all restrictions on the interchange of nations are unjust in principle and injurious in practice. That the welfare of all the industrious classes of the British empire was inseparably bound up with the prosperity of its foreign trade. That the manufacturers of this country for a long series of years had enjoyed great advantages from the amount of their capital, the perfection of their machinery, and the industry and skill of their workmen. These advantages (the petitioners said) were no longer in the exclusive possession of this country, but that the other nations of Europe, wisely availing themselves of twenty-three years of peace, and having accumulated abundant capital to form manufacturing establishments and to train skilful workmen, were not only supplying their home markets with manufactured goods, which in former years they imported from this country, but were successfully competing with the British manufacturers in the common markets of the world. That the formation and consolidation of the manufacturing system of the continent was, in their opinion, in a very great degree attributable to our Corn-laws, which, by excluding grain and other agricultural produce from our ports, which the European nations had alone to offer us, had prevented them from purchasing our manufactures, and compelled them to manufacture for themselves. That they regarded this state of our affairs, as a manufacturing nation, with unfeigned alarm, and they expressed their deliberate and solemn conviction, that in order to maintain successful competition with our foreign rivals, and to preserve the capital of the nation from destruction, either the Corn-laws must be repealed, or the wages of labour in this country would be forced down to the level of the money rates paid for labour on the continent of Europe.And in conclusion they declared—That a large reduction of manufacturing wages, while the Corn-laws are maintained, which enhance the price of the prime necessaries of life from 60 to 70 per cent. above the 219 price of the continent, for the benefit of a small class of the whole community, would not only be productive of severe privation and suffering amongst the vast operative population by which the petitioners are surrounded, but will incite intense and just indignation, threatening the stability and very existence of our social and political institutions.And they earnestly pray,That as a measure of strict justice to all the consumers of food, as the only mode by which the foreign trade of the nation, and the comfort and prosperity of its whole population could be preserved from destruction—as a necessary means to the stability of our social institutions—and as a guarantee for the maintenance of peace amongst the civilised nations of the world, this honourable House would repeal the laws, relative to the importation of foreign corn and other foreign articles of subsistence, and carry out to the fullest extent, both as regards agriculture and manufacture, the true and peaceful principles of free trade, by removing all existing obstacles to the unrestricted employment of industry and capital.In the allegations and prayer of the petition he cordially concurred, and he moved that it should be brought up.
§ Petition laid on the table.