Sir E. Knatchhull,
who was in possession of the chair, said, that the subject appeared to him to be pretty nearly exhausted, and therefore he should not trouble the House with any observations upon it, more particularly as he understood there were twelve or fourteen gentlemen on the other side of the House who were very anxious to speak.
§ Sir C. Grey
was of opinion that those who opposed the measure of the Government, had not taken a fair and regular course. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not pledged the House to any particular course by the proposition he had made, because the question in detail was to be considered in committee. The noble Viscount, however, had proposed a measure by which he called upon the House to refuse to accede to any reduction of the duties on foreign sugar for two reasons, viz., first, that our example in abolishing slavery in our own colonies had not been followed by its final extinction in foreign countries, and secondly, that a sufficient supply of sugar for home consumption could be furnished by the West Indies. The latter assertion had been most flatly and positively contradicted by a remonstrance which had been presented to that House from five West-Indian agents, who had stated that the supply would not be sufficient even for the ensuing year. He believed that those who opposed the measure of the Government were distressed to find argu- 506 ments against it. He could not understand why, because Cuba and Brazil employed slave-labour, they should object to the House having an opportunity to consider from what other countries sugar might be obtained. The amendment of the noble Viscount had no solid foothold. No sound argument had been advanced to support it. It was said that the West-Indian interest would be destroyed if the proposition of the Government were carried; but he had not heard anything which demonstrated the certainty or probability of such a result. For the first time, he believed, in that House, an hon. Member (the hon. Member for Beverley) had spoken avowedly as the representative of the East-India Company, a body whose opinions were entitled to attention both in and out of the House, because of their great power and influence. But he must confess himself much surprised at the sentiments uttered by the hon. Member for Beverley as the representative of the East-India Company, because, as the House must recollect, that same body had protested against the monopolizing spirit of the West-India body, and claimed to be put on the same footing. But no sooner was that concession obtained, than they became the loudest in opposing a measure, not for putting other countries on the same footing, but for relieving them of those prohibitory duties which prevented their produce from coming into our markets. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and the noble Lord the Member for South Lancashire, and other hon. Members, had declared that the Government had made this a party measure; he did not so regard it, but thought it one which was calculated to place this country in its proper position—at the head of the commerce of the world. He thought the proposal of Government had not been met in a spirit of fairness. In the time of Mr. Huskisson the principles of free trade were promulgated and defended in the clearest and most forcible manner by some of those who now most violently opposed them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was accused on the one side of undue precipitancy in bringing forward this scheme, on the other of inconsistency in not having supported the motion for the reduction of the sugar duties made last Session by the hon. Member for Wigan. With respect to the charge of undue haste, it was well known that the founda- 507 tion of the Government measure was the report of the Import Duties Committee, which sat last Session, and examined a great number of persons, collecting a large mass of most valuable information. That report, in which were best explained the reasons which had prevailed with Government to bring forward the measures which they had announced to the House, had been in the hands of Members for months, and if hon. Gentlemen had neglected to read and study it, they had no right to say that they were taken by surprise on this occasion. With respect to the reduction of duty, he was convinced that it was an error in political economy to say, that an import duty was paid by the consumer. No import duty could long exist without coming directly or indirectly out of the rent of the land from which the taxed produce was grown. If that were so, the duty on foreign sugar would be paid, not by the population of this country, but by the proprietors of the slaves of Cuba and Brazil. The present aspect of foreign affairs, combined with the active competition of rival nations, rendered it imperative on us, in his opinion, to adopt every measure for the developement of our resources. He alluded to the vast field for British industry and enterprise which was presented, not by Brazil and Cuba merely, but by the other states of South America, as well as by the tribes of Africa and Central Asia. Three continents were holding out their hands to us, whose inhabitants were eager to establish with us relations of friendship and of reciprocal benefit, and were they to be repulsed with a cold and sullen denial? He called on the House to interfere and get rid of that heap of miserable contrivances called monopolies and prohibitions, which, for whatever purpose they were established, had wrought nothing but general mischief to the mass of our population. By adopting a more wise commercial policy, and establishing that liberal system which was rendered necessary by the exigencies of our age and situation, they would double the produce of the customs, and open a boundless career to the activity of our countrymen. Let hon. Members who were opposed to the abolition of restrictions in our colonial trade call to mind the Spanish colonies, the system pursued in which had reacted with fatal effect on the mother country, and had led at length to the breaking up of the colonial 508 empire of Spain. He regretted that the hon. Member for Antrim was not now in his place, or he would have entered upon the objections the hon. Member had raised to the Government proposition; but he must express his surprise that such a body as the East-India Company, now no longer a trading community, but the governors of a vast territory, and who recently had received such large concessions, should, on this occasion, join with their old opponents, and contend for prohibition. It had been said, that upon the result of this debate would depend either the dissolution of Parliament, or the resignation of Ministers. If that were so, it became the bounden duty of those who sought to drive the Government from power, to let the country know what course they meant to pursue if they came in. It became the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tam-worth, as the head of his party in this great country, to tell the House and the people plainly, the principles upon which the present opposition was maintained— at present, nothing to that purport could be collected from the amendment of the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool, or from the varying arguments of those hon. Members who had as yet followed him. He had not the most remote idea or conception upon what grounds the party opposite were to come into power, and, whatever calamities might ensue from that fact, all that the country would know was, that the parties in office were changed— that one Ministry had been superseded by another, after a very partial and imperfect discussion of the topics which induced that change. He had himself been asked by intelligent foreigners, from almost all nations, what it was that was now going on? Was he to answer, that a change of the English Ministry had taken place, because the party opposite had taken fright at the intimation given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he meant to propose to reduce from 63s. to 36s. the import duties on foreign-grown sugar?
said, that he would not detain the House many minutes in explaining his reasons for the vote which he intended to give upon the question now before the House. He was willing to admit that the measure of the noble Lord was calculated undoubtedly to be a considerable benefit to the consumer in this country; and he thought it had been well put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 509 that they could not at the same time say that he was ruining the West-Indies, and that he would not get his money. He fully believed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would succeed in fulfilling the anticipations of revenue stated in his budget; but the ground on which he should support the motion of the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool, was this —that the detriment to our colonies, and the damage which would be done to our national character by such a measure as this, would more than countervail any benefit to the consumer, or the revenue of the country. He believed, that the proposed reduction would produce that amount of revenue which the Chancellor of the Exchequer anticipated, because it was an axiom in the history of commercial taxation, that the reduction of duty upon articles of such general demand, invariably increased the consumption to a much more than proportionate extent. By the gradual reduction of the duties on coffee, the demand and the produce had been quadrupled. As to the East-Indies, they had just passed a measure placing that country on an equality with our other colonies; and he asked the House, with some confidence, whether they would today confer the greatest boon, and tomorrow, not merely take it away, but actually place that country in a worse position than before? In this very Session they had equalized the duties on East and West-India rum; and could the House suppose that a trade like that of the West Indies, still staggering under the effects of the great experiment of emancipation, could survive these repeated and peculiar difficulties? The reasons, therefore, which induced him to come to the conclusion which he had expressed were, that the proposed measure would be highly detrimental, both to the East and West Indies, and that it would likewise be injurious to the character of this great nation, which he should regret to see stultify itself, as it would do if it adopted such a measure as the present, after its recent sacrifices and exertions to put down slavery in its own possessions. He begged to apologize to the House for having taken up its time.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
said, as the attention of this House had been repeatedly called to the distress in the borough of Bolton, and as the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, had thought proper to allude 510 to that distress, in his developement of the plan of the Government, he trusted he might be permitted, for a short space, to state the grounds on which he supported the noble Lord's proposition. From the result of an investigation made in Bolton, he learned that there were 1,500 unoccupied houses in that borough, and that the pressure of distress which had existed so long, still continued undiminished. He considered it to be the duly of every representative of a large commercial community to endeavour, under such circumstances, to ascertain the causes which had led to such a depression in trade. He found that whilst our home trade had flourished, that with foreign nations had been crippled in consequence of our not being able to exchange the productions of our manufacturing industry for the staple commodities of other countries. It was not his intention to go into the question of slavery; that had already been ably disposed of by hon. Members who had preceded him, but he wished to point out the advantages we might expect from a treaty arranged on a broader commercial basis with the Brazils. It appeared from the declared value of our exports, that our trade with that country amounted to from two to three millions sterling annually; but according to the custom-house returns of the Brazils, the amount rose to nearly five millions; taking the average between the two, we might reckon the trade equal to between three and four millions yearly. Now, what did we receive from Brazil in return? Cotton, the produce of slave-labour came direct to this country. Coffee, which was obliged to go to the Cape of Good Hope to be colonized before it could be received here, and sugar, which was taken to Hamburgh to be sold, and from whence bills in payment were remitted to our merchants in England at a considerable loss to them. Now, he had no doubt, that if a system of liberal free trade policy, such as her Majesty's Government contemplated were adopted between this country and the Brazils, our trade in that quarter would increase rapidly; be carried on upon more advantageous terms, and enable us to find employment for a vast proportion of the masses of our suffering population; for, whatever might be the case with countries whose ports were on the Baltic, who, it had been argued would not receive our manu- 511 factures in exchange for their corn; here was a nation ready to meet us fairly in the market, and to exchange commodities on equal terms. In confirmation of his assertion, he would refer to the evidence taken before the Import Duties Committee.
" Mr. Saunders, was asked,
"Q. Is there anything else you wish to state to the committee?—A. I would point out the great obstructions generally to which we are exposed in not getting earlier returns, and which forbids us turning over our capital oftener. Were we able to take Brazilian produce and consume it here, it would enhance the price in Brazil, and enable them to consume more of our manufactures.
"Q. Have the merchants trading to Brazil any apprehension that the duty on British goods imported into the Brazils will be advanced.—A. They have—from the non-admission of their products for consumption in England.
"Q. Are you of opinion that an adherence to our protective system will endanger our exports to the Brazils?—A. At the expiration of our treaty, when they will be able to retaliate.
" Mr. McGregor was asked,
"Q. Does not the refusal of England to take coffee from the Brazils, limit very much the introduction of British manufacture into that country?—A. Within the last three or four years the limitation has been going on, not that the amount of exports have been decreased, but that they have not increased, according to that which would naturally take place in all new countries like Brazil. The Brazilians now are consuming, and will go on increasing their consumption, to the exclusion in proportion of British, for the goods of Austria, France, and Switzerland.
§ The present treaty with the Brazils expired next year, and he could not understand the policy of hon. Members representing manufacturing districts refusing to extend our trade with Brazil. His hon. Friend the Member for Newark had asked what the poor weavers of Bolton would gain by a reduction of 1s. 6d. per cwt. on the price of sugar. So far certainly they would not gain much, but the poor weavers of Bolton well knew, that if the Government carried this question they would ultimately abolish all monopolies, and that they (the weavers) would then be enabled not only to purchase their sugar, but all the other necessaries of life on fair and reasonable terms. He contended that it was the bounden duty of this House to watch over and protect the 512 interests of the poorer classes. He was surprised at the hon. Member for Wiltshire calling this a "paltry fiscal question." Did the hon. Member know anything of the depressed and suffering state of the manufacturing towns in the north, and of the relief which an arrangement of the fiscal burthens of the country such as that proposed by the Government would afford? There was scarcely a manufacturing town in the kingdom which was not suffering under the depression of trade, and he felt it to be his duty at this moment to support the proposals of the Government, believing that the effect of them would be to increase the demand for manufactures and to place our export trade upon a broader and more satisfactory basis.
§ Mr. Hodges
regretted, that the three questions of the sugar, timber, and corn duties had been combined, for he could trace no necessary connection, or even similarity between them. The measure regarding sugar had been so well argued, that he would offer no observations upon it. In regard to the question of the timber, although the importation of foreign timber had caused great loss to the growers of English timber, and to himself as one of them, he believed that this country did not produce timber sufficient for its own wants, and certainly not sufficient to meet the wants of Ireland; and considering, therefore, that benefit would be derived to the public at large, by allowing better timber to be imported than hitherto was the case, he should vote also in favour of that measure. In respect to the Corn-laws, he felt himself bound to take a different course. It had been stated by the right hon. and gallant Member for Cornwall, as an instance of the successful competition of foreign manufactures, that fire arms could be purchased in Belgium one-third cheaper than in England. Are we to infer then, that it is intended that the average price of corn in England should be reduced one-third in amount? If the price of home-grown corn was reduced one-third of the present average price, if it was reduced from 60s. to 40s. a quarter, he put it to the House whether it was possible to keep land of average quality in England in cultivation? It was impossible. He dreaded the effect of any agricultural panic which might arise from the proposed reduction in the import duty on foreign corn; many thousands of labourers must be thrown out of work, and it would be a very difficult matter, under such circum- 513 stances, to maintain tranquillity throughout the country. He thought the regular and constant supply of corn in the market, derived from the British threshing floors, a source of security to the consumer against undue speculation in corn—it was well known, that the farmers in general could not afford long to retain their corn—the constant demands upon them for rates, tithe, rent, and labour, compelled them to be as constantly taking their produce to market, thus causing a regular supply. He thought that system a dangerous one which would throw the supply of food into the hands of great capitalists, who would acquire the power of controlling the price at which the public would have it. We saw very plainly the effects of monopoly in the hands of the great monied capitalists, by what was going on in regard to rail-road travelling, which would become intolerable, unless Parliament effectually interfered in protecting the public. His opinion was, that no fixed duty sufficient to protect the home-corn grower could be maintained, especially in those seasons when it was most required. He considered, that it was incumbent on any Minister proposing an alteration in the present corn-laws, with a view to reduce the price permanently, at the same time to regard the burdens now by law imposed on the land, with a view to a corresponding abatement of them, and among them, the recent act for the Commutation of Tithes, had essentially altered the situation of the landowner and occupier; before that act passed, if by any alteration of the existing corn-laws, or from any other cause, the farmer ceased to grow corn and laid down his land for pasture, he, by so doing, ceased to pay a corn tithe, but by the Act for converting payments for tithes into a rent charge for ever, although corn might cease to be grown, and the land, then converted to pasture, as generally would be the case, turn out of very little value, still the same rent-charge must be paid, as if still yielding a corn crop. But a serious national evil must arise from the abandonment of the cultivation of a very large portion of the present arable land of England; for the capital after great loss had been sustained thus withdrawn, from the cultivation of British soil, would inevitably be transferred to the cultivation of foreign soil. It was well known, that British capital went to aid the production of whatever was required for British consumption; it went to France to aid the wine-grower; to 514 America, to aid the cotton-grower: the Island of Madeira had long been understood to be mortgaged to the English merchants; and there could not be a doubt that our capital would go out to large amounts to promote the cultivation of that immense tract of rich alluvial land, stretching from the Black-sea to the Baltic, thus enriching Russia by the impoverishment of our own soil; and our principal supply of corn therefore being derived from the northern ports, the main staple of our food would be entirely within the power and fiscal control of great and rival nations, who might be tempted to inflict upon us the severest calamities, when they became conscious of their ability to do so. These were a few of the reasons which would lead him to vote against the proposed fixed import duty on wheat of foreign growth. The present sliding scale of duties, though never yet fairly carried out by reason of the notorious frauds in taking the averages, had, on the whole, maintained as steady a price of corn as could under any other plan be effected, and as such had equally benefitted the manufacturer and the landowner.
§ Mr. Trotter
was understood to say, that he regretted the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, had brought forward the question of timber duties, more especially when Lord Sydenham had informed him, that any alteration would be productive of great discontent in Canada. He thought that a judicious alteration of the sugar duties might open new fields for our manufactures, but he was not prepared to vote for the proposals of Government on this point. In regard to the Corn-laws, he did not think that the existing distress of the manufacturers was attributable to the present system of duties on foreign grain. Indeed, the year in which the export of manufactured goods was greatest, was a year in which there was no import of corn, and during six years, when wages were most depressed, there was an average excess of exports of upwards of 11,000,000l.
§ Mr. William Roche
said, that his position did not call upon nor enable him to enter minutely, like the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, into the statistics of manufactures; but whether they are progressing, stationary, or declining, it must surely be admitted, that in proportion as new and extensive outlets are afforded them, they will largely and incalculably advance, and consequently bring 515 an increase of employment and resources to this country, calculated as England is, beyond all other nations, to avail herself of such advantages. The hon. Gentleman, too, who spoke last at this side of the House, indulged pretty largely in expressions of despondency in reference to the influence of the proposed change in the Corn-laws; but he (Mr. Roche) was of opinion that the hon. Gentleman's apprehensions were quite imaginary, and the result of those fears generated by that habitual sensibility which actuated the landlord and the farmer (but wearing away pretty rapidly as regarded the latter), whenever the corn question was ever so slightly touched upon. But surely, whether the price be affected a little or not, something like steadiness of price and supply, when needed, was a vastly greater boon, for it would enable the landlord and the tenant to adopt a more steady and certain principle of negotiation in their respective relations. The one would better know what he ought to ask, and the other what he ought to give; and as regarded supplies, when required, they would proceed in a regular even stream, instead of coming, as they now did, like an "avalanche" on the market. Our monetary system, also, was, every year or two, thereby placed in the most perilous predicament, paralysing every species of commerce and trade, from the consequences of which the agriculturist himself must materially suffer. Must not also the home market of corn always command a great preponderance over foreign grain, saddled as it would be by all the expenses of transit, agency and waste? Besides that, it must cause some rise in those foreign markets themselves, when the demand was rendered steady and continuous. The disparity of present and future prices was not therefore likely to be material, but it would render international commerce in grain of a steady character, and divest it of those perilous consequences to our monetary and industrial system in general which attended the present lottery-like state of things, causing, as it would, corn to be paid for, not as now, by exhausting' our coin, but by promoting our manufactures; and surely the agriculturists would ever find their best customers in a body of wealthy, well-employed manufacturers. Then, with regard to timber, could the Chancellor of the Exchequer touch it more lightly than he did—very many thought inexcusably light? He (Mr. Roche) built a good deal, 516 and had often reason to complain of the dearness of sound timber and the perishable nature of the cheap and favoured description; but could any exception be fairly taken to the charge when so large a preponderance was still left in favour of colonial produce? It was, however, with regard to the sugar question in reference to its bearing on slavery, that he principally wished to express his opinion and feelings. To slavery he ever entertained the deepest indignation and the liveliest abhorrence, as a stain on humanity and a still greater stain on Christianity—as the greatest outrage man could inflict upon his fellow man, and the most flagitious assumption of superiority that one human being could exercise upon another, alike the image of the same Creator whether born under a torrid or a temperate zone, and whether, in consequence, his complexion be black, brown, or fair. It was this very abhorrence that influenced him in voting for the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and for the following reasons:—first, because he was confident her Majesty's Ministers, from the many and magnanimous proofs they had given of their uncompromising hostility to slavery, had long and deeply considered the influence of this measure on that question, and that they had arrived at the mature opinion, that so far from retarding, it would greatly accelerate the overthrow of that moral turpitude and social pestilence. Equally sure was he that they never will relax their exertions, but grapple with slavery until, so far as their influence can extend, every vestige of it shall cease to exist. But, independently of this personal confidence, did not experience amply prove that free labour, free trade, and free agency of every kind were not promoted but kept down and crippled by miscalled protection? and this very evening was not a petition presented from silk manufacturers, repudiating its supposed advantage? In fact, excessive protection paralysed the energy and elasticity inherent in freedom of action, which, like a hardy plant, flourished better in the keen breeze of competition, than in the hothouse atmosphere of protection. Might not, too, the slave-employer say to us—yes, you boast the superiority of free over forced labour, but does your conduct square with your assertions? for, if so, why do you bolster it up with vast protection, and oppose slave-labour with similar prohibitions? 517 Place both on an equal footing, let there be a clear stage and no favour, and, if then we find your opinions realised, why, we will for our own interests acknowledge our error, abandon our ideas, and adopt yours. Now, convinced, as we, the advocates of free labour, are of its superiority, would it not be well and reasonable to meet its opponents on their own terms, and thus convince them by the evidence of facts, and by the influence of self-interest, so much more persuasive with such persons than volumes of moral homilies? He said, he valued little the piety, humanity, or consistency, of those who singled out one article, sugar, for their attack, while they allowed a multitude of others, alike obnoxious, to remain untouched and un-reproved, or who allowed themselves to share the profit of foreign consumption while they affected to deprecate the criminality of home enjoyment, forgetting the maxim "qui facitper alium facit per se." It put him in mind of a mercantile house in the city, to which he belonged, which house scrupled to make up provisions, beef and pork, directly for the Government, because then engaged in the late French war, yet hesitated not to sell these provisions to those who they knew wanted them for Government purposes. Every one heard it rumoured, that Ministers should or would resign in case they failed to carry their present measures, but with his opinion, that these measures were calculated to expand the resources, to extend the commerce, and increase the employment and comforts of the people, he could not but say, that if they did under such circumstances retire, it would be like the setting sun, ere long to rise again with renewed lustre. He would conclude with remarking, that if his opinions were correct in an abstract and moral point of view, how much more fortified and gratified by the reflection, that these measures would so essentially contribute to the comfort and improvement of the mass of the people,—a people so praiseworthily tranquil under many trying privations, but whose patience and forbearance it would be alike ungenerous and impolitic to test too severely. Then, if he looked to his own country, Ireland, and saw the great and glorious conquest they, its people, achieved over the deepest-rooted of their passions and prepossessions, by the relinquishment of the exciting but infuriating influence of ardent spirits, excusable, 518 if anything could excuse it, by the utter privation of every comfort under which they existed. Should we not, then, anxiously promote, and strive to perpetuate this great moral and social improvement and example, by rendering- attainable to them "the cup which cheers, but not inebriates," and facilitating every other innocent substitute and comfort, towards which, he was of opinion, these and similar measures were calculated to contribute, and should, therefore, have his warm support.
§ Mr. Tufnell
said, that he should have been content to have given a silent vote on the present occasion, had not the great maritime borough which he represented, felt the deepest possible interest in the decision to which the House might arrive on the momentous question now before them. He was forcibly reminded of the intense interest his constituents entertained on this topic, from having a short time since, when coming forward as a candidate, witnessed the conversion of his opponent (the connection of the right hon. Baronet opposite, and he believed as good a monopolist as any of the Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House,) to the doctrine of free trade in corn. He had seen that Gentleman, unable to resist the intreaties of the distressed artisans, and the universal wish of the electors, declare that he could not refuse to grant them cheap bread. When he recollected, that in the year 1828, Mr. Dawson had either, with a wonderful degree of prescience, or at any rate by some happy accident, proved a marvellous true prophet of the conversion of the right hon. Baronet on the question of Catholic Emancipation, he confessed he had been led to entertain some hopes that such might also prove the case on the present occasion. Whatever hopes, however, he had entertained, had been entirely destroyed by the tone adopted by some of the Gentlemen on his side of the House, who represented peculiarly the agricultural interest, and also had boldly stated that they objected to any alteration in the sugar monopoly because it might indirectly affect the question of the Corn-laws. Now this appeared a weak and dangerous line of argument. How could they say to the people, "We oppose the present measure, which may be calculated, in itself, to benefit the community, not on its own merits, but because it may load to the downfall of another 519 monopoly, in the benefits of a bill we participate." He derived every shilling himself from land, but he should be ashamed on a crisis like this, when other interests were called on to make sacrifices, were he not also himself prepared to contribute his own share in order to relieve the distresses of the country. He intreated hon. Members connected with the agricultural interest, to consider in what position they placed themselves—they had passed the Poor-law Bill, and taught the labouring man to rely on his own resources for subsistence—and were they not bound, then, to afford him every means in their power to save his own independence by cheapening the necessaries of life, and exerting themselves to open fresh markets for his labour. By the operation of the Poor-law Bill, they had been able to save millions, which had been formerly spent in providing for the poor; it might be said that it had been improperly spent, but still the money had come out of the pockets of the agriculturists, and they had benefitted by the change. How could they now come forward, when measures were under discussion calculated to benefit the poor to an immense extent, and meet them with a decided negative. Would it raise their character, or render their cause more popular in the country. The right hon. Baronet obtained their support on the present occasion as the advocate of all monopoly—as the defender of one which the agricultural interests in its wisdom considered as the outwork of others. If the right hon. Baronet accepted their support on any other ground, he was bound to explain himself fully, or he will be clearly receiving their confidence under false pretences. Unless he was prepared strictly to adhere to the principle of sustaining every important monopoly in the country, he was not entitled to receive their votes. By the present measures before the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer's object was to guarantee a moderate price of sugar, an article of such universal consumption, as any material rise in which affected so materially the labouring classes. He proposed to do this by reducing the protective duty on foreign sugar, from about 200 per cent, at which it at present stood, to 50 per cent., so that when the price of West-India sugar rose so high, it would be immediately checked by the competition of the foreign sugar, and the distress of the great body of consumers 520 immediately alleviated. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to consider that the present distress would be only temporary. He trusted that it might be so, but when he reflected on the circumstances that had for a very long time led to this state of embarrassment, and the rapidity with which foreign rivals were every day starting up to compete with our own manufacturers, he confessed that, without some great change, he could hardly hope for relief. It should also be remembered, that the only alternative we had to adopt, were the present measures for meeting our financial difficulties not adopted, would be the imposition of fresh taxes on a population already overburthened, or depressing, to a still greater extent, the springs and sources of industry. The question was not merely whether the present measure was in itself good, but whether the only alternative would not produce the most frightful consequences—heightening the price of the necessaries of life to a people already scarcely able to find the means of subsistence, depressing the manufacturing interest, which could hardly now keep its ground against foreign competition, and spreading dismay through every branch of industry, which was already too much dejected. The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, had taunted Ministers with having brought forward these measures when they were tottering to their fall. Whether the noble Lord was right in his prediction or not, it remained for that House and the country to decide. But, whatever might be the result of the present and future divisions, he (Mr. Tufnell) rejoiced to perceive that another system was tottering to its fall, namely, that system of monopoly which had so long weighed down the energies and productive industry of the empire.
Mr. E. G. Cavendish
declared himself a decided friend to what was termed the agricultural interest, and said, that unless it had been proposed to make some alteration in the commercial system of the country generally, and establish a more equal adjustment between the landed and manufacturing interests, he did not think it would have been either fair or politic to ask the agricultural interest to abandon the protection they enjoyed; but finding, that a great change was to be made in our fiscal regulations, that must materially benefit not only the landed interest, but all classes and interests in 521 the State, he certainly felt bound to give his support to her Majesty's Ministers. In voting, however, against the amendment of the noble Lord, and in favour of going into committee on the proposition of the Government, he did not consider, that he was at all pledging himself for this or that fixed amount of duty. The present was not the time for going into details. He would not now say whether or not, if any change took place, it ought not to be made to spread over a certain number of years. No one was more opposed to sudden changes in the existing system of commerce than he was, or less disposed to give a sudden blow to any large interests that had grown up under the sanction of the Legislature. But, however averse he might be to sudden changes, he could not consider the present deficient revenue without being willing to make up that deficiency, and more especially if it could be done without increasing the burdens of the people; and this, he thought, the measures proposed by the Government would accomplish.
§ Captain Mathew
said, Sir, I must intrude for a few moments upon the time of the House, if it be merely to notice the speech of the right hon. the Master-general of the Ordnance on a previous night. The gallant Officer left the House so immediately after his speech (which was, I must add, far more to the question, and far more marked by real argument, than any speech from the other side of the House), that I have not had the opportunity of noticing it, and only do so now in his absence, lest a division coming on may deprive me of the opportunity. The gallant General read an advertisement respecting the meeting in Palace-yard of some societies, of whom he spoke as "banded by selfish motives to oppose the Government," and as "gladly seizing a public pretence to work their self-interested views, and to gratify party feeling against her Majesty's Ministers." Sir, I am proud to avow myself a member of the committees of three of those societies: I am a member of the committee of the Colonial Society; of the Society for the Protection of Agriculture; and a member of the West-Indian Committee, and I can only corroborate the gallant General's assertion of their union, whilst I must declare, that for the first time in my life, I have heard from his lips, that union for self-preservation, that the joining of men 522 in legal appeals to the Legislature, against a measure which is ruin to all that is near and dear to them, is deserving of censure; when, in a far different cause, and with different and not perhaps equally loyal sentiments, masses of people banded together for Reform, the noble Lord, by his letters and his words, held it to be matter of praise. Let me now congratulate the noble Lord, that he has introduced measures which have formed the bond of union to so many different interests, whom feelings of indignation, and the necessity of self-preservation, have aroused to strew some thorns upon his last bed of roses. But, Sir, I could not bring myself to give a totally silent vote upon this measure, for I stand in a peculiar position before the House respecting the right hon. Gentleman's proposal; for, as a West-Indian proprietor to some extent, inheriting, under grant from Charles 2nd, lands in the oldest colonies, I have ever warmly advocated the abolition of the slave-trade, and have voted, nay, canvassed in this House, for the termination of the apprenticeship. I was not led to this conclusion by the forged and discreditable statements so sedulously circulated; I was not a believer in the shameful falsehoods so actively promulgated respecting the West-Indian proprietors and their treatment of the slaves; but I voted thus from an inherent detestation of the word slavery, coupled with the subjects of the Crown of England. I did so, I must add, in full reliance that the pledges which those great measures, and the recorded asseverations of all who took a part in those debates, gave me, that a fair trial to the national experiment should be given; and that the colonies should meet from England, the feelings and attachment that should mark a mother country's conduct to her first-born offspring. In these feelings, Sir, did the Legislature of the West-Indian colonies act. When these great, and, as I hold them, glorious acts, had passed your House (although against the opinions of the greater number of the colonists), they warmly entered into their spirit, and by an extended and expensive Church establishment, by the erection and endowment of schools and other institutions well fitted to advance their new social order, they evinced their desire to second your views, to the abandonment of their own, and their reliance upon the assurances of support and pro- 523 tection the British Parliament had so freely held out to them. They fairly warned you of the natural consequences of so brief a transition from slavery to freedom; you were prepared for it, and what they predicted has occurred—a great derangement of the social order ensued, and some time necessarily was requisite ere the cultivation of the colonial produce and rational order could be re-established. To the consequent diminution of their crops during this period, those who, as I must now term it, have the misfortune of possessing West-Indian property, have had to add the losses of two unexampled seasons of drought; and yet this is the season, this is the moment, that the noble Lord has selected to bring forward a measure which must utterly ruin the planter, and re-plunge the now happy labourer into semi-civilization and in misery. In a population now consuming 5l. per head of your manufactures, to the total amount of 4,000,000l., there will not be left means to consume to the amount of one single guinea. I can neither pass over, nor pretend to follow, the beautiful speech of the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies; every Member who had the pleasure of hearing him, must have admired that speech, and the more so, that so beautiful a superstructure should have been raised, by the noble Lord's talent, on so rotten a foundation. I must, however, thank the noble Lord for giving such testimony as he has done to my view of this measure; he has quoted an extract from the notes of Mr. Candler, when in Jamaica; he has exemplified the present thriving state of the labourers, and the habits of comfort they have adopted, and he tells us this is entirely owing to the high wages they receive: what better proof do I require than this, of the ruin the measure will cause? Our labourers are, thank God, too independent, too much habituated to comfort, to vie with the horrid "travail-work" of Cuba; and when the planter becomes, as he will at once, unable to supply wages, the negro will lapse into savage barbarism, amid the ruins of the once smiling homes of his former employer. I will not, Sir, delay the House by going into the various calculations I hold in my hand. The clear statement of my hon. Friend, the Member for Beverley, and the unanswerable speech of the noble Lord, the Member for Lancashire, has, I trust, convinced the House, at least, I am very 524 sure, convinced the country, that the short supply produced for two years by unavoidable causes is past, and that the natural rivalry between the East and West Indies will ensure an ample supply of sugar for the consumption of the country at a very moderate rate. These speeches have, I believe, fully disposed of the most plausible cry in the noble Lord's speech,—"cheap sugar for the people." The noble Lord has wisely glanced lightly over a most important part of this subject, I mean, the stimulus which this measure will give the slave-trade. He has, however, strenuously ransacked his memory, to fix some odium on this side of the House, for the parts some Members might have taken during the debates on the abolition of the slave-trade. The noble Lord had one instance suggested to him, and eagerly seized it, and referred to the violent speech of a former representative for Liverpool. Let me reply one word only. Let me inform the House, that this Member was Colonel Tarleton, one of the most decided Whig partisans, that ever entered this House! It is, indeed, Sir, a debasing view of human nature; but the conviction forces itself upon me, when I see Members upholding this measure, and sneering and joking at any allusions to the slave-trade, from this side of the House. Members, too, who once so eloquently portrayed the miseries of the slave — who called upon their fellow-countrymen at the hustings to forswear the use of sugar, rather than consume the produce of the slave—who produced at an election, the figure of a negro in chains, to excite popular indignation against an opposing candidate. Sir, I say, the conviction forces itself upon me, that not by the real feelings of humanity, but for partisan objects, and by party warfare, the great measure of freedom was carried. Sir, the noble Lord, with perfect gravity of countenance, turned round to this side of the House, and accused us of acting for party purposes, and of offering a factious opposition to his measures. The noble Lord has evidently followed the precepts of a distinguished Irish senator, Sir Boyle Roche, who said, "The best way to avoid a danger, is to meet it plump." The noble Lord accuses us first in fear and trembling, knowing, as he does, that without these walls, it has been written and said, I know not whether with truth, that he has conducted a factious defence, and that the 525 course he is now adopting is not in accordance with the spirit of the constitution. But the next, and the great argument of the noble Lord, is the deficit. To meet this, the Canadas, the West Indies, the shipping interest, the rising sugar cultivation of the east, and last, not least, the independence of the landowner, the comforts of the landholder, and the means of existence of the labourer—the agricultural interests of the empire—are to be sacrificed. And the noble Lord really believes the people of England so ignorant, so easily led by spouting radicals, as not to remember how that deficit was created! I will answer for it that he will, on an appeal to the people, find his error. When upon an electioneering experiment, and upon an exploded theory, the noble Lord proposed to give up a necessary, a productive, and a mildly felt source of revenue, did not the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Cambridge University, whose perfect knowledge of financial matters, in the opinion of this House and of the country, is only equalled by his rare habits of business, warn the noble Lord of the recklessness, the impropriety of his course, and call upon him to pause? And yet the noble Lord comes down smiling in triumph at his fault, as if he said—who will dare to be my successor now? The noble Lord appealed to the character of the Ministers. Let him try that with the country, since Sandwich he deems not a sufficient reply. You received the reins of office with a surplus; you have wasted that—you have put on ten per cent, on the assessed taxes—and yet you come before the House with a deficiency. You have unexampled distress at home—are you better abroad? After much waste of money and of life, you are obliged to acknowledge your expedition to China a complete failure, as if the responsibility of the selection of officers did not lay with the Ministers. You have war still in India. In America you have essayed to bark, before you were decided to bite; and by not insisting on Mr. M'Leod's liberation, and on the settlement of the boundary line, you have destroyed the prestige of British protection among your fellow-subjects on the frontier. Your colonies had a glimpse of happiness—you bring forward a measure for their ruin; in one where discontent had existed for years, an able and talented Governor (I allude to the Ionian Islands) had produced 526 harmony, and began to enjoy the popularity he deserves — you instantly recal him! Yes, my Lord, appeal to the country for the character of the Ministry! I listened with attention to the speech of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but, I confess, I could discover but one burden to his song—a querulous complaint, that the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, would not tell him what to do. So accustomed is he to see the country ruled in every good measure by the right hon. Baronet, that he now appears quite surprised, and fancies himself quite entitled to complain, because, having got into a scrape, the right hon. Baronet will not get him out of it. Sir, at the commencement of this debate, I had the honour to present a petition of no light importance, I mean, the petition of the Colonial Society; a society composed of near 1,200 gentlemen, proprietors, and connected with every colony of the empire. These gentlemen, Sir, composed of men of all politics, are determined to support colonial interests and rights, to the exclusion of every political feeling, and at a general meeting of that society, the determination was unanimous to oppose to the utmost these measures. The general belief was at that meeting, that had they returned Members to this House—had they possessed voices at a hustings to retain or discard a Ministry—they would not have been selected as the scapegoats for the noble Lord's bad legislation. But, Sir, the colonies are not, in this instance, unrepresented in this House. They are represented, on this occasion, by irresistible claims—by their claims on British honour, British humanity, and British justice. On these claims, Sir, they fully rely, and I feel convinced they will meet no disappointment. I trust, that this House will reject the proposals of the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, and that to the consciousness of having introduced an unjust measure, her Majesty's Ministers will add the disgrace of having failed in their attempt to carry it.
§ Sir Benjamin Hall
thought it his duty to offer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government his thanks for their proposition on the present occasion; and, although he could not hope to add any novelty in the way of argument after six or seven nights of debate, he wished briefly to state his sentiments, He quite agreed with the other side of the House 527 that they were not bound to bring forward any scheme of their own as a substitute for the Ministerial plan; indeed, it would be extremely difficult for them to do so, because there was no alternative between the amendment of the commercial system now under consideration and a tax upon real property, a measure which hon. Members now in opposition had always strenuously opposed when in office. In the same way they could hardly recommend a loan, for that temporary mode of meeting an emergency they had already so often resorted to, that it would avail them no longer. The present was not an emergency of this year only, and it was therefore peculiarly necessary that more than a temporary remedy should be applied to it. I am anxious to express a hope as to the future conduct of my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) and his colleagues. This division, I am aware, must be against Ministers, and representing as I do one of the largest and most respectable constituencies in the empire, I may be allowed to observe that I trust they will act with firmness and decision in the crisis which is about to occur. If ministers are defeated, as they will be, I hope they will not separate without again distinctly bringing that great question before the House, which many, both in and out of it, wish to see discussed and determined—I mean the question of the Corn-laws. If, when they do bring it forward, they are beaten, as they necessarily will be if we look to the result of former divisions, they ought to take upon themselves the responsibility of following up the subject by an appeal to the sense of the country. They are bound to allow the country an opportunity of expressing its judgment upon a proposition so importantly calculated for its advantage. It is impossible to anticipate very exactly what may be the event of such an appeal. It is not for me to say, whether it will be in favour of or against Ministers; but the country ought to have the means of determining whether this moderate fixed duty shall be established, as the forerunner of a total repeal. The House will do me the justice to recollect, that when I formerly represented a constituency in an agricultural district, I always spoke the same language, and whenever the question of the Corn-laws was mooted or brought to a division, I invariably gave my support to any proposal for their partial or total abrogation. I am 528 desirous, in the first instance, that a fixed duty should be imposed, instead of the present sliding scale, as it has been termed, which has introduced a most fictitious system, to be followed by an ultimate and total repeal, in order that the people may obtain provisions at the cheapest possible rate. I do hope that her Majesty's Ministers will not leave the question merely in abeyance: having in a manly and becoming manner propounded these matters to the Legislature, they ought not to shrink from the responsibility of claiming support from the electors of the United Kingdom. They will be defeated here: let them at once then appeal to the country, and let them tell the constituent body, that having done what in them lay to accomplish a great good, it remains to be seen whether the people will support the Ministers in an endeavour to repeal the Corn-laws, and thereby to afford cheap provisions to those who stand so much in need of them.
§ Mr. Strutt
said, that the hon. Member for Canterbury who had spoken early in to-night's debate, had at least been candid in his admissions. He had admitted the deficiency in the revenue, the distress of the working classes, and the depression of our commerce. He had also admitted that the measures proposed by the Government were calculated to supply the deficiency in the revenue, and at the same time to relieve the consumer and to promote the extension of our foreign trade. But he objected that we should be acting inconsistently with respect to our East-Indian possessions, if, after having lately conferred upon them the boon of equalizing the sugar duties, we were now to inflict upon them the hardship of exposing them to foreign competition. Now he (Mr. Strutt) contended that there was in neither case either a boon or a hardship. He considered the equalization of the sugar duties to have been an act of mere justice to the East Indies, and he maintained that the present measure was equally an act of mere justice to the British consumer. But the more favorite ground taken by the opponents of this measure had been, that it would have a tendency to encourage slavery in foreign, countries, and this was the argument set forth in the resolution. He admitted that this was a most important question, but it was one which they must discuss on general principles. It might answer the 529 purpose of Gentlemen on the other side of the House on the present occasion to say, "We will put out of question slave-grown coffee, and slave-grown cotton, and slave-grown tobacco, we will allow all such articles to be imported in great and increasing quantities, whatever the effect may be in encouraging slavery and the slave-trade; but if we can only show that the importation of slave-grown sugar may have a similar effect, we will endeavour to raise the cry of humanity and serve our party purposes by forming a junction with a few (a very few he believed they would be) of those who had been the consistent opponents of slavery." But it was absolutely necessary to consider this question on general principles; and if we determined to exclude slave-grown sugar, we must, on the same principles, unless our humanity was a mere pretence, take measures for the immediate limitation and for the ultimate exclusion of all articles produced by slave-labour. Nay, we must go much further, and we must in consistency determine to refuse all commercial intercourse with countries in which slavery was allowed to exist; because it was the necessary effect of every bale of British goods imported into such countries to cause the exportation of some article of slave-grown produce, if not to this country, at least to some other nation with whom we were accustomed to trade. The question, therefore, arose, whether we were prepared to attempt the suppression of slavery by such means; whether by refusing to trade with other nations we were willing to inflict a great injury upon ourselves as well as upon them, with the view of coercing them into the abolition of slavery. He was himself convinced that any such attempt would be utterly fruitless, and that instead of succeeding in our object by such means, we should only excite in the minds of foreign nations feelings of hostility not only against the Government and the people of this country, but also against the principles which we were endeavouring to promote. He was satisfied, on the other hand, that if we desired to discourage slavery in foreign countries, we ought to endeavour to do so by extending our amicable and commercial relations with them, by using every means of infusing into the minds of those nations the same benevolent and humane feelings by which the people of this country had been actuated by taking every oppor- 530 tunity of promoting by means of treaties the mitigation and final extinction of slavery, and, above all, by showing to the people of those countries that, in putting an end to slavery, we had not merely performed a great act of justice and humanity, but that we had also consulted our own true and permanent interests. If, on the contrary, it appeared that in taking this step we had not only had to pay an immense sum under the name of compensation, but that we had also imposed on the consumer a permanent burden in the high price of sugar, and that we had also destroyed our trade with a great part of the world, we should thus be setting an example which was not very likely to be followed. Before he left this part of the subject, he wished to say a few words respecting the conduct of the West-India interest. When he recollected that those Gentlemen had formerly been owners of slaves and traders in slaves, and that many of them had been vehemently opposed to the abolition of the slave-trade and of slavery itself, and when he now saw them endeavouring to denounce the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, and those who acted with him, as guilty of inhumanity, he owned that he was filled with amazement, and that if he were to give full expression to his feelings, he might be tempted to use language which would be scarcely parliamentary. But perhaps it might be said, that reference should not be made to transactions which were previous to the abolition of slavery. Had, however, the conduct of those Gentlemen been consistent even since that period? Had they not witnessed the importation of slave-grown cotton, and tobacco, and rice, without even a murmur? But the moment that it was proposed to touch the article on which they were themselves interested, that moment all their slumbering humanity was aroused, and they seemed scarcely able to find words to express all the humane feelings by which they were influenced. He was not there to charge those Gentlemen with hypocrisy, or to deny the existence of that humanity which they now so loudly professed; but he would say, that those professions were no sufficient ground for denying a measure of justice and relief to the suffering people of England. Before he sat down he was anxious to express the satisfaction with which he had heard the announcement of the remaining portion of the finan- 531 cial scheme of the Government. He was more particularly rejoiced that they had proposed to substitute a fixed duty upon corn in the place of the present sliding scale, a system which he could only regard as one of fraud and delusion. His hon. Friend, the Member for Kent, had complained that the Government had not announced what they intended should be the price of corn under their new system. In making this complaint he thought that his hon. Friend was guilty of a fallacy which was very apt to pervade the reasonings of the supporters of the existing Corn-laws, namely, the assumption that it was within the power, and that it was the duty of Parliament to maintain the price of corn at some given amount. In his opinion, on the contrary, it was the duty of the Legislature simply to place all classes, as nearly as they could, on a perfect equality, with regard to fixed burdens, and to leave prices to regulate themselves. The hon. Member for Surrey had contended that the importation of foreign corn would not have any tendency to promote an increased exportation of our manufactures, and he had founded this argument on a reference to Parliamentary returns, from which it appeared that, under the existing system, our exports had not increased in those years in which we imported corn. Now, so far from thinking that the hon. Member had proved his case by this reference, he thought that he had adduced a strong argument against the present Corn-laws. It had been a subject of universal complaint, that under the present system the trade in corn was in the highest degree fluctuating and uncertain, and that importation could only take place in years of scarcity and commercial distress, when being unable to pay for the supply by the exportation of our manufactures, we were obliged to have recourse to an export of gold, thus deranging our circulation and causing the most extensive distress to all classes. If any additional argument had been wanting in this discussion against the present Corn-laws, he thought it had thus been supplied by the hon. Member for Surrey. In conclusion, he would express his satisfaction that her Majesty's Ministers had now committed themselves to these important measures in favour of free trade. He was confident that they were founded on sound principles, and he trusted that, in any course which the Government might 532 hereafter take, they would disregard all minor considerations, and would look only to promoting the success of those great measures on which the attention of the country was fixed. If they did so, he was satisfied that they would receive immense support from the people, and that the cause in which they had embarked must ultimately prevail.
§ Mr. M. Phillips
had never felt greater confidence in any course than in that which was now recommended by Government, and upon this subject he believed there existed a perfect identity of feeling between himself and his constituents. No constituency in the kingdom had been more distinguished for the interest taken in the cause of negro emancipation, and two days ago, with the utmost satisfaction he had received from the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, in Manchester, a communication stating that only two individuals connected with that body had hesitated to come forward in favour of the proposition of Ministers. He had heard with great surprise the statements of the right hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and believed him to be mistaken as to the sentiments of the operatives of the country. Those who required sympathy generally bestowed it with the greatest sincerity, and it seemed almost insulting the feelings of the operatives to talk of their dining on a dish of herbs. They had already too long had no better fare, not as a matter of choice, but of grievous necessity. The very existence of many hundred thousands might be said to be wrapped up in this discussion. He had originally been connected with a House in the Brazil trade, and it was his belief, after full inquiry, that the official return on this point, stating it at 2,600,000l. was considerably below the real value of the trade. It would be impossible to put down so extensive a commercial intercourse without an absolute act of non-intercourse; and if that were passed, the operatives thrown out of employ must necessarily be cast upon the parish, and become a burden to every species of property. It was, therefore, a matter of no small moment with reference to the new commercial treaty to be concluded in 1842; for, if goods were only to be sent out, and none brought home from Brazil, freights must be higher in proportion, and it would be detrimental, not only to the shipping interest, but to the merchant 533 and the manufacturer. It behoved every Government to take care that such an important branch of trade should not only be maintained, but promoted and improved. Sympathy was, at least, as much due to those at home as abroad, and he rejoiced that ministers had come manfully forward to meet the difficulties of the times, and by reviving and encouraging trade, to give employment to those who were ready and anxious to work. He had been requested by the hand-loom weavers of Manchester to ask for a grant of public money for the purposes of emigration, and he had dissuaded them from it, thinking that it would be difficult for those brought up to manufactures to adapt themselves to agricultural employments; but unless some alteration were speedily made in the condition of the people of this country, the Parliament would be driven by stern necessity to listen to their appeal to enable them to find in distant lands that work which they were not permitted to procure at home. He was convinced that their bad condition was mainly attributable to the state of our laws with respect to provisions, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite knew the real condition of the population in the manufacturing districts, they would think that others merited consideration as well as themselves—they would no longer support unequal laws, when the mass of the people were in abject misery, and they would no longer wish to uphold the present system for their own selfish interests. The noble Lord, the Member for Lancashire, had referred, with some earnestness, to the circular of two brokers of Liverpool. The opinions of these Siamese twins appeared to the noble Lord to be very important, and, upon their authority, the noble Lord stated, that if the Government measure passed into a law, there would be imported into this country wheat of a superior description to that generally imported from Ireland. Why, this superior quality of wheat was what the starving manufacturers of Manchester had long required. It had been the accusation against those Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House who had supported the Poor-law Bill, that their intention was to drive the people to the use of coarse food. He had always denied that assertion, but he now found that those who did desire to drive the people to food of a coarse and bad quality were 534 those who complained, that if the plan of her Majesty's Ministers were carried, the people would have an ample supply of the best description of food. If that were not the inference to be drawn from the noble Lord's reference to the brokers' circular, he could not conceive what it was. Her Majesty's Ministers had tried extra taxation—they had failed; and the course which they had now pursued, in proposing such measures as the present, gave them great honour. It was only during the last year or two that the evils of the Corn-laws had been generally acknowledged, but they had for years, to his observation, been producing an under-current of mischief: when, in the years 1834 and 1835, the country was stated to have been in the highest prosperity, and when the banking system had been carried to its greatest extent, the Corn-law was silently doing its work, and, unfortunately, we had been now brought to that situation that we could not compete with foreigners in the markets of the world: and when it was remembered that the quantity of our exports exceeded the amount of our manufactures in the home consumption, the bad consequence of this exclusion was apparent to everybody. All must allow that we ought, without delay, to free our commerce from all shackles, and he trusted that hon. Gentlemen opposite would not, by opposing these measures of her Majesty's Government, render themselves responsible for what he was sorry to believe would soon be the condition of the great mass of his countrymen.
§ Mr. Winston Barron
differed from the proposal of the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) upon six distinct grounds. He opposed it, first, because he believed, that if the House of Commons affirmed the resolution of the noble Lord opposite, however paradoxical it might appear to the new-born philanthropists opposite, it would tend to perpetuate slavery in every country in the world in which slavery now existed, for if we declared that the free labour of the West Indies, with the advantages of fifty per cent, protection, and 20,000,000l. grant, could not compete with slave-labour, what would other countries, which had not yet emancipated their slaves say when they were called upon to follow our example, but that the British Parliament had proved that it would be absurd for them to emancipate their slaves. If 535 they reasoned as men of common sense, they would say, "If the British colonists, with their advantages of fifty per cent, and their twenty millions, cannot compete with slave-labour, what are we to do—if we, who have no such advantages, emancipate our slaves?" Depend upon it, we should be fixing upon the black population in these other countries the perpetual bonds of slavery, if the resolution of the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool, were carried. He, therefore, said, as a friend of humanity, and as a sincere friend of the slave, that instead of passing such a resolution, they ought to adopt the proposition of the noble Lord near him (Lord John Russell), and send forth their fiat, saying, "See what we have done for the West Indies, see how prosperous they are, see how well they can compete with your slave-labour, how successful they have been, come follow our example." Secondly, he opposed this resolution because he believed it would be highly injurious to the people of this country, if we did not change our tariffs and our present customs regulations. He believed that we had already lost the best markets we had ever had in Europe by the blind system of monopoly which we had pursued during the past twenty years. Was it not notorious that we had forced the whole of Germany to join the Prussian league, which had driven our manufactures out of every part of Germany? Was it not notorious that for every pound we now sold, we sent 20lbs. twenty years ago? We had obliged them to establish manufactories for themselves, and we had raised rivals at our very doors. At Chemnitz, and many other places, they had been constantly erecting manufactories, and were now becoming our rivals. Manufactures of iron, manufactures of hardware, manufactures of cotton, manufactures of woollen goods, manufactures of muslins, and manufactures of linens, had been springing up in all directions. And why? Because we would not take their raw materials. And thus we were ruining our own manufactures and starving our population at the same time; and it was because he considered that the resolution of the noble Lord opposite applied not to sugar alone, but to the whole measure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that if it were carried it would abridge the comforts of the poor and deprive them of many of the necessaries of life, that he 536 felt bound to offer to it his strongest opposition. He opposed it, also, upon another ground, which might appear to be a novel one to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and which might be received by a shout of derision, but which was, nevertheless, a real objection. He opposed the resolution, because if the noble Lord's resolution were carried, the Irish people would consider it a resolution to unseat the Government in which they placed confidence; it would shake the faith of that people in the British House of Commons, and tend more than anything else to that to which he believed hon. Gentleman opposite honestly objected; it would tend more to promote the repeal of the Union than any act that had been committed for the last thirty years. It was not a resolution merely upon sugar and upon slavery, but it was also a resolution to unseat the Government that had done justice to the Irish people. And he would not be acting fairly as an Irish representative, if he did not warn them before they raised seven or eight millions of people in arms against them. [Ironical Cheers.] Perhaps he had spoken figuratively, but they would raise a direful spirit of opposition against those Ministers who should occupy the benches near him, for if they supported their friends in Ireland, they would support those who had ever been the greatest enemies of the people of that country. Fourthly, he opposed this resolution because he detested monopoly in every shape and in every form. He detested monopoly in religion, he detested monopoly in politics, and he detested monopoly in trade and commerce beyond all; and he thought the resolution of the noble Lord opposite materially supported monopoly in its most disgraceful shape, when it affected the comforts of the poor. If this resolution were carried, it would tend to keep up the high price of sugar, and if there were deficiency in our own colonies, the price would rise to an enormous extent. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Newark, had said, that there would be just a difference of 1s. 6d. in favour of the people under the Government proposal; but the hon. Gentleman had forgotten that if it should be the will of Providence to affect our West-Indian colonies with any calamity, such as a wet season, hurricanes, or a rising of the population, there was no reason why the price of sugar should not rise to 60s. or 70s.; 537 and it would be impossible under the Government proposal that prices should ever reach such a height. The West Indies had no right to complain of the proposition of her Majesty's Ministers, for, though they had already received an enormous boon from this country, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed an additional protection of fifty per cent. What more could they, what more ought they to expect, unless they meant to have such a protection as would make this country pay more than their estates were worth? He, therefore, said that, because it aided monopoly, he trusted that the resolution of the noble Lord opposite would be scouted by a majority of the House, as it had been scouted by the people of this country. He reiterated the hope of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Marylebone, (Sir B. Hall) that her Majesty's Ministers would feel it their duty to appeal to the country upon these measures. He did sincerely hope that they would make that appeal, and especially after the first display they had seen of the feelings of this country: [Opposition Cheers.] he alluded to the display of feeling on the part of those people who had been all their lives opposed to slavery, and who had come forward honestly and openly, when there were slaves to be emancipated in our own dominions. He said, unequivocally, that those who had expressed these feelings, would not be deluded by the new-born zeal in favour of the blacks of Porto Rico or the Brazils. He was satisfied that it would be a complete failure, to endeavour to get up an anti-slavery cry against the Government. He opposed the noble Lord's resolution upon a further ground. He opposed it, because he believed it would tend most materially to shake the public credit, if these kinds of resolutions were to be made party questions. He believed that the public creditor would not be quite satisfied to see such discussions brought forward in that House, when it was notorious that they were brought forward for party purposes. When the public revenue was not equal to the expenditure, it was time for the public confidence to be somewhat shaken —it was time that it should be shaken, when it was seen that a large and influential body in that House, instead of assisting to raise the revenue, and enabling the country to seek new sources of industry, came down with a party motion, to prevent the Chancellor of the Ex- 538 chequer from meeting the public demands. He was shocked to see men of such wealth and station, pretending to some character, coming forward and lending themselves to such party purposes; he did not think that it was an honourable way of meeting such a great question. Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheered when he said that he hoped there would be an appeal made to the country, and when he said that it might be judged from what had passed, what would be the result. He had understood perfectly well that cheer; it referred to what the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire (Lord Stanley), had alluded to when he taunted the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), with losing town after town. Now he must say, that he had thought this a very imprudent allusion. He would ask the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, 'whether he would be willing to row in the same boat with the parties returned for some of those towns for which hon. Members had lately taken their seats in that House? Was the right hon. Gentleman prepared to adopt the principles of the Chartists of Nottingham? Was he prepared to enter into a crusade against the Poor-law Bill? Yet, was it not notorious as the sun at noonday, that these were the subjects which had lately brought hon. Members into that House. Were these returns to be ascribed to the principles of old-fashioned Toryism, or were they in consequence of any professions of the right hon. Baronet's own principles? No; he had opposed the Chartists as much as the present Government, and it had been ascribed as a fault to his hon. Friends below him by the Chartists, that they had been prosecuted by the present ministers. He would ask, too, whether the right hon. Baronet had not openly and consistently supported the Poor-law Bill in that House as much as any one? [Question.] He was answering the argument of the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, and he was telling the truth, though he knew it was not very palatable to hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Baronet was too candid not to allow that these were not principles on which he would like to see converts come into that House, and this, without reference to what he had seen in a letter that morning in the newspapers from a noble Friend of his (Lord Rancliffe), in which there was one item that was rather equivocal, and in which they 539 were particularly told that a sum of 16,000l. had been lost, or stolen, or strayed, and that backed the declaration of the noble Lord, that votes were openly sold, coupled, too, as this was, with the scenes at Canterbury, and other places [A voice—"St. Albans]. There had been strong assertions with respect to St. Alban's, but, as far as proof went, it had failed. These were not the kind of supporters which the right hon. Baronet would like to come into that House; he wished him joy of them, but he could not congratulate him, or the country, upon his receiving such support by such means. He looked, too, with great suspicion upon this newborn zeal for the slaves, because he had seen hon. Gentlemen opposite adhere to opinions, or abandon them whenever it suited their purpose. He recollected that, both in that House and the other, they had been violently opposed to Catholic emancipation; they had abandoned that opposition as they had abandoned the Corporation and Test Acts, when they found the opinion of the country to be against them. They had abandoned also their opposition to the Reform Bill, and were become its strenuous supporters, whilst the right hon. Gentleman at the head of their party had declared, not only that he was a strict adherent of the Reform Act, but that he would remedy and correct all proved abuses in Church and State. And he now saw those who had been the advocates of slavery in every shape, abandon that cause, and come forward as emancipists. Why what faith could the country have in a party that had thus given up its principles one after another? He supposed that the next thing they would see, would be the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, coming down to propose the abolition of ten or fifteen English bishoprics, as he had abolished the ten in Ireland. Would he be astonished at such a proposal? Not at all. He might also see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke, (Sir James Graham) coming down to propose the abolition of the duty upon corn. Would that astonish him? Not in the least. The right hon. Gentleman would be but returning to his first love. He should not be astonished at the introduction of such measures, because he had seen measures of as great importance in point of principle abandoned by that very party after they had been brought forward. 540 That party, in fact, wished to go further than the feelings of the country permitted, and he could not but view their new zeal for the abolition of slavery as being in truth a zeal for the assumption of office.
Mr. W. Williams
was as anxious as any man for the abolition of slavery, and though he was impressed with the belief that this measure would give relief to the overtaxed people of this country, he should not support it if he thought it would in any manner retard the progress of negro emancipation. He was decidedly of opinion that the measure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the reduction of duties on foreign sugars would have no influence on the state of the free black negro of the West Indies, He had formed that opinion from some documents which he held in his hand. He found that,
|The average price of Muscovado or British colonial sugar, during the last eighteen years, from 1823 to 1840, according to official returns, was, per cwt.,||33s.||1d.|
|The average price of foreign sugar during the same period was||24s.||6½d.||37s.||1d.|
|Proposed differential duty||12s.||7d.|
§ Thus showing that the British colonial sugar was sold at a less price than foreign sugar by 4s. 0½d per cwt., or 12½ per cent.
|British colonial sugar||36s.||10d.|
§ Showing that colonial was sold for less than foreign sugar by 5d. per cwt.
§ Showing that it was only necessary to sell British colonial sugar less by 1s. 1d. per cwt., or 3 per cent., to exclude foreign sugar from our market.
§ "Quantity of sugar imported—
|West Indies, cwt.||Mauritius, cwt.||E. Indies, cwt.||Without duty, average price per cwt.|
§ Showing the produce of the West Indies was more in 1839 by sixty per cent, than in 1840; and that the average price of colonial sugar was higher by 50 per cent, in 1840 than in 1838, while the price of foreign sugar was, in 1840, 21s. 6d. per cwt., and in 1838, 21s. 3d. Looking at the state of the sugar-trade for the last twenty-nine years, he was decidedly of opinion that the proposition of the Government would not in the least degree affect the condition of the free black population of our West-Indian colonies. In the course of the debate a strong feeling had been manifested in favour of the negro labourer, but he 'could not help thinking that while hon. Members had thus expressed their opinions of this portion of the question, they had most unwarrantably lost sight of the wants and the sufferings of the labouring population of our own country. It had been proved that the labourers of the West Indies were much better off than the free-born labourers of this country; for not only were their wages higher in amount, but their means of living more simple, and their opportunities of procuring food far more advantageous than those of the British population. The Under-Secretary of the Colonies said the blacks drink champagne, on which they will have to pay only 7 per cent, duty. The English labourer however, pays a duty of 120 per cent, on his beer, calculating the. duty on malt and the profit on it of the malster, brewer, and publican. Our West-India colonies are principally supplied with provisions from the western states of America. The prices of the provisions principally consumed by the West-India free black at Cincinnati, on the Ohio, the city from which the produce of the western states was principally shipped, from whence there is an open continuous navigation down the Ohio and Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and West Indies were as follows—
|Flour—2½ dollars to 3 dollars per barrel of 196lbs. which will take 5 bushels of wheat—say 3 dollars at 4s. each||12s.||0d.|
|Reduced duty proposed by Mr. Labouchere||2s.||0d.|
|Which is equal to 2s. 10d. per bushell, or||22s.||8d. per quarter.|
|The Freight, profit, &c.||11s.||4d.|
|34s.||0d. per quarter.|
|Price per average of English wheat in 1840, was||60s.||6d.|
|Price per average of English wheat in 1839||73s.||6d.|
§ Showing the English labourer pays double the price for his bread to the black labourer. Again let them look at the price of other provisions,
|1½d. per lb.|
|Pork in the United States was, Reduced duty proposed 4s. per cwt., or||½d.|
|Add 50s. per cent, for freight, profit, &c.||1d.|
|3d. per lb.|
§ The English labourer paid more than double this for his pork or bacon. Another important article was sugar. Now sugar produced by slave-labour in Brazils, was refined in this country, and allowed to be consumed in the West Indies by the freed blacks, by paying a duty of 7 per cent:—
|Cost of fine refined sugar||33s.||0d.per cwt.|
|Proposed duty 7 per cent.||2s.||0d.|
|35s.||0d. per cwt.|
|Freight, profit, &c.||1¼d.|
|5d. per lb.|
§ In this country the same quality of sugar would cost 10d. to 11d. per pound. The black could buy his coffee, which was produced in the West Indies, and his tea, which paid a low duty, for less than one-half of the price in this country. The competition with our manufactures was principally from Switzerland, Germany, and the United States. He would therefore, show the rates at which the inhabitants of those countries bought sugar.
§ The Swiss buys his sugar at 2½d. per lb., or 23s. 4d. per cwt. little or no duty. The German at 2½d. per lb.
|Duty within the German League 15s. per cwt., or||1½d.|
|The American buys his sugar for||2½d.|
§ The Englishman pays for his sugar, average price of 1840,
§ 49s. 1d.
§ Duty 4s. 0d.—Total 73s. 1d. per cwt.
§ Eight pence per lb. is 74s. 8d.
|Duty on British colonial sugar||24s. per cwt.|
|Duty on foreign sugar||63s. per cwt.|
§ Difference between the duty paid on foreign and colonial sugar 39s. per cwt. or 4¼d. per lb. on sugar which cost 2½d. per lb."
§ It appeared from this statement that the negro labourer of the West Indies could buy his principal necessaries of life at one-half the price paid by the English labourer, while the negro got on an average much higher wages than the English labourer. At Demerara the wages of the black labourer was about 4s. a day. Notwithstanding this inferiority of condition of the free born Englishman, produced principally by monopoly and taxation, as compared to the emancipated negro, all the sympathy was for the negro, while the distress and suffering of the English labourers and artisans were disregarded. He (Mr. Williams) was convinced that the proposed alteration in the sugar-duties would, by diminishing the price to the consumer, cause a very great increase in the consumption of that article, and that the advantage to the revenue would be far beyond what had been calculated upon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He believed also that the same result would follow the proposed alteration in the corn-duties. It was notorious that our manufactures were all but excluded from many neutral markets which formerly were among our best customers by the cheaper productions of rival nations, to whom our restrictive system gave an undue advantage. Having recently visited Canada, he wished to make a few observations with respect to the timber-duties. He believed the alteration proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which would still leave a protecting duty, would not produce any material injury to that country. Looking at the state of the revenue, he could not see how hon. Gentlemen opposite could refuse to go into committee to consider the propositions of the Government, which he believed were calculated to meet the evil. Whatever opposition they might now meet with, they must become the law of the land, for the feeling of the country was so strong upon the question, that whatever party came into power they must be carried.544
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
said, that, judging by certain significations, and by the silence which had been studiously observed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, he thought that he was justified in assuming that there was a great anxiety on that side of the House, that this debate should be brought to a speedy conclusion, an anxiety not merely arising from the weakness of their case, but an anxiety also arising from an expectation which they seemed to entertain, that perhaps at the conclusion of this debate, those sweets of office which were not now within their grasp, might be within their reach Knowing their anxiety, he would not now interpose between them and their fondest wishes, did he not feel confident that the longer this debate was prolonged, the better the people of England would understand the conduct and motives of the other side of the House, yes, the better would they understand, not only the conduct and motives of the House, but the better would they appreciate the resolution of the noble Viscount (Viscount Sandon) which was in opposition to their going into committee for the purpose of considering the best means, and the best way of meeting the exigencies of the case, in preference to imposing any additional burden upon the people; and not only would they appreciate the conduct of hon. Members on both sides of the House, but they would also set a value on the resolution of the noble Lord, which, he had no hesitation in saying, since he had had the honour of sitting in Parliament, was for its unparalleled inconsistency, its most barefaced duplicity, ay, and he would say its matchless hypocrisy, unrivalled in the records of the annals of the House. His immediate object in rising was, if possible, to catch a little of that sympathy which appeared to exist in the breasts of hon. Members opposite, for the population of foreign states. He wished to seek a little of that sympathy for the sufferings and distresses of our own fellow countrymen, which he would venture to prove to the House most distinctly. But before he proceeded to do so, he begged to be allowed to congratulate hon. Members opposite, on the fidelity with which they could keep a secret. Speaker after speaker on that (the Ministerial) side of the House had made the most urgent and he might say the most pathetic appeals to know, in the event of their defeating her Majesty's Ministers 545 on this occasion, what they would do; but, with one exception, those hon. Gentlemen had been as silent as the grave. He need not remind the House, that that exception was the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn). He, to be sure, coquetted and played with the question; he asked of her Majesty's Ministers "Why do you ask us this question? You have no right to do so—you have produced the crisis and the difficulty, and you must propound the remedy." But he should like to know who had created the difficulty? Had it arisen from any extravagant and unauthorised expenditure on the part of the Government, or from any misconduct on the part of the people? What were the items by which this deficiency had been produced? A great and overwhelming loss from the free communication by post which had been established. Had not that been authorised by Parliament—had it not met with the approbation of the whole country? What was the other cause of the deficiency? Did it not arise out of the deficiency of our excise returns? Did it not arise from the improved disposition and temperance of the Irish people? He was told, that there was a deficiency of half a million; he wished to know, then, how hon. Gentlemen opposite meant to meet the difficulty, if they came into office. Did they mean to repeal the Penny Postage Act. Dared they raise the postage of letters? Did they mean to promote inebriety in Ireland? Did they mean to take half a million of money from the starving people of England in support of the so-called Church extension system? The remedy proposed by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge was to leave things alone; but he (Mr. Duncombe) said, that they would not be able to leave things alone long. The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, objected to the time at which these changes were proposed, and said, that nothing could warrant such experiments but the most urgent case of necessity. Now, what he wanted to learn was, whether it was not an urgent case of necessity that foreign countries refused to admit our manufactured goods into their markets unless we received their produce? Was it no urgent case of necessity that the whole mass of the industrious people of this country were starving and entirely destitute of the means of obtaining food? Sacrifices must be made somewhere for the general good; but the industrious millions of this country were now come to such a pass of misery and pri 546 vation, that it was impossible for them to make any further sacrifice. The noble Lord, the Colonial Secretary, in his admirable speech on opening the debate, had ably painted the present state of the negroes of the West Indies. It might be alleged that that picture was overdrawn, but in support of it he had now great pleasure in quoting an authority which he was sure the House could not object to acknowledge. It was the report of an assembly the continuance of which he had two years ago voted in support of; and they stated—We have never known an instance of parents putting their infant families to death, to save them from the protracted sufferings of starvation. It is not in Jamaica that unfortunate mothers outrage nature by the destruction of their new-born offspring, to avoid the cruel persecution of a hard-hearted and destroying morality; nor is it under our laws that wretches commit suicide to escape the refuge which is provided for worn-out and aged industry. We have no corn-laws to add to the wealth of the rich, nor poor-laws to imprison, under pretence of maintaining, the poor. We cannot, as the English Parliament does, boast of a pauper law which has taken millions from the necessities of the destitute, to add to the luxuries of the wealthy.The right hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, the other evening, through ignorance, he supposed, for he would not accuse the right hon. and learned Member of indifference to the sufferings and feelings of the poor, said, that they would rather dine upon herbs than upon a stalled ox, under such terms as those proposed by her Majesty's Government. If there was ever a speech uttered calculated to produce disgust throughout the country, it was that of the right hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets. Let him look at the state of the poor in the neighbourhood of the borough which he represented. He would beg to read an extract from a report of what took place some weeks ago, in an application to Alderman Wilson at the Mansion House:—Miller, the relieving officer of the West London Union, said 'That he is frequently obliged to make his escape the back-way to avoid the violence of the poor waiting in front.' It was impossible the present state of things could continue.'And on the 11th of March he said—These destitute objects have become so exasperated and so reckless of life he was afraid they would commit murder.The same day (11th March), Thwaites, 547 relieving officer of the City of London Union stated—That that union had relieved 6,000 destitute persons since January, and it was impossible to give an idea of the misery and distress of the able-bodied working men who came to him, by hundreds, actually famishing.This was the wretched condition of a large portion of the population in the centre of London, the richest city in the world; in the midst of luxury, gaiety, and plenty. To go now to Bethnal-green, the following melancholy statements presented themselves:—John Helyard, No. 1, Smart-street, Bethnal-green, weaver, with five children, the eldest seven years and a half; only one room, for which be pays 2s. per week, four yards and three-quarters in length, four yards six inches wide; four rooms form the whole house, in which there reside three families. Helyard and family have only straw to lie upon, stitched up inside old bagging; three old chairs, no saucepans, but one old kettle, in which this family boil their potatoes.—William Sclater, 6, Swan-street, weaver; five children, eldest eight years old; one room, only one chair, willow shavings for bed; no saucepans for use, but borrow of a friend; so badly clothed, wife has not been able in consequence to leave her room for some weeks.—William Field, 9, Derbyshire-street, Bethnal-green; three children; a weaver; one room, no work, no bed; the youngest nine months old, and it has not yet slumbered upon anything but old rags.In the district, also, which he had the honour to represent, he believed, that there was as much distress as in any part of London; but he would not take any instances from that district, but go to the borough of Marylebone, represented by a noble Lord, who, he believed, was not now in his place, or he would invite his particular attention to the following statements:—The worst districts of the metropolis have not been investigated, but the part selected was in the parish of Marylebone, not far distant from the centre of fashion, wealth, and splendour. The number of houses visited was 315: number of families inhabiting them, 915; number of families in which there were children, 578; number of children, 1,575. Out of the 578 families with children, 308 have but 1 room; 140 families have but 2, and there are 796 children who sleep in the same room as their parents. In Calmel-buildings, Marylebone, are 26 houses; average number of rooms in each house is, nearly 9; number of inhabitants, 882—consisting of 163 married couples, with 345 children; 66 widowers or 548 widows with 94 children; 21 single males; 30 single females, in all 280 families (in 26 houses); the average size of rooms, 11 feet 8 by 10 feet 6. In 156 of these families the parents sleep in the same room with the children, and in 132 families the youths and children, of both sexes and all ages, sleep together in one room.But these were not solitary instances; if they went to any of the manufacturing districts they would find the same melancholy state of things. What, for, instance, was the state of the industrious classes in Birmingham, during the late severe winter? During that trying season subscriptions were raised by the inhabitants of that town, and a relief committee appointed, consisting chiefly of Conservatives, to bestow their charity. This relief committee, after affording succour to a great number of people, found themselves obliged to make a report, stating thatThey found in the distribution of the half of the sum collected above forty thousand individuals in such a state of destitution, as to be eager and grateful recipients of the amount of relief afforded, being less than one penny farthing per head each for five weeks. That these individuals were reduced to this extreme suffering and degradation, by causes over which they had no control, and from which therefore they possessed in themselves no means of escape. That not more than one family in five, could by any possibility make provision for the vicissitudes of trade.Nevertheless, the committee finding their labours to be hopeless, gave up their trust, and ceased their labours Upon this a committee of working men, in the employment of Mr. Clutton Salt, addressed a letter to the chairman of the relief committee, the Rev. Mr. J. Garbutt, in which they said:—We could not bring ourselves to believe, till assurred that it was so by the secretary, that after deliberately vouching for these facts, the committee could have concluded abruptly its labours, leaving forty thousand individuals who were so destitute as to be grateful for the relief afforded by one penny farthing per head per week, with whose miseries they had just become personally acquainted—we could not believe that at such time, and under such circumstances, they would abandon these their Christian brethern to their fate without one word of hope. …. We very respect fully remind you, Sir, that every minister of the borough was a member of that committee, and is responsible for its acts; and we represent to you, that when they found in the wealthiest country in the world such a mass of 549 distress, the whole amount they could collect was so dis-proportioned to the poverty, that the relief they were able to offer was so small, as to be rather a mockery than a benefit.…Unfortunately while Christian ministers and Christian congregations have offered the words of praise and prayer in the temples, they have allowed oppression and misery to poison and destroy the very life of their humble brethren, and therefore, the blessing of God has not been upon them, and discord and danger surround and threaten the altar. We pray that this state of things may cease.…We remind you that there can be no real difficulty in the case; that each of the destitute you have vainly attempted, by almsgiving, to relieve, could, if his industry were set free, produce five times more than he would want to consume. United with your congregations, you have the power to save.He would now beg the attention of the House whilst he read a letter, which he had received from a gentleman of Burton-on-Trent, dated the 11th of May:—Sir, It may be interesting to you to know that only last week four large manufactories in this place, worked by Messrs. John and Robert Peel, have been abandoned, and nearly five hundred people thrown out of employment without the most distance chance of their being resumed. These once flourishing works have sunk under the general decline of the profits of this great branch of business, notwithstanding the rate of wages has to the last been materially lower than in the Lancashire districts. Surely, this is only a sign of the times, and calls for a speedy remedy.—I remain, Sir, your obedient servant"—It was notorious, that that numerous class, the hand-loom weavers, were earning on an average less than 1d. a-day per head. The state of the poor people of Loughborough and its neighbourhood, was thus described by an eye-witness:—They are principally employed in the making of stockings. Their average earnings not more than 7s. per week, when in full employment. Are frequently out of work, and on half-work, and when on half-work their employers charge them full expenses the same as if they were fully employed, it being the practice to pay for the use of the frame or loom só much per week, so that they frequently work for very little more than the expences; so that they are half fed, half clothed, and their houses are destitute of furniture. Two persons went over from Loughborough to Sheepshead, on Monday, April 26, 1841, and found numbers of dwellings without furniture and in the most wretched state. An individual of the same place was with me on May 1, who stated, that himself and son, aided by his wife had earned that week, at first hand 9s.; had to pay frame rent, 1s.6d.; fur needles, 3d.; 550 the wife did the seaming, or he would have had to pay for it being done; besides the above, he had candle to find, to see to work by. He stated, that he had been employed in his branch sixteen years; that when he received 23s. per dozen, he could give satisfaction, but now that he is reduced to 5s. 6d. per dozen, he cannot please his employers. This is generally the case. The masters frequently make reduction on the most frivolous pretence, so that the men do not know what they shall have till they receive it, and go before their employers with fear and trembling. I was informed by a respectable female, that a woman brought her work to her employer; he sent it to be inspected by the mender, and sent the woman home without her money, and she had to be dependent on the kindness of friends, for food for the family over Sunday. On Monday she came again, being an additional six miles; she saw the mender, who said they were all right, and as she was a poor woman, she should make no charge for inspection, but the master took 1d. per pair off. From these circumstances and others, the people are in a state of desperation. About a fortnight ago, a poor man, who had been in comfortable circumstances, but reduced, and had been receiving 2s. 6d. per week from the parish, but his wife dying, they were going to reduce his relief. He hung himself in despair. I could go on, but my heart sickens at writing. But I hear and witness such things that is sufficient to make a wise man mad.Another account he would read from two gentlemen of the Society of Friends, dated Loughborough, 1st May, 1841. It ran thus:—Friend—We take the liberty of sending you the condition of the frame-work knitters and shoemakers of Loughborough, earning from 4s. to 7s. per week; the average of their families is from five to seven in number. We toil from seven o'clock in, the morning, till ten at night, and when we leave off, we have to go to a wadding of straw. The pale cheeks of our wives, and the twisted limbs of our offspring, denote that we are deprived of every comfort that God ordains. Oh, shame upon the Government of England!A most sickening incident was given in the letter of another correspondent, from the same place, dated May 10, 1841, from which the following was an extract:—I send you these few lines, which I can testify on oath. A few days ago, my son had a gathering in his finger; he was ordered a bread poultice, which after being on one day, it was thrown out of the door, four poor children came by, picked it up, quarrelled which should have it, and eat it as voraciously, as if they had not tasted food for a week.In Huddersfield, the same distress and 551 misery prevailed; his informant stated as follows:—There are, in the townships of Haithwaite Marsden, and Scammonden, thousands of persons employed in weaving what are called kesenets, a mixture of cotton and wool; they travel on foot, in all weathers, for the material —sometimes as far as ten and eleven miles, and sometimes are disappointed in obtaining any; when they do, they carry it home on their backs, and weave at it for fourteen, sixteen, and eighteen hours per day. When wove, they carry it back again, and, after all their toil, this (White) independent labourer cannot average more than from 3s. 6d. to 7s. 6d. per week, for the sustenance of himself and familly, who live in hovels, without furniture, huddled together, lying, not in a bed, but upon a little straw or shavings, like pigs or cattle, not having; one-fourth of the food necessary to their support; and as to the subsistence of their wives and children, they can only obtain it by breaking the law in begging from village to village or house to house, for which they are constantly punished.In Nottinghamshire, the same state of things was found, without any circumstances of mitigation. He would beg to read a passage from a circular issued by the rev. Mr. Goodacre, the perpetual curate of Sutton-in-Ashfield, dated March 2, 1841, and which that rev. gentleman declared, under his hand, rather under than overstated the amount of misery in that district:—The distress existing amongst the mechanics of Sutton-in-Ashfield is now unparalleled, and appears yet increasing; and although the poor-rates are very heavy, so as to be bringing the trades people (who can do very little business) to a level with the operatives, the families of the poor are nearly naked, and their meagre looks show they are suffering hunger. The houses exhibit such squalid poverty and misery, as none but eye-witnesses can conceive. Instances there are, not a few, where one bed of chaff or straw serves for a man, his wife, and three children; and that bed without any blanket or warm covering. In short, the sufferings are such as, whatever the cause, should, if possible, be removed.The Gentlemen of Scotland would tell the House similar facts of the state of the poor in their part of the empire, but he (Mr. Duncombe) would not go into those districts. He would only read one more statement; it was an extract of a letter, addressed to the Duke of Wellington, by a gentleman who was no Chartist, or Liberal, but a high Church and State man, Mr. Oastler. This gentleman entered 552 into the following distressing and revolting particulars:—I can scarcely trust myself, whilst I write the following:—It is almost, nay, it is actually incredible; but nevertheless, it is true—absolute fact—which can be proved by incontrovertible evidence:—Not six miles from this place, on the edge of the Moors, a cow dying of dysentery, is considered by the poor weavers and their families as a honey-fall—a Godsend! She is called by them a 'green tail.' I will not trust my own description of this horrid fact, I will merely transcribe the notes of a friend, which notes I know are true. In the course of our inquiry into the state of the labourers, one of our questions was—'how often do you get butcher's meat?' In the neighbourhood of Dean Head and Seammonden, the general reply was,' never nob but when th' green tail butcher gets a ka-ah' (cow). This expression, of course, required explanation, which was in the followig terms;— 'When a farmer had gotten a sh—tering ka-ah, and wen t' doctor sed shu'd dee, they sent for'th green tail butcher, to sell her tull him: then a lad wur hired to drive her past sich and sich hauses; they all knew wat hit meant; an then began ta make a collecshun i' their folds; an if 5s. cud be rais'd, a whole quarter wod be brought in't t'fold, to be devided amang t'foulk, but if they cudent raise 5s. they tuk wat they bed, and gat a lump of hur, for thur brass.' Now, this was all the butchers' meat they had tasted all the year round, except now and then, when they could afford a few pence for 'su'it' to boil with their 'pot'ates.' The landlord of the public-house (who had not been long there) related the following anecdote. He told us, 'That he had once allowed a ' green-tail' to be killed in his mistall, but he would never allow another to be killed on his premises, no, not for 50l..' He said, ' the poor people could not wait until she was cold, that they 'slapped ' their knives into her before she was stiff—that they cut collops off, and held them a short time before the fire, and actually devoured them before they were half ' fried '—such ' savage work,' the landlord said 'he never saw before!' And is this a prosperous state of trade? These are manufacturing labourers— hard-working hand-loom weavers. This is an English scene—a scene in the thriving parish of Huddersfield.Yet this was the people, scrambling for carrion, of whom the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets said, that they would prefer dining on herbs to feeding on a fatted ox. No in justice, let not this be pretended or exacted. No, when he saw all the officers of high and low station in church and state giving up part of their emoluments to help to feed their starving fellow-creatures—when he saw the owner of Brazilian mines recoiling 553 from the touch of Brazilian gold, brought to the surface by the bands of Brazilian slaves—then, and not till then, should he believe, that this happy millennium of charity and disinterestedness had arrived; but not till then would he call upon the toiling people of this country to recoil from the use of sugar brought from Cuba and Brazil. He knew the strong phalanx of party interests and petty motives which were arrayed against her Majesty's Ministers on the present occasion; but he hoped they would not give way—that they would not despond. Let, them recollect, that when the noble Lord, now at the head of the colonial department, first announced the Reform Bill in this House, he was greeted with the same shouts of derision as those which greeted his announcement respecting the Corn-laws the other evening. Yes, the same horrible boroughmongering howl was heard on that as on the present occasion. Gentlemen opposite flattered themselves, that they had worked a great reaction;—thanks to their plentiful bribery, and the science of intimidation which they had so perseveringly studied, they had succeeded in carrying a few elections of late, till the country began to forget that a Reform Act had ever been passed, and to wish, that this House would act as if no such measure had ever been framed. But let not the Conservatives flatter themselves that any reaction had taken place in their favour amongst the people of this vast empire. No, a great revolution was going on in the mind of men, but it was no revolution in their favour. The people were busy educating themselves and reflecting upon the miseries of their condition, and were daily contriving the means of freeing themselves from the miserable and degraded state to which the base policy and class legislation of former Governments had reduced them. He called upon Gentlemen opposite to pause in time—to beware how they persevered in their selfish views—to take care that they did not go on till they produced a state of things in which not only the happiness of the poor, but the safely and quiet of the rich should be sacrificed. For his part, he should only add, that he should cordially vote in favour of her Majesty's Ministers upon this question; indeed, he had seldom given a vote with more pleasure than he should do on the present occasion, not only on account of the inconsistency, dis- 554 honesty, and hypocrisy of the resolution proposed from the other side of the House, but because he considered, that the principle of that resolution, if carried, would be calculated to inflict increased misery upon the industrious millions of this country.
§ Mr. Briscoe
said, that the present measure was a very important one, not only on account of the increase of national income which it was proposed to make up by means of it, but on account of the encouragement which it was expected it would give to the industrious resources of the country. He thought, therefore, that when the suffering millions of England, Scotland, and Ireland, were all concerned in the issue of this debate, the subject should be most impartially and patiently discussed by the House. The fact was, we had arrived at a very alarming crisis as respected our manufacturing and commercial condition; and unless some change were speedily adopted, the most sad and ruinous consequences must ensue. As an independent Member, he must say the advisers of the Crown were unjustly accused of a want of integrity and sincerity. It appeared to him, that had they acted with less integrity and less reliance on the justice of their cause, they would not at once have developed all the measures now before Parliament. He agreed with those who said this was not a party, but a national question. He trusted the nation at large would be appealed to; that they would lay aside their party feelings, that they would be enabled to resist corruption and intimidation, and that they would perform their duties fearlessly on a question which involved the happiness of all, even from the sovereign on her throne to the humblest of her subjects.
§ Mr. Muntz
said, that it appeared rather presumptuous in a young Member like him to offer himself to their notice, at so late an hour. He had understood in the beginning, that the debate was to be a sugar debate—a sugar debate, and nothing else; but as so many hon. Members had digressed from the subject, and he had taken such a large dose of the philosophy of others in its course, he trusted, that he would be permitted to administer a little dose of his philosophy to the House on the present occasion. When he heard the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies make the statement of the duties he intended to propose, upon the importation 555 of corn, lie was tempted to exclaim with Talleyrand, "Voila le commencement de la fin;" for, most certainly, was then destroyed, at one fell swoop, all the unnatural system of the last twenty-five years; a system so extraordinary, so preposterous, and so unnatural, that the historian who writes upon it would not be believed by posterity. He referred to those two opposing laws—the one having for its object, to make corn twice the price of the rest of Europe—the other, keeping money at the same price as the rest of Europe. It was now quite impossible that these laws could longer continue; and it was, therefore, necessary, either that all prices should fall to the level of money, or that the value of money should be raised up to the necessary price of corn. Whether the Government had decided rightly in adopting the former principle, remained to be proved; but if they thought so, they were bound to carry out their principles entirely. He considered it necessary to recal to the recollection of the House what passed upon the budget of 1840 being introduced. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then showed the necessity of imposing new taxes, and proposed an additional per centage, with the view of saving new machinery. He also stated, that the new taxes would only be temporary, for that the resources of the country were unimpaired, and the elasticity it possessed would speedily remove the momentary pressure; these sentiments, he recollected, were echoed from the other side of the House by a right hon. Gentleman, upon which he ventured to state that he differed in opinion with the right hon. Gentleman; that he believed, not only that the new taxes would be permanent, but that the next budget would show a greater deficiency, and that the elasticity would be found to be an idea that would never be realised. The House might now judge who had been right, but he must say, that seeing how the hon. Gentleman had deceived himself last year, he had great suspicion that he would do the same this year; and he had great doubts of the plan proposed effecting the object, and giving the increase of revenue required. No one was more ready to admit the necessity of revising the import duties than he was, for he perfectly agreed in the absurdity of such high duties as made smuggling profitable, to the injury of the 556 country, and without benefit to the revenue; he also saw plainly the impropriety of its being possible for coffee to be sent from Brazil to the Cape, to save 5d. per pound in the duty; and in the plan of allowing slave-grown sugar to be refined in bond, and re-exported to our colonies, at a less price than was paid there for raw sugar; but he did not see how the intended revision was to materially increase the revenue. The great question for consideration was, what caused the pressure upon the labouring classes, and the consequent deficiency in the revenue; and he attributed both to having contracted an enormous debt, and doubled the landed rental, upon a circulation depreciated 50 per cent., which was now attempted to be paid in a circulation which was partly appreciated to the old standard. He did not object to hon. Gentlemen on the other side endeavouring to keep up their rents, it was all very natural that they should do so; but he objected to the manner in which they attempted to realise their wishes. There was all the difference between a high price of corn and a price obtained by an abstract law, and he could not admit the justice of keeping up the present average price of corn, unless by such a principle as would enable the consumer to keep up his wages in the same proportion. The distress of this country arose from the enormous debt; and the problem to be resolved was, whether the income could pay the interest on that debt and the expenses of the country with with low prices, when reduced to the level of the present gold standard. He did not see how it could do so; the poorer classes were at the lowest point of poverty, and for the last three years the merchants and manufacturers of the country had been living on the principal, having made little or no profit; and although the list of bankrupts might not appear so large as formerly, the number of compositions and assignments exceeded anything that had before been seen. He could entirely corroborate the statements made of the dreadful distresses of the poor, by the hon. Member for Finsbury; and he firmly believed, unless some change was speedily made, that their privations would rapidly increase. There existed three great interests in this country at present—the landed, the moneyed, and the labouring. The last was in the utmost misery, and should be relieved. So far he agreed with the Go 557 vernment, but he did not altogether approve of the plan they proposed, because it placed the burden entirely on the first, leaving the moneyed interest entirely untouched. He did not see why the land should suffer, and money not. The Government proposed a duty of 8s. per quarter on foreign corn. What would be the effect of it? He would take the House back to 1790 to see, for since that date, such had been the indirect operation upon prices by the alterations in the monetary system, that it was quite impossible to make correct comparison with any later dates. From 1700 to 1790 the ounce of silver and the bushel of wheat were on the average of equal value throughout Europe, including this country, and the same proportions now remained, excepting in this country. At that time wheat could not be imported into this country when under 48s. per quarter, which was the same as the now proposed protection of 8s. per quarter. There was then also a bounty of 6d. per bushel upon the exportation of corn when at 40s. per quarter, for which bounty upwards of 1½ millions sterling was paid in ten years, yet with all these advantages, the average price of wheat was only 4s. 11d, per bushel. Now, he asked the House, if by adopting the proposal of the noble Lord, and returning to the same state of things as existed before the year 1790, the same Corn-laws, the same standard of money, the same in all respects, except having an additional thirty millions of taxes to pay per annum,' we should not necessarily have the price of corn the same as at that period? In his opinion, one such practical illustration was superior to all the theory in the world. But suppose we had not, and the noble Lord's calculations were right, when he reckoned that the average price would be 60s.; if that were so, what was the poor man to get by it? That had been the average price for the last twenty-five years. Say what they would, the object of the measure was to reduce wages. The only way in which the repeal of the Corn-laws, even to the extent proposed, could assist trade was by the reduction of wages, enabling the manufacturers to make their goods at lower prices. That was one part of the plan, but then it was contended, that this measure would not reduce the price. That be could not understand, one of the parties must be wrong. If the price of corn were reduced, as he 558 contended it would be, it would take away all the rentals; if not, it would confer no benefit upon the manufacturers. That celebrated paper the Times, had brought forward in a leading article on what he said last year, viz., that he believed, that the repeal of the Corn-laws, if adopted alone, without other measures, would not be beneficial to the country; he said the same now, but he complained of the Times that they had quoted only a part. He had been charged with inconsistency, and they ought to have stated, that at the same time he said, that the present state of things could not be continued, and that, at the first step, he voted against the Corn-laws, which, as an abstract legislative measure, could not be maintained upon sound and honest principles. When the finances of the country and the national faith were mentioned, it was an unnatural thing that money should be left out. He would refer again to the fact, that the intention of the Corn-laws was to keep corn at 10s. per bushel when its natural level was 5s.; and as it regarded the working classes, the intention of the present measure was to reduce the price of corn to the continental level, and wages, of course, with it. In his opinion, therefore, if it were necessary to enable the agricultural interest to obtain vents, taxes, and profits, that wheat should be maintained at the average of the last twenty-five years, or 7s. 6d. per bushel, the equitable plan would be to keep the ounce of silver in due ratio, as it was up to 1790, which would enable the labouring classes to raise their wages in the same proportion. The noble Lord thought, that his 8s. duty would not have that effect, but he said, that at that duty the price could not be kept above the continental level. If the landed interest thought they could bear that, all very well, but he could not fairly and honestly vote as he intended, for Ministers, without pointing out to hon. Gentlemen opposite the difficulties they would be in. There was no inconsistency in his giving that vote. He explained it as he did before. The abstract law was not justifiable, in his opinion, but they were quite distinct questions, whether the landowners should have direct protection by Act of Parliament or by other means. A great deal had been said about national faith, and an extraordinary sort of national faith it was. They had contracted a large debt by depreciating the value of the cir 559 culation fifty per cent. Could they have incurred that debt if they had not done so? They had doubled their rentals. Could they have done that if they had not depreciated the circulation? They considered it a matter of national faith to pay that debt by taxing the working classes. They had been paying the moneyed interest in a different standard, which had given them far more than their just claims, they had also hitherto partly supported the position of the landowner by an abstract Corn-law, but they had done nothing for the working classes, and now they proposed to relieve the working classes at the expense of the landowners, so that their national faith had been to take from the working classes what they had no right to take, and now it was to take from the landowners what they had no right to take —for why, he could not understand. They had found the end of taxing labour, and they were now going to find the end of taxing land, but he thought the landed interest was too prudent to allow anything of the sort, to permit themselves to be made the scapegoats for a set of people, for whose sake all interests had been sacrificed; it was nothing more than to give over the fee simple of land to money, that was the end of it. He did not want them to believe him then. but the result would prove, that he was right. When he had talked upon these subjects to hon. Members, he had been answered, that his plan was "a little shilling plan," but he said, they must have a little shilling—they had doubled their rentals, they had depreciaied the circulation, what right had they to a large shilling? Where was the difference? They gave a bushel of corn worth 5s. for 7s. 6d. they gave their little bushel, and he would give his little shilling—he would give his shilling for eighteenpence. The fact was, the case wanted investigation, for the true bearings of it were very little understood. It was easy to throw out sneers about "a little shilling," but he could assure the House his interest was so divided, that he could have no desire except for the general good. He saw that the thing was out at elbows. The present state of things could not continue, it would soon be impossible to keep the poor people in peace and order, and as to the national faith, he had thought it his duty to make those observations. It would be infinitely more honest to impose a general property tax, than to repeal the present Corn-laws, for by that 560 means they would tax not the land only, but money also. One class he ought to have mentioned. A considerable portion of the working classes, which had derived benefit at the expense of the manufacturing classes—he meant that class who worked for home consumption, and had little connexion with foreign trade, for there had been very little reduction in their wages for twenty-five years. Now, that class ought to return part of that gain, and a proper regulation of the money would affect them also. But, next to that plan, unquestionably a property tax was to be preferred, which would take away from the labouring classes the pressure of indirect taxations, and would, besides, furnish a powerful argument against the cry for universal suffrage. He was not an advocate for universal suffrage, he doubted if it would really be of advantage to those who asked it, but he was quite of opinion, that a very large extension of the suffrage would be of great advantage to society, and the claim was much stronger when it was urged by those who bore a great share in the taxation of the country. The pressure upon those classes was now very great, and they had a right to complain, and they would do so as long as the common necessaries of life were not easily within their reach. He had no party to please, he had no interest to consider, but he thought he was only doing his public duty in taking the part in the debate which he had done, and he thanked the House for the attention with which it had heard him.
§ Debate again adjourned.