HC Deb 20 September 1841 vol 59 cc613-8
Mr. Otway Cave

said, I rise, Sir, in the first place, to enter, before you leave the chair, my humble protest against the course which the majority of this House, under the guidance of the right hon. Baron opposite, has thought proper to pursue with regard to the postponement of the great question of the Corn-laws; and I fear and lament that that course will be considered by the people of this country to be marked by inhumanity, impolicy, and gross inconsistency. The noble Duke, who is the organ of the Government in the other House, has told us that every poor man in England can obtain a competency if he be sober and industrious. My noble Friend, the Member for Liverpool, has said, that the distress of the working classes is not connected with the Corn-laws. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Dorchester, says, "He who lays the axe to the root of protection—who, by forced enactments, would decree, that diminished produce should not be compensated by high price —would depreciate native industry and prove fatal to the agricultural interest." So, then, Sir, there is a class in this country— a class assuming to rule and to feed us—who declare that whenever they fail in the discharge of these giant functions, of this self-imposed and awful responsibility, the consequences of their failure shall fall, not on their pockets, but on the nation's life; that if corn be dear and scarce, dear and scarce it shall remain; and that at any sacrifice of human life, at any increase of crime and misery, high rents and high prices must be kept up; and then last, and not least, comes the right hon. Baronet, the head of the Administration, and shuts the doors of this House in the face of a starving population, telling them that five months' hence he will take their case into consideration. I should be sorry to use too strong language, or I should say, in the words of my hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, that such language and such treatment are "enough to drive the working-classes mad." I think the course pursued by this House impolitic, because it teaches the suffering classes to look for redress to other quarters than this House; and when their complaints are silenced—not by argument, but by mere numerical majority—it makes them remember, that though we may have a numerical superiority here, they have a greater majority elsewhere. For the inconsistency of the party opposite I have only to refer to the speech of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, in April last, when the measures were announced that were to be contained in the budget; the delay of a month on such a question as the Corn-laws was then pronounced by that right hon. Gentleman an intolerable evil; four months had elapsed since that time, and yet he now proposes to postpone it for five months longer. These facts will not be lost upon the country. Already the new Tory alliance totters. The Chartists are beginning to be sorry for the victory they have helped the Conservative party to achieve. It is hazardous to deal in political predictions, but I do believe, that before the winter is over, the middle and working classes wilt make common cause for the repeal of the Corn-laws. They will join with those who are in reality their natural friends and protectors, and it will be impossible for the present Government to resist such a combination. Drowning men, it is said, "will catch at straws" and whatever may be said to the contrary, I believe that an impression prevailed at the late elections in England that the right hon. Baronet was possessed of some peculiar statecraft, some political panacea which would cure, or at least alleviate the evils of the country; this impression was strengthened by language held subsequently by the right hon. Baronet, in which he said, that if rival practitioners were dismissed, and if he were regularly "called in," he might give some salutary advice. His terms have now been complied with, however the reverse of generous; he has been regularly called in; in his own classical language, he has "pocketed his fee," and, in proportion to the hopes and the expectations that have been raised will be, as I think and fear, the anger and disappointment that will ensue. Then will a reaction in reality take place —then will the working classes regret that they have changed King Log for King Stork, and that, instead of lukewarm friends, or neutrals, they will find that they have powerful and uncomprising opponents. That no such disappointment may take place, I most devoutly wish, and if any real remedy be devised by the right hon. Baronet for the evils of the State, I, as an independent Member, will give him my humble support. But there is another subject to which I must now call his attention, and I have a question to ask to which, I trust, he will give an explicit answer: does he or does he not intend to bring forward Lord Stanley's Irish Registration Bill? He stated on Friday last, that his difficulties with respect to Ireland were removed; and much as I regret to differ from the noble Lord who sits beside me, I must say, that I cannot participate in the confidence, that he expressed in the present Cabinet, as regarded Ireland. I have no doubt whatever of the amiable characters and excellent dispositions of Lords De Grey and Eliot; but if they had the highest abilities and best dispositions in the world, they would be obliged to act in accordance with the wishes of the Cabinet at home; and when I see, that the high places in that Cabinet are filled by the present Lord Chancellor, and by the Members for Dorchester and North Lancashire, who hate Irish liberty with a perfect hatred, and who have given us no reason to suspect their change of opinion, and whom, if I believe to be sincere, I must also, therefore, believe to be most hostile to Ireland; I say, that seeing this, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact, that they will not have the power, although they may have the wish, to benefit that most unfortunate country. I fear, also, that the Irish themselves will see in these appointments only another proof of the contempt in which they think they are held by England, and that Ireland is only thought fit for an " experimentum in corpora vili," when they hear that two of the most unpractised of our statesmen are sent to try their "'prentice hands" upon her. Unless, therefore, I receive a plain and satisfactory answer to the question which it is my duty to put to the right hon. Baronet, I venture to tell him that agitation will begin in the sister kingdom in a way that will cause no slight embarrassment to his Government. There are many wrongs and grievances yet unredressed— the tithe question, though some may think it settled, is not dead, but sleeping, and the people in that country have been taught to know, not only their Tights, but how to obtain them constitutionally. They well know the evils of agitation, but they think them preferable to the still greater evils of oppression; and I beg of this House to consider for a moment the hard dilemma in which so often they place the Irish people. If they make no strong op. position to their grievances, then they are told, that the quiet state they are in is a proof that no real grievances exist, or that they exist only in the imagination of their leaders. If, on the other hand, they make such demonstrations as cannot be mistaken i then they are told, forsooth, as I myself have heard them told in this House, that their very resistance disqualifies them for redress, and that "we will not grant to clamour what we denied to justice." There is, however, another contingency to be contemplated, although the very thought of it makes me blush, as an Englishman; it may be, that the boast of the party opposite will be realised—that England will fall in love with Toryism, as they assert, and holding out her hands for the fetters,; be base enough to ask to have masters;: and, in that case, I tell this House, and through this House, the country, that to any such infamy as this, Ireland will not be a party. So long as you continue to; advance in civil and religious liberty at: home, so long as you promote the blessings of free institutions abroad—pursuing that course of foreign policy which has won for the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs the reluctant admiration of even political opponents; above all, if you give to Ireland every right and privilege that you claim for yourselves; so long will you fulfil the true conditions of the connection Ireland will derive advantage from, and be proud of it, and both countries will be eternally benefited. But if you choose to descend to the rank of a second-rate power in Europe; if, after degrading yourselves at home and abroad, you attempt to impose upon Ireland the evils of your own political vices and degeneracy, then will she fling at once her parchment union to the winds, and be justified before God and man in hoisting the standard of repeal; for anything will be better for her than Tory-Orange domination. I trust, that Ireland will be saved the necessity of any such step as this, and that the right hon. Baronet will take this humble admonition on my part in the same spirit in which it is given, and that by declaring that he will give up the late Irish Registration Bill (for which the newspapers and election petitions of his party appear to wish to pave the way, by every species of enormous fiction), he will allay the fears and suspicions on this subject, of such vital importance to the interest of Ireland.

Sir R, Peel

rose, he said, to answer the question which had been put to him by the hon. Gentleman. He certainly did not intend to bring forward the identical bill that had been introduced in the last Session by his noble Friend (Lord Stanley); but in concert with his noble Friend and the House generally he should be exceedingly glad to correct such errors as notoriously existed in the system of Irish registration. He should, at the same time, be exceedingly unwilling, in attempting to correct those errors, that the franchise which it was intended to confer upon that part of the united empire under the Reform Bill, should suffer any limitation. It should be his endeavour, therefore, to reconcile these two objects—as he was sure it had been the aim and intention of his noble Friend—that was to say, the correction of admitted abuses in the mode of registration, with the preservation either of the same franchise, or a franchise to a similar extent as that conferred upon the people of Ireland by the Reform Bill. He had no immediate intention of bringing forward any measure on the subject; but he did intend taking the matth into consideration in conjunction with is noble Friend, and when their measure should be brought forward, he thought it would be found to have been framed with a studious endeavour to reconcile the two objects to which he had referred.

Subject at an end.