§ The House resolved itself into a committee on the Corn-law Acts. The debate was resumed by
§ Mr. Hardy,
who said, that when addressing his constituents, previous to the late general election, he had expressed his desire to see a modification of the present scale of duties upon the importation of 731 foreign corn, and, singularly enough, that the maximum duty should be that which the right hon. Baronet had proposed, 20s. He also, however, stated that he was anxious that it should begin at a lower point than that from which the right hon. Baronet started. He was favourable to the imposition of a duty, not merely for the purpose of benefitting or protecting the agricultural interest, but because he was convinced it was necessary for the general welfare of the country itself. He was favourable to it for the same reason that he was favourable to a duty upon foreign manufactured goods, a duty which was imposed not for the benefit exclusively of home manufacturers, but for the benefit of the country at large, by giving a stimulus to domestic industry, capital, and skill. In the same light exactly did he regard the imposition of a duty on foreign corn, and to the same general advantages did he conceive its operation tended. The duty on foreign corn was no more intended for the benefit of any particular class or district than was that upon foreign manufactured goods intended for the benefit of Manchester and Leeds. Special benefit was no doubt derived from each of those duties, but he contended that each was likewise productive of benefit to the country at large, by preventing us from becoming altogether, or in a great part, dependent upon foreign countries. In a document which had been issued by the Anti-Corn-law delegates, from the Crown and Anchor Tavern, he found it asserted, that the present Corn-laws in their operation not only exposed the labouring class to the physical evils of hunger, disease, and even premature death, but warred against their eternal interests by increasing the temptations to crime and immorality, rendering them less accessible to the influences of religion; that in denouncing the corn and provision laws as a great national sin, the deputies express their own deliberate conviction, and that of a vast portion of their countrymen, that those laws should be immediately and totally abolished; and the deputies constituting the meeting "pledge themselves never to swerve or relax in their efforts until that object be accomplished." Now, if those laws produced the dire effects here stated, it seemed to him most extraordinary that what was called a liberal administration should, during a period of ten years, have never made a single at- 732 tempt to alter or abrogate them, although they promised and professed to do more for the relief of the labouring classes than any Administration that had preceded them. During Lord Grey's Administration no alteration of any kind was suggested or proposed, and nothing was clone either during the Administration of Lord Melbourne, until its light began to flicker in the socket, when a fixed duty of 8s. was proposed, with the evident object of exciting public favour and attention in behalf of those who proposed it. That was the first attempt that had been made to alter those laws, which, according to the new parliament sitting in the Crown and Anchor, had been productive of the most pernicious effects upon the people in a moral as well as physical point of view. The document he referred to went on to say,That the deputies present connected with the staple manufactures of the country, whilst they demand the removal of all restrictions upon the importation of corn and provisions, declare their willingness to aid in the abolition of all duties imposed for their own protection.It might be very well to put forth such a statement as that, after clamouring for a repeal of the corn laws, but he believed it was the first time the country had heard of such a willingness on the part of the manufacturers. ["No."] There was no statement to that effect in the petition from Manchester; he had seen nothing like it in any petition that had been presented to that House; and he confessed that lie placed but little reliance on it as an indication of fair play. If it had been intended to deal fairly by every interest concerned, those who called for a repeal of the duties upon corn would have taken the preliminary step of calling for the removal of those protective duties from which they derived special benefit, but which, as he contended, were beneficial to the country at large. Who, let him ask, constituted the Legislature at the time when the laws which regulated the importation of foreign goods were passed? Why, the landowners of the country. Yes, the landowners of the country, who had an interest in getting every description of manufactured goods at a cheap rate, passed those very laws which gave protection to the manufacturers. On the other hand, he was sorry to be obliged to say, that if, when the question of foreign corn was before the House, the Legislature 733 had happened to have been composed of manufacturers and not of landowners, he very much feared, while providing for their own protection, they would have allowed the landed interest to take care of itself. The noble Lord, the Member for London, in speaking of the proposed plan, said, that it rested upon the same principle, and would be attended with the same results, as the present system. That it was founded on the same principle he (Mr. Hardy) admitted, but that it would be the same in its results he totally denied. The proposed scale of duties was a considerable relaxation of the existing scale, and would differ in its results as surely as a fixed duty of 4s. would differ in its operation from a fixed duty of 8s. With regard to the present mode of striking the averages, he had always objected to it; but he could not but be of opinion that the alterations proposed by the right lion. Baronet would make a great amendment in the system. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had spoken of this measure as a protection to land, and not a protection to labour; but protection to land was a protection to the labour on the land, just as a protection to manufactures was a protection to the labour of the artisan. But, after all what was the immense protection given to the land? Where was the estate that paid more than 2½ per cent. On the money laid out on it—a sum which was very small indeed in proportion to the returns on protected manufactures? He did not deny that there were greater risks run by those engaged in manufactures; but when hon. Gentlemen talked of the outlay on land as arising solely in consequence of the protection afforded to it, he would really ask them to consider if there must not be some other cause for making such investments than that of any expected gain arising from such protection. The same hon. Gentleman he had already alluded to had been very liberal in his quotations from Mr. Huskisson. It would be found, however, that that statesman's arguments did not always bear out the view the repealers had chosen to attribute to them. In one speech Mr. Huskisson bad made, lie had said:—The history of the country for the last 170 years clearly proves—on the one hand, that cheapness produced by foreign import is the sure forerunner of scarcity—and, on the other, that a steady home supply is the only foundation of safe and moderate prices, I admit 734 that if unlimited foreign import, which the war had suspended, were now again allowed, then bread might be a little, though a very little, cheaper than it now is, for a year or two. But what would follow? The small farmer would he ruined; improvements would every where stand still; inferior lands now producing corn would be given up, and return to a state of waste. The home consumption and brisk demand for all the numerous articles of the retail trade, which has so much contributed, even during the pressure of war, to the prosperity of our towns (especially of those which are not connected with manufactures or foreign commerce), would rapidly decline—farming servants, and all the trades which depend on agriculture for employment, would be thrown out of work, and the necessary result of the want of work would be, that wages would fall even more rapidly than the price of bread. Then comes some interruption to the foreign import, coinciding with the decay of agriculture at home, and corn as suddenly forced up again to a famine price. To protect the small farmer, therefore, at this moment is ultimately to protect the people.This was, lie thought, a pretty con, vincing proof that Mr. Huskisson was not always, as the hon. Gentleman would make the House believe, an advocate for a total and immediate repeal. With regard to the depression existing at Manchester, and other places, he did not deny its existence, but, on the contrary, in common with the House generally, be deplored the distress which such a bad state of trade entailed. But when he heard of mills being thrown out of work solely in consequence of the operation of the Corn-law, let him ask one simple question, and that was, when those mills were first erected? If they were built after the Corn-law came into operation, surely the bad state of trade could not be imputed to that law—surely it could not be said, that the enactment under which they sprung up was the cause of the disasters which attended their career? The hon. Member for Salford, in replying to his Friend, the Member for Knaresborough, had said, although he was not a man of very great fortune, yet he had got enough for himself. Now he (Mr. Hardy) should like to know, under what system the lion. Member had amassed his wealth? If it was under the Corn-law, he heartily congratulated the hon. Member on making a fortune by trade when a law was in operation, which he said to be destructive of all commercial enterprise. The fact he believed was, that scarcely an instance of prosperity could be adduced which did not 735 exist in as high, if not in a higher, degree at the present time than before the Corn-law came into operation. In spite of that law, destructive as they termed it, the manufacturers thrived and prospered, until the effects of their own extreme competition damaged the markets for their own productions. He could not, therefore, reconcile the arguments of the manufacturers with the results of their own practice. He admitted, that it was to be deplored that corn should be dearer than we could wish it to be, looking at the depressed state of our artisans, and the low rate of their wages, but he denied most emphatically that that low rate of wages was caused by the operation of the existing Corn-law. On the contrary, he held it to be entirely attributable to over-speculation. They had built more mills, and thrown more goods on the market, than had been demanded, and the consequences had been low prices, and a low rate of wages. He had the authority of the hon. Member for Oldham for this view of the case. The hon. Gentleman had made a calculation, that certain articles in the cotton manufacture, which formerly fetched 96s., in wages now only brought 28s. The result, at any rate, could not follow from the operation of the law, because the Corn-law existed when the amount of articles alluded to was 96s. The hon. Member for Sheffield had, the other night, imputed to Gentlemen on that side of the House a description of conduct which he might almost term scandalous. He had said, that they came there to consult, only their own interest. He admitted, that the remark was made with temper, but, though not angrily said, it was earnestly enforced. Now, he could safely say for himself, and for many other Members who held the same opinions with him, that they had no personal interest whatever in supporting the protection of domestic agriculture. For his own part, he had never sold a quarter of corn in his life. As a manufacturer, he employed from 2,000 to 3,000 operatives and labourers in his works, and he could honestly say, that he should be glad to see every one of them able to obtain bread at the cheapest possible rate. He should not, however, be glad to see them get it at any sacrifice to the interests of the nation. He should not be glad that they obtained it at any cost to the rest of the community, or at the risk of scarcity of supply in years of 736 dearth, consequent upon the failure of our foreign imports, and the reduction of the home produce. The hon. Member for Westminster, who had spoken the other night, had asked, how the manufacturers on the Ministerial side of the House had liked the allusions of his right hon. Friend, the Member for Knaresborough. He was quite ready to give an answer to that question. They did not feel, that the castigation applied to themselves. They had raised no agitation. They had not sent hired lecturers to raise a tumult from one end of the country to the other. They had not used the pulpit, that "drum ecclesiastic," to beat up for recruits to the cause. "Let the galled jades wince." They, for their parts, would be ashamed of such conduct. They would be ashamed to have made use of such means as had been used to get up petitions to that House. If the people had been left to themselves, if they had not been unduly and improperly excited, if their minds had not been poisoned by the false doctrine disseminated throughout the country, they would have been as tranquil now as they were last summer, when the pressure was, to say the least of it, quite as great. He would direct the attention of the House to the difference between the number of petitions presented at that time, and the number now before the House. Up to the last report of the Petitions' Committee, 400,000 persons had petitioned Parliament for the repeal of the Corn-law during the present Session. Now, no doubt the petitions of those persons were entitled to be treated with every respect; but he would ask, did those 400,000 constitute the whole population of the manufacturing districts? If they did not, so much importance certainly could not be attached to them, and it became clear that some, at least, of the manufacturers did not attribute all the evils they laboured under to the operation of the Corn Act. Yet, looking at the language and the means employed to excite the public mind, it was, he must confess, astonishing to him that, great as the number of petitions were, it had not already become still greater. He would take the liberty of reading to the House a resolution moved and passed "at an adjourned meeting of the Anti-Corn-law delegates, held at Brown's-hotel, Palace-yard, at half-past seven o'clock in the evening," on which the right hon. Baronet, at the head of the Government, made his 737 exposition, as this was after dinner, the discreet people ought to be careful how House might, perhaps, account for, though it would not excuse, the tone of the resolution, which ran as follows:—Resolved, that in the opinion of this meeting, the measure just announced by her Majesty's Government on the subject of the Corn-law, so far from holding out the slightest prospect of any reliefWas that, he would ask, true?To the distress of the country, is an insult to a patient and suffering people; and the deputies view such a proposal as an indication that the landed aristocracy of this country are destitute of all sympathy for the poor, arid are resolved, if permitted by an outraged people, to persist in a course of selfish policy which will involve the destruction of every interest in the country.That was the sort of language used by the deputies, as they styled themselves. He was sorry such language was not confined to persons without the doors of that House. He regretted, to have heard the hon. Member for Coventry, the other night, reminding the House of the fate of the French aristocracy. He was sorry to hear the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets say, that by-and-by — he believed he said "ere long" —there would be a rush on the aristocracy of the country that would not only sweep away the Corn-law, but other established orders along with it. That was, he contended, a dangerous sort of language to use. It was a language that might be used for other purposes than it had been used for, and perhaps with quite as great success. It was a language which appealed to the passions of the ignorant, without appealing to the understandings of any, and by the use of which lie would undertake to get up quite as great a sensation on other subjects as had been got up upon this. He believed, if he sent half the number of lecturers and paid agents through the country to get signatures to petitions for an increase of wages, he would soon find 800,000 petitioners instead of 400,000. But that was not the sort of language in which the people should approach the House, much less was it the sort of language that should be used in the House. There were already, unfortunately, too many persons in the country ready to take advantage of excitements and tumults; there were too many abroad who had the maxims of Cato on their lips, and the spirit of Cataline in their hearts, and to whom 738 discreet people ought to be careful how they gave encouragement. He hoped, however, that such language and such methods of agitation would not deter the Ministers from doing their duty. He trusted, they would treat such conduct with the contempt it deserved, and that the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, would go on in the spirit of the policy enunciated in his address to his constituents in 1834, a policy which, if conscientiously followed, would secure for him a large share of the gratitude of the people, if it did not obtain for him all that he would deserve. As for the angry agitators, let them burn him in effigy if they pleased; he would not care for such ebullitions of disappointed spleen. He would remember, that the vox populi was to-day a cry of execration, and to-morrow a shout of honour and applause; and, paying little attention to it, he would pursue a steady unflinching course of action, tending to his own renown, and to his country's benefit.
§ Colonel Fox
would not have obtruded himself on the House when so many Members were anxious to address it, had he not felt it incumbent on him, representing as he did so important a constituency, to explain the course which he intended to pursue that night. His constituents fully concurred in the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and he must say for himself, that, with the exception of one little word, he also concurred in the spirit and object of that motion. He frankly owned that he was inclined to vote for a total repeal of the Corn-laws, but he could not think that that total repeal ought to take place "now." He should be glad to concur in any modification of the scheme. He would support a fixed duty of 8s., gradually reducing itself year by year, at the rate of 1s., or even of 2s., until no duty remained, but he could not but hold that it would be injurious to go from one extreme to the other-from the present scale of duties to an immediate and total repeal of all duties whatsoever. Holding these opinions, he should take that night a course which he was by no means willing to take, because he was always anxious to record his vote when a proposition was before the House, but nevertheless, looking at the question as it now stood, and anxious as he was for a total repeal which should not damage existing interests by being immediate, he thought he should best consult 739 his own feelings by absenting himself from the division.
§ Mr. H. Lindsay
was prepared to give a negative to the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and to adopt in preference the measure of the right lion. Baronet the Member for Tamworth. The House had lately heard much of class legislation, but if he could conceive of class legislation in its worst and most objectionable form, it would be as embodied in the resolution of the hon. Member. That hon. Gentleman within the House, and those beyond its walls who supported his view of the subject, announced that their object was to inflict injury on the agricultural interest. Were they not told that the landed aristocracy were the oppressors of the people, who had for a long time past enjoyed advantages of which they ought to be deprived? Was not that argument often employed both in and out of the House? He should vote against the proposition, believing that were the House to entertain it, it would be injurious to the agricultural, and not beneficial to the manufacturing interest. As to a fixed duty, that would, in his opinion, be merely nugatory. Mr. Hubbard, in his pamphlet, recommended that power to take off the duty when corn rose to a high price should be entrusted to the executive Government. Was it not evident that when the country was in difficulties there would always be an outcry against a fixed duty? On the other hand, suppose that the duty was made to cease when the price of corn rose to 74s., could the House imagine that any greater stimulus could be given to the gambling speculations of the Stock Exchange, which were supposed to have done so much injury under the present system? So that, on one supposition, they would be holding out a temptation to popular agitation; on the other, they would be playing the game of the speculators. As well might a comet be called a fixed star, as the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for London a fixed duty. He wished to advert for a moment to an argument employed in the debate of the former evening by the hon. and gallant Member for Marylebone (Sir C. Napier). The gallant Commodore bad stated, that under the plan of Ministers it would take two months to import corn from America, and he (Mr. H. Lindsay) agreed in the correctness of the observation. Suppose an order for grain to be sent to America at the beginning of a month, and 740 to reach New York by the middle of it, more than one month must elapse, under ordinary circumstances, before they could expect any to arrive in England. That circumstance would make it unsafe to speculate in the article. He would suggest, therefore, in order to meet this difficulty, that the merchant receiving the order for the supply of corn, should be allowed to enter the cargo at the port of exportation, at his option, or at the port of import, and that the duty might be paid at the rate leviable for the day on which the grain should be shipped to England, or the day of its arrival. Supposing the duty to rise in the interval taken up by the voyage, there might be a loss to the revenue, but there would be an increased gain to the importer; supposing it to fail, the revenue would gain, though the importer might lose. He thought this would be likely to give greater certainty to the trade, and offer an inducement to the Americans to embark in it. He threw out this suggestion in the hope that it would receive the consideration of the right hon. Baronet at the bead of the Government. For himself he would say, that he felt the strongest desire for the prosperity of British commerce; whatever he possessed in life he owed to that commerce, and all his interests were hound up with it. He never considered any question connected with commerce as one of party; but one thing he would not do. There were higher interests in Great Britain than even those of her commerce and manufactures; and he never would consent to inflict an injury on British agriculture, thereby hoping to benefit British commerce.
§ Mr. B. Layard
considered the immediate repeal of the Corn-laws would be an hazardous experiment, and he could not think that it would add to the prosperity of the country. He could not, however, support the measure brought forward by the right hon. Baronet opposite, and therefore, in this instance, it was not his intention to vote. He was most anxious that a fixed duty should be carried, because he thought it would give stability to agriculture, and lighten the burden of taxation. It was pretended on the other side that the burdens imposed on agriculture were immense, and heavier than those affecting any other interest. The land-tax was the only impost borne by agriculture exclusively, and therefore it would be interesting to compare its amount, and the pro- 741 portion it bore to the remaining sources of taxation in this and in other countries. Here the land-tax produced 1,189,585l., and other taxes 51,997,000l. In France the land-tax produced 23,250,000l., and other taxes 17,500,000l. In Prussia the land-tax brought 3,994,000l; other taxes 3,667,000l. In Austria the land-tax amounted to 8,995,000l., and other taxes to 7,700,000l. How, then, could the land-tax be described as a great burden to the landed interest, when in Britain it was infinitely lighter than in any other European country? Again, let the enormous increase in the value of the landed rental of the kingdom be considered. From 1690 to 1696 it was computed at 6,500,000l.; in 1841 it amounted to 200,000,000l. From 1810 to 1830, 1,058 bills for enclosing land were passed; and from the beginning of the reign of George III. to 1834, 6,840,540 acres were enclosed, which clearly showed that however the landowners might complain of land-tax or poor-rates, they had taken good care of their own interests. It had always been the fashion in this country to try to make the people believe that the land paid for all. In one part of Staffordshire he had remarked some years ago a sign, on which the King was represented in his robes, and a scroll issuing from his mouth with the words—"I govern all;" below him was the Archbishop of Canterbury in his pall, with the words "I pray for all;" next came a figure in a field marshal's uniform, with the words "I fight for all;" and last was a man clad in A smock frock, supported on his right hand and left by a plough and harrow, who was good enough to inform the spectator that he paid for all. Now he differed from the last assertion. The landed interest did not pay more than their due share of the public burdens; he should say on the contrary, that instead of paying for all, all paid for them. He believed that the beggars in the street paid more than their proportion of taxation, for the benefit of those who were placed by the bounty of Providence in the enviable situation of landed proprietors. By an Act of Parliament, passed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Any soldier or marine who was found begging in the streets was liable to be punished by death; that law had been repealed as a disgrace to our legislation but he believed that a law which restricted the food of the people was no less cruel, 742 unwise, and unjust. He was not disposed to tax the landed interest with selfish or avaricious motives—he thought that they were merely mistaken in their opinions. He did not tax the landed interest with selfishness or cruelty, for he knew none who were more ready to succour distress than the landed proprietor; but though he would not tax them with-injustice or avarice, yet he did tax them with ignorance. Blessed by a bountiful Providence with all the luxuries of life, they were not aware of the misery and want endured by many of their countrymen, and happy should he have been if hon. Members opposite had employed the time which was taken up to so little purpose by the right hon. Member for Tamworth in following the example of the noble Lord the Member for Newark (Lord J. Manners), whose conduct in making himself acquainted with the condition of his suffering countrymen, and bearing testimony to their wants, did honour to his head and heart. Had hon. Members visited Birmingham, Manchester, Paisley, and Liverpool, they would themselves have witnessed end been able to speak of it. If they had gone to Liverpool, perhaps they would have been induced to cross the water, and visit a country which the right hon. Baronet said he expected would present the chief difficulty to him in the execution of his task. Had they visited the hut of the Irish peasant, they would have seen a degree of misery of which he had not the slightest conception until he had resided in Ireland. They would have also seen that misery and want borne with a patience, fortitude, and resignation which, if they had been equalled, had never been surpassed. He should be told that as Ireland was an agricultural country, to alter the Corn-laws would be its ruin. He denied it. A sliding scale might be injurious, but a fixed duty would be a boon to it. One word to those hon. Gentlemen who meant to support the motion of the hon. Member for North Lincoln. They were acting like the dog in the fable, deceived by the shadow; and they were very likely to meet with the same reward. It was high time for them to put their house in order; there was a hand-writing on the wall; and, as far as be was able to see, the monopoly was departing from them. To those who held places of power and responsibility he would say that they had thrown away a golden opportunity of 743 doing good. They might have fed the hungry and clothed the naked, and they would have reaped the best reward that honest statesmen could have—in the prosperity and happiness of their country. But they had been carried away by an unwise view of their interest, and had determined to lend their support to this monopoly. He would warn them that the time was fast approaching when they would be obliged to grant to the remonstrances of the people what they had refused to their petitions.
§ Mr. Smythe
had no doubt, as was alleged by some, that free-trade in corn would benefit both the revenue and the consumer. If they put corn on the same footing as tobacco, if they discouraged or prohibited its culture in England, the consumer would benefit greatly, and so would the revenue. But what, in that case, would become of the agriculturists? Were they prepared to sacrifice one-third of the population—he was taking Mr. Babbage's calculation—to the other two-thirds? Such might be the scheme of a Minister of a party; such ought not to be the scheme of a Minister of a nation; such was not the plan of the right hon. Baronet. He was pledged, so to speak, to the compatibility of these two great interests, whose prosperity was essentially inter-dependent; and while, by this measure, he told them, that one had been unduly and unjustly protected, he was prepared to abate that protection, but to do so by a gradual, safe, and moderate reformation. This, hon. Members opposite had objected to. But the same, or an analogous course, followed in other countries, such as the gradual modification of the law of Joseph 2nd, and Marie Therese, in relation to manufactures in Austria, was stated by Mr. Macgregor, in his evidence before the Import Duties Committee, not only without reprobation, but as an example to be imitated. It was, in his estimation, one of the best proofs of the merit of this measure, that it had enlisted against it the extremes of both parties. He would remind those who stickled for extreme protection, that 1802, 1803, and 1804, were years of marked agricultural improvement, when the average price of wheat was only 61s., and taking into consideration the comparative cheapness of labour since that period, the improvements in agriculture, and the reduction of taxation which pressed upon the land, surely, wheat could be raised on the same soils 744 now, at less expense. But he would put it upon kindlier grounds; he would call upon them to remember how much they owed of the present magnificence, of the splendour and power to which this country had arrived, to the prosperity of her manufactures. He would warn those who were inclined to listen to the counsels of the hon. Member for Knaresborough—he would warn these Gentlemen that they should be the last to enter upon Quixotic or useless aggression—Quixotic, because full of the same eccentric and spurious humanity, the same perverted and ostentatious benevolence. These were not the times to reject God's gifts. Let them appreciate the great boon and blessing of machinery without which Manchester would have been as Woodstock, Liverpool a fishing village on the Mersey, and their rent-rolls comparatively insignificant. Let them take warning by the fate of imperial Augsburg; while its manufactures prospered, the rent of the adjacent land was ten times as great as it had been since. He confessed, that on an impartial historical review of this question, he had come to the conclusion, that but four Ministers had dealt with this subject in the spirit (he was not speaking of details) which England had a right to expect—Lord North, in 1773; Mr. Canning, in 1827; the noble Lord, in his measure of last year; and the right hon. Baronet, in the plan now under consideration. He was free to own, that whether introduced by the noble Lord or the right hon. Baronet, he was glad to see that principle of undue and unjust protection which began in 1688, beneath which so much bad land had been broken up; beneath which our commerce had been so cruelly constrained and crippled; beneath which such vast fortunes had been made with so little labour, and so little merit, was now, with another principle originated at the same time, with another ascendancy as anomalous and as pernicious, universally condemned, and beginning to crumble and totter to their common fall. It might be asked, why he used, on this topic, the language of exultation. His answer was, that he represented the interests of 16,000 consumers. Accompanied by his noble Friend near him (Lord J. Manners) he had seen the deep and extensive distress which prevailed in parts of the country, and he knew with what gratitude even a small boon would be received by a suffering people. He remembered, that in the debate on the 745 sugar duties, the right hon. Baronet, in the first speech he had the good fortune to hear from him in that House, described, with that eloquence which with him was an instinct, the calamitous condition consequent on the decay of the Decca trade of India. This had become translated into England. It had become a household thing. It was around us and about us. But there was this difference—in the one case, the effect had been natural and consistent—in the other it was unnatural and inconsistent. It was but meet and fitting, it was only in accordance with necessity, that the soft and spiritless Hindoo should believe, that the nation which had conquered him in arms should also conquer him in arts. The genius of our Watts and Arkwrights was to him but a reflection of the genius of our Hastingses and Clives. But with our own unmatched, unrivalled artisans the case was far different. Surely, it was a sad and melancholy thing, when the Prime Minister was obliged to come down and tell them that the distress was owing to over-production—that was, to over-industry; to overaccommodation—that was, to over-enterprise. Thus it was their own genius, their own science, their own talents, their own skill, with which they were taunted and reproached——Nec lex est equior ulla Quam necis artifices arte perire suâ.But such legislation, so unnatural, so unwise, so unjust, so bad, could not be perpetrated. He hailed this measure as a first instalment of a change—of a wiser and more thoughtful policy—as an earnest, that the proportions of our monster tariff, were to be reduced at last to something like seemliness and shape. He cherished this hope, from the spirit of the resolutions laid on the Table, by the right hon. Vice-President of the Board of Trade, from the reply of the right hon. Baronet to the Member for Manchester, about the provision laws, nay, from this very reserve itself, that the right hon. Baronet would not inflict the calamity of direct taxation on time suffering operatives of England, who had borne their calamities with the most virtuous patience and most touching resignation. It was observed by Mr. Dryden, that he had heard of many virtuous persons ending unfortunately, but never of any virtuous nation; Providence, he said, was engaged too deeply, when the cause was so general. It was on these grounds, he cherished the hopes which he had ventured to ex- 746 press. If the right hon. Baronet did fulfil them, he would have done so without having mooted subjects of irritation and agitation—without appealing to the passions or prejudices of the people—without arraying class against class, or interest against interest—"having sought" in the words of a Stuart King, "rather to rule for the common weal, than the common will;" and he would receive his reward in the universal gratitude of a relieved, free, and contented population.
§ Mr. Macaulay:
I have listened, Sir, with much pleasure to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; but, I must say, bearing in mind the taunts so generally urged on the ground of diversity of opinion against this side of the House, he could not have made a more unfortunate selection of topics to prove the unanimity on his. If the hon. Gentleman gives their due weight to the arguments which he has advanced in making up his own judgment, he will, I should think, be very loth to divide with those on whose side he now sits. For myself, Sir, I may perhaps be permitted to say, that as I never on any former occasion addressed the House on this subject, I feel exceedingly desirous not to be misunderstood in taking the course which I am persuaded my duty points out. I think I also owe this declaration of my opinion to the constituent body which I represent, and who, having formed a decided opinion on this subject, having imposed on me the responsibility of giving it my fullest consideration, and, if possible, my zealous sanction. I may be permitted, perhaps, to say, that no constituent body in this empire is entitled, on this subject, to a more favourable hearing. There is, perhaps, no constituency consisting of 120,000 or 130,000 persons who can be considered as standing so much in the situation of an impartial judge. We have heard—and I have heard with great pain —the imputations and charges dealt out against the great community engaged in commerce and manufactures. Against the community which I represent, all those abusive epithets and vituperative attacks which have been so freely indulged in, fall pointless. They inhabit a city, the capital of a distinct country having no foreign trade and no manufactures, supported principally by those connected with the administration of the law, by those frequenting its university, or those 747 who are brought thither by its literature and by the attractions of its society. It is beside the resort of the gentry of the country, who assembled there at certain stated seasons of the year. I believe it would be found difficult to find many constituencies of an equal extent of whom it might be so truly said that in this matter they have no interest except the common weal of the empire. Their interest is that common to all—it is the interest of the consumer. And I can fairly say, that I believe the people of Edinburgh have a feeling so strong on this subject that I have reason to apprehend their disapproval rather than their approval—that they will not at all events be quite satisfied with my conduct in not feeling myself at liberty to support the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. With that motion, I must say, notwithstanding, that I agree in principle. To the principle of the right hon. Baronet I am decidedly opposed. It is, I think, fundamentally erroneous. I understand the right hon. Baronet to ground his measure on this prinoiple—and if I be wrong, he will set me right—that the cheapness of the necessaries of life is not uniformly or necessarily a benefit to a people.["No, no."] That doctrine the right hon. Baronet laid down in a most distinct manner when he introduced his plan to the House. He said I be deluding the people if I held out to them the hope that they can expect any real relief to their distresses from this or any such measure. He said, it is a mistake to suppose that cheapness in the price of food is necessarily connected with the promotion of general prosperity. Now, if the right bon, Baronet is wrong, I must think that he has attempted to found his measure on a false principle. He distinctly disclaimed—I mention it to his honour—all intention of giving an exclusive benefit to any class. From him we heard no talk of the necessity, on constitutional grounds, of pampering a great aristocracy and enabling them to hold a certain pre-eminent position in the state. All these doctrines were not only abandoned by the right hon. Gentleman, but I understood that he specially disclaimed them, and that he rested his proposal on the ground that it would promote the general prosperity. If then the right hon. Gentleman be not right as to the principle on which his measure is founded, if it be a fact that 748 cheapness of food is a blessing to a people, then I am justified in saying that the measure of the right hon. Gentleman is not defensible on its very fundamental principle. It has often happened that the doctrines of the political economists have run counter to the prejudices of mankind, but in this case their view is confirmed by the general opinion of the earliest ages, and by the universal admission of every nation at the present time, that the cheapness of the first necessaries of life is a blessing. So strong has this feeling been, so deeply rooted, that it has been found to prevail in all countries and in all ages. I shall not refer to the Hebrew scripture as some have done, not very judiciously I think, for the purpose of proving this question of the Corn-laws to be a religious one; but every one acquainted with our oldest and most authorative histories must be aware that they contain the clearest proof that in remote times, and down to our own times —and no one is better qualified by classical knowledge to furnish instances of the fact from the histories of Greece and Rome than the right hon. Baronet himself—that principle Which requires, one would think, only to be enunciated to carry conviction, was acknowledged, that to obtain the necessaries of life at a cheap price must be a great blessing. When you suppose that a man has but 40l. a year for the support of himself, his wife, and children, it appears monstrous to argue that an extra outlay of 8l. per year, for corn, being a pound a year on each of the eight quarters required for the sustenance of his family, is not a matter in which he is deeply interested. I am now only putting the prima facie case. How is it met by the Government? Why, the right hon. Gentleman declares against the universal sense of all ages and nations, that cheapness pf food is not necessarily a benefit to a people. His argument, if I rightly understood it, was simply this—there are countries where foods is cheap, and the people are not so well off as the people of England, and the notaries which he particularly cited were Prussia, sad Belgium. If the right hon. Gentleman used any other argument on this head, it escaped my attention. Now, Sir, is that argument absolutely worth anything—is it even a plausible argument. If, indeed, any person were so egregiously absurd as to argue that cheapness of food is the sole cause 749 of national prosperity, and that trade and manufactures, and a long course of successful events, have nothing to do with it, I could understand the exposure of the fallacy which pointed out other countries where the necessaries of life were extremely cheap, but the condition of the people not proportionably benefited. But all we have argued is, that cheapness of food is a blessing to a nation, exactly in the same sense as health is a blessing to an individual. Of course a man in excellent bodily health may, horn family afflictions and pecuniary difficulties, or a stain upon his character, be, on the whole, worse off than the invalid; but that does not shake the truth of the principle that health is good for man, that the healthy man would not he better off than the valetudinarian, if his circumstances were flourishing, or that the misery of the man in health would not be aggravated by having the additional affliction of ill health. The right hon. Baronet's argument goes to prove that there is no such thing as a blessing vouchsafed by Providence to man. Fertility of soil even cannot, with his views, be considered a blessing to a country. Suppose we possessed the power by legislative enactment, which we do not, of making the barren moors and mountain tops of Scotland as fertile as the vale of Taunton, the right hon. Baronet, upon his principle, would be bound to tell us it was our duty to abstain from doing so. He would tell us to look at the state of Scotland and of Bengal—Bengal, a country so fertile, that they had regularly three harvests every year, and yet where the labourer cannot enjoy from his earnings one half the luxuries and comforts that are enjoyed by the Scottish peasant. The right hon. Baronet, pointing to the fertility of Bengal, and the state of the labourer there, would say that it is their duty to abstain from the endeavours to make Scotland as fertile as Bengal. In considering this question the right hon. Baronet has kept out of view all those modifying circumstances to which he was bound to have paid attention before instituting the comparison —circumstances all-important in the consideration of such a question. The right hon. Baronet's argument consists in leaving entirely out of the question the important considerations of good government, the security of property, internal order, the immense mass of our 750 machinery, the existence of civil and religious liberty, our insular situation, our great mines of iron in the vicinity of our coal mines, and disregarding all these ingredients in a nation's prosperity, be sets up his declaration against the general sense of mankind in all ages and in all nations. There is one single point in the comparison between England and Prussia instituted by the right hon. Baronet, to which, on account of its importance, I will direct the attention of the committee, which has been wholly passed over by the right hon. Baronet; that is, our insular position, and our maritime supremacy, which is the consequence of that position. We have never within the memory of any one living seen an enemy in this country. Our fathers never saw such a thing. With the exception of the march of the Highland clans to Derby in the years 1745 and 1746, they must go back for centuries to find the time when Englishmen had seen a foreign enemy in this country.—Can the like be said of Prussia? In the memory of men now living, fifty pitched battles have been fought within her territory, and in one province 13,000 houses have been laid in ashes by the inroads of foreign enemies. Is it to be wondered at, after such scenes, that the peasant of Prussia is not as well, off as the peasant of England; or can the inferiority of his condition be converted into a proof that cheap bread is no blessing to a people? If the right hon. Baronet could prove, what he has not even asserted his readiness to prove, that there is a necessary connection between the cheapness of corn and low wages, he would make out something like a case in his favour; but it is impossible to make the attempt, much less establish the connection in the face of the fact that food has recently risen in this country, but wages have not risen in proportion. This induction of the right hon. Gentleman is founded on an experience far too scanty; he raises a a superstructure far too broad to rest on the foundation of a single case. It is perfectly true that cheap corn and low wages go together in Prussia, but it is equally true that on the banks of the Ohio food is cheaper than either in Prussia or Belgium, but wages are twice as high. It is therefore perfectly established by experience, as I should say it is, a priori, clear, that the mere circumstance of the price of provisions does not in itself fur- 751 nish any cause why the wages of the labourer should descend in value. Now, Sir, as the right hon. Baronet has shown no reason whatever why the House should believe in his principle that to the body of the people cheap food is not a blessing, his whole reasoning is swept away, for the foundation of his argument is unsound and indefensible. I also dissent, Sir, from the other great principle on which he rests his measure. I deny altogether that we ought to be independent, to a great extent at least, of foreign supply for our food. I do not argue that if we could be perfectly independent, it might not be a good state of things. It is unnecessary to argue that question, for the right hon. Baronet disclaims the notion of perfect independence. I am not fond, generally speaking, of appealing to demonstrations in matters of political discussion, but it seems to me that it can be demonstrated by the logic applicable to political science, that it is perfectly impossible to have corn dearer than in the surrounding countries, and to be independent of foreign supply. It is estimated that the people of this country consume annually twenty-five millions of quarters of corn. It is quite certain, that even on an average year, you must sow such a quantity of seed as will give you something more than the average; and in abundant years you will produce a great deal more. It follows of necessity, from the very nature of the product and the change in the seasons, that you can never rely with certainty on bringing to market twenty-five millions of quarters, and neither more nor less. If you want twenty-five millions of cotton stockings, you may order them, and machinery will supply you with neither more nor less. But if you want to have a certain fixed quantity yielded by the land you cannot make any arrangements which will insure such an object. If corn is cheaper abroad than in England, you must export your surplus produce at the price at which the corn of the surrounding countries bring in their own markets. Therefore, whatever you produce over a fixed quantity, will be sold at such a loss as must prove ruinous to the English grower, and must ultimately induce him to withdraw his laud from such cultivation; and experience confirms the justness of this speculation. England was formerly an exporting country as to corn. But our dependence has been gradually increasing, It was 752 great from 1820 to 1830, and it increased in the period from 1830 to 1840. It seems that notwithstanding all the improvements in agriculture, the progress of our population has been so great, in consequence of the discoveries in machinery and the immense trade which has of late grown up, that agricultural skill cannot overtake the advance we have made. Well, then, we are already dependent. The right hon. Baronet admits we are, but he says he prefers casual dependence to constant dependence. I answer that I prefer constant dependence to casual dependence. I prefer it partly from the reasons adduced to the House already by those more competent to form a judgment on the subject than I am, because I think it has a tendency to make countries mutually dependent, and because I am persuaded that when our supply is casual, it must be met, not by an export of manufactures, but by a drainage of the precious metals—thus producing a constantly recurring state of panic and distress which Mr. Huskisson predicted twenty years ago, with but too just a foresight. But the right hon. Baronet, on his own showing, nullifies his own theory. The right hon. Baronet says, "we shall generally be independent of foreign supply, but it is probable, we shall have some bad years, and it may happen, that in those years, countries in the same latitude, will be in the same predicament. The latter may shut their ports against us, and we may be thus reduced to the last extremity, by relying on foreign aid." Here is an admission, then, that in bad years we must be dependent on foreign countries, and being only casually dependent, we should then be at the mercy of those countries, whence our supply is to come. By the limitation proposed, we should be dependent on those who might be suffering the same distress as ourselves, and who may have the additional motive for refusing to supply our wants of a national quarrel. But though it is generally true, that the harvests of this country, and of countries in the same latitude, may be bad in some particular year, it by no means follows, that the harvests at Illinois and Ohio should be equally bad. So that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal amounts to this—"You must be occasionally dependent on such foreigners as will be subject to the same vicissitude of seasons, and may shut their ports against you, if a 753 quarrel should arise; but you shall be interdicted from being dependent on those countries, which will most likely be able, when you are deficient, to supply you." Can anything be more clear, than that next to independence, and, indeed, amounting in practical effect to the same thing, is a very wide dependence, a dependence on the whole world, on every state and every climate? There is the highest probability, that the crops will not fail every where, in the same year. There is a probability equally strong against our being in hostility with all the world. It seems to me, then, that the more unvarying is your demand, the greater is the prospect of your independence; for it is quite clear, that the right hon. Baronet does not suppose, that his sliding-scale will give a constant supply of corn, from our own resources. I confess, I do think, and I have always thought, that the danger of political dependence following commercial dependence, was a danger which it is quite impossible to show has any real existence. Experience is so strong on this point, that clear as was the case made out by my noble Friend, the Member for London the other night, he might have made it still stronger. So far as my investigation has gone—the right hon. Baronet will set me right if I am wrong—the greatest import of corn ever made up to that time in any one year, till of late, of which we have any account, was in the year 1810, and from countries under the direct influence of the Continental system then established. In 1810, we imported 1,600,000 quarters of wheat. Of these, 800,000 quarters came from France, and the rest from countries then provinces of France. Now, observe, that was in the year 1810, in the very height of the continental system, when it was screwed up to the utmost pitch by Napoleon, who deposed his own brother because he did not act up to his principles, and held in his hands the crowns of almost every King in Europe. Now, is it likely, that we shall be placed again in such a contention, with the whole of Europe united against us, under a chief of such extraordinary ability and energy as Napoleon, and who was distinguished above all by two things—his intense hatred of this country, and his resolution to attack her through her trade by commercial prohibitions? And yet, under such a Government, and in a year when 754 it was stretched to its farthest limit, we imported into England, and from his own dominions, a greater quantity of corn, than we had ever done previously. That circumstance—unless I hear some explanation which does away with its effect—has, I own, greatly influenced me in becoming reconciled to that commercial dependence, which, I think, in many respects, a great blessing to nations, and which I do not think, as I have already said, has any connection with political dependence. I say, Sir, that mutual commercial dependence is a great bless-sing, and I fully agree with all which was so eloquently on this point said by my noble Friend, the Member for Tiverton. I cannot but consider it as most consolatory, and one of those circumstances fraught with best hopes for mankind, when we see a vast and increasing population engaged, as their most lucrative employment, in turning a wilderness into cornfields, and whose numbers double every twenty-three years. It is impossible to place a limit to the products which our skill and vast accumulation of capital will enable us to supply such a rapidly in. creasing community. We might supply the whole world with manufactures, and have almost a monopoly of the trade of the world. Whatever temporary distress we might feel, we should be cheered by the reflection, that other nations were raising abundant provisions for us on the banks of the Mississipi and the Vistula. On the contrary, in those lands where coal was not found, where there was no machinery to set up manufactures, the people would look to us for clothing, cutlery, and ten thousand other necessaries and comforts to be supplied by our skill. But in steps the legislator and says, "You who ought to be a manufacturer, for the world must turn ploughman, and you who are a ploughman must be turned against your will into a manufacturer; you shall not buy and sell—you shall not deal with one another. Artisans must starve in England, that the barren lands may yield an immediate rent to their owners, and the agriculturist in America, who is willing to spend his time, and employ his labour, leveling forests to supply you with food, is obliged to turn a manufacturer of bad cloth and bad knives, until experience has taught him to become your rival." All this is brought about, that one particular class may be benefited at the ex- 755 pense of the others, though we have been cautioned against entering upon this subject by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford. I cannot refrain from touching it, although I hope I shall do so in such a manner that no one can condemn the spirit in which I shall speak. It is not possible to shut our eyes to the remote political consequences of such a state of things. The people have borne their privations patiently — they have borne their disappointments patiently, for with regard to those little exhibitions of feeling to which allusion has been made, I think as little of them as I dare say the right hon. Baronet himself thinks. But it is our duty to look to the future; and 1 must say, that if there be to me any sign that is ominous—any sign which every friend of law, of property, and of order, ought to contemplate with uneasiness; it is that one which I see so very generally hailed with acclamation by those Gentlemen who professed the strongest attachment to the principles—Conservative policy. I know of nothing that seems more alarming than the obstinacy and the enthusiasm with which some persons, to whom I can give no better name than that of incendiaries—persons who profess doctrines subversive of all order and all property, labour to prevent a settlement of the question of the Corn-laws. When I know that by the advice of some noted dealers in sedition, numbers of people called Chartists, have gone to break up meetings held for the purpose of petitioning for a repeal of the Corn-laws, I look upon it as a sign, not of immediate, but of serious and future danger. For what reason was it that those whom the Gentlemen opposite agreed with, in designating as incendiaries and sowers of sedition, were desirous of preventing an alteration in what they admitted to be abuse? Did that proceed from a love of the landed aristocracy, or of any of the interests connected with the aristocracy? They all knew, that these incendiaries hated the aristocracy—that no persons talked more bitterly against the aristocracy; and yet if a meeting were called in almost any of the great towns in this country to petition against the Corn-1aws, those men would move heaven and earth to cause the meeting to fail; and for what purpose? Evidently for this; they knew perfectly will, that however much the people might complain of the effects of the present partition of power and of 756 Government—however much they might feel abuses merely political, there was very little danger, unless they had such a grievance as the Corn-law to work upon, they would never be able to raise the people against the established order of things. They knew, that the most formidable rebellions were the rebellions of the belly. I firmly believe, that it is not by chance, but by deliberation, and with a serious purpose that those parties wish to have the Corn-laws remain part of our institutions, in order that some day or another they may be able to inflict on both the same death. I believe, that they wish this abuse to remain part of our laws, in order that some day or another—that day he prayed they might never see—this abuse and our laws might perish together. There is also another circumstance connected with the question to which I will refer. The hon and learned Member for Bradford has warned us not to draw any parallel from France and the French Revolution. The hon. and learned Member will excuse me, if I allude to the subject in a manner of which he cannot complain. If we observe the history of the French Revolution, the first thing that will strike us is, that that revolution was not brought about by the lower classes. It was not a mere movement of the Faubourg St. Antoine and the labouring classes, and had they not had, in the first instance, a part of the higher and aristocratic classes at their head, they could have done nothing. But the feuds engendered by all sorts of vexatious distinctions between the landed aristocracy on the one hand, and the mercantile, professional, and literary classes on the other, were the causes which enabled the end of the wedge to enter. While a whole empire like this is united, I cannot fear the result of any insurrection; but I feel uneasy when I see topics of anarchy, which, in other countries and ages, have been confined to the lowest disturbers, now broached by men, of twenty thousand a-year, it is impossible for me not to fear, when t hear the manufacturers crying cart, that the landlords are grinding are faces of the poor; and, on the other hand, men of great landed property denouncing the, manufacturers as they have been denounced in that House, even since the present debates commenced. I will venture to say, that no expression can be more unjustifiably used by a manufacturer against the landholders, than hon. Members 757 have heard in the course of the present discussion, coming from the mouth of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, against the manufacturing body. [" No, no!"] I am quite willing that the truth of this assertion shall be left to the judgment of all those who heard and read that attack. Sir, we have now arrived at a serious stage in the interests of this country. I do not apprehend the dangerous issue which I fear will ultimately arrive to-morrow, or next year, or perhaps five years hence; but I say, that it is impossible that this country can safely follow up a system which has the effect of arousing and provoking the violent passions of multitudes, while at the same time, it promotes division, rivalry, and animosity, amongst the two great classes of proprietors in the country. Therefore, it is of the greatest importance that this question should be satisfactorily settled. Yet, that which is proposed, is not even contended to be satisfactory on the other side. The right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department, abjured all notions of finality. The hon. Gentleman now laid it down as a wise system, that we should legislate gradually, and in bit by bit reforms. The present measure I would take as an instalment; but if it be an instalment, it is little mere than a farthing in the pound. Is it to be understood, that we are to, have a bill of this kind introduced as often as the Members of this House are summoned to assemble? Are we to be doomed every year every three pats, to renew discussions on the Corn-laws? Is it to be expected, that the first Minister of the Crown will again settle, and again unfix this great question? The more I think on the right hon. Baronet's plan, the less I am able to understand why it was introduced. The right hon. Gentleman did not introduce it to please those who cry out for change in the Corn-laws; it is clear that, they are not thought of? It is equally clear, that he could not have introduced it to please his own supporters, for though they would vote for him, and carry his bill through, nine-tenths of them would vote for him with much greater pleasure if he refused all change ["No, no!"] On this point I must again refer to the judgment of those who observed the silence of Gentlemen opposite, and something very different from silence elsewhere. The right hon. Baronet himself avowed that he could not please 758 both parties, and he complained of the peculiarities and difficulties of his position. Now I cannot understand that an enlightened statesman should risk the displeasure of each party, while supported by the consciousness that he is introducing a measure that would relieve and prevent the distresses of the country. But flees the right hon. Baronet say this of his own measure? He told us, on the contrary, that he could hold out no hope of relief to the distress that prevailed. Does he then bring in his bill to settle the question? Why, finality is disdained on his own bench. Why, then, did the right hon. Baronet introduce his measure? To prevent frauds in taking the averages, of the existence of which frauds he was not sure, and which he acknowledged must Lave been much exaggerated. He also introduced it to fix the price of wheat at between 54s. and 58s. a quarter. But the right hon. Baronet gave no reason for fixing upon that price more than another; all his arguments upon that point were extremely vague. To be sure it is a difficult thing for a statesman to say at what price any article ought to sell; but that is the reason why all wise statesmen refuse to legislate on the subject. That is the reason why all wise statesmen leave the price to be settled between the buyer and the seller. Taking the right hon. Baronet's plan at his own valuation—taking it at his own statement—it is a measure which settles nothing; it is a measure which pleases nobody; it is a measure which nobody asked for, and which nobody thanks him for; it is a measure which will not extend trade; it is a measure which will not relieve distress, and fixes the supply of provisions at a price of which the right hon. Baronet does net profess to know any thing, and far which he can give no reason. On principle then I oppose the measure of the right hon. Baronet, and on principle I approve of that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. In the first place I do not argue, nor do I understand the hon. Member for Wolverhampton to argue, that duty upon imported corn, imposed bonâ fide for purposes of revenue, is wholly indefensible. At all events, I do not wish to be understood as expressing a decided opinion on the point. With reference to the principle of protection to which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton is opposed, there are, as my noble Friend has 759 stated, two grounds for granting it, in one of which that which justifies it on the ground of special burdens. It has not yet been proved, indeed, to my satisfaction, that the price of corn, grown by the English farmer, is increased by burdens lying peculiarly upon him; but I think that if it can be proved that the price is so enhanced, the English farmer is, to the proved extent, entitled to protection; reserving to myself, at the same time, the right of maintaining that, in such a case, it would be much more expedient to effect a new distribution of taxes than to retain the present system. With respect to another ground which is urged for not, at present, removing all protection from agriculture, I must say it seems to me to be unanswerable. I am not disposed to take away, at once, all protection from the English farmer. I think that time ought to be allowed to enable him to transfer his capital from one branch of industry to another, and therefore I consider the word "now" in the hon. Member for Wolverhampton's amendment objectionable. Although, however, I differ from the hon. Member's resolution, I do not see that I materially differ from him in principle. The hon. Member has admitted that it would be folly and bigotry on the part of the people to insist on the immediate repeal of the Corn-law, if there was any prospect that, within a certain reasonable distance of time, its repeal would be effected, with proper precautions. I clearly understand the hon. Member to move his resolution, in a fit of despair, as it were; and that, knowing he can get nothing, he is resolved to ask for a good deal more than he wants. I certainly understand the hon. Member to say that if he saw any chance of the question being brought to a settlement on what he considered sound principles, the word "now" in his resolution should not stand in the way of such a consummation. Whilst, however, that word remains in the amendment, I can not conscientiously concur in it. With respect to a fixed duty, I consider it in no other light than as a mitigation or compromise, and as such I am ready to support it. I would support any measure which would afford relief to the people; but I never will consider any measure to be a final settlement of the question which leaves a distinct protective duty greater than is necessary to countervail the burdens which shall be 760 proved to fall peculiarly upon agriculture. I give my support to a fixed duty as a measure which is, no doubt, imperfect, but which is a decided improvement upon the present system. I do not mean to vote for the amendment, and my principal reason in rising upon this occasion was to declare my opinions, lest my motives should be misunderstood. My objection to the amendment applies only to the word "now," and on these grounds which I thought it right to explain I shall decline giving my vote on the hon. Member's proposition.
§ Mr. S. Wortley
said, that, unwilling as he was to allow the debate to pass off without declaring his views upon this subject, he was at the same time aware that it was impossible for him, and difficult for many who were better qualified for the task than himself, to add any thing new upon the present occasion. But at the same time he was desirous of expressing publicly his opinion with respect to the question which had been submitted to the House, and to give the reasons which induced him to give his opposition to the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. And if, indeed, he had no other reason for rising on this occasion, he should have taken the liberty of doing so in consequence of the speech which had just fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh; for he must say, that of all the speeches which he had heard for a long time, either there or elsewhere, he had never heard one which answered so little the purposes of its author. The great effort of one half of that speech was to raise up phantoms which were constantly before the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, and the other half was wholly inconsistent with the course which he had announced his intention to pursue. The right hon. Gentleman charged his right hon. Friend with having laid it down as a general and abstract principle, that cheap food was no blessing to the population of this country. Why, the right hon. Gentleman must be well aware, and he must see, that that charge was a shadow of his own conjuring. The right hon. Baronet had never made use of such an expression. There could be no question about it—if they looked to the abstract proposition—if they asked whether it was not abstractedly true, that the cheapness of food was a blessing to the people?— that the answer must be in the affirmative; 761 as considered in one sense; but were they to assume (notwithstanding the truth of the abstract principle) that with the cheapness of food the condition of the consumer was necessarily improved? The argument of the right hon. Gentleman was this; but it depended upon whether the population for whom this cheapness of food was obtained, would have the means of procuring that larger supply of cheap food. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh had talked of this portion of the subject in the same manner as many other persons had done—as if it were solely a question to be considered in relation not to the prices of labour but to those of food. It had been contended that if the prices of food were lowered, in an equal proportion would the rate of wages allow the labourer to obtain a larger supply of those articles which constituted the necessaries of life. But it did not follow that this argument applied to the population of this country. Suppose that at the present moment the price of corn was reduced by the importation of supplies of foreign corn, he was prepared to contend that the agricultural and manufacturing labourer would not obtain the benefit of the cheapness of the article, but that the advantage of the cheapness would go into the pockets of others than the labourers; and the reason why this must be the case was, that here, at the present moment, there was a superabundance of labour compared with the demand. Hon. gentlemen quoted the United States and other places, where unquestionably a higher rate of wages was obtained, in consequence of the demand for labour, than in this country. There was here so much larger a supply of labour than the demand required, that wages were depressed to the utmost limit which the price of food allowed. This question of the connection of wages with food was one of considerable importance, and one which he thought appeared to be little understood. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side were apt to say, in the course of this debate, that the labouring people had become more intelligent and informed, and were better educated. He firmly and unquestionably believed it to he the case; but he also believed that the result of that increased knowledge, and of the merits and value of this increased education, was, that they did not look to the repeal of the Corn-laws as the panacea for their distress. He believed 762 that a great portion of our manufacturing population felt a strong conviction on their minds that there were other questions to be considered and adjusted, which more deeply affected their moral and social condition; there were other questions more deserving of anxiety, to which it was their interest to turn their attention. [Mr. C. Buller: What are they?] The hon. and learned Gentleman asked what those questions were, and he would tell him. There were the questions as to the better regulation of labour, which deeply affected every act of the labourer's life, and which bore directly or indirectly upon their social habits. He contended that to these points the House should turn its attention. [Mr. C. Buller: The factory system?] Yes. There was the question of the regulation of factory labour. He had seen something of the feelings of this class of persons who were engaged in factories, and he knew it for a fact, from his own observation, that they believed there were other questions more deeply affecting their interests than that of the Corn-laws. If, indeed, it could be shown that by permitting the importation of foreign corn, and thereby reducing the price of the necessaries of life,—if it could be proved that by these means there would be a greater demand for labour accompanied by an increase of wages, it would be morally impossible for any man to maintain the present law. If he could conceive that it would be of advantage to the mass of the people (which must be the labouring population), that they should permit the importation of foreign corn without restriction, he would not be found to be there to oppose it. But he contended that it was impossible to come to such a conviction upon this subject. And as this was a matter of considerable importance, he trusted the House would allow him to refer to other opinions, because it had been so often said that there was no connection between wages and the price of food. He trusted hon. Gentlemen would allow him to refer to other authorities upon that point. Now, Adam Smith, who might be called the father of political economy, said, "The price of labour was necessarily regulated by two circumstances—the demand for labour, and the price of the necessities and conveniences of life." That opinion was confirmed by a gentleman who held a high position in public estimation, namely, Mr. M'Culloch, in his annotations upon this 763 chapter in the Wealth of Nations. The late Mr. Ricardo, a high authority as a political economist, had said,Under certain circumstances wages would fall if they were regulated only by the supply and demand of labour; but they must not forget, that wages were also regulated by the price of the commodities on which they were expended.
also said, in his well-known commercial Dictionary,It may be mentioned, in proof of what is now stated, that the average price of wheat in England and Wales, in 1814, was 74s. a quarter; and in 1815 it had fallen to 64s. But as these prices would not indemnify the occupiers of the poor lands brought under tillage during the previous high prices, they were gradually relinquishing their cultivation. A considerable portion of them was converted into pasture; rents were generally reduced; and wages had begun to decline; but the Legislature having prohibited the importation of foreign corn, the operation of this natural principle of adjustment was unfortunately counteracted, and the price of 1816 rose to 75s. 10d.And thus then it is verified by fact, for, at the close of the war, a great fall in prices took place, and there was a relinquishment of tracts of land which had been just brought into cultivation. It was said that while the prices of food had risen, wages had fallen. Now, he did not mean to say that it was their interest to keep up the prices of corn, in order to maintain the rate of wages; but that if they reduced the prices of corn, it did not follow that the labourer would obtain snore as well as cheaper bread. Cheaper bread, he admitted, he might get—but it did not follow that he would be enabled to obtain any large additional enjoyment by an increased quantity. That this was the real case —that it was understood to be the case among those who were practically concerned in the question, he thought there could be no doubt. It was not long since that they had evidence of one who was also expressing the opinions of a great number of his companions on this part of the question, and who said plainly that it must inevitably be the case. A man of the name of Crichton, who was examined before a committee on the hand-loom weavers, stated,—Some persons say, that if provisions were cheaper we should be better off; but our masters would take advantage of that circumstance, and reduce our wages, perhaps, 2s. a week; perhaps, the difference in the price of 764 two pecks of oatmeal would be only 6d. or 8d.And he went on to prove, like Mr. Huskisson, that the reduction in the price of food would be less than the reduction in the price of labour, which, no doubt, was one effect contemplated. He did not say that it was the deliberate intention of persons whose object and disposition it was to tyrannise over those about them, but that it was the necessary and natural effect of the operation of the causes he had spoken of. When Gentlemen talked of the repeal of the Corn-laws, he owned it appeared to him that there were full and sufficient reasons for opposing such a proposition. His objection to it was founded upon this, that he was not prepared to seek for a conjectural relief to one portion of the population, and that, the minority, by almost certain ruin to the other portion, and that, the majority; for, whatever. Gentlemen might say, that ouch was the fact was proved by the returns before them beyond the possibility of doubt, and, taking the two classes of inhabitants of this realm, those connected with agriculture, and those in other departments of industry, the former would be found to outnumber the latter by a very large amount. Then were they to be asked on behalf of the smaller portion (and he should not be far without the mark if he adopted the proportion given, by a Gentleman who spoke some time before him, and who said that the manufacturing population was as one to two when compared with those dependent upon agriculture), were they to be asked to attain what was not certain relief to the one by what he repeated was almost certain ruin to the other? Gentlemen opposite told them that the English farmer was not likely to suffer by the change in the first place, because the importation would not be at such a rate as would much reduce the price of corn. It did not appear to him necessary to consume the time of the House by, entering upon that question. The grower in this country must be as good authority on that point as any other, and when they found that the price at which foreign wheat could be imported was 35s. or 36s., it was manifest, that unless they enjoyed something like protection, it would displace the corn of this country. That being granted, so far would the farmer be injured by this change. But, then, Gentlemen replied 765 "If that be so, turn your capital to some other field of industry; turn your arable land into grass land, and make as much profit by it as you do now." But Gentlemen who used that argument could hardly have considered what the extent of that change must be. Did they remember that if any land were thus abandoned, the first would be that of the worst quality, end which required the greatest expenditure of capital and of labour; and, moreover, what kind of pasture would such land make? They knew that of such land the portion applicable to pasture was very small, while it had been with much labour and capital converted into arable land. And there was another circumstance not to be forgotten. Perhaps Gentlemen had not observed the difference in the amount of population employed on arable and on pasture land. He had seen something of districts of both descriptions, and he thought he was within the mark when he said that the population of those parts of the country which were purely and entirely grazing districts, was not more than one-half of that in districts under cultivation. Then they would have land thrown out of cultivation, and labour withdrawn from employment on that land, and what then was to become of that surplus labour? These were considerations which rendered that answer to the farmer's argument totally futile. It was not In the power of the farmers to convert their capital further when their land was thrown out of cultivation, nor to employ that proportion of the population who had previously derived employment from the investment of their capital. He would not detain the House much longer indeed; the question bad been so thoroughly discussed, that scarcely anything new could be said upon it. In conclusion, therefore, his reason for opposing this proposition was, that he did not think it would tend to the advantage of the community at large. He was not prepared to risk all the consequences of the entire abolition of the Corn-laws. And with respect to the proposition of his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, he believed (looking at it impartially) that it was really and effectually a fair arrangement, between reasonable relaxation on the one side and fair protection on the other, and, therefore, as such, he should give it his support.
§ Mr. Mitchell
said, that long ere the present discussion had Commenced, he 766 had convinced himself of the superiority of a fixed duty over any sliding scale. But when the subject was taken up by the existing Government it became a practical question, whether there was any probability of carrying a measure more extensive at the present time. No one, of course, could answer that but in the negative. The inquiry then suggested itself, whether the measure proposed were in fact an improvement? In order to arrive at a judgment upon this point, he had not only consulted his own experience, but he had availed himself of the knowledge and experience of all to whom he could address himself likely to throw light on the subject, especially to the merchants of the city, and he found that almost all of this class, from the highest to the lowest, considered the measure, though not going is far as some of them (and as he himself had wished), was nevertheless, a great and valuable improvement. Some three years ago he was inclined to enter into solve speculations in corn, but he found it of such a hazardous character, owing to the state of the law, that all fair speculators were driven out of the trade, and he might just as well have risked his money upon the turn of dice. He found, however, that he could have bought the best Rostock wheat at 30s. a quarter, and at that price he could have bought 20,000 quarters. Freight, insurance, and charges of every other kind, would amount to not more than 7s. Now, supposing the average price in this country to be 56s., as stated by the right hon. Baronet, the duty would be 16s., and this added to 37s., would be equal to 53s. Rostock wheat, he believed, fully equalled British wheat, and as the average in London was always one or two shillings above the general average of the kingdom, it would follow, that when the general average was 56s., the London average would be at least 57s. or 58s., and at that price a man might enter into a speculation with a fair prospect of a profit, which he could not have done while the old scale was in operation, for under the old scale, the duty at the average he had stated would have been 30s. 8d. Under the old scale, the duty jumped with such rapidity as the averages varied from 69s: to 73s., that every one who held wheat kept it back, nobody paying the duty till the averages got up to 72s. or 73s. The only instance in which the duty lead ever been paid on lower averages was, when 767 some stray cargoes had arrived' too late to take advantage of the low duty, and when parties were anxious to get in their corn before the duty rose to a prohibitive point. In no other case had so high a duty even as 6s. 8d. been paid on any large quantity of corn. Under the alteration as proposed by the right hon. Baronet, people would be able to order wheat from abroad with a fair prospect of profit when the average prices in England were 56s. and 57s. It would then be a legitimate speculation, without a reference to deficient harvests, and, therefore, in his opinion, the scale now proposed would have the effect of causing a regular importation as long as the averages did not exceed 57s. or 58s., whereas, under the old scale, no importation took place except at 72s. and 73s. Under these circumstances, he could not look on the proposed plan otherwise than as a bonâ fide reduction of duty. He thought the proposal a decided improvement, and a boon to the country. If he were asked, whether he considered the proposed plan as equal to the noble Lord's plan of a fixed duty, he would candidly own that he thought no such a thing. But as a Member of Parliament, he felt bound to enquire whether there was any chance of their getting anything better. He considered that no such chance existed; and, if so, he would ask whether it was his duty to reject the measure proposed to him, because he believed that a speculatively better measure might have been devised. He was quite aware that in giving utterance to such sentiments he might be accused of acting contrary to the interests of his party, but he did not think that any considerations of party should induce him to reject a measure brought forward which he believed would be an improvement, when he despaired of seeing any better carried in its stead. If he believed the noble Lord the Member for London, had the least chance of carrying his measure for a fixed duty, the noble Lord should have his support; but he apprehended there was no such chance, and considering the right hon. Baronet's plan as an instalment, he should vote for it. He did not for a moment mean to say that he could look upon it as a final settlement of the question. Decidedly not. But he conceived the right hon. Baronet brought forward the most liberal measure that there was the 768 least prospect of carrying, and he for one was grateful to the right hon. Baronet for it. It was the opinion of merchants throughout the kingdom, that the right hon. Baronet's measure was a very great improvement, and ought to be fairly tried. In his (Mr. Mitchell's) opinion, it would cause not only a steady trade in corn, but it would add considerably to the revenue. In oats and barley also, the proposed scale would be a very decided improvement on the old scale. He could buy oats in the Baltic, weighing from 42lb. to 43lb. a bushel, for 8s. a quarter, and the expenses of bringing them over to England would be 6s. The duty under the proposed scale, when the average price of oats was 20s., would be 6s., and this would allow men, when the average was at 20s., to bring in oats with a fair prospect of profit. Under the old scale, at that average, the duty would have been prohibitive. With these sentiments he should not think it justifiable conduct on his part if he were to withhold his support from the proposed alteration.
§ Mr. Charles Buller
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, seemed to take a different view of the matter now to what he had taken when he addressed the electors of Bridport. To those electors he had urged the necessity of putting down the band of monopolists who fattened on the spoil of the land. There was only one other speech on which he felt inclined to make a remark, and in that speech there was but one passage to which he felt called on to refer. He was glad that a remark of his, however irregularly made, had elicited from the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, an opinion as to what that hon. Gentleman considered a legitimate subject of speculation for the working classes. That legitimate subject of speculation Was to be the question relative to the regulation of the hours of labour. Was it not lamentable to hear such an opinion from the Member of an enlightened constituency? On the contrary, when the minds of the people were occupied by mischievous delusions, the hon. Gentleman ought to have the boldness to tell them the truth, and show them how mischievous such delusions were. He ought to tell them that human laws could not regulate the reward of adult labour, and that, by attempting to do so, they would only deprive labour of its legitimate market. He had never 769 before taken any part in the debates, that had arisen on this question. It was a question on which he had been anxious to stave off discussion, because he was anxious to avoid the collision of interests to which the discussion must necessarily give rise. But whenever the question could no longer be put off—when it must be discussed—then he thought that means should be found to bring it w a satisfactory settlement; immediate concession then became the duty of the Legislature. On this principle it was, that he had always voted. There was one point in the Corn-law agitation to which they ought to direct their attention. The people looked on the Corn-laws as a manifest injustice; as laws evidently enacted in the interest of those who made the laws. Gentlemen opposite, he was aware, did not avow this. They cared not for themselves or their own interests. All their care, he knew very well, was for the farmer, all their sympathy for the agricultural labourers. They were anxious, even, for the welfare of the manufacturers, and were eager to cram their benefit down the throats of those ignorant manufacturers who were so little aware of what was for their own good. But these were matters he would not stop to discuss, for such assurances deluded nobody. There was one class on whom no one could doubt, that these laws conferred great advantages. That was, the class of landowners; and, however little, men might be disposed to be harsh in their opinions, they would believe that, when landowners made laws to raise rents, rents must have something to do with the matter. Now, it was most desirable that no such impression should exist. He was most desirous that, they should not appear to make laws in the interest of any particular class, particularly not in the interest of the class by whom the laws were made, for the mere suspicion of such a thing was sufficient to sap all the foundations of law. If the poor believed, that they were taxed merely that the wealthy might enjoy larger incomes — [Interruption.] He did not say that it was so, but he would repeat it, while such a belief prevailed among the people, things were not upon a safe footing, and he would maintain that it was the imperative duty of the House to take steps to remove such an impression. Even if the Corn-laws did no harm, it would be wise to remove laws that produced so fearful an effect on the 770 public mind, making all legislation suspicious to the people. Admitting that the popular opinion as to the operation of the corn-laws was exaggerated, he must still maintain that that very exaggeration could be only the consequence of a bad law; and if the people believed an injustice was committed on them, it was quite natural that they should attribute a greater degree of mischief to that injustice than it had really caused. The people were slow to admit that their misfortunes were not remediable by legislative interference, and where they fastened on anything that was manifestly a bad law, they naturally struggled against it as the sole, or at least the chief, cause of their distress. If they complained that more was attributed to the Corn-laws than was due to them, that was only the natural consequence of the popular impression. Nor was he himself at all disposed to admit that the distress did not arise in a great measure from the Corn-laws. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, argued that the distress was produced by the over-production of late years. The stimulus given to manufactures had been so great, the right hon. Baronet thought, that mills had been built and goods supplied to an extent far beyond what the world could consume. Now, what consolation was this to the people of England? Had this over-stimulus done more than give employment to the capital of the country, and to the labour of the people? It was not American capital, but English capital that had been employed; French labourers or negroes had not been brought over to do the work, but English labourers, and not foreigners, had been employed to do it. Now what was the relief from over-production? Why, a cessation of employment. That cessation had taken place, and thence arose the distress. When the right hon. Baronet knew the rate at which the capital and population of the country were increasing, it was fair to ask the right hon. Baronet, how that capital and population were to be employed. To this subject he (Mr. Buller) had called the attention of the House last year. From 1821 to 1831 two millions were added to the population. During this time, however, there was no increase, but rather a diminution of the capital employed in agriculture. Since then, a further increase had taken place of two millions and a half, and, as far as he could judge from 771 the localities where the greatest increase had taken place, it was in the manufacturing, and not in the agricultural districts that the great augmentation was going on. The population were, in fact, leaving the agricultural for the manufacturing districts. This tendency was known to be in operation. Then, what was the fact? Since 1821 the population had increased four millions and a half. The agricultural population, during that period had not increased, but only the trading and manufacturing population. Now, whether the distress was occasioned by the Corn-laws or not, it was obvious they must search for some permanent measures by which they might be able to keep the people in their average state of prosperity. He meant in the average state of prosperity as enjoyed by the people till within the last two or three years. If agriculture did not afford support to the growing population, and manufactures did afford them that support, they must find means to increase and extend the employments by which the people had a prospect of gaining their bread. The town had been made too large for the country, and the country was no longer able to feed the town. What was the remedy? Why, they must obtain food from the countries that were able to supply it at a reasonable price. If the Corn-law did not take the bread out of the mouths of the people, it prevented the bread from going into their mouths. The question, however, was no longer whether the law should be maintained, but how and to what extent it should be changed. It was quite cheering to hear hon. Members belonging to the landed interest disclaim all wish to keep the law as it was. Indeed, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth was the only man in the House who attempted to say that the Corn-laws produced no mischief. The simple question now was, what the alteration was to be; and here he was sorry that there might be some apparent discrepancy between the arguments he had advanced and the vote which he should feel it his duty to give. He could not assent to the proposition that all duties on corn shall now cease, and he would explain the grounds on which he came to the conclusion. His grounds were exceedingly simple. He did not like to give a positive vote on a hypothetical case. The hon. Member for Bath 772 and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had both admitted that if any special burdens weighed on agriculture, a compensating protection ought to be allowed to the extent of those burdens. [Mr. Roebuck, "No, no !"] The hon. Gentleman said he would remove those burdens, but in saying that, he admitted that, if not removed, there was a claim for compensation in the shape of a protecting duty. [" Oh no!"] He was asked what the nature of those burdens was, and he had no objection to state in what he believed them to consist. He was stating no new doctrine, nor anything in the least inconsistent with the most unqualified doctrines of free-trade. He would appeal on this subject to the authority of the late Mr. Ricardo. Until tithes were commuted, he must consider a Corn-law necessary. He must deny, that the commutation of tithes had been carried into effect. Really, if the right hon. Baronet would do him the honour to consult the authorities to which he referred, the right hon. Baronet might be not unwilling to take the word of Mr. Ricardo, though he was a political economist. While tithes continued to be a charge on production, the commutation entering into the price of the corn, he was not prepared to deny that tithes were a peculiar burden on agriculture. If they were commuted into a rent charge, the case would be different, for then they would form part of the rent. Another charge on land was the land-tax, which, he believed, was very generally admitted to be a peculiar burden on agriculture. It was not easy to say to what extent the poor-rates and county-rates were peculiar burdens on agriculture, but to a certain extent, it could not be denied, those two descriptions of rates bore with more severity on agriculture than on the other classes of the community. These might be feeble grounds for the enforcement of a fixed duty, bat some regard ought surely to be paid to vested interests that had been called into existence by the existing law. He granted the law was mischievous and dishonest, but interests had grown up under it, and they ought to be careful how they sacrificed it by too precipitate a system of legislation. He believed the question was altogether a landlord's question, and that if the Corn-laws were maintained permanently they would have no other effect than that of raising rents and calling 773 capital into unprofitable employment. But the thing was done. Great capital had been employed in agriculture, and a great body of agricultural labourers were now dependent on the continued employment of that capital. Let the law be altered by all means, but in such a manner that those now employed in agriculture might find employment elsewhere. On this point he was peculiarly anxious to explain himself. He did not mean to say, that if men's prejudices could be set aside, the total repeal of the Corn-laws would be likely to be attended by any injurious consequences; but it was not always possible to set prejudices aside, and if the Corn-laws were to be suddenly and totally repealed, a great part of the land would certainly be thrown out of cultivation, not because that cultivation could not perhaps be still profitably carried on, but in consequence of the alarm that would be caused by so sudden a change. It had been said, there was no difference between the old scale and a fixed duty. There was as great a difference between the two principles as between any that could be brought forward. The principle of the other side, he would venture to say, stood alone in the history of legislation and taxation. All had heard of prohibitory laws and protective duties, but the first was always total in its operation, and the last was protection to a certain amount. But the English Corn-law stood amidst the taxation of the world a solitary monument of an attempt by a Legislature to regulate by law the price of a particular commodity. The real fact was, that a certain amount of protection was not given. [An hon. Member: "Holland and France."] The hon. Member said, that he had forgotten Holland. He was not ignorant of the existence of the Dutch law, nor of the French law upon the subject, but it was a simple adoption of the law as we had it a few years ago, and it appeared to be condemned in those countries by all commercial men. He believed the French had adopted their law from ours; but whether this country had adopted the law from France, or France from this country, the fact was no less certain that it was an instance of human legislation directed to the object, not of saying, "We will give you a fixed protection by a specific duty, but we will allow the importation of corn at certain prices; but in order to 774 keep up the price of the commodity, we will dodge the changes of nature, and we will lower your duty, indeed, but so that whatever might be the cost of corn abroad, the consumer at home should not have the article at a reasonable price. There was a perfectly clear difference between the principle of a sliding scale and the principle of a fixed duty. The fixed duty said fairly, that in consideration of peculiar burdens, borne by particular persons, and the vested interests that had grown up under the existing system, a fixed and intelligible protection should be given to those persons. Now, if it was found, that there was an essential difference between the price of foreign corn and the price of our own, do not let them aggravate that difference by legislation. Upon what principle, he would ask, did the right hon. Baronet justify the sliding-scale on account of the burdens thrown upon the land? Those burdens did not vary in accordance with the price of corn. If corn were lower, the land-tax and county-rate did not thereupon become higher. The principle of a sliding-scale, as had been suggested by the noble Lord ought to be different from that which was now adopted, and when the price fell the duty ought to fall also. In fact, the whole argument, as to the justice of protection, was done away with when it was based upon the principle of a sliding-scale. The great objection to the sliding scale was, that it raised the price of corn higher than produced any good—higher indeed, than had been calculated upon. It had been stated, that corn might be imported at 58s. or 60s. If the right hon. Baronet's Mode of reasoning were correct, he (Mr. Charles Buller) could prove that corn ought to be imported duty free at 68s., because at that price the duty was now 16s 8d. Deduct that amount from 68s., and the remainder would be 51s. 4d.; and no consular returns he had seen made out the price abroad to be lest than 52s. The mischief of the Corn-law must be always the same. The speculator in foreign corn would keep back his supply in expectation of the lowest rate of duty. That was always done. Now, suppose corn arrived here when the duty was 72s., the speculator calculated, that if the price rose one shilling higher he would gain one shilling by retaining it for that rise. Therefore, there always was the temptation of large gains for holding corn back. Moreover, the gain by the 775 operation of the scale was two-fold. It was not as in any other commodity that the merchant kept back his stock, in order to gain a rise of price in the market only, but to gain the double advantage of a rise in price and a reduction of duty. What he contended for was, that the effect of the sliding-scale was to keep the price at which corn could be imported higher than it needed to be. The right hon. Baronet had put the case of the price falling; but if that were to be so, it was a mere supposed compensation to the agriculturists, and did not give the benefit of a steady low price to the consumer; but, on the contrary, threw the corn into the market by fits and starts, so that the agriculturists themselves could not calculate the price, and no advantage whatever could accrue to the consumer. Now it was contended on that (the Opposition) side of the House, that there ought to be as regular and fixed a price as the variations of the seasons would permit. There was one argument against a fixed duty used by the supporters of the proposed plan to which he would briefly advert. It was contended by Gentlemen opposite, that the imposition of a fixed duty would not settle the question any more than the plan of a sliding-scale, and the right hon. Baronet had supported that view by a mode of argument which had become popular in the present day, but of which he confessed he could not see the cogency, although it might have the advantage of novelty; namely, that of seizing upon some isolated expression dropped by some hon. Member on the Opposition side, and dwelling upon that expression as an argument to suit the views of the other side. For example, the right hon. Baronet might have said "Such a one on the other side remarked that if a fixed duty were to be adopted, there would still be agitation for total repeal," and straightway the right hon. Gentleman assumed, as an admitted fact, that if a fixed duty was to be adopted. there must be a continuance of the total repeal agitation. But he begged to observe, with all respect to the House, that it was not altogether by what hon. Gentlemen said in that House that the question was to be settled. The settlement of the question did not depend upon individuals solely. There was, however, one great advantage attending a fixed duty, as tending to settle the agitation of this topic, namely, that there could by no 776 possibility be any exaggeration of its effect upon the price of corn. As long as the sliding scale existed, so long would exaggerations of its effects be put forth. It was argued, You have upon your scale a duty of 20s., and that duty prevents a regular trade, and a constant supply being raised in foreign countries. The great advantage of a fixed duty was, that after it had been once settled, and the price of corn should become high, there could be no exaggeration. If the fixed duty were 5s., the price would be raised by 5s., if it were 8s., the market price would be raised by 8s., and he defied human ingenuity, or, what was more, want of candour, to attribute more than that to the principle of a fixed duty. But while he was opposed to the principle of a sliding scale, he was not prepared to view the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman in that uncandid spirit which said absolutely that the plan would produce no good at all. On the contrary he admitted that the plan would do some good—he admitted if the price were very high it would lower it, and it would have a tendency to keep the supply somewhat steadier. At the same time he could not consider it would have the effect of keeping the supply so steady, as it should be for the benefit of the consumers, as this country had a right to expect, or that it would give them corn even at so moderate a price as that which the right hon. Baronet had calculated upon. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken arbitrarily of a price varying from 54s. to 58s., as that which would be the average under the proposed system; but he (Mr. C. Buller) could not make out from any of the returns or papers that had been laid upon the Table of the House, that the consumers would get corn at a price lower than from 60s. to 62s. He was not inclined to enter further into the general subject, but lie had been anxious to explain his reasons for the vote he was about to give, to declare how entirely he assented to the general principle of refusing all those unjust claims that had been set up on the other side, and to remonstrate against the general impolicy of a Corn-law, but above all, a Corn law under a sliding scale.
§ Mr. A. Hope
was understood to blame the manufacturers for much of the distress which prevailed amongst their artisans, whom they had drawn from the agricultural districts by delusive professions; and, having now become their slaves and 777 their dupes, they were left to reap the miserable reward of the severe labours they had performed in misery and starvation. Not content with this, they were now seeking to overturn the agricultural interest altogether. Believing, therefore, that the motion of the hon. Gentleman was calculated to bring irretrievable ruin upon all engaged in and supported by agriculture, and consequently, that it would injure the prosperity of the country, he should vote against it.
said, that he should not follow the example of his right hon. Friend who, differing as he did from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, had yet expressed his intention of not voting against him. He regretted that he could not support the proposition of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, but he thought the better course was to support, as he always had done in that House, his opinion with his vote. He regretted that he felt called upon to vote against the motion, for he was anxious to apply, as far as it could be applied with safety and with justice, the principles of free-trade to the trade in corn. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Marylebone in the argument he used in favour of a fixed duty— viz., that too sudden changes even of a bad law were dangerous; and, holding that opinion, he was not prepared to vote with the hon. and gallant Member for the present motion. He looked upon the existing law as a bad one, and had at all times shown his readiness to vote against it. He looked upon the proposition of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) as but little better than that law, and therefore he could not give it his support. The more he considered the question, the more he regretted that the proposal brought forward last year by the late Government had not been accepted. He thought that was a proposal that might reasonably have been accepted by all parties as a settlement of this long-agitated question. He considered that the principle of a fixed duty was the best that could be adopted. It was with great satisfaction that he had heard on a former evening from a right hon. Gentleman opposite, that he considered a fixed duty would be the best sort of protection that could be given to the home-grower, provided it could be maintained; and it was because he thought it was that protection which would be more likely to be maintained than any others that he 778 preferred it. If the proposition of the late Government had been supported, as he thought it deserved to be, by the great Conservative party, having, as it would then have had, the concurrence of the commercial interest of the country, it would have carried with it that amount of public opinion in its favour which was the best guarantee for any measure being permanent and lasting. This would not, he feared, be the case with the proposal of the present Government, the great merit of which was, as it appeared to him, that it pleased neither party. It was true, that if the Conservative party had given their support to the measure of the late Government, it might have deferred their accession to office, but then it would, he was persuaded, have secured that which he knew would in the end have been far more valuable to them and to the country—a permanent and satisfactory settlement of this great and difficult question. The only real argument which he had heard against the proposition of a fixed duty was, that it could not be maintained when the price of corn was extremely high. That objection, he believed, would never practically have existence under a fixed duty; but if it had, he thought the remedy had been clearly stated by the right hon. the late President of the Board of Trade. But his own opinion was, that the difficulty never would arise, because if they had a regular and constant trade in corn, which under the operation of a fixed duty they would have, and drew their supplies from all quarters of the globe, they would provide to a very great extent against those seasons of dearth, except in the course of those dispensations of Providence, which, extending over many countries at the same time, created a difficulty which no human foresight could prevent or legislation provide for. It was on these grounds, and with the view of supporting those opinions in favour of which he had recorded his opinion last year, that he had voted the other evening for the proposition of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell); but believing that the change proposed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was sudden, and therefore dangerous, he should vote against it.
§ Mr. Milnes
hoped he might be permitted to call the attention of the House to what appeared to him to be the very forlorn and pathetic situation of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. 779 Dining the whole course of the debate of that evening his hon. Friend bad been left the solitary Robinson Crusoe upon the barren rock of Corn-law repeal. There he had sat the whole of the evening, seeing friends and allies desert his side and repudiate his cause—some of them, indeed, expressing a partial concurrence in his views, but not one of them declaring a determination to support his motion. Indeed, the more courageous of his friends expressed an intention of voting against him, whilst others declared their intention of not voting at all. He could not but interpret this as a signal recognition of the fact, that this question of the total repeal of the Corn-laws had not been prudentially brought before the House at the present moment. He believed that both what had been said, and what had not been said, went to prove that it would have been far better if his hon. Friend had allowed the debate to be taken upon the question which really and practically interested the House and the country, than to raise an abstract question upon which he could get so few to speak, and, as it would seem, hardly any to vote. He could wish that there were on that (the Ministerial) side of the House some Member more apt in debate than himself, who would place in counter-position the beginning arid the end of the speech which they had just heard from the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. C. Buller.) He did not believe that it would be at all difficult to show how totally inconsistent were the arguments of the one part, as compared with the arguments of the other part, of that hon. Gentleman's speech. But he would content himself by resting on one single point. The hon. Gentleman began by declaring that all Corn-law legislation was unjust—that the people believed it to be unjust, and, therefore, that they were licensed and justified in agitaling against it. The hon. Gentleman concluded by stating, that the total repeal of the Corn-laws would be injurious to the peace of the country. How were these two statements to be reconciled? Did the hon. Member believe that when he had once stirred the depths of popular confusion, he would be able at will to hush the storm and purify the elements of his foul commotion? Did the hon. Member believe that when he had appealed, not only to the passions but to the appetites of the people; when he had brought into 780 array the most fearful arguments that could be practically addressed to a nation; when he pursued a course of agitation, such as that which had been adopted by the Anti-Corn-law league; when he assisted in giving to that agitation a form the most calculated to take a firm and permanent hold of the popular mind of England; when he helped to blind it with the tenets of religion, and to point out the law as at variance with the letter and spirit of holy writ when the hon. Member did this—when he gave a sanction to this lawless agitation—an agitation into which he was proud to say the clergy of the Established Church, and of the Wesleyan persuasion, had not degraded themselves by entering—what other result could he anticipate than public distraction and open confusion. But he congratulated the House upon what he must be permitted to call the inspiration of common sense in the minds of the people of England. They had seen through the delusion; they had seen through what the hon. Member for Liskeard himself admitted to be a mischievous delusion, namely, that cheapness of food was of itself all-sufficient to secure the welfare of a people. In fact, this was the true and simple way of viewing the subject. The question was one of fact; and, it was perfectly ridiculous and foolish to talk of the law as being just or unjust. Those who held this protection by law as given by Parliament, were as fairly and legitimately in possession of it as a part of their property, as they were fairly and legitimately in possession of the land they tilled. All property whatever rested upon social arrangements and social institutions—all rested upon the basis of law, and if by law this protection to the land was established, then might the House as well deelare that all property was unjust, and ought to be abolished, as that this protection was unjust and ought to be abolished. If there were one matter which time and experience had helped more clearly to establish than another, it was this—that a repeal, or any large alteration of the Corn-laws would produce a reduction in the wages of labour—that a repeal of the Corn-laws would be nothing more nor less than an adulteration of the coin in which the labourers' wages were paid. This was a difficulty which the Gentlemen opposite had never got 781 over—a difficulty which he could not conceive their ever getting over— a difficulty which it would be much better for them boldly and candidly to admit if they meant to discuss this question upon fair and honest grounds. All the observations of the most intelligent travellers on the Continent went to prove that those countries from which we could derive the greatest supply of corn, were not the countries that would take the greatest quantity of our manufactured goods. All those countries, bordering on the large rivers of central Europe, whose superabundant fertility was calculated upon as capable of supplying the deficiencies in the product of our own soil, were inhabited by a thin and scanty population, having sufficient for their own wants, and entertaining no notion or idea of the artificial comforts which by the poorest of this country were now regarded as actual necessaries of life. So much was this the case in the north and east of Germany, that the Prussian League itself had totally failed in operation, because the corn-growing countries of that league could not, or would not, take the manufactures of the manufacturing part of the league. How, then, could it be expected that those great corn-growing countries would take our manufactures in exchange for the produce of their soil? He did not mean to say that, by some ultimate progress of society, they might not be induced to do so, but to imagine that they would do so immediately and directly, so as to relieve the distress which unhappily prevailed in this country, was one of the most ridiculous dreams that ever entered the head of a reasonable man. The hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring), in speaking upon this subject, had appeared to indulge in some of the poetical flights of his early days. His glowing imagination presented to his ardent gaze unmeasured tracts of now uncultivated land in the fertile regions of America capable of affording unlimited crops of wheat for our enjoyment, reared and garnered by a population willing and anxious to exchange the bounteous gifts of the soil for the products of our manufacturing industry. God forbid that he (Mr. Milnes) should say that such things might not be. All that he contended for was this, that such a state of things could not be brought about so suddenly or so immediately as to fiord, any practical remedy for the distress 782 now existing in this country, and that the Legislature had no right whatever to rest upon the hopes and promises falsely held out to the people, and to say that to repeal the Corn-laws would be to alleviate the sufferings of the distressed, and to bless them with abundance and plenty. At the same time, he did not mean to say that it was at all impossible, if the agitation now commenced were allowed to go on, that the popular mind might not be worked upon in such a way and to such a degree as to bring about an absolute necessity for the repeal of the Corn-laws. The fact that this might be done was no proof—no evidence whatever to his mind that it would be right to do so, or that the repeal of the laws, when so brought about, would be beneficial to the people. All that he said was, that the necessity of the repeal of the Corn-laws did not at present exist. Necessity made its own evidence as well as its own law. The very fact of the House of Commons being at that moment engaged in so very long a discussion about the necessity of repeal, proved distinctly that the necessity did not exist. Necessity came as a flame, as a pestilence, as something that could not be doubted or disputed. Raise the flame, and you may produce what you want; but recollect what would be the consequence of the destruction or considerable damage of the landed interest. Could Gentlemen for a moment suppose, that when the landed interest had been hurled down, the fundholder would be allowed to stand where he was? Upon the unprotected land would then lie the mortgage of the protected capitalist. What would be the value of his security? If by a sudden revolution of society the landed interest were deprived of what they considered to be a right given to them by law, was it to be imagined that they would remain content in their fallen position? He did not know whether, under such a combination of circumstances as would now attend a repeal of the Corn-laws, the landowners would be able to stand; but this he knew, that if they fell they would drag down the fundholder to the same common ruin as themselves. Having in these few words ventured to lay before the House, what he considered to be the awful consequences of the further agitation of this question, he now ventured to express a hope that the manner in which it bad been treated in the present debate 783 might be some harbinger of the manner in which it would be hereafter discussed out of doors. When these debates went forth to the world, it would be seen that those who talked so loudly and agitated so fiercely amongst the unlettered and untaught masses, dared not raise a voice to address the intelligent, educated, and reflecting men who assembled to deliberate within the walls of Parliament. He could not conceive how the change proposed by the right hon. Baronet should not be seen to be a very great and very beneficial one. Since the announcement of it he had remarked that a great change had taken place in the public estimation of its value. The irony and scorn with which the first intimation of the proposed change was received in that House was no longer responded to by public opinion. Persons who at first declared they could see nothing in the scheme, now declared that they could see a great deal. The hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Mitchell), had told the House, that such was the opinion of practical men—of the great merchants of the city with whom he was in the habit of daily association. Other Gentlemen speaking from the same side of the House, had also declared that they saw in this scheme a great and manifest improvement. He maintained then, that no man had a right to assert that this scheme was in itself inefficient or useless. He maintained that no man had a right to say that this measure did not go as far as it ought to go, until he had made up his own mind as to what could really be done under the particular circumstances of the case, and until he knew whether it were practically in the power of the right hon. Baronet to carry a more extensive scheme. It was not the habit of the statesman by whom this scheme was propounded to propose what he did not know he could carry into action. This course would always bring with it many inconveniences from which a statesman more lavish in promises and more ready in hope might easily escape. It was possible, nay it was probable, that all violent men of all sides would be against him, that he would receive only the applause of the very few moderate men to be found in the world, and it was only from them that the good opinion and just estimation of such a measure could proceed until its own intrinsic merit, slowly but surely discovered, should establish it 784 in its proper station in public opinion. He believed that such would be the progress of the right hon. Baronet's scheme in the popular estimation. He believed, after the majority of the other night, that it was, in fact, the law of the country at this moment. He therefore considered that all those emendations upon the scale which had been proposed on the one side and the other might merely be regarded either as manifestations of very strong individual opinions, or else almost as crotchets of the dilettanti in political science. For himself, he declared that he should have been pleased to see the scale somewhat more liberally constructed. He did not believe, as far as his limited sources of information went, that the right hon. Baronet had secured the oscillation of what he calculated upon as the average price of corn between the two sums of 54s. and 58s. a quarter. But he knew that it would be most impertinent and presumptuous on his part to set his opinion upon a matter of this kind against that of the right hon. Baronet. The right hon. Baronet could take very good care of his own reputation in this matter; and his reputation as a practical statesman would rest upon this—whether his Corn-law scheme will produce the effect upon the average price in this country which he anticipated from it. To him (Mr. Manes), and to other young Members of the House, it was, indeed, a great and instructive lesson of political fallibility to see the poor old Corn-law abused and treated as it now was. When he saw the noble Lord, the Member for Tiverton (Lord Palmerston) heaping every epithet of obloquy and abuse upon that miserable measure which he as a Member of the Cabinet had assented to and supported in 1828—when he saw other Gentlemen who a few years ago regarded it in its full and untouched integrity as the very ark of the constitution, now professing their gladness to see it modified — when he saw these changes of opinion occurring on either side of the House, he rejoiced in the progress of public opinion in the right direction, and was glad to see the tendency of the measures proposed towards free trade. But he strenuously opposed and distinctly refused his assent to any violent or sudden change. Whilst the opinions of the rest of the world upon this matter remained where they were—whilst in France committees of commerce, manufacture, and 785 trade met together to discuss this very question—and when, amongst those three committees, one member only could be found to assent to any reduction of the present protecting duties—when he saw M. Dupin, the Brougham of France, as he was frequently called from his great attainments —when he saw such a man declaring, before the Academy of Political Science, that the sliding scale appeared to him to be the acme of political invention—when he saw that Russia, Prussia, and Austria were all determined (or at least the governments of them) to combine the interests of agriculture and manufactures —when he saw them working, as they were, to raise up manufactures within their own territories, not from any notion of competing with the perfect productions of other manufacturing countries, but from the wise and just conclusion that a combination of manufactures and agriculture was just as necessary and wholesome to the body politic, as the combination of vegetable and animal food was to the support of the physical frame, when he looked at our relations with all these parts of the world, he did not hesitate to declare, that, in his estimation the establishment of perfect free-trade would be anything but the act of a wise and large legislation. Therefore should he most heartily support the bill of the right hon. Baronet. Therefore, he rejoiced that all differences of opinion on that side of the House, had subsided into approbation of the measure. Therefore, also, did he hope that when the time should come, when the progress of improvement in agriculture should enable the farmer, not perhaps to compete with the foreigner on quite fair grounds, but to raise nearly double the crops now derived from the soil—then did he hope and believe that the agricultural interests would act with the same good sense and moderation as now distinguished them, and would demand, as they now demanded, only a fair remuneration for the produce of their toil and care. Thus with capital flowing freely into this channel of improved agriculture, and allowed quietly to remain and to work there, perhaps there was hardly a Member of that House who might not live to See the day when the Corn-laws would be legitimately, equitably, and peaceably repealed.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that the hon. Member for Liskeard manifested, in the course of his speech, a great anxiety lest he should 786 be misunderstood. It was a natural anxiety, a commendable anxiety, and one in which he would experience considerable sympathy from several hon. Members in that House. He recollected an old gentleman who informed him some years ago, that his greatest wish was to understand what was going on in the National Assembly—"I like to understand the proceedings of the House of Commons, and my mode of doing so," said he, "is this— I always read with the utmost care the motions and amendments, and put off reading the long speeches until I go to some watering place in the summer." Now, he thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Liskeard, was one for the summer, until which time it ought, in his opinion, to be deferred instead of being then read, because it was calculated to confuse rather than to elucidate. When the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth opened the discussion, he stated, that it was not a subject for the indulgence of fancy—that it gave no scope for the imaginative powers—that it was a dry question of detail, and that he felt the greatest difficulty in making it interesting to the House. But it appeared to him, that a great deal of fancy must have been exercised to clothe a subject so simple with such an enormous quantity of words. Hon. Members had argued the question as if it were one of extreme complexity—as if it were one which required an inordinate share of sagacity to make it understood; but the healthy brain, the strong natural intellect of those not vitiated by a corrupt education, understood the subject well enough, and laughed at their being so preciously deluded as to believe that the community did not comprehend it. Why, scarcely a child who could walk—scarcely a human being capable of earning 2s. a-day, who did not comprehend the question. It was only there, in that House, that it admitted of mystification or intellectual confusion. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who talked of the landed interest pretended, and he dared say that they were honest in so doing, that their efforts were directed to the improvement of the national resources — that they had no interested motive for the course they had taken—that they were actuated by a fine spirit of patriotism —and that in supporting a heavy duty on corn they were only careful of the national welfare. He had heard the words of 787 protection to the agriculturist continually used in that House—protection to the agriculturist— protection to the landed interest. Now, what was meant by the landed interest? Was not the lauded interest a national interest [" Ministerial cheers"]? They cheered that. But he was going to say something more, which he hoped they would also cheer. Was not the commercial interest a national interest[" Opposition cheers"]? Well, then, they seemed all agreed that those two interests were national interests, and if they were, he wished to ask why they made the agricultural interest a special one [" No, no"]? Why was it that the landed interest demanded protection for their produce, when the manufacturers of England, on whose industry they lived, said "we ask for no protection at all?" That was a fair way of meeting the question, and he wanted to know, when protection to agriculture was spoken of, what was meant by the words "protection to agriculture?" Did they mean protection to their mansions—to their parks—to their herds of deer—to their race-horses—to their dog-kennels, and packs of hounds? Did they mean to protect them in respect of the superior advantages they enjoyed, because they lived in a state of idleness on the rents they received, or did they mean protection to the labourer, whose wages were only seven shillings a week? Could the duty on corn be any protection to him in his miserable mud hovel, or to his misfortunes or destitution? The agricultural labourer of England was in a most miserable condition—in a most deplorable condition [" No, no"]. He had lately been in the West of England, and he found that the wages of the agricultural labourer in that part of the country were 6s. or 7s, a week. He had no more. They had heard the state of the workmen in the factories alluded to in that House: they had heard that they were in want of employment, and that they were in a state of destitution. Now, what remedy had they proposed? Had they any remedy? None; not a single remedy had been proposed for the alleviation of that distress and destitution under which the people of this country bad for some time suffered. What had been the course of their legislation? They had reduced or taken away protection from the manufacturers: they had taken that course since the year 1834; and the only objection he had to this was, that 788 they had commenced at the wrong end; they ought to have begun with the food of the people—the staple article of existence; whereas, by the course they had pursued, they had been the cause of the misery and destitution of the people. What was their poor-law of 1834? What did they by that law proclaim to the poor? They said, "If you become poor and destitute, we will put you in gaol, on gaol allowance" ["No, no"]. It was true. Then, what did they say to them by the Corn-laws?—"We won't allow you opportunity to procure bread at the best and cheapest market." That had been the course of their legislation—a course so fraught with folly and danger, that now every institution in the country was in a state of insecurity. They knew not the temper of the people out of doors—they knew not the feverish state of the public mind. He was not surprised at it, and for one he concurred in opinion with those millions who had not joined in the agitation against the Corn-law, but who said that they saw no remedy except the remodelling the constitution of the House of Commons. He approved of the conduct of those men—they had borne their sufferings nobly; they were fighting the battle of the manufacturers, and to the evils that existed were prepared to apply the proper remedy. An argument had been employed in that discussion, which would lead them to suppose that the landed interest were great sufferers under the present state of things—that they were a very persecuted race of men—that they endured great privations, and that they were monstrously oppressed with burdens; and among them was classed the poor's rate—a rate for the maintenance of those who had been guilty of no crime, and who were willing to toil. In the spirit of Christianity, that was a burden which ought to be a pleasure to the rich —it ought to be their greatest pleasure to relieve the destitute, and to see that not a man in their neighbourhood went without bread. The hon. Gentleman said, there was also the highway rate, but was it not a pleasure to have good roads? What nonsense to call that a burden. It was the best investment the landed interest could make, for what would be their rents if there were not good roads? Their next burden surprised him—the tithes. What ! did they who advocated and sup, ported the Established Church, regard 789 tithes as a burden? Oh, it was impossible. Did they want to make out tithes to be an odious burden—a grievous load—a tax on their energies? Why, that was foul profanation. But if hon. Gentlemen opposite viewed the burden in this light, then tithes were doomed, and the Tithe Bill in a fair way to be soon repealed. When that bill was before the House, he had abstained from saying one word against it, because it dealt with tithes as public property; and having that recognition, he thought it would be unwise in him to try to depreciate that property; and, inasmuch as they had legislated on it as belonging to the people, he supposed the people could, when it pleased them, deal with it again. When that time came, surely, hon. Gentlemen opposite would not refuse to join him in legislating for what they felt to be an oppressive burden —a burden which he certainly never expected to hear styled one, by those who contended for the Protestant Establishment, or as one not to be spoken of except with pain, nay, almost with horror. Now, under those circumstances, under the present aspect of affairs, what was the remedy proposed by the Government? He was sorry, that the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, was not in his place, because, since he left that side of the House, the right hon. Baronet had been going the wrong way very fast. He was afraid, that if the right hon. Baronet did not improve in the course he had taken, he would not be long in office. He could not know what events might occur, but this he knew, that those belonging to the Radical party were now placed in no pleasant position; they had scarcely an advocate in the daily press; they were misrepresented, abused, and maligned—not that it was not a good thing to be abused, for when a public man was not abused, he was generally worthless—but the Radical party were abused, and stood, as he had said, in no pleasant position. What had been the course of events last year? Twelve months ago, the Whigs were in office; they made certain proposals to the House, and when Gentlemen opposite disapproved, not only of the proposals, but of the men who had brought them forward, the Whigs were turned out. He wanted to know what the country had gained, or were likely to gain, by the change. The proposals made by the Whig Chancellor of the Exchequer, 790 related to the revenue—their object was to increase the revenue by a reduction of taxation. The public had not forgotten, that the Whigs proposed to increase the revenue by lessening the burdens of the people. They had now a powerful administration; and what was their first proposal?—to continue their duty on corn—the tax on the food of the people. That was their first proposal; and he could not refrain from expressing his disapprobation of the proposal brought forward singly. He did not think it was treating the House with fairness —he did not think that, in the absence of the other proposals which the right hon. Baronet had to make, and in the utter absence of any knowledge of those proposals, they were prepared to discuss this question with any advantage to the people. Presently the House would be committed to this queation—it will be decided by a large majority that the scale proposed by Government should be adopted. What would be the next proposal? Probably an increase of taxation spread over the surface of the land and reaching the poorest workman in the country, He was free to confess that he thought the proposed scale an improvement on the present system. There could not be a doubt on the subject, but at the same time they ought to recollect that the cry has been that the price of food is too high, and that they had unjustly laid a duty on the importation of foreign corn. Now in average years the scale proposed would not reduce the price of wheat in this country one sixpence a quarter. On that point he felt perfectly confident. Hon. Gentlemen opposite think that the landed interest are making, in lowering the duty, a sacrifice of twenty per cent. He would like to know what reduction of rents would take place in consequence of that scale. It would be a curious inquiry to investigate what had been the reduction of rents. Should the farmer claim a reduction of 20 per cent., hon. Gentlemen opposite could not, if they were sincere in their belief, refuse the demand, But to go back to the history of their proceedings. Having resolved not to have the late Administration, the House bad now got their successors. Compare the proposals of the two, and he would ask whether the proposals they now had were calculated to satisfy the people? They did not bold out the slightest prospect of 791 relief to the people. On the contrary, trade would be as severely fettered under the new scale as it was at this moment under the existing one, and the proposed scale would only produce a more regular trade without any reduction in the price of food. The consequences would be that the manufacturers would continue to labour under the same difficulties as at present, and would experience no diminution of the burdens of which they so loudly complained. What hope had the people out of doors that any real relief would be extended to them? If the landed interest suffered from burdens which unduly pressed on them, and on them in particular, do as the hon. Member for Bath very ably and justly advised, "Buy them off—relieve them of those burdens, and set the trade of the country free." That was a proposition based on common sense, and on a correct view of the question under discussion. Show to the country that the Government either did not understand the question, or, understanding it, had not the courage to apply the proper remedy. The burdens on agriculture had been from time to time taken off, and that to such an extent as clearly to prove that agriculture had been made the especial object of the kind and considerate legislation of that House. Millions of pounds had been extracted from the people by the tax on corn, which would never be refunded by those who plundered them; and millions of persons had gone down to the grave in misery and destitution in consequence of the unjust law which the legislature had imposed.—["No, no!"] When the hon. Member for Pomfret complained of the remarks that had been made on class legislation, he would ask him what it was but class legislation when a party made a law for their own benefit? No man who reflected on the nature of the Corn-law could be of an opposite opinion. The operation of it had a never-ceasing tendency against the industry of the country. There was not a moment's relief from its operation, it was invariable, never ceasing, never ending—eternally operating with injury not only to this country but to all the markets of the world. What had the labouring man to depend on except his labour. Nothing. The landed proprietors had left him nothing else, and how did they deal with him? They said to him, "We will control and 792 fetter you as we think proper; and whatever may be your skill, your industry, or your energy, or whatever articles you may make, you shall not sell them in the best market, nor purchase food at the cheapest rate." This was the master infamy of the world—the landlords' curse on industry. They seemed not to know the danger they were in—they seemed to have lost common sense on this question. What, he would ask, made the landed property so valuable but the manufactures? Before manufactures existed to any extent, it was well known that rents were paid in kind, that the tenants were little better than serfs, and that the whole cost of maintaining the institutions of the country fell upon the land. Such was the state of things in ancient times, when rent was from 1d. to 6d. an acre; but the skill and ability of our manufacturers had brought the wealth of the whole world into the country, and in proportion has the value of landed property increased. He believed it was through ignorance of the condition of the people that they sought to retain the present law. If they really knew what the people were suffering he did not think that they would persist in such a pernicious course of legislation. He thought it was a subject to be spoken of earnestly and sincerely. He had been sent to that House by a large constituency, and he was speaking in behalf of 260,000 inhabitants of the northern part of the metropolis, who had sent him there to demand justice for them in return for their allegiance to the Crown. They told him they would employ passive resistance to the course which Government proposed to adopt; they told him that they would no longer yield a passive obedience so long as the House of Commons continued to be constituted as it was. They demanded for the people the right of representation— they denied that the people were represented under the present system, and they demanded the reform of the Reform Act. He thought they were wise in making such a demand; he hesitated not to tell them from that place that he believed every attempt to remedy the evils complained of would be utterly useless unless they applied the axe to the tree of corruption. His belief was that there was no remedy for the national grievances so long as the House of Commons was constituted as it was, for it did not at all represent the feelings of the map of the 793 community. When he heard Gentlemen opposite talk of the landed interest—and of the interest of the farmer, he felt inclined to ask them what the conduct of the landed proprietor towards the farmer was when the farmer merely wanted to exercise his judgment in the election of a Member for that House. When the farmers asked for the opportunity of voting independently at elections, why did the landlords then turn from them and say "no?"—why did they then allege that the present state of the law was perfect? If they desired that the farmer should exercise that right which inherently belonged to every free-born Englishman, why did they deny them the power to vote freely? Was it not perfectly well-known that every landlord could command as many votes as he had tenants? and, this being so, could any man be surprised that legislation was in favour of the landed interest of this country? The entire proceeding on this question was one characterised by the grossest folly, and the landed proprietors would find that they had been their own bitterest enemies. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) had led them to expect that something great would have been done for the people of this country, and he was one of the first who said that the right hon. Baronet ought to have time, provided he was not prepared with those measures which he thought would be beneficial to the public interests. That time had now arrived. Six or seven months had elapsed, and all the proposals which the right hon. Baronet had yet made were those now before the House. He believed that the right hon. Baronet had capacity, and had the will, to render service to his country; but he at the same time believed that the right hon. Gentleman was surrounded by those who would not allow him to exercise his own unfettered judgment. The right hon. Gentleman had—and history would record the fact—the control of a greater moral, intellectual, and physical power than any other man in the universe. He had the mightiest resources at his command; he had the proudest aristocracy in the world supporting him; he had the noblest people ready to do all that the noblest and most glorious of causes could require of them. The question would in aftertimes be, what were the efforts he, with these elements of power, made amidst evils the most appalling that beset the community? Difficul- 794 ties, no doubt, surrounded him; but with such means of conquering them he ought not to shrink from them; and had the right hon. Baronet resolution, which he was almost afraid he had not, to control those who were at present controlling him, they might expect the greatest advantage from his exertions. There was not a Spot on the globe which he had not the power to benefit by his labours. There was not a place to which he might not be the means of extending the blessings of civilization, and of diffusing those advantages which resulted from the cultivation of the intellect and of science. It was in the power of the right hon. Baronet, not only to confer benefit upon the people of this country, but throughout the whole inhabitable globe. His failure would be great—his failure must be unfortunate—if it should be a failure; and he would tell both the right hon. Baronet, and the aristocracy by whom he was supported, that the opportunity now afforded, if suffered to be lost, would never again be in their possession. The people were resolved to take the matter into their own hands, by peaceful means, and by the exercise of that judgment which experience had built up; and if the aristocracy should now fail to do that which was just and right, and if the people did not adopt that course which experience suggested, the misery and calamity now so frightfully prevailing would continue to beset this land. He made these remarks in consequence of what was said out of doors, and from his knowledge of the feelings that were entertained on the subject out of that House. He made them with pain and sorrow, because he confessed that he had no hope—that he had no hope from the House of Commons as at present constituted. He believed that if those who were now devoted to the Radical interest, which he believed to be the true national interest, were to discharge their duty conscientiously, they would candidly confess that, in the present state of the House of Commons, they could render no goods and that the best result to the national interests, and to their own reputation, would arise from the resignation of their seats in that assembly.
§ Mr. Muntz
said, that, as he intended to vote for the motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, for an entire repeal of the Corn-laws; and as he had frequently stated in that House, and else- 795 where, that a repeal of the Corn-laws, without other legislative enactments, would not relieve the distressed state of the nation, he felt bound in duty to the country, to the House, to his constituents, and also to himself, to explain why he took that course. Before doing so, he would recal to the recollection of the House that, before the right lion. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government took office, he had refused to vote him into office, because, on a previous occasion, the country had been many years under his government, and had not prospered. He had made that remark last Session, and he had at the same time added, that he was not actuated by a spirit of faction, and if the right hon. Baronet brought forward measures for the good of the country, he would support them. He thought the right hon. Baronet was right to take time to consider his measure; but at the same time he must be allowed to have an opinion how far the right hon. Baronet was justified in taking office without having better measures provided for the relief of the country than those now proposed by him. The right hen. Baronet had, indeed, out of the largest mountain ever before heard of, brought forth the smallest mouse ever seen. He had closely attended to the statement of the right hon. Baronet, upon the introduction of the present measure, and he very much agreed with him in that statement, as to the average consumption of the necessaries of life in England and Prussia. The right hon. Baronet had told the troth, but not the whole truth; he had stated the average consumption, but he would defy the right hon. Baronet to produce from any part of Europe such instances of general distress as could be produced in England at the present moment. It was pretty much the same as if the right hon. Baronet was to say to some poor starving creature in the streets, "We two consume together a great deal, but I eat it all." He had formerly stated in that House, and he now repeated it, that the distress of the country arose entirely from unnatural and vicious legislation. Some years ago they had heard complaints of distress from the people of Birmingham, but they then said, "Oh, don't mind them; it is only those Birmingham fellows." Now that same cry of distress was raised from the Land's End to John o' Groat's house. He was not disappointed in the measure of the Government, for the right hon. Baronet had 796 said before he took office, that any one who proposed, by a legislative enactment to relieve the distress, was practising a low delusion. He had expected nothing from the right hon. Gentleman. He felt that the right hon. Baronet was fettered by old measures, old pledges, and conflicting interests, that he could not do any thing; he sincerely pitied him, He pitied him, because he should consider that if he were himself in the situation of Minister of the first nation in the world, and were fettered and hampered as the right hon. Baronet was, he should be in a most pitiable situation; for who can be more deserving of pity than one who, having good intentions, was deprived of the power to do the good he wished. For himself, lie was in the situation of the bat in the fable —he was on both sides; he did not say that the landed interest ought not to be protected; on the contrary, he had always felt and said, in that House and elsewhere, that they ought to have protection against the money interest. But where they protected themselves they ought to protect others; they bad no right to protect themselves unless they protected the labour of the country also. He believed that the price of one portion of the labour of the country was enhanced by the Corn-laws. He believed that two thirds of the labourers of the country were in that situation, but the other third was perfectly destitute in consequence of their operation—he meant the labour employed in articles in the export trade, which had to compete with the low-priced labour of the continent. He considered it vain, and idle, and useless, to attempt to legislate about the Corn-laws, without considering the money laws, for how was it possible to legislate soundly upon the price of the first article of the consumption of man, without first regulating the value of the article with which it was purchased—that is, without including the money laws? Corn and money were as inseparable as body and soul. The Tories had legislated upon unnatural principles from 1815 to 1830, and what had they effected? They had brought the country to such a state that they had been obliged to give up the Government. He knew that some persons attributed the breaking up of that Government to certain expressions which bad been made use of by a noble Duke in another place, on the subject of Reform. He denied that. The fact was, the people were uncomfortable in 797 their stomachs; they had too little to do, and nothing to eat, and that was the cause of the fall of the Tory Government. The Whigs then came into power, and great expectations had been entertained of what they were to do. Now, what have they done? They had acted upon the same financial principles as their predecessors, and they also had gone out because they could not keep people's stomachs comfortable. The question was a question of stomach, and he could tell the right hon. Baronet, that if he could not supply the people's stomachs, his reign would be but short. He was no party man; he would support any man who would bring forward good measures. Whatever measure was a good one should have his support. He was for measures not men. It was not of the slightest consequence to him whether the right hon. Baronet opposite, or the noble Lord on that side, was at the head of her Majesty's Government, provided they governed for the welfare and the happiness of the people at large. Was he alone in his theory with respect to torn and money? Was it even originally his? Why, his oldest master in the theory was the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester. He had been one of the ablest writers on the subject; the manner in which he had treated it was highly creditable to him, and he need not now blush to own it. He might quote from a pamphlet entitled "Corn and Currency," by Sir James Graham, Bart., of Netherby, and were he to do his duty to the House, he ought to read the whole of of it. If he had not seen many proofs of the right hon. Baronet's being a man of acute and powerful mind, he should only have had to read this book to have become convinced of it. The hon. Member here proceeded to quote from the right hon. Baronet's pamphlet:ߞI do not pretend to have made any new discovery.No More do I.I might appeal to high authorities to prove that much error prevails in making detached parts of this question—one of them the Corn-laws, the other the Currency; whereas, if he rightly understood the situation of these two subjects, they were indissolubly united, and they could not discuss them apart without injustice to the case.The feeling of the people must be hostile to the present Corn-laws; the receivers of rent are a small body; by public opinion they might be almost omnipotent, but in violation 798 of it could not maintain their extensive advantages.The hon. Member read other extracts, in which the right hon. Baronet contended that there was a point in which hunger broke through all laws, when reason Was no longer heard, and all the barriers of society were broken down. The House would see, continued the hon. Member, that the right hon. Baronet also thought it a question of the stomach. He goes on to say, thatEquity demanded in favour of the landowner a protection equivalent to those charges which are placed by law on his estate; that protection was a duty, and the amount of that duty was a fit subject for discussion. But they must first settle the price of money, as it is impossible to fix the price with fairness while the standard of the price is unfair.The landowners had shown a blind adherence to high prices, together with a blindness as to the means by which they were to be obtained. The price of all commodities, and of corn among the rest, was governed by the supply in the market, compared with the demand, and also by the value of money—itself the measure of money, and liable to variations in proportion to its quantity.He would entreat the House to listen to this:—As a body, up to this moment the landowners have remained undeceived, for it is well known that during the last session they bargained with the King's Ministers to support a further contraction in the currency, provided the Government would not destroy the protect-of the Corn-laws.This, Mr. Muntz, in resuming, said, he considered a most extraordinary fact, and he could not account for it. As he had before said, if he did justice to the House he should read the whole of the book, but at that late hour he would not. He had once before remarked to the House, and he would say so again, that the relative value between silver and wheat was the point that required to be established more than any other. The hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire had followed closely the example of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, who had lately candidly told the House that he always selected quotations to suit his purpose. He had quoted Adam Smith, as a proof that the price of corn would regulate the price of wages, but the hon. Member said not a word about the value of silver, the relative value of which to corn is particularly noticed in 799 the same work, and nearly in the same passage; and he forgot to add, that in Adam Smith's time there were no laws regulating the price of corn; which, like the present Corn-laws, were intended to keep the price of wheat double that of silver, while in the rest of Europe they were of the same value. He forgot to say that the comparison between silver and corn ought to be maintained. Two other hon. Members had done him (Mr. Muntz) the honour of quoting a pamphlet he had written some time since, to support the same argument, that corn partly regulated wages; they had only taken the passage that suited them—had they taken another it might not have been so suitable to their views. [Mr. Muntz read an extract from his pamphlet, contending that all labour that depended on the export trade had depreciated in value, and that corn must be reduced to 5s. a bushel, or the standard of silver altered to 7s. 6d. an ounce.] At the time he stated that the repeal of the Corn-laws would reduce the average rate of wages, he was aware that the rate of wages was not regulated by corn alone. In 1815, the same argument was used; it was then held out to all the supporters of the law, that if the rate of corn were fixed, the rate of wages would be fixed thereby. He asked the House, if that had been the case? Had the rate of wages been kept at a due rate with the price of corn? If not, how could they justify themselves in keeping up a protection that only benefitted their own class? They were often throwing out reproaches against those who advocated the making the ounce of silver equivalent to a bushel of wheat; they said, "You want to disturb all the existing relations of finance—you would confound the standard of value." He therefore hoped, that before the close of the debate, the right hon. Baronet would explain to the House what difference it could make to any interest, or any consumer, whether wheat was kept at 7s. 6d. per bushel, and all other prices and wages in the same ratio, by an abstract Corn-law, or whether they were all kept at the same prices by an abstract money law, which should coin silver at 7s. 6d. per ounce. But he denied that they had any standard of value. They had gold and silver coins, but they had no gold and silver standard. Their standard was wheat and paper. This was the effect of the Corn-laws; and the amount of 800 paper in circulation preventing prices from being regulated by the coins. They were all flattering themselves with the dream that they possessed a gold standard of value, while they were really paying 7s. 6d. a bushel for wheat, paying a paper price, and flattering themselves that they were giving the real value, How could they expect to go on, upon so unnatural a system of Government? Looking at the state of that House, could they wonder that the measure of the right hon. Baronet was so small, that neither by one party or the other could it be told whether it were a good or a bad one? Let them ask themselves how they could expect, while the relative prices of corn in Europe was an ounce of silver for a bushel of wheat, to keep their bushel of wheat at two ounces of silver. The Almighty Being who created the world had laid down certain principles for its government which he never allowed to be disturbed with impunity by any men. The Government were powerful; they had a majority of 9l; but the right hon. Baronet would find that withal he was not so powerful as the laws of nature, That majority might not last long; for he begged to call the attention of the House to the fact, that a party once took office with a majority of 200, and where were they? Echo answered, "Where?" And if the present unnatural principles of the Government were carried out, echo would answer "where" to them too. If he persisted in the present measure, they would scarcely know how to address him. If the right hon. Baronet persisted in maintaining one price of silver and another price of corn—if he continued, regardless of the sufferings of his countrymen, the existence of which he had already so freely acknowledged, and so very feelingly and pathetically lamented; if, in consequence, his difficulties increased with their miseries, it seemed difficult to determine how he ought to be addressed, but he thought they must address him in the words used by Gray's bard to Edward the First, when he invaded Wales—Fond impious man! think'st thou yon sanguine cloud, Raised by thy breath, bath quenched the orb of day? To-morrow he repairs the golden flood, And warms the nations with redoubled ray.The right hon. Baronet must understand that if something were not done to relieve 801 the sufferings of the working classes, a state of things would be brought about which all must deplore. For his part, he repeated, he had no party to consider—no party interest to serve; he had had no leader in that House but his own conscience. He voted for the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, for the reasons he bad given, and because lie thought it was the most honest.
§ Debate again adjourned.
§ The House resumed. Committee to sit again.